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The Power of One – #saskedchat summer blog week 4

As you can see, I missed last week’s blog challenge.  I was away from my family and quite enjoyed my time away.  I did some reading, some visiting, some sun-soaking and just relaxing.  This week I’m back!

While I was away, I read the first book in the #2k15reads book club: Learn like a Pirate, by Paul Solarz (@paulsolarz on Twitter).  I read it quite quickly and was equally as quickly inspired.  However, like many PD sessions or reading sessions, I quickly slip from inspiration to but’s.  I like the ideas but…  I love the idea of giving kids independence, but they are only six and seven!  I like the idea of collaboration, but do they really understand at that age?  I like the idea of having a student-led classroom, but can they achieve that so early in second language instruction?  I like the idea of a fluid, changing space, but I’m not a classroom teacher, do I have any control over their space?  I like the idea of setting goals with the kids each day or week, but with only 120 minutes a week, is that possible?  I LOVE the responsibility partners idea, but can six-year olds understand the concept of helping vs. giving answers?  I love the Marble Theory of knowledge and strengths, but will these little people understand it?

As you can see, it is easy to be inspired and just as easily write these ideas off as not possible.  I was probably ready to just leave things as they were until this showed up in my Twitter feed:



Well, okay, the universe didn’t want to just let this one go for me.  So, I replied with a truthful but shallow response:


However, thankfully, neither the universe, nor Scott Totten (@4BetterEducatio), were willing to let that one go just yet.


Okay, so I really need to start thinking about this… I can’t just let this one go.  So, I was honest in my response and Scott was equally honest in his.  tweet4So, here I am.  What can I do, as one itinerant teacher, to empower my little six and seven year old students?  How can I, who comes in for 60 minutes at a time, twice a week, empower these kids who are just discovering a new language, just discovering this thing called school?  And quite frankly, how can I, who enjoys having a clear path in front of me with set steps, create a learning environment that is messy, loud, and meaningful for my students?  Scott encouraged me to try to answer these questions.  Jana Scott Lindsay (@janaslinday on Twitter) aptly chose a topic for the #saskedchat blog post this week that seemed to push me even further in this direction.  What power do I have, as ONE person, one prep teacher, to create this positive change?


I started by rereading the chapter on Peer Collaboration from Learn like a Pirate.  It seemed to me that this is where I need to start with my kidlets.  For each big idea I came across, I wrote my thoughts down.  I will share them below.  Please, if you have any thoughts or ideas, share them with me.  Right now, I am just at the early stages of processing all this information.  I hope to dig deeper in the next month or so before school is back in session.

  • We are a family!
    • We want everyone to find success in this classroom.  From my experience, younger kids have a natural ability to be happy for their classmates, and sad for them.  They love seeing people from their class win prizes in school-wide contests and become very concerned for them if they are sad or hurt.  This plays naturally into the concept that we are a family.
    • They still need to be reminded, however, that family members can argue, disagree, and even fight sometimes, but that we still need to be respectful.
    • This idea also fits in really well with our Catholic teachings of “we are all children of God.”
    • While reading this section, I started thinking about the “I can” statements that have become very popular as of late.  Could I transform these statements into “We can” statements?  Would that underline the idea that our goal is that we all can achieve the desired outcome?  It would eliminate the “I can do it before/better/faster/neater/etc than you” statements.  It would give the quick finishers a focused goal: make sure that everyone can do it.  I like the idea.
  • “Give me Five”
    • My first reaction, and continued reaction to this is that five, six and seven year olds wouldn’t get this.  They are just discovering what school is all about.  However, is there a way to adapt this idea?
    • I really like the idea of stopping a working session and asking a student to share an instruction, an idea, or a question.  I think that is I did the stopping but the student did the sharing instead of me, this is a happy compromise at first.  It would show the students that I value what they think, their ideas.
    • Many young students don’t quite know yet how to read time.  Perhaps I could travel with a digital clock on my cart and post the transition times so students would be able to keep us on task.
  • Setting goals collaboratively
    • Take five minutes to debrief that day with the kids and to set a goal for the next class.  In the book the kids run the show from leading the discussion to getting the supplies to writing the goal.  How can I make this work in a grade 1 classroom where at the beginning of the year they can neither read nor write?
    • Can I ask the “capitaine” to be responsible for getting the supplies (with the support of everyone)?
    • Since I’m travelling in and out of the classroom, how can I find a physical space for this?
    • Can I start the year with visuals of some standard goals? (speak French, stay on task, help a friend, …???)
    • Keep it simple!
  • Providing “space”
    • I don’t have control over the way that the classrooms are organized as I am just popping in and out.
    • I need to find a way to organize my cart in such a way that although the supplies on the cart may change, that each classroom has a “space” on my cart that doesn’t change.  Is there anyone out there that teaches from a cart that can share how they organize themselves???
    • Can I ask the teachers for a spot in their room?  A corner of a shelf or bulletin board?
  • Responsibility partners
    • For those that haven’t read the book, here is how Paul Solarz describes responsibility partners (page 54):
      • Responsibility Partners sit together and bounce ideas off of each other but still come up with their own products using their own ideas.  They check in regularly with one another to make sure they each understand the assignment and required tasks, ad they confer with one another whenever they have questions.  They also hold one another accountable for completing all the steps correctly.

    • This idea brings me back to the idea of family and helping each other.  The idea that WE CAN do things in addition to I CAN.
    • This supports French immersion’s goal of oral language development and gives students the opportunity to use French in a real-world way.
    • Paul Solarz also brings attention to The Cone of Learning which fits in quite nicely with the idea of giving the students an opportunity to talk about their work.  It takes the learning from passive to active.
    • I love this idea and am determined to give this a go in my classes.  The only difficulty I foresee is figuring out how to teach the little people the difference between helping by just giving them the/an answer, and helping them discover an answer on their own.  Little people truly believe they are helping their friends by telling them exactly what to do.  I am looking for lessons, books, ideas, ways to introduce this idea to my students?  Anyone have any they would like to share?
  • Conflict resolution
    • When you are asking kids to work together and collaborate, it is inevitable that there are going to be disagreements.  I love the three simple rules introduced in the book: Rock-Paper-Scissors; Compromise; Choose kind.  The work at all age levels and could likely solve most problems.
    • Paul Solarz also talks about using The Leader in Me and the 7 Habits of Happy Kids.  I really like what I’ve seen of these resources.  I would like to see if the classroom teachers would collaborate with me on some of these lessons at the beginning of the year.
  • Collaboration
    • I’m always on the lookout for new picture books to use to teach these kinds of lessons to my younger students.  I came across a lovely story of collaboration this summer: By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman (@deborahfreedman).  Unfortunately, this is not currently available in French.  Do you have any suggestions for books?
    • I think that it is important to practice collaboration.  I like the idea of quality, not quantity.
    • In the book, it is underlined that learning, not perfection, is the ultimate goal of all collaboration.  I think this is super important.

There are many other things in the book, but as with everything we learn, we can’t do everything at once.  Here is where I am going to start.  Please share your thoughts and ideas.  Please ask me questions if you think I’ve misunderstood or haven’t clarified enough.  Thanks for reading!



What sparks your fire? #saskedchat summer blog challenge week 2

Books are the spark

When I was in early elementary school, I was lonely.  I was a gymnast and was training 6 days a week so no time for school friends.  I also loved school, loved learning, loved reading.  None of those things were particularly popular with the other 8 year olds.  I remember vividly the first time I picked up an Encyclopedia Brown book.  I found in him a friend.  I remember thinking that it was okay to know things.  It was even cool to be smart.  It was the first time that I vividly remember a book having an impact on my life.

Fast forward many years and many books later.  I was in university, having decided to become a math teacher.  I was set in my reading ways.  I read a lot, but I was stuck and stubborn in which books I chose to read.  Many times already, my best friend’s brother had suggested Ender’s Game to me.  I had refused, saying over and over that “I don’t like science fiction.”  (Though, looking back, I had never actually READ any science fiction!)  Finally, he was tired of suggesting it, bought a copy, and mailed it to me.  The note attached said something to the effect of “Now that I bought this for you, your Catholic guilt will make you read it.  You can thank me when you are done.”  And I did.  I loved the book.  Ender’s Shadow solidified it for me.  I discovered a new genre. Once again, a book taught me that I could love any book.  That I need to try things, even if I don’t think I will like it.  That other readers know things too.  These books cracked open my reading world.


Skip forward another few years.  I had been teaching for a year, but had moved from high school to middle years.  Despite my awakening to any and all genres with Ender, I still had this mentality that I could only read adult books.  It was not, at the time as it is today, commonplace for adults to read teen fiction.  (Is it commonplace in the outside world, or is it just that I now surround myself with people who read #kidlit?!?)  I bought in to belief that adults don’t and shouldn’t read children’s books.  I was teaching grade seven.  Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire was being released and there was a LOT of buzz about this series.  My students asked me if I had read any of them.  They wanted to talk books with me.  I hadn’t and I felt like I had missed an opportunity to connect with my kids.  That day, I stopped by the library, got all three books that were out, and read them over the next week.  I went back the next week and had conversation after conversation about the books.  We talked about favourite characters, about plot, about good vs. evil, about our predictions for book four…  I went home and realized that so much learning, so many objectives (yes, they were called objectives at the time) were met in these informal conversations about reading.  I had connected with my kids and they were EXCITED to talk about their reading! I also realized that I enjoyed the books and was equally excited for the next book to come out.  I started asking the kids what they were reading and adding the titles to my own TBR (to be read) list.  We started having these conversations more often.  I developed great relationships with those kids; some that 15 years later, still endure.  It changed the way that I started thinking about reading.  I could read children’s literature for enjoyment.  It also changed the way I thought about teaching.  It got me thinking about how tapping in to what kids are drawn to naturally can create such a different learning environment.  I had been given flint and steel, but the sparks were not yet flying.


Fast forward one last time to 2010.  I had moved from middle years down to grade three.  My focus had turned from math instruction to a passion for reading instruction.  I started graduate studies and joined Twitter.  I started reading research articles and lurking on Twitter, searching reading and teaching hashtags.  I came across a conversation about teaching reading between two people: John Schumacher (@MrSchuReads) and Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks).  John was a school librarian from Illinois and Donalyn was a middle school reading teacher from Texas.  I liked what they had to say about reading in general and specifically about teaching reading.  It somehow awoke the flint and steel that had laid dormant for ten years.  It was like sunshine and rainbows to my teaching soul.  I had been growing more and more uneasy with the way that I was teaching reading and seeing more and more kids come to “hate reading.”  I knew that things had to change.  I started reading their Twitter feeds (and those that they interacted with).  I started asking questions.  I started interacting on Twitter.  John sent me book recommendations as well as a few books too!  Donalyn helped me work through my jumbled hammering of ideas to help form my little sparks.  Imagine my embarrassment (and delight) when I found out that Donalyn had written a book about that exact topic!!!  I ordered it right away.  I devoured it.  I remember sitting in bed with tears rolling down my face feeling like I had found home.  I remember feeling the spark and support I needed to take my feelings about teaching reading and put them into practice.  It is amazing that finding a piece of literature which supports your philosophies can give you the strength to go ahead with it.  I started changing things in my classroom.  I started lending out the book.  I now own my fourth copy of the book (the first three have found new homes) as well as her second book Reading in the Wild.  I have continued to follow John and his blog Watch. Connect. Read.  I changed the way that I taught and have now moved in to the Teacher-Librarian position to further this passion.  This book solidified for me the idea that just like with teaching in general, readers and learners are made through connections and relationships.  Readers and learners are made through choice.  It is okay to not like a book.  It is okay to read comics, and magazines, and graphic novels, and non-fiction, and picture books…  Kids learn when they are excited about the topic.  Teachers should listen, learn, guide kids to books and validate, whatever the feelings and challenges are.  This book led me to my #nerdybookclub community, my #WOWtribe, and my job.


If books are the spark, people are the kindling

These books changed me.  However, I don’t think that I would have been able to sustain that change or continue on this journey for the last five years without the people with whom I have forged relationships during this time.

nerdybookclubTwitter has been an amazing resource for me.  My Twitter community started very virtually.  It started with finding John and Donalyn (whom I have yet to meet IRL (in real life), but hope to one day) and grew to the virtual #nerdybookclub community.  This is a community of adult readers, many of whom are in contact with students through the education world, but not all, who read, share and talk about what they are reading.  They share book and author recommendations.  They share ideas.  They share support.  It is an amazing community of readers.

tribeAfter a while, I started longing to connect with people IRL.  I started meeting and connecting with people in my grad studies classes (via Twitter).  It was nice to connect on Twitter then actually talk in person.  However, it wasn’t until my last two grad studies classes, which I took as a summer institute, that I found my tribe.  I used to call them my #WOW (Wine on Wednesday) group.  We met once a month to share, support, encourage and discuss teaching.  We share what we are doing, seek advice for things we are struggling with, offer support for ideas we want to try and help make plans of action for things we want to do but aren’t sure how to get there.  We are a group of teachers that span grade levels, teaching experience and interests but we have one thing in common: we want to become better teachers for our students.  It wasn’t until Sylvia Duckworth posted this sketchnote on Twitter that my WOW group became my WOWTribe.  They really are my tribe.

With the change in my teaching, something also changed in my school.  Conversations started.  I found in my colleague Natalie Mitchell, who was also doing her Master’s degree, an ally and a philosophical peer.  We started having planning sessions. We started collaborating.  We started sharing; between ourselves and with others.  Then, more people came on to the scene.  I have found a collaborating family at my school.  My current position as Teacher Librarian has allowed me to expand that collaboration tenfold! Again, as with my WOWTribe, we span a variety of backgrounds and grade levels, but we share the philosophy that we want to try new things for the betterment of our students.  I believe that our students have benefitted from that philosophy.

saskedchat tshirtAnd of course, the #saskedchat crew.  We connect virtually each Thursday night.  The topic range from things I am passionate about (like this coming Thursday’s chat about Literature, libraries and librarians – join us!) to topics with which I have little to no experience! We have connected in person through my WOW meetings, through edcamps, and even collaborative projects that started on Twitter and have moved beyond these virtual walls.  Look!  I’m even blogging again because of these connections!

Let’s start a fire!

So, after a novel of a story, what ignites my fire are books and relationships. Reading and sharing and learning together.  I continue this journey this summer with the #2k15reads summer book club.  We are reading Learn like a Pirate by Paul Solarz (@PaulSolarz) and Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level by Don Wettrick (@DonWettrick).  I encourage you to join in the conversation.


I also encourage you to check out the #saskedchat summer blog challenge and summer chat topics HERE.  Don’t worry about missing a few weeks here and there.  Jump in when you can.  Blog when you can.  If there is one thing that I’ve learned by undertaking this challenge, it is that we do what we can, we contribute what we can, and all our small contributions can create big change.


What’s holding you back? #saskedchat summer blog challenge

So, as you can see, my blog has laid dormant for a long time…  It has been an exciting but busy year for me.  I just completed my first year as a teacher-librarian and loved every second of it.  Having said that, I haven’t even opened this blog.  For me, this week’s topic for the blog challenge was a timely one, what’s holding me back?

The context in which it was asked, and the discussion held last night on Twitter under #saskedchat, meant for this question to be broad in its application.  What’s holding you back from doing what it is you want to do in your professional lives?  However, when Kelly Christopherson (@kwhobbes) first posed this question, I was thinking in the context of blogging.

I read blog posts every day.  I learn from them.  I’m inspired by them.  I get ideas from them.  I turn ideas into realities because of them.  I recognize their value and importance to my professional growth.  So, why haven’t I contributed back to this amazing community of sharing?  The simple answer is: I’m scared.

What I tell people is that I’m busy learning a new job.  I’m busy with my daughter.  I don’t have time to write.  I’m not a great writer.  I might have time today, but I probably won’t in the fall when we are back to school, so why bother starting.  I don’t have any ideas. I would rather be reading. (This last one just might be true!)Forrest Family (May 2015)

Deep down, however, the dialogue is different.  Who would want to read it?  My ideas aren’t worth sharing.  My ideas aren’t original.  What if what I write doesn’t match what I mean?  What if I get negative, or downright mean, feedback? (I have seen how mean people can be in the anonymity of the online world.

But really, I’m not being fair.  I’m not being fair to myself. I’m not being fair to my virtual colleagues who share with me.  I’m not being fair to my students who I encourage to step out of their comfort zone to give new things a shot.

So, today, I start my summer journey of blogging.  Today, I take the plunge.  I’m going to commit to 9 weeks of saskedchat blogging then we’ll see where things go from there.  I even contributed the topic for next week’s blog! I invite you to join in the journey yourself.

Clink HERE to see the blog challenge list and #saskedchat summer chat topics.