Why to Listen Like a Bird Watcher

What if we approached each day like a bird watcher? Poised, observant, and listening attentively. Such a sagacious approach might translate into a clear differentiation between a “digitally” connected world and what it means to truly be connected. Amidst the increasing prevalence of decomposing communities and growing isolation, it might do humanity well, or even just ourselves. Pause is necessary, as is examining the choices we make. Computers and cell phones, not unlike firearms, cannot and should not entirely shoulder the blame. Rather, it behooves us to closely examine whether we are using the technology, or if it is “using” us.  

Countless bowed heads stare at 5-inch screens, drowning humanity in ubiquitous distraction. A relatively recent “dependence” now is considered “normal.” An addictive habit arguably acts as interference in our ability to relate one human to another. Though not entirely true because one must consider how tech is utilized. Still, vying for our attention is very real. One recent report cites how our brain consumes 11 million bits of information every second.  Trapped in such a hurricane, might we return to center? Where possibly at the eye of such a storm is suspended madness; poise and high regard for the art of conversation.

A world of opportunity circulates all around us. If only we will look up in stillness. Like a bird watcher.

If only we will listen.

Like a bird watcher.

Listening is Difficult

One of the beauties about listening is that is free, and yet so rare. An equalizer of sorts, as listening, cannot be correlated with socio-economics, race, or politics. Though there are listening “skills,” to listen is more a question of willingness than technique. Seth Godin maintains that listening is difficult. “The hardest step in better listening is the first one: do it on purpose. Make the effort to actually be good at it.”

Five years ago I likely would have scoffed at the idea of relationships being forged in an online setting. Students would share how they had “friends” online that they gamed with, talked/chatted with, etc. An inkling of intrigue often led to my asking an array of questions, a desire to understand this “phenomenon” better. Yet, I always grew a little more than disbelieving. The start of a COVID school year online, however, offered my own experience and a window into what it was like to develop relationships online. At the time there was a disagreement about whether or not students should be required to show their faces. Forced as it was, sometimes coaching students to appear on screen was required. All the while, it was interesting to consider how much we might value seeing a person if we are speaking with them. Did it have something to do with visual cues provided to indicate whether students were truly listening?

A Sense of Belonging is Embedded in Re-Imagining Learning 

Fast forward a few years as I dove deeper into the “waters” of what it might be like to develop relationships in an online setting. One big difference was that students elected to enroll in the online course. Of equal importance was that Global Online Academy (GOA) was not “just another” online educational platform. Behind GOA was a vision for a new educational system eager to adapt to students, rather than asking students to adapt to educational systems in decay. Their mission is to reimagine learning to empower students and educators to thrive in a globally networked society. A component of this reimagining learning includes teacher competency to build collaborative communities. Students should not feel isolated but instead, invited into communities that are built on trust, care, collaboration, and high expectations. A place where students feel connected but also empowered. More equitable systems and structures are embedded in such a design, in an effort to create a more socially just world. Learning to listen is a cornerstone and one strategy employed throughout GOA courses are routine opportunities for students and teachers to connect via Zoom meetings. Never under the auspices of a lectured approach, synchronous time is regarded as “gold.” Student and teacher locations span the globe, and such collaboration allows for new perspectives, as conversations are infused with differing cultural and life experiences. Wellsprings waiting to be tapped, however wholly hinged on a willingness to listen. 

Video Use as a Medium to Build Relationships

A routine assignment employed in the GOA course I facilitated was video reflection at the end of a module. The power of these 2-dimensional recordings can not nor should be underestimated. After the second video, I felt like I knew some students better than I sometimes knew students in an in-person setting after a year. Why? A degree of the power could come down to a distilled approach, the essence being conveyed. But also a greater degree of willingness to be vulnerable as students just looked at the camera and talked. Without the worry of what the listener might be thinking or might say. 

Surely we all have found ourselves at one time or another, thinking about what we are going to say in a conversation and not really listening. Wanting to take OUR turn. However, in this case, it’s a talking head approach. Linear, from A to M (or maybe Z!), with no stops or interjections of the listening. 

To truly experience relationship building requires an honest willingness to listen to students talk for, 5-minutes at a time. Simon Sinek asserts the need for change so the focus is on input and not the customary output. Maybe a bit of an investor mentality is what is required. To listen to a 5-minute video is not much. However, multiplied by twenty students, suddenly requires nearly two hours. And how often do we just listen for two hours? 

Understanding that conversations, like relationships, are not one-way, meant I often responded in video form. This too takes time but has the potential to pay huge dividends. To build relationships but also provide the necessary quality of feedback students can learn from. Often congratulatory but also balanced and encouraging growth. For example feedback on the important role of feedback, “Abigail I understand how you do not want to come off as critiquing someone and I appreciate this. However, you have so much to offer and what might help is if you are intentional about separating the individual from the work/art/assignment. We each have our perspective and I’ve seen how you can offer truly valuable feedback.”

This video exchange approach spurs the conditions ripe for developing a community and a sense of belonging. These relationships developed out of conversations follow a different rhythm, however, are incredibly rich. Possible because we truly are listening to each other. How many students have a chance to share with a teacher for five uninterrupted minutes? And how many receive five minutes of personal and specific feedback?    

This is special. A reimagining of methods of learning which truly create belonging and empowerment. Methods aligned with the acumen of Brene Brown, “We have to listen to understand in the same way we want to be understood.”

A Difference Between Hearing and Listening

I wonder sometimes if certain students listen just so they can speak. The beginning of each school year requires a bit of time to develop a community unwilling to tolerate speakers interrupting each other. This is similar in Zoom and yet the presence of lag seemingly builds in a tendency to be more patient and wait for your turn to speak. To listen with true intent requires slowing down.  Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leeds shares, “We need to practice the art of talking with intent and, more importantly, the art of listening with intent.” Adding earnest in our lives, as we trade an ounce of narcism for a pound of that which extends beyond ourselves. This does not mean abandoning the likes of Instagram, nor must we be hard-pressed to develop listening habits overnight. Instead, a growing consciousness of the power of being present is required. As well, equal parts intentionality and habit, as we move beyond mere hearing. In Dr. Kristen Fuller’s “The Difference Between Hearing and Listening,” she emphasizes how “Listening requires empathy, curiosity, and motivation.” 

Tis’ the Season to Give the Gift of Our Time and Attention

One might hear the morning bird song out the window.

Then, make a conscious choice to slow down, remove distractions (yes, that cell phone!), and listen. 

If only we will listen.

Like a bird watcher.

To truly listen to the birds may just result in a calming of the nervous system, as well as a greater sense of connection. Such a choice need not cease with the birds. Think what might result when we begin to listen with intention to each other! The choice is ours. 

Why not slow down, be present and give the gift of our time and attention?


Human Rights and the Students’ League of Nations

Today at the International School of Geneva we begin the first of two days of the Students’ League of Nations  (SLN) at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. This was first invented by the International School of Geneva in 1953 as a simulation of the United Nations and has since become a world-wide phenomenon in most international schools  known as the Model United Nations.

Students learn to draft resolutions, to present them at a General Assembly and to conduct a debate which leads to voting for or against the drafted resolutions. Two of the cornerstones of freedom of speech are used: the right of speech and the right to reply.

The right of speech, what the Ancient Greeks called isegoria, and the right to reply, are of paramount importance: people must be given a voice and, crucially, the right to defend themselves. It is difficult to conceive of human rights without these two essential pillars. In fact, the Ancient Greeks had a specific term, parrhesia, meaning not only freedom of speech but the right to say almost anything. As long as it is true, not libellous or hate speech, a truly open society must be one where people are not afraid to voice their opinions, even when those opinions are not necessarily what those in authority want to hear.

One of the rules in the SLN is that students may not represent their own country when acting as a delegation. This opens the minds of those debating on behalf of another country, calling them to look at complex political problems from the perspective of a different nation state.

As we stand by Human Rights across the world, let us embrace freedom of speech and the power of being prepared to see things from others’ perspectives.

Un Petit Cadeau

So last weekend I found myself in line at my favorite French bakery after scouring the city for hours and hours for a simple watch battery that I just couldn’t seem to find. In front of me in line was a man who had sadly forgotten his bank card, and as the owner rang up his bill the man ended up being a couple of euros short. I quickly ran to the car and grabbed a few euros from the console and gave it to him so he could go on with his day, which of course was not a big deal at all and the right thing to do in any situation. But the incredible and magical thing about this gesture, which continues to make me smile, was that on the way home from the bakery I decided to stop at one final place to see if they had a battery, and as I walked into the store guess who was behind the counter eating his lunch…that’s right, the man who was in front of me at the bakery…he is a watchmaker!

After we smiled and greeted each other I asked him if he had the type of battery that I needed, but after he looked and looked through his drawers, he ended up being all sold out. Just as I was turning to leave he asked me to wait for just one minute as he disappeared in the back, and when he came out again he was holding the exact type of battery that I needed. When I asked him where he found it he just kept saying, “un petit cadeau, un petit cadeau”, but what he didn’t know is that I saw him through the curtain taking off his own watch and removing the battery so he could give it to me as a little gift. Even though I protested he wouldn’t take no for an answer, so away I went with a huge smile on my face and a heart that had grown at least a couple of sizes. On the drive home I reflected on that whole experience, and more than anything it just solidified my belief that small little gestures of kindness will absolutely spread, and they have a beautiful way of finding their way back to you if you pay it forward. 

I also think that there is something particularly special about the holiday season that fills people with a little extra cheer, and love, and thoughtfulness, and in many ways the idea of what we tend to call “holiday spirit” really seems to be an alive and tangible thing. The best part about this time of the year, in my opinion, is the opportunity that we all have to give of ourselves to others, and the chance that we have over the next few weeks to share a little holiday spirit, and to spread some of that tangible and living magic around to anyone and everyone that we come in contact with. 

I guess this little story is my way of casually reminding all of us of the beauty of this time of the year, and with less than a week to go before head off on our adventures I’m asking that you take some time this week to slow down, take a breath, and soak up all the positive energy that is spilling out from our students and from each other…let’s smile a bit more, give out a few more hugs, and spread that holiday magic around! I want to wish you all a safe and joyful holiday season, and a happy and prosperous New Year…the world is a beautiful place and that holiday magic is all around, even in a small boulangerie and an even smaller little watchmaker’s store. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart,
When the full river of feeling overflows;–
The happy days unclouded to their close;
The sudden joys that out of darkness start
As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are;–a fairy tale
Of some enchanted land we know not where
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Quote of the Week…
Remember, there is no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end – Scott Adams

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An Aboriginal Carol

An Aboriginal Carol by David Bouchard, with art by Moses Beaver and music by Susan Aglukark is a gorgeous, unusual picture book for all ages. This beautiful text is the story of the birth of Jesus as told for over 400 years by Canada’s aboriginal people.  Based on traditional First Nations knowledge and belief, this Christmas story is retold in both English and Inuktutut by a Métis poet and gorgeously illustrated by First Nation’s artist Moses Beaver. On the accompanying CD the poem is told and sung in Inuktitut by renowned singer Susan Aglukark. Moses Beaver’s art shows angels, a babe wrapped in deer skin and animals of all shapes and sizes rejoicing at the special birth. ISBN 978-0-88995-406-9, Red Deer Press

Here is the retelling, complete with art, on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_XTwr7qnl0

Hermit Hill

Hermit Hill by Mike and Nancy Deas is an exciting graphic adventure. Sleeves lives with his bossy sister in a small village on a small island. Mysterious beings – are they aliens? – appear in the forest. They are so friendly and so cute that Sleeves wants them to be his friends forever and locks them inside an old VW van deep in the woods. But as soon as the creatures are locked up, nature starts to deteriorate… black ooze appears swallowing mushrooms and trees… When Sleeves meets the mysterious hermit, she lets him on a secret that results in a wild ride to free the creatures. A page turning adventure told in speech bubbles and wonderful illustrations for young readers. ISBN 978-1-4598-3149-0, Orca Book Publishers

Urgent Message from a Hot Planet: Navigating the Climate Crisis

Urgent Message from a Hot Planet, Navigating the Climate Crisis by Ann Eriksson is just that: an urgent message about climate change. But besides bad news, this book also gives teens tools to help combat global warming. It gives voices to children around the world and highlights the changes they are making, suggesting things kids can do to turn it around.

Oculum Echo

Set in a dystopian future, Oculum Echo by Philippa Dowding takes the reader along on a quest in a world where children are emerging from their isolated dome-worlds on a quest to avoid war, and find refuge a world-away. The way Dowding draws us into the characters’ first phenomenological experience of the natural world is quite well done. The setting is vivid and the main characters are compelling and their drive towards their goals of protecting the children of their world from an impending war. The story, written from multiple perspectives is rich and descriptive language and multiple twists help to propel the plot forward without it becoming too predictable. This is a second book after the title Oculum. ISBN 978-1770866652, Cormorant Books (Reviewed by educator Seb Evans)

Margriet Ruurs is a writer of books for children. She conducts author presentations at International Schools.


What We Can Learn from a Wiliwili

~A Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom

We seem to drown in distractions, our phones the greatest culprit of all. At this moment, the palm of my hand remains empty as I sit and listen to a well-respected speaker. Yet my attention is clearly diverted, my eyes on the horizon as the sun dips into the ocean. The descending light drawing silhouettes of what is my captured  fixation;  lone wiliwili trees, Erythrina sandwicensis.  Though their name translates as “repeatedly twisted” in Hawaiian, describing their distinctive seed pods, it is their resiliency which marvels, only matched by their beauty and strength.  Somehow they defy life’s odds, thriving where less than an inch of rain falls in a nine month period. Steadfast, they reach out of barren and harsh volcanic fields of basalt.  Standing as a sentinel, it is difficult to look upon a wiliwili  and not consider its wisdom.

Amidst the environs of a dry forest, I came to learn more about how the interaction of land and culture contributed to the sustainability of island societies hundreds of years ago. The speaker was a brilliant septuagenarian professor of science from a decorated university and his modus operandi was one of lecture. He clearly was motivated by a desire to share with the people gathered, his audience, the importance of spaces, places, the past and present.  Not unlike the wiliwili, he was a bit gnarly, surely rooted in the wisdom that likely came from life experience.  But this evening was more about knowledge. Graphs, tables, and images of archaeological excavations accompanied an array of text stacked in bullet form as he talked and the people listened.  

As he talked and the people listened.

As he talked and the people listened…

The evening did not exactly align with what is known in Hawaii as “talk story,” or a time to explore ideas, opinions, and history.  Amongst his many messages were facts such as how mica minerals from Asia’s Taklimakan Desert blew over and were contained in the strata of the island’s soil. Another fact was how pre-contact, the island population was larger than the current census. Yet, Hawaiians were entirely self-sufficient in terms of energy, food, and water. After nearly an hour, the scientist was interrupted by a few emboldened individuals in the audience. They wanted to ask questions. This appeared to just happen, not necessarily part of his plan. However, an allowance was made for a few questions and then the final slides and knowledge was imparted.

This was not the end however.

Earlier in the evening, a not-for-profit organization was alluded to and now it would be represented by two women.  However, they would do so much more than talk at the audience.  As founders they could wax poetic about how they were helping preserve and also restore land not far from the desert in which we sat. Or, they could make a plea for support. Instead, a completely different approach was taken.  Instead of launching into the known, they invited the unknown. Ironically, between the two of them their accumulated years did not match the scientist. And yet they appeared to stand rooted with and in wisdom.

“What would you like to know?” one of the woman asked in confidence. The predominantly white-haired audience seemed stunned for a moment. Foreheads wrinkled and necks kinked backwards. As if to say, “The gumption to ask us this? Just tell us!”

I made a mental note to reflect more upon the moment.

What happened was in step with traditional classrooms and a passive approach to “learning.”  Comfort in being told how the world works.  Acted upon. Purely knowledge based and never before was it more apparent how this could be juxtaposed with the natural world. The wiliwili does not just stand and wait. If it did, it would die!  Instead, it actively searches out what it needs to thrive, not knowing where to find it but sensing rather.  

The approach of the two women was as empowering as it was flipped. Inviting wonder, questions ensued.  Questions about nearly everything, from the origins of the organization to how to get involved. Suddenly the audience was alive.

When it was time to go, we walked out under a darkened sky.  I perceived the wiliwili looking upon us. The two women by our side, the scientist long gone. Hawaiians pre-contact navigated across the oceans using nothing more than the stars, sun, and moon. We asked the women if what we saw was Pleiades (Makalii in Hawaiian). They confirmed it so, and shared how just two days prior, the constellation marked the start of the New Year and Makahiki. A time of celebration but also appreciation.  A reminder to take care of the land and all resources.

I continue to think about those lone wiliwilis in the desert and their resiliency. I also reflect on the evening. Of the importance of an invitational approach towards enquiry and the distinction between knowledge and wisdom. Surely the ancients knew the difference.  Might we begin to understand as well.

Photograph by Sachin Clicks @ Pixahive 



I am often asked about my favourite books of poetry. I love rhyming picture books. Sharing poetry aloud with young children is a powerful, important tool to help them develop their sense of language with repetition, rhyme and alliteration. But perhaps my favourite genre is free verse poetry: novels written in poetic format without using rhyme. Here are some of my all time favourites because of their use of language ánd because of their content.


Gifts by Jo Ellen Bogart with plasticine art by Barbara Reid, is one of my very favourite picture books to share, especially at international schools. As grandma travels the world, she sends home gifts from different countries to her granddaughter. Beautiful poetic text celebrates special sights, sounds, foods and landmarks. Through the art, we see grandma growing older and when the granddaughter is an adult she, too, is traveling the world and sending home gifts to inspire the next generation.  ISBN 978-0-590-24935-5, Scholastic

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies, Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz won a Newbery Award. It’s an unusual book. Most of the voices in the book are written in beautiful, skilful rhyme. The book gives a plethora of information about the Middle Ages, including the Crusades, the life style, social standards, clothing, food, work and much more. But this book was also written to be performed as a stage play. Students can each ‘be’ a voice and share the history lessons they learned by performing this incredible play. Using this book will allow you to combine literacy with social studies, history, performing arts, and art to create backgrounds and costumes.  ISBN 978-0-7636-1578-9, Candlewick Press

Home of the Brave

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is the beautiful told story of Kek, who has never seen snow or America. But he arrives as a refugee from Africa and has to learn everything. The sparseness of free verse poetry lets this book use just the right words, giving the story amazing power. If you are talking about migration and refugees in class, be sure to include this title. ISBN 978-0-312-53563-6, Square Fish

Burying the Moon

Burying the Moon by Andrée Poulin, with gorgeous art by Sonali Zohra, is the touching tale of Latika in India. Having access to clean running water and a toilet is common for many but unfortunately not for all people. Latika is angry that her sister can no longer go to school because she turned twelve. She’s angry because her little cousin died from drinking dirty water, and she’s angry at the moon for exposing her when she has to deposit her waste in a field because there is no toilet building in her village. Latika overcomes her shyness to speak up after a kind engineer comes to her village. Through her courage the village will eventually build a toilet building. This simple but powerful free verse novel shed light on global issues and is an eye opener to living conditions in India. At the back of the book, websites are listed for organizations that help address the issues and to help kids take action. ISBN 978-1-77306-604-2, Groundwood Books

Pearl Verses the World

One of the most touching free verse books I know is Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy, with lovely illustrations by Heather Potter. Do poems have to rhyme to be poetry? Pearl’s teacher wants the class to write rhyming poetry. But Pearl does not have it in her. Her heart and mind are at home where her beloved grandmother is sick in bed and dying. Grandma always read her books and talked with her. Now, no one does. Pearl feels alone and refuses to write. This is a story about a child coping in the world, learning about sorrow and loss, about the importance of friendships and following your heart. A story that always brings tears to my eyes and that can serve as a powerful tool for kids in a similar situation. ISBN 978-1-921150-93-7, Walker Books

Margriet Ruurs writes books for children. Her favourite workshop at international schools is creating nonfiction poems with students. www.margrietruurs.com

From Hard Conversations to Opportunity Talks

So a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post titled, “What’s In a Name?”, where I suggested that schools might want to think about reimagining traditional course and subject names, and that post got me thinking really deeply about the how and why behind the naming and labeling of lots of things all across organizations. For example, the other day I had a super supportive friend and colleague of mine ask me how I was doing because he knew that I had just come out of a school day loaded full of what he called, “hard conversations”. 

After I said thank you and started to head for home it struck me that on its face the label that we use to identify this kind of courageous human interaction really does have a negative connotation, and after thinking critically about it over the past week or so I’d like to advocate for a change from calling these interactions “hard conversations”, to a more positive and compassionate labeling where we call these conversations, “opportunity talks”. 

In my opinion, a simple name change like this would re-frame a person’s mindset, approach and inevitable visualization of what’s to come from one of nervousness, defensiveness, and fear (on both sides of the table) to one of openness, understanding, and compassion. In my experience, just about every hard conversation that I have ever had with anyone, and I’ve had many, has deep down at the core been about recognizing an opportunity. An opportunity that we have for growth, or clarity, or repair, which ultimately is a very positive and beautiful chance for a particular person to do better, and to be better…and what could be a greater opportunity than that?

It took me a long time to change my approach and mindset regarding these difficult discussions, and if I’m being honest, I used to shy away from them until they became absolutely necessary. I was never one for conflict growing up, and like most people, addressing difficult issues was something that I didn’t look forward to for many, many years because well, they are hard! Over the years however, I have started to embrace these opportunity talks as I am now acutely aware of the fact that good leadership and good schools are connected tightly to what people in the organization are willing to address. Now I actually find myself much more comfortable with these types of conversations because I know that an organizational culture depends on them, and I have learned throughout the years that they are an integral part of building solid and trusting relationships…and as we know, relationships are the foundation of all human organizations, especially school environments.  

I’m not saying that these conversations aren’t difficult, they certainly are, and they require practice, practice, practice and a developed skill set to manage them well, that’s for sure. So to begin that work as schools let’s start with a simple change of name so both parties enter into the conversation with a focus on the opportunity that lies ahead, and a focus on what ultimately matters, which is doing and being better for our kids and for our community. 

Anyway, If nothing else, this name change would reframe our mindsets around these interactions, and shift how a day full of “hard conversations” doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as a bad day at all like my friend assumed and suggested, in fact, it can actually turn out to be a very good day or even a great day. You see, a day full of “opportunity talks” is a day full of growth, relationship building, deeper understanding, stronger connections, and a day full of strengthening our culture as a school…that’s a great day indeed! Have a fantastic week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…
At work, at home, and across the backyard fence, difficult conversations are attempted or avoided everyday – Douglas Stone

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We Can Heal

Image generated by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

A lot of harm, a lot of hurt,

A lot of anger, and a lot of sadness,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

Healing after harm, healing after hurt,

Healing from anger, healing from sadness,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

We cannot heal if we let the harm take over,

We get more hurt if we keep picking on our wounds,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

Our wound is scabbing and trying to heal,

Our anger keeps removing the scab and exposing it raw,

Our sadness stops the wound from healing, we keep probing the wound,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

Healing from injustice, healing from bias, healing from discrimination,

A lot said and a lot done,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

We heal when we find peace, we heal when we take the leap of faith,

We heal when we do not do to others what they did to us,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

You against me and me against you and against each other,

Not stopping till we bring everyone down, us and them,

Injustice will rejoice in its victory, for it turned us into them,

Alas! is healing ever possible?

If we keep hurting, we will keep hurting, revenge cannot heal,

Till the hurt engulfs us and we become what we wanted to fight,

Alas! is healing ever possible?

We heal by finding our space to grow, they take it away, our place to grow,

We keep finding it as we want to heal, we want to grow,

 We can heal.

Our hate, our hurt, and our harm cannot stop us from healing,

Our courage of pure surrender to justice will dismantle systemic injustice,

 We can heal.

Not naming and shaming, not crying and not shying,

But doing and moving and growing,

Being the better and the bigger person,

 We can heal.

This is a long fight, the fight of color,

Fear is the color of hurt and harm,

As it flows red if not contained,

Not in our veins, not on our hands do we want the red,

 We can heal.

Let in the soul force, not the sole force of blame,

Heal with love, heal from harm, heal for peace

For only truly healed us will heal the world.

 We can heal.


Nonfiction and Fiction: here are great new books for middle school readers. Both novels and information books are full of interesting stories and are all page turners!

The Late, Great Endlings: Stories of the Last Survivors

The Late, Great Endlings, Stories of the Last Survivors by Deborah Kerbel with art by Aimée van Drimmelen is an unusual nonfiction picturebook. Written in rhyme but complemented by information each animal featured in this book was the last survivor of a now-extinct species. From Lonesome George the last Pinta Island tortoise to Turgi the last Polynesian tree snail. And while a book about extinct animals is sad, it also offers information on how kids can make a difference. 978-1-4598-2766-0, Orca Book Publishers

How to Become an Accidental Entrepreneur

How to Become an Accidental Entrepreneur by Elizabeth Macleod and Frieda Wishinsky is a fun book full of interesting facts and information that enterprising kids will love. How do you start a business? Can you make a living by doing what you’re good at? How did Steven Spielberg become one of the world’s most renowned movie makers? How did Tom & Jerry’s idea to sell ice cream turn into a thriving business?  And did you know that the super soaker water gun was invented by a NASA engineer? From environmental issues to medicine and technology, many of the best entrepreneurs in their field share their stories, experiences and advise with young readers in this book.  ISBN 978-1-4598-2833-9, Orca Book Publishers

Superpower?: The Wearable-Tech Revolution

Superpower? The Wearable-Tech Revolution by Elaine Kachala takes a close look at artificial intelligence and wearable technology. Half a billion smart watches have been sold so far. By putting on devices we can test, and assist, brain power and even change our physical abilities. VR goggles add fun to video games. But how safe or invasive are these gadgets? Some can change lives – Jordan has only half an arm and uses a 3D-printed prosthetic arm. But should we have micro chips implanted? Is all technology safe and how should we use it? This nonfiction book is full of information that tech savvy kids will love to explore. ISBN 978-1-4598-2827-8, Orca Book Publishers

The Soggy, Foggy Campout #8 (Here's Hank)

Here’s Hank – The Soggy, Foggy Campout by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver is an early-read novel with a twist. Not only is it a fun chapter book about getting inspired by nature to write poems, it is also a book set in dyslexie font. I had never heard of this but this particular font apparently helps kids with dyslexia to read the letters and not mix up the order. It’s an interesting concept with details about the font here: www.dyslexiefont.com ISBN 978-0-448-48660-4, Grosset & Dunlap

Careful What You Wish For

Careful What You Wish For by Mahtab Narsimhan, is a page turner for middle grade. The story perfectly illustrates the dangers of entering unknown online sites and befriending strangers. Eshana’s world changes when she goes in search of friends, only to realize she already had important friends around her. Besides being a good read, this hi-lo read is a good reminder to be aware of cyber safety.  ISBN 978-1459834002, Orca Books

Murder at the Hotel Hopeless

Murder At The Hotel Hopeless by John Lekich is another title in the Orca Soundings series: short novels with high-interest topics of 12 years and up. Using humour, wit and intrigue, Lekich spins a tale that involves a cursed diamond, an unlikely detective, even a hearse ready at the crime scene. ISBN 978-1-4598-3349-4, Orca Books

Weird Rules to Follow

Weird Rules to Follow by Kim Spencer is a fascinating read. This middle grade novel has a fictional main character. However, the short chapters – or vignettes as the author calls them – are a memoir of growing up in a northern Canadian community as a First Nations girl. Going to (a mostly white) elementary school with her best friend, the author touches on many details from the 1980’s. The story is a rare glimpse not only into a First Nations home but also an intimate look at a (pre) teenage girl regardless of race. Well written and interesting to readers of all ages, not just kids. ISBN 978-1-4598-3558-0, Orca Books

Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian writer of 40 books who conducts author workshops at International Schools around the world. www.margrietruurs.com

A Structure for Student Voice

So after a brief departure from running our school-wide professional learning communities (PLC’s) with faculty and staff due to Covid, we are back this year with more exciting and engaging opportunities for all. We have structured our PLC format this year around the umbrella theme of AGENCY, and the research and deep inquiry projects that are underway across the school are definitely inspiring. It’s so important to have educators not only learning and growing together, but having some voice and choice in their professional development experiences as well, and I’m looking forward to our next session in a couple of weeks. I also cannot wait for the end of the year learning showcase where we get to benefit collectively from everyone’s hard work and passions, and reflect on how these groups have helped to enhance agency across all aspects of our school.
Our return to these PLC’s have got me thinking about how this particular learning structure could be adopted, adapted and applied to our students, and rolled out as a form of “student learning communities”, or SLC’s. I posted a version of this idea several years ago and I think it’s time to revisit and reshare, as I believe it deserves some significant thought for all schools who are thinking about ways for kids to take more ownership of their educational experience. 
All good schools that I know of are always trying to find creative ways to engage students in their learning experiences, and looking to implement structures which allow kids to drive their own learning and personal growth forward. These schools have also purposefully structured time for teachers and teacher teams to analyze and discuss individual student data, and to use this data as a foundation for a more personalized and differentiated approach to goal setting and curriculum design. But why not set up a situation where students get a chance to go through the same powerful process? 

I think it’s time to set up a structure that allows all students to collaborate together, every so often, to talk about their learning with their peers, to analyze their own feedback and assessment data, to talk about their strengths and weaknesses, to learn from each other, and to provide important feedback to their teacher or teachers about how they best learn. Once a cycle or once every week or two, students would get into their student learning community group (grade specific or subject specific, or ultimately, passion specific that isn’t tied to grade level bands or subject areas) and collaboratively reflect on their day to day experience of school. They would listen to each other talk about their successes, they would learn from each other, they would teach each other, they would talk about some struggles that they might be having, they would set goals and hold each other accountable, and when the trust has been developed, they could share their own assessment data and feedback from teachers to see how and where they might be able to improve. 
All of this would be documented and shared with the teacher as feedback for them, which would help the educator in the room to better plan a differentiated lesson, to better understand if a student needs some extension or some intervention, to get a much richer idea of what each individual student truly needs, and to receive feedback on their teaching too…a personalized insight from the people who we often forget to include in these conversations, the kids. Of course, during this SLC the teacher or teachers would walk around to each group and engage in the collaborative conversations, getting immediate feedback on how each lesson or unit is going, and checking for conceptual understanding. 

It shouldn’t be only focused on academics by the way, it would be a wonderful portal into each student’s social and emotional well being, both inside and outside of school. The students could be directed and encouraged to talk about relationships, their home life if they’re comfortable, their sense of belonging within the community, issues that they need support with, and how they feel about themselves as people and learners. These SLC’s would provide incredible insight into each student’s individual experience, and would help individual students, teachers and schools to dig deep into the personal perspective and feedback from the kids, giving weight and action to student voice and student agency across the school.

Anyway, PLC’s as we all know have been incredibly powerful in moving schools forward, so why not bring students into the mix? It seems so simple, doesn’t it? SLC’s might just be the perfect extension of the PLC model, and a way to get the most important voices into the conversation. It’s a structure that would absolutely bring kids into the learning conversation, and provide a mechanism for students to truly have a voice in their educational experience. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…
Half the curriculum walks into the room when the students do – 
Darnell Fine

Related Articles – 
Edutopia – Student Voice Articles
Student Voice and Student Wellbeing
Bring Student Voice to the Forefront
Making a Student Voice Heard

Book Recommendations – 
Personalized Learning
ASCD – Learning Communities

Inspiring Videos – 
Teaching Kids Kindness
Kindness 101
10 Things That Made Us Smile