No rain in the forecast yesterday and an itch to do something different. The lack of variety in my COVID life is stifling. My husband and I checked out Dave Doroghy and Graeme Menzies ‘s book 111 PLACES IN VANCOUVER THAT YOU MUST NOT MISS for options. Our choice was focused by the fact that Black History Month is coming to an end. I love holidays, commemorative days, and times like this that focus our attention on learning something new. With the destination spot chosen, Nora Hendrix’s house at 827 East Georgia, we jumped on our bikes and headed east.
The mural at Nora Hendrix Place at 258 Union Street is on the bike route by the Dunsmuir viaduct and first catches my eye. It is now temporary modular housing that is wheelchair accessible. It opened in 2019, in partnership with Hogan’s Alley Society to meet the needs of Black and Indigenous Communities. As a black community organizer, Nora Hendrix, helped establish the Fountain Chapel located at Jackson Avenue and Prior Street. It was a branch of the African Methodist Episcopal church and an important cultural resource, a centre for gospel music, and gathering space for the Hogan’s Alley black community. In the words of artist, Ejiwa “Edge” Ebenebe: “Motifs of music and laughter emerge throughout the stories and memories I have encountered…”
The was actually no person named Hogan that the community was named after. Hogan’s Alley was the name of a comic strip about an Irish ghetto in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. The idiomatic reference was used to describe this poor neighbourhood of Italian and black people on the edge of Chinatown in Vancouver. A few factors brought the black population to Vancouver. Two immigrant streams, one from Oklahoma via Alberta and one from California came to escape growing racism in the United States. Vancouver was also the end of the line for two major train companies. Trains traditionally provided work for black people as railway porters in the United States and this tradition was continued in Canada. It was a good position with a uniform, travel and decent pay. Vancouver was also a major city for entertainment. Many performers such as Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Junior, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Mitzi Gaynor to The Cave, The Palomar, Izzy’s, Granville Street and after hours to restaurants and speak-easies. Mami’s Chicken was one of first places to provide southern comfort food and a place where everyone was welcomed. The tradition grew as did the speak-easy’s skirting the 1917-1920 prohibition in B.C. Vie’s Chicken and Steak House opened in 1948 with Randy Clark’s grandfather as the greeter and his grandmother, Vie doing the work. This is where Nora Hendrix worked as a cook and allowed Jimi access to many significant performers on his regular visits to Vancouver up until 1952.
Nora Hendrix was born in Tennessee and part of a travelling vaudeville act. When the Seattle troupe went broke, she and her husband Ross headed to Vancouver in 1911. They raised their three boys in Vancouver in Hogan’s Alley. Nora lived until 100 years of age and was known to be in the crowd when Jimi Hendrix performed in the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver in 1958.
The advent of the car culture brought with it a push for people to live in the suburbs and work in the city. Arthur Julius Burr, a building inspector of the day reference the dilapidation and social ills of the areas as a “blight that spreads like mould across the city.” This resulted in the clear cutting of Hogan’s Alley. Only objections from the entire city prevented the proposed 12 lane highway being built through the city. However, the building of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts in 1972 obliterated the western end of Hogan’s Alley and marked the first and last black neighbourhood. Much of the population dispersed through-out the rest of the city.
The Nora Hendris’s house is well taken care of and is marked with a granite Heritage House marker with historical information. It has obviously been renovated with a suite downstairs. While we are checking it out, three young boys migrate towards the suite. We wonder, if they know the significance of living in this house. An important part of the history of the city that only recently been pulled back from remote memory back into a place of pride in our collective civic consciousness. I’m transported back to a Whistler ski trip with my friend Karen Monteith where her older sister blasted Jimi Hendrix for the whole trip. And this was where it all started.
Doroghy, D. and Menzies, G. 111 PLACES IN VANCOUVER THAT YOU MUST NOT MISS @EMONS
“Secret Vancouver Return to Hogan’s Alley” – YouTube
(with Randy Clark, Vie Moore’s grandson and the Crump Twins – discovered by Duke Ellington on Granville street and credited with teaching Sammy Davis Jr., to dance)
Enthusiastic by nature, I became a school principal because of my steadfast belief that high quality instruction drives student success. I am a product of the school system I went through in Vancouver, British Columbia. My children are successful products of the school system in Coquitlam, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver. However personal experience and research through organizations such as the OECD, or a long list of individuals such as John Hattie, Michael Fullan, Peter DeWitt, Andy Hargreaves, Angela Duckworth, Carole Dweck, Linda Kaser, Judy Halbert, Jenni Donohoo, et al., we know we can do better. When I think of the old African saying “We know better, so we do better”, I also ways hear the voice of Rosa Fazio, my friend and mentor from my days as a vice-principal at Norma Rose Point Elementary and Middle School. It is one of her favourite sayings and represents why British Columbia is a leader in implementing educational change. It represents an ability to consider the options and pivot. COVID-19 has necessitated that responsiveness to the needs of our school communities. The research during school shut-downs and natural disasters speaks to the significance of specific and deliberate instruction in social emotional learning. The challenge is to create a sense of belonging for students not attending face to face programs, not crossing cohort groups, not participating the whole school activities that we’ve always incorporated into school life to build community.
As a lover of books, my go to place is to turn to reading. Books have provided vicarious experiences, new learning, escape, a reflection of myself and new ways of thinking of the world or very specific situations. They have also provided another way to connect with my friends and colleagues. They created warm family memories and provoked conversations with my children that never emerge with the question “How was school today?” The read alouds of the Harry Potter series alone stimulated some of our best family conversations about belonging, friendship, loyalty, sadness, fears, death, bravery, and risk. It was natural response to turn to how we could use books to nurture a sense of belonging with the students in Livingstone Elementary School.
At the outset of the year, in my continued role as President of the British Columbia Literacy Council of the Literacy Association – BCLCILA- a literacy group that you join for the duration of your career in education, I floated the idea of asking members to contribute titles to a Social-Emotional booklist. It seemed fairly easy-peasy and something that would naturally evolve. Julie Pearce, another friend and mentor, notes that I always make a point, then go off in a wide circle, before bringing it all back to the point. This past year has felt like the big circle as I’ve tried to define the best selection of books for a SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING CHILDREN’S LITERATURE BOOKLIST. The fact that I got relatively few contributions submitted online, I believe this represents something larger than me overthinking almost everything.
A few weeks ago, by chance more than planning, I ended up assuming the role of librarian for a few days in my school. After the lesson in humility, as I tried to navigate the new library system, I had a chance to talk to kids about their book selections through my mask and plexi-glass barrier. I also had a chance to peruse the recent purchases by the actual librarian, Marvin Muress, also a BCLCILA member. I chose many titles to read for my YouTube channel, Ms. Froese Reads, another attempt to build community by bringing our students together for online story time, provoke discussions, and highlights great Children’s literature selections for home libraries. I chose many more titles to add the BCLCILA list.
I added the selections to the list and went back to consider some of my other titles and how they fit. My Reading Challenge on my Goodreads account was helpful to access the book titles. It took me back to a conversation with Anna, a Grade 7 student at Livingstone Elementary School when I came to the school as principal in 2019. She challenged me to take the time to consider why kids liked graphic novels and put together a list of must reads. Most of these books were about identity, coping with adversity, and retellings of historical events. They belonged on the list. After adding many of these titles, I realized my categories for sorting the books didn’t quite fit. More circles of possibility to pursue.
Yesterday, I started to write this blog post and ended up writing about race. In the process, I picked up Tessa McWatt’s (2019) book, Shame on Me – An Anatomy of Race and Belonging. The author helped me pinpoint what I really want to accomplish. I do not want to create a booklist of didactic texts that provide instruction of how to identify feelings and self-regulate during COVID-19. I want to create a safe haven where all students feel a sense of belonging to their school community. I have come up with the following categories to provide titles to help explore issues of identity and belonging. I want to avoid the trap of creating a sense of “other”. If we shelve books as multi-cultural or Indigenous, aren’t we in fact assuming they are outside of our school community. I want to include books that make us laugh, use our imaginations, and explore ways of coping with and myriad of feelings and adversity.
I decided on the following categories:
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness
Challenge and Resilience
Wisdom from Ancestors
They are laden with what my notions of the things we need to develop in order to cope. They provide many ways of belonging. I’m curious about how they will work. I would love to hear your thoughts.
I have included the Creating Belonging Through Children’s Literature list below. It is a work in progress. Please follow this link if you would like to contribute your book suggestions. I encourage you to join the International Literacy Association. I joined my first year as a teacher because my principal, Jack Corbett in SD #34 told it’s what we do here at Dormick Park Primary School. I have never regretted it and my appreciation of books as a way to move mountains has increased exponentially.
Creating Belonging Through Children’s Literature
A List Compiled by members of BCLCILA
The British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association
Adderson, Caroline, Qin Leng (Illustrations (2014). Norman Speak!
This picturebook encourages us to consider how we judge intelligence and how we support those we love. Perceptions of the adopted family dog shift when they discover at the dog understands Chinese and inspires the family to sign up for Chinese lessons..
Ho, Joanna, with Illustrations by Ho, Dung (2021). Eyes That Kiss in the Corners. Harper Collins Publishers.
A beautiful story that “I have eyes that kiss in the corner and glow like warm tea.” The refrain throughout the book as the little girl celebrates the eyes that she has i common with her Mom, her Amah, and her sister’s. Dung Ho was born and raised in Vietnam and studied graphic design at the Hue Arts University. Her illustrations speak as loudly as the text. A book of celebration of Asian eyes.
Kinew, Wab with illustrations by Joe Morse (2018). Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes. Tundra Books.
Written as a celebration of thirteen modern day and historic Indigenous heroes. Inspirational people for all readers to emulate. Beautiful text written as a rap song by Wab Kinew. Beautiful realistic illustrations that look like photographs at first glance.
Literary Awards USBBY Outstanding International Book list for 2019.
“We are a people who matter.” Inspired by President Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing, Go Show the World is a tribute to historic and modern-day Indigenous heroes, featuring important figures such as Tecumseh, Sacagawea and former NASA astronaut John Herrington.
Khan, Rukhsana (2010) Illustrator – Sophie Blackall. Big Red Lollipop. Viking.
The author, Rukhsana Khan, was born in Pakistan and immigrated to Canada as a pre-schooler. A charming story of two young girls navigating the rules of their new cultural traditions and helping their mother to understand. All this while navigating their relationship as sisters. Great story. A recent addition to the BCLCILA list of SEL books. Also selected as a read aloud on the YouTube channel featuring Ms. Froese Reads.
Levitan, Sonia with illustrations by Wijngaard (1996). A Piece of Home. Dial Books for Young Readers.
This picturebook shares the experience of little boy’s immigration and experience of leaving Russia to be with extended family in Santa Monica, California. The two cousins discover they are united by a special reminder of Russia.
Martinez-Neal, Juana (2018). Alma and How She Got Her Name. Candlewick Press.
Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela gains a new appreciation of her very long name, once her father explains the story behind each name. This book has been selected for Ms. Froese Reads on YouTube and the BCLCILA SEL Booklist.
Parr, Todd (2016) Be Who You Are. Megan Tingley Books, Little, Brown and Company.
The bright colourful illustrations beckon the reader to live out loud and claim his/her/their own identity.
Muhammad, Ibtihaj with Ali, S.K. / Art by Aly, Hatem (2019). The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family. Little, Brown and Company.
This picturebook by Olympic Medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali tells the story of two girls on the first day of school. For the older sister is 6th grade, it is a celebration of the first day of wearing hijab. The younger sister tries to me sense of identity as a Muslim and the sometimes hurtful response of others. Beautiful illustrations by Hatem Aly captures the strength of purpose represented by hijab and the darkness that comes from those intolerant of difference.
Mantchev, Lisa (2020). The Perfectly Perfect Wish. Simon & Schuster.
This story is a new twist on common theme of what would you wish for if you had 1 wish. As the little girl dreams of her wants, and talks with her friends, the needs of her friends come shining through. This book teaches that self-awareness of everything you have to be grateful for helps you to be empathetic to others who may not be as fortunate. The girl wishes that her friends’ wishes come true and highlights that giving helps others and also enriches your own life.
McCloud, Carol, Messing, David (Illustrator) (2014 – 7th printing). Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. Ferne Press.
Through simple prose and vivid illustrations, this heartwarming book encourages positive behaviour as children see how rewarding it is to express daily kindness, appreciation, and love. Bucket filling and dipping are effective metaphors for understanding the effects of our actions and words on the well being of others and ourselves.
Mora, Oge (2019). Saturday. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
A great story of disappointment, self regulation, resilience, and the love between a mother and daughter. Included on the SEL list being collated by the British Columbia Literacy Council of the ILA. Also a selection for the Ms. Froese Reads YouTube channel.
Woodson, Jacqueline (2018). The Day You Begin. Nancy Paulsen Books.
When you begin anything new and no none knows who you are, it can be difficult. This books highlights the internal struggle that often occurs when someone enters a situation for the first time and searches for belonging. Sometimes all it takes is someone to make a connection with you that helps normalize being different. This book is an excellent resource for representing all children whether it be looks or feelings and to know that they are not alone. (Note: This book is strong in both the belonging theme and the representation theme and is suitable for primary and 4-5).)
Zietlow Miller, Pat, Hill, Jen (Illustrator). (2018). Be Kind. Roaring Book Press.
When Tanisha spilled her grape juice all over her dress at school, her friend considers what kindness looks like and the impact it has. A good book to faciliate this conversation with pre-school and primary aged children.
Beckwith, Kathy with illustrations by Lyon, Lea (2005). Playing War. Tilbury House Publishers.
Sameer opts out of playing war with his new neighbourhood friends. They start to understand when he explains his experiences with war. The child appropriate illustration of why playing war not a game.
Forchuk Skrypuch, Marsha with Tuan Ho with art by Brian Deines (2016). Adrift at Sea. Pajama Press.
This picturebook is set in 1981 when then 6 year old Tuan, his mother, and two of his siblings set out to escape civil unrest in Vietnam to make the dangerous journey to reunite with his father and older sister in Canada. Tuan, now a father with a wife and two children of his own, is a practicing physiotherapist with a clinic of his own. The art by Brian Deines captures the vivid colour of Southeast Asia, and the blurred lines of memory.
Lindstrom, Carole, Goade, Michaela (Illustrator). We Are Water Protectors. Roaring Books Press.
The first Caldecott medal winner of an Indigenous author. A beautiful call to action to protect our water from harm and corruption. Amazing, bold, illustrations by Michaela Goade.
Literary Awards: Caldecott Medal Winner
Ruurs, Margriet with art by Nizar Ali Badr (2016). Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey. Orca Book Publishers.
A great book about the journey of a family’s journey as refugees from the Middle East. Amazing artwork done photographs of made artwork of stones by Syrian artist, Nizar Ali Badr. Text in English and Arabic. Most recent addition to the BC Literacy Council of ILA Booklist.
Literacy Awards: Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize Nominee (2017)
Wisdom from Ancestors:
Bouchard, David with paintings by Zhong-Yang Huang (1997). The Great Race.
A little girl, her grandmother, and twelve animal cut-outs recreate the origins of the Chinese zodiac in this picturebook. Beautiful paintings by Canadian-Chinese artist, Zhong-Yang Huang. A favourite book of mine to revisit during Lunar New Year.
Richie, Scot (2015). P’eska and the First Salmon Ceremony. Groundwood Books.
Scot Richie sets the story one thousand years ago and bases it on archeological evidence. The glossary, letter from Chief William Charlie, and added information about the Sts’ailes People bring depth to the text. HIstory unfolds around the Harrison River in British Columbia.
Vickers, Roy Henry with Budd, Robert with illustrations by Vickers, Roy Henry (2014). Cloudwalker. Harbour Publishing.
On British Columbia’s northwest coast lies the Sacred Headwaters–the source of three of British Columbia’s largest salmon-bearing rivers. This ancient legend and the art of Roy Henry Vickers bring the Indigenous teaching about the need to care for our sources of water to life. Beautiful.
Alexander, Kwame with art by Sweet, Melissa (2019). How To Read A Book. Harper Collins Publishers.
Melissa Sweet’s bright and enticing artwork draw you into this picturebook. Kwame Alexander poetry bring the sensory aspect of reading to light. For some, reading is a firm part of identity. For some an opportunity for new adventures. For others a comfort. For many of us, all of the above. This book teases out and delights in the possibilities.
Bates, Amy and Bates, Juniper (2018). The Big Umbrella. Simon Schuster / Paula Wiseman Books.
When the big umbrella by the door opens wide, there is room for everyone. A mother-daughter collaboration was inspired by sharing an umbrella in a rainstorm. A recent addition to the the BC Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association booklist of Social-Emotional Booklist.
Bailey, Linda with illustrations by Bill Slavin (2003). Stanley’s Party. Kids Can Press.
It all started when usually obedient Stanley craws up on the couch, something forbidden by his people. It triggers a series of events that culminates in a party that dogs are still talking about. A fun book for anyone who has ever contemplated what their dog does all day. Illustrations by Bill Slavin add to the festivity of the text.
Emily folded, doodled, and snipped to create a chain of very unique paper dolls that are linked together in friendship. Her idea spreads to school and throughout the world via social media. The book includes a stencil to create a paper doll chain and the Marta Alvarez Miguens’s illustration inspire paper dolls of many abilities and ethnicities.
Intermediate / Middle School:
Craft, Jerry (2020). Class Act (New Kid #2). Quill Tree Books.
Jordan Banks is back at the very prestigious private school for Grade 8. This time the story focuses on his friend Drew, also a black student at the school and his quest to maintain his identity and have mutual acceptance of his friends.
Craft, Jerry (2019). New Kid. Harper Collins Publisher.
Jordan Banks loves to draw cartoons. His dream is to attend art school. His Mom is very much in favour of his enrolling in a very prestigious private school across town where he is one of the few black students. Jordan struggles with fittiCraft ng into his new school and keeping his neighbourhood friends as well as keeping his identity.
Emerson, Marcus (2012). Diary of a Sixth Grade Ninja. Create Space.
This book would have great appeal for intermediate students who like graphic novels and are navigating life in upper intermediate / middle school. Funny. Nice relationship between new boy at school and his cousin.
Parker, Kate T. (2017). Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves. Workman Publishing Company.
An amazing collection of photographs of girls being girls. The photographs are accompanied with quotes explaining the perceptions and strength of the girls.
“Strong girls never lose. They only learn, and come back stronger.”
Kylie, age 12
“I have always experienced the most immediate sense of strength when claiming my own personal freedom.”
Fiona, age 18
Peirce, Lincoln (2019). Big Nate Hug It Out! Andrews McMeel Publishing.
My students insisted that the Big Nate series is a must for any graphic novel collection. Kids relate to the perspective of Nate, both the outrageous and funny. It reminds me of how I loved Dennis the Menace in the newspaper comics when I was a kid.
Sixth grade is no picnic for Nate Wright. His pal Francis won’t stop bombarding him with useless trivia. A wild pitch knocks him out of a ballgame and into the emergency room. And the only thing standing between Nate and summer school is a study session with the worst possible tutor: his too-obnoxious-for-words arch enemy, Gina. But a chance encounter on an amusement park ride could change everything. Meanwhile, the troubles are piling up in this hilarious new collection of Big Nate comics, and there may be only one thing for Nate to do: HUG IT OUT! In this brand-new collection of comics from the New York Times bestselling series Big Nate, everyone’s favorite sixth-grade prankster is back for more hilarious misadventures — and even a little romance! (less)
Telgemeier, Raina (2014) Sisters. Scholastic.
Weeks, Sara, Gita Varadarajan (2016). Save Me A Seat. Scholastic.
Grade 5 brings many changing and complex relationships to navigate. Ravi comes from India and struggles to be seen as intelligent due to his accent and cultural experience that is different from his peers in a school in the US. Joe is also misunderstood and underestimated from an auditory processing disability. This is a great story for students to develop empathy and understanding.
Kwame, Alexander (2014). The Crossover. Houghton Mifflin.
Kwame Alexander writes a series of poems about 12 year old twins, Josh and Jordan Bell. The poetry mirrors the game. The game is a metaphor for life. They are awesome on the court but need to navigate relationships off the basketball court too.
Alexander, Kwame , Rand Hess, Mary (2018). Swing. Blink.
Another amazing poetic masterpiece by Kwame Alexander. A likeable kid navigating through adolescence. An older brother returns from war having done his patriotic duty. Clearly suffering from PTSD. Clearly having proved himself as a patriotic American. Yet it is not enough to stave off the racism that is rampant in the United States.
Alexander, Kwame (2018). Rebound. HMH Books for Young Readers.
I LOVED this book. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me appreciate the power of literature in helping us make sense of our lives. Kwame Alexander tells a story through poetry and makes the pain of loss palpable. Love of a supportive family and friendship helps Charlie learn to rebound on and off the basketball court.
Colfer, Eoin, Donkin, Andrew, Rigano, Giovanni (Illustrat0r) (2018). Illegal.
This graphic novel follows the perilous journey of Ebo from Ghana, to Europe in search of a better life and reunion with his family. It challenges the notion that any human being can be illegal and explores the plight of immigrants in search of new beginnings with a more promising future.
2019 Excellence in Graphic Literature Award
Gold Medal Award 2019 by Parents’ Choice Foundation
Palacio, R.J., (2019). White Bird. Knopf Books for Young Readers.
The graphic novel format allows the depth of the realities of Hitler’s Nazi Germany to be exposed via pictures and text. Auggie’s bully from Wonder is given depth through the story of his Grandmere’s experience and loss as a young Jewish girl in Vichy France during World War II. The afterword, author’s note, glossary, suggested readings and resources for further study, make it a credible source for further learning. The grandson FaceTiming with his Grandmere grounds the relevance of the story in the present.
August Pullman does not want his facial difference to prevent him from being treated like any other kid in Grade 5. A must read for ALL middle school kids! Great way to consider perspective of students who look different and reflect on your own reactions.
Raina Telgemeier is a highly recommended graphic novelist, by my upper intermediate students. We can’t keep her books on the shelf in our school library. This author has been able to tap into the integrated use of pictures and text to allow stories about mental health issues that are not often talked about, and yet experienced. In this book she shares her experience with anxiety, a therapist, and the reactions of her friends, family and teachers. The author’s note at the end provides a pathway forward and underlines the importance of talking about your feelings. Great graphic novel.
Yahgulanaas, Michael Nicoll (2009). Red: A Haida Manga. Douglas McIntyre.
Classic Haida visual art is morphed with the Japanese manga in the book. It tells a classic Haida legend that warns of the danger of the rage of revenge. The artwork is amazing. Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas creates his storyboard with overlying Indigenous image. The first time I read this graphic novel, I didn’t understand the genre. Coming back, I’m amazed with the Indigenous voice in a very original art form.
Yahgulanaas, Michael Nicoll (2017). War of the Blink. Locarno Press.
This story unfolds in the newly emerging Haida manga style based on the original Japanese manga. The imagery of the Haida culture has as much of role in telling the story as does the text. A graphic novel about war and peace. It explores the bravery required to make peace. An earlier version of the artwork was displayed at the Vancouver Art Gallery a part of the groundbreaking exhibition “Raven Travelling.
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness:
Challenge and Resilience:
Wisdom from Ancestors:
Educators and Adults
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness:
Carrington, Judy (2019). Kids These Days. Friesen Press.
This book is more for educators working with students than it is for students. This book is about connecting with students and how Emotional Regulation works and why it’s the key to changing the world.
Laura Tait, now an Assistant Superintendent in the Nanaimo, British Columbia once said
“You want to learn about Indigenous culture, make an Indigenous friend.”
Sage advice. With friendship comes trust that you are valued, a sense of belonging, and a willingness to give “the benefit of the doubt” to a person. It is not always something we are able to structure. I have many different circles of friends. Many are based on common experiences such as interacting at the same elementary school, secondary school, university, or workplace. Some came out of a common interest or a chance meeting that you would never be able to plan, like meeting while dancing or at parent-teacher conferences.
The mother of one of my friends in high school was an amazing chef and owned a French restaurant in Kits. During one of our very infrequent snowstorms in Vancouver, the busses stopped running. We have a history of being ill-equipped to deal with snow in Vancouver. I convinced my friend, Florence, to walk many, many kilometres to my house so I could escape her mother’s bouillabaisse and seek comfort of the oh so familiar macaroni and cheese at my house. This has become a reference point for me in contemplating how many amazing opportunities are missed in the quest for the familiar.
Being aware of different ways of living in the world certainly create an openness to learning about different people and their lived experiences. That’s where books come in. Engaging in new cultural experiences and food are also good starting points. However, it is reaching out in friendship that provides the scaffolding to avoid awkwardness and the impetus to participate in the unfamiliar. I have been lucky to have had people reach out. It is the reason I have been able to participate in Eid celebrations, been welcomed into homes while teaching in China, and Pow Wows in Ontario, Quebec, and North Vancouver.
I love all things Cuban and yet, I didn’t travel to Cuba until relatively recently with my husband. The appreciation of the art and the literary tradition came much later in life. Travellers complain about the diet of roast pork, black beans and rice. For me, it is comfort food. My parent’s marriage was in trouble when I was born and the relationship with my father and stepmother evolved with a healthy dose of tumultuousness. In high school, I became friends with Armando, even though he was making fun of my name in Grade 9 Math. We spent lots of time at his house and his family restaurant, and I was embraced by his family. I gravitated to the warmth, multi-generational interactions, and unconditional acceptance. I didn’t identify difference. I hung-out. I laughed. I cried. I danced. I established enduring relationships. Race or identification as BIPOC did not enter the conversation until this year. On the golf course, Armando shared his conversation with his brother, ruling out Latin-X as a descriptor. I googled it and we considered “Hispanic” was a possibility. And yet, it didn’t seem to fit either. If this has never been a reference point for Armando’s family, is it helpful now?
The persistence of racism has come to the forefront during the pandemic. “I can’t breathe” brings the horrific social media images of George Floyd’s last moments of life at the hands of the police and the palpable inequity in the great American experiment in democracy. No freedom and justice for all to be seen. Since I joined Amnesty International in university and started teaching in the 80’s, the problem of systemic racism has been the focus of many actions and initiatives. Yet, here we are in 2021 with racism used as a tool to solidify political control by more than one world leader, open acts of racism, and palpable anger. Tessa McWatt does a nice job of boiling down the purpose of race as a construct. As she cites (p.20-21), Aristotle justifying enslavement of “barbarians” by the Greeks in 322 BC. Queen Elizabeth’s justification for the conquest of Ireland and its’ “savages in the 1650’s. The 17th century manufacturing of racial difference to justify the expansion of the African slave trade into British territories in the Americas and Caribbean. Difference was created to justify the actions of those in power at the time. It was perpetuated for strictly economic purposes. Sugar. Cotton. Tobacco. Coffee. Financial gain for some is so much higher if you don’t need to pay a work force.
I recently asked another of my dear friends why I talked more about her Indigenous heritage with her Dad and her youngest son. Another warm and welcoming family who have embraced me and my family with open arms. With her Dad at the helm, her family embraces their father’s Cherokee background with pride. Judy has said that in academic circles, where we met, it just wasn’t a conversation that people wanted to have. Her son taught me about the concept of “white passing “and the annoyance of having his own heritage dismissed because he doesn’t look “Indian” enough. I was honoured to be in the room when his Grandpa presented him with an eagle feather when he graduated from university. The significance of the ceremony is not defined by skin colour but of family and cultural tradition.
I learned more about Indigenous teachings, residential schools, and the systemic inequities in our Canadian system as a result of my cultural support worker in Coquitlam. Latash, then known as Maurice Nahanee, asked me to sponsor an exchange with Indigenous students in the Coquitlam School District and a neighbourhood house in Ottawa. It involved the trips to common Indigenous sites but with the family stories and experienced layered over top of the official version provided by Latash and the students with varied degrees of knowledge about their Indigenous ancestry. I learned about Latash’s Squamish ancestors living and giving birth in Stanley Park. I learned about the precious cedar baskets being taken to the Museum of Anthropology for safe keeping, then requests for use for ceremonial purposes being denied. I learned about the legacy of residential schools and the long road back. I also learned what it was to be “other”. I was the voice of white authority. The keeper of schedules. The one who decided what was appropriate. I held the power whether I wanted to or not. I was not liked for much of the trip. I was the other. It was not defined by the colour of my skin in our Canadian context. Many of the students in group were “white passing’ with ancestors from many countries. What set me apart was my white privilege. Listening circles were an opportunity to be heard and foster empathy. However, this very basic tenet of democracy, the right to a voice, has not shifted the power structures to one of equity. At that time, Canadian “multi-culturalism” did not include or value our Indigenous population, and not even entered into the conversation about the systemic racism that explained why.
My friendship with Latash has opened me to many opportunities and my mind to consider other perspectives. I’ve been invited to naming ceremonies, pow-wows, and plays. The fear of making a misstep is cushioned by the friendship. My friend, Joyce Perrault, another amazing Youth and Family worker, has helped me to continue my learning journey through her work with students and the publication of her book, All Creation Represented: A Child’s Guide to the Medicine Wheel.
I got to know my good friend Kanwal, when we were engaged in a community building experience for our Faculty Associate orientation at Simon Fraser University. I asked him if his turban was folded according to a specific region or whether it was a dress turban. His response:
“It is the Gucci of turbans.” The conversation started there, and it continues.
As a faculty associate team and we created our “Mind & Heart” module on a quote from the Dalai Lama. We were invested in planning engaging interactions for our students who had completed their undergraduate degree and were completing their professional year to qualify and Kindergarten to Grade 12 teachers. We grappled with how to frame our important professional knowledge in a context of social justice. Of all my South Asian friends and acquaintances, I have learned most from Kanwal about what it is to be Sikh. Conversations and participation in his daughter’s weddings, and the freedom to ask questions to have allowed me to experience the culture. Dressing very inappropriately for the Gurdwara at his first daughter’s wedding, led to parents and colleagues at my school at the time, stepping in to help be ready for future Indian events. I now have an Indian suit to die for and a selection of saris that require a professional dresser to wear.
I did not know my friend Sandy’s dad very well. I knew he was an amazing Dad from Sandy’s stories about him taking her skiing and his overwhelming pride as he handed out sushi to the bagpiper, Scottish heritage in-laws, and mixed bag of friends at her wedding. Sandy is Canadian. We taught in the same school when I was first hired in the Abbotsford School District and became what would become life-long friends. I got my first rice cooker after a conference to Kelowna when we stayed with her family. Her family showed shock and dismay that I was cooking substandard rice in a pot and that my mother had used minute rice when I was growing up. This catalyzed me into action. It wasn’t until her Dad died that I learned the impact of the Japanese Internment policy by the Canadian government had on his life. Japanese internment was not just a historical misstep that could be apologized away. Sandy does not identify as BIPOC. We can hypothesize about why that is the case. However, if the label restricts rather than uplifts, is it helpful to her?
The death of George Floyd represents an inequity in how people are treated by police in the United States. The high rate of incarceration and death by capital punishment in the United States needs to be questioned. Systemic racism needs to be addressed. The concept of white privilege needs to explore and understood. How the conversation is navigated matters. Who are the voices that we listen to? How do we make sense of the anger? How do we respect the fact that not everyone has the same understanding? The same experience?
Ibram X Kendi has been masterful in opening up this conversation to all people. I first listened to his audiobook, How to Be An Anti-racist, and loved being able to hear what he emphasized during the reading of his text. However, I found that there was so much depth, I needed to read the book, to develop a deeper understanding. It is a book that is a call to action. He challenges us to more beyond a passive stance of “I’m not a racist” to an active stance of being an anti-racist working towards equity and justice for all human beings.
Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging by Tessa McWatt opens up a whole new layer of conversation. “I know from stories that my ancestry of Scottish, English, French, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, African, and Chinese forebears. And there are rumours of hidden bloodlines – that possible French Jew.” (p.17). Her book takes us through her journey to discover who she is. An identity that is defined by blurred lines. She challenges us to create a “new language of belonging”. It too is a call to action.
Joe Truss and his online sessions on Dismantling White Supremist culture have challenged my thinking. Although I believe it is my role is to define the work I need to do, he poses many good questions. Who do I feel affinity with? The first session I attended with a group of colleagues. Affinity groups were defined by skin colour. The colleagues that I identified as my people, did not have a chance of being in my affinity group. I had the wrong skin colour. When I questioned it, my facilitator, Shane Safir, introduced the many difference types of affinity groups we can be part of. I am not questioning the merit of affinity groups based on colour for creating safe spaces for people. It has just made me question who is in my affinity group.
As I have many circles of friends, I have many affinity groups. But the lines are blurred. I remember being challenged by a woman in one feminist group because I was wearing red lipstick. Apparently, my affinity group on that day was feminists who wear lipstick. A cousin expressed surprise that I was a good mother and worked because I wanted to. My affinity group is apparently mothers who value their career and love being a Mom. Being a proud Canadian born in California. A sun worshiper who loves snow sports. A person who has been underestimated based on appearance and gender but has white privilege. How and with whom we feel affinity is very personal and sometimes situational.
I understand that friendship does not always serve as an entry point to breaking down systemic racism. It can define belonging in new ways. Perhaps it is the mindset that leaves us open to empathizing with others or trying to understand a different perspective and work for meaningful change. Perhaps it is the willingness to adopt the stance that we may not have all of the answers or the right to tell others what they need to do. Ultimately, I am anti-racist because I believe my actions matter. There is no either-or way of approaching the work. There are many perspectives coming from people living with many blurred lines. Taking the time to listen to stories from people coming from many contexts with blurred lines is what will result in the will to try to share power and form new understandings. There is no one right answer. There is no one path. There is not one talker and one listener. The work requires reciprocity. If we really want to move beyond tolerance and beyond representation toward belonging, it will require the full participation and engagement from people crossing all kinds of affinity groups in listening, speaking out and taking action towards equity and justice.
COVID- 19 has presented many challenges for educators. As we have become more comfortable with Health and Safety protocols, attention has shifted to building school community. Assemblies and whole school activities have always been a way of bringing students together to develop of sense of belonging. enjoy performances, celebrate events and share learning. This year we have tried to replicate this experience online. Ms. Liang has booked performances that classes can access online for a given time frame. Ms. Presley led the charge in sharing student learning during the Winter Show N’Share. We have brought the students together for online assemblies on the All Students TEAM created in September. The performance aspect has been strong but the back and forth exchange of information has been lacking. Until today.
As a staff, we did decide to carve out the first Monday of each month at 2:15 pm for a whole school assembly. Division 1 students shared the Indigenous acknowledgment and I talked about the importance of the place where we work, learn and play on our daily lives. Living in a temperate rainforest impacted the lives of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh people, just as it impacts ours. Never has this been more evident at David Livingstone Elementary, as during Covid. Everyday is an outdoor day. Our provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, tells us it is the safest route for recess, lunch, and physical education lessons involving high cardio activity. Students now have a greater appreciation of dressing for the weather and are expanding the possibilities for outdoor plan on rainy days. We also have learned why cedar was so integral in culture of Coast Salish people.
The success of our assembly yesterday was in the staff and student sharing. Students reported classroom learning including vinegar and soda explosions, financial explorations of cold coins, boxes of letters, Valentine’s Day art featuring the colour white, space stations, physical and chemical change, changes states of water and studies of stories. Then just as it started to hail, then sleet, then snow. Div. 3 unmuted and shared the hero journey from the story Frozen. Perfect timing! Perfect moment!
Mr. Bring is sponsoring student council this year and shared some of the events planned for us by our student leaders. Friday, February 19th will be “Blast from the Past” Day. With my big hair, the 80’s will be my pic. It will be fun to see the clothing and hairstyles or days gone by. It is also a way to share a common activity and admire it from afar.
Student Council is also promoting Pink Shirt Day. Leading up to February 24th students will be discussing how three Canadian boys were pivotal in kicking off a movement that has helped us rethink about people’s right to be themselves, how bullying happens and our role in stopping it. Students are encouraged to wear a pink shirt. Teachers, SSA’s, the supervision aids, the custodians, the Office Assistants, the Spare Time Coordinator, our Director of Instruction, and I will all be wearing the CKNW shirts with “Lift Each Other Up” printed on it for Pink Shirt Day and periodically throughout the rest of the year. Proceeds support local anti-bullying programs that teach empathy, compassion, and kindness. We want kids to understand their shared role in defining who they want to be in the world, supporting each other across cohorts, and in the larger community.
Shirt days have also been a positive way of facilitating group activity and stimulating conversation, largely about social justice issues that are so closely tied to social studies curriculum, and social emotional learning. Terry Fox shirts came out en mass for the annual Terry Fox Run. Our favourite Canadian hero had lots to teach us, even though we participated at different times of the day in cohorts. On Orange Shirt day, students learned about residential schools, and the learning shared with us by our Indigenous people. Black Shirt Day refocused our attention on the purpose and meaning of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms. February 24th, Anti-Bullying Day is on the horizon. Another opportunity to understand that what we say and do matters. And to “Lift each other up.”
My first effort to build student community online in March was met with marginal success. I would video-tweet out a message to students from various places to connect with students via the Twitter feed on the school web. I was never satisfied that I had managed to connect with our students. I have had more success with building community on the Ms. Froese Reads channel of YouTube. As a lover of books, reading and sharing books is already a well established part of my life. Literature provides the opportunity for us to walk new paths, empathize with the main characters, and learn about ourselves. I have been sharing my favourites and many of the library purchases, carefully curated by Mr. Muress, our librarian. The books celebrate the different faces, experiences, and possibilities.
Emily’s Idea was the picture book read last week. Many classes of students are using the template and colouring a paper doll chain of themselves and two family members or friends. The paper doll chain of our students with different types and colours of hair, different colour and shapes of eyes, various shades of skin colour, and styles of dress, all joining hands through-out the library and the hallways.
Students are also invited to make book recommendations for their peers and Mr. Muress to provide input into library purchases. The link to the form to share books is shared on the All Students TEAM under the Book Recommendation channel. A list will be collated with all of the student recommendations.
We continue to look for ways to include parents more in our online school community. PAC Meetings have all been online since March. Access to the school has been limited. Parents do have online access to the All-Students TEAM through their child. This was most widely accessed during the Winter Show & Share. Some parents continue to enjoy the regular tweets about school activities and resources that are available to parents. I am also trying to write more blog posts to provide parents with specifics around instruction and reporting. My recent post, Reporting Student Achievement in British Columbia, provides parents with an overview of recent changes in reporting in British Columbia and what they can expect in the formal written reports being issued in January. I’m looking for more ideas, if you have suggestions.
There has been a concerted effort in Canada to keep school open from Kindergarten to Grade 12 largely to address social-emotional needs for stability and predictability for students in their world. Other natural disasters have kept students from school with surprisingly little impact on their academic achievement. “When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita decimated Louisiana in 2005, student achievement did not plummet” (1). “Researchers who followed elementary students displaced from schooling after the Enschede fireworks disaster in the Netherlands in 2000 reported that short-term achievement increased” (2). What has remained constant is the need for responsive parents stepping in to establish a caring context and a sense of normalcy.
Classroom teachers have welcomed students back to school during the pandemic and gone about integrating rigorous handwashing procedures, staying in cohorts, sanitizing equipment, creating a safe and secure classroom environment, and assigning weekly outdoor play zones. Kids were delighted to return to school full time in September and are going about the business of learning. I have dealt with fewer office referrals for poor choices than ever before in my career as a vice-principal, or principal. Students have a common language around self-regulation and restorative practices which necessitate empathy. Teachers have developed a strong sense of personal efficacy in their ability to keep their students safe and learning in their classrooms.
Creating community across groups presents a greater challenge. Building community on staff usually involves eating lunch together, discussions at Staff Meetings, participation in professional development and chatting while waiting for the photocopier or signing in at the office each morning. The landscape for creating and solidifying relationships has shifted significantly. This has made the development of collective efficacy a big challenge. Yet, Hattie’s finding that collective efficacy yields an impact size on student learning of 1.39 (3) makes it a goal worth aspiring to.
Teachers experienced the first pivot to the virtual world when all classroom instruction went online after Spring Break in 2020. Our connection point was the TEAMS Meeting. There were varying degrees of understanding and use of this Office 365 Platform. The platform had been set up by the previous principal. Thanks, Mr. Peeters. I had attended training with a team of teachers and set up the channels like chapters of a book, for ease of access. There was a steep learning curve on how to host a meeting and required Microsoft changes to make this process more transparent, like it’s ZOOM competition. However due to the integration of options to set up instruction for students online and create portfolios of work, the district decided that the Office 365 platform was closest to hitting the target of meeting our needs in the Vancouver School Board.
The weakness of early meetings was on me. I had already mastered creating a PowerPoint to engage staff in discussion during staff meetings with stopping points for discussion. When I created the PowerPoint slides to share on a screen with my staff, I lost the ability to keep my finger on the pulse of the room. My years of training as a facilitator fell by the wayside, as I invited people to a meeting, talked through the PowerPoint presentation, then asked for questions, comments, and input to icons with video off and muted microphones. Minimal response. No interaction between staff. No community building. Really bad meetings.
As my background knowledge has increased, the meetings have gotten better. Information items on shared on the appropriate channel of The LivingstoneStaff TEAM. At staff request, a weekly SWAAG (Staff Week At A Glance) was published on the weekend. I started to plan staff meetings with greater opportunity for staff to talk to each other. I put people into break out rooms during TEAMS meetings with a question for discussion. I facilitated a course for administrators through the British Columbia Principals Vice Principals Association in early July 2020 via ZOOM. We were magically put into rooms with our group of 6 people first thing in the morning, at the end of the day, and for discussion throughout the day. By the end of the four-day course, we had established a sense of rapport and we easily engaged in discussion. Retirements, shifts to other jobs in the district and leaves have resulted in a significant number of new staff. I have been assigning staff to random groups to help them get to know each other. It has also provided more focused discussion around school goals.
I have also now learned to visit each room during breakout sessions. I’m going to date myself now – I feel exactly like Jeannie, from the 70’s sit com, I Dream of Jeannie. I have an impulse to cross my arms and nod my head while I appear in a room. I was concerned that I would stifle conversation, but that doesn’t seem to be the case when I miraculously appear in the room. I have felt in some sessions that participants assume performance mode when a facilitator enters the break-out room. However, the conversation has fluidly carried on. I believe it is because we have already established a rapport. I also don’t stay long in each group.
The International Literacy Association has offered professional development online and there are a number of excellent sessions focused on asynchronous and synchronous learning. They suggest that the break-out session should have a time limit of about 10 minutes with a specific response task. I have tried the reporting back to the group from each group but I have not had favourable feedback about this process. This week, I provided an Office 364 form to complete with feedback about future directions and requests for additional support. Looking forward, I intend to make better use of tools such as Padlet. I’m looking for other suggestions if you have any.
Student community is usually developed through shared activities that bring students together for a common activity, crossing paths on the playground, and work with buddy classes. The only face to face community building is during outdoor play where each cohort is assigned a time and a play zone. Two recess times and two lunch times. Again, the landscape for creating and solidifying relationships has shifted significantly.
My first effort to build student community online in March was met with marginal success. I would video-tweet out a message to students from various places to connect with students via the Twitter feed on the school website. I was given good marks for risk taking, but I was fairly wooden and never happy with the end product.
In September, I requested that an All-Students TEAM be set up for communication with the entire student body and staff. There is a channel for online performances and the capability for me to do online school assemblies. Again, I have been given high marks for risk taking as the students have witnessed my learning curve. I have done a particularly nice job of modeling resilience in the face of failure. I am fortunate to have a BFF from high school who is a digital media specialist. I’ve learned to follow his direction and to understand what I did wrong when I opt for a short cut. Thanks, Armando!
As a school principal, I cross all cohorts and wear a mask when I am outside of my office. After a school wide assembly in fall, a number of primary students mentioned that they really liked seeing my whole face. Apparently, my eyes tell that I’m smiling but it’s nice when my mouth does some of the work. I decided that I needed to engage with the students in a way other than being out on the playground in mornings, after school, and at breaks.
My new tech challenge was inspired by Sol Kay, a parent in my school community when I was principal at University Hill Elementary School. She invited me to participate in a documentary she was doing on mindfulness and posted as part of her series on Instagram – InnerLight Journey by Sol. Along with scaffolding from Sol, Steve Dotto @DottoTech, and the iMovie Made Easy course by Shelly Saves the Day on YouTube @shellysavesthe, I stuck my toe into the water.
In my capacity as president of the British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association, I have been working on a project with our provincial council. We have put out an invite for people to participate in creating an annotated bibliography of books to share with students to support social emotional learning by representing the diverse cultures within our B.C. schools, as well as providing stories or resilience, and social justice. Our goal is not to create a strictly didactic list but recommend high quality literature which share authentic voices and stories to nurture empathy and understanding. Special thanks to Mr. Muress, our librarian at Livingstone, for the many selections he has added to the list.
I wanted to create a YouTube channel with me reading these highly recommended books to support the development of shared understandings at our school. I chose to read picture books that were accessible to primary students to read, but also provided models for the writing of students in the intermediate grades. With Armando on speed dial, my product is getting better. I wasn’t certain it was reaching my intended audience or worth the time and effort I was putting into the project. Then last week, I was teaching in a Grade 6/7 class when we were short a guest teacher. One of the students in the class told me that his brother listens to me read every night when he is going to sleep. The highlight of the month for me. I’m inspired to carry on and improve. The power of positive reinforcement.
I have since learned that I need better sound for it to be projected to the class. I now have the appropriate adapter and a microphone to improve the sound. Armando has provided more scaffolding for me to master green screen. Ms. Lirenman and her class are providing Keynote support. Speakers who are part of the International Literacy Association speakers via ILA Next have also provided a number of follow-up ideas to develop reading and writing skills.
Shirt days have also been a positive way of facilitating group activity and stimulating conversation, largely about social justice issues that are so closely tied to social studies curriculum, and social emotional learning. Terry Fox shirts came out en mass for the annual Terry Fox Run. Our favourite Canadian hero had lots to teach us, even if we participated at different times of the day in cohorts. On Orange Shirt day, students learned about residential schools, and the learning shared with us by our Indigenous people. Black Shirt Day refocused our attention on the purpose and meaning of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms. February 24th, Anti-Bullying Day is on the horizon. Teachers, SSA’s, the supervision aids, the custodians, the Office Assistants, the Spare Time Coordinator, our Director of Instruction, and I will all be wearing the CKNW shirts with “Lift Each Other Up” for Pink Shirt Day and throughout the rest of the year. Proceeds support local anti-bullying programs that teach empathy, compassion, and kindness. We want kids to understand our shared role in supporting each other across cohorts and our collective responsibility.
Ms. Ferreira, our Kindergarten teacher, kicked off the first Wild Hair theme day. It was followed up with Hockey Jersey day to celebrate the return of hockey to break the monotony of Netflix. Mr. Bring, our Grade 7 teacher, is working with student leadership on other ways we can create school spirit.
Student voice in our online school assemblies has been a great way to focus student attention. Our Division 13 Kindergarten students and our Division 1 Grade 7’s have both done a great job at the Indigenous acknowledgment at the beginning of assemblies. We have now scheduled regular, monthly assemblies, and plan to incorporate more student voice.
We continue to look for ways to include parents more in our online school community. PAC Meetings have all been online since March. Access to the school has been limited. Parents do have online access to the All-Students TEAM through their child. This was most widely accessed during the Winter Show N’Share. Some parents continue to enjoy the regular tweets about school activities and resources that are available to parents. I am also trying to write more blog posts to provide parents with specifics around instruction and reporting. My recent post, Reporting Student Achievement in British Columbia, provides parents with an overview of recent changes in reporting in British Columbia and what they can expect in the formal written reports being issued in January. I’m looking for more ideas, if you have suggestions.
1 and 2 – “Lessons From Pandemic Teaching For Content Area Learning” in The Reading Teacher, November/December 2020, Volume 74, Number 3, page 341.
3 – Hattie, J. & Smith, R., (2021). 10 Mindframes for Leaders. The Visible Learning Approach to School Success. Corwin. Thousand Oaks.
Report cards will be sent home this Thursday and I’m feeling triumphant. I have read all the report cards, Individual Education Plans, English language inserts, Resource inserts and in some cases student self assessments and curriculum summaries. I have asked questions, made comments, suggestions, and signed off on nearly all of them. They are copied on buff paper to be sent home to parents and copies are ready for each student’s permanent file. And they are good. I feel so proud of my teachers and how far we have come as an education system in communicating student learning. When I was in Elementary school, my Mom use to receive an achievement grade and most often the comment “Carrie is a very conscientious student.” No need for further discussion.
ThE Ministry of Education in British Columbia mandated that teachers will provide five reports of student achievement to families each school year. In the Vancouver School District, at least two of those reports must be formal written reports. At Livingstone Elementary School, these formal written reports are issued at the end of January and the end of June. The expectation is to include information about student strengths, areas for growth, and how we can work with families support the student in academic and social-emotional learning. It must also include a sliding scale to indicate how the student is doing in achieving grade level learning outcomes for each subject areas.
My very favourite part of the report card, as both a parent and as a principal, is the opening paragraph. It was the part I agonized over getting perfect as a teacher when I was writing report cards. A parent can see their child in a well written opening paragraph. This opening vignette gives us insight into how the school year is unfolding for the child. My very compliant daughter made this paragraph easy for her teachers to write. My headstrong son made it more challenging but readily apparent if he had a teacher that was delighting in his creativity and divergent thinking. Of course, in some cases COVID-19 has made the developing of rapport between the teacher and the student a challenge. In person interaction will always be better than online interaction.
Old school report cards were all about achievement. The “A” was perceived as university entrance, a high paying job, and a charmed life. We know so much more now about how we can support students so they can create their own version of a charmed life. We understand that standardized measures of intelligence change over time with increased background knowledge and are not a guarantee of a successful life.
The work of Howard Gardner expanded our ability to see the many different ways that children can shine. The work of Carol Dweck helped us to see how a growth mindset can set the stage for new learning. We want students to be able to identify areas of strength and what they can do to improve the areas requiring more work to develop. The measure of a good report card is the plan to help students build on their strengths and develop the areas that are not as strong.
Self esteem does not emerge from a sense of someone unconditionally viewing everything you do as perfect. That is something reserved for loving grandparents. It comes from the realization that you can do stuff by yourself. That first paragraph in many report cards includes what students are proud of. It usually has to do with learning something you’ve worked hard at, whether it is soccer skills, use of a new APP, or learning to read.
The sliding scale in many ways serves the same purpose as letter grades. It shows how students are doing in relation to grade level expectations. The sliding scale has replaced letter grades because it reflects a new kind of thinking. The goal is to identify areas of strength and those areas requiring repetition, practice, hard work, and possibly adaptations to move learning forward.
A successful student is a person who is a learner, regardless of age. A learner asks questions and tries to find answers and new pathways even if it means failing and starting again. This requires the resilience to try again, as well as the analytical skills to come up with the reason for the fail and a new possibility. There is no grand prize for learning fastest or achieving perfection. There is power in believing that with perseverance and initiative, we are able to meet our learning goals.
My husband and our daughter are the math enthusiasts in our family. At the dinner table, they would discuss a math problems and alternate solutions. My son and I would look at each other in amazement that they thought this was captivating. We didn’t. And yet in our adult lives, my son and I manage budgets, participate in games requiring math skills, and use math daily in our work. We both learned that not all things we needed to learn are preferred choice activities. We figured out that perseverance and commitment to the task at hand was required. We still opt out of discussions of interesting math problems. Just don’t get us started on history and politics.
The requirement for additional communications with parents to communicate student learning is an additional bonus to the reporting process in British Columbia. Conferences, emails, phone calls, and student portfolios provide examples that support the written report cards with specific samples of student self-evaluations, measures of achievement and supports required. The school website, Twitter, classroom newsletters, curriculum summaries, and blogs are also used at Livingstone Elementary to share learning that is happening at our school. This provides a very concrete way to involve students in talking about what they have learned, celebrate accomplishments, and develop achievable goals.
The shifts in reporting practices have been a move to recreate the communication of student learning to families from an event that happens a few times a year into a conversation that happens throughout the year. John Hattie’s research has taught us that children benefit significantly when parents establish and communicate high expectations for student achievement with them.
The Ministry of Education in British Columbia has outlined the process to give parents the information to actively participate in their child’s education. However as with any profound educational change, it is the commitment and efforts of teachers that determine the impact. It is work intensive. It is exhausting. Teacher efforts to help students understand themselves as learners, determine required supports to facilitate further development, and involve parents in the process are what make this process exceptional in British Columbia. Much of it is a labour of love by consummate professionals. Lucky for us.
The notion of a moral imperative to guide action is not a new concept. For German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), human understanding of pure reason was the basis for a moral code defining subsequent action. Long before that, holy books from world religions were proposing a course of action focussed on the moral integrity of leaders who sacrificed for the betterment of others. Yet, the story of those consumed by greed and the quest for power is equally pervasive. John Dashwood’s promise to his dying father to take care of his stepmother and half-sisters, in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811) is quickly replaced by greed acceptable according to English law of the time. Mr. Potter in the Frank Capra movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” released in 1946, demonstrates a more intense avarice and quest for power. Charles Dickens sent us all clear message on who we should be in his 1843 publication of A Christmas Carol. Theodore “Dr. Seuss, Giesel gave us a reminder in the 1957 publication of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Ron Howard and Jim Carrey hammered the message home in the film version released in 2000. We know better but we’re not doing better.
Over the past week, we have watched in awe as political leaders have demonstrated a popular culture apparently bereft of morals and ethics. We sat riveted to the news and witnessed example after example of people spouting the rhetoric of a moral purpose who in fact were clinging to the relics of power and privilege. It brought me right back to the 1989 when I was riveted to the television watching Chinese tanks driving over pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square. Every social justice bone in my body believed that we were at a turning point. The Amnesty International quest to shine a light and expose injustice was playing out. We, as a collective society, would no longer be able to turn away and feign unawareness. Now people would be ready to start the work of creating a just society with a foundation of respect for human rights. I realized this was not the case when China did not even lose most favoured trading status with the United States. We are at another important point in our history. We are witnessing people ignoring COVID-19 rules designed to stop the spread of a global pandemic, perpetuating privilege, undermining the democratic process, ignoring legal obligations and fair process, and turning away from promises to family and friends. Are we looking at the fall of an empire, a failed experiment in democracy, or the possibility of reaching out to grasp the moral imperative required to create a socially just world?
I was privileged to be teaching in a Grade 6 classroom the day after U.S Congress was stormed and desecrated. For the first hour of the day, the questions and perceptions of 11-year-old students directed the learning. These kids wanted to talk about politics, democracy, communism, racism, anti-racism, slavery, the Civil War in the United States, Hitler’s legacy of neo-Nazis, Black Lives Matter, environmental practices, the oil and gas industry, the differences between the perception of guns in Canada and the United States, and the impact of Trump’s words. Lots of big ideas. When an idea began to resonate, a hand shot into the air or tentatively went up. These kids represented what we need on a global scale. A willingness to think. A willingness to consider possibilities. A willingness to think in terms of fairness and social justice. For the kids in this room, there was no question that logical consequences are in order for poor choices.
A moral code has already been defined. Ethical requirements are articulated. Social justice has been defined and written down. The issue is how we as individuals live our lives that acknowledges a moral imperative. Individuals in leadership positions should be held to a higher standard. Trump has provided the most recent example of the power of words by a person in a leadership position to disenfranchise, to disrespect, to undermine, and to invoke violence and lawlessness of those with power, privilege and entitlement. However, it is not just people in leadership positions who are required to hold themselves to account.
As individuals, we need be hold ourselves to account for our behaviour and how we live or disregard our own moral code. I used to equate Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs with the development of morals and ethics. My assumption was that self-actualization required moral and ethical development. It required attention only after basic requirements for food, safety, love and belonging, and esteem were in place. Now I think that the metaphor of weaving better describes our moral and ethical development. The warp threads are the foundational components of who we are, and the weft threads are the experiences. It is a particularly apt metaphor for me because I use to love to weave. I just wasn’t that good at it. I would pull the weft thread tighter and tighter. The result was a piece of weaving that got narrower and narrower until someone intervened to help me loosen the threads and allow the warp threads to assume their parallel structure. The quality of the fabric was a reflection of those stationary threads and the constantly moving thread. There are many examples of people who begin their lives with a strong sense of integrity that is eroded over time.
For those of you who spend a lot of time with children, you will have noticed the quest for fairness and logical consequences for poor choices. As a principal who spends a lot of time outside on the playground with kids, there is little reticence of even the youngest students to let me know who is not playing fair, who I need to talk to, who I need time-out, or whose parents I need to phone. In conversations with students about poor choices they have made, invariably the harshest consequences come from the students. The question “How do you think that made … feel?” frequently prompts tears. Empathy is alive and well on our elementary playgrounds. As is a willingness to accept responsibility for choices.
The ability to empathize seems to dissolve into the atmosphere along with curiosity as students move through the system. For some of us, we may be our own best whipping posts, or have reflective practices built into our lives that keep us honest. For others, there is a quest to step away from assuming responsibility for our own poor choices. This seems to be most common when a polarized stance is adopted. Us and them. An unwillingness or inability to consider another stance or position or feelings.
To keep ourselves open to learning, we need to value pluralism and the importance of diverse voices and perspectives. It is possible to have a strong identity with commonalities and still maintain different culture or values or beliefs. As a Canadian, I am lucky to live with people from many different places, spaces, and experiences. However, that privilege brings with it a responsibility to listen and learn from the experiences of other Canadians and question a system where some voices are amplified, and others are silenced. My study of history, political science, and my father taught me to articulate my ideas loud and proud. Time, my friends and family taught me that some of my earlier conclusions and strongly articulated ideas were just wrong. It happens. Ideas change if minds are open. If you are ever wondering if you are straying from your moral compass and acting with integrity, and don’t have someone who will tell you, find a kid in elementary school. They will have no difficulty putting you back on track. If we expect moral integrity from others, we need to live it ourselves.
It makes sense that in light of all of the cancellations of events throughout the city, that the tree chipping events down at Kits Beach would also be cancelled during COVID. But I didn’t want it to be. We have so many happy memories of chipper events with kids, hot chocolate and even roasted wieners. When my husband reported that the event was going ahead, I too wanted to believe. He had checked on the internet. It must be so. Social distancing could be possible.
Off we went with our exceptionally dry, consequently very light tree. Like many other Vancouverites, our tree went up the earliest date ever. The lights, the decorations in trees outside as well as inside were the things we could control this year. It was imperative to grab some festive spirit.
Off we embarked in the pouring rain, each of us with one end of the tree to participate in the annual Lion’s Club fundraising event. We would ensure muddy paths would be covered in fresh chips of fragrant Christmas trees. There were a few clues, it was not to be. We were the only people carrying a tree. There was no sound of a chipper echoing through the neighbourhood.
The question of what to do with a dried-out tree, brought both of us to the exact same point in time. The first Christmas that we celebrated together. It was Spring and the discarded Christmas tree was still on the smaller of the decks in Brad’s party apartment that he shared with Dave. This was the apartment where the residual of a good party was an eviction notice. These were the years that we believed that the West End should be reserved for those people anxious to celebrate what life had to offer in downtown Vancouver.
My very practical suggestion was to put one garbage bag over the top of the tree and one over the bottom so we wouldn’t drop needles in the hallway en route to the garbage bin. These were the days before the green bin pick up. Brad had other ideas. His love for Science and Math and belief in his physical prowess produced a far more expedient option. He could simply pick up the tree and throw it like a javelin towards the garbage bin in the back lane. His strength and the momentum from the mass of the tree would allow it to sail to the garbage bin. His story is that a breeze picked up and thwarted his plan. After all it made it past MOST of the tiered balconies. However, the thump on that last balcony was followed by the frantic sliding door being thrown open. We both sunk down along with our backs to the wall and didn’t breathe. Mission completed.
Brad’s suggestion yesterday was to hold the tree high in the air and act like we were part of the end of 2020 celebratory parade. Instead, we carried the tree back home to contemplate what to do with the dried-out Christmas tree. Fortunately for the neighbours, we are older, wiser, and living on the ground floor.
The process of writing New Year’s Resolutions has a different feeling this year. Yet, in honour of my mother, who was always striving for better, I feel compelled to maintain the tradition. Although we have said good riddance to 2020, we are still left with the continued fallout of the global pandemic. That fallout seems to be largely fear based. Some of the fear is related directly to COVID-19. Some of the fears have been triggered by repercussions of sickness, job loss and various levels of quarantine or other “safety” measures. Some pre-existing fears have been magnified. The reactions are pervasive, diverse and sometimes quite intense. They cross ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, and politics.
In this context, we have no idea of the stresses and feelings evoked by this pandemic. We are blatantly aware that some jobs are more prone to the daily stress. However, we don’t know the path that others are walking. It seems that the only New Year’s Resolution that matter in 2021 is: Tread gently.
Right now, we don’t know what people are dealing with. We do know that COVID and other illnesses, death (related or unrelated to COVID), job loss or changes, underemployment, family breakdown, isolation or constant togetherness, and boredom are impacting the mental and physical health of the people we meet each day and ourselves. So has not being able to come together for joyful celebrations of the holiday season, engagements, marriages, and the closure of memorial services. We also know that what people show us often does not reveal how things are going for them. How vulnerable that people allow themselves to be is determined by several factors. It could be trust in the relationship or a desire to cope with the unimaginable by distancing. People do what they need to do.
Never before have we seen the immediate need for empathy. It is not easy to consider things from another perspective, particularly when faced with aggressiveness or unkindness. Sometimes it may mean just taking a step back. That may be all you have in reserve at that given time. The pervasive call for kindness is not just a platitude. It is the only positive way to navigate through this difficult terrain. I have been the recipient of many kindnesses from colleagues, my school community, family and friends during this pandemic. It is often the determining factor of a “survival mode” or a joyful day.
The call to Tread Gently also directly pertains to how we treat ourselves. There continues to be a need to reflect on our actions and apologize for reactions, as required to maintain relationships. However, I think we also need to give ourselves a break. Now is not the time to reprimand ourselves up for what we haven’t done. Maybe a binge watch of Netflix is the best we can do on some evenings. Or maybe going to bed at 8:30 pm is the answer if we’re that tired. Maybe our body is telling us we need to attend to go for a walk or stretch. Maybe the purchase of that very expensive coffee machine is worth it, if it results in joy with that first morning sip.
How we interact with each other and how we treat ourselves, matters now more than even. Seemingly small actions have a big impact, much like a tiny pebble causing multiple waves in a still lake. We could hold the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back or adds a ray of hope. Tread gently.
“How 2020!” is the much uttered refrain these days. It was the response when my oven door crumbled at my feet on Christmas Eve. It was the response to the intrusion of all “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinners” (Dickens, p. 2) aspiring to snuff out carols calling for comfort and joy. Yet in the face of an out and out battle with the global pandemic seemingly in the lead at times, Christmas Joy wins.
My older sister has taken the hit for the family, in assuming the role of Florence Nightingale. There is no doubt that all health care workers deserve our utmost appreciation and praise during COVID. However I cannot imagine being a hospice nurse in Baytown, Texas. Hospice nurses at the best times warrant a special place in heaven. The patience and kindness of the nurses at St. Michael’s Hospice when my Mom was dying will remain with me always. However a whole new layer of responsibility is added by a global pandemic, on top of what is already a job that most of us couldn’t handle on the best of days. However, Debbie carries with her a sense of purpose and responsibility. And still sends me some of the best gifs of the day! Positively inspirational. I must admit though, I feel like I dodged a bullet when Santa gave the Nancy Nurse doll to Debbie, and the Baby First Step doll to me, on that Christmas of our formative years, long, long ago. Whew!
Another inspiration has been my lifelong friend, Alison. Both of us are lovers of Christmas and believers in spreading Christmas joy. I could only manage it on a very immediate level this year. In my immediate reach. Beyond that it has been a stretch. But Alison has held tight to her wings and the dream of Christmas jot, including the Christmas letter that reflects her love and pride in all of her family. And the gift that I never imagined I needed. Yet my crafty string of Christmas lights and lights to go in that special bottle of Lambrusco from my kids on Mother’s Day. Of course, it would make the perfect reading area! Who knew? Other than Alison. It gives me great faith in future possibilities. The pervasive image for this school principal at this point in time, is a phoenix rising out of the ashes.
What the COVID restrictions have done is slow down the pace of the holidays. I will reach that goal of reading 100 books in 2020. It is possible for me to sleep past 6 am. I can find time to write everyday and exercise. There has been time to connect with friends, neighbours, and family members via phone calls, messenger, social media and en route. From work. From back in the burbs. From university. High school, And even elementary school. To pause over losses of loved ones. To celebrate happy memories we’ve been lucky to share. To do the present drop off. To be there for people when it matters. To connect in ways that in other times would have been unfathomable.
The feeling of space and time also allows time for reflection and creativity to emerge. Like my colleagues, I started the holiday exhausted and in high gear at the same time. Yet with some down time, I am gobsmacked by the challenges thrown our way and our ability to support one another as we run the gauntlet of COVID-19. Colleagues have stepped up to support each other in a multitide of ways that will be remembered for a lifetime. My daughter and her partner are tucked away safely in Taiwan where they have COVID management under wraps. Our son is close by and his business continues to thrive despite COVID. Brad and I have rediscovered boardgames. Scrooge would be right in his assessment of COVID-19 as a Bah! Humbug! However, in the big picture, Christmas joy emerges victorious!