Posted in Blogging, ETMOOC, Professional Development

This I Believe: Blogging Transforms the English Classroom

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:

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.


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.


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?

Posted in Uncategorized, writing

This I Believe – To Work with Passion

Khalil Gibran stencil
Khalil Gibran stencil (Photo credit: duncan)

I believe that whatever work we are given to do, or we choose to do – we do it with passion!

As a young child my beloved, eccentric grandmother, Marie Kelly, engaged me in the process of reading on our weekend dates. It is to her credit, and my childhood insomnia, that I became a voracious reader.  One of the many books she read with me was Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.  She would pour us our tea, sit in her big old reading chair and I’d cuddle up close.   I know I loved the sound of Gibran’s language and thanks to her explanations and enthusiasm, his spirituality filled my heart and soul.  With time, the memory of reading with her fondly remained, but the knowledge of Gibran faded. Then in my university days I came across a copy of The Prophet in a used bookstore.  As I picked it up, a flood of fond memories – long forgotten – surged upon my heart.  I picked up the copy for $5 – an expensive indulgence. I quickly made my way back to my dorm room, made a cup of Earl Grey tea, crawled up on my bed and regressed into the memory of that day with my granny and Gibran, and my soul was rekindled with the profound philosophies of the prophet.  One chapter serendipitously fell open: On Work.

Cover of "The Prophet"At the time I was struggling with a co-actor who I was rehearsing with for a third year one-act directing project; he was one of the laziest creatures I have had the misfortune of working with, and I’m happy to say I don’t even recall his name today.  He lacked commitment and integrity in all aspects of the work – he’d come late, leave early, improv his lines, and neglect all direction given to him.  His ego was larger than his talent, yet he was not fired as it was hard to ever find an available male actor in the department. So we suffered through this insult.  The worst was when he tried to enlighten me, explaining to me that I worked too hard and couldn’t expect others to do likewise.  That put me into a tailspin as often people have questioned the passion I bring to all I do and I was left doubting my ardour for work.  But there, on that day snuggled up on my bed sipping my Earl Grey, was Gibran holding my heart, validating my “insane” work ethic:

      And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.

It is to build a house with affection,
even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead
are standing about you and watching.

This philosophy has driven my work life, and I do work very hard with pure love, as if I were doing it for my beloved. This value of work is a family trait. My parents were very hard-working and proud of all they did both in their professions and in the work they did at home.  My mother was an obstetrics nurse and she lovingly cared for all her patients as if they were her own: we couldn’t walk down streets without people running up to hug her and tell me how lucky I was to have her as a mom.  She gave 100% to her 12 hours shifts and if needed, never left a poor mother in labour alone if her time on the clock was over.  She is beloved for her commitment and love to those young mothers and babes.  She brought the same discipline of work into the home, which she kept clean and relatively organized for  a working mom, and all celebration was a well-crafted event.  Although my dad’s days were not nearly intense as a traveling salesman, he did everything with great passion.  He built strong relationships with his clients and there are few sales reps who could sell pickles and flour like my father.  With great pride and flare he’d design, build and maintain amazing displays in the grocer’s aisles that would inspire one to bake year round while chewing on a salty dill!  He’d chronicle his genius with photos and inevitably win all company competitions and bonuses.  Like my mother, he brought this intense work ethic into his home work – our yard was weed-free and impeccably maintained, the envy of the neighbourhood, and my few attempts at mowing the lawn would draw a scowl and frown when I didn’t run the mower in the proper lines; in winter our driveway would not have a spec of ice or snow and the snow-piles lining the drive  looked like Moses’ parting of the Red Sea, and thanks to his spirit, Santa himself would have chosen our home for Christmas.  Okay, I admit I’ve teased and complained about the intensity and OCD of my folks, but I know that the apple has not fallen far from the tree, it has only taken me decades to admit it!!  Although  it is safe to say that I have seen my share of crumbs on my floor and I have never parted the Red Sea!

When one brings great humility, effort, love and integrity to the work they do, that is a person whom I greatly respect: be it the custodian admiring the sheen of this floors or the executive offering gratitude to his staff after working himself an 80 hour week.  Our work needs to be done with passion and love.  In all my jobs, that is how I’ve tried to work.  As a teen babysitter, the parents would return to a home with the children and home happier and cleaner than when they left; then, many jobs later, I was a waitress who was honoured with a 100% tip from Al Waxman, a thanks for doing my job with such a passion that even his wife was content.  Today, I continue to work at my teaching with the same hunger and zeal that I did when I began 14 years ago.  Yet, I continue to host the assault and battery of others who tease and argue against my value of good work, yet my passion to “work with love” fuels me with resolve to follow Gibran’s advice and turn the “voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by [my] own loving.”

I believe that to work with passion is to infect the lives of others in a profoundly positive way.  As I care for and love my beloved children, Luca and Tulia, I teach them the value of doing each task with passion and integrity.  Somewhere up there my Grandma Kelly continues to smile down on me with great pride and love, especially after a productive day of work when I put on the kettle, settle into my spot, and open a book.   So I’ll conclude with Gibran’s great wisdom on the matter:

Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.