Orienting to the North

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on Canva.com

It is the beginning of the year for many schools around the world. Even though we have different start dates, we all have one thing in common-Orientation! Orientation for staff and for students, we all need to find our north in the first few weeks of the academic year. So here is to orienting to the North!

As a math teacher, I have always found it easy to teach students how to find the North, a necessary skill for mastering trigonometry. But when it comes to the orientation week at the beginning of the year, the North is the most challenging alignment to achieve. It is probably the most important building block for establishing a strong foundation of the academic year. A lot of thought needs to go into the planning for staff and student orientation.

As a pedagogical leader, here are a few strategies that have helped me ensure both the students and staff feel settled and empowered to start the year.

For staff orientation

  1. Make sure the time is planned effectively allowing ‘me time’ for new staff as well as for returning staff. Loading up a schedule with ‘to-dos’ or multiple meetings does not help, it leaves everyone confused and stressed as they are still getting their bearing right-to the North!
  2. North it is, the direction has to be clear. The objective should be made very clear-to empower staff. Make sure everyone has access to resources; create cheat sheets as no one has the time or the inclination to read through massive amounts of text. A teacher-ready toolkit is a great idea to give direction to the staff.
  3. The compass should always point to the North! Orienting is also aligning with the philosophy, culture and values of an organisation. Keep time to get to know the staff and allow them to get to know everyone. Team building activities help new and returning staff to reinforce the common values and share the culture of an organisation without feeling the pressure of having to learn or adapt to something new.

For student orientation

  1. The first week of school should be focused on student wellbeing. The North star is student wellbeing! Make sure all your plans have the star shining bright-wellbeing. New students should be assigned a buddy, returning students must get enough opportunities to feel excited for starting the new year. Afterall learning is an emotional experience.
  2. Equip students with necessary resources, logins, passwords, library, text, lockers, planners…and the list goes on. Hence prioritise and scaffold the delivery of these logistical items. Once done, students will feel settled to focus on academics. A strong pastoral care programme should be in place to take care of all of this.
  3. Rights and responsibilites should be clearly explained to students in the first week. Next step is to lay out the behaviour expectations-academic as well as social emotional. Activities to reinforce and teach life-skills should be integrated into lessons for the first week. Do not start teaching content in the first week, you are forcing your compass south, it is a lost cause.

If you notice I have kept the strategies limited to three pointers only. The reason being, I am trying to practice what I preach-keeping it oriented to North, keeping it simple, keeping it in bit-size chunks, easy to take-in and understand. Keep it simple, keep it great for the orientation week for staff and students. Upwards and Northwards!

There is a Downside To “Hearing All Voices”

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In high school, I took a course called, simply, Debate. We were instructed to analyze an issue, formulate an argument, and convincingly convey a position. A feature of this course that stuck with me was that we were routinely assigned our positions on a given issue by the teacher, rather than allowed to select them based on our existing opinions. The idea was that, when it comes to controversial issues, almost by definition, there are multiple complex angles, and we should be trained to consider each one for validity.

Many of the international schools where I work as an LGBTQ+ consultant follow a similar tradition of thought: that robust debate and reflection on a range of perspectives is healthy for intellectual development. Therefore, it is not surprising that I regularly hear from clients that they are hoping to ensure that “all voices are heard” as they grapple with building safety, equity, and belonging for LGBTQ+ students and community members. Indeed, it is not uncommon for this intention of “hearing all voices” to even be formalized in institutional equity statements. Clients are sometimes surprised by my answer: schools do not need to provide a platform for every opinion to be heard.

It’s not that I’ve turned my back on our cultural traditions of debate. However, when the subject of the debate is somebody’s humanity, I suggest we draw the line. School is not a place where anybody should be subjected to an attack on their identity because it makes for an interesting intellectual exercise.

Including LGBTQ+ matters in international school settings is a relatively recent conversation for many educators, so let me offer an example that may feel more relevant to our collective experience. Imagine, for example, a student who espouses white supremacist ideology. While educators are not responsible for what takes place in the privacy of a student’s thoughts, I do believe (hope?) that most would decline to open classroom time and space for students to promote the merits of white supremacy. Whether or not there are children of color in the classroom at the time, we can recognize white supremacist talking points as harmful and inappropriate. This is an example of where we do not need to hear all voices.

Let us be clear that the child who wishes to advance white supremacy is not being wholly denied an opportunity to participate and to be listened to at school. However, the particular view that white people are superior and should, therefore, be dominant in society, causes harm and should not be elevated for the sake of both side-ism in spaces where children come to learn. Similarly, voices that express disapproval of LGBTQ+ people, whether for religious, cultural, or other reasons, do not merit a platform in school. (Note, here, that I recognize schools as places where white supremacy, homophobia, and transphobia live today, embedded within the culture and institutions, even when not explicitly named, such as in the hidden curriculum. Protecting students from overt discriminatory speech is the bare minimum, and we must continue to actively and intentionally work toward identifying and correcting all forms of identity-based discrimination and harm.)

For some, this position may constitute in a slippery slope, fearing that the ideology of individual educators or leaders within the school will become a required lens for decision-making more broadly. In response, I counter that this is already happening. The dominant ideology blanketing so many of our schools today is one that suppresses, erases, marginalizes, excludes, and even harasses LGBTQ+ people and people of color. I’m asking that we acknowledge that educators already weave values into our work, that we make those values more transparent, and that we examine whether these are indeed the values we claim to believe in.

There is some irony in how my assertion that not all voices should be equivalently weighed within educational settings means that some readers of this piece will call for my voice to be the first to be deplatformed. This is, of course, their right. However, if the goal is to build safety, equity, and belonging at your school, that objective is incompatible with giving air time to anti-LGBTQ+ voices. If you are aspiring to safety, equity, and belonging at your school or organization, allow yourself to take a firm position that does not endorse identity-based marginalization as a matter of debate.

GLOBAL BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Books to welcome a new school year

Here is a selection of my favourite books about school. Hook students with humour and fascinating information about schools around the world. Some of these titles are brand new, others have proven books that they remain interesting, no matter how often you read them.

This Is A School by John Schu and Veronica Miller Jamison shows that a school isn’t just a building; it is the people who work and learn together. It is a place for discovery and asking questions, for sharing, helping, and a place for community. A school can be a place of hope and healing, even when that community can’t be together in the same room at the same time.  ISBN 978-1536204582, Candlewick

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg is a hilarious story for all ages. The main character does not want to go to school where she will know no one, where no one may like her… We see her getting dressed, having breakfast, being rushed into the car… But not until the very end do we actually see the whole person who turns out to be… the teacher! A great story to talk about the anxiety of starting a new school year. ISBN 978-1580890618, Charlesbridge

Hooray For Diffendoofer Day by Dr. Seuss and Jack Prelutsky, is a frolicking romp through accreditation and of a school meeting expectations and standards. The principal is so worried that the school may be closed “that his eye brows may fall off…” But the librarian knows better… “We’ve taught them that white and red make pink, but more importantly, we’ve taught them how to think!” A perfect story for principals to share at elementary school.

ISBN 9780679890089, Random House

1,2, 3 Off to School by Marianne Dubuc is the kind of picture book I would have savoured as a child. There’s lots of fun text, but it’s the images that you can study forever. Each double spread shows a school in a fairy tale setting: there’s Cattail Academy where frogs paint and sing. The sloths attend Sleepytime School and squirrels learn all they need to know at Lookout Heights. Throughout the pages, little Pom discovers how much fun kindergarten will be. She can’t wait to attend her own school. ISBN 978-1-5253-0656-3, Kids Can Press

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco is perhaps her best known book. This autobiographical story shows how the now prolific author struggled with reading as a child. Despite being surrounded by books she could not master the skill of reading until a patient, understanding teacher changed her life.  ISBN 0-399-23166-8, Philomel

By the same author, Patricia Lincoln, is Mr. Lincoln’s Way – the story of an bully in Grade 5 and his principal. Despite personal lashings out, Mr. Lincoln finds a way to break through Eugene’s shield of anger by tapping into the boy’s one keen interest. Through books, patience and caring the two forge a bond that helps Eugene find his way. ISBN 0-439-43011-9, Puffin

Off To Class by Susan Hughes is a nonfiction book about the wide variety of ways in which children around the world get an education. From schools in refugee camps to finding text books in trash, this book shows the resilience of children and educators in many different countries.  ISBN 978-1-926818-86-3, Owlkids

Gift Days by Kari-Lynn Winters, is a picture book for ages 8 up. This is the touching story of Nassali who longs to learn to read and write like her brother, Baaba. But since her mother’s death, Nassali is responsible for looking after her younger siblings and running the household. There is no time for books and learning. But one day she wakes up to discover that her chores have already been done. It is her first gift day. From that day on, once a week, Baaba gives Nassali the gift of time so that she can pursue her dream of an education, just as her mother would have wanted. The book itself is also raising money for the charity. Through the organization I am a Girl, which focuses on education and women’s rights, money has been raised to send girls to school in Uganda for a full year.   ISBN-13 9781554551927, Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Margriet Ruurs wrote more than 40 books for children. My School in the Rainforest was one of the most fun books she ever wrote because it showcases unusual schools around the world. There’s a school in the rainforest of Guatemala, but also one on a missionary ship, the highest school in the world (in the Himalayas) and a school on the edge of the Sahara. ISBN 978-1-59078-601-7

www.margrietruurs.com

GLOBAL BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Summer Reading for Educators/Booklovers

If you still have some time off, this summer, before starting school again, you might want to treat yourself to curling up with a good book. I recently discovered what has become my all-time favourite series of amazing books: The Seven Sisters.

I don’t know why it took me so long to discover because they are not new titles and have, so far, sold over 10 million copies worldwide. The author, Lucinda Riley, is British and the books in the series are available in many different languages, published in many different countries.

Lucinda Riley did something extraordinary with these stories. Not only are they very well written, she combined myth, fiction and nonfiction in a seamless way. The Seven Sisters are based on the constellation of the same name. There is an element of Greek mythology in each story. The girls’ names are scrambled from the stars and there’s an air of mystery about them and their father. Each girl was adopted at a very young age and the sisters grew up, on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, in a sheltered environment full of love and support.

The first book starts with the death of their beloved father. As the sisters gather back home, they are each given a set of coordinates and a letter with information on where they came from. Subsequently, each book follows the life, and the search for their roots, of one sister. Each book takes place in a different location on earth – taking the reader to Australia, Europe, South America… But most astonishingly, each book features a real historic person whose nonfiction facts are woven into the fictional story. I loved learning about, sometimes well known, historical figures through these books: artists, writers, musicians, important aboriginal artists…

There are many details on the books and the author here: https://lucindariley.co.uk/seven-sisters-series/ Her website offers some videos, some free chapters and info on audio books. The books are aimed at adults but will also make great reading for YA/high school students.

Unfortunately, Lucinda Riley passed away before finishing the entire series but her son has all of her instructions and is completing the last book, to be released in 2023. I treat these books as a precious box of chocolates – savouring each one slowly and spreading them out so they will last longer.

Happy summer reading!

Margriet Ruurs is a ferocious reader as well as a Canadian author of over 40 books for children. She conducts writing workshops in international schools: www.margrietruurs.com

What Did We Miss?

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

It is almost three years since the pandemic hit and we are still grappling with the reality of what teaching and learning looks and feels like in the current context. As we are picking up the remains of an education system we knew, we are slowly coming to terms with what we missed in the past three years.

I asked myself the question: What Did We Miss? as I was having an important conversation with my son about his university choices. My son was in year 9 when the pandemic hit, and he started online school/classes in February 2020. He missed social interactions, he missed school lunchtime, he missed sports tournaments, he missed music ensembles and performances, he missed a lot of things, a lot! Most importantly he missed out on learning collaboratively, a very effective pedagogical approach to learning. The pandemic robbed us of the most important teaching and learning strategy-learning by collaboration.

I asked myself the question: What Did We Miss? when I was talking with my ex-students who could not go to university in 2020 due to the pandemic. They shared with me that they missed the graduation ceremony; transitioning to university; moving to a new country for higher studies; making new friends. They missed a lot! Most importantly living the dream of getting into the university of their choice. Dreams were shattered and yet we did not realize the residual effect of what we missed. Three or four years of undergraduate learning from a university of your choice is probably the biggest dream a student has, did we ever realize how much was lost and missed? Are we keeping a track of what we missed so we can make up later? Can we make up for what we missed in the past three years?

I asked myself the question: What Did We Miss? when I was reviewing the school policies with the school senior leadership team. We added sections and procedures into the policy documents that were never considered necessary earlier. For example, in the case of school closure the exams will…; in the case of body temperature over…; in the case of travelling outside the province…; in the case of online teaching and learning…; in the case of school trip cancellation…We missed a lot! Most importantly life experiences that become happy memories; like studying together for exams; discussing the exam questions after the test; going on school trips; having parents on campus; going on field trips. We lost and we missed out on learning by experiencing-experiential learning.

I asked myself the question: What Did We Miss? when I was talking to a colleague who is separated from her child for the past two and half years. I could relate to the pain as I am separated from my husband for the same amount of time. As a family we missed eating dinner together; going to movies together; going on holidays; celebrating birthdays, and anniversaries; taking care of each other; we missed a lot! Most importantly we missed the protection of love and warmth that a family offers during a crisis. My son did not have his father during his interschool matches, music performance, or middle school graduation and yet we carried on. The pandemic snatched away these precious moments that parents reminisce about their child’s school life. Will we get this back, no, never! Like me and my colleague, we will never completely know what did we miss?

Little cracks develop on the surface of the porcelain when it has lived a long life, telling us about its experiences and longevity. It also reminds us of a grim reality of the time lapsed during this journey-that the cracks will lead to a break. What we missed in the past three years are cracks on the surface; we are yet to ascertain the break this will cause in teaching and learning. It is like knowing something is missing yet not able to pinpoint on the exact thing that is missing. What Did We Miss-A lot, Everything and Something!

GLOBAL BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Fiction or nonfiction? Realistic fiction can help readers understand real information. Picturebooks can serve as a bridge to respect and acceptance of those who are different and of situations we may encounter. These beautiful new releases are all stories that readers may recognize themselves in or will help them to better understand others.

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle, written by Nina La Cour, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita is a lovely picture book about a parent who has to travel for work. The week without her is long and sad. The other kids at school also have others they miss but Mommy is missed as deep as the ocean and as high as the sky. When Mommy returns there’s reason to celebrate and for the child to fit in the middle again. ISBN 978-1-5362-1151-1, Candlewick Press

I'll Go and Come Back

I’ll Go and Come Back, Rajani LaRocca, art by Sara Palacios, is a touching multicultural story of a grandchild visiting her grandmother in India where everything is different and new: the sounds, the smells, the tastes. Together they form a friendship and when time comes to leave, they promise each other to ‘go and come back”. When grandmother comes to North America, everything is new for her: the sounds, the smells, the tastes. But together they learn and build strong memories. And they promise again to always ‘go and come back’. A great story for children whose grandparents live far away. ISBN 978-1-5362-0717-0, Candlewick Press

City Streets Are for People

City Streets Are for People by Andrea Curtis, with art by Emma Fitzgerald, is much more than the title suggests. This nonfiction book is part of the ThinkCities series. It looks at transportation and its effect on our daily lives, on cities and on the environment. The text explains why streets in medieval cities were so narrow, how public transportation evolved and how traffic impacts our lives. It looks at (fossil) fuels and solar power. There are amazing projects mentioned such as hovering high speed trains and peddle-school-busses. Many cities around the world are mentioned with specific examples. A great book to raise awareness of how we can improve our global footprint and how we can demand action from our city managers. ISBN 978-1-77306-465-9, Groundwood Books

Love in the Library

Love in the Library, Maggie Tokuda-Hall, art by Yas Imamura is a touching picturebook based on true events. Words can help you cope with feelings and situations. Books filled with words can be a comfort, especially when one is forced to live in an internment camp. Tama is Japanese and, following the bombing of Pearl Harbour, she is suddenly consider an enemy. Tama runs the camp library where George checks out books each day. More books than he can possibly read each night. George helps Tama find the right words to see how humans can cope. ISBN 978-1-5362-0430-8, Candlewick Press

Margriet Ruurs is a children’s book writer who conducts author presentations at international school. Contact her via www.margrietruurs.com

GLOBAL BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Summer is a good time to curl up with a novel. These newly released, as well as slightly less new, novels are great reads for all ages.

Berani

Berani by Michelle Kadarusman is a perfect book for international schools. This is a novel takes place in Indonesia and is told in 3 voices. One is a girl who attends a private school and completes a school assignment that gets her into trouble. The other one is a local boy lucky enough to receive an education through sacrifices of his family. The third voice is that of a captive orangutan kept in a cage by the boy’s uncle to entertain visitors to his restaurant. Each one of them needs courage to stand up for their convictions and follow their hearts, despite the consequences this may have. A fantastic read that shows kids (and readers of all ages) to believe in their values and that they, too, can change the world. ISBN 978-1-77278-260-8, Pajama Press

The Last Mapmaker

One of my latest favourite books is The Last Mapmaker by Newbery Honor Book author Christina Soontornvat. The map on the first page shows the fictional land and seas where Sai lives. She is apprentice to a mapmaker and hopes to climb the ladder in her society to escape the slums where her pick-pocketing father lives. Unexpected adventure whisks her away aboard a sail ship to the fabled Sunderlands. Do dragons truly live there? And what is the impact explorers have on “new found” lands and their environment? A fascinating blend of fantasy with a sprinkle of historic fiction, adventure and the passion to follow an uncharted path. A great page turner that shows, especially girls but any reader, that they can be anything they wish. ISBN 978-1-5362-0495-7, Candlewick Press

These Are Not the Words

These Are Not The Words by Amanda West Lewis is a poetic novel for middle grade readers or older. If a book allows you to walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins, then this book can be an eye opener. Missy has a loving but abusive father who struggles with drug addiction. Her mom struggles to get her life on track and keep Missy safe. Written as an (almost) biographic story, the text is lyrical and sweeps the reader along to 1960’s New York. Because so much of the story really happened, the details and descriptions are vivid and realistic as is the resilience of a child. The book almost feels like a free verse novel complete with poems written between father and daughter. I think adults will also enjoy reading this ‘memoir’. ISBN 978-1-77306-792-6, Groundwood Books

Cress Watercress

Gregory Maguire is already pretty famous. He wrote Wicked, a fairy tale told from the point of view of the wicked witch, which got turned into a musical. Now he has written Cress Watercress, a book for middle schoolers about Cress, a rabbit whose father didn’t come back from his honey-gathering trip. Cress’s mother has to move everyone to an apartment in an oak tree with a bunch of funny neighbors who are also animals: owls, mice, and squirrels, and Cress has to make the best of it. This book also has many beautiful illustrations by David Litchfield that really make it different and even more enjoyable. It feels a bit like The Borrowers and a bit like Redwall but it is also unique. Anyone who likes books with animal characters, a lot of humor, and a lot of heart will love this book.  ISBN 978-1536211009, Candlewick (reviewed by 10 year old Beatrix Colvin)

Mythos

And finally a novel for highschool students and educators. If you are a teacher (or any booklover!) looking for a good read during your summer holidays, try Mythos by Stephen Fry. I had always wanted to read the Greek myths but never managed to struggle through them. British actor Stephen Fry has managed to retell these important stories in common, every day language that shows their origins, their relationships and their morals. I loved finally getting to know Zeus and his crazed behavior, learning more about Pandora and Psyche and their lasting effects on our lives today. Did you know that words like Atlantic, Titanic, Europe, crocus and hyacinth come straight from these Greek myths? Couldn’t put it down! ISBN 978-1-405-93413-8, Penguin

Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian author who conducts author presentations at international schools. www.margrietruurs.com

Bake a Difference

Cosmic Cookie Class Recipe:

2 ½ cups community creation

3 teaspoons all purpose empathy into action

2 sticks of “story” 

12 ounces choice

Directions: Preheat classroom with reflection and intentionality. In a large mixing bowl, add community creation.  Combine empathy and action into community creation.  Beat sticks of “story” in medium mixer bowl until creamy.  Gradually combine creamy mixture with community creation and empathy into action mixture. Stir in choice.  Drop by rounded tablespoon onto untreated learning pan. Bake for 9 months or until golden brown. 

“Have you tried Mimmie’s Bakery? They have the most incredible Cosmic cookie!”  My octogenarian neighbor recently reminded me of a child, as she hailed my attention while I rushed out the door the other morning. There was something heartwarming about an older person getting so animated about something many would consider so simple, a cookie.  Her excitement was contagious and stirred in me a bit of curiosity. 

What made Mimmie’s cookie recipe so different? 

As the day went on, I seemingly couldn’t get the Cosmic cookie off or out of my mind.  Instead of heading down to the bakery, I considered how I might transfer this idea of a perfect cookie recipe to what I care most about, teaching and learning.  Could I “bake” something similar in my classroom?

Teaching very well can be just a generic chocolate chip cookie but in reality, it is so much more.  And it has the potential to get people excited. In the case of children, “keep” them excited.  I often remind myself, a big part of keeping students love for learning ignited, is simply not getting in their way.  I think about how knowledge is cheap and with the web we are saturated in information 24/7.  It is what we do with learning that matters most.  After two dozen years “baking”in the classroom, I definitely have learned many lessons.  However, an end-of-year student survey allowed for a sort of distillation or surfacing of a “recipe” for my own Cosmic cookie.  

When eating healthy, nutritionists often say to choose those foods with the least amount of ingredients.  I’ve boiled my recipe down to but four “ingredients.”  It would be foolhardy to think I have perfected the recipe, though there are definitely ingredients and/or steps which I feel much more confident about.  Yet, perfection?  Even those cookies at Mimmie’s surely are a work in progress. 

Summer is a time of much needed rest for educators, but I trust is also a chance for reflection. So much news in education this past year was about the abandonment of  the noble profession. With a little distance this summer, I remain hopeful that many educators might remember back to why they chose (or were chosen!) to be an educator. And I hope there is a sense of rejuvenation and excitement.  Moreover, if the “Cosmic Cookie Class” recipe is helpful to even a single educator, I will feel a sense of satisfaction.  

Cosmic Cookie Class Breakdown

  1. Community creation: Community does not just happen.  Intentionality is of extreme importance. The critical skill of learning how to listen but also how to give and receive feedback are at the heart of functioning communities.  A “we do this together” sort of ethos exists. Routines definitely help.  Ideas for implementation include: 

*Philosophical chairs

*Class discussion and occasional  fish bowl strategy

*Feedback loops changed up and in a variety of formats: 

~Teacher to student

~Student to student

~Student to teacher (such a gift!)

~Parents (digital notebooks) and segments of conversations recorded with Mote

~Administration invited in at the start and during the process, not just in culmination

~Community (something I especially wish to improve)

  1. Empathy but also action:  This begins with awareness.  Several students commented how social studies class “was about becoming  more aware of what is happening around our world.”  Others suggested, “It is about joy, curiousity, and being inspired to create a positive impact that would affect people’s lives for the better.” And, one of my favorite pieces of feedback was how “the class is more a study of life, all subjects combined. Where we find solutions to problems in the world.”  Three ideas for beginning to transition from empathy into action include:  

~Start small and add a Virtual Reality experience or simulation

~Read aloud (a book well read and discussed is appealing to learners of all ages)

~Newsela articles citing students as examples of how youth  are making a difference

*Bonus: Partner with experts in the field and they may even broaden your audience for students (eg: Inspired Citizens)

  1. Integrate the power of story:  “Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution — more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to” (Lisa Cron). Be okay with being vulnerable as you become “known” to students.  Someone who students can connect with.  Sharing anecdotes can add not only “reality” to the classroom but also comfort. The intentional integration of stories, like the time I tacked a horse for a teen my age who had cerebral palsy.  How I was gifted an opportunity to learn gratitude and grace from such an experience. A story like this not only connects with the equestrian lover in the classroom but anyone who might have a beating heart, if the story is one students can re-live with you as you tell it.  Skills learned this past year from a migration project based on story-telling included:

~Slowing down and really practicing what it means to attentively listen.  This can be difficult as habits need to be broken for students and adults alike.  The digital age has sped us up in numerable ways

~As learners listen, challenge them to discern where a deeper “story” might yearn to surface.  Imagine it breaching as a 150- ton whale!

~Developing questions and being prepared to interview but also to design questions on the fly

~Creatively “tell” stories through a variety of mediums (eg. video, stop animation, and podcast)

  1. Provide student choice:  Choice boards can be helpful so there isn’t paralysis amidst a paradox of choices. Further, in an effort to help with scaffolding, suggested tech platforms, as well as process steps are offered as options to follow. The emphasis is always on process yet with sufficient time built in (a calendar proposed), along with feedback, a quality final product is ensured.  Building in a sort of celebration and/or “real” audience helps up the ante and leads to more student ownership and pride of their learning. On my final survey, several students commented with regards to choice.  One student shared, “I love how we get to express our creativity in our learning.”

Power to Make a Difference

It was Maya Angelou who said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  What matters most in our classroom is this.  How students feel. The four “ingredients” above contain tremendous power. Power to be rememembered? Yes.  But more importantly, the power to make a difference.  

Thank you for reading and for continuing to reflect and learn.

Enjoy the summer and happy “baking”!

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GLOBAL BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Travel, memories, family visits, nature… These books are great for summer reading.

Mommy's Hometown

Mommy’s Hometown by Hope Lim, with illustrations by Jaime Kim, is a warm story about a little boy who loves listening to his mother’s stories of her childhood. He can just imagine the village where she grew up, the river where she splashed as a little girl. But when he and his mom finally visit her old hometown, they realize how it has changed. An old house is now surrounded by skyscrapers. No one splashes in the river anymore. The city even changes from day to night time. But, as he hears his grandmother calling, some things never change. A good story to discuss cultures, where you came from and how memories keep things unchanged while the world evolves. ISBN 978-1-5362-1332-4, Candlewick

Window

Another, older, book that shows how things change over time is my all-time favorite by Jeannie Baker: Window is a wordless picturebook which focuses on one window and shows how the view changes over the years. As a baby grows older, birthday cards in the window sill give us clues about the years passing. The backyard changes from diapers on the line, to tricycles and eventually his first car. Trees are cut, new homes are built. The world changes through this window until the boy has grown up and his home is old. Then it’s time for a new home, a new life, and a new view from the different window. This book is perfect to discuss change, evolution, the environment, urban development and much more. ISBN 0-14-054830-0

A Day for Sandcastles

A brand new wordless picturebook is A Day For Sandcastles, by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Qin Leng. Perfect for international schools, this story can be told or imagined in any language as we follow a family for a day on the beach. They dip their toes into the water, shoe away sea gulls, eat sandy sandwiches and, of course, build sandcastles that get washed away in the upcoming tide. A book that makes you want to go to the beach! ISBN 978-1-5362-0842-9, Candlewick

West Coast Wild at Low Tide

And, talking about the beach, West Coast Wild at Low Tide, Deborah Hodge, art by Karen Reczuch shows us the beauty and the wildlife of the seaside. This book celebrates life in the intertidal zones on Canada’s Pacific west coast. After explaining tides, Deborah Hodge zooms in on various species that call this place home and that kids might observe, including anemone, hermit crabs and sea urchins. Reading books like this will help educate kids, and adults alike, about the importance of creatures along the shores. ISBN 978-1-77306-413-0, Groundwood Books

Seaside Treasures: A Guidebook for Little Beachcombers

Seaside Treasures by Sarah Grindler has the subtitle ‘A Guidebook for Little Beachcombers’. With its smaller format, this is the perfect book to take along on a trip to the beach. Not only does the gorgeous art show sea life, like starfish and crab shells. It also shows all of the other treasures you can find on the beach: polished sea glass, glass floats from Japan, bits of rope from sailing vessels, even arrowheads and shards of pottery. The book also shows some things that don’t belong on the beach: straws, bottle caps and more, and encourages readers to help keep beaches clean.  ISBN 978-1-77108-746-9, Nimbus Publishing

Tug: A Log Boom's Journey

Tug, A Log Boom’s Journey by Scot Ritchie is a fun journey what follows logs from the ocean to the saw mill upriver. If you have ever spotted a boom of logs drifting or being towed, this is an interesting look at the how and why of felled logs. In a conclusion at the end, the author explains how First Nations used to look after the forest and how people now rely on logging for houses and other day uses. ISBN 978-1-77306-177-1. Groundwood Books

Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian writer of over 40 books for children. Her book WHERE WE LIVE will appear with Kids Can Press in 2022 and highlights maps of special places where children around the world live. Book now for author workshops at international schools: www.margrietruurs.com

Find a Critical Friend

Image generated by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

Finding a friend is easy but a critical friend can be a lifelong quest! A critical friend is someone who asks you critical questions about your work. Yes, a critical friend is a colleague who you can trust to discuss the success or outcome of your work without inhibitions. The critical friend will have your professional objective as their priority and will guide you accordingly. A critical friend is your own ‘guide on the side’. The term critical friend was first coined in the context of education during the era of critical pedagogy. 

A critical friend can also be a mentor who guides you through your professional journey. Therefore finding a critical friend is absolutely necessary. They will help you to critically analyze your work and give you feedback to improve. Does this sound familiar? I am sure it does, it is the role a teacher plays in a student’s learning journey. Hence it is fair to say that teachers are a student’s critical friends. 

The easiest way to encourage teachers, school leaders and administrators to find a critical friend is to reform the appraisal system to a culture of coaching and mentoring. This will ensure every professional has a mentor, coach or critical friend. This critical friend does not have to be an expert in the field, they only need to be someone who is honest and can be trusted. They will help you in your self-evaluation, discuss your challenges, and strengths and highlight areas for growth and development. Interestingly this can’t be reciprocated, you cannot be a critical friend of your critical friend!

Let us try to imagine how this would work in a professional setting. As an educator, we always set timely objectives or smart goals for ourselves. At the beginning of the year, we try to plan ahead and create a few success parameters. As time goes by we tend to forget our objectives and sometimes get complacent about our success pathways. This is why we need someone who can keep us focused and committed to our objectives. This is when the critical friend intervenes and helps to stay on track. There are various ways they can help; by reminding us about our objectives; critiquing our approaches; analysing our achievements; encouraging our successes; and simply reminding us about upcoming deadlines. This is a beautiful relationship of trust and commitment where both parties understand their roles and fulfil their responsibilities with due diligence. Hence all of us need a critical friend.

In the quest of finding a critical friend, it is most important to remember what not to do. Do not choose someone who only finds faults; do not choose critical friends who directly report to you, they might not be comfortable criticising their supervisor; do not expect your critical friend to provide solutions to your problems, their role is to motivate you to find solutions to the problems. Choose someone who listens, does not jump to conclusions, and shows empathy and kindness. 

It may sound very difficult to get a critical friend, so think of it this way, if you can be a critical friend to a colleague, you can also find one for yourself. 

How to identify a critical friend? Think of a social media analogy, when you post a selfie the whole world reacts to it but when you post an achievement none or only a few react. This means there are only a few people who think critically and truly care about what you have to say. So find those few who react to meaningful conversations instead of those who applaud meaningless achievements.

In real life too a true friend is hard to find, a friend whom you can call up anytime for advice or just for no reason. A 2.00 am friend, a non-judgemental friend, an honest and truthful friend.  A friend who is critical as well as complimentary. If you have a friend who satisfies all the above requirements you are truly blessed. Similarly, in professional life, you can be truly blessed if you find a critical friend.