Monthly Archives: August 2013

My Path

Dear Team,

Today was the first time I have felt this undervalued as a teacher.

And the truth, that’s not the case.

It is just the case today.

I was trained in the middle years program. This is a program with a focus on kids and curricula grades 6 to 9.

Though the province lumps us in with the elementary bunch, we’re a different breed. And I don’t necessarily mean the educators, I mean the learners.

There’s a different set of needs here, a different set of behaviours. Okay, now maybe I am talking about M.Y. teachers.

So here’s where I am now:

I went through the M.Y. program. However, I knew I fit grades 9 to 10. I just knew this. I still feel this way. I love being in the midst of all things grades 9 to 10! I obtained a teaching contract immediately upon graduation. I taught senior ELA, grades 9 to 12. And though I’ve changed schools and I’ve taught other grades and other subjects, I have been hired mainly to teach senior ELA.

Fast forward to today.

I am in the middle of my master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, focus on stories-to-live-by, thesis route. That’s a mouthful, I know.

My classrooms have always been inquiry based learning spaces.

Last week I completed the ELA accreditation seminar. At the end of the week I realized a few things: first, that of 22 ELA teachers, only two of us use inquiry in our classrooms and second, few of us use quarterly student led conferences (conversations) as part of our assessment.

At the end of the week I also realized that I will likely not qualify to become an accredited teacher in the Province of Saskatchewan, not today.

I need more classes specific to the subject.

I have called the Ministry and the Associate Dean at my university is looking into it.

Today, for a long time, I stared at my transcripts. It really doesn’t matter how high these mark are.

What do those marks mean?

What do the past years mean?

What does all of it mean?

Ironically, I was originally registered for the secondary program but decided I’d go the M.Y. route because there were more methodology classes; I wanted to learn how to teach.

I won’t list awards and accolades. I won’t list notes from kids, parents or administrators. I suppose it doesn’t matter what I learn on my own time in order to grow as a Language Learning educator and student.

However, I’d sure like to know – take me out of the equation, what do you think?

Is good teaching enough to become accredited? Is teaching more about process or more about content? When do we value one over the other? Should we? Doesn’t this situation resemble the assessment debates we have among educators, around our accreditation tables? When do we honour a person’s lived story? How do we assess a person’s narrative? This is, of course, our lived curriculum. I know my worth. How or when can someone claim to know mine?What privilege grants this lens?

I value your thoughts…

Sincerely,

Cori

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Choosing Joy

rock joy

Last week I received two letters in the mail. I wasn’t surprised until I realized that the letters had been addressed by me.

I’d written them the previous summer during a difficult period. At the time, the letters were a reflective activity for a summer institute I was completing. The words on each envelope were in my handwriting yet the notes inside where different; one letter had been written to me from my learning partner during the institute and the other was written to me from me.

Both letters were about hope for the upcoming year.

~

I’ve been thinking a lot about joy. A few weeks ago a friend shared that he wishes to live an extraordinary life. Me too. I want joy for me, for my daughter and for the students I teach.

I like being happy. I like that I live my life seeking my sacred spaces, seeking my safe people, and seeking serenity. I also write as a means to seek joy.

I write because I am filled with narratives that weave our common tales into extraordinary stories-to-live-by. I believe, in time, I weave my stories into joy. I find hope in stories. I find joy in sharing stories.

Here’s what I mean:

I follow George Couros’s work. I understand that he’s a well-respected educator-leader. And there’s much to celebrate in that. However, that is not why I follow his work.

The truth is that it’s always someone’s story that most inspires me

 I follow George because of the way he honours those he loves. I adore the beautiful way that he shares his love for his brother’s children, for his dogs and mostly for his parents. See, I love my parents too.

I don’t know George personally, but I feel connected to him because of our lived-stories. Each of us has someone we call ‘family’, and for George and me, the ‘who’ of our family is rather clear.

I’m in the midst of living my thesis story. In this space I am beginning to understand that the most profound influence of my journey has been my parents, and their teaching stories. This past year has been filled with retellings, restoryings; I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my Dad or my Mom. This past year George and his family lost their Dad.

Last week I held the two letters for a long time. I realised my learning partner in that moment would be holding the letter I had written for her.  What had I shared with her? I know I had taken the blank card home and had taken care with the words I had shared. I remember that. What had I shared with her? I wondered how she is doing. I wondered why we didn’t stay connected. I wondered if her world is filled with joy.

Oh, I remember her stories!

b's note

At the beginning of summer George wrote about making this upcoming year our best year.

Extraordinary words from a person who just lost his father…

Our lives are story. There is so much beauty in living. “What makes me hopeful is not so much the certainly of the find, but that my movement is search. It is not possible to search without hope,” (Freire; 1997).

As I pulled the card I had written for myself from its envelope, I wondered what message I’d find inside. I wondered what really had mattered to me in that space of fear so many months ago. I wondered what, in all of my words of hope, would matter now.

What would matter now?

A really long time-ago during my undergrad studies, my Physical Education professor once pushed back against all the structure and formalistic necessity of schooling, asking us to pause and to consider other’s stories and what was possible for kids and families. She asked us to not get caught up in getting caught up, asking instead, “How important is it?”

I took a deep breath. I like being happy. 

Slowing, I opened my letter.

note me

This is our best year yet, filled with joy. I’d like to hear your stories.

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Inquiry Opps: a week of curriculum learning

This week I’ve been taking my ELA accreditation. I came in expecting to be challenged. I also came in uncertain what we’d actually be doing.

I’m moving schools in the fall. This week, Miranda, the senior Math/Science teacher, is taking her accreditation as well. This morning we had an activity to plan an inquiry unit – Yah, I know. The idea is a bit ridiculous since we don’t have learners with which to pull the big idea, ask them what is important to them, wonder about what they might want to discover – that took us an hour. Miranda and I went together deliberately. We aren’t just colleagues, we are friends. We have had every prep together over the past two years and often we’d meet and game-plan how best to meet the needs of our students. What these meetings were was a support session to get us on the same page as the high school team. What these meetings were not was a gossip and pity party session where we said negative things about kids and families.

With my move, Miranda and I are saddened and stressed over how we will do-what-we-do without being able to have our weekly check-ins for kids, for our methodological, our pedigocial and our philisophical needs, and for the climate of care in our spaces.miranda water planning

So today, we chatted with the two other educators in our group during the planned activity as we talked through an interdisciplinary inquiry piece.

And it was fun!

I liked that in forty minutes we had something that each one of us wanted to do, and to learn about. Right then! One member of our group said, “I’m so glad we did this. It’s just simple, and maybe it’s not true inquiry but I finally know where to begin.”

That’s big stuff. Important stuff for kids.

How come we don’t do often do activities like this at division PD meetings?

Afterwards it was lunch. Miranda and I sat in the sun and, just as we had done almost every time we are together, talked about teaching and learning. Though today, we talked about ‘what if?’

And interdisciplinary inquiry based learning.

Miranda and I loathe the winter concert. We are required to have our kids participate. On the positive side, it is a month when we work together, though not really team teaching. We lose almost a month of learning; we lose a month of engagement. Let’s be honest, this is true.

In the end, the product is beautiful but the process is painful.  Arg! This is the exact opposite of everything I believe and hope for learning to be.

Heck, I don’t even care about a product.

I just want to know that the kids are learning and wondering and discovering and thinking of news ways to learn and to wonder and to discover with their learning. Product is an end. Learning isn’t finite.

At some point, Miranda and I asked ourselves why we didn’t try teaching collaboratively last year. We could have chunked inquiry units into three hour blocks – she’s Math and Science in the time table, and I’ve ELA. The kids could have transitioned between us, deciding where they wanted to be. Deciding just as they do most mornings. They do this anyway. This is why Miranda and I check in; some kids work best with me, others with her. It’s just the way.

Then we began to go back to the inquiry unit from the morning. We began to invision our kids living that inquiry process in our school space, in our common classroom spaces. We kept talking about kids. And then I said, “What if we had done this with the 9s & 10s too? What is it about inquiry that really pushes us? Challenges?”

We’d possibly need time for the division mandated initiatives. Between us, we’d need time for assessment. Easy. We could send a message to the other person to arrange a time to keep a specific group(s) of kids in a space for specific work. We could work in teams with sets of kids. If I or the kids need or want whole group read alouds, for example, we can just set that up. Be flexible. We just kept thinking it could not be more planning than what we did last year.

So why didn’t we change our instruction with the high school kids towards using a team interdisciplinary inquiry model?

Miranda admitted she had been worried about the departmental exams, about covering content. Won’t it be nice to be able to discover the content in a meaningful way, in ways that fit the needs of our kids because that horrid unrelated assessment won’t be looming at the end? Is it possible not to teach, in some way, to that kind of assessment? (If you missed my sarcasm that was redundant)

I didn’t approach Miranda because I was busy, ‘in closed-door-mode’ with a mammoth near yearlong inquiry project with the 6, 7 & 8 students. And I was busy with grad classes too.

We both agreed. The reason we didn’t change, we just didn’t think to ask.

#imagine

In many of our undergrad courses, we would take three months to plan units that never saw the light of day in our living learning spaces. Today, sitting in circle, in 40 minutes, the four of us as learners, storied our ways of knowing into a beautiful interdisciplinary discovery unit.

Much has changed.

And we need to be reminded to keep it simple.

We need to remember that we are good educators. We need to remember we are busy educators.

So what now?

I can’t go back to my former school. And I like my new school. Change is difficult. I need to begin with big ideas. I need to sit down with my new colleagues and say, “I have this idea. I’d like to try to team teach using an inquiry based learning.”

I don’t know where we are going. I don’t know how we’ll assess it. But I trust my staff and my administrators.

I trust the process. I trust it will be messy and take time.

I trust that we’ll figure it out.

~

Miranda looked at me, ‘Do you think the new teacher will want to team teach?”

What a great question!

#smile

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