Monday, August 5, 2013

A Cure for Restlessness

After living and studying in India, the Canadian Arctic, Quebec and the USA, and living and teaching in Singapore, I find myself living in the cozy, clean, safe and environmentally conscious town of Okotoks, Alberta, Canada.  I have two beautiful and healthy children and a lovely home.  My husband and I have terrific teaching positions and yet, we found ourselves feeling restless.  When living overseas, we had unlimited access to learning, seeing and doing new things; combined with helping others in need around us.  We continue to be involved in helping others and service projects at our schools and with our children, yet miss being overseas.

Then the flood happened in Alberta at the end of June 2013.  It ravaged much of our province,
The beginningof the flood 2013
making thousands homeless, and destroying business, schools, professional offices, libraries and recreation facilities.  It was a good time to dig in and help those in our own backyard.  We assisted family and friends; we helped strangers and they helped us.  Thousands came out to volunteer and support, expecting nothing in return.  Out of this disaster, which will take some areas up to 10 years to rebuild, developed a stronger community.  Although we were missing life overseas, Canada is an incredible place to live. 

Banff, Alberta, Canada 2013
While it felt good to contribute to needs in our own province, it was also a pleasure to get out and re-energize, to see the treasures in our own area.  Alberta is a beautiful province with a wide variety of landscapes to explore.  Gratitude for where we live and a deeper understanding of why we volunteer and offer service to our community to keep it strong, were renewed with exploring our own backyard.  Trips to Banff and Waterton National Parks reminded us of the stunning scenery accessible to us; and the need for us to actively be involved in taking care of it.
Glacier Lakes of Waterton, Alberta

Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton, AB
It's been a busy summer full of helping others, working for our children's swim team, and sharing time with family and friends.

This summer has reminded us of the importance of volunteering, looking out for our neighbor, and being stewards of the world's treasures around us.

And...the reward of an attitude of gratitude and getting involved in our community? ... Restlessness diminishes...

What's in your backyard that you are taking time to enjoy?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Three Questions, an Attitude and a Smile

With so much information available to our students, asking questions about what they find and read is becoming increasingly important.  Recently, I've been looking deeper into what makes a good question.  

In his article, "What is a Good Guiding Question?", Rob Traver states that good questions:
1. are open ended, yet focused on a specific topic
2. are non-judgmental, not value laden, and encourage the learner to think and ask other questions
3. contain an emotive force or an intellectual bite such as, "When are laws fair?"
4. are succinct, containing only a handful of words, yet demand a lot.

To generate good guiding questions, look at the six queries that newspapers answer: who, what, when, where, how and why.  Teachers often focus on the what  and how of something; questions that are not easily answered and give educators and students room to explore.  You can find Traver's full article here.

The Three Questions by Jon Muth
I like to use literature to introduce concepts and make connections with students.   With my grade ones, I used the book The Three Questions by Jon Muth; based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy, published in 1903.  In this book, the main character, Nikolai, asks his animal friends to help him answer three important questions: "When is the best time to do things?" "Who is the most important?" and "What is the right thing to do?"  A wise old turtle, Leo, helps answer the boy's questions through the boy's quick actions during a storm.  The most important time is now, the most important one is the one you are with, and the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing beside you. This book promotes asking deeper, good questions with your students.


But there is more to life than just questions; there is the attitude one has when one asks the
questions.  John Maxwell, world reknown author of 70 Leadership and Teamwork books, writes in his book The Difference Maker: “Your attitude colors every aspect of your life. It is like the mind’s paintbrush.”  He goes on to state many things are out of our control, but that "My attitude about the areas that I do control will be the difference maker. In other words, the greatest difference my “difference maker” can make is within me, not others."  Attitude determines how we approach everyday and every situation, how we respond and also to what kinds of questions we may ask as we respond.  "It's not what happens to me but what happens in me that matters most."

And Smiles:

Yesterday, I read a blog posting by educator Katherine Sokolowski on The Power of a Smile.  Here she writes of consciously choosing to be postive and watching her attitude as it effects those around herStudents (and others) can tell much about us by our outlook or demeanor.  You can find Katherine on Twitter here @katsok.  Enjoy her blog posting where she reflects on the Power of a Smile.

In summary, we wear our attitude on our countenance and it is found in the types of questions we ask. So, I encourage you today to help your students ask good questions with a positive attitude and add the power of a smile.  I think you'll find some answers you are looking for...

How do you encourage your students to ask good questions? 

References: "What is a Good Guiding Question?" by Rob Traver From Educational Leadership.  March 1998. ASCD

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Encourage Students to Be Themselves

"“The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don't let them put you in that position.”  ~ Leo Buscaglia

Have you ever wanted to do something, but were afraid of what others might think?  I'm sure many teachers and parents have had this conversation with their students and their own children, who were hesitant to stand up for someone or some ideal.  I have.  It leaves me wanting to make sure my students feel empowered to be themselves, be the best they can be and stand up for what they know is right.

One of the best ways for me as a teacher and parent to address issues that concern our children is through literature, and have them apply the wisdom found in stories to their own lives.  I've found it gives children courage to do the right thing; when they know others have been faced with similar choices.  And, these book suggestions are just in time for World Read Aloud Day...!

Here are some books you may like to use with your students:

1.  Andrew Henry's Meadow: by Doris Burn.  This is a classic book from 1965 reprinted in 2012.  I first heard of this book from twitter @ReadAloudDad who posted a blog on the wonder and creative thinking of character Andrew Henry.  The book is an excellent spring board into a conversation with your students of what it means to be yourself and do the things you are best at; no matter the opposition you face.  It is an admirable reminder to let others be who they are and not try to make them fit into the type of person you want them to be.  Andrew Henry did not give up on the building and creating he loves to do, nor his journey to discover his own uniqueness. It opens the discussion of Virtues and PYP Attitudes of what it means to be Confident, Creative, Co-operative, Determined, Enthusiastic, Flexible, Peaceful, Tolerant, Respectful and Independent, among others.

2. The Oak Inside the Acorn: by Max Lucado.  This is a beautiful story about an acorn who does not know what he is to become and tries to grow oranges and flowers because that is what other trees/plants are doing around him.  As he grows, he finds his own purpose and helps a young girl also have the courage to become herself.  This is a wonderful analogy about growing up and discovering uniquely who you are meant to be, and not to compare yourself to others.  Lucado's book opens up discussions of Virtues and PYP Attitudes of what it means to be Confident, Creative, Curious, Confident, Independent, Tolerant, Thankful, Determined, Purposeful, and Patient.

3.Wonder: by R.J. Palacio Many have heard about this fantastic nominated book for the 2013 Newbery Awards.  It is an outstanding story demonstrating the Virtues of Kindness, Caring, Respect and Assertiveness; the PYP Learner Profiles: Caring, Principled, Open-minded and Risk-taker; and the PYP Learner Attitudes: Respect, Integrity and Empathy. You can read more of my reflections on this book from my previous post.

International Stand Up to Bullying Day was recently celebrated by more than 3100 schools and work places in North America by wearing pink to draw attention to the effects of bullying, and stimulate passive bystanders into action.  In addition to stories to connect with our students, here is a wonderful song video by Artists Against Bullying, as seen at my children's school awareness assembly earlier this year.

Pablo Picasso stated, "Action is the foundational key to all success."  What books, short videos, and songs do you use with your students to explore and encourage them to be themselves, be the best they can be and to take action to stand up for what they know is right?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Newbery 2013 Book Nominations

After enjoying the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I realized it was a choice for the 2013 Newbery Book Awards.  

Some libraries are inviting parents and students into the 2013 discussion.  View the complete list of books for the Newbery 2013 Award found at the KCLS website.  The King County Library System near Seattle, Washington, is encouraging people to see the list of choice books, read at least 4/6 top suggestions, and then vote for your book of choice to receive the 2013 honor.  My son and I decided to read the six books and vote for our Newbery 2013 choice between December 2, 2012 and January 22, 2013.  Here is what we discovered:

1.  Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  A superbly written book on Kindness and the choices we make every day.  This is a book you will not be able to put down.  Although its reading level is Grade 3 and up, the lessons inside apply to all ages!  This book makes us stop and look at ourselves; evaluate where we are on the scales of kindness to everyone we meet.  As Palacio quotes The Little White Bird by J.M. Barrie, "Shall we make a new rule of life...always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?"  Because to be kind, is a choice. This book is superb to read independently or as a Read Aloud to your family or students.

Please read my reflections on this amazing book from my previous post.

2.  The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.  "Kindness and its ability to change lives shines through...this book."- Kathi Appelt, author of The Underneath.  This is a touching story told in First Person Voice of a Gorilla named Ivan who lives in a small Mall Animal Show.  Ivan remembers his youth in the wild Rainforest of Central Africa.  "Growing up gorilla is just like any other kind of growing up. You make mistakes. You play. You learn. You do it all over again."  He remembers his father teaching him "how to be kind, be strong, be loyal."  Read this book to emphasize the Virtues of Kindness, Respect, Gentleness and Trust.  It may be used to support and inquire about PYP Learner Profiles Caring, Principled, Open-Minded and Communicators. PYP Attitudes to connect with may include Empathy, Curiosity, Integrity and Respect.  This story may be used as a literature link to the Unit of Inquiry: Sharing the Planet or How We Express Ourselves.  It's reading level is for ages 8-10, but all ages will enjoy the determination and kindness demonstrated in this book!

3. Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage "...dreams are shape-shifters.  Get close, and before you can lay a hand on them, they change." What a lovely book about community, family and where you belong. Mix it in with hurricanes, trying to find a lost mother and solve a murder mystery, and you've got a story for middle grade students.  Read this book to emphasize the Virtues of Responsibility, Caring, Loyalty, and Reliability.  It may be used to support and inquire about PYP Learner Profiles Inquirers, Risk-Taker, Reflective and Thinker.  PYP Attitudes to connect with may include Commitment, Curiosity, Empathy and Independence.  This Newbery 2013 nominated book may be used as a literature link to the Unit of Inquiry Who We Are or Where We Are in Place and Time.  It's reading levels is for Grades 5 and up.

4.  Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead  "It's normal to be a little scared..."  This is a book about family, friendships and dealing with things that scare us.  Read this book to emphasize the Virtues of Friendliness, Confidence, Forgiveness and Truthfulness.  It may be used to support and inquire about PYP Learner Profiles Risk-Taker, Thinker, Principled and Open-Minded. PYP Attitudes to connect with may include Confidence, Integrity, Empathy and Curiosity.  This Newbery 2013 nominated book may be used as a literature link to the Unit of Inquiry Who We Are or How We Express Ourselves.  It's reading level is Grade 4 and up.  As with any of these titles, they make terrific Read Aloud books for your family or class.

This post reflects on 4 of the 6 books my son and I are reading before we cast our vote for the next Newbery 2013 Award.  I will keep blogging about the last 2 nominated books suggested by the King County Library System, and other Newbery 2013 nominated books in posts to come. We'd love to hear what you think of these books as you read and share them too.  Happy reading!


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Wonder- "What is Essential is Invisible to the Eye"

"We carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness." Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wow.  That is the first word that ran through my mind as I started reading the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  I love it when you see or read something that makes you stop in your tracks and reflect.  This book absolutely does this; making one stop and ponder on choosing to be kind and often the price that one may pay in this decision.  There's a knowing deep within you, that to #ChooseKind, is the right choice to make.  What vignettes in your own life demonstrate a time when you purposefully decided to choose kindness?

Published in February 2012, I first heard of this book from International UWCSEA Teacher @davecaleb on Twitter, who was encouraging others to read it.  It is currently on the voting list for Newbery Awards 2013.  The King County Library System near Seattle, Washington, is encouraging people to view the list of choice books, read at least 4/6, and then vote for your book of choice to receive the 2013 honor.  You can view all the book entries for the Newbery 2013, here.

Wonder is an excellent book to emphasize the Virtues of Kindness, Caring, Respect and Assertiveness; the PYP Learner Profiles: Caring, Principled, Open-minded and Risk-taker; and the PYP Learner Attitudes: Respect, Integrity and Empathy. 

To get you and your students started, you can find Wonder discussion questions posed by the author here.  Have your students also come up with their own "I wonder.." questions about the book and how different characters demonstrated behaviors/actions of caring or uncaring, respect or lack of respect, integrity or lack of integrity.  How do you and your students judge a "book by it's cover" or a "person by the way they look"?  Is there an example you can think of?

This book makes us stop and look at ourselves; evaluate where we are on the scales of kindness to everyone we meet.  As Palacio quotes The Little White Bird by J.M. Barrie, "Shall we make a new rule of life...always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?"  Because to be kind, is a choice.

I think Antoine de Saint-Exupery stated it best in The Little Prince, "Now here is my secret.  It is very simple.  It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly.  What is essential is invisible to the eye."

Enjoy the wonder in this wonderful book! 


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Using Your Voice- Transforming from Me to We

"Never doubt for a moment that you can change the world!"  Two brothers, Craig and Marc Kielburger started a movement to Free the Children.  Their work has expanded into humanitarian work and promoting the rights of children around the world.  They have started a Me to We youth empowerment organization which encourages our young to volunteer and be active in making our world a better place.  "Living we means walking softly, traveling lightly and making a difference in all your actions—small or large."

Recently, my middle school daughter has had the opportunity to apply for one of her school's spots to participate in the 2012 We Day Youth Conference.  The entire school is excited about the possibility to attend such an event.  This has only served to enthuse our youth to volunteer, serve others and use their voice to make a difference in our world!  Here is a video showing what We Day is about:

Educators around the world are using their voices to promote Freedom.

@intrepidteacher  posted a blog on "Azadi Means Freedom" about stepping out and using our free voices to help others.  This jumps out at me: "If you were living in an oppressed society, wouldn't you want the people who have freedom to use it for you?" Yes. Any person who lives freely- free to walk outside and feel the sun on your face when you want, free to write, read, study, practice your faith, go to school, learn, make mistakes... lives a privileged life; one which many in the world can only dream of living. We can take that freedom for granted and begin to focus inward on ourselves, maybe even grumble about things that are not perfect or didn't turn out just the way we wanted it to. Time for some perspective. It's time to use our voices for those who are restrained from speaking about their truths, their realities.

For the month of December 2011, @coolcatteacher also spoke out on an issue in our world in her blog: #endslavery, which started a movement of blog postings/tweets and people using their "free voice" for those held in slavery in the world.   I added my voice to the blog movement.  She posted again in April 2012, speaking out against slavery.  She knew we wouldn't "end" the issue of human trafficking, but the one power we do have is the freedom to use our voice to shake up the status quo.

Mother Teresa said, "If you want a love message to be heard, it has got to be sent out." You've got to use your voice.

And Margaret Mead stated, "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." You've got to take action.

Can we step out of our comfort zone and into our free voice? Because at the end of the day, when we do speak out or take action however big or small, we are changing the world into a better place. One word, one action at a time. I am excited to hear about the We Day experience from the students at my daughter's school at the end of October 2012!

How does your school encourage students and teachers to use their voices to make a difference in our small world?

Friday, February 17, 2012

At the end of the day...

My Education Philosophy
“The object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth.” –Dewey, 1916

It is this reward of continued learning and growth that I seek for my students and myself.  John Dewey was a promoter of thinking, reflection, community and interaction. As an educator, it is my privilege to ensure students know how to continue in their journey as life-long learners.  I feel strongly that students who are involved in their education and are able to evaluate, reflect and grow from real life experiences, become better human beings with a richer life experience.

Dr. Noam Chomsky talks about the purpose of education: to help children learn to learn on their own.  He elaborates to include that our "higher goal in life is to inquire, create, search bridges of the past and internalize parts that are significant" to individuals. I write about this in my previous blog and there is a video of Dr. Chomsky to view. These are the foundation to my educational philosophy.

In order to achieve the above growth and continuous learning, I need to come from a place of service.  I believe that no matter what you do in life, whether you are a teacher, parent, business person, an engineer, carpenter, student, ... everyone, if you come from a place of service and helping others; you will achieve success.

At the end of the day, I ask myself: "Did I make the world a better place today?  What did I do to help others?"  When I answer those questions I see continuous learning and growth.  I see success.  What do you do to promote learning and growth?