I’ve been surrounded by creativity and artistry the last few days… On Wednesday night we saw Broadway Across Canada’s Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations. On Thursday, I was at the world premiere of Episode 1, Season 17 of Heartland, the longest running Canadian drama, on which my brother is the editor. On Friday night, I attended the premiere of How We Ended Us, a film on which my brother was the editor and my sister-in-law the costume designer.

I’ve noticed that whenever I’m surrounded by creative people and works of art–in whatever form–I am inspired to create. What about our students? Do we provide them with the opportunity to read powerful literature, view innovative works of visual art, and listen to various forms of music? How might we be more intentional in surrounding students with such artistry?

Not only does a work of art inspire, it also provides a model. Regie Routman has said, “…riveting literature influences the quality of writing that students of all ages do, especially when we teach them to notice and apply what effective authors do.” Of course, this premise applies to other endeavours too, not just writing.

How do you inspire your students and provide models within your classroom?

Living My Dream

A few years ago, I left behind the security of my teaching career. I decided to leap not quite knowing where or how I would land. As you might imagine, it was both exciting and terrifying.

Last week, the talking point on CBC radio was ‘your dream job: if you could do anything what would you do?’ In that moment, I realized that I’m living it. I am doing what I love.

Fortunately, I am busier than I could have anticipated and I now have the pleasure of working with educators across the country. This year, I published a third Pembroke title, a book I’m very proud of. I also started working with an amazing team at Pearson. After working with them on various projects, I proposed something ‘new’ based on research and the content of newly released curriculum. My goal was to empower teachers to teach morphology but also get relevant materials into the hands of students.

As of this week, Kit A—the first of Bug Club Morphology—has gone to print! We continue to work on Kits B, C, and D. Curious to see it? Click here!

In the meantime, I will continue to live my dream…

Dear Teacher,

Building relationships with our students is essential. A strong connection facilitates trust, risk-taking, and often improved effort.

What do you know about your students? Would you like to know more?

Ask your students to write you a letter. It could be open-ended, of course, but by providing a few optional sentence starters you might elicit some interesting responses.

  • My favourite thing in the world is…
  • I am most proud of…
  • I want you to know…
  • I wish my parents knew…
  • I am challenged by…

Remind your students that the letters are private between the two of you. Respect that privacy.

The letter might be a separate task, or it could be this week’s journal entry. Regardless, it is a powerful opportunity to learn about your students and set a strong foundation for a year of learning. And remember, Josh Shipp has said, “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.” You just never know when you become that one caring adult.

A Reading Role Model

Do you read what your students are reading? This just may be the most powerful way to become a reading role model.

Take books home from your classroom library. Read them during independent reading on the days you’re not sliding in beside a student. Check books out from the public library before purchasing them (or asking for them) for your classroom library.

Staying current on the books and authors for students at your grade level is a powerful statement: to students, to parents, to your admin team, even. You’re able to talk to students about the books they’re reading and make book recommendations, too!

If you have reluctant readers in your class, read books with even more purpose: capitalize on what you know about these students and find something they might enjoy. Then, once you’ve found a few options, you can make intentional, personal book recommendations.

“Readers are made, not born. Few students spring out of the ground fully formed as readers. They need help, and we cannot assume that they will get it from home, but they should always get it from us, their teachers.” Donalyn Miller

Now is the Time!

During the first days of school, much of our time is spent establishing routines and setting expectations. As part of these new beginnings, it can be helpful to develop a weekly language arts schedule. Rather than plan each day at a time, a weekly schedule can ensure that we target all strands of language learning and alleviate some of the daily pressures of planning.

As for writing, the first two weeks of school are a perfect time to introduce three forms of low-stakes writing: journals, reader response, and freewriting. These forms of writing can then be embedded into your weekly schedule. Each serves a different purpose and accomplishes a variety of outcomes. Most importantly, if introduced effectively, they can help break down barriers to writing. Then, when we want to teach specific skills, students are more receptive.

Now is the time! You have a marvellous opportunity to affect the mindset of your students. Happy…

A Delicate Balance

In my area of the country, those in year round schools return to school this week. There are others that know once mid-August hits, yet another summer break quickly comes to a close.

Most teachers I know love going back to school and the firsts and news that come along with it: first day back with staff, first day with new students, new clothes, new school supplies, new beginnings. And yet even if we love those firsts and news, there is often regret that another summer has come and gone, and some anxiety too.

Each Sunday, Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper graces my inbox. Today’s issue concluded with this Sunday evening reminder: “You can look at the week ahead with fear, anxiety, and apprehension. Or you can decide to simply be grateful that you are here, that you are alive, and that you have the power to choose how you look at life. Choose hope, choose to rise above whatever scares you. I’ve got you. Let’s go!”

Regardless of who we are or what we do, these words may resonate.

Today I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful to sit and watch the birds at the feeder as I write this. I am grateful to spend my days with family and friends that I love. Yes, there is loss and grief. But I am learning to hold those alongside the joy and hope. There is room for it all.

Changing Habits

We’ve had a summer of loss. As I’ve been grieving one death and then another, I’ve noticed something about my reading habits. They’re in flux. I still crave time reading but I’ve been much slower and rereading the same line or page many times over.

What I crave to read has changed too. Typically, I have both a non-fiction and fiction book on the go. I’ve realized that non-fiction has been challenging for me over the last six weeks. I read what I need to for research, but I can’t seem to focus on non-fiction for long.

Last week I wanted to escape into a book of fiction as I often do. Instead of something new, I returned to an old favourite series where the characters and setting are familiar. Opening the book was comfort, a feeling of going home. In the middle grade novel Alone, the main character says this about rereading favourite books: “Old friends to smooth the hard edges of being frightened and alone.” Old friends within the pages of a book. That’s what I craved.

In the literacy sessions I give to parents, I’ve had many share their concern that their children gravitate to one particular series, a series that they’ve read before. I reassure them that, in time, they will move onto something else. This summer has confirmed for me that perhaps, our children too, need these old friends. They will eventually stumble upon something else… perhaps something that we conveniently put in front of them. They will find new favourites and their habits will change–throughout their lives.

There is certainly nothing wrong with finding solace and comfort within the pages of a book, whatever the book. In fact, isn’t that precisely what we want books to provide?

Capturing a Moment

I’m feeling nostalgic today for a combination of reasons:

…looking through old photos to find something specific for a friend… thinking of my dad (it’s been 22 years since I’ve spent Father’s Day with him)… and a family member hospitalized…

I’m grateful for the photographs that capture moments in our lives, some obviously significant and others deceivingly less so at the time. If we’re lucky, these pictures spark joy and memories, too.

As the end of the school year approaches, help your students capture some moments from the year. Provide these prompts and let students move between them as they freewrite:

  • My favourite part of this year was…
  • The funniest moment was when…
  • My teacher…
  • What I learned most about myself…

What might they respond? What might you respond?

Don’t rush this one… enjoy both the process and the moments captured on paper.

Yet Another Example…

I saw a video on Instagram the other day that once again confirmed the power of words. Students who were about to write a state exam were each given an envelope with a letter from a loved one: parent, teacher, sibling, or grandparent. The surprise, joy, and positive energy in the room was palpable.

If I was currently teaching grade six, or an administrator even, you can bet that my students would have a letter waiting for them on the day of their first PAT. Or, just as powerful… why not a letter on their first day of school–no matter the grade–when nerves and anxiety are often high?

A little coordination on the part of the teacher? Yes.

Worth the effort? No doubt.