Powerful Prompts

In my journal this week, I used these prompts. In 2019… In 2020… In 2021… I wrote a paragraph or two for each. Here’s a snippet:

In 2019, we were blissfully unaware of COVID-19, social distancing, and quarantining. We walked into stores, workplaces, and our family members’ homes without a mask or even the thought of one. We often greeted each other with hugs; we parted with hugs, too. We traveled and attended theatre. We gathered at Christmas as we had every year prior: opened Christmas crackers, enjoyed a feast, shared gifts, laughs, and most of all the company of those we love. In 2019, we looked forward to the year ahead.

In 2020, life changed. Normal changed. We were asked to stay home to protect ourselves and others. We watched more television than ever before. We canceled holidays. We worked from home. We learned countless computer skills and platforms to help us survive and connect, teach and learn. We experienced Zoom fatigue. We witnessed the heroics of health care workers, day after day in increasingly challenging circumstances. We watched cases rise, the death toll rise, and knew that each number was attached to a person. In 2020, hope wavered sometimes.

In 2021, I am optimistic that we will receive a vaccine. We will celebrate science and scientists. At some point, we will gather in groups once again. We will sing, pray, talk, learn, and laugh together–in person. Who knows, we might even celebrate Christmas in July. We may begin to travel and return to the theatre. Perhaps we will even read to our students gathered in a reading corner! In 2021, we will look back at 2020 and appreciate all we had once taken for granted.

This year has been unlike any other. Even for our students. Why not try these prompts with them?

A Time for Transformation

December is always a motivating time to write in my classroom! It is the perfect time to read, discuss, and write narratives: transformation stories abound! How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Crippled Lamb, and The Christmas Carol are all especially timely. (Students naturally make connections to Christmas movies as well: Elf is a prime example.)

The structure of a plot pattern–character transformations in this circumstance–help our students better comprehend and predict the stories they read; they also help our students add more depth and meaning to their own written narratives.

Why not capitalize on this festive time of year for some timely reading and writing?

On the Other Side

This year isn’t quite what we signed up for as teachers. Masks… Sanitizing… Social distancing… The absence of reading corners… Limited opportunity for collaboration… Self-isolation…

The teaching methods and practices that we have become accustomed to during our careers (and that we took for granted, we now realize), are more challenging and sometimes in conflict with the safety protocols in place. Quite simply: we cannot always do what we used to do.

In my role as consultant, I miss my regular class visits with students. I miss meeting with teachers in person. I miss the way it used to be and it’s easy to become frustrated and overwhelmed.

To cope, I’ve decided two things.

First, I choose to believe that there will be an end to the current circumstances: it won’t be like this forever. Perhaps longer than we wish, but not forever.

Second, I choose to believe that the present moment is a teaching moment of its own. I am being pushed to be more creative, to use tools that I have never used, and to think outside the proverbial box. I am learning each and every day.

One day, we will look back on this. Will we sigh, smile, shake our heads? Probably all of the above. We will also be grateful for a return to some of the norms we had taken for granted. And with all we’ve learned, we might just be better teachers on the other side…

By Happy Accident

Earlier today I finished rereading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I hadn’t intended to reread it now, but as sometimes happens, books fall back into our hands by happy accident.

There’s a quote I often use in my work with teachers and it won’t leave my thoughts about The Book Thief now: “Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” Madeleine L’Engle

Like you, I’m sure, I have worked with children from varied backgrounds and experiences: those who have lived through trauma, those with anxiety, those from privileged homes, and those from impoverished homes, those who love learning, and those who find learning challenging. Regardless of our students’ circumstances, I wholeheartedly believe that teachers–equipped with a collection of diverse, authentic, and compelling stories–can change lives.

Stories change lives.

Perhaps not one story in one moment. But many stories over time: sometimes shared reading experiences wrapped in conservation with trusted adults and peers, and sometimes stories enjoyed in private moments, revelations and realizations one’s own.

Stories most certainly make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving. Today, The Book Thief leaves me feeling hopeful and grateful even in this, 2020, a rollercoaster of a year.


This has been an eventful week.

I watched teachers work with their students both online and in-person, using every ounce of energy to engage and motivate. I am humbled by their persistence and determination despite this year’s challenging circumstances.

I was inspired by students in a grade 5/6 classroom who are facing the unexpected, devastating loss of their teacher. Their courage, compassion, and candor are an example to all those they encounter.

I sighed with relief upon hearing the news of Joe Biden’s victory. It signals a return to human decency and truth in a world where character matters, words matter.

I listened to Kamala Harris say, “While I may be the first woman in this office I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

For me, the common thread of these events: hope.

Joe Biden often quotes the poetry of Seamus Heaney and The Cure at Troy is among his favourites. This stanza resonates today:

“History says don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.”

Listen to President-Elect Biden read the entire poem here.

Life is a Gift

It was a difficult week in our district. On Wednesday, one of our teachers was tragically killed in an accident on her way to work.

Meghan, her husband, her boys, her colleagues, and her students, have been on my mind since.

A senseless accident such as this serves as a reminder: the time with our family and friends, our students and colleagues, is precious. We simply do not know what tomorrow may bring.

Life is a gift.

Take every opportunity to spread kindness, love openly, laugh uncontrollably, forgive readily, dream big, and live with gratitude.

And as Robert Brault reminds us: “Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

What’s next? Feedback and revision!

I love reading student writing! Check out these story beginnings… (Written here as the students have written them.)

“Every story should start with once apoun a time but this story does not start with once apoun a time. It begins with two best friends but one moves away.”

“There once was a boy who had no friends, not even the birds would sing to him. Each day would go by and rumers would spred around like a cold.”

“I remember light but all I see right now is darkness. I fell, I think I try to open my eyes but I can’t, I try again and a huge flash of light hits my eyes. I start blinking. I see people surrounding me. “She awake,” somewon yells.”

So much to talk about with these student writers: all three story beginnings have much potential. What’s next? How do we help our students reach their potential? Feedback and revision!

Feedback can be given during individual conferences especially when students would benefit from feedback on different aspects of their writing. Sometimes though, I ask a few of my student writers if we could discuss a portion of their writing with the class during a mini-lesson. (Be sure to choose students who you know would be comfortable with a conversation about their work.)

Let’s take the first example, for instance. (I am always sure to share some positives about the work before the revision process begins.) First, I would read the story beginning out loud as the student wrote it. Then, I provide a revised version such as this:

“Every story should start with once upon a time but this story does not. This story begins with two friends. One of those friends is about to move away.”

What I’ve done is taken the core of the students’ writing and made some small changes. I’ve cut the end of the first sentence. I’ve also slightly changed the beginning of the second sentence and split the second sentence into two.

The students and I would discuss which they like the sound of and then compare the two versions to examine the changes made. Is there one right way? Certainly not. My goal is for students to experience the process of revision. I want them to see how additions, deletions, and changes can improve writing.

After modeling with this first piece of work, we could discuss another example with the students providing feedback for revision.

We want students to feel empowered to make changes to their work. (Not something they do naturally.) We can’t simply ask them to revise their work. (They don’t know how!) We have to demonstrate what revision means and give them something specific to revise.

Striving for Empathy, Humility, and Compassion

This weekend I watched “The Way I See It”: a documentary about Pete Souza, the official White House photographer for the Reagan and the Obama administrations.

Watching world events unfold as of late, I have felt more and more disheartened. And then, watching this documentary, watching the leadership of President Obama in particular, I again felt inspired and hopeful.

In fact, I can’t stop thinking about it. Words such as empathy, humility, compassion are foremost on my mind. Among many other moments, this documentary showed President Obama’s address to the nation after the horrific Sandy Hook shooting. I remember watching it when it occurred. Watching it now, I was especially struck by his authentic empathy, his obvious love and compassion for others. All others.

Each of us are in a leadership role of some sort. Whether we lead students, staff, or our own families, we are leaders.

When we make decisions, do we make decisions with respect for human dignity? Do we acknowledge and appreciate the impact of our decisions on the people around us? Do we listen to and consider alternative points of view? Do we lead with authenticity? Do we stand up and speak up for others?

I know that President Obama was not perfect in the role of president and I don’t necessarily agree with every decision he made. However, I have the utmost respect for his confidence to surround himself with diverse viewpoints, for his contemplative nature, for his willingness to change his thinking, for his ability to lift others up, for his genuine kindness.

Today I leave the last words to him: “We may not be able to stop evil in the world, but how we treat one another is entirely up to us.”

The Books We Read

When we choose books to read to our class, we typically select them for a specific purpose: the content, a writing strategy, a reading strategy, a cross-curricular connection…

I’d be curious to track all of the books I read to my students in a given year. What is the overall impression of the collection?

Are the books diverse in genre? topic? cultural representation? Can my students see themselves represented somewhere within these books? Are they also exposed to experiences and conditions outside of their own?

Whose voices do we hear? Are there voices missing from the conversation?

Does the collection take them throughout the world and to other periods in time? Do these books challenge my students to think, to reflect, to grow, and to question?

It’s not too late: we’ve not yet reached October. Take a picture of the book covers each time you read to your students. I’d be curious to see the collection at year end!


In a recent poll, 1600 Alberta teachers expressed extreme and unsustainable levels of fatigue (94%), stress (95%), and anxiety (81%).

THIS in mid-September.

During this challenging year then, we must find ways to take care of ourselves. Consider: What rejuvenates you? What refreshes you? What calms you?

This year, we can’t put self-care at the bottom of the to-do list; this year, it must be at the top. We must be intentional about finding balance, finding time to separate ourselves from work, and finding ways to connect with others. Each and every day, we must commit to something towards our own self-care.

Remember the words of Katie Reed: “Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.”