Restorative Justice Practices in Schools

Restorative justice practices were established by Indigenous communities thousands of years ago. The community sat in a circle. Each person had a chance to speak. Every other person was expected to actively listen. Then the problem was tackled by the community. The expectation was that a solution would be achieved. Sometimes the result led to healing and moving forward. Other times the collective good was served but an individual was harshly punished.

Our take-away in Western society was not surprising.  In a society that recognizes speed as a sign of intelligence, the most expeditious path was to skip the talk.  Look at the rules.  Apply the punishment.  Expedite.  This is how the prison system became firmly entrenched and the strap made it’s way into school practices until the early 1970’s .  The circle became a line.  The power of the process was lost.  Fear of punishment trumped understanding or learning from mistakes.

My friend, Latash, introduced me to a healing circle during an Indigenous Youth Exchange Program with middle school students in Coquitlam and Ottawa.  During part of the trip to Ottawa, rules were broken.  Safety was compromised.  I was the teacher in charge and ultimately responsible to the school district for navigating through the process.  Latash was the Indigenous support worker helping me to use Indigenous practices to facilitate the learning through an Indigenous lens.  We sat in a circle with all of the students and people facilitating the Ottawa side of the trip.  For me it was painful.  It was SO slow.  And yet, in the long game, it defined how I approach discipline with my kids and my students. 

Meaningful learning always takes place over time.  It is slow.  It is not sped up by fear of reprisal.  As a kid, I learned fear of an authority figure results in resentment.  As I parent, I learned early on that punishment frequently results in anger rather than reflection.  Energy was circumvented away from learning.   Learning is the focus of parents.  It is the mandate in the education system.  Our purpose in intervening with children’s behaviour is teaching them to understand that their actions have consequences.  It may be a safety risk.  It may be to help them adopt another perspective so they can empathize with the person or people they have hurt, either physically or emotionally.  All of the problems in history have emerged when people allow there wants to take first priority and they fail to see the humanity in other people.  The process of learning is a circle not a line. 

Restorative practices necessitate that families and schools work together.  Parents are not informed after the fact but part of the process in moving forward.  They are part of the process of teaching their child the difference between right and wrong, fair and unfair, kind and unkind.  It provides support for the student making the error in judgement to consider their motivation and decide who it is they want to be in the world and how they are going to get there. 

Restorative practices also provide a voice to the recipient of the problematic behaviour.  It is also their opportunity to decide who they want to be in the world and plot a path forward.  The opportunity to stand up straight, shoulders back, make eye contact and express their feelings and expectations.  When I was teaching Grade 5/6 one day, the class was noisy, and I was clearly looking exasperated.  James looked over at me and said,

“Want me to do it?”

My response,

“Go for it!”

“Excuse me… Do I look amused?” stated James emphatically, leaning back slightly, right toe forward, back foot at a right angle.

The class went silent.  From then on, students would beg to be chosen to work their magic.  For me, I watched as students replicated me exactly and achieved the intended result.  It became part of how I instructed students to express their truth.  Stand up straight.  Shoulders back.  Unafraid.  Unintimidated.  Lessons from my father, Dr. Peter Dyck, who was afraid of no one and listened to by all.  Opportunity is created within the healing circle for your voice to be heard.  How to project that voice so it is learned.

In any school that I have work in, the success of restorative practices has hinged on parents and school staff working together with the children involved.  Everyone must buy into the process.  Everyone must be focussed on learning rather than retribution.  This includes the police liaison officer at the school.  The voice of our police liaison officer has been instrumental in providing the instruction required in order to avoid the life altering impact of entering the criminal justice system.  The support of the counsellor has provided an avenue for the process of healing to continue.  Parents have provided the safety for their child to voice their feelings and move beyond poor choices.

Poor decisions are part of being human.  Learning from poor decisions is not guaranteed unless a process is designed.  Restorative justice practices from Indigenous cultures provide an avenue that incorporates reflection on past behaviour and learning.  The healing circle in Ottawa did not leave me as a popular entity on the trip.  However, everyone left the circle understanding the reasons for my decisions and the paramount concern and responsibility for student safety.  The process gave me a voice and provided a structure for students to take responsibility for their choices.  In schools, my goal is for student to reflect on their behaviour and navigate a path forward.  The best case scenario is to support  students making poor choices to make better choices in the future.  It is also to allow the recipient of poor choices to stand tall and say I deserve better and believe it.

Saving Bonnie Henry

One only has to tap into social media to witness the vilification of Bonnie Henry.  Once hailed as the heroic public health officer of British Columbia helping to flatten the curve in a world gone crazy.   Now the bullseye on the target for all that is wrong in the world.  The conduit of a year’s worth of anger and frustration with a global pandemic leads to her.   The go to place of humanity, find someone to blame. 

I do not like all of Bonnie Henry’s decisions. I look to Taiwan. All businesses are open. People are travelling and working in the country. They are having fun. The last case of COVID was a month ago. It is a society where people respond to clear direction and seem to agree with harsh punitive measures for individuals who don’t follow the rules. We champion human rights and trade unions and individual rights in British Columbia. All good measures of a healthy democratic society. But in the midst of a global pandemic, a belief in collective rights have allowed other countries to make decisions that do not appear to be possible in our society.

If all people went to Whistler and followed the protocols for skiing / snowboarding during COVID, then went home, the mountain would still be open.  If all restaurants showed the same kind of rigour in COVID practices as Rocky Mountain Flatbread in Kits, all restaurants could remain open for indoor dining.  If all businesses were as vigilant about limiting the number of customers at one time as Windsor Meats, we wouldn’t be worried about allowing shopping.  The reality is that not all people are following the designated COVID safety precautions with the same attention to the guidelines.

We have people in leadership positions needing to make difficult decisions.  Bonnie Henry is a bright, articulate woman who could find other ways to achieve fame and fortune if that was her modus operandi.  Squeezing her with vice grips does not allow her to serve us better.  Putting energy into consistently following COVID safety policy in this case allows for the collective rights of British Columbians to be served.  If this is not the case, she is put in the position of needing to make unpopular decisions that limit our range of activities.  Her goal is to limit the spread of COVID-19 and its variants for our safety as British Columbians. There are many variables such as travel from other provinces, compliance enforcement, and politics that are not under her control.

I do not envy Dr. Bonnie Henry for serving British Columbians in this leadership capacity.  Leadership in any capacity during COVID is extremely stressful and challenging.  I am grateful for her leadership. I hope she is feeling supported. I also hope she has some effective stress management practices in place. I suspect it is her only saving grace at this time.

A Parent’s Work

Parenting is one of the most challenging tasks that a person will take on in life. It is not work for the faint of heart and it not for the person requiring unconditional acceptance and appreciation along the way. Love alone is not enough. However, it does guarantees your child a safe context to test the boundaries and unleash his or her frustrations. Even the most skilled and highly educated in child psychology can be tested beyond any previous limits.

With the advent of brain scanning technology, we have learned that our experiences continue to change our brains throughout our lives. We have learned that parents and educators can be instrumental in helping children to process new information. We have also learned how harsh and punitive discipline strategies of the past are not helpful in raising students that are best equipped to cope with changes or stresses in their lives. We have also learned that complete permissiveness does not either.

Daniel Siegel’s book, written with Tina Payne Bryson, The Whole-Brain Child, gives a nice synopsis of how the brain works to integrate new information and some strategies to ensure your child is learning appropriate boundaries alone the way. It provides a number of strategies to help parents support their child in “taming big emotions.” It also helps with the next steps of going back when your child has their emotions under control to revisit and redirect if necessary. The book provides scaffolding with refrigerator notes and scripted conversations to help parents.

I can speak to the power of encouraging children to tell their story.  I have used this extensively with my own children and my students over the years.  “The right side of our brain processes our emotions and autobiographical memories, but our left side is what makes sense of these feelings and recollections”( p. 28).  In fear inducting situations, it allows children (and adults) to name it and tame it.  In dealing with disappointment, it gives that child an understanding of wants, needs and resilience.  In dealing with conflict, it is the first step in learning empathy and conflict resolution strategies. 

Siegel and Payne Bryson also do a nice job in their discussion of nurturing relationships.  In my role as an educator, parents often want advice on how to navigate relationships between their children.  My kids are now grown and have a particularly good relationship.  Even their friends comment on it.  My conclusion was that three things contributed to this growing up.

  1.  There is an expectation that you will treat your sibling with respect and kindness.
  2. When you have a fight, you calm down first then take responsibility for your behaviour and agree on a pathway forward.
  3. Parents do not play favourites and have the same expectations for both kids.

However, Siegel and Payne Bryson brought up another factor that resonated with me.  “Recent studies have found that the best predictor for good relationships later in life is how much fun the kids have together when they’re young”(p. 133).  As a family, we had lots of beach time, park time, biking time, and ski / snowboard time.  We also regularly trekked down to California or Europe in summer to visit family.  My husband and I loved these times because sibling bickering slowed down to a minimum during the pursuit of adventure.  Our kids had lots of fun time together and they are the fabric of the revisited stories when we’re laughing together.  Makes sense.

COVID has added yet another layer of complexity. Kids are experiencing lots of big emotions and the role of parents is more important than ever. Now that my kids are grown, occasionally I even get to hear about the things I did well as a parent. It just may take a few decades to hear the appreciation for your efforts 🤗. Very best of luck in navigating these muddy waters.

Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. (2011). The Whole Brian Child. 12 Revolutionary Strategies To Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. Bantam Books, New York.

The Thrill of New Discoveries

Stanley Park Great Blue Heron Rookery

If you live or visit Vancouver, sighting a Pacific Blue Heron is as likely as seeing a seagull or a Canada Goose.  Usually, it is one large statuesque and graceful bird alone on the golf course or at the beach during low tide. New discovery today. The Great Blue Heron Rookery is part of my Stanley Park bike route.  Who knew? They have returned to their address at 2099 Beach Avenue, the trees outside The Parks Board building, and apparently have been doing so for 20 years! 

Looking up during a sunny bike ride was not what led to this discovery.  I have nearly made it through all 111 Places in Vancouver That You Must Not Miss, the book by Dave Doroghy and Graeme Menzies.  This is number 98 and the perfect time to discover it.  The Vancouver Parks Board has installed a webcam ( Vancouver.ca/herons ) for viewing their arrival in March;  courtship in April; egg laying and incubation in May; chick rearing in June; and fledging in July. 

Without the leaves on the trees, you can see SO many nests, seemingly empty.  Then an eagle comes cruising by.  Instantly the sky is filled with masses of our very closest renditions to prehistoric pterodactyls in flight.  Apparently, we are home to the largest urban blue heron colonies in North America.  One third of the great blue heron population in the world live around the Salish Sea aka the part of the Pacific Ocean by British Columbia and Washington.

After the big commotion, the herons return to the nests, but this time assume a far more visible stance.  Some on branches or on the edges of nests.  Some appear to be visiting between the trees.  They have diversions from the tennis courts, the lawn bowling club, and the people staring up at them.  For me, it is the excitement of a new discovery.  How could I have missed this?  I’m looking forward to checking out the webcam at regular intervals and letting all my Wild About Vancouver outdoor enthusiasts about it.

Another discovery is that Stanley Park Ecology Society has started an Adopt a Nest Program to sustain the Pacific Great Blue Heron colony.  It is $54.00 to adopt one nest for a year.  There are over 100 nests in 25 trees in Stanley Park.  I’m excited about doing this with the students at Livingstone Elementary School to support learning in all curriculum areas and build interest in our Twitcher group.  The kids like the name.  Although our sightings are not usually rare, they are equally as exciting when someone can identify the bird 🙂

Discovering Nora Hendrix

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.

Mural by Ejiwa “Edge” Ebenebe

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. 

Nora Hendrix’s House

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.

Hendrix Family home 1938-1952

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)

Social Emotional Learning Through Children’s Literature

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:

Identity

Self-Regulation and Mindfulness

Challenge and Resilience

Wisdom from Ancestors

Playful Ideas

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

Primary Students:

Identity:

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..

Literary Awards  Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize Nominee (2015)

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 SingGo 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.

Literary Awards SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text (2011)Charlotte Zolotow Award (2011)

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.

Literary Awards  Caldecott Medal Nominee (2019)Ezra Jack Keats Book Award Nominee for Writer (2019)Monarch Award Nominee (2020)

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.

Literary Awards  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Picture Books (2019)

Self-Regulation and Mindfulness: 

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.

Literary Awards Literary Awards

Nautilus Book Award for Children’s/Young Adults Non-Fiction (Silver Medal) (2008)London Book Festival Nominee for Children’s Book (Honorable Mention) (2007)DIY Book Festival for Best Children’s Picture Book (2007)Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Competition for Best Children’s Picture Book (2007)Purple Dragonfly Book Awards for Educational/Instructional (1st Place) (2011)

The Great Southwest Book Festival for Children’s Books (2016)

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.

Literary Awards Monarch Award Nominee (2021)

Challenge and Resilience

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.

Literary Awards

OLA Forest of Reading Golden Oak Award

Red Cedar Information Book Award Nominee

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.

Literary Awards  Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award Nominee (2015)

Playful Ideas:

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.

Literary Awards

Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Picture Books (2019)

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.

Evans, Christine (2020).  Emily’s Idea.  Sounds True.

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:

Identity:

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.

Literary Awards

Newbery Medal (2020)Coretta Scott King Book Award for Author (2020)Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature (2019)Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Middle Grade & Children’s (2019)

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.

Literary Awards

Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2018)William Allen White Children’s Book Award Nominee (2019)Bluestem Book Award Nominee (2018)

Self-Regulation and Mindfulness:

Challenge and Resilience:

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. 

Literary Awards

Newbery Medal (2015)Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (2020)Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award Nominee for Grades 6-8 (2016)Rhode Island Teen Book Award Nominee (2017)Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2016)

Evergreen Teen Book Award (2017)Coretta Scott King Book Award for Author Honor (2015)Charlie May Simon Children’s Book Award (2017)North Carolina Young Adult Book Award for Middle School (2016)Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Middle Grade & Children’s (2014)NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor Book (2015)Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award (2017)

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.

Literary Awards

Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee (2020)Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Poetry (2018)Carnegie Medal Nominee (2019)

Colfer, Eoin, Donkin, Andrew, Rigano, Giovanni (Illustrat0r) (2018).  Illegal

Sourcebooks jabberwocky.

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.

Literary Awards:

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.

Literary Awards

Sydney Taylor Book Award for Middle Grade (2020)

Palacio, R.J., (2012). Wonder.  Alfred A. Knopf.

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.

Literary Awards

Josette Frank Award (2013)Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee (2013)West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award (WAYRBA) for Younger Readers (2013)South Carolina Book Award for Children’s Book (2014)Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (2014)

Charlie May Simon Children’s Book Award (2015)Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis for Preis der Jugendjury (2014)New Mexico Land of Enchantment Award for Children (2014)California Young Readers Medal for Intermediate (2015)James Cook Book Award Nominee (2013)Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children’s Literature (2013)Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice for Grades 3-5 (2015)NAIBA Book of the Year for Middle Readers (2012)Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for 5-12 years (2013)Washington State Sasquatch Award Nominee (2015)Bluestem Book Award (2014)Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Middle Grade & Children’s (2012)Carnegie Medal Nominee (2013)North Carolina Children’s Book Award (2014)Premio El Templo de las Mil Puertas Nominee for Mejor novela extranjera independiente (2012)Rhode Island Children’s Book Award (2014)FAB Award Nominee (2014)Rebecca Caudill Y

Telgemeier, Raina (2019).  Guts.  Scholastic.

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.

Literary Awards

Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Middle Grade & Children’s (2019)

Wisdom from Ancestors:

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.

Playful Ideas:

Secondary

Identity:

Self-Regulation and Mindfulness:

Challenge and Resilience:

Wisdom from Ancestors:

Playful Ideas:

Educators and Adults

Identity:

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.

Challenge and Resilience:

Wisdom from Ancestors:

Playful Ideas:

Redefining Who Belongs

One of my heroes – Charles Scott

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.

Joyce Perrault – Medicine Wheel Teachings

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. 

School Community Building at Livingstone Elementary

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.    

Creating School Community in Time of COVID-19

Black Shirt Day

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. 

Footnotes:

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. 

Reporting Student Achievement in British Columbia

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.