Tag: teaching

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.

Keeping Talking


My school division recently launched a locally developed course, Mental Health Studies 20L. This course is designed specifically to meet the needs of learners’ in our division. The course addresses positive mental health, common mental health challenges, understanding stigma in relation to mental illness, and mental health and addictions. Teachers are nudged to take up the task of offering this course, helping students and school communities break down mental health stigma.

Hmm. I was in pre-start up meetings Monday with my two counterparts, the other ‘Grad Coaches’ in our division. Our mandate, or one of our mandates, is to help students at risk of not graduating to graduate on time.

Recently, I read Zac Chase’s thoughts about living educational mandates and the reality of living our work:

“I’m supposed to be talking about standards, though, right? Where’s my rhetoric around problems of practices, data-driven decision making, and instructional design?

What nerve do I have shunning my innovator’s mindset; deciding not to teach like a champion, a pirate, or my hair is on fire and focusing on something as ephemeral and un-quantifiable as joy.”

I want to talk about joy.

I need to talk about joy.

And while I do, we are also going to talk. About everything. And in this sharing space, talking is going to be ok.


We grad coaches sat together Monday mucking through the often hardwork of figuring the logistics of offering this new locally developed course with only two weeks to go before the start of classes, the often trickiness of the content, and the often tenderness of our students, and be certain, the pain of each of our own lived experiences.

The conversation was messy. We circled around and back to ideas, to plans, sifting through thoughts. And circled on. There were tears and smiles and harsh looks and gentle knowings.

By phone, we chatted with one of the course developers, clarifying the fundamental need to offer the course as an elective, allowing students the choice to engage with big ideas and potentially painful topics. This isn’t a core subject after all, it’s different.

Would we sit on it, spend the fall planning? Would we push through, bring in outside agencies, where possible and forge ahead, as an elective, having the tough talks, living vulnerable. Or would we pause, plan carefully and launch a well crafted, course next September?


See. This isn’t a core subject. It’s different.

~ Friday two of my former students were in a horrific altercation, one dying, illegibly, at the other’s hand. See. I am tired of losing kids.

That’s important. I want you to read that again.

I am tired of losing kids.

Many people have asked me if I knew the boys. And what they want is a storied telling. Stop. In all ways. Please.

One came to me years ago a gangly grade nine. I took him on his first outdoor education trip. He had very little. My dad scrounged together a sleeping bag, camping supplies. We were camped in a deep ravine, total backcountry kind of stuff. He ran free, like his smile was released from his belly and he was set to chase it. He smiled right through to the end of the year.

The other came to me years later. We wrote laters one summer while he was hoping to set his world on longed for path. The letters began after my dad’s stroke. He made a wooden cribbage board, and he gave it to me to share with my dad once dad was recovered. I shared stories of dad’s teachings, and of hope. The letters came written on long pieces of foolscap, remember that? Folded in half and then a third. Printed carefully.

Not a core class.

I am thinking about the ripple effect from the events Friday. The boys with partners, with babies of their own now. I am thinking deeply of the many, many, many lives so forever and unquestionably shifted.

I am thinking of my friends, my colleagues who live the pain of loosing kids

This is important.

Last year I did more than 15 suicide interventions. I am an Student Support teacher. There are six other SSTs at my school. How many kids did we talk with? Add the councillors? Now our caring and attentive staff. We are over 50. In Canada suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 15-24 (Health Commissions of Canada, 2017). This statistic has not changed in 20 years. I learned this fact from the MHS20L curriculum. I feel it too.

This is important.

Tuesday my husband, Alan, asked how I am going to welcome my kids back the first day.

“Hug them.”

Wednesday, again. Again. Someone inquired about the boys.

Let me tell you. I love my kids. I can tell you something beautiful about each and every each student I have taught.


Talk openly. Talk hard. Talk hope. Start now.

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…



Where I’ve Been

These days, every time I begin a post I end up saving it to my drafts.  Why?  Cause I’m tap-dancing.  There’s really no other way to say it.  I wish I wasn’t but it’s the truth.  How am I supposed to be transparent?  When it comes down to it, what I am as a teacher is the three descriptives I used as a salutation in a ranting email to a friend in Regina last Friday: I’m a student-teacher, I’m a friend, and I’m a freak, and bloody heck, I’m really really OK with all that!

 See, here is the conflict… early September as the teaching philosophy began to really be tested…  meaning, no more pretty hypothetical lesson plans and thesis length unit plans for the University of This-is-Perfect.  It’s the real world my friendly-bloggers and even though you may have shared with me a million times how the education milieu comes home to roost, nothing can make it real like kids, real kids, in real situations!  OK, so that’s not new, but it’s always new to me, even for this mom of 12 1/2 years.   

Oh, the September thing, yah… well, way back as I was learning my way, my mom, with whom I often share about my kids, my day, my world, who is a retired administrator, who gained her fierce Dragon Lady, no shit-reputation for always putting kids first, shared that there are two kinds of teachers, those who are “documenting for dismissal and those who are celebrating success.”  See, I only want to be transparent, and I feel I cannot because I’m not under contract… ….

But I’ve not been away these last few months.  No, so what’s been happening?  Using the line of one of the best RAP facilitators around, I’ve been becoming Irrationally Crazy about kids.  I’m great at relationships, I’m a friend to my kids and I listen well.  I swoop kids up into my arms whether or not they’re in grade one, grade eight, or just out of Dojack.  I’m on their team, in their corner, and they know it!  I’ll never forget the feeling of school wholeness that I had during pre-internship when another teacher said to me, “Hey, as long as he’s successful, run with it!”  I know I’m incredibly thankful to my coop who puts kids first, always.  I  know cause not a week goes by where some of his former students don’t drop by for a visit – that’s a powerful kind of success, I’d say.

That’s where I’ve been, interning.  Learning.  Trusting.  Solidifying.  Believing.  Listening.  Laughing.  Mostly, oh, mostly, celebrating.  And, too, beginning….

A Little Like Teaching Kids to Brush Their Teeth…

Well, we did it!  My coop, my grade 8s, the dude on the other end of the BlackBerry and I finally have our classroom blogs up and running!  Apparently, the 6th time is the charm!  Phew!  We have taken 5 full computer periods, used our Prairie South emails to get Google emails, tried edublogs 😦  , tried… well everything it felt like.  We are the first class in our division to use wordpress blogs and I’m very pleased that the space works!

And let me tell you, Mr. Mc and I were frustrated!  And, we’re also very determined!  You knowcomputer teeth when your kids are little and you’re teaching them how to brush their teeth?  Do you remember how you have to remind them 319 times before they remember on their own to brush their teeth? 

So, there we are, this last week and along one row of computers three boys are discovering the joys of ‘the dashboard!’  Their blog background goes from blue to green to some sort of neon rainbow in a matter of seconds.  Then one of them discovers he can change the name of his blog, they then start testing out the silliest blog titles.  But somewhere in there, they also create pages, and make multiple postings, and ask me, “Hey Ms. S.  What’s the name of the novel we started today?”  By the end of the period, they were going around and teaching others the beauty of the dashboard, and according to my Epic Eights, KEWL is most definitely a word! 

 So what would have happened to toddlers teeth if we stopped after 318?   

 Now, to get my hands on a classroom set of ibooks…