Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Finding your people

For nearly 20 years I have been looking for my teacher community. And for the past year and a half, even in my Bachelor of Education program, I've still felt on the outside. Inspired by project-based learning, gifted education, and homeschooling, I have formed very definitive ideas about the kind of teacher I want to be and the kind of classroom I want to create. And through it all, I felt very alone.

Then, this year, a brand new school in Kitchener, Ontario opened up. Just under 2 hours away from me, the entire vision of the school is based around inquiry and project-based learning. Finally, I found a place to which my philosophy of "teacher as mentor and classroom as workshop" aligns perfectly. In reading the vision of the principal, I felt as though I personally could have written every word. Everything in me wishes I was close enough to work at his school, but that is not the case. Instead, I suppose I will take it as another step and avenue of support as I continue to forge my own path.

If you're wondering, here's the vision of Groh Public School and principal Helmut Tinnes:

Groh P.S. will be a world class school with a community of autonomous learners engaged in meaningful inquiry and project based learning opportunities on a globally-oriented campus.
To create this vision, there will be a combination of three essential elements to prepare students for secondary school in advance of preparing them for the workplace:
  • a freedom-based, open and inclusive learning environment
  • enhanced project-based learning opportunities through inquiry
  • interaction with the larger world – to collaborate with students around the world
If you have spent much time with me, well, ever, then you'll probably smile a little reading that and know that yes, I've finally found my people.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Minimalist: the bathroom counter

I consume articles about minimalism like I do chocolate and Granny Smith apples. The trouble is that I haven't yet been able to transfer these much sought after yet elusive concepts in my life. I always recount the story of the day I sat in my friend's living room and realized there were seven things in the entire room. Literally, if seven people came in an each took one thing, the room would have been empty. It wasn't that I was striving to imitate someone else's look; it was that I truly felt at peace in that room. It turns out that visual clutter also clutters up my mind and spirit.

In our transition period right now, we are are amalgamating households to support my mother-in-law. While we search for an appropriate dual living space, we are all crammed into her house (which was bigger than our house - I'm not sure she would have wanted to sleep on the couch). This means two things: 1) most of our stuff we got rid of, or is in a small 10x10 locker space, and 2) most of my mother-in-law's stuff is what is filling our current space.

So I feel my hands are a little tied for the time being, and it's starting to mentally take its toll. I realized this lately as things started to slowly disappear from my bathroom counter. A few weeks back, I decided I didn't need two tubes of toothpastes, so I popped one back into the cupboard. A few days later, I took off the facecloth that sat there, unused. Then I decided the decorative jars didn't really need to be in the corner, and I moved them to the shelf.

Yesterday, as I went to brush my teeth, I looked at the long 36" counter and realized that only the things left on top were what we truly needed every day: toothbrushes, toothpaste, a cup and hand soap. I stood there for a minute and smiled. I had subconsciously been working toward minimalism.

Now it has moved into my conscious stream. Surfaces are my weakness. I'm eyeing that dresser and armoire top and my side table...

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Mature student

The death of the second-career teacher may arrive in the near future.  With the final changeover to the two year Bachelor of Education, us "mature students," those with mortgages and families and well-established lives, will not be able to pause everything for two years to become a teacher.  As a result, the schools will lose those teachers with life experience behind them, with the wisdom of being a parent already, and the expertise of specific industries.

What I love most about going back to school at this point in life is that I have very definite ideas of my teaching philosophy. Yes, I am learning a million new things in school, and of course I am deferring to mentors and professors with years of experience. But I care very little to conform to what other teacher's are doing. I research methods, seek out those using them, and then go forward boldly.  I will not fall into the trap of imitating the "typical teacher" method that is prevalent today.  Not that there is anything wrong with it; in and of itself it is a valid teaching method. But what I see is 90% of the teachers teaching in that same way. All I can imagine is that these plethora of youth teachers graduate and then imitate what they see, and then by the time they are old enough to have their own experience and their own ideas, they have been in the box so long it's now old habit.  I feel like if there are 50,000 teachers out there we should really see at least 100 different ways of teaching, every classroom reaching different types of kids.

Instead what I hear is that school is the optimal setting for girls who like to sit in a desk, complete assigned work, and please the teacher.  Everyone else (so many others!) are left to struggle.  But there must be teachers out there who don't like to sit and need to move.  There must be teachers who prefer individual work to group work, teachers who want to create instead of just imitate.  There must be scientists and outdoorsy people and artists and athletes.  And I wish I could see that individuality reflected in their classrooms! I wish that the students could actually look back on each year and not see the same routines over and over again. I wish that maybe they would remember grade 1 as the year they raised chickens, grade 2 as the year they had garden in their classroom, grade 3 when they spent every morning learning in outside, grade 4 when they played soccer to start every day, grade 5 when they pursued their own project-based learning, grade 6 when they made a movie, grade 7 when they formally debated everything they learned, and grade 8 when they got real about the real world.  By the way, these are all things I actually have seen, but in all the schools I've been in, in all the classes, I've only seen one of each of these classrooms.  Only one.  Mostly I see lots of desks and desk work and then some crafting.

Maybe one day I can inspire some of the teachers I meet to inspire their students by bringing their own personal passions into the classroom.  You'll never be the most interesting and relevant teacher to everyone, but at least you can make their learning unique.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017


A new documentary, a renewed idea.  I've written and thought and done a lot on the subject of minimalism over the years.  The past five months have ramped it up a little, when we combined households with my mother-in-law.  There is just not that much space and so, by necessity, we are scaling back.

I'm at the point where all the clothes in my closet I actually wear on a regular basis. I continuously cull the toy room (although I believe there is always more there - how sentimental I can be with the kids toys!)

Where I find myself now, however, is not that I don't use everything around me, but could I use less?  I wear all 8 pairs of pants, but could I do with only 3? Everything is useful organized, but is it necessary?  I still feel the clutter, I still long for those spaces where surfaces are clear and boxes don't pile up.

I don't buy things for the thrill, but why do new things become old and lose the lovely feeling they once evoked? That new sweater with which I was so careful eventually becomes something I throw on to clean.  Why don't those beloved things remain beloved?  With less, would they retain some of their wonder?

The only clutter I yearn for are bookshelves.  Every time I see a picture of an airy room with shelves from floor to ceiling stuffed with all shapes and colour and sizes of books, my heart leaps a little.  There is something about being surrounded by all those lovely thoughts poured out on paper that inspires me just by the presence of it all.

Friday, 30 December 2016


After three and a half years as primary president (and another year and a half before that as a counselor) I've been released from service in the primary at church. It's hard to wrap my head around it.  I've spent five years watching about 100 kids learn and discover the scriptures and the gospel of Jesus Christ. I've challenged them, expected more, guided them, and watched them bloom. I've encouraged their questions and pointed them toward answers. We sang and read and talked.

I would say that the time was defined for me by Colin's class.  I started when Colin had just turned seven. In a bit of an unusual move, I suggested we move Colin's class of 6 boys and 2 girls into the older division (senior primary) a year early. They were a class of first borns, children a little wiser than their years. Plus the junior group was huge and the move would make the two groups more balanced and easier to manage.  The younger group has more songs and games and stories, and the spiritual concepts are presented in a simpler way. The older group we challenge more, have deeper conversations and encourage them to find their own spiritual way.

Over the next 4 years, I watched as Colin's class blossomed in unimaginable ways. Their questions and insights were remarkable for ones their age. And, as the oldest children in their family, we began to see their leadership emerge, to see the positive influence they were having over their younger siblings.

All of this culminated in their primary presentation this past November. Once a year the children have a chance to present what they have learned over the year to the congregation in the main service.  Traditionally, the leaders have written little lines for each child to recite.  A few children will read a short talk they had prepared during the year. And they will all sing the songs they have learned.  But three years ago I wanted to change this.  Colin's class, and the rest of the older group, were capable of so much more. So I released the writing to them. For those who didn't want to write a talk, I had them read a scripture passage. But everything that was read came from them. People told me it wouldn't work, but it did, and it was amazing.  This past November I stepped it up once again. This time, I told the 8-11 year olds that they would run the entire presentation.  I provided lists of the order of talks and songs, and they were in charge of doing everything in the right order.  As leaders, instead of sitting up on the stand with the kids, we all sat in the congregation. And they did it. There was one glitch, but they even worked that out.

The past ten years have changed the way religion and spirituality fits in our lives. Religion used to be about providing answers to life's mysteries, but there are fewer and fewer mysteries out there now. In the age of information, a faith in God is really about accessing a spiritual element in our being. I wanted the kids in my primary to learn about God's word, to develop a prayer life, and to start to understand their purpose here.

This year, Colin's class will turn 12, and move into the youth program.  To have seen this group through this stage of their childhood has been a privilege.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016


(The last few months have been empty - life is busy and my writing time is devoted to school work. Nevertheless the blog isn't abandoned, just infrequent.)

A new year is arriving, and although I'm in the throes of schooling, and in spite of previous posts about September always being the new year to me, my mind seems to be rolling about new year ideas. And so they will make their way here.

"Create" is my word for 2017.  A friend told me that her goal as a school librarian and keeper of the school technology was to encourage students to create instead of consume.  Her words have stuck with me.  Our entire family has fallen into a tech zombie-like state.  The constant demand on my brain of schooling has led me to want to completely veg out with my free time (ha - what free time?!) I've watched more mindless Netflix and played more video games (what?) than ever before. Similarly, I've been very lenient with allowable screen time for the kids.  100+ hours of school every week has completely changed how life is running in our house. I'm giving myself a bit of a pass for the 16 months or so I'll spend in school.  But I still have some very pressing things on my mind.

Create, not consume. When was the last time my kids created something in their spare time? Voluntarily decided to use the talents they have to explore their own ideas? When was the last time I did the same?  Do the kids even have the idea to do this? Do they see it being modeled around them?

Over the last couple of days I've offered to get out the actual real paint for the kids. Juliette and I co-created three different lovely paintings that hang in the wall on the play room now, and Caleb did one on his own.  I've once again picked up my instruments (violin, flute, guitar and piano for right now) to create my own music. I'm writing again. I have an idea that the kids and I can write our own little book.  It's so cheap to publish little photo books now that we could actually write and publish our own book, staring the kids, or featuring illustrations they have done. Juliette and I did some beading and make jewelry.  That's about the end of my ideas right now, but I'm on the lookout for more.

The truth is, the kids will love and do the things they see around them all the time. When they see the love and passion that creating brings me, they will want to create also.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016


Today I have been thinking about tears. I saw a beautiful video about honouring those who fought and died for our country, and I saw a grown man, a soldier, an elder, with tears streaming down his face as the national anthem played. Little droplets fell ran down his cheeks and dropped off of his chin. I wondered if he wanted to move his hand from his heart to wipe them away, to erase the evidence of such emotion. His hand did not move. Perhaps he didn't feel shame. Perhaps the pride and honour overwhelmed any embarrassment.

I have had more than a few moments these past weeks where I have lost everything in a torrent of tears. I've right now is more overwhelming than I've ever experienced to this point. And each time I've locked myself away, alone, to allow the release of the tears in private. Afterwards I've slipped away into a bathroom to splash my face, or I've willed myself to stop so that the redness can fade away, or I've covered the sniffle with a Kleenex and a "cold." I did not want those tears to become public.

Today I sat and thought about the design of crying. When we are overwhelmed with sadness inside, we cry in the outside. We cry on our face - the very place where people look when they connect with us. There is little we can do to stop those tears when they come. They stream down and tell others "she is sad!"  Sadness could have been designed to stay internal, but it's not.

In other words, when we are sad, we are designed to communicate that sadness to others. Somehow, it is important for people to know that we are hurting. They are meant to see the wetness of the tears in the moment and even the echo of sadness through the lingering redness in the eyes. Maybe it's hard to hide that we've been crying so that we don't hide it.  People can see it and reach out, connect, love. Sadness is not something to tuck away, but a way for love to be extended and communication to flow and connection to increase.

Maybe next time I won't hide away when I cry, and you might see me and be what I need in that moment.