LOVE. LAUGH. LEARN. xoxox Hunni

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The Graduation Toast to the Class of 2015

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Greetings and gratitude to all here tonight, but most especially you – the students, the graduating class of 2015. I humbly thank you for this honour.

Sitting in the ceremony this morning was a moment of great pride and inspiration for all of us. You have been a collective, a unified community like no other Grade 12 group that I’ve witnessed, and you worked so hard to help each other succeed. You can look around at each other here and be grateful to be together.

I began this school year very nervous because for the first time, in many years, I really didn’t know many of the 12s – other than my drama babies who I hoped would protect me – and now I was sentenced to 5 of my 6 courses with YOU. You who were kind of intimidating, and you kind of had a bit of a butt-head reputation. Being the collective you are – that was really scary!

Of course, it took no time at all in the first semester with 30-2 and Creative Writing for you to show your true pirating natures – you plundered our time together, luring me with your giddy pessimism and your melodramatic loving – all the while stealing my heart with your curmudgeonly charm (right Sean Clifford?). You knew this to be true of your paradoxical natures (Shaan – paradoxical – you know what that means, right? – he asked me on his way into the diploma exam). So this paradox was known by you for you said it yourself in your writing – if I had any hope of survival against his imprisonment with you, it was lost when you began to bear your souls in your writing. I would spend countless evenings and early mornings with swollen tearful eyes from the beauty your words invoked. Your life philosophies, 6 word stories, river writing, spoken word poetry, the This I Believe, and the Never Shall I Forgets.

Soon enough, your wisdom, your creativity, and your heart flood all around me – embroiling me in your undertow.

Alas that first semester came to a close and we survived our time together – both feeling richer and grateful for our entrapment on those tumultuous seas. You were certainly pirates and you made me feel like your pirate queen!

Alas, the trumpet call for battle resounded again as you 2nd semester troops mustered your tenacity and shenanigans on my barely recovered heart. The rallying cry of 30-1 descended upon us and together – arm in arm – we faced the enemy – the dreaded diploma exam. Face it we did, through laughter, tears, dreams, nightmares, exhaustion and delight. Never shall I forget this. Never shall I forget you.

In 18 years of teaching I have loved more than 2000 students who have crossed the stages of graduation – but never have I met a group who truly felt so united in your blood, sweat, and tears – (especially in afterschool diploma preps in 30degree heat).  In such a short time together, you have burrowed your spirits into mine, and have forever affected me as not only a teacher, but especially as a person, and in the future -hopefully – as your friend.

I need to acknowledge the inspirational speeches from today’s ceremony and to pre-empt the rest my own speech by letting you know that I wrote mine before today – but Michael Beals’ valedictorian address has many parallels to my own – Michael, we have kindred souls. Many of you whose yearbooks I signed will note that I wrote: LOVE, LAUGH, LEARN. This is the motto of my life – it is the measuring tool I use to determine my own success and it is the magical torch that I pass onto you. But my words only shadow next to your own. As Michael also noted today – I’m infamous for the drudging pain of the blogs that I drill upon you, but thanks to the blogs I have your own wisdom to offer back to you. So as your fairy godmother – and with Michael as your other fairy godmother – the three wishes we bless upon you are love, laughter, and learning.

The primary value I hold is LOVE! I believe that that love is the central axis of all success. Find the best in each person you encounter, love the best in each person, and you will find success with them and for them. I believe that this is the passionate value that makes all of us at FFCA so special – as parents, staff, and students. Regarding love:

  • Jasmine K. wrote: “This taught me a lot about selflessness and how sometimes the right decision isn’t always the one that keeps you safe but rather the one that makes everyone around you safe.”
  • Rachel boasted: “ Loving loudly is being honest with yourself, the connections you have with your own feelings, and the openness to share them with others.”
  • Cameron realized, “There are many things that can be taken away from the One Act experience, but most of all … gratitude. This simple feeling is one of the most powerful, mood changing emotions I have witnessed by this point in my life.
  • Christy cried, “I am sad to leave this wonderful place where I have grown into someone that I am happy to be.”
  • RYAN exclaimed, “I would like to dedicate this to the amazing teachers of FFCA! … I feel the need to recognize the work they do for us students. All they want is the best from us and their dedication to us is not a job, but a passion which inspires that characteristic in us too.”

The secondary value I hold dear is the purity of LAUGHTER. We, as teachers, would never survive this work without the grace of laughter, and you certainly provide us plenty of opportunities to laugh. But due to our love – we usually laugh with you, and yes – on occasion – at you.   Laughter offers us joy and happiness, but more importantly, laughter eases the struggles in life. Together – as a staff and with students – we have laughed through our tears.

  • Jashanjot reminds us that “Everyone always forgets to include happy on the list of what they want to be. There’s a nonsensical idea that happiness stems from conforming to a status quo, but look at the happiest, most joyful individuals around you. The ones you see bursting with giggles and charm. They know how to take a joke and make one, they decided to not grow up the same way.”
  • Madison affirms, “I believe that being happy is much more than contentment. Being happy is making sacrifices, being happy is working hard, being happy is fixing your problems and coming to solutions on your own terms, evolving as a person and continuing to grow. Happiness is not a state of mind, it is a state of existence.”
  • Jamie asserts “- Life is a beautiful thing and rather than worrying about the dumb things and forgetting about all the great things, you may as well just enjoy it for what it is and be a happier person.”
  • Georgia – our beloved violist today – beautifully articulates, “Laughter doesn’t set limitations. Laughter creates opportunities. Laughter defeats evil. Laughter conquers.”

The final value that I hold sacred to success is LEARNING. Learning involves both risk and hard work, daily. Learning is to live with the humility in knowing that you need to spend each day –from birth to death – learning something new to make yourself a little bit better than you were the day before; to be willing to change, for the better. The have the humility to face your ignorance and prejudices, to embrace the learning that can help light your way.

  • Manpreet wept – “I feel that in order to truly learn from a mistake and to show the world that a change has been made, one must be given a second chance to do so.”
  • Shaan professed, “We are the root of all our problems and yet we blame others for our misfortunes. … conflicts can be resolved if we simply are willing to make change within ourselves…”
  • Ivdeep preached, “Chase your dreams now; try until you literally can’t anymore because nothings hurts more than those sleepless nights wondering what if or why….”
  • Daman G consoled, “Despite what we are made to believe, failing isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes we fail when working towards our dreams, but as my dad always says, “things always happen for a reason.” There must be a different path you were meant to take, and different things you were meant to accomplish.”
  • TOPE advocated,If you want to see yourself somewhere, it is not enough to dream; action is what makes a dream a reality and that requires work, perseverance and patience.”
  • ELAINE inspirited, “What I do believe in is living life with a childlike curiosity and desire. I believe in finding inspiration wherever I go … I believe in my ability to be more.”

As you all can see from these words – the words of our graduates that are pared down from 120 potential choices that I garnered while rereading ALL your blogs – we have so much wisdom leaving our walls and just as your words represent a legacy of you on my blogs, your impact will reverberate through our halls and hearts forever.

My experience with you has been special because by the time you got to me you were already whipped into shaped by all the other teachers; you were ready to show who you really are and began to forge who you really want to be. I was blessed with the best of you – most of the time.

I am grateful for the number of you who credit the teachers of FFCA with gratitude for your success, but the real success is that when you step through that door tonight you are officially free – did you hear that Karan – FREE! But when you do leave us tonight, be that best version of yourself – the one who we know and who we love.

I cannot let you go without one more poem from the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson and it is titled “SUCCESS

To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent persons
And the affection of children;
To earn the approbation of honest critics
And to endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give of one’s self;
To leave the world a little better,
Whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch
Or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm

And sung with exultation;
To know that even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived –
This is to have succeeded
.

To conclude: As I reminded you before your exams – and this one is especially for Lauren who seemed to be really affected by this advice: “don’t worry about tomorrow – you got this!”

Much love and gratitude – thank you!

This I Believe: Blogging Transforms the English Classroom

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About a half-dozen years ago, as an English teacher – a lover of reading and writing, my heart was breaking as my students seemed to be floating further away from my love of books and the craft of writing; I was getting older and feeling irrelevant in the world of my students – an annoying necessity of a class. Yet, I also am a theatre teacher and noticed that with a stage and lights, my students would work hard to perform when starring on the stage and being acknowledged with accolades of applause – an inspiring option for a class.

Blogging revealed itself to me as the quiet stage and lights for the high school English classroom. Students had been building online, virtual lives at home with daily hours dedicated to their online identities – a world where they were reading and writing. I needed to learn how I could create that world for the students in the English classroom. By immersing my PGP (Professional Growth Plan) in 21st Century digital literacies, and by practicing what I preach by blogging myself beside my students, my classrooms have transformed into rehearsal spaces of reading and writing, preparing for our performances on our blogging stage. Blogging inspires kids to offer their best efforts as writers, but it also inspires students to be peer tutors offering great leadership and character, as we expect from our FFCA students:

Vision of an FFCA Graduate With intentional thought given to the design of the learning experience at FFCA, graduates will leave us with core knowledge competencies, skills and abilities that are both essential and timeless. As creators of knowledge, students will have achieved the ability to think critically, care deeply and act ethically so that they can contribute to creating a world that cares and nurtures the diversity of cultures, celebrates personal contributions, and inspires others to reach their true potential. Proficient in their technological communications, FFCA leaders will be able to work independently or interdependently in a globalized society where partnerships and relationships strengthen the capacity to solve problems in collaborative ways. Possessing the attributes of life-long learners, graduates will be reflective and self-aware as they continue to evolve as successful individuals guided by moral purpose.

Our kids constantly humble, impress, and surprise me with their incredible writing and thinking. I love reading the students’ blog writing, as you can experience by reading some of our Grade 12 This I Believe blogs that are linked in this Storify:

https://storify.com/PamelaHunnisett/this-i-believe-blogs

However, what I love even more is the comments the students write to each other after the blogs, offering applause and critical feedback for improvement. Students are connecting with each other, they are building caring communities, they are reading as fans and critics of each other. The comments they craft for each other are thoughtful, relevant, and constructive; furthermore, the most surprising benefit is that “blogging with commenting” has developed a trusting, compassionate, and respectful community – virtually – that transfers into the classroom itself.

Blogging has allowed our walls to literally and figuratively disappear as the students work together to inspire, encourage, and validate each other. Blogging is our stage that features the embodiment of our vision for our FFCA Graduates.  Our classroom – both during our 90 minutes and in our virtual world – is an inspiring, highly relevant, necessity of a class.

Here are examples of student feedback:

Dear Jaiveen,

Wow! This piece stood out to me because I too wrote about TIME and once I read the title I knew I had to read it to see a different perspective on this topic. I really enjoyed the first line due to the nature of its contest because as a child time does not mean anything but as you grow old it means the world. By the first line it immediately made me read the whole blog.

Something I saw that you could improve is giving the audience more of what time has impacted your life. I felt like you gave a glimpse of the big picture by just giving a bit more detail and more personal connections to time would have made it way better and made it a bit more extended piece.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this post due to the topic and your personal opinion because got to see another perspective to the same topic. Hope to read more posts from you.

Sincerely,
Karamvir

Dear Rachel,

I think the overall message you’re sending out in this blog is immensely important for everyone in today’s society. You’ve done an amazing job at explaining the difference between loving oneself and not becoming arrogant. I think the fact that you encouraged more independence of people is great as too many people these days are depending on others to get somewhere in life.

The only thing I would liked to have seen more of in your blog are personal connections to your own life as I feel that would have made me even more engaged.

All in all, I think this was an excellent piece that everyone should get a chance to read as this could definitely help a lot of people in becoming more independent and less self conscious. Just add a bit of personal experiences in your writing and I think you’re set.

Sincerely, Shaan

Dear Daman,

I really connected with what you wrote in the fifth and sixth paragraphs about how you analyze the behaviours of those around you and then choose how to act accordingly. It makes me wonder about how I affect those around me who, whether it be through timidness or their lack of a loud enough voice, manage to escape my attention. It makes me wonder if I’m giving the right impression. Am I the one you, or others, characterize as a jerk? Am I one to be avoided and my behaviour a model of how not to act? Or am I seen as a genuinely good person?

Either way, this piece has made me realize that I need to put forth a conscious effort to analyze my actions and behaviour. I never know who might be watching an silently taking mental notes of my character; I want to make sure that I leave a good impression on everyone.

For improvements, I think those fifth and sixth paragraphs, even though they were so well written, do go on a bit of a tangent. From my perspective, I didn’t really see how someone’s behaviour affects people’s choices so much. Someone’s behaviour does give the choice of wanting to model, or avoid a behaviour like that. However, when you said, “It’s difficult to not be affected by all the people trying to change who you are, what you believe in, and the choices you make.” I felt as though you had a deeper connection to the point you were trying to convey through the fifth and sixth paragraphs. Making this connection to the reader would really tie your post together and make your post appear much more meaningful and organized.

Good luck with your writings in the future. I look forward to reading more posts like this.

Sincerely,
Chad

Dear Noor,

Noor that was amazing! Reading this I felt a connection to you as I myself also find more happiness in simple things. I also feel that the little things, the things we wouldn’t really think about meaning the simple things are much more rewarding. I really liked the way your blog just flowed. The transitions and the way you organized your paragraphs really helped me stay engaged and helped my understanding. At no time did I feel confused. Your explanations and evidence was of perfect amount.

To improve, I also agree with Yashii and Sukhjot. Although you maintained perfect flow, sometimes your sentences were really long. An example would be your last paragraph. I understand that the ideas presented in that sentence are vey connected however splitting it up into two sentences would help to get your message across more efficiently.

I would like to end off by saying that I can see this believe in you. You seem to be very humble and appreciative and after reading your blog I respect you even more.

Sincerely, Aman

Dear Jas,
I believe you have a lot of good ideas and that you have the ability to make this great piece about the potential of humanity. I liked how you discussed both the good and the evil of human potential. Keep on giving it your all and don’t get discouraged. I enjoyed your writing and images.
My criticism is about the sentence structures you used for your piece. Most of your sentences were simple sentences which can feel choppy and disjointed to the reader. I would advise keeping the hand-out that Ms. Hunnisett gave on sentence structures beside you as you write to help make your piece flow. Challenge yourself to write with most of the sentence types in every piece of writing; once you are comfortable use them to create an effect on the reader. I have to do it as well. As an added comment unify your ideas; do not contradict yourself. In the first line you say “I believe in the potential of humanity, and that the key to unlocking that potential is the unknown.” And at the end you say “I believe that if we are to unlock own true potential we must strive to put aside our differences.” These ideas do not agree with each other. I believe that you can make this a great piece.
What would you recommend each person do to help the human potential?
Sincerely,
Matt

Reflections with my Grade 10 students

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In May when I received my classes for the 2014-2015 school year, my heart sunk a little because I was assigned a Grade 10 ELA class and I had been spoiled with Grade 12’s and 11’s for the past few years.

It had been a couple of years since I had Grade 10s, and as I recalled, they were challenging.  My 17 years of teaching had taught me that Grade 10s were often irreverent, lazy, and more concerned with their social game-playing than learning.

Yet, being the emotional creature that I am, I have always connected well with these woebegone, ruckus-rising creatures that emerge in the classes of Grade 10.  So, I pulled up my big girl pants and prepared for the roller-coaster of Grade 10s.

Alas, these 10’s have become the most beautiful class as a collective that I’ve ever taught in all my 17 years.  I always fall in love with my students and my classes, but this group was the heart of teaching for me.  It was like playing with puppies, everyday: I’d hold the stick of learning and their eager tails would wag and they’d bark in delight with every task and skill we’d learn.  Yes, they were easily excitable, but always respectful to me, to the learning, to the environment, to each other, and to themselves.  They were a beautiful class that brought out the excellence in learning for all of us.  They created the world of Ubuntu that I’ve so sought to build in my classes.

On days when they were away on field trip and my day would gain a prep, I would miss their energy.  Each student – just like all students I have the privilege to love and teach – is extremely special, but what made them unforgettable and life transformative for me was who they were as we came together.  We became a family.  It doesn’t seem right that our semester came to a close and that our family doesn’t get to come together daily.

I miss them dearly.  But I treasure the love they continue to sprinkle through our halls and I feel honoured for their continued visits and hugs.   They embody my motto of LAUGH, LOVE, LEARN and I will hold the hope that fate will bring us all together again in the next two years of their journey.

Recreating this world – this Ubuntu – is a practice that I hope to explore, start anew, and resurrect with my Grade 12 students this coming semester.  Having 3 groups of ELA 30-1 Diploma courses is a challenge, but I feel the ties of Ubuntu beginning to knit us together.  May our journey this semester be as magical as the journey I had with the 10s.

The following quotes I gathered from their final blog posts about being a reader, writer, and learner: http://hunniblog10.edublogs.org/

“…my journey as a learner, reader, and writer this year has particularly allowed me to understand the importance of consistency and hard work. … Through this growth, I have also realized my passion for learning, reading, and writing through which I am able to grow in knowledge and wisdom about myself and the world around me.” Carolin – Grade 10

“Ms. Hunnisett has helped me find my voice when it comes to writing, and taught me the importance of reading, … She’s taught me that even the simplest pieces have deeper meaning and many stories of their own to tell. Words can’t describe how much she has changed my way of thinking, because of her my perception of life has become so much more positive…” – Roshni – Grade 10

“The first day of L.A, I had no idea who was in my class and I was forced to choose a spot to sit. Thankfully, as the week progressed, three amazing individuals that I had the privilege to be friends with, showed up and we were all able to create a dynamic group of fun. Sitting in my group of four for the very last time was definitely a difficult thing to do but when I observed the faces of the three people around me, I realized that without them I definitely would not have progressed as an individual and I would still be a very reserved student. As we slowly began to grow in that classroom, it became terrifying, but knowing that you would always have a shoulder to lean on if it got too overwhelming, really softened the blow of growing up. Hand in hand, we got to face these challenges together and I am very thankful for that.” Sidra – Grade 10

“Being part of our amazing class has really pushed me to strive to achieve for more and help those around me. … Looking back over this semester, I wish that it had lasted longer, so that we could all stay together, but unfortunately it has come to an end. … we have all learnt something and improved both our reading and learning habits in one way or another. I will always remember the fun ‘adventures’ we had in our class.” – Madhav – Grade 10

“Within these blogs a community of writers was created, a community who supported and built off of one another’s passion. Within the hour and a half classes we made a community of learning and knowledge, but as well created memories. Within the teachings of Ms. Hunnisett, we created a class into a family. I believe that each and every individual was a piece of our classes identity, if we took away anyone we wouldn’t be the class we are today.” – Alisha – Grade 10

“…keeping a journal that we wrote in the beginning of the class was something that largely assisted in my growth, sparking certain ideas or concepts that I did use afterward in the semester. Writing blogs was another thing that at first seemed unnecessary, however I slowly came to 607baeabf469bb70e831540be8c1f72erealize how they were indeed inspiring me and helping me to improve my writing.” Ishmeet – Grade 10

“I sincerely hope to grow as a learner, reader and writer through the years that follow, but above all I yearn the desire of having Mrs. Hunnisett as a teacher again. I have profoundly learned this year from writing essays to performing plays; boosting my inner esteem and allowing me to paint that picture that lay beyond the window. Obviously, that painting will become more vibrant in the years to come, but for that I must read more and write more to escape my inner emotions so I can paint that picture in a poetic manner.” – Mah Noor – Grade 10

“As a reader, this year I feel that I have definitely improved a lot. As of this year, I have read approximately six to seven books in the few months of this course. Therefore, I read approximately one book a month. I feel that this is evidently better than what I have read last year, when I barely spared enough time for myself to read. This year, I was also able to learn that it is very important for a person to continue reading so that they can always have a chance to improve their writing. The more a person reads, the better their writing gets.” – Suchismita – Grade 10

“I’ve always been a fairly opinionated person, wanting to have people listen to what I have to say and actually understand and pay attention, something that can be hard as a teenager. When writing, now I can see that it’s a good way to do just that. The blogging has influenced that significantly as well … It allowed me to try something new and it acted as a good outlet for me to write how I desired to with a clear purpose of simply expressing my feelings on certain subjects. … I feel as though I’ve matured as a writer and even though I still don’t necessarily like doing it because of the hassle, I most certainly have grown to appreciate the art of writing.” – Paula – Grade 10

“One of the most important things that I’ve achieved from this class is wanting to read. I hated reading. but last year when I read Of Mice and MenI thought of reading more, but throughout the year I never actually got to find another book that I enjoyed. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite novels and that was my ” Aha” for wanting to read more which is a goal for 2015 for me.”  Gavin – Grade 10

“By the end of this semester not only did I gain confidence in my writing skills but I gained reassurance knowing that my voice was finally being heard, recognized, appreciated and related to. …coming to grade ten where reading was expected was a shock, but one that I welcomed as a challenge. …As a learner so far this year I have gained more self-confidence that success is possible for me and that I can contribute to the learning community because my opinion is valued and realistic.” Cayleigh – Grade 10

“I love writing personal, and I love reading personal pieces. You see a whole new side of that person that you didn’t see before, and maybe you can even connect with them because of that experience. Writing personal pieces can be hard because you’re showing vulnerability to an extent, and I guess that’s why I admire personal writing so much because you see that rawness in another person and I appreciate when someone shows vulnerability or rawness. … I knew this classroom would be a place of happiness, love and care. I grew closer to people who I thought I wouldn’t even have a relationship with, and I’ve created many new friendships because of this class. ” Daania – Grade 10

“I have never felt so proud of myself while doing a specific course.  I have learned so much in this short time about poems , short stories, and so much more. I have learned about how people can transform a catastrophe into something so beautiful in words.” Asna – Grade 10

 

A Hunni By Any Other Name Would Not Be So Sweet

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“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;”

(Juliet, II.ii, Romeo and Juliet)

Counter to our dear Juliet’s philosophies, I argue that I would not be as sweet if I were to be called something other than Pamela Hunnisett. Our name is the first mark of our identity, the mark of our existence for a brief span of space and time whilst on this earth. I believe there is a metaphysical alchemy of fate when naming a person, and it is fascinating to consider the importance of how the symbolic meaning of one’s name can become inextricably intertwined with one’s identity.

To say that my mother toiled and sweated over the rhythms, rhymes, diminutives, and symbolism of my naming would be a fallacy! But something in the stars on that quiet night of May 7, 1971 whispered to my mother my name, Pamela. A name that by Northern Ontario standards was “unique”. The sound of my name attracted my mother, and that eve when my parents bestowed it on me, she set into motion the fates of my existence.

In an age where many Canadian girls were called Jennifer, Lisa, Tracy, Vicky, Tammy, and Susan – Pamela was archaically British and profound with unbecoming airs. So, as a child, I carried the name Pamela as a burden of being different, a bit of an outcast.   Most called me Pam, some Pammy, as is the fashion in Canada, and these shorter forms increased my popularity and suitability among my peers. However, privately, I have always preferred Pamela – as does my mother. Preferring the uncool has been the story of my existence. I have the means (as in using the name Pam) to have one foot with the “inner” crowd, but I always prefer to be just outside the inner ring, looking in as an observer. My heart remains in the preferred solitude with Pamela. 

Yet, the symbolic meaning of my name has carved its-self into my personality blessing me with a sweetness of nature that draws people to me for kind, loving friendship and counsel. Unknown to my mother at the time of my birth, my name is said to mean “sweet as honey” or “all honey”.   It is a name that is a poetic invention by a poet Sir Philip Sidney in the 16th Century, for his heroine in the book Arcadia; he created the name to symbolically represent the character’s sweetness of nature, so he took the Greek words pan (meaning “all”) and meli (meaning “honey”). Come the 18th Century Samuel Richardson published a novel titled Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded.  Therefore, although I might be inclined towards solitude, I get on well with people as I’m generally amicable and considered to be a sweet, reliable, and loving friend – as are my literary namesakes.

Although my mother did not know the meaning of Pamela, nor the literary history of Pamela, she did know the meanings of my middle names: Jane, which means “a gift from God” combined with Marie that carries the grief of meaning “bitter”, as in Jane-Marie; I came into the world bitterly as a gift from god. Perhaps that is the truth behind the reality of being an “oops” baby when my parents were young newlyweds and unprepared to yet have a child. Those secondary names were given to me in homage to my great-grandmother Jane (my father’s grandmother), and my dear Grandma Kelly’s name Marie (my mother’s mom). In true sweetness, my mother named me to make both sides of the family happy. And by giving me those names, it fated my relationship to my dear Grandma Kelly who loved and adored me as her namesake, and nurtured so much of my nature and love for literature. However, it was also the fortuitousness of fate that predominated those designs with Pamela – “sweet as honey”! Thus, my name is blessed in paradox – much like my personality and life. 

Again, in the naming of names, my life is filled with irony when also considering my last name – Hunnisett – yes, that is right – as in HONEY-SETT! Silly in so many ways to be “Sweet as Honey” Hunnisett. This makes me laugh, and I love the ridiculous in life, so I love that my name is hilarious! But that also owes a responsibility to be that kind of person who deserves such a name. When I first read Roald Dahl’s Matilda when babysitting I thought that Miss Honey was the sweetest teacher ever! What a lot of responsibility I realized that my name carried! I did have aspirations to teach, so I took on the characterization of Miss Honey with great seriousness; I too would love kids and save them! Soon enough as I began teaching teenagers in 1998, they quickly called me Ms. Hunni! I cherish that identity, of being that kind of entity for my students throughout the years.

When it came time to marry a handsome Latin Argentinian with the lovely last name Rios, I had no intention of rebranding myself, nor did he have any expectations that I should. Now, don’t get me wrong, Pamela Rios has a sophisticated sexiness to it – a name one should aspire to have! But it is not who I am! Such a name would just not be as sweet, sexy – yes, but not so sweet!

So, it is and so it remains that my name is Pamela (sweet as honey) Jane-Marie (gift of god, bitterness) Hunnisett (a British surname). Let’s just say that the Urban Dictionary says that “hunni” means “a name you call your good friend”.

Who I am is completely rapt within the denotations and connotations of all my names – whether that is by my fate or by my design, I do not really know. But I do believe that if I had any other names I would not be nearly so sweet!

Setting the Stage for Leadership

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Everything I am as a teacher, and all that I value as a school leader has been cultivated from my 27 years of experience in the theatre, and these values have navigated my success in my English classroom and school community for many years.   The secret ingredient to my success, that theatre has honed in me, is the intuitive skill of foresight!  Theatrical productions are successful when they are well designed, directed, and rehearsed, and that all foreseeable challenges, pitfalls, and problems are prepared for, so that in the end the show goes on and succeeds, forsaking all setbacks and managing any failures.   Essentially, to be an effective transformational leader in a school requires the same 4C (foresee) priorities that I learned from the theatre world:

4C =  Community, Commitment, Communication, and Command  

(click the link to view the Haiku Deck for 4C)

My 4C philosophy was recently reflected in this article in The Globe and Mail: “Liberal arts is the future of work, so why is Canada pushing ‘job-ready’ skills?” (May 12, 2014). This articles argues for the value of a liberal arts education to create today and tomorrow’s leaders by cultivating the same skills of transformational leadership that I garnered from my theatre arts training and experience:

people who can communicate effectively and persuasively, people who can collaborate across departments to solve problems, people with emotional intelligence who can transcend age and cultural differences and who possess the resilience to embrace failure as a learning experience.

This quotation completely resonates for me because these are my daily actions that lead my success and continual growth as a teacher, as a colleague, a coordinator, and as a team leader and supporter of our phenomenally successful performing arts program, and these are the same values and skills that I seek to inspire in my students and my colleagues through transformational leadership. Here I’ll explain how this transformational leadership is embodied in the 4C for school leadership – Community, Commitment, Communication, and Command:

COMMUNITY:

In transformational leadership, first I seek to build unity within the community Ubuntu if you will:

“Ubuntu means people are people through other people… [it] acknowledges both the right and the responsibilities of every citizen in promoting individual and societal well-being.” (Nelson Mandela)

I purposefully work to build safe and caring Ubuntu groups that are fostered through each member of the community being recognized as a valued voice.  I begin this in the classroom by having students begin the year with a values based project that is shared and celebrated in the class: favourite quotes, credos, stories, life philosophies,and “this I believe” essays.  Getting inside the hearts and minds of the community members is the key to building this unity.

I continue to foster community building as learners with two measures of community accountability: “How are you making your learning visible?” and “How are you contributing to the learning of other?” (ETMOOC)  I have really explored this in my classroom in my blog from March titled Community and Culture in my Classroom.

Coming together for sharing and storytelling is transformational in synthesizing a group.  For example, years ago when there was great divisiveness among the women on staff, I re-introduced Girls Night, a monthly event when the women came together.  This had existed when I first came to the high school staff, and I was awed by the tight-knit nature of this group of women, but as our school grew in size and number, this event had fallen to the wayside.  By re-introducing the monthly event, and by asking the women to each take on a month that they would organize – so all the work was not falling to my shoulders – we changed the attitudes, behaviours, and communications of the women.  Sitting together to laugh and share helped us to appreciate each other in a different light and this helped to unify us.

In working as a community leader I let my heart lead the way.  I am blessed with an abundance of emotional intelligence and I draw upon this deep well to galvanize a team to meet goals and create visions while building motivation and trust, not just with me, but moreover with each other.  I work hard to be present with people and to care about them, their lives, and their interests.  By modelling this value, many others do likewise.  A caring community builds a family and family takes care of each other.  I cannot take care of each and every person, so in transformational leadership I empower the team with confidence to be the interconnected network for support for each other.

COMMUNICATION:

The second priority in a transformational leader is to focus on communication as a key value in a school, and one that is necessary to build and support the community.  My communication skills have developed through the balancing of both my introspective nature and my interpersonal skills.  I deeply care about people, so I consider that communication is my essential tool to motivate and support people. Fortunately, my English and Theatre Arts expertise, my critical thinking skills, and my  emotional intelligence offers me a wealth of practice and experience in honing this precious tool, as a listener, as a speaker, as a reader, and as a writer.

When communicating with people I work hard to focus on listening and being non-judgmental.  I need to understand  perspectives and concerns so that I can measure how to appropriately offer response and support.  There are many times that I have dealt with students, parents, or staff who are frustrated or angry about a situation.  First I need to let them talk, while I listen.  They need to know that I want to help them, to help them embrace resilience and learn from the challenge they are facing.  They need and deserve to be heard.  As a parent and a compassionate person, it helps give me patience and perspective in these conversations.  Then, I  offer my honesty and candour to help them understand and to help support them.  I believe in focusing on solutions, so I use communication as a tool for refocusing obstacles into opportunities, and once a vision or plan is in place, follow-up communication and accountability is key to creating positive transformation.

Communication is the heart of all we do in education.  So it is imperative that we bring our strong communication skills to the job, daily, for grand encounters such as presenting or managing crucial conversations in meetings, but especially in the small tokens of conversation, daily.   To share a kind word, validation,  feedback, and even a sincere “hello” is so important to building and maintaining relationships of trust and maintaining motivation in hard times.

COMMITMENT:

William Butler Yeats

I have a boundless pool of intrinsic motivation when I’m passionate about something, and I’m passionate about education, people, and in making lives better for all.  The flame burns bright in me, and I endeavour to inspire and cultivate the flame in my colleagues and my students.  But passion and inspiration result in nothing without commitment.  So, I could say that I’m passionately committed to not only offering the best of myself, my skills, and my knowledge, but I’m also passionately committed to exploring the unknown as we sit on the cusp of the 21st Century education.

On a microcosm level, I am highly committed to kids!  Individually, I look for the best in each of my students and help them shine and build their confidence – every kid counts for me.  For a class, I offer the best of designed instruction that I can to meet the needs of my students on a daily basis – both inside and outside the four walls of the classroom.  I strive to have a highly engaged classroom that is buzzing with learning; kids desire to be in my class and that is a result of my passion.  I also work hard to constantly improve my strategies for feedback and connectivity with students to help them be the best person and learner that they can be.  Although my expectations are high for myself and my students, I don’t seek compliance of commitment; rather, I seek to embed the value and motivation for commitment, and I do this through modelling it.

On a macrocosm level, I continually strive for greater perspective, awareness, experience, and knowledge to lead the charge with initiatives for Inspiring Education and Curriculum Redesign not just in the English classroom, or our theatrical productions, but for the school and organization as a whole.  For many years now I have researched and practiced innovations in teaching practices to motivate student learning and organizational growth towards 21st Century capacities.  A whole world has opened up to me with the world of blogging and virtual PLN’S (professional learning networks), and I continue to be committed to lead our growth as an innovative and transformational educational organization. I am not afraid of these changes, in fact I embrace it, and I’m committed and poised to navigate through what is uncertain and unknown.

COMMAND:

This is a highly contentious word choice for leadership, I know.  But it is the right word to describe a key priority for a leader of a school filled with leaders, in the end I can lead those leaders and be decisive, when necessary.  It is the right word for me, someone who is known as “Ms. Hunni” and all the sweetness in connotation with my name and my personality, because I can be a commanding and authoritative presence, when necessary.

My experience and proven commitment, communication, and community-building skills all contribute to my success and the respect that I have earned to be seen as a “commanding presence” in both the classroom and the the school.  It is true that in my idealized world we could all work in harmony and collaboration, filled with intrinsic motivation; where we can all hold the conch and take our turn in harmony. I firmly believe in the power of collaboration, consensus, and consultation. This unity from the community is essential in the school, but so too is the ability to make the hard decisions,to have the crucial conversations, and to take the laboured actions, when necessary.  It is essential to be able to manage the multitude of foreseeable and unforeseeable issues that challenge leadership on a daily basis, and the word “command” speaks to the duty and responsibility that comes with the role.

 

In the  role of school leadership, we must be the role models and the risk takers for our mission and our vision for FFCA, and I know that I embody these virtues with my intuitive foresight as supported by my priorities of COMMUNITY, COMMUNICATION, COMMITMENT, and COMMAND.                               Globe and Mail Article – May 12, 2014 – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/education-lab/as-canada-pushes-job-ready-skills-the-rest-of-the-world-embraces-liberal-arts/article18492798/ ETMOOC = Educational Technology Massive Open Online Course – http://etmooc.org/ Transformational Leadership – http://www.eoq.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Documents/Congress_proceedings/Turkey_2005/Proceedings/048_Stephen_Hacker.pdf

Growing and Learning

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Blog-A-Month Challenge – APRIL’s TOPIC: Professional Development

As April comes to a close, I’m left pondering the topic of Professional Development.  The prompts for the month suggest:

  • For PD to be effective it must have the following 3 characteristics…
  • The conference/book/activity that delivered the most meaningful PD experience I have had was…
  • My most powerful source of ongoing PD is…
  • Blogging is essential to my own PD because…

To begin, I feel that to be an educator one must really be an impassioned learner for education is not only about expertise, it is about being confident enough to make yourself vulnerable to a constancy of change and uncertainty; we are explorers, sometimes with a map, sometimes without, but we are always learning something new on each voyage, and constantly depending on our wits to respond and react to the unforeseen.  

Professional Development should be the keystone to provide us with the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate the vacillating waters – of pedagogies, teaching assignments, leadership, technology, time, and especially the students –  with greater success for each expedition we take.  A student once said, “each day I get up trying to be better than I was the day before” (Arsh), and this was one of those moments when you could hear a choir of angels sing, this was the “aha” for all of us blessed to be in the class that day, and so this is what I too strive for both personally and professionally!  

Professional development is something I depend on to fuel my growth, and I admit I’m a bit of a PD junkie; I don’t just depend on my administrative leaders to arrange what professional development I need to do to be better and grow; although, yes, as part of a community that is necessary too.  But that is like saying “okay – I will eat healthy and exercise on these specifically designated days a year, and that will be enough fuel to motivate my improvement.”  We all know that is ridiculous, so why would a professional teacher think their entire professional growth should be motivated by only the school’s designated PD.  We grow and learn by our own intrinsic desire to improve, and our own established inquiry and PLNs (Professional Learning Networks).  So in the quest of Professional Development, we need to work with our school community’s PD goals and plans, our department’s PD goals and plans, but we must also seek out the PD we know we need “to be better than [we were] the day before.”  

I think that our organization at FFCA has worked hard to offer Professional Development time  to help foster and tweek teachers’ growth and excellence to meet our Guiding Principles .  We’ve seen PD in  classroom management (CHAMPS, ACHIEVE, STOIC), in our FFCA Direct Instruction Framework, Character Education, Inclusive Education, English Language Learning, Educational Technology, etc…. I believe that teachers – me included – are one of the hardest bunch of learners in any PD session, but it can offer an opportunity to the workshop organizers to really model excellent “designed instruction” in the planning and teaching to engage these tired teachers; the greatest model of a talented teacher engaging an audience of tired teachers was when our school arranged PD with Marcia Tate’s on brain-based learning.  Phenomenal!

One of the other great opportunities I have had for learning and development was through our AISI work (Alberta Initiative of School Improvement – a now dissolved Alberta Ed funding opportunity) with Critical Thinking.  The training and learning that I received in developing a critical thinking classroom through Garfield Gini-Newman, the Critical Thinking Consortium, and The Critical Thinking Community was transformative in educating me in how to train myself and students to be more critically mindful!  The work we did with Gini-Newman lay a foundation to help meld the ideals of Direct Instruction with Critical Thinking into a Synergistic Reality (as can be seen here in the article written by John Picard and Garfield Gini-Newman).

I’ve also been so inspired by  the PD I experienced from being on our Learning Commons committee – this is an endeavour that marries so many of our school’s initiatives while providing the foresight and navigation for 21st century learning and the future redesign of eduction in Alberta. Yet,  at the present time – like Columbus’ misunderstood quixotic ambitions – schools lack the funding from Alberta Education to support this transformative work.  Someday I dream of evolving into a Learning Commons Leader  for our school where I can help create a place to work with all students, all educators, and all curriculums in both physical and virtual settings of  learning.

Finally, in our community of Calgary, I also find valuable PD from our local Calgary Regional Consortium whose mandate is to create PD opportunities for our local teachers.   Through all of the various opportunities I’ve experienced at my campus, my school, and my community, I believe leaders need to mindfully craft and design PD  to maximize teacher engagement, learning, and take-aways, and I am ever so grateful that our organization prioritizes PD towards helping us improve and grow.

This is also where I have come to appreciate our school’s expectation that we create and reflect on Professional Growth Plans (PGP) yearly.  When working with teachers and administrators I think it is relevant to know the best PD that the teacher or administrator has ever experienced and why?  How did the PD invigorate or change his or her paradigms, for we need administrators and teachers who are learners and know how to direct their own PD and accountability.   It is through PD that our paradigms of education are rooted and honed towards excellence!  We need great PD, we need great PLNs (Professional Learning Networks), and we need visionaries who know how to help us excel and even change, especially in a world where 21st Century Learning and Innovation in education is essential.

I also believe that the reading habits of all teachers matter – whether the educator teaches English, science, math, physical education, or is an administrator.  In his book What is Stephen Harper is Reading? Yann Martel has said that the reading habits of politicians matter because “in what they choose to read will be found in what they think and what they will do”:

As long as someone has no power over me, I don’t care what they read, or if they read at all. It’s not for me to judge how people should live their lives … Once someone has power over me, … it’s in my interest to know the nature and quality of his imagination, because his dreams may become my nightmares. (Martel, p 10)

So, in regards to Professional Development, teachers and administrators should be accountable to answer:

1)   What are they reading right now?

2)   What professional development book would they recommend to the organization or their curricular team, perhaps as a staff book read?

3)   What is their favourite book of all time – from any genre?

The answers to these questions, I believe, are the true secrets to the character and mind of the educator.  There is much to be understood and inferred by these answers, and much credibility to our work with students.  It can also build a synergy, community, and culture  amongst staff who have common reading interests and pursuits.  Would I want a doctor who did not read and stay current in his or her practice?  The same needs to be said and expected of educators.

Back in 1997-98 when I was in the Teacher Education program at Nipissing University I had a great professor named Terry McEachern who taught us about the need for Professional Development through professional networking and professional journals.  This was in the day when the internet wasn’t readily available at our fingertips, so I came to be enlightened through the reading of journals.  Today these are a couple of journals that I continue to read for my monthly PD “aha”: 

To find any journals that might interest you, see a full listing at Genamics Journal Seek.  But there is also great PD through readings of:

  • The Atlantic
  • The English Companion Ning – this online network of professional English teachers was established by Jim Burke.  On it I found countless lessons, constant inspiration, and answers to my many ponderings from wonderful educators who share their resources and experience!  On this site I found one of the greatest of all people in my Professional Learning Network – the humble and talented Carol Mayne – an educator in Canmore, Alberta who has guided me through the many landmines of teaching Diploma courses in Alberta.
  • The New Yorker
  • Newspapers such as The Globe and Mail and The Calgary Herald.
  • Blogs from great educators – like in this Blog-A-Month Challenge
  • Twitter – all the links and “aha’s” of the twitter stream offer heaps of reading and PD – once you learn to navigate the busyness of these waters.

In recent years I have turned to professional literature to read and re-read and re-read – here are a few, among many, must read favourites (feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below), and here is a LINK to my GOODREADS page of PD reading I’ve been doing this year:

 

Of course, the true soul mate of all my Professional Development has come through the Annual Conference for the National Council of Teachers of English.  I first attended in Chicago 2011 (which inspired this blog), was able to take my entire team of ELA teachers to Las Vegas 2012, and finally was offered the opportunity to be a speaker in Boston 2013 – and fingers crossed will be accepted to speak in Washington 2014 about Blogging and Storytelling.    The learning and paradigm shifting that happens through these conferences has been nothing short of mind-blowing!  It truly meets my PD criteria of being highly engaging, transformative learning, and have immediately applicable take-aways that improve my teaching the next day when I re-enter my classroom.  I hope that I continue to afford this opportunity that re-invigorates my spirit each fall!  It has made me a much happier and better teacher today, and I’m grateful!


Clearly, Professional Development is something I feel a passionate zeal for pursuing in my life.  It keeps me motivated, inspired and hopeful to be the best educator that I can be for my students; it helps keep me skilled to captain my ship, for my students in these constantly changing waters.  This “leave of absence” from my school for a semester, so that I could sail away abroad to sunny Argentina has been a total respite, but has also provided me the elusive TIME that I have yearned for in life. Time to find my ZEN life (as I wrote about in my other blog), but also time to invest in my professional development through reflections, reading, and writing – this blogging is a power
ful reflective tool that really helps me make sense of my values, learning, and perspectives.    Many chastise me for working on “vaca”, but I argue that I’m not on “vaca”, I’m on “living”, and because I love my work too, and must return to it in the fall, I am loving the opportunity to further my learning and my growth without any pressure, so that I will return in peace with calmer waters because I am reinvigorated!

 

Culture and Community in my Classroom

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In January I signed up for BLOG-A-MONTH where I get to read some great blogs from inspiring educators, and I get to write a lil’ something too and have it read by the hard-working, inspiring members of the group.  It keeps my blog writing skills honed and also provides me with the motivation for the educational reflection and reading that I have sought on this sabbatical abroad.  

Each month we are provided a topic (optional) and I have discovered it takes me well over a month to mull over it.  In February we were to consider the topic of School Culture and Community – a topic nearest and dearest to my heart as a classroom teacher because I treasure the process of building a family, a community, and a culture with each group of students who enter into the class; however, this topic is one that left me with that ineffable silence, a paralysis on the keyboard, a true writer’s block. 

Here are the prompts (again, optional) that have been the cause of my conundrum of dumb dumb:

What is the current culture of your school? Do you want to see it change? What do you do to contribute to the culture/ culture change in your school? How do we change the culture of a school? How do you foster a community of growth and learning at your school? How do you create a culture in your own classroom? How do you see the culture shifting at your school or district?

Perhaps some of the challenge was feeling the expectation that I should discuss our school culture  – one where I am a proud, card-carrying member, but still we, as a community and culture, are in the midst of learning and evolving as our school continues to grow in population (300 in 2008 to nearly 700 now) and has changed location with varying leadership styles numerous times in only a few years.  It is hard to express in words that emerging culture, at this time. So, I leave that blog to the future.

Given my ineptitude of getting this done earlier,  I should have abandoned the cause for this blog, but I have been unable to let it go because it is just too important to me.  So, I have journaled about it, read about it, “Pinterested” about it, and tried to talk about it.  Alas, here goes my attempt to find articulation in the darkness in order to ensure I have completed a March blog – for a blog-a-month – on this last day of March!  No pressure!  No procrastination, no, not at all!  So, here I offer my perspective of culture and community in my classroom.   eaff231ddb4794cf418da806cf733e81 I am extremely proud of my classroom as it has come to symbolize a home and a harbour for my world-weary teens.  I love that students enter the space and feel safe and in the heart of our home. But before the students even enter the room, I spend countless hours preparing the space for them.  I know that most teachers also do this, but not always at a high school level.

My classroom is my home away from home, so the setting is the first important element for establishing our culture.   I work to build that home-like feeling with cool, calming turquoise walls; a carpeted floor below their feet with light grey sound-baffles hung overhead (a gracious leftover from the days it was an elementary music room) lulling the students into a reverence as they enter (who am I kidding, in my dreams, but the baffling does lessen their noisiness); posters of poetry, quotations, and art inspiring and entertaining (or at least giving them something of value to stare at while I Charlie-Brown-teacher away the hour); walls lined with bookshelves, enveloping the learning space with the whispers of bewitching writers that I hope will seduce them into reading, aromatherapy redolently enhancing the students’ minds, bodies, and spirits (or at least taking away that adolescent I forgot to shower odour); and sometimes (needing to be regularly) music resonating with their souls or inciting their curiosity (a little Pink Floyd will do nicely); and finally, the room is furnished lamps (avoiding the fluorescent institutionalized aura) with some talk-show-like Oprah chairs and turquoise patterned pillows softening the space, or at least making me awfully comfy and cosy.  In the recipe for my classroom’s culture, the physical setting of the class – our four walls – would be the first ingredient and the underlying continuity in building cultures and communities year after year.

community Of course, no room is a home without the people, and for the past many years I’ve been graced with students for consecutive years, so we have an established bond, and when they come into the class for the new year, they are truly returning home and our family gleefully reunites.  I am always impressed with how the new configuration of students unites and also embraces new family members openly; when the community is strong and the culture is foundational, it endures and evolves equally. These are my kids, and to them I’m “mom” – a role and calling I cherish and embrace.  But just showing up isn’t all it takes for the cultural enlightenment to establish itself; rather, it takes a value that we collectively cherish and aspire to make our reality.

This value existed for me, for us, in our classroom, but it was undefinable and could not be explained until I discovered the philosophy of Ubuntu from South Africa whereby the essence of the ideology inextricably links a community’s respect, purpose, existence, and accomplishment together. Reverend Desmond Tutu explains Ubuntu as: explained

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality — Ubuntu — you are known for your generosity. 
We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity. 

I have longingly worked for this interconnectedness to reign in the classroom, and when a group of teens, in a high school English class can come together as a family – that is a community, a culture where I am proud to be a part of that realization. images

Furthering the “aha” of this worldview, I experienced community and culture building via a virtual course – a place of professional development whereby I never expected to discover a unified sense of belonging and community.  Last year in the ETMOOC course (Educational Technology Massive Open Online Course) that I participated in, the paradigm became realized with two questions that were to dominate the learning and the participation: How are you making your learning visible?  How are you contributing to the learning of others? These questions provoked an epiphany in me that these are the same questions I want to dominate the learning in my classroom where students hold themselves accountable and simultaneously work together and contribute to each other.  So, it has become a mantra in our class.

I see this realized in many subtle ways in my class.  When students easily move in cooperative groups, when discussions are lively and interesting, when students help each other before-during-after class and online at night, when students speak up for each other, when students cry together, laugh together, and work together, and in countless other ways.  Our space provided the home, but the culture and community has permeated beyond our four walls; the dream of this Ubuntu is clearly visible in the students’ own voices on the students’ blogs and in the comments students write to each other – their unity, respect, and support of each other is undeniably visible as share their writing and they contribute to the learning of each other through their wisdom and written words of support and celebration.des tutu Ubuntu

Community takes much time and care to foster, and a culture of shared beliefs, values, customs, and behaviours can often be far too elusive to attain in a classroom, let alone a school, dominated by a quirky melange of hormonally charged and stressed-out teens.  I will continue this quest to mindfully bring this Ubuntu philosophy into my future classes, and I idealize that it will embed itself into the school wholly too.  For now,  I am proud that in room 1315, at the farthest corner of Shakespeare Street, in the deep south of the school – nearest the escape route to the student parking lot – a little oasis has been found in Hunni’s Room; it is their home, our home, a place where we belong and come together as a family, but continues in the virtual landscape that defies our time or our place. ubuntu_drawing Further resources for UBUNTU:

The Magic of Feedback

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Image credit: http://wordzeal.com

I believe in magic.  I believe in the power of positive thinking, positive words, and positive feedback.   As a high school English teacher, this has served me well to build long-term relationships with my kids.  Maintaining positive interactions with my kids has been a truism of my days, in this way the cycle of validation and feedback for who they are – as I see them to be – must be present in my communications with them, always.

Teenagers are often filled with apathy, low self-esteem, regret, guilt, etc… – a cluster of negativity!  So, how can we expect them to be positive unless we bring the light to them, unless we hold up the mirror so they can see the possibilities?  You and I both know that sometimes you have to dig deep to find that “something special” in each kid, but it is our responsibility to seek it.  Fortunately, as English teachers we mine the motherlode inside the hearts and minds of our students through their writing and their creating – when we give them the opportunity.  It is there where we can pan for their gold and show it to them.

I want my kids to share the VALUE of feedback with me, with each other, in our classroom, in our community.  This value cannot be an abstract ideal, rather it is embodied and modelled through me and nourished through them.   I can proudly say that I see that the environment in my class between me and my students, and my students with each other, is filled with feedback that is motivating and validating!    See here how my students write feedback to each other on their blogs, and this is just a random example because the blogs are filled with such feedback:

Dear Hatif,
This is such an amazing post! After reading this piece, I am inspired and it has truly made me reflect upon my own life. The topic of this blog was great choice for you because just as Simran previously stated, you are a very positive and happy guy. The way you connected your personal life with your definition idea of happiness was very well executed throughout the piece. I really admire how you know how to use running and exercising as a way of escaping, which allows you to only achieve positive outcomes. Your voice as a writer is very powerful and inspiring. However, I would suggest just editing to fix up those small GUMP errors. Overall, excellent work!
Kiran  ( this was on Hatif’s Post “Your Choice”)

In this aspect of feedback, I can say that I have found great success through the coaching of commenting (see Etiquettes of Blog Comments).  Only, I didn’t realize until these past few weeks of reflection that I was ever very successful with feedback.  In fact, my Professional Growth and Development Plan for this year had FEEDBACK as a goal, one which I condemned that I had, once again, failed miserably!  But I was only considering “feedback” in terms of marking piles,  one-to-one conferencing, and data driven results, which I must still work at improving.

If I look at the criteria of feedback that I had set out for myself, I did fail in many regards.

The piles were some important piles for far too long to offer any kind of timely feedback for kids.  Sigh!  Ironically, blogs are never a problem, I actually LOVE marking them because they are the panned gold, the students’ voices are authentic and they are usually interesting to read; I feel motivated to get them up on the blog (all blogs are “approved” by me before they appear on the blog), so that the students can offer the feedback to each other through the comments.  As I “approve” them, I evaluate them and post feedback immediately to the students via Edmodo.  So, in this regard, I’m quick with feedback.  But it isn’t authentic enough.  It is far more authentic when the students give their feedback.  However, I do need to offer more narrative feedback to them, somehow, in comment writing or conferencing.

Yes, conferencing, another failed attempt.  After attending Penny Kittle’s sessions I’m always so “sold” on the concept of one-to-one conferencing and the value of it!  Then I get into the busy-ness, to-do, and management of classes – and then never make the time to have that one-on-one with kids.  I do manage some great conferences with the kids who come in at lunch, and I encourage them to come in for such “office hours”, but despite the thrill of spending lunch with me, it is never enough to lure the students who need it most away from their social lives.  So, I do need to find a way to embed the value and management of conferencing with future classes. writer conference

Finally, the last failure was in such things as progress reports and data – the kind of numbers I despise, but students crave.  I’m still not so sure where I sit on this other than my dislike of having kids identify themselves via a percentage value, and my disdain for numbers in general.  I believe in students, not the % they earn.  Perhaps I fail at generating these reports regularly for them as a blessing in disguise.  So, I need to get better at this, I guess.  Truly, this is a very grey area for me.  But I do feel duty-bound to provide the data, but in 16 years of teaching, this is still my Achilles heel.

One Kind WordSo, it is evident that I have some areas for future growth, but it is also important that I have reflected and realized that feedback comes in various forms, and in some measures of relationship and connecting with students,  I have really succeeded.  Now don’t get me wrong, although I’m positive-focused, I’m also honest and have a knack for those hard, yet honest conversations with kids.  Once I met a woman from the southern US who used the phrase, “Don’t piss on my back and tell me it’s raining!”   So, I work to be honest with kids, but kind, showing where hope exists for them!  Kids have a huge meter for BS, so if you’re just blowing smoke at them, they won’t buy into it.  It must be authentic and it must connect with them.

The first time feedback authentically connected with me was from a brilliant theatre adjudicator named Mira Friedlander. images (1) She explained to our adolescent audience that it was her job to give us feedback on our performances and her opinion was based on her perspective and expertise.  That she would give us all balanced positive feedback with feedback for improvement if we were to perform our show again.  “Improvement” – huh!  To my adolescent brain, I had only considered feedback to be praise or condemnation.  I always worked so hard to ONLY get praise, living in fear of condemnation.  Suddenly, Friedlander had turned my world upside down.  So when she offered each group, publicly, both praise and improvement – I came to crave the learning from feedback.  With drama classes, I have always trained students in the Mira-way, to great success and growth.  It is this same framework that I need to develop more coherently and mindfully in my English classroom.

Ultimately, the feedback I will continue to do, naturally, is choosing and modelling happiness and positive interactive feedback to build confidence and identity in my kids; validation and recognition is a wellspring for motivation and a sense of security.  But, of course, I will continue to strive to improve my efforts for feedback to improve their skills as readers, writers, and learners.  This time for reflection and reading has helped me to make cognitive sense of feedback, and incites me to improve my time and class management when I return to teaching in the fall so that I can implement these important goals for my kids.  I believe in lighting the fire in kids to learn, and I believe in the magic of my words having the power to transform both hearts and minds.

This post is inspired by:

1. Blog A Month Challenge: January’s topic: Think about how you will either give or receive feedback this semester and reflect on the practice of feedback. 

2. Allison Petterson’s Blog Post: The Power of Positive Feedback 

3. ASCD Types of Feedback 

4. “You’ve Been Doing a Fantastic Job. Just One Thing …”  – New York Times – Alina Tugend

5. “For Best Results Take the Sting Out of Criticism” – New York Times – Alina Tugend

For Rue!

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IMG_1890Today my heart broke into a million little pieces as I learned of the passing of my darling Ruthanne Penrose at the mere age of 29! When I taught this lil’ sprite, I was blessed with this goofy little loving angel who would sweep up and organize all the pieces of my world into some funky lil’ artistry that would turn darkness into light for all who let her in, which were many because she loved so unconditionally. She was my student, my actress, my director, my student-teacher, my friend! DSCN4965

I am grateful that Rue was more than a student; she was a soul-sister! I’ll now need to believe that my angel, my friend, my child, my student, my sister will continue to cast her light, love and quirkiness from above because I’ll never forget her.

She has blessed us with visits these past two years and infused her love into my children’s world; she was family for us all and I am eternally grateful that she found her way to be part of both my past and present! My children have been blessed to have loved her too!

Rue makes me a believer in heaven and angels; God must have called her on for greater things, although I struggle to understand because this world so needed her! We needed her! Her love of life and people are an eternal inspiration. I’m so grateful to have so many memories of such a wonderful person in my life; she made me a better person.

DSCN4983Rue – never will I be on a mountain without remembrance of you and the joy you found in their majesty. I hope you will still find your way to visit me now and then, for if it’s possible, I know you will. I’ll miss your yearly visits, your New Year missives, and your hilarious being in Facebook-land. Bless you my Rue! I miss you so much! We all miss you! My most sincere love and condolences to her incredible family and friends.

Here are two poems for you my girl. The first you sang in the CHCI choir – you would practice it incessantly , but your voice was beautiful and I never forgot it. The second is a favourite and reminds me so much of you and your success!

Thanks for the precious memories!IMG_1942

Remember
BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad. DSCN4979

Success
To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent persons
And the affection of children;
To earn the approbation of honest critics
And to endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give of one’s self;
To leave the world a little better,
Whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch
Or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasmIMG_1879 DSCN4970
And sung with exultation;
To know that even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived –
This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Blog-telling: Storytelling in the 21st Century

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Story   builds community, and blogging is a 21st century story circle. Storytelling is the essence of building culture, and so too is “Blog-telling” whereby the walls of the class disappear and the community circle strengthens identity and relationship within the classroom walls. Blogging has built our community and crafted our culture.

Story is the essence of my pioneer efforts with blogging in my Grades 10-12 English classes. Students carve out their stories and knowledge through blog writing, and in the process of sharing their works, publicly, they are connecting with each other. Blogging creates an e-portfolio of the evolving story of our writing identities – theirs and mine.

Writers in this 21st Century learning space are not only sharing stories, but in doing so, they are the stewards of their digital footprint – a footprint that not only contributes to their personal identity, but also to our class culture. Essential questions are asked: What will you contribute to our world? Will your voice be a voice of change, creativity, logic, inspiration, reflection, enlightment: “That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse… What will your verse be?” (Dead Poet’s Society)

The students’ verses become transformational when the students are not just the writers, but also the readers, as fans and critics, of each other. The exchange of story and feedback builds the community. The comments that the students craft for each other are thoughtful, relevant, and constructive. The most surprising benefit is that the blog has developed a trusting, compassionate, respectful community, virtually, that has transferred into the classroom itself. Blogging has allowed our walls to literally and figuratively disappear as the students work together to inspire, encourage, and validate each other.

As a teacher, I continue to “write beside my students” (Penny Kittle). My blogging journey continues this coming year: professionally and personally. Professionally, colleagues are jumping into blogging, with many cross-curricular classes; this is exciting to mentor the evolution of voices from various disciplines. My professional reflections will continue on my blog: https://thehunni.wordpress.com/. Personally, my family of four will be a family of blog travel writers living in Argentina for a semester; blogging will be the vehicle of our story to be shared with our friends, family, and classes. So, my experience in teaching blogging to students will expand to my nine and ten-year-old where they’ll share their journey, both experiences and learning, with their classes back in Calgary.   Our personal story, as a family, will be evolving at http://writeawayhunni.edublogs.org/ .

The journey of blogging has brought so much reward and satisfaction.  Please enjoy the journey of my students at our class blogs:  Creative Writing (see their individual blogs on the sidebar to the right), Grade 12 (ELA 30-1), Grade 11 (ELA 20-1) ,  and Grade 10 (ELA 10-1).

As my semester comes to a close, I will miss my students so very much as I journey abroad, but with blogging I get to keep the treasury of their voices always nearby.  I am so grateful for their efforts, for this treasure chest is filled with gold.  I’m also grateful that they too will keep me nearby via my blogging.  Like I said earlier, blogging makes the walls disappear!

“Story is the song line of a person’s life. We need to sing it and we need someone to hear the singing. Story told. Story heard. Story written. Story read creates the web of life in words.” Christina Baldwin – Storycatcher