Today 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!
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.
Rue – 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!
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.
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.
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
The Sunshine Award or the Sunshine Elevens or one of several other versions of inspiration and encouragement for bloggers has been rapidly circulating the blogosphere. Thank you, Scott Hazeu, for nominating me. Scott has been an inspiring educator since we met a year ago, in virtual-land, via the ETMOOC (Educational Technology Massive Open Online Course) through the genius work of Alec Couros. His commitment to education, reflection, and writing is a motivator in my teaching, and he always seems to pop-up when I need a boost. Thanks for this too Scott, it’s a great blog post that I’ll use with my Creative Writing class for their blogs!
Here’s how this chain letter of inspiration works:
Acknowledge the nominating blogger & let them know when you complete your blog post.
Share 11 random facts about yourself.
Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
List 11 bloggers.
Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
Hunni’s additional criteria: embed links and visuals that personalize the post
Eleven Random Facts About Me:
1. My first university degree is a theatre degree.
2. I bite my nails and it drive my husband crazy.
3. I’m an introvert (few believe this, but it is true).
4. I broke a girl’s arm in three places, in Grade 8, and the kids called me “Rocky” (I kicked her in defence, I swear)
5. I am an art and music aficionado, but suck at both, being neither an artist nor a musician!
6. I procrastinate with Facebook games (sigh) – Candy Crush, Bubble Witch, Words of Wonder, and Solitaire.
7. I have loved home architecture and home design since I was nine years old. Pinterest and HGTV continue the passion!
8. I have wanderlust to travel and experience the world!
9. My classroom is a like home and to my students I’m “mom” (I love that they feel this way about me and my class space)
10. I love being surrounded by flowers and in nature.
11. We hope to retire half-time in Argentina. (as we’ll be doing for a semester starting next month – tee hee)
Answering Scott’s Questions:
1. What do you do for escape or relaxation?
I LOVE escape and relaxation, but usually as a lazy homebody! People never believe I’m capable of it because I’m a workaholic. I guess I’m like a faucet – I can be all hot (working like a maniac), but easily switch to pure cold (totally relaxed and chill). So, what does my cool look like?
hanging with my beautiful children and husband
cooking and baking, especially with my hubby or kids
dinner parties, tea parties, or BBQ with friends
TV shows (HGTV, Coronation Street, Parenthood, Orange is the New Black – otherwise, it is tough to get my attention to watch TV well)
I hate being cold, but have enjoyed skiing and snowshoeing
2. What is one concern you have about the future of technology?
Although I’m a strong voice for the use of technology in my teaching, I don’t believe that school should just have students hiding behind computer screens. I believe that having my home and class lined with actual books is essential, that opening a book and smelling the pages will always be a value to me and I want to model this for my students. I believe that students should learn the art of cursive writing – we may type more than anything else, but a paper and pen never fails you and I pray the beauty of cursive should never die; along with the beauty of journal writing and a snail mail letter! Regarding thinking with depth and breadth, I fear students often don’t expand their thinking beyond 140 characters. Finally, I also worry that students could lose the ability to carry face-to-face conversation. We, as teachers, are the vanguards to save books, handwriting, critically thoughtful writing, and speaking with social etiquettes.
3. Share one Ah-Ha! moment you’ve had (in or out of a classroom).
My greatest “ah-ha” came from attending NCTE 2012 (National Council Teachers of English) in Chicago when I sat in an audience watching – in utter awe and humility – Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Jim Burke. That moment changed the trajectory of my teaching practice, my writing identity, and my blog pioneering with students! It lead to me finding the courage to present at NCTE 2013 in Boston! I am a fan-girl of those three gurus and an NCTE junkie every since. The more I experience, the better I get in the classroom! I love the growth, inspiration, and learning and I especially love meeting great teachers from across the US and Canada!
4. Which books (one fiction, one non-fiction) would you recommend to new teachers?
An Interesting Question! And I cannot control myself to ONE of each when asked such a question, silly man!
For personal fiction – this is hard because it is based on such a personal preference (see my Goodreads). I believe that people can connect when they have like-minded interests in books. So, my favourites of all time are Wuthering Heights, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, The Book of Negroes, The Virgin Blue, The Last Cato, The Shadow of the Wind, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Unbearable Lightness of Being, Time Traveller’s Wife, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. (okay – I’ll stop here, but I could go on and on)
Regarding the teaching of novels, I believe teachers are always seeking “to teach” lists, so I’ll share some of mine. These are the books I enjoyed teaching at various grades: Shakespeare with every grade from 6-12 – but I am a true devotee to Hamlet with Gr. 12, The Giver (Gr. 6), Diary of Anne Frank (Gr. 8), Of Mice and Men (Gr 9), Speak (Gr.9), Cry the Beloved Country (9), Forbidden City (Gr. 9), Joy Luck Club (10), The Hunger Games (Gr. 10), To Kill a Mockingbird – this one is my old friend (Gr. 10), The Kite Runner (Gr. 11), Flowers for Algernon (Gr. 11), Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Gr. 11), Cyrano de Bergerac (Gr 11), The Crucible (Gr. 11), Frankenstein (Gr. 11), Life of Pi (Gr 11), The Wizard of Earthsea (Gr. 12), Streetcar Named Desire (Gr 12), Night (Gr. 12), Handmaid’s Tale (Gr. 12), One Hundred Year’s of Solitude (Gr. 12), Things Fall Apart (Gr.12), and House of Spirits (Gr. 12).
5. What’s one of your guilty pleasures? (again one? I’ll take 4)
books (obviously from above) and reading anything from blogs, to news, etc…
coffee – oh, how I love thee, especially hip coffee houses with cappuccino
6. If you had to change careers, what new career would you choose?
In Kati Marton’s memoir Paris: A Love Story I felt that I was reading my other life’s calling: international diplomacy and journalism;
Owner of a hip coffee/tea shop with a borrowing library: a meeting place for music, slam poetry, improv games, small theatre, and classes in all art forms;
A travel writer;
An architect or home designer.
7. When you’re not immersed in the present, do you find yourself more often looking back or looking ahead?
ALL! I’m a hopeless muser of the past, present, and future: a dreamer and a reminiscer.
8. What is your favourite season? Why?
Summer! Although I love my work, I hate structure, bells, routines, marking piles and to-do lists. So the freedom of summer let’s me revel in a peacefully creative state-of-being and I get to see my own family and friends. Plus, I’ve come to love camping in the mountains!
9. If I handed you $100, what would you do with it?
I’d go out to dinner at Notable with my wonderful husband!
10. What metaphor/simile describes your writing process? (eg. My writing is like a tube of toothpaste. It flows quickly at first, but at the end it’s hard to squeeze out the last little bit and finish the tube.)
A small boat on a river – get in and it starts to float with ripples and rapids along the way; I love that each journey is different and I always end in a different place.
11. Which Twitter hashtag would you follow if you could only follow one?
Penny Kittle – a constant source of inspiring PD
Bloggers (some of these good people have been through this exercise, but they are worth taking a look)
What has been the best vacation you have ever had – specify where, when, and why?
What’s one of your guilty pleasures?
If you could travel to any ONE place in the world, where would you go?
What is your life mantra, or quote, or credo?
What is your favourite season? Why?
What is your favourite musician/band or artist (or all)?
Who or what inspires your writing?
What metaphor/simile describes your writing process? (eg. My writing is like a tube of toothpaste. It flows quickly at first, but at the end it’s hard to squeeze out the last little bit and finish the tube.)?
Happy blogging in 2014! Thank you for your inspirational words and efforts.
I guess my whole life’s mantra has been to “Create, Explore, and Expand” as there is a wind in my spirit that craves to be in the world, to experience and learn in awe from the stories of its people and its places. This blog post and list reminds me to live mindfully and engaged while fanning the embers of my inspiration, my curiosity, and my creativity! For 2014 I will do everything on this list; most I do every year at some point, but I like the challenge of doing so with intention and love doing so while adventuring abroad in Argentina.
The blog begins with this quotation: “If we look at the world with a love of life, the world will reveal its beauty to us.” ~Daisaku Ikeda. The list in the blog categorizes sources of inspiration in nature, on the web, in possibilities, in people, and in yourself. Here are a few favourites in each category:
In Nature: Take a camera outside and photograph everything that looks beautiful to you.
On the Web: Watch a TED videoto learn about inspiring ideas.
In People: Spend time with children and see the world through their eyes.
In Yourself: Try something new and revel in the sensation of stretching beyond your comfort zone.
I am contemplative of all possibilities as my journeying of the horizon nears. This February brings a respite as our lil’ family of four moves to live, for nearly six months, in Santa Fe, Argentina. This journey allows me and my family so many opportunities to find inspirations to create, explore, and expand – to mindfully live a life of opportunity, dreams, and learning.
My husband – Cristian (who is from Santa Fe) – is on sabbatical from teaching math at the University of Calgary, so his journey will be about researching, writing his papers, working at the University in Santa Fe alongside his professors and peers, and joyously being with his extended family and friends. He both revels in the joy of us living near family and learning spanish, but he also worries about all the issues of safety and finances that come with such an endeavour. Yet, he shares my enthusiasm for this change of pace and the opportunities that abound. He is my soulmate!
My children, Luca(10) and Tulia(9), are so excited for our journey to begin. They just get it! They are willing enthusiasts of this opportunity – a spirited energy that is a constant source of inspiration. They look forward to being with their Argentina family, living in constant warmth with a pool, the giant slide in the park (tee hee – their favourite memory – kids!), but most of all they are so excited to get to go to school at Nivel Primario – Universidad Nacional del Litoral and learn Spanish – it offers a half day of classes in English and a half day of classes in Spanish! I, too, will be an eager student to learn the romantic language of Spanish beyond my fragmented Spanglish – so this will be a co-journey where they will likely be teaching me! They are so brave and filled with curiosity – this, too, inspires me to live without fear! At that age I would have been paralyzed by fear to have my parents send me to a foreign school in another language, fear of being “foreign”, fear of failing. Obviously, those fears have subsided in my adult self – so I admire their youthful positivity and energy. Of course, they are not jumping into the unknown – they’ve been to Argentina many times, they LOVE our family there, and they have visited the school they get to attend. They are also excited to become bloggers – reporting their adventures and learning to their classmates in Calgary, their friends, and their family – plus they are excited to become “travel writers” as children with a – hopefully – world wide audience. Luca’s writing will be found at Write Away Luca , and Tulia’s reporting (she likes the idea of being a reporter) will be found at Write Away Tulia. We got them set up in the fall and I worked with them for a first post, but we’ll engage with this as we begin our journey.
For the romantic side in me, my journey is filled with so much hope, reflection, and exploration. Blogging will be the central axis for most of my goals and purposes. I am so enthusiastic to do the blogging with my children, and even my husband is interested. We will be a family of bloggers whereby I’ll be using a “hub and spoke” approach that interlinks all our blogs via Edublogs (the same platform I use for class blogs and powered by WordPress), and keeps me in control (for safety) of my children’s blogging. For my “travel writing” experience of living as a Canadian ex-pat in the centre of Argentina, I’ll keep a separate blog from thehunni blog – it is called Write Away Hunni . This is the blog space where my life experiences will be ruminating, rummaging, and reflecting on all the wonders, curiosities, and challenges of living abroad in a foreign space and culture. I LOVE travel and Argentina – I am compelled to capture and share it this time with an audience.
The teacher side in me is compelled to delve into digital citizenship and educational technology with my own children – to really learn about all the possibilities of blogging from an elementary to high school perspective (see the side bar to explore my high school class blogs in the Blogroll). So, I guess you can say this is self-declared Action Research project for me. My children are happy to be my lil’ guinea pigs (or so I keep reminding them)!
Further to this personal writing journey, I will be looking at achieving professional writing too. First of all, this blog – thehunni: Blogging Beside My Students – will be a continuous space where I’ll write as a learner, a teacher, a professional. I plan to continue to read and learn from my PLN (personal learning network) and to reflect on this learning so that when I return to my classes in the fall of 2014 I’m refreshed, refocused, revised, and relevant. Secondly, I’m apprehensively excited to look at publishing the work I’ve done pioneering class blogs to improve and empower student voices as writers. I’m hopeful to at least look at article writing, but ambitiously, I am hopeful to write a book on the topic. The work my students and I have engaged in has been inspiring! This past year when I presented at the NCTE conference in Boston I was so inspired by the collegiality and support I received from like-minded educators. I hope to follow-up with professional writings and hopefully will be offered an opportunity to present again at NCTE 2014. I would love to explore the possibilities of being a professional teacher writer/consultant. Who knows?
So, my bustling life continues just in a far more adventurous and personally reflective way. I am so grateful for this opportunity to re-engage with my personal interests and passions. My days in Argentina will rarely be lazy-hazy, although there will be plenty of opportunities pool-side and beach-bound for that too! I will get healthy again with yoga and daily walks, I will learn Spanish because I want to build stronger conversational relationships with my amazing family there, I will explore and experience all that Santa Fe and Argentina can offer me, I will capture the beauty of that world through photos and writings, I will read – voraciously, I will cook to nourish my inner foodie-wanna-be, I will inhale the opportunities to live in a foreign country, I will play with my children and family, I will become the writer I dream of being – even if it is merely enjoyed by my family and friends, and I will use the list of 50 Ways from Buddha Wisdom to help me find inspiration so that I can mindfully create, explore, and expand myself! Here’s to 2014! Happy New Year!
Damyanti Biswas is an author, blogger, animal-lover, spiritualist. Her work is represented by Ed Wilson from the Johnson & Alcock agency. When not pottering about with her plants or her aquariums, you can find her nose deep in a book, or baking up a storm.