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Resting in Effort #SOL2021

I thought I would feel an overall level of comfort in the first few weeks of school. I thought I had a good plan for lessons, a structure that could work, and this was largely because I’d been planning and creating resources for my school board with colleagues all summer. We had sustained effort with virtually (pun intended) no rest. I was ready for this teaching year. So, when the classroom reality struck, I struggled to understand my quickened pulse, sweaty armpits, and digestive distress – I know these signs.

Most of the first few days ran smoothly with students reading and writing freely, but engagement in the lessons dropped and varied wildly over the next few weeks. On one particularly difficult day, I heard audible groans, and witnessed bodies slumped across desks. The three hours of planning felt like lost effort. That night, I knew I needed to respond and revise.

The next day, in whole class discussions students were silent or sometimes outright hostile. As preparation for “The Iguana in the Bathtub”, I asked, “Who knows what an iguana is or has owned one as a pet?”

One boy angrily blurted out, “That’s cruel! They belong in the wild!” I heard some follow up grumbling and saw him turning to seek agreement from the crowd behind, but I quickly nodded and agreed with him. Afterall, he was right, and I knew that we would be viewing a short BBC video clip about an iguana deftly escaping some snakes. It was full of narrative drama and that was our unit – narrative. Showing the video brought them back to life as they collectively and enthusiastically slammed their hands on desks, cheering on the struggling iguana until its eventual and incredible escape. Rather than have them analyse the narrative text – as planned – I decided to back away from that task, release the plan, and just read for pleasure. I read and they followed along in silence.

It’s not adjusting in the moment that is difficult for m – I have done this all the time. This feels different – significantly different. I’ve been getting to the end of each day and revising everything that I’d planned. Everything. Every day. I’ve rewritten tasks and edited slideshows and created new slides and searched for new videos. I’ve added more hours to my school day and what feels like more days to my week.

Then, serendipity struck. Sunday, while I was out on a run, listening to a podcast, I came to a resting place – not physically, but mentally. My son had shared “Controlling Your Dopamine for Motivation, Focus and Satisfaction” from Huberman Lab. I listened to this long, mainly scientific episode, but there was one part that really shifted me. The narrator says, “subjectively attaching the feeling of effort and friction to an internally generated reward system” is what is needed during difficult tasks. There is a part of the brain that will adjust if “you can tell yourself that the effort part is the good part. The rewards are inside of effort.”

I thought my summer effort was wasted because none of that lesson planning is helping this lesson delivery. But, maybe that’s the point. The making of lessons is only a part of the learning, my learning and not their learning. Now, the resting in effort – in sustaining this effort – matters most.

Writing in digital spaces #SOL2022

For the quickwrite in class today, I shared two poems and this video of the Canadian poet, Rupi Kaur (she’s referred to as the Instapoet because of her posts on Instagram).

We talked about the intentional craft of consistency across posts and the concept of visual identity on social media. These ideas fascinate me. Why Times New Roman font? Why is each stanza indented at the same distance from the margins? She doesn’t explain all of the craft moves in the video and I have more questions that answers now. And I think that is productive.

These questions are drawing me into multimodal expressions and I feel inspired by the fact that writers can shape their identity in new ways. I really want my students to see this, to value new modes of expression, and to know that the path to publication is varied and not the singular one once the privilege of only some.

Numbers and Levels and Rubrics and Grades – Check #SOL2022

Midterm is here and I am anxious – again. I checked my assessments, flexed rubrics, collated the data, used observations and conversations. Yet, this happens – every time. It doesn’t matter what I might have done to prepare, to give feedback, to support student learning with clear evidence, I still feel an overwhelming sense of dread and panic at report card time.

I just listened to “Grades Have Huge Impact But Are They Effective?” and find relief in the fact that this dread is grounded in pedagogical science. Research suggests that students aren’t motivated to learn by grades, and that grades can actually interfere with learning, in particular, when students haven’t mastered a skill. Arrgghhh! How do I fulfill my obligation to provide a midterm grade while knowing this can be detrimental to learning and well being?

I’ve been struggling with numbers and levels and rubrics and grades for some time now. And it’s not just what it does to learning, it’s the fact that I can’t ascribe a number to the unique craft of writing or the cultural knowledge required for reading.

How do I measure beauty with a number? (I know – beauty isn’t in the curriculum, but it has a place in student lives and I hope they can see their own beauty.)

How do I place a level on writing that a student poured their heart into? (I know – skill and effort aren’t the same thing, but what do low evaluations do when a student is learning the skill?)

How do I apply a rubric to a piece of reading that requires background knowledge outside of a student’s lived and cultural experience? (I know. Scaffold the learning and provide background, but what about the cultural nuances that I miss, and I’m a skilled reader!)

I have so many questions about traditional evaluations in addition to the systemic desire for content control in classrooms. I went looking for answers and cracked open a thin book on rubrics looking for words to strengthen me in this internal wrestling match. These lines pinned me:

What really distinguishes Wilson’s analysis is her willingness to challenge rubrics not merely for their technical deficiencies but on the basis of the goals they serve. That’s a rarity in the world of assessment…She shows that their attempt to standardize assessment in rooted in an error to rank students…(Rethinking Rubrics by Maja Wilson, Foreword by Alfie Kohn, xv)

Wait…”that’s a rarity in the world of assessment” – someone who challenges the deficiencies of rubrics is a rarity? Does this mean that rubrics are mostly viewed as infallible solutions to accurately assessing and evaluating expectations from the curriculum?

When it comes to writing, I’ve observed that most rubrics (Ministry created, student co-created, teacher created, etc.) fail to adequately measure what students demonstrate. Rubrics are cumbersome when the range of written expression is qualified and quantified. LIke the author of Rethinking Rubrics, I wonder if the creative writing of Hemingway and Morrison would score poorly on the syntax of sentences or the jarring choppiness of dialogue. If a writer intends to struggle through dialogue in a parallel struggle with the character, then the writing has been effective. Maybe the writer wants the reader to create their own meaning.

Can a rubric actually be open enough and specific enough for the creative imagination to emerge? Or is this just another set of boxes for students to check, for teachers to check. For me, I think the answer is both “yes” and “no” – there is the discomfort rising in my chest again. I’m not going to find a solution to the discomfort that comes with grading – this is my space to navigate carefully with the student at the center and my signal to check.

Break #SOL2022

“Hit the brake.”

Translation: stop

“Take a break.”

Translation: rest

“We are all on the verge of breaking.”

Translation: self-destruction

“What light through yonder window breaks?”

Translation: I see the beauty of another through a window.

“It is not, nor it cannot come to good. But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue.”

Translation: The situation will not end well and this means I will suffer in silence.

Caesura: a break between words in the metre of a poem.

Translation: a place for the reader to to fall and break open.

A poem for April in three drafts #SOL2022

Draft #1

Writing prompt: trace your hand on the page. Select a word which represents and emotion and try to write using the structure of the hand to guide your thoughts.

Draft #2

Move to lines or sentences to build a poem for April.

Draft #3

It lands in my throat

halting breath,

migrates to my stomach,

twisting flesh.

It rings in my ears

singing fatality,

but mostly, it lives in my heart centre,

stopping blood,

pooling platelets,

preventing

healing

here.

Acrostic After Reading Ratchedemic #SOL2022 30/31

I finished the nine hour audiobook Ratchedemic in three days. I could not stop listening and marvelling at the metaphorical use of a ratchet to comparatively discuss the loosening of teaching and learning in order to create more equitable student-centred environments. I started listening again tonight.

Dr. Chris Emden takes definitions and expands them for empowerment – take the term “ratchet” where he blends the urban vs literal vs metaphorical mechanical device that allows movement in only one direction.”The ratchet is designed for the hard to reach”. It is a historical examination of cultural improvisation and reactions to systemic oppression. To be ratchedemic is to change this and allow freedom of expression in all forms.

In chapter eight, he uses a medical condition as analogy. Agnosia – Usually, one of the sensory modalities is affected. For example, a patient with agnosia may not be able to identify a cup by sight, although they may be able to tell its color and identify it by touch by its shape and texture. He then suggested a new diagnosis a “cultural agnosia” – “this affects those who can witness the phenomenon but not explain what it is.” They can visually see Black students but cannot see the brilliance and genius they express.

He goes on to say that educators who are not comfortable with who they are may have “a ratchetness achievement gap”. Here is my acrostic poem celebrating this book and working to fill my own gaps with knowledge and celebration of the “ratchedemic”.

Teacher: An acrostic to myself

Realize your eyes deceive you. Look differently.

Acknowledge that you might not know. Look again.

Take the time. Slow down.

Cultivate curiosity before judgement.

Hold. Hold it all. Hold your tongue. Hold space. Hold them in the centre.

Examine yourself and be responsible for all that you do.

Trust that your students are geniuses already.

Thank you, Dr. Chris Emden.

Sorrows #SOL2022 30/31

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows was photographed next to my mouse pad, “Sorry, but I’m running with my dog.” I’m not sure what that means, or if it means anything, but “sorrow” and “sorry” have me thinking. Which actually is quite an accomplishment. Today. Here, with so much heaviness. And, so much to do.

And, isn’t it unusual that one can find solace in sorrow? And, now I wonder if those words are related. Maybe it’s just the words that I love and the dictionary that holds them so organized and meaningful like a family of related ones. Together.

6 Random Thoughts #SOL2022 29/31

Yesterday, I read Ryan Graybill’s post “Very Random” and this morning, I read Lisa Corbett’s post (Random). So, this is just some tiny random stuff.

  1. Why am I more likely to put my t-shirt on backwards or inside-out or even inside-out and backwards at the same time? Fatigue forces me into a mummified position in front of my closet twisting and turning, trying to find the most efficient way to dress and, in that process, I take a long time wrestling with the cloth that is meant to protect me and keep me warm. I stand there angry feeling the Fates are against me. Until I laugh at myself and say, “Be one with the shirt.”
  2. My desk is never organized. Folders don’t work for me. Files don’t work for me. I don’t understand systems.
  3. I love eyes. Yesterday at lunch, I overheard a Black student say that his eye colour on his passport is “black”. He said, “How does that happen? How can someone think my eyes are black?” I flinched and turned to him. “That’s wrong. They aren’t black. That’s clearly a person who missed seeing the beauty in your deep brown eyes. They weren’t even looking.”
  4. My first name is the Greek goddess of midnight, all things black and my last name is white. The M and the W are inverse representations of themselves. My hair is curly and my skin is light, my dress is colonial power and my actions are disruptive. I am a contradiction.
  5. How can grief be communicated through movement?
  6. I can never find the right shoes. There always too small or too narrow or too loose fitting. I miss cobblers. They saved our feet and preserved the memories of well worn soles.

Hexagonal Thinking #SOL2022 28/31

We’ve been reading infographics and they’ve been making posters noticing the methods of organization, the ways that they communicate, and I moved them from the large lined paper to small laminated hexagons.

“Rethink this again, but now reduce it down to words and show relationships with hexagons.”

I thought this would take some time, but was amazed at the speed and focus with which they worked. There was 6 minutes left in class. Each group of students stood, talked, huddled over the shapes, moving them around, debating the location, and then proudly asking me to take a picture.

Six sided six minute thinking geniuses.

How to See Reading? #SOL2022 27/31

“It seems that the kind of reader and writer we want young children to be, we have to be. We have to know it-and teach it–by living it.” ~from a 1985 NCTE interview with Paulo Freire

Reading is “a bodily feeling” according to the writer, Kate DiCamillo. When she was young and struggling to read, her mother let her know explicitly she is smart, and implicitly there is always a solution. She made flashcards and helped her memorize. She calls this an “act of seeing”. The Right to Read is open in a tab on my computer, printed and highlighted as I work on “seeing”. How do I teach students to read when the complexity of the process requires relational witnessing, listening, guiding and reflecting, one on one, one by one, one at a time?

Kate DiCamillo has great respect for the wisdom of children; they “know everything about how hard the world is”. She remembers what is was like as a child to be invisible and believes that even in the smallest interaction, you can show that you see their intelligence. The podcast, a sermon, my Sunday morning reflection, asks important questions. “How do we tell the truth and make the truth bearable?” She says that “in order to survive, we have to close down so much of the wonder.” Yet, she says, “Books are the constant reminder to pay attention – wonder and marvel.”

I think our job is to trust our readers.

I think our job is to see and to let ourselves be seen.

This week we used time as a department to talk about books with an Indigenous coach and the one Black English Department Head in my school board joined us along with a colleague. We shared stories about books that harm and how curricular violence is enacted in the classroom, how uniformed, albeit well-meaning, white teachers create oppressive reading environments. How do I help a student select a book that is right for them? How do I bring community into the decision making? I keep returning to the metaphor of seeing them and nurturing their love with wonder.

In “Pathfinding through the Improbable”, Drew Lanham says, “if you can hoard experiences…it helps me find my place in the land and the past and now” and it informs seeing. As an ornithologist, he asks his students to write their own stories of the land. The sounds of birds “bookended” his days and before he thought about the science of the bird, there was a different kind of ornithology. He didn’t need to know the names of birds to appreciate and know the birds. Just as reading narrative and appreciating the craft can be done, can be imitated without knowing the names of craft moves in writing. There was a bodily experience.

“There is so much that appears simple that is complex. Just take the time to get to know the sparrow and you see all the hues – at first glance they appear brown, take the time to delve into what the bird is but who the bird is, the journey, the trials and tribulations, escaping hazards each of us have had these struggles from the nest.”

I decided to focus on the how, because my why seems clear and I’ve been down that path before. Instead, I am noticing how wonderful to see and let ourselves be seen.

A Saturday in 3 conversations #SOL2022 26/31

Conversation #1 – 9:28 am

I rose later than normal on Saturday after a particularly challenging week. I had my usual coffee and was preparing for an epsom salts bath with some podcast listening when a text came in from a dear friend asking if we could talk through a difficult situation at school. I listened carefully and could see at least three or four serious issues in this interaction she described – she was entirely right to be uncomfortable and concerned. I suggested that she call another trusted colleague with more ability to intervene.

George was sitting at the table. We’d finished our Wordle and she called me back later thanking me for the advice. With the phone on speaker, her words confirmed what I had been thinking about the situation and she felt seen, heard, and validated.

Conversation #2 – 11:45 am

Amanda, Tobi, and I had a Friday night meet to share challenges and consider how we might approach what we do differently. I’d been mulling over some ideas that I didn’t get to say. I’d been too fatigued to truly engage in the discussion since this sometimes means disagreeing with one another. I reached out and we gathered this morning again. The beauty of this group relationship comes from our capacity to disagree and listen. We are unique and we learn from one another. It means that sometimes we are seriously challenged by the raw honesty, but we also know that we can return to the support of this group. We apologize if we are wrong, and forgive when we feel wronged.

We talked in a Google Meet for more than an hour. On our screens family mulled in the background and the pull in different directions was visible – but we stayed until we were full.

Conversation #3 – 2:05 pm

I called my mother, one week after the death of my step-father, her husband of the past 40 years. It had been a difficult and painful death from cancer, and I didn’t know how the conversation would go. I was anxious and fearful because I am here and she is there and I just can’t leave my current situation to be with her.

She was quiet, composed, and reassured me that she was “fine”. We talked long enough for me to know that she has support from my brother and his wife, neighbours, and friends.

There is nothing so beautiful as conversations that wrestle and love.

Life is not a journey #SOL2022 25/31

We read and then I showed this video prompt for our quickwrite. We’ve been talking about metaphors, how we think about and explain life – students are creating life maps as visual representations, and writing memoirs or personal essays. Each lesson, each task, each discussion flows into the next while I look and listen for the clues.

They selected their favourite lines and annotated them.

After the video, I decided to write with them again today, because I can do both.

The journey metaphor has been so deeply ingrained in my work, is so deeply etched into the movement through each school year, that I wonder how I might walk a different path. Can I really change this chronological linear movement when the year begins at a particular point and ends with movement to another grade, a number that is next is the accumulation of time. Educators talk about our role as a reading and writing teachers in moving students from a point to another?

But, then, I realize a difference. Movement is necessary, life-giving, vital. Movement is not the problematic concept. Space is the problem. How does the educator or writer use the space?

My vision of education has radically changed. I’m no longer forcing students to read books that are deemed “important” or “literary” or the “canon”. Instead, I’ve followed the lead of many other English teachers and instead promoting book love.

And, my vision has moved for writing in the classroom, too. Last night, I had the great pleasure of participating in a podcast with Angela Stockman – an “Instructional Designer and adjunct faculty member at Daemen College in Amherst, New York” (whose new book on multimodal composition is already preordered – woo hoo). We talked about the essay and the need to change how we teach and think about this strict rigid unforgiving form.

It’s clear that we care about essays – we loves writing and reading essay. But not the five paragraph ones. Instead, we love essays because they are hopeful attempts – as Amanda Potts says, they help us “straighten out our thinking.” The essay is a try, an attempt. Yet, if we are to try, then we must also fail. The willingness to struggle matters. I’ve got to show that very struggle to my students (I’m doing this now, in front of them and they may believe it is easy, but it’s not; I’m self-conscious, aware that they might scoff at what I have to say.) Nonetheless, the essay gives us a place to work out ideas and essays in the “real world” are not five paragraphs.

Essays in the wild are just that – free to be wild with a purpose and structure suited to the message, free from rigid structures, free to use audio, video, and visual forms to communicate complex messages. Multimodal essays require that students think deeply about a topic and reach for original ideas remixing old forms into something new. This freedom from form is what I love about Alicia Elliott’s “Dark Matter” in A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. In this stunning work, she points out that,

“Racism, for many people, seems to occupy space in very much the same way as dark matter: it forms the skeleton of our world, yet remains ultimately invisible, undetectable.”

A circular pattern emerges, and it seems to me now that life is space.

5 minute window #SOL2022 24/31

Prompt posted in the Google Classroom: What’s on your mind this morning?

I begin writing online, right here, where it is projected for them to see. I want them to watch me write and respond in the moment. I want them to see how writing and thinking can happen.

This morning I read a beautiful excerpt from the Cellist of Sarajevo and it reminds me of the conflict in Ukraine which reminds me of my students from Ukraine which makes me sad. I’m worried about them and for them.

The students in class ask me questions and I have no answers. “Why does the military….?” “Aren’t there Muslims in Russia and Muslims in Ukraine?” “Why would Muslims kill one another?” “I heard that Russia…..”

These questions are complicated, and I can’t keep up with their movement. But, I can help them understand words like “demonize” and “dehumanize” and “oppression”. We talk about them and what they mean.

I admit that I have so much to learn and it will be difficult to know from afar. We can only get information from the news or social media; these are only windows. We need to think about the stories, who is telling them, and from what perspective. We talk about the fact that each person is unique and not a country or a faith.

I realize that my classroom is on my mind – each student following a unique path that intersects and crosses others. Some talk among themselves. Others listen alone. Right now, they should be writing so I interrupt them.

“Write.”

“I did already!” one yells.

But, it has been only two minutes and the few sentences that I have seen need to be developed, fertilized, and nurtured. I know they have more to say.

“Aim to write two more sentences before I interrupt you.”

There are five of thirteen sitting in class this early. Another enters now, late.

“Keep writing, lads!” he yells.

I smile focus back on this space to show what is on my mind this morning.

Fault lines #SOL2022 23/31

I’ve misplaced my phone for the third time and it’s only 8:00 am. Each harried searching the room wastes precious time. I’ve been at school since 6:30 this morning, awake since 4:30 am and I can’t remember what I’ve prepared for the day – wait, did I prepare for the day? Thoughts stutter and I am not moving with my usual energy. That’s not quite right. I am moving, but something’s off. A part of me knows this, while the other part ignores it.

Last night after dinner, the room went sideways, or maybe I did, I’m not sure. Part of me was slipping, footsteps moving toward the kitchen, faltering. He’s already concerned after the doctor’s appointment, so I ignored, breathed, visually righted myself. A voice inside went, “Ooof.”

Driving to work, I avoid the potholes caused by winter freeze and thaw, the heaving which makes the pavement crack. The car creeps up the gradual rise along this tree-lined ancient street to the equally ancient school building where I work. My left wheel thuds in a pothole sending a jarring shock through me. I respond instantly lifting shoulders to my ears and grimacing. I wake to the moment – nearly there.

I’m in my classroom preparing, doing what I usually do, but I’m not here today. Not now. Thinking doesn’t grab. Won’t stick. Thoughts go out to students struggling and the emails I need to send, the support they need, thought lines fraying, so, I move to physical tasks, walk to pick up books, trying to find my way back. My thoughts feel quiet. Wait, that’s not quite right. It’s so loud in here I can’t think.

Last week, my doctor requisitioned a heart monitor for a three day period of time. I told her about the times where I lie down and it races, where I must gulp large breaths forcing my body to slow. It thuds. And I’m not sleeping much. I lie awake for two hours, then wake before the alarm clock. She prescribed medication based on a series of questions and a table she filled out. “You scored moderately to severely….” Her voice trailed off as I thought, Do you have any idea how anxious most teachers are on a daily basis? Of course, I’m frequently anxious. We all are anxious right now. We’re responsible for humans and we take this very seriously without the supports needed!

Okay. So, I’m here. This both is and is not my fault. And the students are coming in 10 minutes. I decide to follow a line from yesterday, what was working: give them time to play with their life maps, create a slide for the whole class with their favourite line, and finalize the writing of their memoirs. This is the line that I choose and walk it gently back home.

Feedback #SOL2022 22/31

Monday is the first day back at school after March break and my grade 9 students are reading descriptive feedback on their memoirs or personal essays. I had commented on the story, the organization, the use of language, imagery, dialogue, and the craft of their writing. They read quietly, raised hands, asked questions, and there were short moments which made the many long one reading and writing comments feel, in part, worthwhile.

One student wrote a powerful memory of the first day of kindergarten. Weight and water imagery connected with fears and tears, but then there was the banana.

“was I the browning banana left in the lunchbag?”

I posted a comment on the Google document: “This imagery broke the trance for me. You had me feeling the tension until this image which created humour instead of sadness. Was that your intent?”

Another essay about returning to school after the pandemic.

“Everyone was unwilling to touch another person. My brain pictured everyone and everything like they were infected. The air felt thick, I imagined that skin cells and virus particles were contaminating the fresh, rainy air.

I was there in the moment, following the tension, but then there were the dog treats.

We slowly shimmied into a tiny stairwell and we were made to wait until the morning bell rang, like dogs awaiting a treat.

I posted a comment on the Google document: “does this image capture the tone you want to convey? When my dog wants a treat, he is beyond excited. Was this the mood you wanted to convey?”

We sat together looking at the writing and I suggested searching the document for the similes to examine the comparisons (she hit ctrl F, typed in “like”).

“Oh, wow. I didn’t even realize I was using that, but now I see the pattern and know exactly what to do.”

Giving useful feedback is complicated and it feels like a relationship.

Another student calls me over to ask why I posted a comment highlighting “my” as repetitive. I read it out loud without the repetition, then with the repetition.

“But, I like both. I like the repetition.”

I didn’t agree. It’s only style, I thought. And sometimes people in a relationship disagree.

In an article for Edutopia Joel Garza, among others, made a series of suggestions for positive feedback on student writing. In particular, I appreciate his decision to avoid the “I” statements and this young student’s response to my style comment reminds me that they are writing and finding their own style so “I”, the one with more power, should be silent in the relationship.

I move to my writing desk to make notes, realizing each interaction with a student is feedback for me.

Seeing #SOL2022 20/31

This academic year, I was asked to facilitate some workshops which I decided to call “Dreaming Destreaming”. For those not in Ontario, our school system has streamed students into applied or academic courses. Over time, data revealed systemic bias which has done the opposite of education’s intent – limited opportunities for the already marginalized. There is a systemic shift taking place to remove streaming of grade 9 and 10 and that means teaching must shift, too.

On January 12th, 2022, I facilitated two sessions, each an hour and a half, after teaching a full day. While it was not a wise choice for my own well-being, I did learn – a lot- like, really a lot. About myself, and expectations – both mine and those of others. And, it’s taken a while for me to process what I think went wrong in those first two sessions in January.

Well meaning teachers came looking for answers, and I think we all delight when resources are provided, a package of solutions to our challenges. I am quite sure this is what they wanted for destreaming – lessons or strategies – stuff. But, that wasn’t my plan, and isn’t my plan. This workshop was meant to be a space for the collective “dreaming” part, the one that exists inside of us, not the one enacted through resources of lesson plans, or handouts.

Initially, I proposed that English teachers co-create and try a lesson to observe student learning. I was hoping that we might share ways we observe learning, and what we see when reading and writing happens. But, they weren’t all English teachers. And, they weren’t all teaching in the classroom. So, the plan failed – even before it could begin.

I had to shift direction quickly and could feel the collective tension, the frustration arising, even through this Zoom call. But first, I needed to observe what was happening.; I needed to see.

After the first workshop, I left with a sense of regret, and inadequacy. I knew that they did not get what they came for. I had not met their expectations. I regrouped and reflected. I knew that giving them a package of assignments was not the answer. Because, equity won’t be achieved if we begin with the assignments and not ourselves. I wonder if destreaming might possibly begin in the ways that we see students and learning first.

This brought me back to my early days of teaching Media Studies and a seminal text by John Berger, Ways of Seeing.

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.

But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.”

The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.

I needed to see what was happening in the workshop. The way I see my students and their learning is never settled. It is a negotiation of meaning and I’m dreaming of the ways the possibilities to make this happen. I was fortunate to begin my Sunday morning with the voices of Kate DiCamillo speaks to Krista Tippet in this incredibly moving podcast; “For the Eight Year Old in You”. This children’s author spoke about her early struggles with reading and how her mother helped her “feel so seen”. She said that “reading is a bodily feeling” which brings us into communion, in community.

This wondrous moment helped me see the future possibilities reminding me that it’s okay to keep dreaming.

Sign #SOL2022 19/31

I don’t know. Should I just leave it at that? Or, do you want to know the story?

This week we were driving back from an errand in the west end of Ottawa when I saw this sign. I read it three or four times before it became clear and I burst out laughing, pointing so my husband could see, then quickly Googled the company. While searching we speculated: private detectives? cyber security? a fencing company? home security?

Nope. A bookkeeping service. We stared out through the front windshield somewhat confused. We thought about it. Talked about it. A bookkeeping service that is none-of-your-business? Does that mean they keep secrets in the books? Whose business are they in if not yours?

I’ve never seen humour and confusion used so effectively before. And I guess I won’t know the whole story, because clearly, it’s none of my business.

Sharing Bench stories #SOL2022 18/31

Everyone once and awhile, I scroll across a really quirky post on Twitter, follow the thread and find inspiration for student writing. In one such thread, a curious photographer shared photos of park benches in obscure locations, ones in which the benches remained while everything around them seemed to have changed. These were benches frozen in time.

Followers joined in posting their own uniquely positioned benches. It was a sharing of unusual benches.

And as I scrolled, I imagined the narrative of place, imagined using these photos to generate student writing about time and place – how setting can drive a story. What happens in a story when one element of setting remains unchanged? Does this become the witness to history?

I collected 16 images in total like these, saved them to a slideshow, and hope to have students write the story of the bench. Where is this, what happened, who was involved, and why?

They can choose to write a narrative or an informational text responding in any creative way that follows their unique imagination and tells the story of the bench.

Here’s to sharing bench stories and a link to the slides if you’d like to use this: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/11-9_JLaNQCe86x04myOFHbtTmK8uH2TGAX5LzEYq7Fk/edit?usp=sharing

What will happen? #SOL2022 21/31

Time slips and

still lips stick holding words as prisoners.

What will happen

to everything I didn’t say?

Will it rattle the cage of my torso

forcing my belly to distend?

Maybe that is why

the old man on the corner looks pregnant – he waits hoping to give birth to his voice.

Time rolls yet

numb tongues twist grinding thoughts as chaff.

What will happen

to everything I didn’t say?

Will it rise up against containment

surfacing in the sunlight?

Maybe that is why

the folds of flesh appear on aged frames – these hide the unsaid safe against the self.

I Don’t Think I’ll Get a Tattoo #SOL2022 16/31

Glenda Funk replied kindly and enthusiastically to my Slice on day 12, joined in the “unladylike” behaviour and asked me if I was going to get a tattoo. I’ll admit that I’ve imagined getting one, but haven’t really been willing to ink anything other than paper. Something about it makes me feel uneasy, like I’m invading some time-space continuum, some sociological and cultural territory that is not mine.

I’ve admired many young women with works of art on their shoulders, arms, or backs. A few older women too, and wonder if they view this adornment as personal expression. Most of these women are beautiful, young, and vibrant, but I’m not young and I feel my vitality comes from another place. (At least, that’s the excuse I tell myself.) Alex Elle’s Instagram post rang true today. “You can’t force longevity. Everything and everyone has a time and a place. Honour the season you’re in.” Tattoos are not in my season.

But, this is not to say that I don’t try to stay current and fashionable because I colour the grey hairs and wear high top sneakers which are far more comfortable than heels (saying nothing about the oppressive side of fashion). I’m not about a resistance to fashion or popular culture, but another feeling I can’t shake. Something else about tattoos haunts me.

Maybe it comes from my reading life. Nearly four years ago, I started selecting more diverse voices, to listen to Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers. My reading life has taken me far from Western ideas, to ways of being that are not my own. Valarie Kaur showed me the wisdom of Sikhism, Adrienne Coddett showed me the beauty of Black culture, and Alathea Arnuquq-Baril showed me the meaning of Inuit tattoos. These cultures, oppressed by colonialism, white supremacy, and stripped of many customs persist while the dominant culture appropriates their clothing and hairstyles. I don’t think I’ll get a tattoo because it’s my own form of limited resistance or more hopefully, being a witness who honours a culture that is not my own.

But, there are more reasons. And I won’t deny that maybe I’m too indecisive. Maybe I’m wracked with my own self doubt, but I do know this. Words change, symbols change, and we change. At my school, we pulled many books from the shelves because of racist and anti Indigenous words. In my city, since the “Freedom Convoy”, the Canadian flag has taken on a new symbolic meaning. And, I’m surprised by how much I have changed lately. I am not who I was three years ago.

I love the word tattoo, the way it taps in your mouth when spoken, the double meaning of a mark and a rhythmic drum beat in time. I will listen and observe, witness and write, but I don’t think I’ll get a tattoo. At least, not today.