Surfing 31/31 #SOL

You might not know this, but I’ve tried surfing, several times in fact. I did this my first year at Jacksonville University in Florida at the beach with my then boyfriend from Virginia. I know; it’s a complex and long story — not the story that I want to tell here, on this last day of March.

The story about surfing that I want to tell happened in a book that I’m reading, a book that I’m in love with. Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson captivated me from the first short chapter and I have savoured my time with it, moving forward slowly piece by piece, then cycling back to ensure I have soaked in all the details. During our silent reading at the beginning of class, I took in this section of the story; Eleanor Bennett, the Black mother of two, learns to surf and her son, Byron recalls her lessons.

They had always gotten stares, the little black kid and his towering mother, leaning into their surboards in an era when many Angelenos believed the sport had been invented by blonde men.

“Some people think surfing is a relationship with the sea,” his mother said one day, when Byron was struggling in the water. “but surfing is really a relationship between you and yourself. The sea is going to do whatever it wants.” She winked.

“What you need to do, Byron, is know who you are, and where you are at all times. This is about you, finding and keeping your center. This is how you take on a wave. The you might find that you need to practice more, or there’s a storm swell coming in, or the wave is simply too much for you. You might even decide that you’re just not cut out for the surfing and that’s all right, too. But you cannot know which of these is true unless you go out there with your head in the right place.” This was true of surfing and it was true of life, his ma said.

I tried to surf. I didn’t find my centre. The wave found me and sent me to the ocean floor, head first, mouth open. I experienced a relationship with the sand because my head was not in the right place. Unfortunately, this lesson often takes a long time.

Surfing wisdom arrived too late for me as the waves of family and colleagues and friends. I haven’t always had my head “in the right place”. But the book arrived exactly when I needed it.

Trespasser 30/31 #SOL2023

Last weekend I listened with enthusiasm to the Human Restoration Project podcast with Ontario based teacher, Miss Elmi. She inspired me as I began dreaming of similar lessons in my English classroom.

You really should listen to the whole episode, but for now, here’s part of the website description:

Creating spaces of love, joy, and learning toward human flourishing.

It only takes a few seconds on Hanaa Elmi’s Twitter timeline for even the most oblivious observer like myself to know that what she is doing is magical. One post from February details several images of student contributions from reflections on Stone Soup and other related readings – child’s handwriting draws your eye to the center of each poster – We take care of each other by…We take care of water by…We take care of the Earth by… – student drawings and reflections surrounding those prompts create the shared understanding – Hanaa also captures “Our Ideas” in the margins – have a spirit of ubuntu (I am because we are), she writes, Be like the Water Walkers, Love water!

Another series of images shows her young students exploring questions like “What’s the heart of the story? What do you think the author wants us to know in our minds & hearts as a reader?”, one student reply reads “Ms. I think the heart of the story is that anger is okay and normal. We just have to breathe.”

In one part of the interview, something she said just punched me in the gut; I remember listening, then bending over a bit, and letting out an audible “ugh”. She grew up in the same city as me, the same province as me, and she could have been one of my students. Yet, on this American podcast, she said, she “felt like a trespasser” in her own schools. She could go days without a teacher acknowledging her, without speaking to her. This word — trespasser — physically moved me.

And, this might not seem connected at all, but when we had to cancel our school equity group for teachers and I heard complaints about “inconsistency” and the idea that we “aren’t doing anything”, I thought about the many times the lessons have come to me unscripted. It feels more like a way of moving through the world, a refusal to allow othering, and the willingness to feel the “punch to the gut” while continuing the deeper “archeology of the self” (Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz).

Writing Protocol 29/31 #SOL2023

I read Amanda’s post about a writing protocol and laughed out loud because my grade 9 class had just used that exact same protocol facilitated by our incredible teacher librarian, Cathy MacKechnie that exact day!

Three years ago, Cathy ran this protocol for me with my class of grade 12s and many teachers cycle through the library when she offers to run this activity. Cathy always shares the story of the workshop where she learned by having to share her own writing, not feeling like a writer, admitting to the emotional vulnerability of reading your own writing out loud. And yet, she tells them, that this structured approach brought her closer to an understanding of writing and editing.

But, the way that Amanda did this with her own writing intrigued me. I’d not done this work of vulnerability with them using this structured approach. While, I often share my writing with students or write in front of them, I have yet to do this in this way. And now it’s something I think I should do.

When we sharing and learning together, both in the classroom and outside the classroom in this space for writing teachers, we learn so much that we take back to our classrooms.

So, now I’m inspired and might choose something that was “meant to be funny” too!

Silence 28/31 #SOL2023

I wrote alongside students.

Writing prompt #20:

“Reflect on the concept of silence. What symbols or expressions are used around the idea of silence. Write or draw or list all of the thoughts that come to mind. Build on the ideas.”

  • in conversation
  • lack of sound/voice
  • absence of human interference in nature
  • thoughts
  • stifled
  • shhhh
  • peace
  • mouth covered
  • finger to lips
  • is absolute silence even possible?

Poem (in draft):

Silence Is

Silence is that feeling which mists upwards, the forest floor dabbing dew gently on the hairs of your skin.

It is that time when you share grief to shifting bodies with downcast eyes.

Sometimes, it is a swell, a wave holding warmth in place while eyes connect.

Maybe, silence is interbeing.

Silence is stretched time and broken distance, evidence of fracture.

It is a belly fire smoldering and smoking waiting for an escape route.

Silence is a finger to lips, a “shshhhh” sound saying, you should stop.

Sometimes, it looks like compliance.

Maybe silence is a language of emotions.

Words from a life 27/31 #SOL2023

Reading Words

The classroom phone rang and I picked it up. She wanted to know if I had given a student the book to read. I shared the history, the complicated nature of supporting readers, and indicated that she sought approval from home.

“Well, we’ll see about that when I call them.”

Disdain hung on those words as I hung up the phone. I felt a sudden rush of adrenaline course through my veins. After processing, I reached out and booked a call with her mother. She vaguely recalled the conversation with her daughter but was not concerned because in her words, “She is a mature reader. She knows how to navigate the words.”

Texting Words

I called and we chatted, the phone on speaker so everyone in the family around the dinner table could participate and share. I thought this was considerate and thoughtful. And then the text came, the one meant for someone else reporting on the reception of the phone call; it was not good.

“Oops. I think you meant this for someone else.”

A day passed and more words were thrown, a mixture of accusation and finality. I wrote a reply and keep it in drafts. Days passed and I wrote another reply with a different tone. More days pass as I waffle between retaliation and resignation. More than a few weeks have passed but those words remain lodged under my left ribcage hindering breath.

Walking Words

We walked right after dinner. We often just walk without talking, and I enjoy this. When I walk or run, I listen to my body and wait for it to send me some wisdom. Poems often arise when I’m outside moving and it feels like a breeze of words just blow through me. I capture them when I can. I’ve lost many over the years, but today, I realized something simple and wrote it on a sticky note to remind me.

Survival Guide 26/13 #SOL2023

It’s Sunday, so I’m anxious (again) thinking an never quite fulfilling everything I hoped and planned in my head. Yet, I have found this useful as students wind up with more opportunities to shape the lessons with me. For now, I’ve decided to use my many years of experience to create a Survival Guide for Teachers.


Stuff: Bring a few extra items of clothing for those days when the temperature dips below comfortable, or the sweat stains your shirt enough that you become embarassed as well as anxious.

People: Treat students and parents and other teachers like onions. If you pull too hard on a layer, it might break. Instead add water, give time and the warmth of love until the layers release. Do this for yourself too.


Stuff: Secure a stand up desk or podium and place it in the center of the classroom. Make it a place for anyone in the room and allow this to be a place for movement and celebration.

People: Know what you stand for. Write it down. Think about this every day and every night. Learn more and rewite it. Think about it when you plan and when you talk with students. Remember that the politics of education are capital “H”, Human. You’ll need this when someone accuses you of being “leftist”.


Stuff: Get rid of binders, handouts, and unrealistic expectations for your lessons or yourself.

People: Trust students who are curious humans and have access to more information than ever before. Release the traditional expectations of education and rewrite this survival guide.

Afterwards 25/31 #SOL2025


he says that he is not who he was.

This pierces,

until I acknowledge

none of us stay immutable;

then, I realize I am not

who I was before.


I am no longer the same.

Strange me greeting a strange you.

Who was this thief,

who appeared in the basement

somewhere between boy and man,

snatched the spirit,

leaving both of us changed?

Scenes from the day 24/31 #SOL2023

Scene 1: In a high school English Office, five teachers gather chatting and eating their bagged lunches.

“My son came home last night and was telling me all the things he’s good at.”

Director’s note: In this cramped, small office, teachers regularly gather and share stories of family life. Neil, the new colleague who had been teaching in Korea for years, recently came back to Canada. In this moment, he shares a story about his sixteen year old son.

“He said he is a really good listener. He thinks he could be a party host, but he would like to do it because he doesn’t like parties, but he’d be good at it anyway.”

Director’s note: The teachers laugh and smile.

“He also said that he’s really good at resolving disputes. And then said, ‘oh, and I should probably tell you that I nearly got in a fight today at school’ before he tried walking away.”

Director’s note: The teachers laugh lounder. One teacher is curious and asks for more information.

“So, what did you say to your son?”

“I listened and told him ‘that’s great!'”

“Pile on the praise! Give him lots, because the world will look after the creation of self doubt.”

Director’s note: A hum of acknowledgement followed and a few heads nodded.

Scene 2: A group of grade 9 students assess themselves on a rubric for a personal essay or memoir. The teacher moves around the room, desks in groups of four.

“Why did you give yourself this grade on the self-assessment of your writing?”

“Cause that’s what I always get in other classes.”

“But, you’re growing and learning all the time, so this is probably better, right?”

Director’s note: The student shrugs, and looks down at his desk full of doubt. Praise carried the teacher from lunch through the rest of the day.

Writing Alongside 2.0 23/31 #SOL2023

The Idea Is Better Than the Truth – Writing Alongside (From Linda Rief’s The Quickwrite Handbook)

Martha B.”The Idea Is Better Than the Truth”

I like the idea of spring,Light showers, green buds, and the thawing earth.But the truth is so different,Brown slush, rotting leaves, and mud…mud…mud.

I like the idea of summer,Pink lemonade, the smell of cut grass, and dripping popsicles.But the reality is,Sunburns, mosquitoes, and crowded public beaches.

I like the idea of winter,Hats and mittens, iced trees, and a roaring fire.But it’s not at all like that,Dangerous black ice, power lines down, and snow daysTo make up in June.

Name: Melanie White

The Assumption is More Generous Than The Truth

I like the idea of holding space,assuming we will shift beliefs, ideas, and the reasoning through self reflection.But the truth is difficult fromprivileged places, entitlement, andpower…so much power threatened.

I like the idea of holding doubt,assuming those who birthed me might do the same,and question their assumptions.But the truth is previous patterns andwounds made long ago,prevent anything other than disappointment .

Showing, not telling 22/31 #SOL2023

“Learning is this fluid thing, it’s social it’s dynamic – your background, your identity are factors that contribute to your learning.”

“Learning is heavily based on a social dynamic and experiences.” Eric Cross from The Science of Reading Podcast

I had this idea for a writing lesson in the shower then tried to hold it in my head until I got to school. Of course, I didn’t write it down and the usual important coversations with colleagues took my brain away from the plan to create the lesson. But, thankfully, I didn’t lose it entirely. Instead, I rushed quickly preparing the lesson with seven minutes to go before the bell – phew!

Here’s the idea:

Create a series of short scenarios with emotions and circumstances written in large print on pieces of paper. Students in small groups randomly draw a scenario, keep it secret from the rest of the class and write a paragraph that shows without telling.

Here’s one example of a scenario:

And here’s another:

I wanted them to show the emotion and circumstance without using any of the words or even synonyms for the words. They worked with a partner or in a small group and then I read their paragraph to the rest of the class. Other students had to guess the emotion and circumstances.

Correct guesses meant they had succeeded in giving enough description or dialogue to show without telling.

And that’s when the markers came out.

“I’m marking up your face to show you…” I heard from across the room combined with peels of laughter and joy. I assured them it would wash off and then helped them to use dialogue in their paragraph. I stopped by a group of girls who had the first prompt and we talked about the evidence that someone is your best friend.


“Sitting at lunch with them every day for the past year.”

We talked about the look on a sad person’s face and how they walk and breathe. And when they walked out of the room, it struck me that I was showing these grade 9s how to struggle a bit together, and that writing stories can be joyful.

One Fix 21/31 #SOL2023

Something has changed. I mean, radically changed in my grade 9 class.

Rather than provide a history, I’ll share something that happened today which seemed to fix student comprehension of paragraphs. And it also helped them think about prefixes.

Here’s the lesson:

With your table group, create a poster using online research to demonstrate knowledge required for paragraph writing in narratives.

Here’s what happened:

They shared rules discovered: a topic sentence, a concluding sentence, and a few other rules which were easy to dispute when we talked about it. All they needed to do was open the books they were reading to realize that not every paragraph in a narrative has a topic and concluding sentence. They crossed out those rules.

And then this idea of “unity and coherence” was raised by one student. I said, “Let’s just figure out unity first.”

So I moved to the board and wrote down the word

“Tell me everyword you know that looks or sounds like the word, unity”.

universe (Marvel)

United (Manchester)

unit (math)

university (“my sister goes there!”)


“Unicorn! Tell me about a unicorn!” They all had their hands up to their foreheads immitating the mythological horse when a student said, “the prefix uni must be one, because a unicorn has one horn.” We then back tracked through the words to see the pattern.

They decided we didn’t need a poster to understand the rules of a paragraph. They came together and collaboratively decided that paragraphs just needed the ideas and thinking to be connected — to be as one.

Unprepared 20/31 #SOL2023

I was expecting the text and photo around the time they arrived, but I wasn’t expecting my reaction. I knew it would be evidence of the gentle passing of our twelve year old Apricot Standard Poodle, Fergie (nod to the Duchess) and I thought the planning would leave me prepared.

Her physical deterioration had began six months prior. We noticed a diminishing, typical of age. We took her on the ususal walks which gradually slowed until one day she started limping. Just her right leg, but it was clear that she was in pain. We speculated: a pulled muscle? Maybe it happened at the dog park during a ball throwing session? Maybe she got a bit too enthusiastic for her age?

So, we shortened the walks, and threw the ball less frequently. But, nothing worked.

The vet took xrays and delivered the news. “I’m so sorry, but it’s bone cancer. Advanced too. It’s really spread.” We talked about options, but the way forward was clear. Amputation was not an option. We did not want her to suffer. A date for euthenasia was planned.

Then remarkably, she improved and as the scheduled day neared, we felt like we were putting our seemingly healthy dog to sleep prematurely. We cancelled promptly, and continued enjoying our senior dog and her new little brother.

That is, until her second last day. (I still shudder a bit with the memory, full of guilt about her ending.)

A few weeks after we canceled the vet visit. Duke, the puppy, jumped down from the sofa and Fergie followed. I saw her jump, tail up and wagging, and I saw her fall, suddenly seeming to break in two. Her back fractured in the middle and her tail end dropped to the floor. Eyes filled with panic darted up at me as she struggled to right herself.

Her hind end was paralyzed.

The shock of the moment gave us strength to lift her weighty body from the floor to her soft bed and we comforted her as she panted anxiously. George rushed to call the vet, but it was late, too late for immediate action, so she would need to spend the night on her bed sleeping away from us for the first time in her life. The emergency line took our call and the euthenasia was planned for the next day.

I rose and dressed for school, knowing that George would be taking her to the vet while I was teaching. I kissed her where she lay, exactly where we had placed her the night before. I was going to work, so I prepared and left without crying.

“Text me to let me know when she’s gone. I want to know she is no longer in pain.”

Then the picture arrived. George mustering a smile through tears, Fergie looking longingly up into his eyes for reassurance.

I was expecting it.

I thought I was prepared.

But even writing about this now, I realize we can never be prepared to lose what we have loved.

Which is why… 19/31 #SOL2023

Which is why I negotiate terms,

digging for meaning, reason,

some logic where mostly wounds

seep, spilling over the container.

Which is why I read and doubt,

tapping out a way toward resolution

of those words not my own.

Which is why I am never settled,

spinning some storied cloth

for comfort in understanding another.

Which is why I still write.

(Inspired by Amanda Potts’ post here:

To Sleep 18/31 #SOL2023

“Perchance to dream…”

I didn’t sleep well last night. Around 1am, our bedroom door swung open and startled me out of my dream. I don’t remember the dream now, but it was unsettling and this spilled over into my wakeful tossing which faciliatated some anxious weaving of stories which kept me awake for a few hours.

“Just stop”, I finally told myself, and then decided to soften the accusations and practice some relaxation and meditation.

At 1pm, my husband and I moved the ottoman, laid out the yoga mats and began our weekend workout. Part way through our two minute plank, I glanced over at the sofa, perpendicular to my straining body, and noticed that the dog was already breathing heavily, his paws dangling off the edge of the sofa twitching slightly.

Damn, I thought. If only I could plop down anywhere and be asleep within a minute.

I think my dog might just be a reincarnation of some spirit guide meant to show me how to live. He’s always excited to see everyone, no matter who they might be, or what they might have done; everyone is a potential friend. He eats when he is hungry, sleeps when he is tired, and dreams of repeating the same walk everyday with a bounce in his step and a wag of his tail.

10 Things I Did Today 17/31 #SOL2023

  1. I lounged in epson salts and listened to the most recent episode of On Being.
  2. I skimmed two new books over coffee.
  3. I gave written feedback on personal essays noting how many revisions student had in the Chrome extension, Draftback, and told them to watch the sped up video to see if they could observe patterns in their writing and thinking.
  4. I helped Duke try on his new raincoat and boots. (That’s him in the photo.)
  5. I listened to my neighbour share some hard news, and hugged them.
  6. I shopped for a new slow cooker with my husband and bought my son some shorts.
  7. I thought and reflected a lot. Maybe too much, because some relationships are trapped in a cycle.
  8. I decided to break that cycle.
  9. I planned.
  10. I healed, a bit.

Belay 16/31 #SOL2023

We are more than halfway into March break and there is a greater distance between my shoulders and my ears. I’m already sleeping more deeply though not longer.

This morning, I reread Tobi’s post with her March break resolutions and felt the connection which comes from a professional and personal understanding; our teacher friends don’t need an explanation about the deep sense of concern or worry or not-enoughness. Time and the pandemic and social forces stretch us. Forces draw attention and division pulling us apart.

Yet, within this gap of time, I’m slowing down and listening inside more, so I was delighted to listen to Jane Hirshfield on Ezra Klein’s podcast said that “a good poem is never accusatory”. I sat with this idea for a few days. I thought about this poem, and this poem. Both came from challenging situations, and I realized these felt like accusations in the moment, but instead, they were a response, my response, the specific reaching out to the universal.

In the interview, Hirschfield explains this so beautifully:

So, for me — there might be somebody else who would have a different definition of a good poem, and they are entitled to their own taste and their own preferences. But, for me, if a poem points a finger and shakes it at another person, it is a narrowing of understanding. You can do that without poetry. You don’t need a poem to say j’accuse and point your finger.

But poems are, for me, always an attempt to see from more than one point of view in more than one way, to enlist the collaboration of tongue, heart, mind, body, everything I have ever experienced, and to try to write into an awareness which is larger than the everyday, walking around forms of thought.

My brother took up rock climbing and my understanding of the vocabulary skimmed the surface. To me, repelling down a cliff face or “belaying” was the release of tension. That was my childhood understanding. Until today, when I looked up the term while searching for a way to describe this loosening that is happening in me. I was wrong and this shift in meaning, the new comprehension matters.

Name a few beautiful things 15/31 #SOL

A Few Beautiful Things

Dust dancing in a slant of sunlight caressing the air and then the hardwood floor.

Shelves of words carefully wrought for modellng and sharing and hearts.

Dog sighs releasing the tension of squirrel guard duty.

House hums, voices upstairs incomprehensible in word, but completely understood in mood.

Musicical strains crafted from ancient gashes transported to a moment and a moment and a moment, lived and then repaired to be lived again upon another ear.

Concave grooves in granite steps signalling a shared path generation upon generation.

Wood — just wood — is beautiful on its own whose life essence never changes.

Illusion 14/31 #SOL2023

I count the days before March break imagining long swaths of time on the sofa, under covers, in the bath. The “break” arrives and I sink into the freedom of unscheduled time on the Saturday and Sunday, revelling in two hour conversations with friends at coffee shops. I have nothing to worry about spending so much time because no unfinished work or thoughts badger me.

Then, Monday arrives and the illusion breaks. We have a broken washing machine so we take the time to shop and buy a new one, plan the installment, then visit a planner for the bathroom which needs renovating. Tuesday is the dental appointment that I scheduled six months ago, and before I know it the week is planned. Of course, I’m on a break and need to get things done.

Monday night breaks the illusion fully. I think that I’m sleepy. But, my scheduling mind has other ideas and sifts through school-related tasks that need attention. An hour into the tossing, I complete the calculations and decide to provide feedback to a minimum of 15 students per day to avoid the dreaded weekend-before-school hustle.

For me, March break shifts my attention from the people to the paper, from the community in person to the community online. I welcome the rest where planning for the future lessons happens, yet I also know by Tuesday that the long swaths of time of my imagination might just be an illusion.

“The mind that thought” 13/31 #SOL2023

I scrolled through my instagram feed and came across this poem addressed to an “empty coffee cup”.

“and the mind that thought” – this phrase struck me as unusual or in need of more consideration.

I felt the division in that moment between the mind that is mindless and the mind that thinks about itself.

So, I decided to write alongside this poem:

Caffeine Nation

Dear full coffee cup,

I don’t see you, sitting on the table, waiting for my mouth.

Sitting darkly flat, steaming at me.

You are in the queue after Wordle, and other interactions,

the early text messages of despair,

the dog pushing to go out the door.

But, it is wise to now turn my attention your way, grasp your handle, kiss your rim with love and mindful thought.

Memory Seized 12/31 #SOL2023

Memories lodge themselves inside us.

My memories arise, often unexpectedly, while others sleep. I cannot bring some to the surface, and I don’t think I have what’s called a “good memory”. My husband, on the other hand, recounts dates and places readily; he drives once to a location and returns as if the route was well travelled.

Not me. I’m often lost — directionally challenged — and some details of my life hide in the byzantine conduits of brain matter; memories silently wait until one seizes, grasping consciousness.

A vivid memory burst through the surface of the day just as I decided to start writing this post. I rose, having sufficiently cuddled the dog, and my daughter, still reclining on the sofa, began having a seizure. (This is a regular occurence in our household as she has lived most of her life with a seizure disorder.) This particular memory remains deeply etched in some visual system — I can see the hospital room in Detroit, remember the five sets of eyes turn my way filled with panic as the operating room doors swung behing me, my one year old baby girl lying on the paper-covered bed with tubes and electrodes and devices everywhere, my husband’s mouth open as I watched his body slowing buckle at the knees.

But I need to back up a bit.

We were in Detroit because Ontario did not have a PET scan for such a small body. We were in the hosptial room as we waited for the radioactive isotope to take effect. I was coming in the doors after getting a coffee and checking on my six year old son who was staying with my mother in Goderich. I entered the room just as the doctors told my husband her blood oxygen levels were dropping to a critical rate and they wouldn’t be able to complete the scan today. We had one day. We were there to stop the seizures.

If I’m being completely honest, I had been falling apart, but in that moment, I changed. I seized it and moved quickly to hold up my husband, to ask questions, to make decisions, to persuade the doctors to rush her through before the isotope degraded significantly so the scan could not be completed. Calm logic and reason dominated: “We cannot stay another day. Her blood oxygen is low because she has a cold. Can you move quickly on this and complete the scan?”

Her seizures grabbed our attention because they demanded intervention; but that didn’t stop them. Nothing stopped them. We tried the ketogenic diet, every anti-convulsant currently on the market, and each attempt felt more and more intense and futile. We were stuck, like the backspace, and the memory of that moment is too.