“You Matter”

I am a writer, yes. I am also a note writer. As a teacher in the classroom, I wrote notes to my students. As an assistant principal, I wrote notes to my teachers. I would keep track of who I had written to, ensuring I made my way through the entire class or staff.

I tried to make the notes as timely and authentic as possible. I didn’t start at the top of my class (or staff) list and work my way down. I would consider the context of the day, make observations, and comment on those.

If I noticed a student being especially kind to another student, he might find a note in his desk the next day beginning with, “You have an amazing way of….”

If I noticed a teacher’s new bulletin board display showcasing her students’ diverse work, she might find a note beginning with, “I was impressed to see….”

Everyone makes contributions and adds value to the world around them. Our words can help others see their own strengths and understand how they are appreciated. The underlying message: “You matter.”

In addition to the starters above, some of my other favourites to show how much we value someone:

  • It made my day when…
  • I appreciate the way you…
  • I admire your…
  • I am so thankful that…
  • Thank you for…
  • I highly value…
  • You are a blessing…

“Sometimes it takes only one act of kindness and caring to change a person’s life.” Jackie Chan

The Rise will Come

This week I was sent an article and these words have stayed with me since:

“Humans love a disaster, but only shaped and curated and set to music, not to live in. We want the fall to be followed by the rise.”

Kate Washington

When we teach narrative writing to children, we remind them to include some sort of problem. What’s a story without conflict, after all? We also teach them to make that conflict significant: layer the obstacles, provide atmosphere, let us feel what the characters feel.

It is also true that the conflict within the stories we read and the stories we write require a satisfying resolution. No one wants tragic, never-ending sadness or disaster. We read on for the rise, for the rainbows after the storm.

And yet this year, we are living within a real-world disaster with seemingly never-ending conflict. Every so often I sense an end-in-sight and allow myself to feel hopeful, but truthfully, it often seems short-lived.

I’m tired (as I’m sure you are). But I do believe the rise will come. And when it does, it will make the ordinary all that more treasured.

Yes, the rise will come.

A Message to Heaven

The last few weeks have been intense. I ended the week feeling spent: mentally, physically, and emotionally. I was disheartened and easily agitated. Then, I saw a post on Instagram that immediately put things in perspective.

The caption: A message to heaven for a special teacher we were missing today.

Undoubtedly, it has been a tough year for all of us. It has been especially tough for this class. And yet, they have shown resilience, courage, compassion, and maturity beyond their years. These young students remind me that I can certainly face the challenges before me each day. They are faith and hope.

Meghan, you continue to teach and inspire. Your legacy lives on.

My fearless pursuit of happiness…

Last week my current job was posted. The news of my leave from my role with ECSD is ‘out there’ and feeling real to me now. Next year I will offer professional development, writing residencies, and parent literacy evenings across many school divisions. I will also carve out more time to write.

I’ve been excited about my decision over the last few months and yet as the days of this school year diminish, there’s been some anxiety, too. Are you sure about this? has crossed my mind on many occasions.

One of my administrator colleagues, who I respect for her literacy work within her school, emailed me after hearing my news and said, “I admire your fearless pursuit of happiness.”

This sentence gave me pause. Yes. My pursuit of happiness: doing what I love and doing it more often. She’s absolutely right about that. The fearless part may be more of a stretch. And yet, regardless of my trepidation, I’m doing it!

P.S. My view as I write each day:

Real-World Connections

Last week I taught persuasive writing to five classes of grade two students. Their teachers had done an excellent job with the lessons leading up to my visit. To up the ante, I decided to bring a real-world connection into their classrooms.

In this case, it was Lucy the elephant from the Edmonton Valley Zoo. I couldn’t bring Lucy herself but I did bring some videos and articles about Lucy with the underlying question: Should Lucy be moved to an elephant sanctuary to live the remainder of her life?

My observations of the students: engagement and passion!

Engagement? Students seemed especially attentive and curious about this topic. They watched the videos intently, spoke about the content with interest, and asked intelligent questions.

Passion? Students passionately shared their opinions (and their reasons) about Lucy’s fate. One student even stood up to voice her opinion which happened to be in stark contrast to most of her peers.

It’s not always possible to use real-world connections, but whenever we can, our students take notice.

Writing Creatively

Today I started writing a sequel to my novel. I was reminded how different it is to write fiction as compared to non-fiction. I tap into a different part of my brain. In fact, during creative writing, I might not always look like I am writing. In the moments my fingers aren’t clacking at the keyboard, my brain is spinning with ideas. I need those moments in order to write.

I suspect that my creative process is not unique.

When we ask our students to write narratives, we should remember that this process will be quite natural for some and quite challenging for others.

It is essential to provide our students with sufficient scaffolding and support before they begin to write creatively: mini-lessons, mentor texts, and plot patterns.

It is also essential that during creative writing, we realize that students may not look like they are writing; however, we cannot see what is happening within. If we’ve done our jobs well during pre-writing, their brains may be spinning with ideas.

Robert McKee once said, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.” Write on!

Voyage Inward

C.S. Lewis once said, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”

It has now been a year since the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my moments…

One of my coping strategies has been to write in my journal more often. Through writing, we process life. We sort out our thoughts. We relieve stress. We reflect and remember.

Do your students write a journal in class? An added benefit to our classroom journals is the connection that can be fostered between student and teacher. A sentence or two in response to weekly entries can have a profound impact: acknowledging feelings and interests, providing support and comfort.

This week, give your students time to look back and read previous entries. Students are often surprised at the content, the improvement in their writing abilities, or both.

Encourage your students to voyage inward: let them write!

You May Be the One

Our students come from diverse backgrounds and life stories. Sadly, some have experienced considerable trauma and turmoil in their young lives.

As teachers, our actions and words can have significant impact on our students. Sometimes we might be aware of our influence. Sometimes though, our discreetly shared lunch or our words of encouragement might affect a student in ways we don’t anticipate.

A simple example? When I was in high school, one of my teachers commented on my leadership skills and encouraged me to run for Senior Class President. I had not recognized these skills in myself and hadn’t even considered running for this position. A few months later, no one was more surprised than I was: I won the election. More important though, his words helped me to discover something in myself.

By recognizing (and pointing out) our students’ strengths, by accepting them for who they are, by celebrating their uniqueness, we may have more impact than we realize. We might spark a lifelong interest, help build resilience, inspire courage, or perhaps, provide the only positive comments in that student’s day.

Remember… “To the world you may be one person but to one person you may be the world.” Taylor Hanson

Connection

I look forward to watching This Is Us each week. I watch as a writer and marvel at the craft: the layering, the brilliant use of an episodic theme, the ability to connect us to those on the screen (those we have journeyed with over the years, and also those we only encounter briefly). I watch as a daughter, sister, spouse, stepmom, nonna, sister-in-law, aunt, and friend and I’m humbled by both the fragility and magnificence of our relationships. I watch as a human ‘being’ and I’m reminded how to ‘be’ in this crazy, complicated world we live in.

Yesterday I watched Season 5 Episode 8: In the Room. Through clever storytelling, we learn about the man responsible for keeping us connected today. Nasir Ahmed, in the early 70s, led a team of researchers who developed the technology that allows us to share images and video with each other.

Teachers’ Convention certainly was not the same as it has been in the past. But thanks to Nasir Ahmed, we were able to participate and connect and continue to learn. Thanks to Nasir Ahmed, we continue to teach our students even when it may not be safe to be with them in person. Thanks to Nasir Ahmed, we stay connected with loved ones during this pandemic.

I wonder if any of Nasir Ahmed’s teachers had any inkling of his future impact on our world. Imagine the potential of the students before you each day…

Consultant Fail

Last Thursday I ended my day with these words in mind: consultant fail. That’s what it felt like at least!

I taught a lesson on Teams to a grade three class who were half in person and half at home. I had never met these students before but soon into the lesson I realized that I needed to pivot. If I had been in person, I know exactly what I would have done. Instead, I felt myself fumbling to decide how to adjust in the online environment (especially since some were in class and some were at home). I made the adjustments I could, but I know the lesson was not particularly effective.

Then, that same afternoon, I had an online PD session with a group of teachers. About half way through the session, I got kicked out of Teams and my computer would not reconnect. Thankfully, I had another computer next to me and was able to communicate through the chat. But, for whatever reason, I could not share my slides on that computer. So, after a restart of the first computer, I was able to reopen google slides, find my place, and continue. Not quite the smooth session I had hoped for.

Participants were understanding and especially kind, feeling my pain with the tech issues, I’m sure.

Many times over the last twelve months I’ve heard teachers say, “This isn’t what I signed up for!” The differences in approach, the daily decisions, and the dependence on technology, are exhausting. I get it.

Although I felt like I had failed that day, I know I did the best I could in the circumstances. Consultant fail? No. Just some hiccups along the way…