The impact of an authentic experience

Yesterday was the culmination of an idea that came while drinking coffee on a Monday Morning a few weeks ago. President Donald Trump had signed the Executive Order in the US banning Muslims from entering the country, and there had been a terrorist attack on innocent citizens praying at a mosque in Quebec City. My mood was bleak, I was discouraged and Adrianna and I were texting about how we were going to talk to the students about these things should it come up.

I will mention that Glennon Doyle Melton is an inspirational leader of mine. She is honest, believes strongly in human rights and I follow her posts on Facebook and Instagram. Her hashtag #lovewins inspires me daily. While thinking that morning, I thought: How could love win for us and our students. How could we take all of the negativity that was being posted far and wide and spin it on its head to be something positive for the little people we teach? The idea snowballed from there.

Adrianna remembered that we had used amazing picture books to teach tolerance and acceptance earlier in the year and so we re-visited them. The story talks about a girl who is not accepted in her country because of her religion and it explores her fears of being persecuted and how she flees with her mother. This prompted so many meaningful discussions with our students; some children had family members who were not able to return to their families in the US. Some families were having conversations about fear and about not feeling accepted. Many children were speaking their negative feelings (and overheard conversations) about the new President of the United States; about his rules and about the unfairness of it all.

We guided the conversation to #lovewins territory. What could WE, as 7 and 8 years olds do to direct our flashlight to shine on the positive, leaving the negative in the dark to fade away?

The kids were excited to be involved in a positive movement. Our classroom lessons on kindness and empathy were being put into action. We decided to paint “Friendship Rocks” (see here for the inspiration: The kids painted words of kindness and acceptance on rocks that would be offered to the members of the SNMC (South Nepean Muslim Community), a mosque in our community. This would send a message to those closest to us that we accept them regardless of religion, race, beliefs or language.


Once all of the rocks were painted, we wrote a letter together to our friends at the SNMC, and invited them to visit the school to receive their rocks. The presentation was a huge success. Four classes from Adrienne Clarkson had the opportunity to not only see their hard work appreciated and admired, but they saw first hand the impact that empathy and kindness towards others can have. The pride we felt was beyond anything that we ever expected; and the authenticity of the entire experience furthered our resolve that students learn best by doing, by feeling and by following their heart. We, as teachers are only there to facilitate that process. For those students, love wins in the end.



#IMMOOC #innovatorsmindset

Session 1 LIVE with George Couros, Katie Martin, AJ Juliani and John Spencer. I feel like I want to work with these people, to absorb all of the energy and positivity that they share through their words. A few highlights that stood out for me:

-“Teachers have an authentic audience every day; they should be ideating and starting over again based on the students’ feedback”

-“no best practice is going to work for every child”–this one stuck with me. When trying out new and innovative practices it’s possible that it won’t work for everyone. It doesn’t mean that it’s a failure–I will reflect on how to adjust for the kids who aren’t getting it and figure out how to reach them.

-“Strategic compliance VS student engagement”: What do I want in my classroom? Do my kids have the school system figured out? Are they just trying to make me happy so that they can get good grades, nice comments to their parents? Is this what I want? Or do I want students who are engaged in their learning, reflecting, questioning (themselves, and the TEACHER!)

-“What do I Allow, Support, Make Time For and Praise in my classroom (school):” This is so powerful and is what I believe school culture should be based on. Relationships and connections to students are built on these four principals.

The #IMMOOC was fantastic, and the speakers were so inspiring. Their encouragement fuels my confidence in trying new things daily with my students and solidifies the importance of documenting the messy process of change. I continue to look forward to the challenge.


Risk taking
I would love for teachers to have a discussion about this article. I often struggle with how to implement amazing ideas and innovative ways of connecting with kids in a system that has so many constraints. We have had the opportunity to take risks this year: Embracing technology tools, letting kids take the lead in their learning, veering away from the plan to follow where the kids passions lead us, and teaching kids about skills rather than curriculum. It’s not always comfortable; in fact we question ourselves and each other DAILY. I wonder if taking these risks in education is easier with someone who you trust along with you for the ride. What if more of us reached out to our colleagues for support? Would risk taking become more mainstream? 

Change is not easy

While drinking my morning coffee and catching up on twitter, I stumbled across this amazing article by Will Richardson that captured my attention. Click the link below to read it:

The article embodies my recent frustrations in the classroom; acknowledging that we are stuck in a school system that is craving change in so many ways and although we may have good intentions, eliciting change is a slow and laborious process.

Then I attended the Digital Learning Lead Conference put on by the OCDSB. George Couros, innovator extraordinaire, educator, and writer, was the keynote speaker and his message resounded loud and clear; we cannot stand still as educators in a world that is progressing at a lightning fast speed. We must move forward. This, not only for our own professional success and relevance but even more importantly to engage our students as learners.

The school year has been an incredible learning opportunity for me as an educator. My colleague is a thoughtful planner and a critical thinker. She pushes me to be the same, and together we engage the students in thinking activities that go beyond worksheets and grades. But that is not always appreciated. Parents remember their own education experience and question us and our methods. Our confidence is strained and tested continuously. Are we doing the right thing for the kids? This is their second language, maybe we SHOULD be handing out worksheets? Other teachers aren’t doing this, and what if the outcome of our students doesn’t measure up?

The reality of our classroom is that it is based on research, on hours and hours of reading and critical discussion and planning, and our intention is to prepare these grade 2 and 3 children for a new world that we don’t even completely understand yet. We push them to take risks, to think for themselves, to solve problems and to be empathetic little people. We expect a lot from them, and they should, in turn, expect even more from us. We build meaningful, deep connections with our students and we teach them more than a worksheet ever could; and for this I am proud. So we push through the moments of muddled, messy learning because Adrianna, the kids and I are all in this together; and we want change for our classroom, our school, and the entire system.

Generating ideas – for Writers and Makers

We’ve been focussing on the importance of having students become comfortable sharing ideas and taking risks when working together on our Maker challenges. We made a really interesting connection today – between Making and Writing! We’ve been talking about “small moment” writing these days; this means taking  a small moment of life and stretching it out to make a longer, more detailed story. We read a great picture book as a “hook”, then our mini-lesson focussed on generating ideas for small moments using an idea web. Pretty straightforward, right?

The results were so surprising! Our grade 2 & 3 students had a LOT of trouble putting together an idea web for their own recent experiences. When we realized that some students has simply started to write sentences (skipping the idea web altogether), while others copied the model we’d done as shared writing, and many were stumped after getting the date written at the top of a new blank page…we went back to the drawing board. Students had more success with coming up with ideas after the second, even more explicit lesson. But this got us thinking: is a student’s ability to generate ideas in writing connected to his or her comfort level with creative thinking and innovation when tasked with design or Maker-style challenges? Does a child’s confidence in his or her ability to generate and share ideas affect all aspects of his or her learning? Of course it does…

Young Michelangelos

Our goal in art today was to understand what Michelangelo created and how he became so famous. A painter, sculptor and poet, this artist was a maker from a young age. The students learned about who Michelangelo was and what he created; we then took a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel to understand how elaborate his fresco paintings are. They were then tasked with recreating “a day in the life of our classroom” in true Michelangelo style: lying on their backs with their canvas taped to the bottom of a chair or table. We took flexible seating to a new level today! 🙂

Design thinking saved Sam!

We see design thinking as problem solving with a focus on collaboration and creativity. Students need to know that when they are working to solve a problem, each one of them has something important to contribute to the process. Sharing ideas can feel so risky for many students, though. If they are going to become confident, creative problem-solvers, they are going to need PRACTICE!

So…we challenged students to save “Sam”, an unfortunate gummy worm who became stranded on his capsized boat (a plastic cup), and whose life jacket (a gummy lifesaver) was trapped under the boat. Working in pairs, students had to put the life jacket on the worm using only their specialized tools (paperclips) without touching anything with their hands. We used the same framework for design thinking that we introduced last week: identify the problem, imagine possible solutions, choose the best one, make a plan and carry it out. Once we set the scene, we sent students off to tackle their challenge. To succeed with this challenge, students had to work together.

The solutions were varied, and many students succeeded in saving Sam, but all of them contributed something to the rescue efforts.