With Halloween and Día de los Muertos coming up, I can’t resist sharing some wonderful appropriate reads with you! These books are a treat, not a trick!
Brand new this Fall is a book that I immediately fell in love with: The Strangest Thing in the Sea by Rachel Poliquin, with art by Byron Eggenschwiler is brilliant. The clever text tells us about the strangest creature that lives in the ocean. But when you flip the flap over, it reveals the real amazing creature, together with lots of fascinating nonfiction information. But – this is not the strangest thing in the sea… So continues each page, each flap to reveal something even more bizarre. Vampire Squid, Goblin Shark, Yeti Crabs that resemble a pile of skulls… But guess what the strangest creature of all is, who could not survive its explorations of the deep sea without equipment and inventions… A beautifully executed picture book for deep sea lovers of all ages ánd fun to read at Halloween. ISBN 978-1-77138-918-1, Kids Can Press
FROM FAR AWAY by Robert Munsch. This might be Robert Munsch’s least well known book but it’s one of my favourites. He co-wrote this picture book with Saoussan Askar (age 9). She wrote a letter to Robert Munsch, of Love You Forever fame, to share her story of immigrating from Beirut, Lebanon. She was happy to live in a safe place, but when Halloween came around she was suddenly confronted with ghosts and skeletons in closets. Munsch skillfully turned her scary tale into a funny one that highlights differences in cultures and the difference a caring teacher can make. Great to share at this time of year! ISBN 1-55037-396-X, Annick Press
GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier is a graphic novel. Its word choices and story content make this is a great story for slightly older readers. Catrina, her sister Maya who suffers from cystic fibrosis and their parents move to a new town. Catrina does not like it there. Nor does she like the town’s history full of ghosts, which is celebrated during Diá de los Muertos. Catrina is very hesitant to go out on Halloween night but she and her sister meet many ghosts who help change their perspective. ISBN 978-0-545-54062-9, Scholastic
MARY WHO WROTE FRANKENSTEIN by Linda Bailey is the beautifully crafted background story of Mary who, as a little girl who learns to read by tracing the letters on tombstones. At age 19 she is challenged by Lord Byron and Percy Shelley to write a scary story. Mary Shelley ends up creating the most terrifying, and enduring, tale of all: Frankenstein. This gorgeous biography showcases captivating art by Júlia Sardá. A great book to use, even in high school, to discuss the origins of Frankenstein and where stories may come from. ISBN 978-1770495593, Tundra Books
Books for athletes… Do reading and sports go together? When I conduct writing workshops in schools, I always love being able to involve the PE teacher in the reading and writing process. Here are new and long loved titles about sports!
The Thing Lenny Loves Most about Baseball by Andrew Larsen, art by Milan Pavlovic, is the universal story of a kid dedicated to a sport he loves but isn’t very good at playing yet. But with the help of his dad, and sustained by his book of baseball facts, Lenny perseveres and, through practice, becomes a valuable member of his team.
ISBN 978-1-77138-916-7, Kids Can Press
On The Line, Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Scot Ritchie, is the newly released story of Jackson, who comes from a long line of hockey heroes. Jackson’s not so sure he can live up to his family’s expectations. He feels like a potato on skates. But maybe his skills are not in skating but planning and organizing. When his team needs a plan, Jackson saves the day. A good story not just for hockey fans but to discuss each person’s different strengths and skills.
ISBN 978-1-77278-218-9, Pajama Press
Crocodiles Play! by Robert Heidbreder, art by Rae Maté.
In this fun, rhyming sports romp, the crocodile teams has their equipment and sports all mixed up. Theyplay basketball with bats, baseball with golf clubs and slam-dunk with ping-pong balls. The littlest readers will laugh aloud chant along with this silly poem picture book until the crocs get it just right.
ISBN 1-896580-89-0, Tradewind Books
Ice hockey is not just for people. In Linda Bailey’s The Farm Team, illustrated by Bill Slavin, the farm animals just love to play but are not very good at it. Each year the coveted tea cup goes to the rough and tumble Bush League Bandits. Until the year when, after much practice, the Farm Team manages to outwit the wild animals and bring the cup home. An older read that remains hilarious for all hockey fans.
Women are considered to be less interested in STEM subjects and careers. While much research has been done to attain a better understanding of the gender disparity in STEM, one reason comes up again and again and it is the bias and stereotypes associated with genders. A recent study found that both men and women were twice as likely to hire a man for a job that required math (Hill et al., 2010). Here is an attempt to understand why this gap exists and how can teachers contribute towards reducing the gap. Gender disparities continue to be a defining characteristic of STEM education, as per the research done by Kenney-Benson et al. (2006) female students’ STEM grades are equal to or better than those of their male classmates in elementary and secondary school. Yet when it comes to gender equality male dominance is seen in all fields of STEM.
Our society has created gender stereotypes since ancient times when humans started farming and the role of physical rigour was assigned to men. Gender role stereotypes convince us to allow the male gender to be agentic, take the lead to inquire and explore and find solutions to problems. This has manifested in the male gender made to conform with cultural representations of math and science. Even the attributes of a STEM learner are problem solvers and innovators which are associated with role stereotypes of the male gender. This itself proves that we orient our thinking towards STEM to be a masculine subject. Gender bias comes into play when assigning tasks for problem-solving. Typically in many classrooms across the world, girls are given the task of decorating or designing, while boys are given the task of research and investigation in a task. This is due to masculine stereotypes prevailing in the teaching of STEM, peer expectations, and lack of fit with personal goals (Dasgupta & Stout, 2014). This type of bias makes girls move away from STEM fields creating a huge gender disparity in STEM.
This has multiple ramifications, for example, female students of colour (SoC) struggle to complete STEM experiences, which becomes a barrier to shaping identity and academic success (Jones, 2019). Multiple frameworks highlight the lived experiences of female SoC in STEM including identity theory, and intersectionality. It demands consideration be given to the space, community, and present structures where identity work is produced. The decline in the number of female SoC graduates in STEM disciplines is partly due to discriminatory approaches by public universities, schools and colleges of race-based affirmative action. Till this date, many educational institutions require students to declare their race, ethnicity, religion even before getting an admission offer. Furthermore, STEM programs are often structured in a way in which students have to essentially prove their intellectual worth to stay, they may be forced out if they don’t meet high academic standards. Minority students already face unfair stereotypes about being intellectually inferior, and this is likely exacerbated in STEM programs, according to the study (Jones, 2019).
Teachers Can Bend The Arc
Since stereotypes and biases still exist, teachers need to make a conscious effort to bend the arc towards gender equality in STEM. For example, practising a pedagogy to instigate an inquiry mindset in young girls. Inquiry-based tasks that teachers create by understanding the student’s needs is a great way of including girls and students of colour in STEM learning. Also, teachers do not consider the need to address the lack of interest in STEM subjects by girls. If they were made aware of this as an epidemic plaguing the education world, they will guide the girl child towards inquiry or problem solving or experimenting.
Furthermore, STEM integrated with authentic science projects engages learners, hence girls can be engaged in activities that they would usually not be interested in due to societal stereotype or bias. Planning group work for fostering peer support for female SoC is also an effective strategy as peer support matters to participants’ success in critical ways both academic and social. The group work fosters safe, engaging climates for asking questions.
In summary, equity, relationship and students’ interest should be the core elements and practices for encouraging girls to pursue STEM subjects. Teach them to ask uncomfortable questions, create a space for them to discuss uncomfortable questions and teach them to bend the arc.
Dasgupta, N., & Stout, J. G. (2014). Girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics: stemming the tide and broadening participation in STEM careers. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1(1), 21–29.
Hill. C., Corbett, C. and St Rose, A. (2010) Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (Amer Assoc Univ Women, Washington, DC).
Jones, T. C. (2019). Creating a World for Me: Students of Color Navigating STEM Identity. The Journal of Negro Education, 88(3), 358–378.
Kenney-Benson, G. A., Pomerantz, E. M., Ryan, A.M., Patrick, H. (2006). Sex differences in math performance: the role of children’s approach to schoolwork. Dev. Psychol. 42
So recently as a school we have been digging deep into two wonderful professional development opportunities…Adaptive Schools and Cognitive Coaching. Learning about ways that we can better interact and collaborate with each other, both individually and in teams, is a huge opportunity for us to strengthen our relationships, and to build trust and vulnerability, which will ultimately bring us closer together as a community. I have been through this training before at a previous school and it was transformative then, so going through it again here at ASP is super exciting to say the least.
Anyway, as I have reflected on the sessions thus far, and as I re-familiarize myself with the 7 norms of collaboration, I can’t help but feel that for me, the norm of presuming positive intent is truly the foundation of any successful human interaction. It’s a skill that will absolutely change your life for the better when developed and used consistently in conversations, meetings, and all other interactions that you have with others throughout the run of a day…truly. Like all skills however, it takes practice and discipline to get good at it, and to be honest, it’s much harder than you might think.
The thing about presuming or assuming positive intent, which is the belief that people are in their heart always meaning well and doing their best, is that it gets you to think of others first, and not yourself, and this a muscle that needs strengthening over and over and over. I have often found myself in difficult meetings or contentious situations over the years where I feel myself getting defensive very quickly, and starting to take a person’s words or actions personally. I’m sure that this happens to all of us, maybe more often than we’d like to admit but here’s the thing…if you enter into a meeting with an open heart and an open mind, searching for the root of the issue and taking yourself out of the equation for a minute, you’ll find that people almost all of the time want a good result, and in many instances, they want the same result as you.
When you presume positive intent you open up yourself to the notion that conflict usually comes from a place of fear, or insecurity, or a lack of trust, and with this in your mind you are better able to hear people, see people, and take the personal off the table so to speak. The other thing about presuming positive intent is that it allows you to enter into situations with a sense of caring, compassion, and with a willingness to forgive. Listen, people make mistakes all of the time, I know that I certainly do, but believing that these mistakes come from a place of well meaning changes the conversation and outcome, and it ultimately strengthens relationships.
In my life and in my job, like I am sure is true for you as well, I have difficult conversations all of the time, but I’ve become better at approaching them over the years. In fact, by developing the skill of presuming positive intent, and practicing this before I enter into a conversation, I have actually started to feel very comfortable with these experiences. I don’t always get it right of course, and being human I still get defensive once in a while, but having developed the skill of presuming positive intent through years of practice, I have positively changed my life. I have also learned to listen more intently, see people more clearly, and get to the root of an issue much more quickly.
Like I said, as educators and as human beings, we almost all of the time come to a space meaning well and wanting to do our best. We want people to know this about us, and we should commit to knowing this about others too. Once this happens we will all be better for each other and for our world, and honestly, our school and community will become a stronger, safer, and happier place. With all that said, my challenge for all of us this week, and in the weeks to come, is to practice this skill intentionally. Remind yourself when you enter into conversations, meetings, and interactions with others that everyone is meaning well and doing their best. Practice this skill of presuming positive intent and watch your life, and the lives of others start to change for the better…it has been working for me and I know it will work for you. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.
Quote of the Week…
Gratitude in advance is the most powerful creative force in the universe
The next several months of recruiting season are exciting for many teachers and administrators. Having resigned, lives are once again lived on the “wire.” As a teacher of inquiry there seems to be a valuable ordering to the questions which might propel the decisions so many are about to make. Our “why” paramount, hopefully a clear vision of why we remain in the hallowed field of education. Followed by “what.” Understanding the nature that there is not one market but many. What exactly is most desirable? The “who” you are, what you are able to offer, but also “who” or identity of your potential future employer also is to be considered. And last, the “how.” Trust is what ultimately is required here. Confidence in yourself but moreover, a deep sense of trust in the process, and in life.
Further, we might do ourselves a favor to remember and hold fast to the fact that similar to graduating students, there are no “best” international schools. Unlike United States universities and colleges, there are no rankings of international schools. Even if there were, the list would be flimsy and likely, saturated in bias. For, even the thirty odd years of US News & World Report university and college rankings recently were debunked by Malcolm Gladwell in his Revisionist History podcast. Gladwell brazenly asserts the “rankings game” report to be audaciously inaccurate in measuring the quality of institutions.
Yet, somehow there persists a myth in the international circuit of tiered schools. Reputation is an aspect not to be dismissed, however what makes a “top tier” school is worth sussing out. Besides reputation, “top tier” equates to a more generous package. Such benefits as matching retirement funds, annual return trips home, shipping allowance, and health insurance. Benefits are unarguably measurable. Yet, they do not necessarily equate to the effectiveness of a school, student learning, or most importantly fittingness.
Snow was being removed from the tarmac as my plane landed in February of 1998. My life was about to be positively changed as I attended my first international teaching job fair. These were the days before the ubiquity of the internet and a physical catalog of schools was provided after mailing in a check and registering. So much has changed in the world and yet, I sometimes grapple to put my finger on how much the international teaching “circuit” has. In many respects it still seems like a small world, especially when a new colleague is quick to connect, “Oh, you taught at X, Y, or Z school. You must know Dan Stiles (or take your pick of names!).”
I entered the fair expecting nothing more than a chance to gain interviewing experience. When I received my first offer, I hurried to the pay phone, mind you this also was before cell phones. “Dad, I was offered a job,” I celebrated. Even more surprising, later in the day another contract was extended. Since this experience, I have utilized the services of two other recruitment agencies and had the pleasure to teach on five different continents. However, only in the last few years have I fully come to appreciate the importance of the term, “fittingness.”
The concept of fittingness is a constant, so long as we are willing to put our lives on a limb. Throughout life there are choices to be made, forks less or more traveled in the road. Stress, usually self-induced, besets a mental fixation on making the “correct” or “right” choice. For grade eleven and twelve students it often centers on higher education. Achieving high IB or SAT scores and being selected into an Ivy or other lofty “league” school. Assuming Harvard is the best for everyone, when in reality some big fish may have a better experience in a smaller “pond.” The reality being one where there is no “best” school. Thankfully there are many “bests,” and the notion that matters most. is the fit.
Abundance and a World of Choice
ISC Research, a leading provider of English-medium K-12 international school data, trends and intelligence, reported in 2017 there are more than 9,000 international schools. To operate under the belief that there are but a few “best” schools would be a gross understatement. Seth Godin, best-selling author and entrepreneur, purports there is no scarcity. As we close out on the Industrial Age, the opposite is true. In effect we are living in great abundance and are experiencing a world of choice. Instead of stressing ourselves about the “best” or “top tier” schools, what might make more sense is to create a sort of hierarchy around what matters most to you in your next place of work.
Some Ideas of Criteria to Consider(not in any hierarchical order)
~location of the school and size of the city. An increasing consideration is quality of life, looking at a cities air quality may be one helpful criteria
~size of the school. Small, medium, and large schools all have their pros and cons
~history and tradition of the school. Schools steeped in tradition may sometimes not be as quick to be progressive as tried and true systems of yesteryear may not demand revision. Unable or an unwillingness to be innovative or make quick shifts may lead to feeling like Krishnan Kanthavel, the captain of the Ever Given, as he diagonally blocked the Suez and prevented the transit of nearly everything bought and sold on the planet!
~your personal mission as a professional
~a school’s clarity in mission, vision, values and how these are tangibly being realized
Further, keeping it clear what one ideally wants in a school is vital. A component of this is fully coming to grips with what you have to offer. Schools will want to know this. Moreover, just as a school’s clear identity is important to you, they will want to feel confident in their ability to see an “authentic you.” Envisioning the interview this way may even help dissolve barriers which create anxiety and possibly create more of a conversational feel. Feigning questions at the end is easily discernible. Instead, determine what you really want to know about the role you are applying for, the school, or even the host nation.
A Few Ideas of Questions You May Wonder
~What has your school learned through the pandemic? Or, how has your school positively adapted as a result of COVID?
~How are you leveraging PD as a whole faculty?
~What measures are being taken to ensure students are learning in ways that fit with what the world is asking of graduates today?
~What are the top three strategic goals for your school?
~What does ___________ look like in the classroom?
~What would have been most helpful to know before you joined the school?
Transition can be scary business. Anxiety is normal when we courageously unroot ourselves and pick up our lives after any number of years. However, it is possible to reframe the experience and actually enjoy the process. Alison Wood Brooks, a renowned psychologist found evidence across several studies of reappraising anxiety as excitement. Simple self-talk as saying “I am excited” out loud can actually work, giving credence to the aphorism, “fake it till you make it.” The doors of the world are unhinged. Your vulnerability ultimately has the power to lead to unforeseen opportunities. Trust and enjoy life on the wire.
The global Covid-19 pandemic has already led to new books to help children get a grasp of the unusual situation. These books may help educate but also help to realize they we are not alone in trying to cope in a difficult situation.
We Wear Masks by Marla Lesage is a picture book for very young readers, about masks of all shapes and sizes. Masks are worn by painters and pilots, in winter and underwater. You can wear a mask on stage or in a laboratory. Welders and superheroes wear masks. Wearing a mask is cool and means you care. Reading this picture book can be the start of making fun paper masks in class. ISBN 978-1459-828810, Orca Book Publishers
Not specifically about Covid, but about communicable diseases in general and especially helpful in Kindergarten classes, The Cow Said Boo by Lana Button, illustrated by Alice Carter is a fun farm romp when poor cow catches a cold and can’t say ‘Moo!’ but says ‘Boo!’ instead. The other animals nurse cow back to health but once cow is better, rooster says “cock-a-doodle-CHOO!” A nonfiction back page talks about washing hands to prevent colds. ISBN 978-1-77278-216-5, Pajama Press
Talk To Me, What Do You See? Beauty from A-Z by Sandip Sodhi, illustrated by Anika Sandhu uses the alphabet to focus on beauty in a time of unrest. Dedicated to frontline workers, this picturebook touches on washing hands, helping elders and staying connected. A lovely way to discuss Covid related anxieties with young students. ISBN 978-1-7770218-2-5
Germy Science, The Sick Truth about Getting Sick and Staying Healthy, by Edward Kay with art by Mike Shiell is a new, nonfiction title about all things germy. What exactly are germs? Where are they found? Are there good germs as well as bad? The book includes a history of the discovery of germs and shows how we pass on germs every day. With hilarious, sometimes nice and gross, art this book is a good resource on how contamination happens and how to prevent it. ISBN 978-1-5253-0412-5, Kids Can Press
Don’t Stand So Close To Me by Eric Walters is a good middle grade novel about the current pandemic. Based on recent events, the strength of this book is that young teens can recognize themselves and their families in this story. Suddenly faced with school closures, Zoom meetings and face masks, 13 year old Quinn and her friends learn to deal with a new reality. The story also shows how kids can take positive initiatives to help others. ISBN 978-1459827875 Orca Book Publishers
This link will show you even more children’s books about Covid-19 related issues:
Like everyone in this pandemic, my social life is mostly driven by Netflix. For some reason, the Bob Ross documentary was recommended to me. Maybe the internet algorhythm discovered I am nostalgic, maybe it aligned my approximate birthdate with his life. Who knows.
What I do know is that his shows made me not only incredibly relaxed, but filled me with the belief that I could do things even if I didn’t believe in myself.
People loved him because he made them believe they could paint. And if people believed they could paint a beautiful mountain or a forest, then maybe they could do things that they didn’t have the confidence to achieve. He made the inaccessible accesssible, and maybe that’s one of the genius attributes of a good teacher.
In one of his interviews, he said that anyone could paint. He didn’t say that anyone could be a Picasso. He just said that anyone could paint. I remember one of my favorite lines from the movie Ratatouille was, “anyone can cook, that doesn’t mean that anyone should!”
Yes, a lot of his paintings look like motel/hotel art. You may have even seen what you think to be a Bob Ross painting at a flea market. In fact, in the documentary they admitted it was nearly impossible to authenticate a true Bob Ross from a fake. But the point is not that he expected himself or others to become world renowned artists. The point was that people could pursue a talent that they didn’t know they had, even if they didn’t have it. And who knows what could become of that.
If my math teacher asked me the right questions about how I think and what I would do in certain mathematical situations, even though I stopped learning math at Algebra II in grade 11, who knows what I could have done? Maybe if he told me that anyone can do math that I might have been good!I
Tom Schimmer, a world renowned expert on assessment, told my teachers recently that every learner had an emotional reaction to the opportunity to be assessed. What Bob Ross did with his audience was to focus their emotions in a way that enabled them to access a creative side of themselves that they didn’t think was possible. In other words, magic.
I work in a school. I don’t want to stand in the way of the pursuit of talent. But too often I feel that we do. I want to be a catalyst for the pursuit of interest, not an obstacle. And most importantly, like Bob, I want to get people to believe in their ability to do something even though they think it’s impossible.
It’s a sad docmentary. It speaks to the consequences of what happens to artists and people that simply love and pursue something without understanding the business side of things and the evil that happens when cunning overwhelms curiosity. I don’t have an answer for that.
But what I do know is that Bob Ross gave people something to believe in that cut across cultures, religions, educational background, and vaccination preference.
He made them believe that they could do something they didn’t think was possible. Even if they made happy mistakes along the way.
Technology is a game-changer, it has helped teachers to create active learning environments, increase assess to content, differentiate for varied student needs and very recently even teach remotely. Throughout the history of technical innovations, technology has aided the art of teaching but not yet replaced the artist, in this case, the teacher.
On the occasion of International Teacher’s Day on 5th October, a question was discussed: Can technology replace teachers? in a professional learning community (PLC) forum. The overwhelming response was in favour of teachers and almost everyone believed that technology cannot replace teachers. Ironically, in this very forum, we all are learning sans a teacher! This made me realise that teachers have been replaced from their traditional role of lecturing, teaching and being the knowledgeable other by technology. As professional development has increasingly become technology-driven, a lot of learning is happening without the teacher.
Let us examine the current teaching interface in many schools and universities across the world. Students use a computer to log into a website, download content, check the assigned tasks and complete the tasks with the help of technology or through online research. So where is the teacher? There might be a facilitator, not a teacher depending on the nature of the topic/subject. There are many teachers at this moment completing professional development delivered without a teacher, there might be an instructor or facilitator to manage the logistics of the online modules, but mostly all learning takes place without a teacher. Therefore, is it accurate to say that technology is replacing teachers? Moreover, with artificial intelligence barging its way through every threshold, it is a matter of time that teachers will be completely replaced by technology.
There is another way of looking at this developing scenario. The teacher as a human being. We cannot overlook the social-emotional benefits of having a human leading the job of teaching. Teachers do more than one way or one task at a time. The job of a teacher is not just to deliver instructions, it is also to gauge the students’ context, ability and interest in the topic to modify it constantly. As a teacher, I always keep changing plans in the classroom to be engaging and responsive to my students’ needs. In a real-world scenario, things evolve and change every minute, therefore being dynamic and constantly improvising is a teacher’s job. One cannot rely on pre-programmed instructions to think independently and find instant on the spot solutions. One thing is sure, technology may not replace teachers but it will replace teachers who cannot harness or use technology.
An automated teacher robot or artificial intelligence would be great to deliver content, but it will not be able to make decisions or judgements related to human emotions, for example, sometimes students are too tired to solve problems hence reinforcing concepts is a better strategy to teach tired brains instead of introducing new concepts. These decisions that require humans to consider emotions and feelings cannot be mastered by the robot. Even though in recent years artificial intelligence has taken over a lot of iterative mechanised jobs, it is yet to start teaching full time in a classroom. One can use technology to aid the process of teaching but not completely replace a teacher’s cognitive, intuitive approaches to teaching.
Teachers take on the caring role of a parent’s stead, they advocate for students who might be otherwise forgotten, and they shape a nation’s future (Fedena, 2018). Therefore it might be even dangerous to hand over these crucial responsibilities to a machine or an interface. With a geometrical progression in technology, machines might soon be able to develop the ability to be just like humans but not humans. It is therefore a responsibility as humans to make an ethical decision of how much to give to the robots or how much to replace humans with robots. “Many education reformers outside of Silicon Valley say no. The people in the Valley think technology will solve everything. It won’t. There’s a human side to education that won’t go away” (Norris & Soloway, 2016, p. 63).
In summary, the decision to replace a teacher in the classroom with a robot needs ethical considerations, as we are interfering in the process of character building early on in the formative years of young children. If we want our children to develop kindness, emotional intelligence and empathy we need to model it the human way, not the robot way.
Fedena. (2018).Technology vs Teachers: Can technology replace teachers? https://fedena.com/blog/2018/05/teachers-vs-technology-can-technology-replace-teachers.html
Norris, C., & Soloway, E. (2016). Uberizing K-12: Use Software… But Keep the Teachers, Too! Educational Technology, 56(1), 61–63. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44430450
What is home? Home means something different to each person – real readers but also to fictional characters in books. Through books about home, students can recognize themselves or come to appreciate what ‘home’ means for others. Happy Banned Book week!
Roger and Matthew by Michel Thériault This is a lovely, quiet story of two gentle men. They were friends in elementary school and are still best friends. They are part of their community and enjoy nature. They were not always treated kindly because they are different. But they have now been accepted and love the life they lead in their home surrounded by a garden full of birds. ISBN 9781554554843, Fitzhenry & Whiteside
In a similar vein, Patricia Polacco tells the beautiful story In Our Mother’s House in which Marmee, Meema, and the kids are just like any other family on the block. In their beautiful house, they cook dinner together, they laugh together, and they dance together. But some of the other families don’t accept them because they are different. How can a family have two moms and no dad? But Marmee and Meema’s house is full of love. They teach their children that different doesn’t mean wrong. That living in a house full of love is always right. An older title but every bit as relevant. ISBN 978-0399250767, Philomel
And what if your new home is in a different country? What if you don’t speak the language? My Words Flew Away Like Birds by Debora Pearson, illustrated by Shrija Jain is a lovely story about a girl who moves to a new country. All the words she used to have she can no longer use. And the few words she learned in English proof not to be very helpful. People speak too fast and she can’t understand their tumbling words. Not only a story for kids who recognize this situation, but also a good story to see how easy it can be to help a newcomer. Reminiscent of Aidan Cassie’s book The Word for Friend, this is a fun story to read as well as to start a classroom discussion. ISBN 978-1-5253-0318-0, Kids Can Press
The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner. This is one of my favourite middle school novels because it combines a good story with the skills of geocaching. Since his dad left him and his mom, ”Zig” Zigonski lives for simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than people -especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled without explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a GPS unit he finds at a garage sale. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town, Zig sets out to find him. But he soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home. An engaging story about hope and family. ISBN 978-1681198989, Bloomsbury
Unravel by Sharon Jennings is a wonderful page turner for middle graders. Rebecca was raised by her single father. She’s turning into an avid reader but realizes that her life is unusual. They had no friends, she doesn’t go to school and they move suddenly many times. As Rebecca gets older the story of her life begins to unravel… Soon nothing is as it seemed. With the help of a new found friend, Rebecca discovers the truth behind her dad and their life together and ‘home’ will never be the same. ISBN 9780889956193, Red Deer Press
But what if you are homeless? Story Boat by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Rashin Kheiiriyeh says that home is ‘here’ – wherever you are. Home can be a cup, or a blanket. Home can be ever changing as you move in search of a place to stay. The art in this new picture book depicts refugee families as they move along in search of a new home, treasuring shelter, a light, a book along the way.
ISBN 978-0-7352-6359-8, Tundra Books
No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen is one of my favourite middle grade novels about homelessness because it shows, in a gentle way, how easy easily and how randomly, one can become homeless. Felix is twelve. His mom struggles to hold on to jobs. When she can’t pay the ever increasing rent, the two live in their van – just for one summer month. But when school starts in September, they still live in their van and Felix needs to keep their homelessness a secret. A realistic, endearing and almost humorous story about a very real problem that gets solved in unexpected ways. ISBN 978-0735262775, Random House
Margriet Ruurs’ home is on Canada’s west coast where she writes books for children as well as a blog about her travels, paired with favourite books: www.globetrottingbooklovers.com
So an interesting thing happened to me at the end of last year, which really opened up my eyes to how critical it is to spend the time getting to know your community…deeply. Not just the students and parents and faculty, but everyone who works so hard to ensure that our kids have their best possible experience each and every day.
You see, we had a fantastic science unit planned for our kids around the importance of honey bees in our natural world, and one of the ideas was to bring in a beekeeper to talk to the students about honeymaking and pollination and all of the other incredible facts about our little black and yellow friends. So we went out and found a couple of local bee advocates who spent a few days enthralling our students and leaving them wanting more…especially more of the yummy honey samples.
Anyway, It just so happened that later that evening one of our experienced maintenance workers, who I thought I knew pretty well, stopped me and let me know that next time, he would be more than happy to speak to the students, as he is actually a certified beekeeper and this is his absolute life’s passion! Well, at that moment I felt terrible, and rightly so, because I had missed the perfect opportunity to connect our students with one of our community members, who, like all of us, has so much more to offer than simply the jobs that we are employed to do.
I started to reflect on the opportunities that pass us by each and every day that might leverage the expertise and knowledge and inspiration that is right at our fingertips…literally. I missed this chance because I didn’t know this man as well as I could have, or should have, and this experience absolutely woke me up to some necessary work that I have to do…that we all have to do perhaps. This incidentally, connects very nicely to our school-wide initiative around belonging, where we are making a huge effort to ensure that all community members are seen, heard, valued, and purposely engaged.
Since that experience at the end of last year, I have done a much better job of getting to know the people in our building, who I thought I knew already but really didn’t, and I have found out so much! We now have members of our maintenance and facilities team going out on field trips with our kids and sharing their local expertise, we have members of our cafeteria team speaking to our kids about healthy eating and composting and food waste, and we have many of our cleaning and security staff helping out with our daily lunch and recess duties so they can get to know our students even better…and vice versa!
By developing these relationships across our community, and by taking the time to get to know everyone inside and outside of our building, we will only become a stronger school. A school where everyone truly feels a sense of belonging, and where we uncover as many opportunities and possibilities as we can to not only enhance student learning, but to strengthen our relationships with each other as well. So my question for you to ponder this week is…how well do you know the people in the building? If the answer is, not well enough, then go out of your way to change that around. We are stronger together as you know, and we are all here to support our kids…so reach out and take the first step, you might just be surprised by what you find out…I sure was, but never again. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.
Quote of the Week…
Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much