Dear Interns:


Internship is such an amazing part of learning to be a teacher.  Here in Saskatchewan, at either University, you are given the opportunity during your education to do a 4 month internship placement in a classroom.  

I have had interns in the past before I did my Teaching Hiatus (a.k.a.: staying home to raise my kids) and now, in my third year back at it, I have an intern again.

I am going to try to make a list of things that I think are important for my Intern to know.  Here, in no particular order, are my thoughts:

1.  Questioning is important.  So important.  If you ask a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, please be ready to follow up with something to make those kids think more deeply.  Be ready to ask them “Why do you think. . . ?” or “How do you know. . . ?” or “Can you connect it to. . . ?”  You never know where those conversations are going to lead!

2.  Don’t do for the kids what they can do for themselves.  They are smart.  They are going to try to get out of some things.  Make them accountable and keep them accountable.  Encourage them to TRY.  Help them up when they are not successful.  But help them feel the joy of independence and persistence.  It’s not always easy, but it’s usually best.   Articulate to the parents that that’s your plan because it’s important to have them as partners in your students’ educations.

3.  Be yourself.  The kids are genuinely curious about you and who you are.  Sometimes, be bigger than yourself.  Be surprising.   It’s the unexpected that keeps them guessing!  

4.  Teach Like a Pirate.  I wish I could take credit for this little phrase, but it’s the awesome work of Dave Burgess and the title of his book.  It’s also a fantastic group of educators who are so ridiculously passionate about their work that the creativity and dedication is mind-blowing.  Google it.  Or check out Twitter on Monday evenings and search for the hashtag #tlap.  It’s the coolest thing ever.  You can find my review of the book, here.  I bought the t-shirt.  And the hoodie.  Enough said.

5.  Earn your Oscar.  Some days you are going to be less than enthusiastic about your content. Or you’ve been up several time during the nights and you are exhausted.  Or you’ve just had a lousy day and aren’t feelin’ the vibe to be awesome.  

Be.  Awesome.

Some days, we fake it ’til we make it.  Find a content delivery that you love.  Encourage other experts to help.  Draw from the interests of the students and take a short side-trip down a tangent.  Give yourself a short time-out, leaving the kids with something productive to work on.  It doesn’t have to be a full-on Hollywood production every day, but your students are going to remember the crazy, awesome stuff.  Do it as often as you can.  

6.  Ask questions.  I don’t know everything, but if you want, I can try to help you find the answer or I can find someone who maybe knows the answer.  Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t know something.  Keep an “I Wonder” journal.  You’ll use it someday. 

7.  Bring your A-Game.  Show me what you can do.  As my imaginary colleague, Ms Frizzle, would say, “Take chances.  Make mistakes.  Get messy.”  I’ve got your back.  Now is your time to try new things (well, really, you’re going to do that your whole career!).  

8.  You’re going to have crappy lessons.  You’re going to feel like a flop some lessons/days.  Guess what?  That happens to everyone.  Reflect on it.  Dissect it to see what you may have done differently.  When you know better, do better.  And then, let it go.  

9. Have fun.  For goodness sake, HAVE FUN.  Laugh.  Laugh at things that happen because they are supposed to and the things that you have no control over that catch you off guard.  Laugh at yourself.  

10.  Reflect on everything.  How did your lesson go?  That interaction with a student?  Your day?  Write things down.  You think you’ll remember it all but I’ll tell you this – I don’t remember exactly how I did things last year, so remembering ALL THE THINGS is probably not realistic.  

There are a million other pieces of advice and support, but I think this might be a good start.   We’re going to talk a lot.  I hope I remember to tell you as many things I can that can help you out.  We’re at the beginning of this adventure and I can’t wait to see what you can do and to learn from you.  Because I truly believe that Internship is not a one-way transfer of knowledge and feedback.  

Let’s do this.  Let’s give these kids an amazing 4 months.  And I hope at the end of the 4 months that you have had an amazing time, too.  


I have arrived. What day is it?

By my count, I have officially been on holidays for 23 days as of today.

Summer Dreaming.

Easy, there.  I hasn’t been all beaches, sand and summer beverages!

I love my job.  LOVE it!  I won’t deny, though, that having the summer ‘off’ is definitely a wonderful perk of having chosen this career.  But I think we should clarify what ‘summer off’ means.

Officially, school was done on June 27.  From June 28-yesterday, I was aware of what day of the week it was.  Today, I found myself asking,

“What day is it today?”

And I knew that I had finally arrived at Summer.

The first week or so of holidays for teachers is definitely a time of decompression.  We haven’t started to relax yet.  For me, it was still filled with job-related tasks.  I sent thank you emails/cards for gifts generously given at the end of the year.  I had to shred copies of personal student documents that I had in my possession for the year.  I sent emails and texts to parents of some of my students, checking in and seeing how they were doing, after a very emotional last day where they were so sad to leave the school.  I have kept in contact with one of my students who is on a trip abroad and has enjoyed emailing with me. And I have answered parent emails that have still trickled in regarding lost items and questions about the fall.

Once those tasks seemed to trickle off I found myself trying to catch up with all the ‘house/home stuff’ that has been largely ignored in the end-of-the-year frenzy that is June.  I swear that the laundry has been multiplying and I may or may not have run out and bought new underwear for my family when I was having a bit of trouble keeping up.  What?  That’s normal, right?  That and dealing with the pile of school items that both of my own children brought home and unceremoniously dumped in the front  room.  I am proud to say that just 23 days later, that has been taken care of.  The bar is kind of low here, people.

After those first couple of weeks, I start to feel like socializing again.  I’m reading amazing books for fun. My energy is back – I am sleeping well and sleeping in a little bit.  I manage to stay in bed until 7:30 instead of the work-day 6:00 wake up.  Once again, low bar, apparently.

So, now, I find myself sitting on my deck on a quiet – What day is it? Oh, yeah, SUNDAY. – morning, enjoying a coffee in the sun with my dog sleeping at my feet and the rest of the family still snoozing and I know that I have arrived.  I am in summer relaxation mode.

My goal for this summer was to learn how to relax.  This sounds stupid, but it’s true.   It was made clear to me mid-June, when a colleague of mine brought her class into mine to teach us some of the yoga that they did as a group.  It became clear to me that I don’t know how to relax. I don’t know how to do it. I was extremely uncomfortable trying. It was a sobering experience when I realized how high-strung I was and how fast and stressfully I lived my life.

This summer has, so far, been awesome! I am spending time with my family, camping, going on day trips (If you are ever in Moose Jaw check out the Chicago Connection tunnels tour!), bike riding with my kids and learning how to sit quietly and watch TV (Sherlock and Dr Who on Netflix are my faves right now). The conscious decision to relax has been wonderful for me.

Next week my kids will be in camp and my husband will be going to work.  My initial thoughts were, “Great!  Quiet house! I can get working on school stuff for the fall!”  And no doubt, I will do a bit of that.  Some Pinteresting.  Work on my year plan.  Create my online dayplanner.    But I will be aware of my need to recharge.  Teachers need that.  Because as soon as I am allowed to go back in the school, after summer cleaning and maintenance have been done, I will feel that familiar tug to get back to work.  And really, I can’t shut down entirely.  There’s a whole internet and Twitterverse that I have to learn before I get back!

So to my teacher friends, enjoy your summer. Recharge.   I hope you have arrived.  It’s a long journey getting here and we deserve every minute.  I hear the padding of feet and the slamming of a bathroom door inside the house.  My quiet time is over.  My family time begins.

CC: Photo Credit: TowerGirl via Compfight cc

Whereby I declare a breakdown.

For a week in March I was extremely fortunate to be asked to be part of a group of people who would help design and plan 9 new joint-use facility (Public and Catholic) schools to be built in our province.  It used the Lean Process and was facilitated by Dave from Seattle.  (Which is all I know about him.)  We had teachers, consultants, facilities people, division office folks, parents, board members and students from 5 different school divisions involved.   Dave from Seattle (henceforth known as DFS)  had a bit of a bumpy start with the group of nearly 100 people in attendance.  DFS thought that the majority of the participants there were more familiar with the Lean process than we actually were.  Actually, most of us there knew NOTHING about the process so the information that we were initially given went WAY over most of our heads and the connection to what we thought we were there for was lost, almost entirely.  Value-stream mapping and fishboning, for example, were activities that we had trouble connecting to the understood purpose of school design:

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DFS told us that if we ever felt that things unclear, if our tasks seemed ill-explained, or if for any reason we were frustrated or lost during the process that we were to declare a “breakdown.”  Now, no one did while we were there, and I wonder what that might have looked like if one had, but I know that there were times when it should have been used, given the comments that we were hearing and the frustration levels at times.

We were tasked with designing the new “School of the Future” builds, fully realizing that our plans and models wouldn’t be built *exactly* as we had suggested but being optimistic that the main ideas and themes that had been would be implemented.

The process was daunting and difficult.  It was also one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been involved in!  After seeing an extremely motivational presentation by some kids from Red Deer, and their plan for the school of the future, which won an international design competition, we were ready to start planning our “schools of the future.”

We were given the ‘shell’ of the design to work with, the “Tetris” model.  Onto that, we had to arrange and place coloured pieces of paper which represented different learning areas/rooms/spaces around the school.  And once we had a whole school planned, both the Public side, Catholic side and the shared use facilities in the center of the school, we had to do it again.  Six more times.  This was the Seven Ways Process.  By the last ways, people were tired of looking at coloured squares and although there may have been some more ‘outrageous’ ideas being thrown around we were sometimes  less likely to be thinking traditionally and more likely to start cutting the square pieces of paper into curved pieces or tossing those pieces and creating our own.

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Photo 2014-03-11, 11 15 43 AM120+ plans later (for two separate designs) we had to vote on our favourites, based on attributes such as flow and functionality pieces.

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After those plans were whittled down to 2 (well, 3, but that’s a whole other blog post) we started to create our models.  The plans were simply a guideline.  Our finished model was based on some of those ideas, other brilliant ideas that came to be as we built, space restrictions or square footage requirements.  And 3 mighty awesome designs were the result.  Plan A was a model that had space for 650 kids per ‘side’.  Plan B was 650 on one side (Public) and 450 on the other (Catholic). Both had 2 floors.

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In addition to the models that were made, a group was charged with building a full-scale model of a few rooms within the plan.

On Friday of that week we had a Report Out to all of the participants of the week, the media, Directors of Education from the 5 school divisions that were involved. The models were shown and explained and the ‘favourite’ features of each plan were shared.

Yesterday, at the 30 Day Review, we met again with the architects to see the preliminary plans that have been created based on the Quality Metrics (desired attributes) that were identified in each plan.  These plans will eventually become the ‘core’ plan and will be configured and tweaked according to the needs of each individual school division based on their separate educational directions, readiness,  and needs.

So.  We were designing the ‘School of the Future.”  The school that will meet the needs of our students and communities for the next 30 years.  Considering changes in educational pedagogy and technology. So we were largely planning for the unknown.  Can we anticipate what education will look like in 20 years?  Not really.   However, the trend that came about time and time again during the planning stages was that we didn’t want to be ‘traditional.’ Collaborative spaces for students and teachers were identified as a high-need. Flexible spaces for different uses.  Maker spaces.  Areas for messy inquiry. Community shared areas and spaces to be shared between the two schools in the structure.

The plan that we saw yesterday seemed to lean largely towards a traditional space, in my opinion.

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While many of the Quality Metrics were indeed incorporated, I think that we are still needing more and larger flexible spaces.  More areas for students to congregate and share and collaborate.  I am in awe of the architects who are facilitating these meetings.  Laura and Craig listen to our sometimes far-out ideas and never give us the “look” or the comment that we’re crazy and ‘of course that will never happen.’  They are supportive and listen to our ideas and madly take notes the whole time.  Their task to take all of these ‘wants,’ from a variety of interest groups and different educational beliefs and ideologies can be nothing short of daunting.

I teach in a school that will turn 25 years old next year.  It’s an amazing facility, bursting at the seams!  We have traditional spaces for our classrooms but see kids working in non-traditional places all the time – stair wells, hallways, shared learning areas.  And in most of these areas, they are collaborating on something.  The technology in our school is used progressively and by most teachers. We have charging carts for technology and some teachers have incorporated a ‘charging station’ area in their own rooms.  “Traditional” classrooms are organized by individual teachers – some preferring desks (I like them but rarely have them in a traditional – read: rows – design) and some preferring tables.  Many have a communal ‘gathering’ areas or other work-spaces and specialized, functional  furniture such as standing desks, rocking chairs and beanbag chairs.  Many of our teachers teach as if they were in a ‘school of the future.’  Lots of inquiry learning, technology and BYOD opportunities, collaboration with other teachers, classrooms and among students.  We have a small outdoor garden, a space created by a few teachers, their time and passion and a Gardening Club.  Many teachers link their students’ learning to our environment by being outside whenever possible and take care of the environment by encouraging recycling, being aware of paper usage and other initiatives.

To me, the plan that we saw yesterday seems more similar to my present, 25 year old school than the “Jetsons-esque” ‘School of the Future’ that many people believed we were planning.  There were some fantastic additions, including DaVinci Studios and teacher collaboration spaces.  The inclusion of the presentation staircase for seating and performances is one of my favourite things!  The architects heard that we wanted more open space, more areas for flexible usage (ie: garage/pony doors to allow for open or more contained spaces), and I hope that when they take those things back to their group, they will incorporate more of them.   I won’t lie.  I am a bit disappointed.  We spent a week planning these schools and although we knew that they wouldn’t be built exactly how they were presented, we were  optimistic that we would see similarities in the final planning stages.

So, DFS, who is no longer part of this process,  here’s where I’m ready to call a breakdown,  fully recognizing that it’s too late.  Here are my questions, concerns, and or ponderings:

*  Have we succeeded in building a ‘school of the future?’  The spaces in my present school are being used quite similarly to some that are planned in the drawing we saw yesterday.  27 years ago, when the planning started for this facility, were *they* planning for the school of the future? Maybe this means they succeeded, as maybe we will have?

*  What happens when we try to staff these facilities?  Are there enough teachers who will be willing to give up the control of their one space and share a collaborative space with others? I think it would be an interesting challenge!  Will teachers who have a more traditional view of educational practices ‘close off’ their open spaces in order to teach as they always have? I hope that there will be opportunities for expressions of interest and mentoring by people who have been in these situations.

*  For those of us who have been students in open area classrooms. (Dating myself:  Confederation Park School, Saskatoon.  I was in Grade One when that school opened with its central, open resource centre, break-out rooms and open area classrooms.)  Did it work back then?  Most people would likely say probably not, since most schools eventually erected walls or used dividers to break the spaces back into more traditional classrooms.  But was it the same educational practices driving our instruction?  I don’t think it was.  I think comparing the classrooms of the mid-late 70s to the classrooms now is apples and oranges.

*  We have a window in our facility that leads out onto the roof of the school.  What are the chances that my Principal will let me use that as access to the roof where we could create a rooftop garden space?  Okay, probably not, but I’ll ask, anyway.

* And what happens next?  Is the input of teachers and students over until the builds start in 2015?  Will our finances and facilities managers lead the charge from now on?  Just wondering. . .

I am extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to be involved in this process.  It was and continues to be exciting and interesting.  I look forward to seeing this process move forward in the next few years.

And now I will call a “Buzz Delta.”  Which will mean something only to the people who I attended this fantastic week with.  . .










Where in the world is Brunei?

How many times in your life had you had someone ask you that?

Okay, well, if they haven’t, yet, what would you do if they had?  Would you know the answer off the top of your head?  Could you instantly point to it on a map? Or do you have a plan to get that information?

I really thought the days of neatly colouring the 48 countries in Asia on a map, numbering and labelling each one with a sharp HP pencil were gone, but I guess not since it is an assignment that I have seen lately.

I shake my head at these types of assignments and hold myself back from asking the teacher what exactly the purpose of the exercise is.  By Grade Six, I’m pretty sure the kids can colour pretty well.  I am not sure, after telling them to jam the labelling of 48 countries onto an 8.5×11″ sheet of paper that I can accurately assess their printing skills or spelling skills because I can’t even read them.  Nor would I want to assess that work from 28 kids.  And I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to remember all the locations after that exercise.  I know because I watched the kid do the assignment and *I* don’t remember.

But it started a heated discussion in our home between myself and my husband.  My argument was that it was an unnecessary task because the geographical locations of countries can be easily researched and found within minutes on one of the many devices we have in our home or on our persons.  I believe in learning being relevant and meaningful.  If Brunai was in the news  and it was a topic being discussed, then by all means, look it up.  My husband’s argument was, “It’s a good thing to learn.”  To which I replied, “Is this the best way?”

Maybe I just hated doing maps.  Maybe I would just hate marking them.  Maybe I’m the only one who can’t identify all 48 Asian countries on a map, instantly.  But with all the technology and information at our fingertips, I just think some of these ‘old school’ tasks can be and should be replaced with giving kids the tools to find information when they need it, making connections to their lives, their learning, and hopefully helping them understand and retain the information more efficiently.

I definitely don’t disagree with learning where Asia or any other region is in the world.  I think we need a basic knowledge of those things.  I just wonder if the time spent on that particular task couldn’t have been used more efficiently.


Oh, and in case you are wondering:

Avast, Me Hearties! I be readin’!

Photo Credit: Erminig Gwenn via Compfight cc

So, I’ve spent my summer reading.  Some “beach reads” but also some good professional stuff, like Damian Cooper’s Redefining Fair and Ruth Culham’s  6+1 Traits of Writing for the Primary Grades.  But I’ve recently started a new read and I was sold on the book before I even got through the introduction because of a part of a paragraph that I LOVED!

If you know me, you know that I have a pink skull and crossbones sticker and a “Pirate Girl” sticker on my vehicle.  I think pirates are cool.  I love celebrating Talk Like a Pirate Day (when my Grade Two students mutinied the Vice Principal’s office last year, in fact!) and I smuggled a whole lotta Pirate Paraphernalia onto a houseboat a couple of years ago for our annual family reunion and made everyone honorary pirates!

So, while browsing a couple of weeks ago I stumbled onto this book:

and I HAD to have it.  Because even if it was a crappy book, it’d still look hella cool on my bookshelf!

Now, in all honesty, I have only started the book, so I haven’t gotten far enough into it to make any judgement on the overall content but as I got near the end of the Introduction, on page xii, I found the following paragraph and I found an amazing description of how I teach.

Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into uncharted territories with no guarantee of success.  They reject the status quo and refuse to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence.  they are entrepreneurs who take risks and are willing to travel to the ends of the earth for that which they value.  although fiercely independent, they travel with and embrace a diverse crew.  If you’re willing to live by the code, commit to the voyage, and pull your share of the load, then you’re free to set sail.  Pirates don’t much care about public perception; they proudly fly their flags in defiance.  And besides, everybody loves a pirate.

I’ll get back and post my thoughts about the book after I’ve finished it but really, that quote alone was worth it for me.

And just a reminder:  Talk Like a Pirate Day is on September 19.  If ye be in the area of me pirate crew on the day, bring us a handful o’ doubloons and join our motley group.  Fare ye well.  ‘Till th’ morrow.  Arrgggggg!

(And the family pirate tradition continues. . . note the Jolly Roger hanging during our family reunion this summer!)

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UPDATE:  I finished this book a long time ago.  It’s excellent!  Lots of great ideas to create engaging, exciting lessons to hook our students and create enthusiasm in our classes.  I would highly recommend it to anyone who is feeling in a bit of a teaching slump or to pre-interns and interns who are trying to create amazing lessons.   I’ve also recently discovered that there is a whole Teach Like a Pirate (TLAP) community out there.  Check out the Twitter Chat on Monday evenings at 7 p.m. #tlap.  Amazing group of educators with fantastic ideas to share.

Digital Reality check

 Photo Credit: MO3-2005 via Compfight cc


My 13 year old son: Hey, Mom. Whatcha doin’?
Me: Checking out Twitter.
MTYOS: Anything new?
Me: Practically everything. But some of the same. Promise me you will never forget that anything you put on the Internet stays there forever as a reflection of you.
MTYOS: (May have rolled his eyes here a li’l bit.) Moooooooooom. I *knooooow*. (Yes. We have had this conversation before.)
Me: Okay, let me show you something…

I took my son through a couple of exchanges that someone I follow on Twitter had had and we talked about how that person was perceived. I’ve never met the man in person and only started following him around the time of a local election. My son’s reaction was as it should be, based on what I have tried to teach him and what I have tried to model for him. He was absolutely shocked. “Mom! That guy swears a lot and he seems to be picking fights with everyone. He is not being very respectful, at all! What is his problem?”

I think that seeing someone, an adult, making such a poor online identity for himself was shocking to my son, even at his age of Just Barely A Teenager. And this will springboard into more conversations around digital identity and citizenship. I wonder how this man’s spouse feels about his words and choices of interactions? Is she embarrassed? Does she feel the same way? This man is regularly called names and ridiculed and heckled for what he posts on line because he is very inflammatory and often disrespectful. Two wrongs and all that…

How will negative interactions such as these affect the posters of them? I bet it’s easy to put on a brave online face and respond (or not) to the hecklers but does the anonymous trash-talking get to a person?

I’d love to sit him down and have a talk about social media as I see it and how he is perceived by what he posts but I have a feeling it wouldn’t do any good.  I will keep talking to my children and my students about it.  And hope that it will, in fact, have a positive effect on them.

Photo Credit: ~Ilse via Compfight cc



I am easily distracted.

CC via: net_efekt

My students are treated to that little bit of information on a daily basis when we start talking about one thing in class and we get off on a tangent and just keep going.  And going.  And going.  And that’s okay with me.  My family is treated to this when I find a great home decor item in a store and suddenly a whole room is transformed.  And my spouse knows this about me because our storage room is filled with my past ‘distractions': stained glass supplies, card-making materials, stamping bins, cake-making/decorating items.

I see something I am interested in and I jump in.  Which explains how I have come to have enrolled myself in #ETMOOC, a MOOC around educational technology and media.  Whenever I find something like this that I just *have* to do, I go through the initial excitement and enthusiasm and can’t wait to get started.  Now that I have received the  confirmation information and the schedule and the first ‘assignment,’ I will move onto the next part of my MO, panic and anxiety.

The second guessing has begun:  Will I have time to do this?  What if I suck at it?  What if I have nothing good to contribute?  I need to remind myself that this is an opportunity to learn through self-directed goals and activities.

I am looking forward, mostly, to watching  and learning from the big brains who are part of this activity.  I am  hoping to share a thing or two that I might know and I am really hoping that this makes me an educator even more comfortable with using technology with my students to encourage their engagement and quest for lifelong learning.

Let’s do this thing.