Gratitude

I’m learning so much about the simplicity and the power of expressions of gratitude in my life. Having an ‘attitude of gratitude’ can be life-changing, as it brings joy to the life of the ‘giver’ and the ‘receiver’. A word, a smile, a hug, a handshake, a ‘high five’…all offer simple expressions of gratitude that can bring “hope to the lost”, “freedom to the captives” and “peace to the suffering”…all of whom live part of each of their days in our schools, among students and staff. I am more thankful, this year, for all that I often take for granted, as I have seen what a difference an attitude of gratitude makes in my life. I am more thankful for the people in my life, my own gifts and talents, my faith, my freedom, my vocation, my students and my ability to wake up , in good health, to greet a new day. I have also witnessed the difference simple words and acts of thanks can make in the lives of others. People sensing that they are appreciated, that others believe in them, that what they say and do matters, that they can and do make a difference in the lives of others…all experienced through expressions of gratitude.

Who needs power and wealth, prestige and popularity, certainty and guarantees? Being grateful for what I have, however modest, however fleeting, makes life seem so much more real and authentic. And it is out of THAT sense of gratitude that I can reach out to others and offer them a deeper sense of appreciation for who they are and who they are becoming.

I often try to imagine a world where gratitude flows as easily and as often as so many of the obstacles that seem to stand in the way of gratitude…a world where gratitude is the foundation of who we are and what we are about in this life…building each other up! Think about the difference it could make by telling those around you, on a more regular basis, that they are appreciated and valued for who they are. This is what my commitment to my #OneWord2018 is encouraging me to do…my ‘call to action’, so to speak.

I encourage you to join me in spreading gratitude, as we are always better together in lifting each other up and, while doing so, becoming more present to each other and ourselves. The gift we receive in return will be a sense of pride in knowing that we are doing our small part to make this amazing world of ours an even better place!

Sincere thanks for reading this post! I am ‘lifted up’ in knowing that you cared enough to spend this time getting to know me just a little bit better. I make mistakes, I am not always grateful and I stumble as often as I succeed, but I am inspired by you and others who care enough to walk the journey together!

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For Blair, A PLN Tribute

Sincere thanks to Amy Storer, Alana and Mike Stanton, Todd Russo and Marilyn McAlister for including me in the creation of this PLN post. I would like to preface our collective blog post with the following thoughts:

I have to be honest and say that I have not felt motivated to blog since the beginning of the school year.  I have tried, however, to commit to staying actively engaged in sharing and learning with many PLN friends via Twitter.  As a result of that growing sense of connectivity, when this opportunity came up to collaborate on such an important blog post with educators I respect and admire so much, I wanted to ‘jump back in the saddle’!

For me, our post offers a sense of hope, peace and love despite the tragic and incredibly sad event that inspired it.  Especially at this time of year when many are experiencing chaotic joy leading up to , and during, the holidays, we invite you to take a few moments with us to reflect upon the gift of a man who you may or may not know.  His life needs to be celebrated and so it goes…

During the summer of 2016, a group of educators found each other on Twitter and what came of that connection became the very first PLN (professional learning network) I have ever had the privilege of being a part of. We came from different places around the US and world, and connected on things such as faith, flexible seating, social media in the classroom, and so much more. Shortly after meeting on Twitter, we created a Voxer group, and named it “Our PLN”. No matter the time or day, we always knew we could depend on one another within that group. Sometimes we shared professional ideas and thoughts, and other times we shared things that were personal and very dear to our hearts. I have never met Alana, Mike, Blair, Todd, or Marilyn in person, but they felt like family regardless. -Amy

Through this amazing group we all learned that love has no boundaries and that you can become connected to one another over time by opening up to each other, appreciating each other’s strengths, and caring about each other through good times and bad. We hope that by sharing memories of our friend, Blair, that we will honor his heart and his memory. -Alana

Amy Storer:

One of my best memories of Blair is when I was able to connect with his class in Australia to show his students how to use Buncee. Shortly before that, he participated in EdChange Global, and virtually attended my session on Buncee. He ended up winning a subscription to Buncee, and I was so excited about showing him and his students the power of this creation tool. We scheduled a time for us to virtually meet, and because we both lived in different countries, we got creative. That is one of the many reasons why I respected him so much! He always found a way for his kids. He even had Skype Nights at his school where the students could stay the night so they could connect with classrooms in the United States. He knew how important it was to connect his students with the outside world. I loved being a part of his class on that day, and was so excited about them starting their Buncee journey!

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Each and every time that I visited with Blair, he inspired me to do more as an educator. His positivity was contagious, and his eagerness to grow as a lead learner was something to be admired. You will never be forgotten, my friend. “Our PLN” will honor you always. Thank you for coming into our lives the summer of 2016. We are truly the lucky ones!

Never take for granted this gift that we have been given-the gift of global connections. So many of my PLN are people that I know I can count on, but have never met in real life. That is huge. If you haven’t gotten connected as an educator, I encourage you to do so. You will not regret it!

-Amy Storer
Montgomery, TX, USA
@techamys
https://twitter.com/techamys/status/894733023798640645

Alana Stanton:

Two years ago I got on Twitter with the hope to be inspired to be a better educator. I never realized that the people I would meet would become such dear friends who would inspire me to be a better person in all that I do. One of the first educators that truly amazed me was Blair Smith. I was first amazed at his classroom, which was made for students and had flexible seating. I was also impressed with how he used simple things to innovate his classroom such as whiteboard tables and table projections.

My husband and I both connected with this educator turning our rooms into flexible seating classrooms with whiteboard tables, in turn this inspired many of the teachers around us to change their rooms to fit the needs of their students. We were so encouraged by Blair who always took the time to answer our questions and give us encouragement. This was much needed for Mike and I because we were taking a huge leap to change our classrooms, but Blair reassured us it would turn out great and we had his support at any time.

Last year Blair was highly involved in my classroom even though he lived in another continent, Australia. He taught my students about The Great Barrier Reef, the outback, and the amazing animals that lived there. He even took pictures of kangaroos on his drive to work, so my students could see them in the wild instead of in the Atlanta Zoo. Blair always took time to answer my student’s questions on Voxer and Twitter even though he was extremely busy living life as a basketball coach, educator, administrator for his school, and being an involved family man. He even took time out of his week to help my own children with their Australian Day. He taught them a special song that only Australians would know for patriotic events. The girls learned the song and sang it for their school making it a very special day.

Over time Blair, my husband Mike, and I got into our first Voxer group with three other educators Todd, Amy, and Marilyn. We loved hearing Blair’s encouraging voice. Through this group I found out Blair was a Christian educator. We both read the book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. We were able to share these encouraging messages with each other on challenging days. This is when I started to realize that I was a Christian educator and I should be open to share this through my posts, blog, and in my classroom. Blair knew that being an educator was soul pouring and he showed me the importance of starting each day with prayer. He specifically taught me how to pray for my students. I now pray daily for my students knowing there’s a power higher than me that can help them succeed.

Blair will forever remain in my heart and in my classroom. I will always remember the impact he had on me as an educator and as a person. He was and will remain one of my most favorite educational heros. My hope became a reality when I got on Twitter two years ago and I’m grateful I got the chance to know this inspiring man. (Psalm 34:18-19)

-Alana Stanton,
Dacula, Georgia, USA
@StantonAlana

Chris Quinn:

It was a blessing for me to get to know Blair through a number of different Twitter chats, over the past few years. I have not been part of the PLN Voxer group, but I have come to know many of its members. Blair was a dedicated family man, teacher, athlete and Twitter friend to many! He brought life, passion and goodness to so many of our conversations. He put kids first, as evidenced by the way he approached teaching, always welcoming change, global connectivity, innovation and flexible responses, based on the needs of his students. He truly was (and remains) an edu hero for me and for so many! He inspired many of us to continue to grow as educators, in collaboration with each other!

His passing is a tremendous loss for our education community, for his dear family and for his friends. His life is the gift that will keep on giving for many years to come. May we find some comfort and solace in knowing that he left an indelible mark, through his ‘giving from the heart’, on the many lives he touched, and in the hope that he now rests in peace with our Creator.

-Chris Quinn
London, Ontario, Canada
@ChrisQuinn64

Mike Stanton:

The summer of 2016 was a great summer of friendship. The friends I made I never met face to face, however I knew I could count of all of them. Blair, Todd, Amy, and Marilyn were new friends that my wife Alana and I connected to through Twitter. We enjoyed growing together and sharing ways to change our thoughts, ideas, and teaching practices. We pushed each other to try new things.

As friends do, we began to share our lives through connecting on Voxer. We would not only learn about our classrooms, but also about our families. We shared our hopes and dreams with one another and opened up to each other in the process. We shared stories that were close to our hearts and dreams we had for our future students and our families. We also shared our fears, challenges, and heart aches.

Our group came together and were truly lead by Blair Smith. He was strong enough to push us to our limits but gentle enough to help guide us along the way. He was innovative yet down to earth. He was most importantly a friend we could call on for laughter, support, and advice. Blair became part of our thoughts, ideas, and classrooms. We will forever hold onto those pieces he shaped in us and transformed in our classrooms. His legacy lives on through the children he has influenced across the world.

-Mike Stanton
Dacula, Georgia, USA
@micronmike

Marilyn McAlister:

Our precious, Blair. Through time, space, Twitter, and Voxer, we are better people and educators because of you. The sound of your voice, the smile on your face, your words of encouragement, and your sharing of best practices will forever be reminders of your goodness.

At one point in life, I could never grasp that relationships could be built through a virtual space. But then our PLN came together. Amy’s fun and feisty Texas accent, her passion for Buncee and global connectedness, and her precious niece on #PassTheScope kept us on our toes. Alana and her love for her girls, her husband, her Kinders, and her school kept our hearts open. Mike, although the quietest of bunch, always had words of wisdom just at the right time. Todd was always ready with a relevant quote, a story about his high school leadership students, and words of affirmation. Chris is our encourager that helps me see the big picture.

And Blair. Our precious, Blair. He would tell stories of his drive to work. Although I’ve never been to Australia, my mind conjured up a scene of him driving and laughing through the winding road to school. But his classroom, now that we could envision. There’s much talk of being an innovator. Blair is the epitome of an innovative educator. At the beginning of each year, he would put all of the furniture in the middle of the room. Literally!!! Students would design layouts and the room would take shape. It was a delight for him to give his students autonomy from the very first day. No desks, but couches, a variety of tables, both high and low, chairs, bean bags, rugs, and the like. Each student had their own tub of supplies. The tubs were carried and moved around the room, then stored nicely at the end of the day. Blair created a room where learning and relationships went hand in hand.

Innovation did not exist only in his classroom. He reached out far and wide. For two years in a row I watched, read, and heard about his international Skype nights. He was the master of global collaboration. I loved the pictures he would post of his students skyping with other classes, educators, authors, and scientists. Read more about his Skype nights here. I picked his brain on numerous occasions about Skyping. He kept prompting me, but I was scared. I’m not sure why, but I was. Now I have to Skype with a class. What a gift Blair gave his students. The gift of diversity, connectedness, and authentic learning.

It is with tears that I end this reflection. Blair left a legacy. His humility and kindness were apparent to all that crossed his path. His family, his students, and his PLN are better because of him. Let us all live our lives in a way that will bring honor to those that love us. Blair lived his life with zest, compassion, and humility. Let that be our example.

Our precious, Blair. Forever in our hearts.

-Marilyn McAlister
Imperial, California, USA
@MarilynEDU

Everyone in this PLN has been touched deeply by Blair Smith and grown as an educator whether it was by his ideas, his innovation, his passion, his humbleness, or his heart. We will never forget him because in some way he is found in each of our classrooms and even in our teaching philosophies. We all know that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We will continue to reflect on who we are as people and educators hoping we can carry on a little bit of his spirit with our flexible seating, connecting our classrooms, or by staying present in the moment like Blair choose to do with each and every person he connected with. We were all blessed to know him and hope this post shares a little bit of why he made the world a better place for students, staff, and a world full of educators.

Blair you will forever remain in our hearts. We know we will get the chance to meet you in person one day and when we do we know you will have that beautiful smile waiting for us as you greet us at the door. -Alana

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Blair Smith
1971-2017

Awakening Joy As We Begin Anew

As a new school year begins, let us be steadfast in our resolve to help our students and colleagues develop a joy-filled growth mindset that allows creative and innovative expression, as well as skills/content knowledge, to flourish.  Our students need to believe in their unlimited potential and their ability to make positive change happen in our world.  Our colleagues need to believe that what they do daily, in the service  of our students, is valued, appreciated and transformative.  We, as educators, can be the catalysts that inspire a deep commitment to life-long learning among our students.  We have been entrusted with the ever-developing ability to awaken and cultivate JOY in the minds and hearts of our students…a sense of JOY  that can…will…take them to new heights in their learning journey.  Such a commitment, on our part, must continue to be inclusive of all whom we serve in and across our classrooms…no matter their background and/or the present circumstances that surround their lives.  The art of teaching is as challenging as it is rewarding!  It is one of the very best, and most impactful, professions in the world.  May we continue to be worthy of, and deeply committed to, our mission, as we live our lives as compassionate, loving and joyful educators!

Best wishes and blessings to all, as we begin anew!

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Taking Time to Reflect – Who Am I Becoming?

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Twenty-seven years into this professional educator journey and I still ask myself, “Who am I becoming?”  Some days I am excited about my answers to my question and other days I struggle!  My career has been an interesting journey, with many highs and some real lows.  Through it all, I am able to say that I am still very excited about learning how to become the best possible lead learner, with my students and colleagues.

After ten years of serving as a classroom teacher, at the elementary level (here in Ontario, Canada), I was hired as a Science and Technology Support Teacher.  I had the opportunity to support some engaging and exciting ‘hands-on’ inquiry learning opportunities in classrooms across our district from early primary to grade 8.  I learned how to be a better listener, observer, cheerleader, enabler and teacher during those amazing years.  Following those experiences, I was hired to serve as our district’s Program Coordinator – English and Literacy.  I had responsibilities for curriculum implementation and support from K to grade 12.  I was blessed to be able to work with a staff of truly gifted educational leaders!  I learned so much about how to be a more effective lead learner and how to collaborate with many colleagues on various committees and councils that I initiated.  I was excited about who I was becoming, but I sensed that something was missing!  My portfolio of responsibilities changed during the latter part of my time as Coordinator.  The Arts (dance, drama, visual arts and music) and all Languages were added to my role.  My ‘world  view’ changed again, as I came to understand the intricacies and beauty of The Arts.  It was a way for many students to experience success, who found many of the other core subjects very difficult!  Our French programs also kept me busy and our district became a regional support facilitator and leader for the development of French language proficiency.  I was learning so much, so quickly and it was exciting!  But things changed suddenly for me when our department experienced some significant restructuring.  Suffice it to say that my role, as I knew it, disappeared and I went through a difficult period of soul-searching and pain.  Change came suddenly and quickly for me!

The following school year, I was hired to serve as a Math coach, working with a number of teachers and students across several of our elementary schools.  I discovered, that year, what I had been missing a number of years earlier when I was Coordinator …regular contact with students!  Yes, I had worked with many teachers and principals, as Coordinator, but I wasn’t in classrooms often enough and I was ‘losing touch’.  As a Math coach, I was working with teachers, in classrooms, daily.  Problem-solving, number talks, 3-part lessons, and helping to build teachers’ content and pedagogical knowledge were my priorities.  I felt like I was thriving in a whole new way!  After that year, another department restructuring occurred and I found myself having to make an important decision.  Was I going to take the necessary steps, late in my career, to pursue an administrative role in a school or return to the classroom?  After much thought and reflection, I determined that my next step would be to go back to my ‘roots’ and return to the classroom!

I opted for a grade I had never taught.  This past September, I became a grade 1 teacher for the first time in my career.  I have faced many challenges as part of my transition back to my own classroom.  This has not been an easy year!  I have made mistakes, I have tried to embrace change, I am trying hard to show my students that I love them (even when it’s tough sometimes), I am learning every day and I believe I am doing OK.  My students are learning, they seem engaged and they are happy to be learning together, most days.  We have our moments of challenge when we try each others’ patience, but we always seem to return the following day with a smile, kind words and a desire to learn anew!

This is where my reflections have brought me.  This is who I am becoming!  This reflects my commitment to being a life-long learner!  I am not an outstanding educator, and I offer that humbly and truthfully!  I make mistakes every day! I am not as happy nor as patient, when I am with my students, as I would like to be. I have been given the opportunity to meet and/or virtually connect with outstanding educators across my district, my province, my country, and internationally over the years.  I am just a guy learning with and from some the best!  And I have now reached a point in my life and my career where my driving ambition is not to be at the ‘top of the pack’…be the best…my competitive spirit has mellowed.  I just continue to strive to help ‘my kids’ be the very best they can be…to be truly outstanding…because each one is a precious gift to their/our world and I am blessed to be able to help nurture those ‘gifts’!  My reflections have taught me that I could not have made a better choice in my life than to become a teacher, from the beginning to the end of my career!  And, until the day (in 3 years) that I walk out of the front door of my school for the final time, I BELIEVE it is a TEACHER WHO I AM STILL BECOMING!

Sincere thanks for sharing in an important part of my educator story!

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Let Students Fail? Make Marks Matter?

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My daughter and I were recently discussing the following article.  She wanted to know if I agreed with the point of view being expressed by its author.

I invite you to check out the article before you read our reflections…https://www.localxpress.ca/opinions/opinion-let-students-fail-make-marks-matter-and-stop-overcomplicating-education-522906

I expressed the following to my daughter…It’s a complicated issue. Although I agree that students need to see mistakes, and even failure, as learning opportunities…all part of a growth mindset…we must ask ourselves to carefully consider potential root causes of failure. Is it truly the student who fails or is the system failing the student? In other words, are teachers a) adequately prepared to meet the diverse learning needs of their students? b) making the best effort possible to meet the learning needs of their students through more of a differentiated approach to instruction? c) getting the support they need to meet the learning needs of their students? d) putting an emphasis on truly understanding their students and on assessment FOR learning, providing timely and effective feedback?

Going back to the ‘good old days’ could be fraught with its own inherent failures. Holding kids back, in a way that only really sets them up for additional failure, IS NOT THE SOLUTION. Continuing to do, again, what we did before with these same students, will not necessarily support a successful outcome.  Let’s ask ourselves if there is any chance that we might, in some ways, be failing our students. Why might they have experienced a lack of success in the first place?  Holding kids back so that they can receive the same ‘dose’ of whatever they received the year they ‘failed’ may not truly meet their learning needs.

I’m not suggesting we have a lot of bad teachers! We have many, many phenomenal teachers! But so many things can get in the way of really good teaching. I’m experiencing some of that, myself, this year. It is not easy being a classroom teacher…especially today. You are expected to be a ‘jack of all trades’ but you are often a ‘master of none’.  So many students have such a wide-range of learning, behavioural, emotional, social, physical, spiritual, and psychological needs. That’s why you often hear of teacher burn-out, or those who leave the profession after only a few years. How well are our teachers supported (beyond good salaries and other compensation) to be able to understand and meet many of those needs.  Sometimes, turning to ‘what I have always done’ comes out of desperation…hoping against hope that it will ‘work’ (again) this time.  And some of us know there are better answers to the learning challenges our students face, but we’re not always confident about what we can or should do in response…and yet so many of us try so very hard!

My daughter offered the following…Yes, I thought that too about the failure point. Although sometimes I do think we may be going in a direction of over-correction where work is being praised even if it’s low quality just so students don’t feel bad. It is complicated but I think if there was more of an effort to make sure students know that their worth is not found in their accomplishments it would be more beneficial and “failure” wouldn’t seem so detrimental. I think a lot of times in our society students, and people in general, are simply valued for what they can contribute to society or what they can produce, which I think is deeply problematic.  Let’s value them for who they are…the whole person, the gift they are!

A much more complex issue than just deciding to fail those who aren’t ‘making the grade’, so to speak. Much to think about, and a thought-provoking article!  I am delighted that my daughter inspired this blog post!  Thanks, Andrea!  I would welcome further exchange with other educators who read these reflections!

 

Exploring a Culture of Learning

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As I have returned to the classroom this year, I have spent a lot of time exploring how to create a ‘culture of learning’.  It’s really hard, messy work and some days I think we lose some of the ‘ground’ we have previously gained.  My students have taught me a great deal about what is important in building such a culture.  Relationships first!  I am reminded of this every day!  We have spent a lot of time getting to know and trust each other.  It has been well-worth the time and our culture of learning has grown as a result of our journey together as learners…all of us!

Here are what I would say would be 10 additional elements of a culture of learning.  These elements are fluid and are not meant to appear linear.

  1. Moral purpose…a commitment, on the part of the whole community, to success for all children
  2. Learning is the work…intentional, focused, pedagogy of listening (versus telling), asset stance, open to learning and learning about learning…how teachers and our kids learn
  3. Collaboration and shared leadership among staff…not isolation
  4. Inquiry-based practice which is evidence- and data-driven learning
  5. Partnering with parents and community
  6. Inclusivity…all are welcomed and valued
  7. The 6 competencies are now the ‘prize’…not knowledge (of more factual material)… collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, communication, creativity and imagination, citizenship, character education
  8. Discovery/experiential learning key to engagement and deeper learning
  9. Growth mindset…all can learn, mistakes support learning, willingness to change and take risks
  10. Monitoring effectiveness/impact – changes in achievement and practice

I am a better educator today because of the understanding I now have, after 27 years in education, of a community of learners (students, teachers, principals, senior administrators, support staff, parents, community partners) who all contribute to the building of a renewed learning culture.  It’s certainly not perfect, and I/we don’t always honour all of those elements I listed above, but if we are willing to stay committed to the hard work of learning, we grow and change for the better…together!

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JOY: My #One Word 2017

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I haven’t attempted a blog post since this past spring, as I just have not felt inspired enough to set aside some time and ‘jump in’.  This has been a challenging year of transition for me, as I returned to ‘my own’ classroom after many years of district-level support.  I have rarely been able to ‘carve out’ time in a day to really reflect and give thanks for the growth I am experiencing, as a result of the changes in my professional life.  Even though I continue to struggle with decisions that were made for/with me, I have resolved (in 2017) to seek and find JOY in my daily life!  This is my #OneWord2017 and it goes hand-in-hand with a hashtag I will be using, and encouraging others to use, through 2017…#ChooseJoy.

Possessing a growth mindset calls me to learn from past experiences (both good and not-so-good) and to actively find ways to breathe new life into a career and personal life that needs some ‘uplifting’ and ‘resurrecting’.  I am inspired by my Twitter #PLN each and every day!  I have an incredible family who love and support me!  I have friends who have stood by me and walked the journey with me for many years!  I am now more grounded as part of a single school community, after ‘coming and going’ from/with many school communities over the years.  I have students who I love, despite the challenges of being new to grade 1!  I am blessed!

So, it is time to look forward to a year where JOY will be discovered and cherished!  As I look ahead to the remaining three and a half years of my career, I will make a regular effort to seek and find joy…and share it with fellow travellers on the journey!  Happy New Year to all!  May you experience an ever-deepening sense of JOY through 2017!

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Educating Our Most Vulnerable

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I have been ‘moved’, this week, to blog about helping to educate our most vulnerable young people.  I am no expert, as I am very fortunate and blessed to live a comfortable and grace-filled life as an experienced Catholic educator and as a member of a loving family.  As a child, I do recall what it was like to ‘go without’ but we always had food on our table, a roof over our heads and love to share with each other and those around us, as a family.  As an educator, I have encountered poverty and the effects of trauma through the lived experiences of some students I have been so fortunate to have journeyed with over the years.  This year, I have been working and learning with students in some of our least affluent schools; in schools where some students come to school hungry, with very limited resources (including their sense of curiosity, joy and peace), and who would prefer to stay at school beyond the school day because it is there that they can count on remaining safe and loved.  A recent Twitter interchange with Kyle Schwartz (@kylemschwartz), who is a young primary teacher in Denver, Colorado, has inspired me to explore vulnerability and education in this post.  I have tremendous respect for Kyle, as she is an incredibly dedicated young teacher who is passionate about supporting the learning of some of our most vulnerable children who come from impoverished, traumatic backgrounds.

Let me begin by sharing with you some of what Kyle has been teaching me over the past few days.  She has reminded me that, as teachers, we are in an important position to be able to “buffer the trauma that some of our most vulnerable children experience and to prove to these students that there are adults who can be trusted” and who genuinely care about them.  We need to be compassionate listeners, even when it sometimes hurts to listen. It is then that we can begin to support rigorous, deep thinking and learning.  Dedicated teachers do not turn away from complicated situations, but they move toward them, “much like a first responder”.  Kyle reminded me that our government officials, school district personnel, and the public need to gain a better understanding of what it like to be a student living in poverty and/or fear.  As teachers, we need to advocate for our most vulnerable students and help them to find their voices and take constructive action, so that they can advocate for themselves and then experience the value and importance of learning in the classroom.  Kyle punctuated my learning by sharing that “poverty and/or fear issues are learning issues!”

compassion

Becoming a member of the teaching profession, for me, meant that I was accepting responsibility for something that was far more than a job.  Teaching is a vocation…a calling!  Embedded within that vocation and calling is knowing that the children of so many parents, over the years, have been entrusted to our care as teachers.  Those parents always send us their best!  For me, to teach is to help each child in my care to become more fully human, by nurturing optimism, hope, essential skills and their potential to help change the world for the better.  Like my teacher colleagues, I am in the ‘business’ of helping students navigate pathways through the here-and-now and into the future, by supporting their growing abilities to collaborate, communicate, think critically, solve problems and be reflective learners.  As an educator, I have always believed that the foundation for students to learn and grow is based upon the building of strong relationships, centred on trust, mutual respect and honesty.  Particularly those most vulnerable children must feel welcomed and loved for who they are, with all of their limitations, sufferings and incredible potential.  As part of our call, we as teachers cannot be indifferent or unresponsive to those suffering from hunger and a variety of injustices they may be enduring, for in doing so we would be denying their human dignity.  The Holy Father, Pope Francis reminds us that “even the weakest and most vulnerable… are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live for ever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”(7/17/13)

I am blessed to be working in a number of classrooms throughout our district, this year, where the very real needs of some students have so much to do with family crises and hunger.  The refugee crises, that are affecting our global community, are bringing, to some of our classrooms, young people who have experienced incredible atrocities and who have struggled mightily for their very survival.   I am in awe of so many of our teachers and administrators who put the well-being and the need to address the day-to-day struggles of some of their students ahead of the need to ‘get the lesson done’.  I have the privilege of seeing the face of God in staff and in some of our most vulnerable students, and I experience the hands of God in action in many classrooms throughout our district.  When our most vulnerable students know that somebody cares, will listen, will feed them, will love them and will help them be safe, then the learning begins!  And I have been part of some truly amazing learning as a result of the strong sense of community that exists in a number of our ‘highest need’ schools.  One powerful lesson I have been learning this year is that only by becoming ‘poor’ myself, by losing my sense of complacency and by becoming vulnerable, am I able to identify with those who are among our most fragile young people.  I have witnessed colleagues and students who respond with honesty and integrity to the challenge of taking compassionate and sometimes radical steps to protect our students, living in poverty and/or fear, from exclusion, inequality and a sense of abandonment.  So many of these same colleagues and caring students work tirelessly to give a voice to the voiceless and hope to the hopeless.

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Once again, I turn to the wisdom, compassion and love of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for his guiding words…”Serving and accompanying also means defending, it means taking the side of the weakest. How often do we raise our voice to defend our own rights, but how often we are indifferent to the rights of others! How many times we either don’t know or don’t want to give voice to the voice of those who have suffered and are suffering, of those who’ve seen their own rights trampled upon, of those who have experienced so much violence that it has even stifled their desire to have justice done! (9/10/13)  Let us all be reminded of our call as educators to truly make a difference in the lives of our young people, in particular, those who simply want the opportunity to live lives free of fear, hunger, and indignity.  Let us continue to be strong advocates, on behalf of students in need, for the basic resources necessary to support them.  Then learning can be accessed, experienced and appreciated by all of our students in communities where a sense of welcome, empathy and compassion are cornerstones of school life.

The Power of Student Voice

studentvoice

I was beginning to settle in and write my next blog post about the power of student voice…

“Student voice” serves as a metaphor for student engagement and participation in issues that matter to learning…and to life!  As I continue to study and learn from student learning experiences, I see and hear young people express voice in writing, gesture, body language, art and drama, and , yes, even in silence.  It is not necessarily something that educators need to give to students but rather they need to tap into what exists in students, and help to cultivate it.  As educators, I believe we are called to ‘hear’ student voice!

When we partner with students in decision making about their learning, often motivation, perseverance and passion tend to grow and deeper learning can result.  Students feel that they are an integral part of the learning community, that they matter and that what they have to say is important.  It’s not easy work, but in promoting and living such a change in practice, we move from a ‘grading culture’ to more of a ‘learning culture’.  Students experience more autonomy in their learning and a stronger sense of well-being, requiring an environment that is open to, and supportive of risk-taking, as well as the exploration of new ideas, and provides opportunities to continually reflect on and persevere through their learning process.

I was able to get to this point in my blog post when I was made aware that my oldest daughter has just finished her latest blog post from where she is interning (as an architecture student) in Uganda.  It is her blog post that I think speaks far more clearly and passionately than I, about the incredible power of student voice…a voice that empowers young people to find deep meaning in learning and to truly feel valued as they speak from a place of passion and commitment.  IF YOU SKIMMED THROUGH THE FIRST PART OF MY BLOG POST TODAY, I ENCOURAGE YOU TO SLOW DOWN AND TAKE THE TIME TO READ THIS IMPORTANT POST.  No matter your faith background, your experiences as a teacher, as a parent or as a human being, I think you will find it helpful in coming to understand the POWER OF STUDENT VOICE!

Please click this link… https://andreaquinnblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/a-meditation-on-generosity/

 

My Professional Learning Evolution

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The value of professional learning has changed significantly for me over my 26 years as an educator.  Where once I felt that I needed to discover the latest ‘reform’ from educational gurus, in the context of a workshop, lecture or conference, in more recent years I have learned that those kinds of experiences have done little to truly impact my practice.  I am coming to understand that for practice to change and improve, it takes time, patience, dedication and a lot of hard work.  One of the most effective models of professional learning I have found is collaborative inquiry.

I used to take part in many workshops as a young teacher where an abundance of (new) information, and sometimes resources, were shared with participants.  Often there would be very little engagement on the part of participants and when I left, the feeling that was most pronounced for me was one of being overwhelmed!  So much information, so little time to ‘mess around’ with it and digest it, and the expectation I always felt was that whatever was ‘learned’ needed to be put into practice immediately.  And then came the feeling of guilt, as I’d get back to my classroom, re-enter the busyness of classroom life and never really get to ‘put into practice’ my new ‘learning’.  What’s more, when I left the classroom to join our program support/learning services department, I can honestly say that I perpetuated this same problem for other educators, in my various roles as a learning leader.  I delivered the same kinds of workshops that frustrated me as a classroom teacher!

Now, I am not trying to say that there is no place in professional learning for workshops.  When introducing new resources or when some training that supports a new practice is needed, workshops can be helpful.  However, they need to have a clear purpose and context for teachers with clear goals, meaningful activities that engage the learner with whatever is new, and be part of a longer commitment to continuing the related learning journey.

I have also engaged in some very meaningful professional book studies with colleagues.  The books, and related questions for reflection, have really provided a useful framework to focus some in-depth, practical and exciting discussions.  In addition to book studies, both face-to-face and online, Twitter and Voxer have opened up new worlds of professional learning for me as I have been able to connect virtually with many educators around the world, on a regular basis.  My professional learning network has ‘exploded’ as a result, and I can now turn to some of these educators for professional learning support in an ‘on demand’ kind of way.  I have, and continue to participate in, some incredibly rich discussions about a wide variety of education-related topics.  Along similar lines, my blogging continues to allow me to grow professionally, as I reflect on topics or issues most relevant to me, write about them and then share them out for others to read.  These various opportunities have taken me beyond the workshop experience where I would typically ‘sit and receive’ to something far more interactive and engaging, when I can collaborate with others.

My best success with professional learning has come in more recent years when the focus has truly been on student learning and the analysis of evidence of student learning.  In the context of face-to-face collaborative inquiry, colleagues have collectively identified an urgent student learning need, come up with a learning goal and related theory of action, engaged in the study of the student learning experience (via pedagogical documentation) and then made truly informed decisions about next steps for support and instruction.  We have been learning at the desks of students!  Teachers and principals/vice-principals have engaged in some amazing discussions about student thinking and learning, as well as taking part in reflective practice.  Educators either possessed, or have developed, asset stances and open-to-learning stances, as a result of a growth mindset approach to our collaborative learning.  All of this takes a significant commitment of time and resources, but it has provided some of the richest professional learning opportunities, from my perspective!

So there you have it…my evolution of professional learning over the past many years!  The great thing about my professional learning is that I truly believe it is a life-long journey with so much more yet to come.  If you are a reader of this blog post who has or continues to contribute to my own professional learning, sincere thanks.  I look forward to the years of learning ahead!