Dear Students,

I’ve been doing some reflecting during this global pandemic and I have some sentiments to share with you…

Did you know that you are the reason I love my job? Your spontaneous exclamations, your joy in the simple things, your laughter, your hugs, your excitement for learning. No matter my mood coming into school, you are sure to spark a smile.

Did you know that I consider you and your classmates my school family? I care about your well-being, your emotional and physical health, your relationships. I think about you beyond the time I spend with you in the classroom.

Did you know that my favourite parts of our school day are when we are reading together, talking about books and life? Those times when I see your worlds expand, your ideas challenged, your hearts moved.

Did you know that I miss you? It’s true. I have learned not to take our time together for granted. The time on the screen does not make up for our time together in person.

And finally, did you know that you are the reason I have hope for humanity? Your kindness, your generosity, your compassion. Your acceptance and genuine concern for others. You will make our world a better place.

Actually, you already do.

With love, your teacher.

Disturbing and Disheartening

I had a blog post idea ready for today. It can wait until next week. The events of the last few days have been both disturbing and disheartening. Today my own words fail me: they feel inadequate. Today I have turned to the words of others to comfort me, to rediscover hope, to remind me how I can help drive change.

“No color, no religion, no nationality should come between us. We are all children of God.” Mother Teresa

“We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.” Barack Obama

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela

“Change is never easy, but always possible.” Barack Obama

Teachers, I challenge you: stand with me and be an example. Our students are watching.

We Are Learning

When we think about the learning that goes on in a classroom, it is typically the learning of students that comes to mind. And in our current situation, they are learning: maybe not quite what we expected, or in the same way as usual, but they are learning.

What has become especially evident during these times: we are learning, too. Perhaps even more than our students!

We are learning to use technology in innovative ways. We are learning how important it is to have connections with our students. We are learning to be resilient and flexible. We are learning that teaching is about much more than academics. We are learning to appreciate what we have previously taken for granted including simple, daily interactions with our students and colleagues. We are learning that returning to the classroom with our students will feel a great luxury.

The learning curve has been steep, unexpected, and tiring. But for the collective good, it is worth our efforts. I am looking forward to carrying my learning back into the regular classroom… whenever that might be!

What are you learning these days?

A Note of Thanks

Today is a day to pay tribute to moms! This year I venture to say that most moms have been working harder than ever.

Thank you to those on the front lines taking care of many more than their own. To those working from home and simultaneously assisting their children with schooling. To those in essential services, risking their lives and sacrificing time with their own families. To those who have lost their jobs and yet continue to find ways to meet the needs of their children. To those who provide much needed comfort, unconditional love, and unending patience. To those whose strength sometimes flickers on the inside but shines bright for others.

To moms.

And teachers, to you on this Mother’s Day, for the mothering that occurs in your classrooms (…or online…) each and every day. Thank you.

Book Share

Considering the probable confusion and anxiety our students are feeling in our current circumstances, I immediately think of books! (No surprise for those of you who know me…)

For young children who might be feeling scared or anxious, consider The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld and I’m Worried by Michael Ian Black. For those a little older, I Am Peace by Susan Verde and What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada come to mind.

With teachers being apart from students, and students apart from friends, you may consider using The Invisible String by Patrice Karst reminding us that we are connected even at a distance.

There is also a new book from a favourite series: The Princess in Black and the Case of the Coronavirus. The online snippets I have seen are incredibly timely.

What books have you used with your students during distance learning? Any ideas for older students? Please share your suggestions. I’d love to add to my list!

Cultivating Passion

Recently, a new writing project took shape; as of Friday I have a tentative title, framework, and many burgeoning ideas for a new book! In fact, even when I’m not sitting at my computer writing, I can’t stop thinking about it.

I know I’m fortunate to have found something I’m passionate about doing. After all, passion motivates, provides purpose, and inspires tenacity.

How might we discover and cultivate the passions of our students? How might this time of distance learning provide an opportunity for students to read, write, and explore a passion of their choosing?

In Oprah’s words: “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”

Cultivate passion. The time is now.

Unexpected Gifts

My emotions have been heightened as of late. From what I hear, I’m not alone. During these days of COVID-19, we hear stories of incredible kindness and incredible sorrow. These dichotomies co-exist in our world. Always, of course, but they seem even more apparent now.

Last night, a concert aired entitled One World: Together at Home. Lady Gaga virtually united celebrities from across the world to show support for the frontline workers and the World Health Organization during this pandemic. It served as a poignant reminder that we’re all in this together highlighting both the heartbreak and the humanity around the world.

Selflessness and bravery are revealed in times of need. Faith and hope in times of exhaustion and despair. Innovation in times of desperation. Compassion in response to suffering. Deepened connections in times of isolation and unexpected gifts in times of trials.

Amid the challenges you’ve faced, what gifts have you discovered over the last few months? Please share!

Inspired

Last week, at 8:30 each morning, I tuned into Facebook Live to watch Jacqueline Woodson read from one of my forever-favourite books: Brown Girl Dreaming.

Not only did I savour the time listening to this author read the words of her own book aloud, I reveled in the in-between moments: her spontaneous commentary about books and reading, words and writing, life and love, snow and sun, family, and of course dogs (as they appeared and disappeared unpredictably during her readings).

On Friday she spoke about slow reading. About enjoying the white space between the words. About rereading books. About not rushing our students. About enjoying picture books at all ages, adults included.

Listening to her words – both written and spoken – I feel inspired. Inspired to reread her precious, provocative words. Inspired to read slowly. Inspired to write and tell my story. Inspired to teach and and empower our students. Inspired to be a better person, too.

Her readings last week occurred because of COVID-19. I wouldn’t have experienced this daily inspiration if not for the pandemic, not in this way at least.

So consider this: how can we take this unusual time and turn it into an opportunity? How can we use books to both comfort and challenge our students? How can we inspire our students to read more slowly and savour the words on a page? How can we inspire them to “be kind and love each other up” (in Jacqueline Woodson’s words)?

However you do it, this week, strive to inspire.

Let it Be

During these troubling times, it is essential to find ways to cope, ways to escape, ways to manage anxiety. One of my strategies is music.

Have you noticed that words you’ve heard time and time again have taken on new meaning during this new reality?

John Lennon and Paul McCartney certainly weren’t thinking of COVID-19 when they wrote Let it Be. Yet when I listened to it the other day, I couldn’t help but consider these poetic words in the context of the current situation.

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
Let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

And when the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is
Still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be. Yeah
There will be an answer, let it be.

And when the night is cloudy,
There is still a light that shines on me,
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
Let it be, let it be.
There will be an answer, let it be.
Let it be, let it be,
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

What lyrics or songs resonate with you? What about with your students? During this national month of poetry, invite your students write another verse to one of their favourite songs.

Charles Darwin once said, “If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week.”

We can’t control our situation; we can control how we respond to the situation. Poetry and music each week… let it be.

The Playfulness of Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. As we consider online learning opportunities, I’ve been thinking about how we might get our students to play with words through poetry!

Ask students to write a poem by choosing one of the following constraints:

  • two words per line
  • fifteen words
  • three-syllable words
  • only verbs
  • words that do not include the letter ‘a’
  • one word on the first line, then two on the second, then three, etc.

Rather than dictate which constraint your students should use, let them choose from a list like the one above. (You may decide to change the constraints based on the grade level you teach.)

As an example, I have included my latest creation. I gave myself the constraint of two words per line and began each stanza with the same two words: These Days.

These Days by Karen Filewych

These days
I am
at home
self-isolating
working here
writing here
waiting for 
the world 
to return
to normal
or a
semblance of.

These days
I am
walking daily
with Jak
through puddles
and muck
and grit
happily though
despite needing
daily doggie
baths upon
arriving home.
 
These days
my walks
have become
my only
ventures out
during this
world pandemic
not expected
days home
yet needed
to keep
everyone safe.

These days
will help
me appreciate
regular life
hugging family
meeting friends
shaking hands
working together
with teachers
with students
in the
same room.
 
These days
will end
we’ll be
stronger happier
more generous
likely more
appreciative too
relishing in
a sense
of normal
a return
to routine.
 
These unusual
unprecedented days:
life lessons
if we
let them…
these days.

(Thanks to the The Writer magazine for inspiration this week…)