Tag: student voice

Grateful for Our Circle

Our school year began on a Tuesday. We had four days together that first week, students and me. Four days.

I am a Grad Coach this year. I have my own program and many new faces alongside me everyday. The structure and design of our classes and days is different than my previous years in my school and in an Student Support role.

We began with four days. Students are with me to achieve a credit and to get the necessary supports to graduate on time.

By that first Friday things were messy. Our structure was too loose, our focus a bit too sloppy, our sense of belonging dangled on the edge.

I returned Monday and tried again. Nope.

I was not lacking the effort.

I was lacking sharing hope.

We were lacking our belonging space.

Period two Monday, I pulled the tables together. I gathered the container of rocks.

The students arrived. I asked them to join me at circle. I let them know they could return to their treasured place in the room once we had finished.

Then we defined Gratitude.

We talked of thankfulness. We talked of being grateful for coffee, food, our home, grandparents, friends, school.

I held the jar and took a rock. We each took one rock. The rock wasn’t important. The rocks determine our turn. Once we set our rocks in front of us on the table, our turn is completed. We speak in the order determined by the rocks, not clockwise, not by order or by age, but by rock feel.

From here we shared our gratitude.

In our class, we don’t do much if it doesn’t have a purpose, a curricular link. And I show students the wheres and the hows upfront. And so I did the same with gratitude.

“This week, all we are going to do is share our gratitude. I may ask why and I may not. Next week I will share a rubric and share how you will be assessed on your sharing.”

And then the rocks began to be placed. Grateful for buffalo ranching, for friends, for second chances, for home.

Just like that.

By Tuesday they had it.

By Thursday students had their favourite rocks. They began to ask after the whys, and I followed with the hows.

By Friday we pulled to circle with coffees and peanut butter sandwiches, like we had been here always. And waited. Gratitude too is hard. A student sat in tears, clutching his rock. We waited. We stayed in circle.

See. It is the circle that is sacred, that supports. That is hope.

Years ago I was teaching at an alternate school. My principal had lost her son. She returned to work two weeks later and, sitting around our sharing circle, held a rock, the word gratitude etched on one side.

“Find gratitude each day,” she had said.

That was the year dad had had the stroke. And I had ached for my chance to hold the rock. To feel safe and to cry.

So Friday we sat. Together. Together. And soon someone offered hope. Tears are welcome. “I am grateful our circle is safe.”

And a smile.

Week two.

I am grateful for our circle.

Greg’s How? – A Guest Post

Friday was my last bus trip with the senior basketball team. Greg, the grade 3, 4, & 5 teacher at the school, is the coach; I just kinda tag along because, although we are a ‘senior boys’ team made of two schools and many kids, hence the ‘need’ for both a male and female supervisor.  I’ve miss coaching basketball this year. I usually coach junior boys’ basketball. The first year I was at my current school the junior boys’ basketball team made it to conference finals. This year, we had four students who signed up to play junior ball. This is the nature of sport at a small rural school. So I ride the bus. I play ball at recess, on weekends and in the wee hours on overnight tournaments with the senior kids.  

Many of these students will graduate in June. Last Friday, even more than other times, I needed to make the bus trip. June and graduation are fast approaching. These are the times I value most with kids, when we laugh and tell stories away from formalities. It’s a time for the kids and I to play hide and seek, stay up well into the night sitting in the staff room drinking tea at overnight tournaments, and I especially like the bus rides. These kids are the stories of my life.  

Greg understands my basketball-story and he understands my educator-story.

“A key in negotiating relationships as narrative inquirers is our collective sharing of stories of experience. In the shared vulnerability experienced in this communal process, the space negotiated in the meeting of stories becomes filled with complex understanding of lives, understandings with significant potential for shaping cultural, institution, personal, and social transformation” (M. Young et al, 2009).

Greg attends to my narratives.

Because of this, I like visiting with Greg.

He smiles easily. Friday we lost by 60 points. Our team laughed the entire game, much of that was because of Greg’s lead.

I’ve never heard him raise his voice. Greg reminds me of my Dad’s ways of being with kids: easy going, organized, project based. My Dad always listened to kids, and Greg does too. Because of this, I feel Greg is able to see the whole court, to see the play develop.

I like that he teaches younger kids and shares their success stories all the time. I like that he seeks feedback about the kids he teaches. I like that the senior kids and I have been invited into his room so often I’ve lost count, and that I’ve collaborated with him so often that the senior kids reflected positively on those moments with the younger grades in their term final projects. I like that the stories of his kids and their families are honored.

I learn from Greg every day.

Bus rides are times bouncing, talking about how to make learning fun.

We share project ideas, dream up ways we can collaborate. We talk about what schooling should feel like, look like. We share our families too.

However, we are both deeply reflective, enjoying our silence, our books, our writing.  Friday on the three hour regreg and kidsturn trip, I interrupted his writing and asked him for a favour. See, I am often asked how relational narrative inquiry works in a classroom. For the senior students in the Language Learning courses (ELA) whom I live alongside, stories come rather easily. Greg teaches an eclectic and active group of young learners’ with grades 3 to 5 in the same room. Usually, by the end of the bus tip, we’ve each jotted down a few educational ideas.

Friday I wrote about the professional role he sees for me, and the similarities between Pre-K and senior ELA courses.

However, Friday I also asked him to share the notes I had watched him make over the six hour bus trip.

His class is the kind of learning space that attends to students’ passions (relational narrative inquiry) and is where I’d like to hang out. I think you’ll understand why once you come to know the ‘How’ of Greg’s relational learning space.

Bus trips with Cori are always inspiring to me. She loves education and that is contagious.

We believe in so many of the same things regarding the well-being of our students and at the same time she challenges me with her perspectives. I think we have the same passion but different experiences brought us to the same bus.

On the long trip home I began to write about my dream 2013-14 school year teaching my grade 3, 4, 5 class. My dream seems realistically within arms length.

I received a Christmas gift from my wife Lia, The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Wisdom which I read passages from often. Today I read: …I consider hatred to be the ultimate enemy. By ‘enemy’ I mean the person or factor which directly or indirectly destroys our interest. Our interest is that which ultimately creates happiness. This passage struck me because I had to think about what His Holiness meant. Then I got it. This is the entire crux of what I try to do with my students. In education speak we replace the word interest with engagement. So being engaged in what you are learning about equals happy, eager learners.

From my experience this is one hundred percent accurate. I went from a Kinesiology D student to an honours grad in International Studies. I was the same person, with the same brain, same attitudes about education, same values, but I found interest and value in International Studies and not in Kinesiology.

What are you interested in? I’m interested in having a happy day…aren’t you? What makes my days at work happy are smiling faces, chatter, playfulness, and above all the questions I get when my kids ask, “when are we going to work on __________?” The blank is anything, but more often then not it is a project we are working in. This is interest, and engagement.

These are some of the notes about my next year I wrote on the bus ride last night:

Inquiry projects.
New project every 10 days.
Each would have written and presentation component and would be tied to either ss, science, or health.
There would be a big idea presented by me, then they would come up with the questions which would drive their learning.

Maybe the first couple days of each project we could focus on the ELA aspects of the project, the conventions of the different products we are going to be doing.

A key resource I should try to utilize would be families of the students. At beginning of each project I could send a homework note home informing parents of what the class is learning about and the. Have the students go through the KWLH chart with their parents to see if they have anything to bring to the table (expertise, resources to share, know of someone who could come and speak on the topic, insight into the topic other finding info).

There would be self, peer, and teacher evaluation for each and sometimes we could have an outside audience evaluate as well

We would not have time slotted for ELA and the other subjects we would have inquiry project time.

I need to remember to keep things simple. Simplicity and challenge is the key to engagement at this age.

Flow of ELA products I would like. What would be the best progression?  Skit. Formal essay. Narrative. Poetry. Slide presentation. Comic. Graphic novel. Online story.  Paragraph. Model/diagram. Song or rap.  Podcast or radio show. Poster.  Formal letter, resume of famous Canadian scientist/FNIM/other

Math could also be driven this way as I’m trying to do with the 5s right now.

Now I also need to figure out how to do this for 2 different groups at the same time.
Might not be too hard if they by into it and they could all collaborate on each others subjects/big ideas/driving questions.

Engagement piece at the beginning. You are going to be in charge of your education, in charge of what you learn, in charge of what this year is going to look like for you.

At the end of each project we will check in on how things went and do shout outs and suggestions to motivate for the next one and keep improving for the future.

Questions about inquiry project structure.
How to know if you’re going deep enough into the content area. You present a big idea and let the students take it where they want. But how do you get them the info to want to ask the tough questions. Like if the topic is light science, students think of light and they have never thought about it before, light is just there we use it, big deal.
How do we get them to ask the probing questions?  What is the hook? It has to be connected to an interest area, something they have prior experience with so they have a jumping off point.
And what about those things that students should at least be familiar with, like the names of the provinces and territories, does it really matter or is that one of those things that some kids will pick on and some won’t no matter how Canadian geography is taught?

What about the reading aspects of my ELA program? How do I integrate that with the resources I have at school? My current resource is reading A to Z which has some connections but not a lot. How do I make this happen, I’m fine with working with my librarian but she is not a teacher librarian.

Outdoor education, I would like to do this stuff outside. Have a place outside where we can sit, share ideas, learn, write. Maybe around the ball diamond. Could we make seats like the one I have that you lean back on?

So planning before the year: project big ideas. Diving in points or ‘hooks’ to get the unit going. Reproducible (calendar, rubrics to start with, templates for notes- 4 squares, sequence of ELA products.)

Day 1. Big idea
ELA project
Expectations
Rubric for ELA part and maybe for other subject area too
Write note to parents as class
KWLH and have parents do their own on the subject!
Day 2. Review homework thoughts and build on them to come up with driving questions and project ideas.
Focus on ELA stuff again today
Think up supplies needed

Day 3. Dive into project
Still spend time on learning the ins and outs of the ELA components.

Greg Kotschorek

~

Greg is Dad to Bodhi, and partner to Lia. Greg teaches and learns alongside students in grades 3, 4 & 5 at Mortlach School, Canada. Greg coaches senior basketball and many other sports. If you get the chance, chat with Greg, play ball with Greg. You’ll have fun. Find him here.

Stories to Live By (Stories to Leave By)

Every other Tuesday I attend a writing/story group. Attendance isn’t a requirement of my graduate work, but yet I feel it is a useful space to share stories with other grad students who tend to have a relational narrative way of living and being with the world. Along with my instructor, there are six of us. Everyone shares.  

Last Tuesday I shared a two and a half page poem about a former student’s suicide journey and how my then principal and I had come to journey alongside his narrative. After I had shared, the group’s feedback almost stopped, stuck between discomfort over both the shift in style and content as well as the power of the story, “I feel like you’ve pushed me in the stomach and I don’t quite know how to respond.” I tried to meet my group members’ eyes, but really, the discomfort had been the point of the poem.

I looked toward my instructor, not there to grant grades, simply a woman giving her time, and offering time for story-sharing, pulling us together so we might … I don’t know: grow, create, critique, pause or push.

The purpose in sharing the story was to show through narrative that in so many ways students’ voices are silenced in schools, in classrooms, within teachers. Some stories are told with the hope they live only as hidden-stories.

Darn it! I wanted feedback.  

The poem will become the transition to a larger document I will share with my division in a few weeks. After a few moments of silence and after I had shared the poem’s purpose, many in the group asked if I was worried whether this professional work of opening spaces where student narratives are honoured will put my job at risk.

I wonder.

Pushing the boundaries around silence is messy work. Those on the boundaries listening to narrative for the first time “cringe at the mantra of people growing ten, then twenty, then thirty, then forty feet tall with pride as they “disclose” the sexual abuse they suffered at residential school or the relentless cycle of attempts and failures as characters try to put their lives in order. But in all this, there is a delightful inventiveness of tone, a strength of purpose that avoids the hazards of the lament and allows the characters the pleasure of laughing at themselves and their perils,” (King, 2003).

My instructor listens well. She allowed me to talk my way through to understanding how best to figure out this question.

Much of our work attending to the lives of children involves creating safe spaces by listening to each other creating stories to live by. Clandinin et al state we are creating and sharing stories to live by when we are “finding the space with parents and children to try ‘something different’,” (2006). For the most part, our ways of attending to the lives of families and of children creates stories to live by.

But sometimes kids aren’t connected to schools or to their teachers, and they leave. Sometimes, the same thing can be said for teachers who similarly are not connected to their school, to their administrators or to their divisions. And this happens again and again.

I’d sure like to understand why.

When I looked up and met my instructor’s gaze last Tuesday, it is stories to leave by that she was sharing.

Years ago, before my instructor was a Mom, she resigned her teaching role in a large school. Dismayed over changes in the division that demanded shifts in her practice that did not coincide with her philosophy, she resigned. Her departure was an act of activism, though a silent one then. Her choice to leave her position had a lasting effect on her future. Tuesday she shared that when she left, for the most part, only her immediate supervisors knew the reasons for her departure. Hers was a silenced story to leave by.

My work is messy work. “Stories are wondrous things. And they are dangerous,” (King, 2003). I do not want my work to become a story to leave by.

I hear stories to leave by every day with kids I live alongside.

~

Three years ago I met two brothers – kind kids, busy. They reminded me of me when I was their age. I coached them in junior basketball; they hung out outside my window on Saturdays while I worked late at school. We talked dirt bikes, school, Graffiti Art and life. Through a series of events, the boys had been storied negatively by some adults as trouble makers. I think this was why they liked being with me. I let them tell their silenced story. For hours and hours, while they cleaned the classroom and Art room, they shared. But outside the classroom other stories were being told. Soon not only were the boys able to explain the benefits of moving schools, but it was like no one could read any other story than a story to leave by; “storms can be tricky,” (King, 2003).

And their lingering story, these many years later, some days feels as though, if I were to let it, would become the opening line of my own story to leave by. I just never understood this until I sat down to write this post.

Years ago I met a fluffy haired kid dressed all in black. He knew no other story than a story to leave by and he told it clearly and to anyone who would listen. “I’m a drunk” & “I’m dumb,” (he is not & he is not). He became one of my favourite students. His name is Dylan.

When he graduated his classmate told me it was really important that I speak at his graduation. When I asked why, the classmate said that he had been ready to drop out of school when I had met him. What is important about Dylan’s narrative is that it wasn’t his connection with me that helped him retell his story. Dylan began to tell a story to live by because he had a space where he felt safe sharing his story.

I guess you can say Dylan’s story is my plot.

Last fall I met a senior student, Derek (pseudonym) who had been silenced in his home life and at school. Though he is happy now, and expresses a deep connection to his learning space, Derek arrived open to listening. I arrived open to listening. Derek has a past filled with the kinds of stories which the community and parents caution should not be shared in learning spaces. I find these statements oppressive. I am my stories. We can no more silence student voice than we can be allowed to hide students. Yet often, this is the norm.

Often I wonder how anyone could have chosen not to listen to this young man. But Derek tells me he wasn’t the same then, and I get that. I remember the way I lived alongside my high school teachers. The other day, a community member stopped by the school and Derek, seeing the vehicle, returned to check in on me. He wanted to make certain “I wasn’t’ getting any grief.”

I am amazed how well my students understand the tensioned-stories that I try to keep silent. I know they can read my behaviours, the times my eyes are a bit darker underneath, or when I’m not bouncing around the classroom as much. They listen to me as well as I listen to them.

This weekend, as I sat down to read journals and prep for student-led conferences, Derek, who had been away from school three years and is back, sent this note, “you better not leave until I do,” (Personal notes, 2013).

Last Friday one of my grade ten students decided to transfer.  I wasn’t surprised.  I had been listening to him tell his story to leave by for months. I knew he’d go. Last year, it was a grade eleven student (who has since returned home now to graduate with his friends).  But each story is different. Each child is different.  I wasn’t surprised, but I was saddened. The grade ten student and his story to leave by had begun when his best friends moved three years ago. I had tried to help him tell a story to live by.

Why had I allowed him to keep telling it as a story to leave by? Maybe, it was because I knew I’d open a space by listening. Maybe it was because I cannot save kids. Maybe it was because, I just don’t know…

Why do we allow some students transition between places, why do we allow teachers to leave without asking why? Why do we choose not to listen?

Why do we choose not to share our stories to leave by? Why do we stay silent?

I am guilty of silence.

But I’m learning.

When my instructor retold her story to leave by I think she was saying, “Share, for goodness sake, Cori, share. Don’t stay silent.”

Write.

This is messy tension-filled and valuable work.  Do not let the voices of a few force you to be silent.

Stories. “I tell them to myself, to my friends, sometimes to strangers. Because they make me laugh. Because they are a particular kind of story. Saving stories, if you will. Stories that help keep me alive,” (King, 2003).

So, I am pretty sure, Derek’s story, like the stories of so many of our students, is my theme. His story is my theme because so often we have told stories to leave by and have come to tell stories to live by.

Last Friday after our first basketball game while the kids were running amuck in the gymnasium, I shared my week with a friend and colleague. And you know what? He storied in return. He shared a tensioned-filled grief story. And I felt honoured.

More importantly, I felt rooted in our story space.

If I so desperately need this space, so do kids.

Honour stories. Live, tell, retell and live stories to live by.

Like They Owned The Place

Today was spectacular. The Middle-Years kids laughed. The Middle-Years kids stayed behind after class like they owned the place!

See, Tuesday was our first day together. I’ve not been with the M.Y. crew for a year. Oh, sure, a few of the kids know me. They were in my Arts Ed class two years ago when they were part of group of kids who taught pre-service teachers about student-led learning. These same kids were the group who created installation art, braking away from their classmates, visiting the Dean of Education’s Office, and leaving a wee sculpture resting on someone’s desk!

But Tuesday the entire group sat frozen. While some might like the idea of sensing fear within their students, this is not me! Afterwards, at the staff table, I nearly cried. And I sulked all evening!

#fail

Most of the students I teach are high school kids, and I am comfortable among them. Yet at the same time, I have ached for our middle-years kids.

That first day, with three grades together, four subjects wrapped-up into an hour a day, every time I shifted or began to speak, the room fell deeper into what felt an irretrievable silence.

They were scared. Oooh!

The second day I tried to ease us into our first project, and though the kids were trilled to be up and moving about the room, it was still me leading.

I teach in a small school, and sometimes it is easy to overlook the stresses that jumping into the higher grades and/or spaces brings. Though for the kids I teach, the higher grades might simply mean a stroll of forty feet, the journey is real. The change is profound.

There is a great deal of pressure in the elementary-high school shift, metaphorical or tangible. I tell all our kids I want them to leave happier then when they arrived to school in the morning. For the first two days of this new year, our M.Y. kids did not leave with joy.

About 40 minutes into today’s lesson, I had had enough. What walloped me in that moment was that I had recently taken a class where my learning needs, where my narrative had been silenced.

If I can help it, I will listen!

I asked everyone to drop what they where doing. I asked our kids to join me in a circle.

What’s our question?

Why is this important?

How would you like to go about figuring this out?

To my left a student said he’d like to think with rock climbing.. I said that sounded thrilling! Then, the room exploded.

Their homeroom teacher had told me they where excited to be hanging with me. If I had stopped long enough to listen to them, to remember their stories, to recall that they are experts at leading the way (in the circle discussion today the group talked about race &privilege, and began to critique how whiteness affects them ) and stopped trying to teach them we might not have waisted two and a half days!

The lunch bell rang and the kids where making plans. Outside, the senior kids had to wait, their space had been changed!

#yay

The best part: A grade seven student had sat red-eyed hunched over for most of the three days. All of a sudden she was beaming! Here were smiles and words and questions and joys! She asked if she could bring her tablet to our class…

Yes!

She asked three more times making certain I was telling the truth. She smiled as she left the room. Our room, chairs in disarray, no one in assigned spots, excited to jump into different and difficult discovery.

#messy
#better
#home

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A Little Rattled

I have been eye-ball deep in a new term for almost four weeks now and what I have come to know is that my best teaching days have nothing to do with curriculum. My best days are the ones when I’m tough, filled with loving my kids so fiercely that nothing slips by, so filled that we all go home a little rattled, a spark resonating. My best days are the ones when everyone has voice, when we take time to step away, to cry, to yell, to belly laugh, to sit in silence, to reflect, to nod our heads towards each other, to ask each other how we are doing and to listen to the reply or to play a game of ball. These are the best days. These are the beautiful days.

Sure, these days wipe me out and fill me up. But they do that to my kids too. These days make us all ask, what more can we do, what more, what more?

These are the kind of days that make kids skip one day to take a breather, and return the next striving for life-goals year after year. These are the kind of days that flood my text inbox with “Today was a good day.” They are the kind of days that bind. They make us more than family. They allow us to know each other. They are the kind of days that offer us moments of love, the kind of days that allow us time to understand.

My kids and I share stories about hope, grief and equity. Because we share, we know each other. For as long as I live, I will never stop fighting for my students. I will never stop while they don’t have voice, while they are in pain. I’ve taught at six different schools and today many of the kids I have taught remain part of my life.

These last few days have been confusing. These last few days have been the first time I have been told to stop lighting the spark within one of my students, the first time an outside influence has told me to give up on a kid. I don’t understand how those who profess to love their kids can simply use them in games, be abusive towards them, or be indifferent about them. I don’t understand how the best interests of kids can be, at times, so easily ignored.

Someone has to help me understand…