Why I stopped asking “How was your summer?” on the first day of school (and other great lessons I learned about choosing my words carefully)

Last year a teacher shared a touching blog post about not asking how your summer was as many of her students did not have those story worthy summers. It struck a cord but I never really thought as I wasn’t teaching in a classroom and didn’t have a homeroom. I smiled while my students worked on their independent modules in my office told me about their summers and the things they’ve done. The year before I didn’t even have independent workers in my office, and another year further back, I simply forgot because I was too excited to share all of my activities I had planned. The gravitas of the question never really hit me until this year when we started our year with a reminder about how unique the lives of each of our students might be.

This year I bought the book The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and I re-read that post from last year and I cried. I cried because I know that my students don’t have the kind of holidays that I had at their age. I cried because my students tell me how the school is their favourite place. I cried because for so long I asked: “How was your weekend/Christmas/break?” when I now know that wasn’t the question that needed to be asked.

This past year I stopped asking my kids “how was your [insert whatever time frame]?” and now ask “Is there something you’d like to share with the class?”. One of my kids shared a joke each week, another told me a useless fact (Did you know the difference between graveyards and cemeteries are that graveyards are attached to churches and cemeteries are standalone plots of land? I sure didn’t!) Some kids chose to share about their weekends, other told their classmates something new and some never did participate.

I talk about choosing my words carefully because this isn’t the only time I have had to look back on the words I chose to say to my kids.  A while back I wrote about how a student told me I had to stop making things personal.  Sometimes I forget the importance of how my words affect the classroom.

This year my goal is to remove the phrase “you guys” from my vocabulary. A friend of mine is writing their thesis about feminism and linguistics and send me an interesting article from The Atlantic about how American English needs “Y’all”. While I can’t say that “Y’all” is going to be my new term, I can say that I realized language affect every person differently.  Maybe this year I can be just slightly more cognizant of the words I choose with my students.


“A B.Ed. just isn’t enough anymore”

I had the opportunity to listen to Tim Monds from Parkland School Division and Chris Smeaton from Holy Spirit Catholic School Division talk to a group of teachers at EdCampPSD70. They were talking about how important it is to get out and connect with teachers. My favourite line was that a B.Ed. wasn’t enough anymore as teacher. You cannot live in a bubble inside the 4 walls of your classroom. You need to get our and see other students, talk to other teachers, experience other environments. The most powerful thing you can do is connect with another teacher and share best practices. We need to become a learner ourselves and be willing to make ourselves vulnerable is what I took from both of their talks. I am always still learning as a fairly new teacher but it was a good reminder that you really need to force yourself get out and look for opportunities to learn something new.

Reflection from #WeirdEd chat – December 31, 2014

This week #WeirdEd’s topic was Planning. I was not excited about that as I was concerned I’d feel out of place because I am not a planner. I am all about conversations.

This was a big thing for me because I never feel like I am doing enough planning. I know where I want to go and how I will get there but my day plans are usually left to the day before and sometimes change on the way to school. I often dictate notes to my phone.

The big theme that I saw today was that a lot of the teachers that I look up to are on the same page as me. The truth is that you have to be flexible with your plans because students come to class each day as new people. The quote from Alice in Wonderland comes to mind here.

“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
―Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The other thing that stuck with me is that it is okay to let students lead the learning process as long as you are checking in with them and ensuring that expectations are clear and being met. You are not assessing the product you are assessing the learning along the way and if the learning outcomes have been met. This was a great reminder to myself that those conversations that I have with my students are the most valuable part of my assessment. Sometimes my students are not able to produce what it is that is expected but I can still see that they are learning. They can explain their learning to me and I see those moments that things click. I also see where things are not making sense and I can plan for ways to re-address them as a class as well as in small groups and individually. If 1 student has a question, sometimes more do and other times I realize I was unclear and need to clarify. Accepting this has helped me grow a lot. Mind you, this whole year is all about growth.

The last thing about planning is that it needs to be student focused. Students need to have a say in the planning. Based on their questions can drive incredible lessons because they are curious. They want to know the answer or they wouldn’t have asked it. I have to remember this because all questions are important to the student who asked them. Maybe not appropriate for right now but I am thinking of making a spot for students to leave sticky notes so that anyone who can answer them at a better time, can answer those questions.

Lots going on in this #WeirdEd chat tonight with no questions to direct the conversation with many great ideas.  Here is the Storify from tonight