The Best Version of Ourselves


This year I have read a plethora of reasons NOT to participate in the tradition of New Year’s resolutions:  “If you can’t love yourself at 185 lbs., you can’t love yourself at 150 lbs.”  “Embrace who you are.”  “Be gentle with yourself.”  I am a believer in self care and proactive, positive change but these loud and prolific proclamations evoke the images of Mr. Scrooge and his “Humbug” response to considering the notion of goodwill toward all people during the Christmas season.

Part of family tradition with my mother included annual New Year’s Resolutions.  The pens and erasers and note paper from stockings were put to good use.  My mother, my older sister and later my sister-cousin, would compile lists of things that we were going to do in the following year.  It was a time of dreaming big and thinking through all of the possibilities.  I did learn to ski, snowboard, water ski, drive, finish a 10 km run, do a mini-triathalon, finish my MA, take the kids to the park rather than clean the house, entertain, travel and rotate between personal and professional reads.

Yes, I have also been a chronic breaker of New Year’s resolutions.  My eating habits slip and so does my exercise regime.  My love affair with diet coke re-ignites.  I don’t sleep enough and work too late.  I don’t invest enough time into human rights work.  I don’t do all of the wild and wonderful things I had planned for the new year.  But the possibility remains that I will and if I do, I will be proud of my accomplishment.

I still heartily believe that I can be a better version of myself. And so I am in the process of making both personal and professional goals for the upcoming year.  This will be the year I unfriend diet coke, eat less junk, take more stairs, stretch before I exercise, get enough sleep and maximize engagement in relationships and in online possibilities.  And yes, I believe I can do it.  At least some of it.  Hope still burns!  And in my wake of enthusiasm, I will encourage my relatives, friends, colleagues and students to join me in the pursuit of being the very best version of ourselves.  Good luck with your New Year’s resolve and accomplishments big or small along the way! Continue reading “The Best Version of Ourselves”

The Culture of “Fitbit”


The Fitbit.  Call it a fad.  A conversation starter. Big brother.  A motivator.  Health and Wellness is a well chosen initiative for many school districts in British Columbia.  The focus on pro-active measures to support staff is  a simple way to decrease absences by increasing the focus on physical health and stress management. It is a well developed program with support services and educational materials to provide staff with the required supports to address the high stress levels, exposure to EVERY virus around for employees of the population of educators and support staff.

I resisted the FITBIT initially. I did not need a device to impact my decision to take the stairs or the elevator.  To enjoy a good walk along the beach.  To go for a bike ride or hunker done with a pot of tea and a good book.  The reality is I don’t need it when I’m relaxed and making deliberate decisions about balance in my life.  When I need this handy little device is when time is in short supply and my focus is on my Things To Do list.  The Fitbit not only provides the incentive to strive for 10,000 steps a day but also is a reminder to go to the gym and NOT to stuff that amazing cookie or delectable chocolate into my mouth.  It has also inspired me to do more take a greater interest in health and wellness of my staff and to read and share more resources.  The Fitbit crew on our staff is steadily growing.  We compare steps and equate the busyness of the day with the multitude of steps or complete lack of steps.  It’s fun.

I like THE MANAGEMENT TIP OF THE DAY: Harvard Business Review.  The tip on November 6, 2015 provides a good active idea for very small or very large meetings that require some processing time.

Get the Full Benefits of Walking Meetings

Walking meetings are a growing trend, replacing a traditional sitting meeting in a coffee shop or boardroom with a little exercise. The benefits are plentiful: Research has found that walking leads to increases in creative thinking, and anecdotal evidence suggests that walking meetings spur more productive, honest conversations. Here are some tips to help your next walking meeting go well:

Include an “extracurricular” destination. Passing a point of interest provides more rationale and incentive for the walk.

Don’t add unneeded calories. A meeting that ends with a 400-calorie beverage undermines its health goal.

Stick to small groups. Walking meetings work best with two or three people.

Don’t surprise colleagues or clients with walking meetings. Notify people in advance so they can dress appropriately.

Have fun. Enjoy the fresh air – research has also found that people who use walking meetings report being more satisfied at work.
Adapted from “How to Do Walking Meetings Right,” by Russell Clayton et al.

Cuisenaire rods ROCK.

Exciting learning at Math Conference in Whistler

Mathematical Thinking

Here are some of my favourite Cuisenaire rod tasks for elementary.  There are so many cool things to be done with these materials, I can’t begin to delve into it all here, but start with some of these ideas and see what kinds of thinking your students come up with.  Remember it’s critical to record the numbers to accompany with your students’ constructions – modelling for them how a mathematician would record their reasoning is so very important.  It allows students to formalize their learning and make connections to the “naked math”…  (A phrase a dear friend of mine used to use often.  Attention-getting, no??)

As well, I’ve uploaded are some Cuisenaire provocations — images to inspire creativity that your younger students may enjoy.  To keep the play moving mathematically, try placing one or more of these pictures at the table where students are exploring the materials.  You can suggest…

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Welcome to Canada – The Immigrant Experience

My second year of university, I told my mother I was going back East and landed at York University because the student residence at The University of Toronto was full.  Such a great year of discovery!  In that wonderful year of adventure, amidst the discovery of a myriad of things artistic, historical and political, I learned that: Mississauga was not actually a woman named Mrs. Sauga but a place; disrepect of The Sun was not the Vancouver Sun newspaper but a sensational rag that was the butt of many jokes in political science courses; and that I had not actually made it to Eastern Canada.

It took me until this summer to finally make it East.  Red sand, plentiful CHEAP lobster, bountiful CHEAP mussels, humungous CHEAP scallops, iconic folk art and the friendliest people I have ever had the good fortune to meet.  The Maritimes are shrouded in history.  In the streets of downtown Charlottetown, actors strolled the streets in role of the “Fathers of Confederation” and the people who would have been their neighbours and colleagues.    Maritimers are proud of their history and patient enough to take the time to tell you their story.

.Nova Scotia

 In 1869, Canada passed its first immigration Act and immigration offices were established in Halifax, Saint John, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto and Hamilton.   By 1881, Halifax was declared an official port of entry and Pier 2 was built to accommodate trade as well as the comings and goings of immigrants and servicemen and women. Halifax Harbour became the busiest port in Canada.  After it was destroyed in the catastrophic Halifax explosion of 1917, it was eventually replaced in 1928 by Pier 21.  From 1928 to 1971, more than a million newcomers were welcomed to Canada and close to 500,000 Canadian services personnel were sent off for active duty in World War II.  Now Pier 21 has become a museum and the Canadian version of Ellis Island.  The tour guides give you a haunting sense of the immigrant/ refugee experience as they entered Canada.   My father had an old postcard of the Voldendam.  He turned 12 years old en route to Canada and the captain had given him a tour of the bridge and let him inspect the engine room.

Until that point in time, I hadn’t really thought about my paternal grandmother’s experience of arriving from post war Germany with four children under 12 years of age.  It opened up a plethora of questions that I wished I had asked her.  She lived until 100 years old but that just wasn’t enough time for her story to unfold.  I was delighted to discover the research room filled with enthusiastic staff ready to help access information about family history.  Of course privacy laws limit access to information without consent but there is a lot of general information that can be accessed.  I was able to choose the picture of the ship, add text and send a framed copy from Pier 21.


A trip to the bookstore allowed my to access stories and information about the immigrant experience.  The girl at the cash register also provided a wealth of information.  Initially I picked up Anne Renaud’s book, Pier 21: Stories from Near and Far, because it looked more appropriate for children.  However this book includes photographs, medals, excerpts from historical documents and history notes that make it a great source for all ages.  It has also opened up a conversation with my father about things that have previously not come up in conversation.


Many of the students in my school live the immigrant experience.  They come from countries such as China, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and India.  For the students born here, they often have better English language proficiency than their parents or grandparents.  It brings additional responsibilities and perhaps a sense that their families know less.  Many do not know the stories of their parents and grandparents either.  I am very much hoping to incorporate reading, writing, listening, speaking and opportunities to represent intergenerational understandings.  It certainly opens up a new dimensions to relationships when we have the knowledge of their life experiences that have been instrumental in defining a person’s way of being.


Technology Tools to Inspire Thinking

Dr.Ruben Puentedura presented his SAMR model in Vancouver this past August. His work at Harvard has focused on developing this model to consider the application of technology in educational contexts has been of considerable interest on the conference circuit. He has observed and classified how technology is applied in educational contexts and describes them with the following categories:

  • Substitution
  • Augmentation
  • Modification
  • Redefinition

Not surprisingly, it is the more challenging tasks that are redefined in a way that was not previously possible, result in the most significant and promising direction for our students. The biggest challenge for many educators, myself included, is developing:

  1. The background knowledge to provide meaningful options for our students to demonstrate their learning.
  2. Opportunities for enthusiastic interest to be channeled into meaningful projects that require use of higher order thinking skills.
  3. Criteria for assessment that is broad enough not to limit the range of options but specific enough to provide meaningful scaffolding for learning.

 In some cases, we are lucky to have students who bring a wealth of knowledge in applications of technology. I was able to present the basics of Prezi to gifted students in a Multi-age cluster class in Vancouver, and the students discovered possibilities that I hadn’t even considered. I introduced the same students to Kids Blog and they showed me the various ways that their individual blogs could communicate information and learning in meaningful ways to their intended audiences.

 I have been lucky to come into contact with people using technology in their own personal learning and in educational contexts with kids. Chris Kennedy and his team from West Vancouver provided some great mentoring at PDK dinner meetings. Audrey Van Alstyne, Brian Kuhn and Joanne Carlton are presenting options for students to engage with technology in meaningful ways in Vancouver. A print source that I am finding extremely helpful is Connecting Comprehension and Technology: Adapt and Extend Toolkit Practices (2013) by Harvey, Goudvis, Muhtaris and Ziemke.

 Kristin Ziemke’s presentation at The International Reading Association’s AGM in New Orleans (May 9-12) was extremely well attended. She is in high demand as a speaker due to her work to build on the practice of using innovative technology tools to amplify the thinking of her Grade 1 students. Katie Muhtaris’ work with her 5th graders provides the practical basis to consider the digital tools that would best serve the educational interest of deepening thinking, understanding of new concepts and developing comprehension skills. The work of Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis provide the theoretical frame for considering how educators can develop comprehension and implement thinking strategies in the classroom. This book provides specific lesson plans and ideas that make small steps possibilities. I borrowed the book but it is definitely one I will purchase so I can have it for regular reference.

Teachers Matter – IRA Leadership Conference 2014

Our conference hotel in Tampa was too far to get in some beach time before my flight home, so I found my way to the inviting Sheraton pool. It was one of those times where initial disappointment ends up in a fortuitous moment. I had the opportunity to talk more with the Council President of Arkansas, Caroline Schenk. Although our paths had crossed at the conference, we hadn’t really gotten to know one another. Sitting beside each other at the pool, before the flight home and the daily thunderstorm, was a perfect opportunity to chat.

Caroline’s conference highlight this year was a very personal one. As a little girl, her family lived in Wisconsin. Although she had very fond memories of her time there, she had never been back. Inevitably she has met many people from Wisconsin over the years. The conversation is the same, wherever you are in the world… Where do you live? Do you know…? Most often you don’t know the person, but it’s a good conversation starter. This year, at the 2014 IRA Leadership Conference, things were different for Caroline. She met Susan of the Wisconsin Reading Council. The person that Caroline remembered, just happened to be her Grade 2 teacher, Mrs. Spector.

As with every “favorite” teacher that we hold near and dear to our heart, there are very specific things we remember about our year together. Caroline remembers the journals. Everyday they would take out their journals and write “Dear diary…” Imagine, second grade Caroline who LOVED to write in her journal everyday, emerges as the president of the Arkansas Reading Council of the International Reading (soon to be “Literacy”) Association. Amidst all of the politics and stresses of our jobs, it boils down to one teacher impacting the life of one child with the things she (or he) chooses to do in the classroom. Inspiring, at the very least!

The story gets better. Caroline’s grade 2 teacher, just happened to be the best friend of Susan from Wisconsin. Susan immediately texted her friend, Sue Spector with the big question… “Do you remember Caroline (then Trimble) from second grade in the 70’s?” Now this can be a big stress for a teacher, five years after the fact. The reality is that we just don’t remember every student who we’ve taught over a long career. Forty years later, within five minutes, Mrs. Spector texts back a picture of little girl smiling into the camera. This was the beginning of a conference full of texting, as the teacher and student caught up. Yes, Mrs. Spector is very proud that our Caroline has emerged as a school leader with a leadership role in the International Reading Association. As literacy educators, we are proud that Mrs. Spector chose to make writing such a foundational piece of Caroline’s Grade 2 experience. It’s a story that I’ve heard and experienced many times, but it never fails to evoke goosebumps and a smile 😀

Readers Who Write

Spanish Banks was my favourite beach to take my kids to because I could actually have some reading time when the tide was way, way out there and I could look down at a book.  My daughter, Larkyn, completed the classic “starting school” assignment as a young scholar: Draw a picture that tells about your family.   Stick mommy has fountains of tears coming out of both sides of her head. Stick Mommy is perched on top of what looks like a big box. The arrow pointing to it says “fat, sad book”.   She nailed it. Rohinton Mistry, A.S. Byatt, Jane Urquhart, Michael Ondaatje, Wayne Johnson and Ann-Marie MacDonald are all near and dear to my heart.  The descriptive language, the character development and the story captivates me.

In a discussion of favourite books and good reads recently, I was surprised that a colleague shares a common all time favourite book, Possession by A.S. Byatt.   We laughed because in many ways we couldn’t be more different. However her observation was “Hhmmm, that’s why you can write.”  Same conversation, David Hutchison, author of The Witches’ Malice was sharing his love for Edgar Allen Poe.    My Dad loves Poe and always highly recommended his books for evening reading at his cabin in the Sierra Nevadas.   I wouldn’t be able to put the book down, read long after everyone was sleeping and terrified myself.  The visual image of the pendulum moving closer and closer still comes to mind when I’m dreading something. The Witches’ Malice, reflects Hutchison’s fascination with building suspense and the macabre imagery of the hand.  The learning from the reading isn’t deliberate but pervasive.

As part of my teaching assignment next year, I am sharing a grade 3/4 classroom with a teaching partner.  I am looking forward to teaching reading and writing with young children again.  However I’m also looking forward to exploring the reading-writing connection with them.  Many of the students in our school have English as a second or third language. Reading becomes mandatory practice rather than something that defines how we communicate.  I’m looking forward to the process of working with eight and nine year olds to discover the possibilities for readers who write.

59th Annual IRA Conference in New Orleans

Reading…The Teachable Moment

I can’t recommend attending this conference enough.  It is always such a rewarding experience.  Participants are friendly and eager to discuss sessions and what’s happening in their classrooms.  New Orleans is an amazing host. They certainly know how to throw a party and celebrate.   

Conference –  May 10-12, 2014

Institute Day – May 9th

Early Registration ends April 14, 2014  

Go to to register

Rotary Works With IRA

IRA and Rotary have joined together since 2002 to promote literacy and we are mutually encouraging each other to work on literacy issues close to home and internationally—whatever works for the local members.  This year, the Pearson Foundation has funded two $2500 literacy awards towards literacy work that an IRA council or affiliate undertakes jointly with a Rotary club in 2014.  Rotarians are eager to find ways to work with IRA on literacy projects. Rotary is a wonderful organization and one of their goals is to help improve global literacy.  One more reason to work together with other International Reading Association members.

More from the SCLC – South Central Literacy Council

Mike Bowden will be going to the IRA AGM in New Orleans.  He will be presenting with two other colleagues on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples Special Interest Group.  They will be presenting a vocabulary research project they are doing within the Kamloops District in conjunction with Thompson Rivers University and Dr. Ramirez.  Look for him and his team if you are heading down to New Orleans for the IRA Conference this May.