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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Uncertaintly Not a Cat Person

Let me admit, “I am not a cat person.” Cats view me as a scratching post and someone to annoy, but we once owned a cat or maybe she owned us. She was beyond unique as feline characters go. This is the story of how she captured us.

We lived across the Fraser River from McBride in the Robson Valley of British Columbia. Our dog was agitated that evening as an early winter storm descended upon us with all its wrath. She insisted on going in and out of the house. Kathy suggested I check and see if a coyote had come down from hillside into the backyard. Armed with a .22 caliber rifle, I went outside accompanied by the dog. The snowfall was heavy and the wind was blowing it around to the point I could not see the trees at the back of the yard. I decided there was nothing of real interest and turned back to the house.

I stopped momentarily to tap snow from the roof of the dog house. When I did, a kitten shot out and ran across the backyard to the willow stand and some derelict buildings to the side of the house. I followed and saw it enter one of the old buildings, but was not dressed to continue my search. I returned to the house and Kathy asked what I had seen. When I replied that is was kitten she wanted to know where it was. I pointed out I was not suitably dressed. She put on a parka and boots and went out to look for the kitten. Kathy returned with a tiny black and white bundle that was none too happy. We closed the door, released the kitten, and she immediately escaped under the couch to avoid the dog who thought this was a potential playmate. Kathy put a bowl of warm milk with broken up bread just under the edge of the couch so it was out of reach of the dog, but accessible to the cat. We left the cat there for the night, put the dog in the bedroom with us, and went to bed listening to the howling wind.

The next morning dawned beautiful. We had a layer of fresh snow, a brilliant blue sky, and a sharp cold feel in the air. Kathy went to put the dog out and there was a flash of black as the kitten shot out the door, across the backyard, and found refuge under the hay shed. To keep hay from getting wet from the marshy piece of land we sat on, the floor of the shed was elevated above the grond. We could see the kitten and it could see us, but it was not coming out.

Kathy, an innovative farm girl, got a bowl of milk and bread and put it 3-4 feet or about a meter in front of the shed and stood on the front lip of its floor. She did not wait long. The kitten tentatively edged out and began to lap up the milk. Engrossed and oblivious to its surroundings, the cat was vulnerable and Kathy pounced and recaptured our future cat.

We owned the cat for about 4 years. I was never her scratching post. She would come and sit with me in my easy chair in the living room to watch TV. She was always tiny never getting beyond the size of large kitten. We think she was abandoned, likely part of a litter, to die. A newborn would be easy prey for coyotes, quickly starve, and dehydrate. In the cold weather of early winter, she would not have lasted much longer. Besides being tiny and my only feline friend, she was odd in other ways. Her best friend, besides me, was the dog. They played, ate, and slept together. When not sleeping with the dog, the cat tucked her forehead on the floor, put her butt in the air, and in that odd position slept. When company visited, she disappeared. One visitor knew we had a cat, because her allergies flared up instantly upon arrival. The cat reappeared when the door closed behind any visitor.

To this day, I remain skeptical of cats and their intentions towards me, because they still mistreat me. Having said this, I am not certain I was not once owned by a cat and enjoyed it.

Words for the Wise – Partie Deux

Words for the wise was a product of an incident yesterday. I was left exasperated, exhausted, and feeling somewhat unintelligent. I calmed down and found the wisdom shared by Winnie the Pooh helpful in creating a new lesson plan for today’s poetry time, but, first, let me explain the back story from yesterday.

About two months ago, a student brought their scooter to school and was riding it up and down the sidewalk in front of the building we occupy. Our school is located in what was a commercial building our school division acquired. There is no space to scooter in the front of the building, because there is a sidewalk and a parking lot immediately in front of the building. Usually, both are busy so it is an unsafe pastime. Second, students must wear proper equipment i.e. approved helmet, knee pads, and elbow pads. The young man in question is proficient, or so I have been told, so he took the equipment rule as a problem. Frankly, I would to, if I was any good at riding my scooter.

Yesterday, another student brought their scooter to school. While I was occupied, two students, including the aforementioned young man noted, borrowed the scooter and rode it in the parking lot and on the sidewalk while others watched. I was angry; that is the polite way of putting it. I gave some students credit. They recalled explicit instructions about the conditions a scooter could be used i.e. equipment, supervision, and location. Others had forgotten, but it was more likely a situation they were not listening for any number of reasons. This morning I received an email from the young man’s parent saying he informed her he could ride the scooter out back. I am not sure where out back is, because there is no place to ride out back. He left out the equipment and supervision.

Listening, which I think is essential to being responsible for one’s actions and words, seems limited to what a person wants. We listen when we are motivated by words or sounds that are we want to hear. I think that might be human nature. We lack mindfulness and being in the present moment. As luck would have it, sitting on my desk was a William Stafford poem entitled Listening. We had a great conversation after reading it, reflection time, and sharing in pairs.

Listening

My father could hear a little animal step,

or a moth in the dark against the screen,

and every far sound called the listening out

into places where the rest of us had never been.

More spoke to him from the soft wild night

than came to our porch for us on the wind,

we would watch him look up and his face go keen

till the walls of the world flared, widened.

My father heard so much that we still stand

inviting the quiet by turning the face,

waiting for a time when something in the night

will touch us too from that other place.

Thank you William Stafford. Winnie, I was brave and strong enough to tell my students I was listening, but I cannot always do what they want. I simply do not have the power some days and am smart enough to recognize this.

Words from the Wise

This arrived today. It definitely was not how a felt yesterday or when I first got up this morning. Sometimes our childhood heroes say it best and, as adults, we need to listen with a beginner’s mind.

And today I am off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Daily Poetry Lesson Idea

I set aside 30 minutes each day for poetry. A typical lesson plan for junior high or middle school might be as follows:

  • Read the poem and have the students follow along as they listen to it for the first time.
  • Read or ask students to read the poem a second time. Students listen for words, phrases, or elements which catch their ear.
  • Students quietly take a few minutes to highlight or underline key words, phrases, or literary elements.
  • Students quietly share the key words, phrases, or literary elements with one or two classmates. Did they enjoy the poem? Why or why not? I ask them for specific responses. It sucks or was interesting needs support.
  • We come together and share. What stood out? What literary elements did the poet use and what did they add to the poem?
  • What were the literal and figurative messages of the poem?

Students are invited to share their favourite poems.  One student shared Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night by Dylan Thomas and another Mr. Nobody by Walter de la Mare. I used the latter poem for a conversation about responsibility.

Students sometimes are reluctant to write poetry. I use Pablo Neruda’s Ode to My Socks as an example of a poem about a mundane object, a pair of socks, and how this poem transforms the socks with rich and vibrant language, similes, and metaphors into something quite extraordinary. A person needs to read or be read this poem to appreciate what makes socks worthy of an ode by a Nobel Prize winner and how everyday objects become subjects for poetry.

When we read The Road not Taken by Robert Frost, the students worked in triads and created collages about the themes they found in this classic poem. The end products were well thought out.

Professional Learning Communities at Work by Dufour and Eaker

I read Professional Learning Communities by Richard Dufour and Robert Eaker several years ago and attended conferences about the concept. We implemented Professional Learning Communities (PLC) in our school with early, but unsustainable success.

Thesis: The authors proposed “the most promising strategy for sustained, substantive school improvement is developing the ability of school personnel to function as professional learning communities” (p. xi).  Professionally, educators need awareness of emerging research to fuel personal learning and support student learning. Communities form and they foster “mutual cooperation, emotional support, and personal growth as [people] work together to achieve what they cannot accomplish alone” (p. xii). Teachers safely move from isolation and risks are taken extending personal and collective learning when a PLC is effectively implemented, integrated, and supported in a school.

CharacteristicsThis is an annotated version, but successful and sustainable PLCs have six characteristics:

  • Shared mission or purpose, shared vision or what we hope to become, and shared values guiding the process. Shared mission advertises purpose outward. Shared vision energizes staff. Values are personal and community attitudes, behaviours, and commitments which are normalized over time.
  • Collective inquiry fuels the process. What do we want to change? What ways are things as they are challenged? There is collective conversation and personal reflection. The latter is the oxygen that breathes new life into the dialogue and provides fuel through new questions.
  • Collaborative teams provide renewal. Collaboration acknowledges the dysfunctional nature of communities. What do we do when there are dissenting voices and disagreement? What value will we name here?
  • Action and experimentation are always in evidence. “Even seemingly chaotic activity is preferred to orderly, passive inaction” (p. 27). Teachers experiment with emergent ideas making innovation essential in a PLC.
  • Everyone commits to continuous improvement. Questions emerge and are actively sought out, but there are touchstones principles such as “What is our fundamental purpose?”
  • With continuous improvement and action orientation there is an iterative process in the form of quantitative, qualitative, or mixed research. The object is to shake up the status quo and find new ways of safely supporting both staff and students. What are we doing that we want to change? (pp. 25-29)

Questions: Who has had success in implementing a PLC in their school or jurisdiction? What were the important takeaways including what worked and what did not work? What did you do to overcome the bumps along the way? What can a school starting or restarting the process do to sustain energy and get early work done successfully while recognizing the achievements even when they are small?

Recommendation: The book is about 300 pages, but is an easy read. The authors synthesized leadership literature inside education i.e. Lezotte, Sergiovanni, and Fullan and outside education i.e. Bennis, Senge, and Deal and Kennedy and saved some reading.

I recommend the book for those ready, willing, and patient enough for a transformative journey. The process requires time and immediate classroom benefits to sustain it. Cultural change is messy and requires leadership, perhaps previously untapped in education. Effective support and communication are required for sustainable, successful results to emerge. Early conversations focused on mission, vision, values and normative behaviours are uncomfortable, but necessary. My questions attempt to flesh out these concerns, as we are embarking on this journey again.

I know schools in Canada, the USA, and internationally have successfully implemented PLCs and I want to draw on the experience and wisdom already in place. I am looking for process and product, but not a cookie cutter formula per se. I look forward to hearing from many of you.

Dufour, R. and Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington IN: National Educational Services.

Trough by Judy Brown

I spent the past few days examining where I am in my life’s calling as a teacher. I was in a trough for a while and it is nice to start climbing out and see the horizon over the edge of the waves. Personal vision formed around and by named values is essential to fulfillment. I am grateful I had people listen and wait for me to speak. The trough is a quiet place and I was able to gather my thoughts, reflect, and regain some passion through their patience and kindness.

There is a trough in waves,

a low spot

where horizon disappears

and only sky

and water are your company.

And there we lose our way

unless

we rest, knowing the wave will bring us

to its crest again.

There we may drown

if we let fear

hold us within its grip and shake us

side to side,

and leave us flailing, torn, disoriented.

But if we rest there

in the trough,

in silence,

being with the low part of the wave,

keeping

our energy and

noticing the shape of things,

the flow,

then time alone

will bring us to another place

where we can see

horizon, see the land again,

regain our sense

of where

we are,

and where we need to swim.

Several months ago, I posted an entry called the Mindful Teacher. I suggested there was a need for added fuel for the fire that is my vocation and gives me voice through teaching and learning. Since then, I matured and realize the silence is the oxygen that also helps to breathe life into the fire. It serves as the wisdom, compassion, and prudence offsetting my passion. Without the space, the silence, I become a flickering flame burning out before my time.

Primarily Montana

These pictures were from a trip through parts of Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.

This is a small church along Highway 89.  It seats about 10 or 12 people and it must get very warm inside on a hot summer day. My mother always reminds us the heat we feel here is a small sample of what we might get in the after life.

Here I am at the University of Portland at the convocation ceremony when I received my Master of Education degree. The cohort group I was part of and the unique delivery of this program by the University of Portland made this one of those events that I look back and treasure.

The white speck up the mountain side is the statue of Our Lady of the Rockies as you drive into Butte. It sits on the Continental Divide at more than 8000 ft. above sea level and it is about 90 feet tall. It looks the mountains and valleys traveled by First Nations’ people and explorers such as Lewis and Clark.

Kathy and I are avid golfers. This is a view from a Jack Nicklaus designed course in Anaconda MT called Old Works. The course was built on the site of an old copper mine and the black pile in the foreground is a slag heap from the mine. In the design of the course, the slag was used to fill bunkers instead of sand and several tee boxes were built on top of some of the piles. In the background, you can see the stack from the mine. The greens are unforgiving and difficult to read. I hit most of my fairways and reached the greens in regulation or one more shot yet struggled to break 95 in the rounds I played. Most of the greens I putted 3 or 4.

Here I am at one of the Lewis and Clark interpretive centres in Great Falls MT. We spend a fair amount of time in museums during our travels. I was auditioning for role, but apparently, the people were a bit smaller than I am.

This is a view of the dam at Great Falls MT from the Lewis and Clark interpretive centre.

This was a small creek we stopped beside as we made our first crossing of the Continental Divide.

Please enjoy.

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