When you don’t sleep because you mark, and mark, and mark their writing.
And so much of it is beautiful and brilliant and you are grateful that you get to be the one chosen to do this hard work of marking, and marking, and marking. And even the writing that is not really that beautiful is still a marked improvement from where they were months ago, and you are cheering for their growth, humbled by their monumental efforts to please themselves and to make you proud.
And you are reminded that this work is important, so important. Their voices: their hearts, their minds, their souls are so very, very important. And you are blessed, so very blessed.
So, when you don’t sleep because you mark, you are really just blessed to be reading – and in reading you are hearing the voices that need to be heard and honoured. And they are so very beautiful. Every voice on this blog is beautiful and brilliant: http://aphunniblog.edublogs.org/ And I am in awe!
This is our last week with this garden of daisies. Listen to them – they need to be heard. See them – they deserve to be seen. Love them – they matter.
As our year winds to a close, our Grade 12’s share their wisdom and experience with our AP kids and friends via a Ted Talks style 5-15 minute speech. The students’ truth and wisdom brought us all to tears for well over two hours. Here are the highlights as shared with us by Jade’s great note-taking.
Highlights from grade twelve Ted Talks:
Claire, on “Why I am Funny”
-“If I’m funny, they’ll have to keep me around, right?”
-insightfully describes humour as a source of validation, inspiration and perhaps even a coping mechanism
-a wonderful speech about finding and establishing a sense of belonging and a safe, comfortable space
-exploration of the idea that funny=likability=happiness
-relatable–we are all looking for validation, for something to cling to, how we have a tendency to compare ourselves to other when we don’t feel like we are good enough
-a funny, heartwarming story about finding and knowing our own worth–reaching our full potentials–how sometimes it’s a matter of patience
-surrounding ourselves with humble, caring people who advocate for our success
-taking chances, trying new things in order to find a place where we are passionate, where we feel safe, and where we feel like we belong
I have noticed in my 18 years of teaching that we teachers value being heard, validated, and supported, especially in difficult times. I am often sought as a mentor for many staff with a range of struggles from the classroom to personal life. The intense demands of teaching coupled with the inevitability of life cause perpetual challenges that ebb and flow for teachers, so helping them to develop resilience is essential in the process of supporting them. The experience of being this mentor for many years, with wisdom garnered from my own life and work challenges, gives me a wealth of perspective that I call on to support my colleagues when they need it. It is the same “ear”, relationship, and caring that I give to my students as the needs arise. Effectively supporting people requires an investment of relationship, trust, communication, responsiveness, follow-up, and validation:
Establish Trusting Relationships: I observe people. I listen to people. I take the time to get to know people. Why? Because I value relationship as a foundation for trust. Within my classroom, relationship is founded by mining inside the hearts and minds of students through writing, creating, and building community. With adults, it is getting to know them in meetings, social contexts, community builders, and just being present in their class and observing what interests them by what surrounds them (photos, books, posters, momentos, …). Having a relationship with staff is essential for being trusted both in good times and when they are in crisis needing the support I can offer. With this trust, they come to me, and they appreciate my mentorship.
Communication and Availability: I’m the mom to many at the school. I keep an open door policy as much as possible and am available to people when they seek my support or guidance. I am present with people and prioritize their well-being. When it is evident that someone needs support, I use my intuitive nature to read body language, tone, and word choice to give me the insight to ask the right questions in order to support them. I genuinely know that my presence, candor, trust, and caring has made a difference for many, and I take that responsibility seriously. My strong emotional intelligence and open-minded, non-judgmental attitude really help me be a compassionate listener and a positive influence in helping someone navigate those tough times.
Responsiveness and Awareness: In communication, it is important to be responsive and attentive. Constant interruptions are a part of being an AP, but handling them with grace and awareness is essential so staff feel valued and heard. Small graces by putting aside the computer, offering eye contact, and my full attention create a safe space for effective communication to occur, so they know that I care to hear what they have to say, and to find out what they need. I ask: “How can I best help you” or “Who could best help you?” I break down the upset or crisis into manageable chunks allowing for exploration of the root cause – this strategy alone is highly effective to give clarity and insight. As leaders it is our responsibility to allow teachers to feel supported and that they can count on us.
Follow-up: The key to genuinely supporting teachers is the element of follow-up both in person and virtually. In the follow-up we can train resilience through encouraging positivity, coaching a growth mindset, connecting with their heart, helping them make habits of self-care, and getting them to laugh – yes, laugh! I firmly believe that love, learning, and laughter is the formula to help struggling teachers survive and thrive. In the follow-up, I coach them towards resilience through accountability. As we build up their resilience, they increase their capacity and open-mindedness for growth, improvement, and empowerment.
Validation and Kindness: The key to helping teachers maintain a resilient state is to offer validation and acts of kindness. This cannot be underestimated as an important strategy to maintain all teachers: a kind word, a handwritten note or email, taking a supervision, or covering a class for a break can go a long way towards coaching self-worth, endurance, and gratitude in staff. Think of our 3:1 ratio rule – teachers, like students, need 3 positive encounters for every 1 negative. We, as leaders, have the power to be the 3 in a teacher’s world, and these acts foster motivation, respect, and success.
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.”
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. To 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!”
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.
“…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 becameterrifying, 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 learntsomething 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 wasanother thing that at first seemed unnecessary, however I slowly came to realize 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 continuereading 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
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”:
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.
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!
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. 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.
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:
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.
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.
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. Further resources for UBUNTU: