Monthly Archives: July 2011

One More Day

Dear Jana,

I read your post and I can’t help thinking of my own daughter, Jessy Lee, ready to take a leap of her own. Her move though, is towards high school, grade 9.

Last Saturday, Jess and I were in the city hanging out between soccer games. We were at a clothing store picking up a few things for the new term. I was waiting for her to emerge from the change room. I knew things were going well because I could hear her giggling through the door.

Out she came wearing a t-shirt with the words: I ♥ Quebec. She’s only 14, but she has her sights set on McGill University. To her, that $7.50 T-shirt was the most exciting item imaginable. Later that night grinning ear to ear, she wore all its imaginableness to play laser quest.

Years ago I reflected on moments that I’d never desire to change. Today, every moment with her it’s own beauty. 

One moment Jessy Lee was six and a half and we spent the whole-of-a-day at the beach.  It was hot, very hot.  We swam, sang songs, built a sand castle, giggled, read, and ate PB & J and carrots for supper.  When the sun started to set, I took her hand and she was warm.

When I started my teaching degree she was in grade one, both of us full time students.  I was a single parent and often felt the social stigma fostered by my long hours and time away from Jess. 

Today she is independent and spectacular and fiercely resilient, my girl playing provincial soccer in the middle of summer holidays, dreaming of University while trying on clothes for high school, one fabulous pink-shirt-wearing kid!

So, off she’ll leap and I can’t help but feel, there are only 48 full months remaining…

“Sure,” she says. “There’ll be weekends, mom, and summers. And don’t forget our two-month long end-of-12 trek!”

But I can’t help feeling and I can’t help remembering. Oh, and too, excitedly, thankfully, beautifully, I can’t help dreaming right along with her… 

My, what life we play, linking

hands through time, in our

brown eyed way.

And yet all the while knowing a cheek-chilled clench,

wrinkled brow, that grip of pause. Yet every day in your lovely way, you

remind me gently of how fine life feels, of this space of awe, of a whole new way, remind me of

me and you, and this life we play. So all that past we’ll just let stay. Yet oh,

oh, my brown eyed Jay.

See of all life’s play, the best is the magic in the wonder of

one   more   day.

And our hands stay tight, stay in time, we play to today, knowing

holding home life-linked this brown eyed way.

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Tangibles

A few weeks ago my Inclusive Education cohort at the University of Regina got into a passionate debated over the use of cell phones in the classroom.

Sigh

Part of me feels like this is such a tired and old discussion. Yet, at other times, I know, because the discussion was filled with confusion, and because of comment’s like, “Aren’t you afraid of kids having your cell number?” and, “It’s just too personal,” these discussions are still needed.

But the discussion only focused on kids and cell phones, and so often a whole other group other than the kids gets missed: families.

I also encourage my kids’ families to connect. And not only with their kids, but with me: stay in touch with your kids, stay in touch often with me and stay up-to-date with what and how we’re doing here in the class.

In fact, connecting with families, I think, is almost as important as connecting with our students. And I try my best to make certain this begins with face-to-face connections.

It’s how we begin to grow as a classroom family. 

We listen and we connect. We chat and we connect. We share and we connect. We  connect and we trust. It’s pretty amazing, really.

Many of the adults in my kids’ lives like to stay in contact with the school. For me, emails tend to be long, and like many of my teaching colleagues, I’m busy. 140 characters or so feels just about the perfect length.

Last Sunday, though, as I was busy working on a University paper, my cell phone lit up.

“We called you first.”

The key adults for one of my student’s were calling to share news that my student had decided to move. The student’s key adults were concerned and, to say the least, sad too. For the past ten months, for many hours a day, for this family, I’ve been another caring adult. Last Sunday, they needed someone with whom to share their concerns.

After all, aren’t we as teachers connecting too? Doesn’t that start with building a sense of classroom family? Are we or are we not then connected beyond the students in our rooms.

I listened while they shared the events that led to my student’s decision to move, and I agreed, yes, I’d love to come for supper and say good bye. And then, I set the phone down and cried. 

I cried for my student’s best friend who needs him. I cried for the basketball team who will miss him. I cried for the drum set in our homeroom that will stay silent next fall. I cried because my kid is leaving. I cried because I wonder if, as my student steps towards his teachers next fall, scared and lost, and asks for support, will he find it? Will he seek it? Has he learned well enough to use his words and ask for what he needs?

I cried for my boy.

Make no mistake, I am a teacher. I am not a counsellor or a social worker, but you bet, I am a community member and a friend, and just as I am with my own girl, I am always a mom. I cried because I used to think it was OK for my kids to leave, but I’m learning the ‘OK’ feels only ‘OK’ when they are in grade 12. It’s ‘OK’ when we’ve shared all the stories we need to share, when they are almost grown, and this sure doesn’t feel near to ‘OK’ to me. 

Like my student’s loving supportive caregivers, we all need more time.

Every day, my student was a gift galloping in the front doors, questioning, challenging, smiling, wondering, offering, encouraging.

So last Sunday, I answered my cell phone and listened while my student’s key adults here, shared about their boy who has spent the previous week walking around the house in his school jersey, set to step away…

They asked nothing from me, but to come for a meal. And I agreed.

For me, teaching and learning lives in personal connections. Always has, always will. If you share a story with me, spend a period in my room, hike with me, you’ll soon come to know, I’m irrationality crazy about my kid(s). My kids’ families know it and they value our classroom family.

Sherman Alexie states in my favourite middle-years book, “Nervous means you want to play. Scared means you don’t want to play.” I’m in this profession because giving voice to youth matters most to me. I am unable to separate educator from being a mom, a friend, a learner, a child or a woman. And sure, I am always nervous. And nervous is a good, good thing. It makes me cautious and caring, and better planned, and more passionate, and more fiercely resilient than I can possible express. Mostly, it keeps me focused on putting the needs of kids first.

So here is what I’ll share…

I’ll let my student know that he always has us, his team, and that our classroom door will always remain open. The family of our classroom is tangible, after all.

I’ll tell him how proud we are of him. And more importantly, that he has friends here, and a family here, that needs him and loves him very much. And that this family and this family love includes me too.

I’ll remind him how successful he has been here both in school and out of school, and that I believe he will find those same successes there, too. I’ll tell him to never forget the finale of the winter concert, the elaborate breakfasts on the field trip, the 33-year-old provincial track record that he shattered, the conference basketball finals his team played in for the first time in our school’s memory, and the beauty of the poem of the girl on the swing, because after all, all of that belongs to him.

And I’ll hug him and I’m sure I’ll cry. I’ll make certain that he knows I’m really here too, and then I’ll make certain he has my cell number. 

And then, I’ll let my boy go.

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Her Gifts

My mom says not to write about her. She says it’s not professional. But today, I can’t help it.

See, Tuesday was my birthday. And if I’m going to celebrate anyone now, it’s going to be her. 39 years ago Tuesday, I came zooming into the world.

Mom’s water broke at home. She finished weeding the garden, folded the laundry and tidied the house before she allowed my father to drive her to hospital.

There she waited. No pain, just waiting. She was a new principal, and since maternity leave didn’t exist, and since she has never been one to let on-task time slide by, she began working on fall timetables. She had long since sent my dad and big sister home. A wee bit after 2:00 am, mom felt a bit of a cramp and out I came.

Zoom.

She buzzed the nurse.

Mom tried to convince the nurse not to bother calling the doctor.  When he did arrive, a little after 7:00am, smelling of booze and cigarettes, mom had him sign her release papers.

My dad nearly fainted when he arrived for visiting hours an hour later.

We arrived at my Nana’s house for supper that same day, promptly at 5:00 p.m. My mom says it was the only day supper was late at my Nana’s house.

And that’s my mom, always doing things her way!

~ The second female director in the Province of Saskatchewan.

~The four day school week, her baby.

They called her The Dragon Lady, School Division shit kicking – really, it’s on her business card! They also called her Grandma, and Lynne, and friend, and mentor. The Lady with the Birkenstocks, and most importantly, they also called her The Keeper of the Buffalo.

My sister and I grew up surrounded by my parents’ students and other teachers who valued our parents, and we felt the fame of their successes, often, long before we were allowed to feel our own. It’s been a long journey coming to treasure my mom’s gifts.

But I do. She is an amazing woman.

People often begin by saying, “I have to ask you…” and I know.

 “Yes.” I say. “She’s my mom.” But what most people don’t know though is that while they’ve learned a great many teaching treasures from mom, I’ve also learned parenting gifts as well.

Maybe they’re the same, but for me, the mom gifts, oh, they sure resonate.

When I was a in my early twenties my mom was busy helping grow a dynamic students-first school division while, at the same time, she was with me for three long years, both here and at Mayo Clinic, never allowing me to struggle alone. One hell of a tough dame, my mom.

I’m a mom now, and I can’t imagine how she felt living that journey alongside her daughter. I simply cannot image her wealth of courage.

But I’m so thankful for it.

Anyone who’s ever met her feels it.

Now, I am a teacher, like both my parents. And like my parents modeled, I’m busy taking summer classes.

Yesterday, I was sitting in class at University, talking with my Inclusive Ed cohort about how best to meet student needs. It was one of those beautiful moments; we were spread out over the entire room, facing each other, reflecting. The course had come to an end, and we had not found many answers, and though we knew we wouldn’t find many, we had hoped.

A pre-service teacher, the only one in our group, commented that she felt a little discouraged. How would she be able to meet the needs of the kids in her room, without the needed supports, without this team?

 A woman, a teacher from the NWT shared that years ago, while working in the eastern part of the province, she had felt the same. Her school moved from a regular school to a Community school and it wasn’t that the staff liked each other much, it was that the needs of the kids and the vision of the division brought them tightly together. She said that the turning point for staff and the community came at a local meeting when the director stated, “Listen it’s not like families are keeping their best kids at home, they are sending you the best they have, so teach the best you have.”

No need to ask, that Director was my mom.

Today, I’m celebrating my mom and all the beautiful gifts that continue to resonate.

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Corners

Last night, I attended an open mic at a local coffee house in the rather large small town where I live. Many of my students performed. I was beaming with pride. But for much of the night, I was upset.

A man joined our public event. He was intoxicated. He muttered to himself. After intermission his muttering became a bit louder. Keep in mind, this was a public event. Anyone could perform. Anyone could get up and perform anything they wanted to share. People sang about their views on religion, kids used profanity. All of that was cheered on enthusiastically. The man wasn’t using profanity, or wasn’t, until he was provoked. He was saying things like, “Oh, ya, I sure like music,” and “Oh, that’s fine music.” He was just commenting, loudly. I wondered if the spontaneous adlibs might be part of his culture? I have a great Aunt like that.

Following intermission, the second performer began, reading about gods and demons, good versus evil, and heaven versus hell. Ironic? She read beautifully and like the rest of us, the man became animated. It appeared to me he was simply engaged with the art.

Don’t get me wrong, when the host tried to calm him I too was pleased. I wanted to hear the reading, and more so, I was worried I would not be able to hear my students perform.

But soon after he was hushed, the man jumped in again.

And then the performer, using the mic, told the man to shut up.

A woman from the back of the coffee house came forward and offered the man a cigarette and the two of them and the host stepped outside.

The performer apologized for telling the man to shut up.

Yes, Yes, Yes, the audience nodded.  Fine.  And the performance continued.

Yes, yes, yes… I don’t think so.

My daughter looked at me. I looked back at her. We looked at my kids. Would we have nodded our heads had she told me to shut up? Would we have nodded our heads had she told one of the kids to shut up?

Then the police arrived. And the performance went on.

I turned to the kids.

“Look,” I said without a whisper. “Look.” And I turned towards the front entrance. “Remember this moment.”

That man will spend the night in jail, not for public intoxication, but for being excited about poetry, just like the rest of us. We do not know if he can or can not help his addiction any more than I can change the fact that I am person with a learning disability. I do not have the right to judge him. What gives me the right to define storytelling?

At that moment the performer read these words, “Small insignificant corner of the world.”

Never forget this moment.

~

“All right! Now let’s bring up the Sage Hill writing kids…”

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The Hidden Pitch

Last night I asked my daughter, Jessy, for a topic to blog about.

“Write about that Montreal player. And all the other players who took a knee when he was injured.”

“I’m not writing about that!”

~

Tonight I was sitting in my car enjoying the cool evening breeze coming in from the moon roof. I was sorta watching soccer practice, sorta catching up on my twitter feed, and sorta reading Functional Assessment and Program Development for Problem Behavior. But mostly, I was enjoying the breeze. The sky was overcast yet not threatening rain, just filled with sleepy-hollow shadow. I allowed my imagination wander.

Then, the ambulance arrived.

On one of the fields out of site from where I was sitting, from where my daughter’s U-14 competitive team was practicing, was the adult men’s team. They were tucked in behind the open skating oval. As the EMTs ran around the green partitions and disappeared onto the hidden pitch, we all stopped breathing. For a while no one knew exactly what to do.

Go see. Keep reading. Worry. Breathe. Play on.

The wind kept blowing.

The technical director left the girls with their coach and walked over. Others too began to walk towards the hidden pitch. I got out of my car and stood underneath one of the pine trees edging the field.

Jess’s coach when she was 4, 5 and 6 years old was playing on that hidden field. One of those gems-of-the-education-world was over there too. I zipped up my hoodie.

I think, I’ve been zippy my hoodie for a long time. The memories wrapping around me like a down duvet.

I think, all of us zip hoodies more than we know; we all share these good, rooted stories. And tonight, like an anchor pulled tight, memories came rushing back.

And you know, I’m not even certain why.

How would Jess manage loosing another person in her life? How would I manage to watch? Could we manage?

Oh, I love my girl. And that’s my anchor. My unbreakable, beautiful anchor; my girl.

Sometimes I wonder if Jess zips her worry for me so tightly because I’ve been zipping all these years… And that makes even the wind sting.

That’s why it’s impossible to step onto the pitch with indifference, that’s why the world stops breathing.

But the pause is a good thing too because feeling is such a positive. See Jess is right. When that Montreal player went down on Saturday, many of the players on their knees were Saskatchewan players and, too, there were all of us in the stands very much aware, and deeply connected. I am part of those players on their knees, the unconscious player, the family somewhere, worried.  We are so much more than a player, a game, a life; we are every one of the connections we find on our hidden pitch.

And together we are a wonderful, beautiful, anchored space.

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The Conference: My Take Away

What is your take away? 

Do you know? I often suggest for my kids that a take away can be the big idea or the big feeling or the big change that stays with us. It is an aha knowing.  Look back over the last ten months. Look back and ask what is your take away.

As one of my grade 12s might say, “Maybe it might help if Ms. Saas were sitting across from you during conference, waiting.”

~

Last fall I moved from one rural school to another. I spent the summer revamping my senior ELA courses. I knew I’d have all the senior ELA 9-12 (10&20) courses and wanted to run more dynamic assessments. I had been taught well in the Atwell style at University, but there had to be something deeper. I was referred to JoAnne, a retired senior English teacher who was described as the best ELA teacher I will ever meet, high praise.

Joanne and I met, instantly becoming kindred spirits. We salivated over kids and books and, most importantly, JoAnne shared how she had designed her ELA courses. I knew I wanted ELA courses that would honour my kids’ needs, value their interests, use literature that was of interest to them and be guided by a big idea. As JoAnne shared, I knew we spoke the same language: allow kids time to reflect, let their stories be the motivation for thematic planning, put critical and reflective thinking at the for-front of daily practice, listen to the kids and allow the kids time to share their successes and learning, allow them time to share with their stakeholders (yes, in lieu of exams), and allow them a space where they are safe, safe to try, safe to fail and safe to succeed.

The preparations began early in July and continued throughout the summer. In the fall, letters outlining the new Language Learning Course went home to parents and guardians. The first day of class, as the kids rejoiced over the idea of no traditional written exams and flexible due-dates, we chatted about the meaning of self-managing our learning. Self-managed learning became a topic we chatted about and took time to reflect upon every day in our language course. How are we doing, what do we need to do to be more successful, and what supports do we need?

At first the kids were both celebrating and leery of the idea that they would be responsible for scoring 50% of their senior ELA course. But as I began to talk them through the process, I encouraged them and I showed them how I scored them. We could co-construct criteria together so nothing would be confusing for them and that yes (in responses to the cheers that they could simply give themselves a 100% on everything) they could score themselves that high, as long as they were able to justify the mark. 

We chatted about how the kids would be expected to justify their learning and what that justification would like. I then introduced language learning student- led conferences instead of final exams.

Our school has four reporting periods at the senior level. Throughout the year I gently guided my kids and their families through the before, the during, and the after of the SLC process. When I started at my new school last September, the BDA process, the process of sharing success and reflecting on their learning from a student perspective was new to my kids and to their families.

Perhaps it’s different with your kids, but I have found that sometimes school communication doesn’t always make it home with students.  I began the year with the professional goal to communicate better with my kids’ parents. As well, I was entering a community where digital literacy was not a valued literacy. I made the conscious decision to move slowly into the on-line world with my students and with my community as I began to gain trust with my kids’ families through the voice of their kids. I earned this trust through face-to-face conferences four times a year. I do not regret this decision to put first things first.

This July as I plan out our Wiki and revamp our blog, I know my community is behind my kids and me. They value our language courses. They see the changes in their kids. They hear about what we’re doing at school because their kids have been going home and telling them and, too, because I have communicated with them regularly. It’s going to be an easy transition to send a note home and invite my community to follow our class on twitter, to check out our rubrics on our wiki, or simply to check on the ever changing supply lists for one of our camping trips. By the end of the term I had many of my parents calling my cellular phone or texting me. But that transition was easy because they had seen into the classroom and heard their kids share what they had been learning, how the kids felt they could improve and how meaningful the kids’ classroom family had become. That’s powerful, powerful stuff.

~

At the beginning of last year I had to model for my kids how to conference. By the fourth conference my kids were prepping for conference with each other, some still following the peer conference questions I’d written, others having written their own, some even off on their own capturing every moment of in-class time to prepare for those 40 minutes of SLC.

At the beginning of the year my kids made paper portfolios and at the first conference all my kids shared these at conference. Soon all my kids had blogs and some had begun to create on-line portfolios. By the second conference all my kids shared from both formats. By the third and fourth conferences my kids had found what they felt were their niches. I liked watching this unfold. It was easy for me to help my kids reflect why they had chosen one medium over another. At other times, some students selected performances as sample of student learning – embracing the conference for what it needs to be, a celebration and reflection of their success and learning.

At the beginning of the year my SLC looked very similar to Anne Davies’s work. But as the year unfolded, and as I began to get to know my kids, I did more than scaffold my conferences onto the previous ones. We didn’t just build on prior knowledge, we constructed on student need; we listened to the roots of our behaviours and the stories of our cultures. Conferences began to become stunningly differentiated. I amassed a wealth of notes during these times spent listening to my kids share and asking what they wanted or needed and often were unable to verbalise. From these notes came the source for adaptations to be made to their learning. The kids spoke openly of their needs because they trusted no one would speak to them negatively in our room; I would not allow it. 

At the November conference a parent began chatting about the student’s behaviour. The student began to cry. I had read many of the student’s journal entries and had spent many hours after school `editing’ this student’s work to know that what was needed from conference was space for the student to share success. Darn it, if that parent wasn’t going to celebrate success, I sure the heck was. And I did. “I’m going to pause here, if I may.  We are here to share Joe’s successes, so let me share with you about his ability to journal. Reflective journaling is a skill that can be taught, but Joe seems to come by it naturally. Let me share some examples that demonstrate his ability to think critically…” And you bet I went on and on. I talked until the tears ran out. I talked until my kid smiled. I talked until I felt it was OK to stop talking. Then I said the conference was over. I felt it was a fabulous conference because my kid left smiling. That’s the first goal of every SLC; never forget this. During Joe’s June conference, I sat at a different table than Joe and his parent, he laughed and laughed with his parent; I said nothing, and Joe did most of the talking.

Only at the November conferences do I sit at the same table with my kids, “I’ll be there to jump in if you need me.” In November, one of my students spent a great deal of time preparing for conference. His portfolio was organized, he would share five pieces. Every time he began to read his parent stopped him. My student was not allowed to finish, was not allowed to share his success. Though I won’t type it here, imagine the message this gave my student!

It’s important, as teacher, to remember that we must not assess our students for the mistakes of their parents. The most important part of the conferences, because students must have this if they are to critically reflect on their learning, is for students to feel safe sharing their successes. If parents want to discuss behaviour they must make an appointment to do so at another time. This is an exam, after all. This is a space where my kids set goals, reflect on the goals they have set, talk about their skills: I’m great at dialogue, I need to work on parallel structure, My transitions need to flow better, In my previous pieces, my word choice and voice didn’t match, now they do. I am vocal about this rule if needed, and believe me, my kids know it. They trust in it. This is why I’m in the room.  

My kids may ask staff if they would like to sit in on SLCs.  Certainly, this last option has been greatly successful for many of my students – though it keeps my Principal busy during exam week. The student in the previous anecdote reflected on the auto-biographical 80 page book of poems he’d written for his Special Project Credit. He shared with our Principal that it was a piece that’d he feel comfortable revisiting in grade 12, that he’d written it for an audience, the wrong audience, an audience that did not include himself. 

Conferences two and four run 40 minutes, 20 minutes with their key adult and 20 minutes with me to share about their sharing. My kids soon find that no finals in Ms. Saas’s class are a great deal more meaningful and more difficult than any final they’d every prepared for. On average, my kids and I spend 1 week of in-class time prepping for our SLC final, longer in the higher grades. My ELA 20 and Creative Writing kids requested 60 minute finals, every one of them. Today, they have that much to share.

Conferences one and three are practice runs. Everyone must attend these practice runs. These conferences are only 10 minutes long with a five minute meeting with me at the end. Conferences two and four are their finals. This past year not one of my kids or their families missed conference. I teach students in grades 9-12. That’s four grades of kids. It’s not easy. A written final and some year-end correcting would be easier. At times, the preparations sometimes feel like I’m facing Mount Everest, all the pre-conference guiding questions and notes to parents. During exam week, with one hour student conferences looming before me and four days to fit it all in, sometimes I feel like I don’t even sleep at home. My point – I am fiercely committed to my language learning courses. I feel the value in these courses, and so do my kids.

~

Sometimes in the beginning students don’t see SLC the same as final exams. For some of my students, understanding the worth of SLC came slowly. I think it’s a little harder for kids who do well at traditional paper and pen exams, the rote memorisation stuff, to make the shift.  However, the shift for these kids is well worth it. My keenest student this last term was a grade twelve student. She did brilliantly well in my first term language learning courage (ELA 20), but in my Creative Writing language learning course with its more philosophical approach, she had to push. This push matched SLC well. She showed up for her first SLC final prepared for a chat, and we decided she bombed. Her June conference, however, she was well prepared. She shared with her mom. She reflected on her goals, on her language learning skills, on her understanding of the Big Idea and how SLC, critical thinking and becoming a reflective learner has prepared her for life. The three of us cried. I’d pushed her and, beautifully, she’d accepted the challenge of the push. My student and her mom stopped in the last day in June and dropped off this note:

Thank you so much for making my senior year one to remember. Although you knew how to push my buttons, I wouldn’t change anything. You taught me so much in one year. I feel ready for university thanks to you.

Ms. Saas. Our sincere thanks for supporting and encouraging [our daughter] this past year. I wish the other three kids had had the same experience! You truly are a one of a kind teacher and it has been a pleasure sharing a few tears with you.

Final SLCs are a tricky event, specific to our classroom family as much as they are to the curriculum we follow. The kids and I sit face to face; going over the questions I’ve jotted down and shared with them during the term and prior to the SLC, the questions the kids have for me, and the ones I’ve written during the 20 minute SLC with their parents. And then we reflect on how well they have critically reflected on their growth as a language learner. Now that’s meta-cognition, I’d say. We ask, and have asked all year long, what does critical reflection mean? What does growth mean? And I do not measure kids versus kids, I measure them versus the outcomes, and versus the ones we’ve constructed together, the criteria that are valuable to us. An example, no matter how much I suggested something different, my 11-12s were insistent that we measure courage, at least in some small, small way. They believed themselves incapable of sharing, let alone sharing publicly. It’s their course. They wanted to aim for courage. They get a say! This year we have Skyped with a class and shared stories, written reflections during Place Based Learning days in places like the emergency waiting room, delivered performance poetry at a public coffee house and led four SLC, “I never believed I could talk to my parents that way!” Courage, if you would believe it!

One of my students has adaptations in place because he is a young man with verbal communication challenges. In September, sharing with his class was a big deal, almost impossible. By the June conference I noted that my student set out his papers all over the table. He touched every piece and went back over pieces written during the past 10 months and in other subjects. Though he often stated to his parents that he didn’t want to share and handed his papers to his parents, he read four pieces aloud and took 34 minutes for the first part of his SLC. When his parents left I sat across from him and asked him how he felt about conferences. My student smiled and responded that he liked them. I took my notes and showed him the word I had written in my notes, savour.  His ‘take away’ from this year was presenting. He loves presenting and asked for more next year. I asked him if he would like group or individual projects. He said he really liked going up to the board (interactive white board) and sharing alone. He is excited for History class. We chatted about Google Maps. When he left I spoke to his mom and shared his take away. More tears. Much happiness.  

In our classroom we check-in. They tell me how I’m doing, what I can do differently, better or more and I do the same. They offer suggestions for each other’s learning as well. We do this each week, and using their journals, daily. My kids know how to journal. This beautiful process transfers into storytelling and one student, a student who had a year filled with the scariest of ongoing crisis, commented that the journal, the storytelling, the poetry, the performance and, whew, the conference allowed her the space to say what she needed to hear – the power of inner voice.

I think of all my take aways this year and the take away that resonates most comes from one of my grade twelve students, the only student who asked at the end of conferences if I wanted his portfolio. He didn’t want it. It wasn’t the portfolio that had meaning.

When I first met this grade twelve student in September he declared that he had never read a book larger than a comic book. During conference in November, his parents confirmed this. During March conferences my student shared how proud he was of reading, The Hunger Games, liking the action in the novel. He didn’t care for the harsh yet simple way of storytelling in the short story, “Them Old Cowboy Songs,” and his whole life he’d never forget that a dad would actually think it would be a good idea to teach his daughter to swim by tossing her into deep water, The Glass Castle.

When I was young I often felt like all everyone saw were the spelling errors. It was a gift when someone took time to find the meaning inside the mixed up symbols. When I sat with my student at the June conference I told him that the only truth was the one he’d discovered these last ten months – the brilliant one we now know on the outside too.

My student is 18. I asked, “What is your take away?”

“The conference.  Having my mom, having my dad here at school.  Having this time with them, having them know about all the things I can do.”

What is your take away?

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