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?