Category Archives: Celebration Saturday

Celebration Saturday – Swedish Celebrations!

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I am happy to be joining Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes and others to celebrate and appreciate the goodness of the past week(s

I have just returned from a trip to Stockholm, Sweden so I’m thrilled to share some of the highlights from this amazing trip on my celebration post this week.

Almost 3 years ago, I was contacted by a highly respected Swedish educational researcher named Barbro Westlund. (I actually didn’t know she was such a well-known person when she first contacted me but later learned is like the David Pearson of Sweden!) She was in Vancouver doing some research for her PhD in which she was comparing Canadian reading instruction to Swedish. She had been visiting several schools in Vancouver and had heard about Reading Power through these visits.

We met, I invited her to a workshop and later she interviewed me for her thesis. My work was cited in her published PhD, eventually leading to my book, Nonfiction Reading Power, being translated into Swedish. I was honored to have Barbro Westlund write the forward. I was then invited by the Swedish publishing company Natur & Kultur to travel Stockholm for a short of a “book tour”, ending with a presentation at the Stockholm teacher’s conference.

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Amazing to think how all this unfolded but there it is! The trip was amazing – short and VERY busy but I met some amazing people.  (and best of all, my book sold out at the conference!)

Here are some of the highlights from my adventure:

On my first morning in Stockholm I took an early morning walk before my first event.  It is a stunning city and I loved the earth colors of the buildings – reds, rusts, browns, terra-cottas, sparkling water and blue skies!

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My first “lecture” was at the Pedagog Stockholm.  The teachers were all so receptive and warm, taking furious notes and lots of photos of my power point slides.

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That night I enjoyed a lovely dinner at Barbro’s beautiful house, where I met some of her closest friends and colleagues.   We had a delicious dinner, beginning with a special Swedish appetizer! Dinner conversation about education and teacher training was rich and lively and we laughed a lot! I will remember this dinner for the rest of my life.

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My host for during my visit was Nina Danielsson, former teacher who now works for Natur & Kultur Publishing company. She met me every morning and brought me to where I needed to be.  I enjoyed every minute I spent with her and feel I left Sweden with a new friend.

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On Thursday morning I had a tour of the publishing company and met many people, including Lena Forssen, the executive editor.

I was interviewed for a Swedish educational magazine called Skolporten.  I had been told that someone would “take a photograph” for the article after the interview. What they did not tell me was that it was an hour and the photographer must have taken 200 photos! This article will be published in November.

My second “lecture” was at Stockholm University, where Barbro Westlund works. The audience was mostly her colleagues, professors from the education department. The group was small but very interactive and I was able to answer questions about Canadian schools and curriculum. Afterwards, I got to visit their offices, where I met my kindred spirit Eva Söderberg.  She teaches children’s literature and her office was filled with picture books! How wonderful to meet someone who loves pictures books as much as I do! She gave me a special English Pippi Longstocking picture book!

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Friday was the Läskonferensen (Teacher’s conference) sponsored by Natur & Kultur  with a sell-out crowd of over 350 teachers! The building was stunning – a former dance studio in the 1950’s.   The conference began with Amanda Hartman, Associate Director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in New York, who shared her ideas on best practice in reading and writing instruction.  I was very nervous before speaking – so many teachers and I only had one hour (a VERY challenging task for me!) I did my best to share the key concepts of Reading Power by showing very practical and concrete examples, model lessons, share books and a few student samples – all in an hour! Phew! I did the best I could in the time I had and everyone seemed very pleased.

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After the conference,  I took a late afternoon walk and visited the Old Town – the oldest part of Sweden. It was so beautiful – lovely narrow, cobblestone streets and little shops. I found a Christmas store with little hand crafted decorations and I was in heaven!

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I’m now home (wrote this blog on the plane!) The trip went by so quickly – 3 days of travelling for 3 days in Stockholm.  The only negative was that I wasn’t able to share the trip with my three “men” but maybe one day I can go back and take them with me!

I am so grateful for this wonderful experience.  Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible and for all the kindness you showed me while I was there.  I hope to return to your beautiful country in the future!

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Celebration Saturday – Spring Celebrations

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 I am happy to be joining Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes and others to celebrate and appreciate the goodness of the past week(s).

It’s been a while since I posted my celebrations so I am excited to share some celebratory events….

1) Celebrating Spring – It’s springtime in Vancouver and the blossoms are blooming.  While we didn’t suffer the cold and snow like some parts of the country, the sign of spring is always a welcome one to me.  The shorter nights, longer days, color and fresh air gives me energy and lifts my spirits.

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2) Celebrating an Email – I give a lot of workshops in many different school districts and work with a lot of teachers, sharing lessons and anchor books which I hope will inspire.   While I don’t know for certain that what I say is impacting anyone, it is always my hope that someone somewhere will feel inspired, try a lesson or share a great book with their class.   Last week I received a “thank you”  email from a grade 3 teacher from Chilliwack.  She said she uses Reading and Writing Power with her grade 3 class.  During one of her Transform lessons, she read one of my favorite recommended books Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Jenkins.  After reading the book, she encouraged her students to perform “random acts of kindness” in their community.  One of her students went beyond the call to help his disabled twin brother.  You can read the newspaper article here.  I celebrate Christine Blessin, her wonderful class, Lane and his brother, kindness, and the power of books that can transform us.

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3) Celebrating books – This week I discovered a box of new spring releases from Kids Can Press on my front porch!  They send me a box twice a year with their new releases to read and recommend.  It feels like Christmas when I open the box and get to touch (and sniff!) all the new books!  I will be featuring them in a later post – but here they all are on my living room floor!  (Happy book dance!)

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4) Celebrating old friends – In the busy life of being a parent of two teens, teaching and giving workshops, I don’t often get a chance to “hang out” with friends.  During the beginning of my spring break, my dearest friend Cheryl and I went on a “girlie getaway” to Victoria, B.C.  We stayed two nights at the beautiful Oak Bay Beach hotel.  We walked, rented bicycles, went for runs, had tea and scones in bakeries, swam in the pool, had nice meals together, talked and talked and laughed a lot!  The highlight, of course, was spending hours and hours in my favorite books stores – Russell Books and Munro’s Books.  It is amazing what a couple of days away with a friend can do for your soul.

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5) Celebrating New Friends – I meet many amazing educators in my job giving workshops in many different school districts.  Two of these amazing educators, Lisa Wilson and Donna Kozak,  have become very dear friends.  Time spent in the company of my “literacy soul sisters” is a gift to me.  Whenever they come to Vancouver or I go to Kelowna, we try to connect.  Earlier this month, we met at the Secret Garden Tea Room and had a lovely afternoon drinking tea, talking about literacy, life and laughing a lot.  I am grateful for any time I have the pleasure of their company.  They are brilliant, kind and I feel as if I have known them all my life.

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5) Celebrating Snowboarding – Just before Spring Break, my eldest son travelled to Revelstoke, B.C. with his high school ski and snowboard team to compete in the provincial High School Races.  He was racing against students from all over the province – and he won a bronze medal in his second snowboard race!  His whole team did very well and combined for a 2nd place in the event.  Thrilled and proud!

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6) Celebrating family – My cousin got married earlier this month.  It was a beautiful wedding filled with love and tremendous joy.  It was wonderful to be together with cousins, uncles and aunts, sisters, nieces and nephews and friends celebrating together.  Family joy. My mum would have been overjoyed to see Andrew get married.  I miss my parents very much.

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Beautiful bride

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My cousin Andrew and new wife, Melissa.

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My uncle, aunt, two cousins (groom is far left) and two sisters.

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Love my sisters!

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Three Gear girls and their families.

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Uncle Dan and his 3 nephews (my boys are on far left and right….the ones who look as if they are drinking!)

 

I am grateful for all the moments in my life I have to celebrate.  What are you celebrating this week?

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Celebration Saturday

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I am happy to be joining Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes and others to celebrate and appreciate the goodness of the past week(s).

It’s been a few weeks (month?) since I last wrote about my celebrations and I’m feeling as though I’m behind in acknowledging all that is positive in my life!  It’s been a busy month – getting back to my classroom, school, workshops and the busy life of my family (and boys in sports) so it’s important to take a moment to pause, breathe and be grateful.

1)  Sharing joys – I continue to be blessed with the opportunity to present workshops to amazing groups of educators.  It brings me such joy to be able to share lessons, stories, challenges, reflections and celebrations of my own teaching practice with other teachers.  I have been to several different districts this month, including North Vancouver, Prince George, northern Saskatchewan and a workshop in my own school, J. W. Sexsmith, for our district Pro. D.  Each visit is an adventure and I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given to share my learning journey with others.

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Images from my trip to La Loche, Saskatchewan.  (Yes!  I flew on that tiny plane!)

2) Learning joys – “JOY is one letter away from JOB”! This was the final message from Katie Keier,  co-author of Catching Readers Before They Fall, in her Key Note address at yesterday’s Primary conference in Prince George. As a presenter myself, I don’t often have an opportunity to listen to other speakers but was fortunate enough to listen to Katie and her inspiring message about creating classrooms that “Inspire, empower, motivate, support, nurture and celebrate” students. She shared photos from her kindergarten classroom in Virginia and I got many practical ideas from her including three kinds of classroom problems: “glitch, bummer and disaster” – I’m going to use that one!  My breakout sessions, that focused on Primary Writing, were filled with enthusiastic teachers, many of whom I have worked with before. It was a wonderful conference to be a part of.

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Katie Novak’s Key Note presentation in Prince George and one of my break-out sessions.

2) Classroom joys – Although I only see my class briefly each week, I love the precious time we spend together.  I love the hugs, the laughs, the excitement I see in each child.  I celebrate the fact that I can actually HEAR them learning.

3) Publishing joys Reading Power in SWEDISH!   The Swedish publishing company who is translating my book sent me a sneak peak of the cover.  It’s strange seeing my name on the cover when I can’t read the title!  I do love the photo they chose for the cover and I’m SOOO excited.  I will be travelling to Stockholm in April for the release of the book and to present at their Teachers Conference! Can you say “glada”? (I think that is Swedish for “excited”!!)

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4) Family joys – I love my boys – two of whom are growing into fine young men.  I am now officially the shortest member of the family.  My eldest is learning to drive – he is thrilled; I am a little sad and a little scared!

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What are you celebrating this week?

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Celebration Saturday – Classroom and Christmas celebrations!

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I am happy to be joining Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes and others to celebrate and appreciate the goodness of the past week(s).

Here are the things I’m celebrating this week…

1) Celebrating completed report cards – This is always a stressful time in a teacher’s life – so it is a huge relief to have those envelopes stuffed and sent home.  I am only in the classroom part time, but teaching partner worked extremely hard on these reports.  Thanks, Katie!

2) Celebrating Pen Pals – This year, my class will be Pen Pal’s with a grade 2 and 3 class at the Country Day School in Toronto.  Despite the length of time it took us to get this organized, we finally got our first introductory letters mailed!  Hoping our letters arrive safely and looking forward to hearing from our Pen Pals!

2) Celebrating writing – I have been working closely with the grade 6’s at my school on writing this term.  It has been so rewarding seeing their growth over the past few months, as they have been applying many of the writing techniques to weekly “practice writes”. This week, our final writing piece was on “My Special Place” – where they wrote a description of a special place that holds many memories for them.  We were focusing on trying to create a visual image for our readers by including the senses.  I used my favorite anchor book for this writing – The Hello-Goodbye Window by Norton Justin – a delightful story of a girl’s special place inside her “nanny and poppy’s” house. I am looking forward to reading their pieces this week!

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3) Celebrating Kindergarten Connecting – I have been teaching the kindergarten students about “making connections” this term.  Each week, I visit the class, share a book and we practice making connections.  I have enjoyed seeing the children respond so well to the books.  Last week. I read “Too Many Toys” by David Shannon and the children made connections to toys that they COULD give away and toys that they absolutely COULD NOT give away!  (love the “Dum” truck!)

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4) Celebrating Christmas –  I LOVE Christmas!  It is, by far, my favorite time of year.  Tis the season to pull out my tubs of decorations and said hello to all my old Christmas friends.  Our tree is not up yet – but it’s sitting in a bucket in our back yard waiting to be decorated!  Shortbread recipes are pulled out and my family’s favorites: toffee squares are in the fridge!

5) Celebrating traditions – Every year, my dad would make fresh wreaths for family, friends and neighbours.  He made dozens of wooden wreath rings, which he could replenish with Christmas greens each year and deliver them to neighbours and friends. After Christmas, the greens were removed and the wreaths returned.  When he died many years ago, my sisters and I divided up the wreath rings and tried to carry on the tradition with our own friends. Last week,  I replenished the greens on 8 wooden wreaths and delivered them to my friends, now part of my own Christmas tradition.  There is one wreath ring I keep and make for myself.  It is the one labeled “Adrienne” on the back in my dad’s printing – 8 letters I treasure.

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6) Celebrating my sister – Last week, my sister’s book “Taan’s Moons” was released.  I am so very proud of her!  The book is a collaboration of author, artist and students.  The poem, written by my sister, is highlighted by gorgeous reproductions of large felt tapestries created by artist Kiki van der Heiden and the students of SD 50 Haida Gwaii, B.C., where my sister has lived for the past 17 years.  The story follows Taan (“Bear” in Haida language) as she experiences the wonders of the seasons through the different phases of the moon.  A stunning book with many links to First Nations, science and social studies.

Watch a short clip about the book: http://vimeo.com/97461062

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7) Celebrating giving – Every year at this time, the gals in my book club get together and make hampers for needy families in the downtown Eastside.  We have been doing this for the past 13 years and it is always a wonderful way of giving back to those less fortunate.  The site of these laundry baskets filled to the brim with toys, diapers, baby food, toothbrushes and shampoo brings the Christmas spirit a little closer to all of us.

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8) Celebrating this picture – This is a picture of my eldest son, at the top of Blackcomb Mountain, taken on his first snowboard day of the season.  I celebrate the extraordinary beauty of this majestic province we live in, captured in this amazing photo (taken by his buddy); I celebrate that my son has the opportunity to experience such beauty; I celebrate that when my son showed me this photo he said,  “Look, mum – here’s my Carpe Diem pose”.  The phrase “seize the day” is my motto, my mantra, my words of wisdom that I have always tried to live by.  To hear my son say those words back to me….well, my heart is still smiling.

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What are you celebrating this week?

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Filed under Celebration Saturday, Lesson Ideas, making connections, New Books

Celebration Saturdays – Fall Celebrations

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I am happy to be joining Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes and others to celebrate and appreciate the goodness of the past week.

Well, school started and I hit the ground running and have not really come up for air for many weeks!  But there are lots of things to celebrate so I am happy to pause for a moment and reflect on the goodness!

1) My class – I celebrate my class and the time we spend together, however brief it is!  It is a bit of an adjustment having younger students (Gr. 2-3) but they are so lovely and enthusiastic!  We begin each “Marvelous Monday” with an APP – which stands for Attendance, Passing Rock and Precept.  The passing rock is a lovely way to build community and get to know each student. We pass around a small rock and share a thought on a topic.  The precept comes from the extraordinary book 365 Days of Wonder by R.J. Palacio.   I love quotes and I like to start our day with words of wisdom to ponder.  Last week the quote we recited and reflected on was:  “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” – Henry James

2) Teaching Partner –  I celebrate my wonderful new teaching partner – Katie (Ms. Pallen).  She is working so hard getting to know the school, staff and students and is really adding such a positive energy to the school.  She has a strong literacy background so I know our students will be surrounded with great books all year!  She also teaches our class yoga – what fun!

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3) Todd Parr Poster – I celebrate Todd Parr!   A few weeks ago, I entered a contest on Todd Parr’s website.  He was giving away 5 autographed Reading Posters – and I won one!  (a few hundred of his followers had entered the contest so I felt VERY lucky!) I was thrilled and can’t wait to share the news with my class.  We had made Todd Parr inspired art and I sent him a photo of some of the students’ work.  He wrote back and said my class was VERY talented!  I couldn’t agree more!

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Todd Parr inspired Art by my wonderful class!

4) Workshops – After many cancellations during the teacher’s strike, I celebrate the fact that my workshops are back in full swing.  I feel so fortunate that I am able to teach children for part of the week and then am able to share my experiences with other teachers.  I have enjoyed spending time in many schools and districts including a day of demo lessons at Peachland Elementary school (SD 23), an afternoon session on Literature  Circles, sharing lessons from Nonfiction Reading Power with three schools in Kelowna and the first of a series on Effective Writing Instruction and Assessment with an amazing group of teachers from SD 5 (Southeast Kootenay)

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Teachers from three schools in Kelowna learning and sharing ideas about Nonfiction Reading.

5) Friendships – I celebrate Donna and Lisa!  Just over a year ago, I met two amazing educators in Kelowna – Lisa Wilson and Donna Kozak.  We became fast friends and I love spending time with them when I visit their school district.  We always have great conversations about literacy, learning and life and best of all, we laugh a lot!

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Love my visits with Donna and Lisa!

6) Thanksgiving – I celebrate family.  The stars aligned for Thanksgiving weekend.  I was in Kelowna working, my in-laws are there and BOTH my boys had sports tournaments there! It was a little hectic racing from hockey rink to baseball field 4 times in one day but great we were all in one place at one time (a rare occurrence when both your children play different sports) and got to share Thanksgiving with extended family.

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Baseball in the fall sunshine!

7)  Sweden – My books have been translated into French and Chinese and this spring they will be released in Swedish! (can hardly believe it!)   Nothing is confirmed yet, but there is a possibility I might be attending a big teacher’s conference in Sweden in April that will coincide with the release of the books!  Stay tuned!

8)  Fall –  I celebrate Fall – my favorite time of year.  Fall is a feast for the senses.

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9) Sweet 16 – Saving the best for last – my greatest celebration is for my oldest son, who turns 16 today.  I am so very proud of the young man he is growing into and the abundance of joy he has brought us since 9:48 am on October 18, 1998.    Happy Birthday, Spencer!

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October 18, 1998

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Thanks for stopping by!  What are you celebrating this week?

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Celebration Saturday – Back to School Where We Belong!

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I am happy to be joining Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes and others to celebrate and appreciate the goodness of the past week.

Back to school we go!  Finally!  I am THRILLED that the teacher’s strike is over and that soon we will all be back where we belong!  This Monday we will FINALLY be able to greet out students and welcome them into our classrooms and into our hearts!

Today I am celebrating the end to the teacher’s strike.  As some of you are aware, the teachers in British Columbia have been on strike  and on the picket lines since the middle of June.  After a marathon weekend of mediated bargaining (which many feel should have happened during the summer but didn’t), the teacher’s union and the provincial government came up with a tentative agreement.  On Thursday, the teachers voted 86% in favor of the new contract, putting an end to the strike.  This Monday (in 49 hours to be exact!) – we will FINALLY be able to walk INTO the school, instead of standing and walking OUTSIDE!  Although there are still some issues left to be resolved, and many voted with a “reluctant yes” – the alternative was far worse.  It’s time to move forward and get back to teaching.   I am giddy with happiness.

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CHEERS! The Strike is OVER! Celebrating with my staff outside the steps of our school on the last day of picketing.

Since I was five years old, September has always meant “back to school” for me.  But for the first time since then, I didn’t start school in September – not by choice but by circumstance.   And since NOT starting school, I have been feeling a little lost; a little “discombobulated”, a little antsy.  I discovered, since being on strike, that I  am less productive when I am not busy.  (how does that work???)  I discovered, since being on strike, that I love my teenage boys but don’t love the teenage smell that is permeating up from the basement room where they have been hanging out with their friends during this endless summer!  But most of all, I discovered, since being on strike, that I am my best self when I am in front of a group of eager, open faces and without that, I was beginning to loose a little piece of who I am.  I am a teacher.  I am proud to be a teacher; I am grateful to be a teacher. And I cannot wait to begin learning, sharing, discovering, laughing, reading, writing, singing, creating alongside my students.

A.A. Milne says it best: “Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”    I am grateful, beyond words, that I, along with 40,000 other teachers in B.C., will be back in front of our students on Monday where we belong.

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Celebrate Saturday – End of Summer Celebrations

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I’m happy to be joining Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes and others to celebrate and appreciate the goodness of the past week(s).

Well, summer is over – but it doesn’t exactly feel like it  The sun is still shining and the schools are still closed!  It’s a little challenging to feel in a celebratory mood when the teacher’s strike here in B.C. is still preventing teachers from teaching and students from learning.  But despite that, I have lots of things to celebrate and be grateful for as my summer came to an “unofficial” end.    Here are my recent celebrations:

1)  My husband had a milestone birthday and I planned a surprise party for him.   It was low key  – but all his buddies showed up at the pitch and putt near our house and then back to our place for a barbeque.  Lots of laughs, lots of beer, lots of fun!  The highlight was his brother David who had flown in from Kelowna for the weekend to surprised him – loved the look on both of their faces!

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My hubby gets a surprise visit from his brother.

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Beers on the deck after golf.

3)  My trip to Toronto – Last week I spent two wonderful days in Toronto.  When I arrived, my publisher from Pembroke, Mary Macchiusi, took me on an amazing adventure!  We spent the day visiting some spectacular places, the highlight of which was Niagara falls.  I had never been there before and it truly was a remarkable sight.  The power of the water was something I had never experienced before and I could actually feel the strength of the falls inside my stomach!   Majestic and hypnotic.  There was a rainbow stretching across the entire falls.  I have never seen both sides of a rainbow before – it was amazing.

Niagara Falls with my Pembroke publisher (and friend) Mary Macchuisi.

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We also visited the charming streets of Niagara on the Lake and stopped by a winery.  A little history as we stopped to see  Laura Secord’s house and climbed the 250 winding steps to the top of the General Brock monument, site of one of the famous battles of 1812.  A small but spectatular view from the top!  (Coincidentally, the first two schools I ever taught in in Vancouver were called   General Brock Elementary and Laura Secord Elementary!  Too funny!)  It was a day PACKED with so many amazing sites, great food and wonderful company.  Thanks, Mary!

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General Brock monument.

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View from the top of General Brock monument – Canada on one side of the river USA on the other!

 

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Laura Secord’s house.

Day 2 – I presented a workshop at The Country Day School in King, Ontario.   This school has been using Reading Power in the primary grades for a year and had invited me to spend the day with them during for their one of their Pro. D. days.  I spent the morning giving an overview of Reading Power to the whole staff and then spent the afternoon with the primary staff  sharing my ideas on “going deeper” with some of the strategies.   The staff was amazing – so warm and enthusiastic.  It was a pleasure meeting them and I am grateful to Jenny Handrigan for inviting me and Ann Wildberger for her support in bringing me there.

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Staff of The Country Day School.

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Primary staff at the Country Day School.

3) My son – the hockey goalie.  I know summer is officially over when hockey try-outs start!  I have mixed feelings about putting children through such a stressful and often disappointing process.  They say it builds character but it can be so hard to watch.  I celebrate my goalie son and his willingness each year to take the risk and put  himself out there to be “selected” or “rejected”.  It’s not an easy experience for him (or his parents!) and I admire his courage and determination, whether he “makes the team” or doesn’t.

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4) Facebook Page – I have never been a huge follower of Facebook – I have a personal profile but very rarely update it.  My good friend Jen Daerindinger has been encouraging me to start a Facebook page for  Reading Power – focusing on posts for teachers and sharing books and lessons.  This past week she came over and helped me set it up.  I am thrilled with how easy it is and how much fun I’m having posting and reading through feeds. Here’s the link in case you want to check it out! (Thanks, Jen!)

https://www.facebook.com/readingpowergear

Hoping you have many things to celebrate this week!  Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

 

 

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Celebration Saturday – Remembering Robin Williams

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I’m happy to be joining Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes and others to celebrate and appreciate the goodness of the past week(s).
 
 
” O Captain, my Captain. Who knows where that comes from? Anybody? Not a clue? It’s from a poem by Walt Whitman about Mr. Abraham Lincoln. Now in this class you can either call me Mr. Keating, or if you’re slightly more daring, O Captain my Captain”
 

       – John Keating  (played by Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society – 1989)

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Today I celebrate the life of Robin Williams, who tragically passed away earlier this week.  He brought joy and laughter to thousands of people over generations and leaves behind an amazing legacy of talent.  To some, he was an extraordinary comedian; to others a gifted actor; still others would consider him a compassionate humanitarian.  But to me he will always be John Keating, newly appointed English teacher at Welton Academy; a teacher I have spent my entire career aspiring to be.

We often hear of actors talk about “the role that changed my life”.  Robin Williams’s role as John Keating in the 1989 movie Dead Poets Society, in fact, changed MY  life, both professionally and personally.  I was a first year teacher in 1989 when I sat down in a seat at the Dunbar theater in Vancouver one evening with my best friend Cheryl  to watch a new movie, staring Williams, about a teacher in a private boys school.  Little did I know that that experience would impact my life and my teaching career more than any experience since.

The movie moved me, inspired me, transformed me like no other.  Since that first viewing,  I have watched it perhaps a dozen more times. I have watched it alone, with my cat, my mum, dad, my sisters, my husband and my boys.  I have laughed when Dalton answers a phone during a school assembly, claiming God was on the other line.  I have wept when Mr. Keeting comes into the classroom to collect his personals and the boys honor him by standing on their desks and call “O Captain, my Captain”.     I started a Dead Poets quote book and have been collecting quotes ever since.  My sister bought me a Carpe Diem t-shirt the year the movie came out and I still have it.  I have a collection of Walt Whitman poetry permanently beside my bed.  Whenever I hear Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, I visualize boys kicking soccer balls while reciting poetry.  When anyone asks me what my favorite movie of all time is, without hesitation, I reply, “Dead Poets Society”.

Now one could argue that my post this week is not really about Robin Williams – but more about a movie. Once could also argue that any actor could have played the role of John Keating. But to me, Robin Williams WAS and always will be John Keating – a teacher with an extraordinary gift. Keating taught with passion and joy. He was the teacher who invited every student to stand on their desk because he wanted them to see the world differently; a teacher who made a class of adolescent boys grow to love poetry and literature because he made it come alive for them; a teacher who inspired, encouraged, challenged, celebrated, respected, and loved his students.  A teacher I wanted to be.

Mr. Keating was not a conventional teacher.  In the private boys school in 1959 he was seen as a bit of a rebel.  He did not follow the prescribed curriculum as it was laid out.  It was not enough for him to simply assign and assess his way through the English textbook, rating poems on the Pritchard scale.  He was creative and innovative and his lessons caused both his students and colleagues to often raise their eyebrows and question his motives.  But through his unconventional teaching style, he breathed life into the minds and hearts of his students.

Directly from my Dead Poets Quote Book, here are a few examples:

He taught them the power of words:

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world”

He taught them see the world differently:

(Standing on his desk) “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”

He made them laugh:

“Language was developed for one endeavor boys, and that is – to woo women.” 

He taught them to appreciate the beauty of poetry:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. So medicine, law, business, engineering… these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for.”  

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Long before Reading Power, John Keating was teaching his students to think:

“When you read, don’t just consider what the author thinks, consider what you think”

Long before Writing Power, John Keating was teaching his students about triple scoop words:

“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose.

He encouraged them to be individuals:

Now we all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go, “that’s baaaaad.” Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in the wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

He encouraged them to make their mark in the world:

To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

He inspired them to find their passion:

“Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!”

The movie, ironically, ends in a tragedy for which Robin Williams’s character is ultimately held responsible.  But I do not wish to dwell on the sad ending of the movie or the sad ending of Robin Williams’s life.  Today I am focusing on the extraordinary impact that this one movie and one actor had on this beginning teacher.  Because of Robin Williams’s brilliant performance in Dead Poets Society,  I am a more passionate teacher, a deeper thinker, a better writer.  Over the years since watching that movie, I have tried to find my own passion, to live life to the fullest, to “seize the day”, to make my life extraordinary, to “contribute a verse to the powerful play”.  I have been teaching for over 20 years, striving every day to be like John Keating – teaching my students not only how to read and write but to love words, to nurture ideas, to think deeply, to find their passion and make their mark in the world.

Today, I celebrate, honour and give thanks for the exceptional life of comedian and actor Robin Williams and his brilliant portrayal of a young teacher named John Keating – the “captain” who changed my life.

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Summer Celebrations – Surf, Sand and Sunshine!

I’m happy to be joining Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes and others to celebrate and appreciate the goodness of the past week(s).  I have many things to celebrate so far this summer!

Surfing in Tofino

A highlight of my summer so far was a family holiday in beautiful Tofino.  There is much to celebrate about this extraordinary place on the west coast of British Columbia.  My husband and I used to go camping on Long Beach before our kids were born and have many fond memories of this special place.  This was a first for my boys to experience the beauty and expanse of the endless miles beach and crashing waves.  We brought our visitor from England and joined friends on Chesterman Beach for 4 days filled with walks on the beach, exploring, campfires on the beach and many hours of surfing and boogie boarding!  Even our dog got on the surf board!

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The boys and their boards!

 

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Quite a change from the streets of Manchester for our visitor!

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Even our dog, Bailey, wanted to try out the surfboard!

Reading Power for BC Offshore Teachers

Several months ago I was contacted by Ryan Silverthorne, a B.C. teacher/administrator from a large B.C. Offshore School in Qatar. He explained that many of the teachers who taught at his school have been implementing Reading Power into their literacy programs and were interested in attending a professional development session during the summer, when many of them return home for the holidays.  Professional development opportunities in many of these offshore schools are rather limited.  After several email exchanges, Ryan decided to organize a full day workshop and invite offshore teachers from several different campuses including Thailand, Korea and China.  The workshop was held at Trinity Western Campus on July 25th – with a full house of nearly 100 teachers.  I was thrilled to be sharing my work with B.C. teachers, both locally and from around the globe and exciting to know that Reading Power will be reaching students in classrooms around the world!  The day went extremely well and the teachers were excited and enthusiastic about learning.  Ryan was a pleasure to work with!  He was exceptionally organized and took care of every detail.  I am confident that this was the first of many workshops we will do together!

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Sharing a photo of the Reading Power book bins in my school library.

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Me (center) with Ryan Silverthorn (tie) with some of his staff from the B.C. School in Qatar.

Baseball season ends

My eldest played his last baseball game of the season.  It was a challenging season with ongoing controversy with coaches and parents (and I thought hockey was bad!) but the team stuck together and in the end were a stronger group of young men.  I was very proud of all of them for playing through the politics and ending the season with a great win.

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Vancouver Cannons Jr. Team (my son is beside the coach)

Visiting Family in Kelowna  –

My husband grew up in the Okanagan so we always spend time there every summer visiting his family and friends.  We enjoy Bocce in the back yard, card games, outdoor barbeques, swimming in the lake – time to relax and enjoy spending time with cousins, uncles, aunts and grandma.  Added fun this summer was a day spent on an inflated floating water park at Kelowna City Park Beach.

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Inflatable floating water park in Kelowna.

 

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Cousins enjoying the floating water park.

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Bocce in the back yard!

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Skipping stones at the lakeshore.

 

I am grateful for the many things I have to celebrate this summer.  What are you celebrating this week?

 

 

 

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Celebration Saturday – Spring Celebrations

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I’m happy to be joining Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes and others to celebrate and appreciate the goodness of the past week.

Here are the things I’m celebrating this week:

1) Workshop Celebrations -It’s the last busy surge of Pro. D. workshops in the school year and I have been enjoying my visits in many districts.  I spent this past Thursday in Kamloops, where I have presented many workshops over the years.  I believe that it was one of the first districts to hear me talk about Reading Power!  I was excited to present a session on ‘Revisiting Reading Power” – to share how Reading Power has evolved for me and how my thinking has changed and developed over the past years.  Many of the teachers there are very familiar with the strategies but were excited to get some new ideas and book titles to support their practice. So I celebrate teachers from Kamloops and from all the districts I visit – for their commitment to teaching and learning.

2) Friend Celebrations – A bonus whenever I visit Kamloops is that I get to spend time with my dear friend Katie.  She and I went through Education at university together (UBC) MANY years ago and have remained friends ever since.  Although we don’t talk or see each other often,  whenever we get together it is like no time has passed.  We talk and talk and laugh and laugh and have amazing conversations.  While I am passionate about Literacy, Katie’s passion is Math.  Katie is a MASTER Math teacher.  She teaches Math at a middle school in Kamloops and after she picked me up at the airport,  I went to visit her classroom and showed me some of her amazing lessons.  I have never felt confident in Math – but I know that if she had been my Math teacher, I would have had a totally different outlook.  I am always trying to encourage her to share her brilliant ideas with other teachers – and this time I think I just might have twisted her arm!  So I celebrate my dear friend – she is a gift to education and a gift to me.

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My friend Katie – Master Math teacher!

3) Upcoming Workshop Celebrations – I have been invited to present a workshop at the Maple Leaf School in Dalian, China!  Amazing!  I have a very dear friend who is working at the school with her husband.  She brought my book with her and is training all the teachers to use Reading Power strategies.  This is quite a new concept for many of the teachers as promoting “thinking” is not as common practice in their education system as it is here.  She has worked hard to get the “powers that be” at her school to invite me next November to do a Pro.D. workshop for their VERY large staff and two more Maple Leaf campus staffs will join.   How exciting!  She says that teachers receive very little professional development so this will be very new for many of them!  Coincidentally, but not connected to my visit, my book is being translated into Chinese!  The stars have aligned and the translation will be ready by the time I go in November!

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Reading Power Poster in Chinese

4) Garden Celebrations – Spring is here and blooming in my yard.  I love this time of year when I get to say hello to all my perennial friends as they begin to push their way up from their winter sleep to color our yard.  My husband and I spent last weekend pulling up weeds and edging the flower beds.  Next job is to plant a few more friends to fill the spaces and add some top soil.  I love my garden!

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5) City Celebration – I love Vancouver – the city where I was born and where I have lived all my life.  I love the mountains, the beaches, the parks – I truly believe it is one of most beautiful cities in the world.  Last weekend, we took the dog for a walk along Spanish Banks and this was our view.  I celebrate the beauty of the city I call home.

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Vancouver city scape

5) Family Celebrations – Spring means spring hockey tournaments and baseball double headers.  I celebrate that both my boys are playing sports that they love and that we have met so many wonderful families through their teams.  This weekend, my younger son is in a big hockey tournament and won MVP at his first game.  I am not a very good goalie mom – I usually last until the second period sitting, then I have to walk around and then usually spend the last few minutes hiding in a bathroom stall texting another parent to find out the score!

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Olie, the goalie!

6) Classroom Celebrations – In this last term of the school year, I’m working with several primary classes on writing.  I find such delight in watching the younger students get excited about writing.  Young writers tend to write in a list “I like dogs. I like chocolate.  I like soccer.”  (see sample below)  Last week I taught them about adding interesting details to their sentences.  I introduced them to my favorite words for adding details:  once, sometimes, if, when.  I modeled “I like red licorice.”  but they agreed this was a little boring.  I then wrote “I like red licorice because it’s good” – a little better but still boring!  So then I wrote: “I like red licorice.  Once I ate a whole bag in the movie theater.”  The students agreed that this was the most interesting sentence because they could make connections and visualize.  “Good writers activate their readers’ thinking”   Next week, we will continue to practice adding interesting details using “once, sometimes, if, when”.

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Grade one “list” writing.

I’m celebrating many things this week.  What about you?

 

 

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