First Nations Learning at Glenbow

Yesterday, my class ventured downtown to the Glenbow Museum for the day. During the afternoon, we participated in the program called Nitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life, which was lead by a Blackfoot man, who we called Skip. He began the program by providing us with some background information about the Blackfoot People and some events that happened in the past. We then gathered around the giant teepee, as he share his own stories. The students were asking questions to learn more, making connections between their own culture and his, and were fascinated by the Blackfoot culture.

As the students learned about the importance of the bison to the Blackfoot people, they were given a variety of artefacts to examine. They needed to decide what part of the bison the artefact was created from, as well as what it was used for. They developed a rich understanding and appreciation for the fact that the Blackfoot people used every part of the bison, and did not let anything go to waste. It was quite the contrast from our society today.

As the new Alberta curriculum begins to unfolds, it is our responsibility to ensure that both teachers and students develop foundational knowledge about First Nations in Alberta. Glenbow supports one way in which we can educate our students, learn from the past, and develop better understandings to make for a better future!

Here are some of the students reflections, and the learning that stood out for them:

Back to School

After summer break, comes the start of meetings and reconnecting with my school team. Besides the regular stuff, my favourite part of back to school is our family induction. It’s a chance for us to sit down individually with each family in our class and spend a short amount of time getting to know them. It’s a great way to establish rapport with your students and parents right from the start. I truly believe it takes away the angst of starting school and starts to build that classroom community that we all strive to have.

To begin this year, we made a short video to introduce our families to some changes to grade 4. Next, we complete a little questionnaire with each student to get to know them a bit better. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to see writing skills and family dynamics. After a bit of paperwork and questions/comments, and showing the students around the classroom, I always take a family photo. I conclude with giving each child a little snack to welcome them to my classroom.

To start this year, the grade 4 teachers have received new portables. They unfortunately aren’t finished yet and I’m the lucky one who gets to have my classroom in the gym! I can’t wait to explore what this will be like. Stay tuned for updates…

Community Building Through Orientations

Each year, before the official day of classes, our school has set the day aside for student orientations. We meet the parents and students individually to get to know them, and for them to know their teacher prior to the first day of school. Not only does this help to relieve the stress and anxiety that our students could have with moving to a new grade, but it also allows me to start building a strong relationship with my students and parents.

In the past, our orientations have been more teacher directed: basically a relaying of information about grade 4, with only a small amount of time at the end to have a “real” conversation with our families. This year, we wanted to show our families how important their voices are, how we value our relationships with them, and how we want to build a strong classroom community. In turn, my grade level collaborated together to redesign the format of our orientations. Here’s how they looked instead:

Before our families entered the classroom for their meeting, they watched a video that we created, which highlighted features of grade 4.

Watching the video prior to our orientations eliminated the initial minutes of teacher talk, and instead allowed us to have an open discussion. From here, we created a 2017 Student Questionnaire  as a way to get to know our students better. I wasn’t entirely sure about how these questions could turn out, with students generally being shy on the first meeting day. Much to my surprise every single student had a story, thought, or specific fact that really showed me something special about them, outside of academics. I even received several laughs from parents about the things that their child shared!

After opening the floor for any questions or comments from either the student or the parents, each family had their photo taken together. I intend to print and send these home as a family keepsake. My students were then given a little treat (label courtesy of Teachers Pay Teachers), and the parents were given a parent questionnaire to complete at home. I’m excited to see the responses that I receive back.


Through taking the time to redesign our orientations by putting community building first, we’re hoping to have long lasting benefits: That our parents will feel valued, our students will know that their voices count, and that our communication and relationships will continue to grow and develop.

The Power of Believing in Students

A couple of weeks ago, all of our elementary schools in our district had an incredible day to celebrate our year of pro-kindness efforts with our K-4 students. During this morning, a student from each campus spoke and explained how his/her school has changed and the positive impacts it has had, and here is where I want to begin my story.

About two weeks prior to this event, my school held an essay contest for grades 3 and 4. After reading the instructions and explaining how the process would work, several students eagerly raised their hands as ones who wanted to participate. I passed the notices out to them, but was surprised that the one student I had “pegged” as one who would volunteer didn’t raise her hand. I approached her asking if she wanted to enter the contest and she declined quickly.

As the next day of school approached, I was stilled boggled by the fact that this girl didn’t choose to participate. Of all the students in my class she is the most outgoing, always chatting, has a big personality, and is a go-getter. I pulled her aside at recess time and questioned why she didn’t want to participate in the contest. She replied, much to my surprise, that she was terribly scared to speak in front of people, something I never would have imagined by her sparky personality. I encouraged her and explained to her that I thought she would be fantastic at it, and after much persuasion she finally agreed to at least write the essay.

She made it to the top 5 for our school and had to do her speech in front of the school, as an audition for the real thing. She was brilliant, and had incredible intonation and expression for a nine year old. She spoke even better than I could have imagined her to, and never led on to the fact that she was nervous.

In the long run, she won the competition for our school and presented her speech in front of over 1000 people, never leading on that stomach was in knots, and making me as proud as her own mother was.

I think sometimes as teachers and in our busy work lives it can be hard to remember and recognize the greatness in all kids. Each one has something unique and amazing to offer to the world. Although this girl can sometimes drive me crazy with her persistent loud voice, I realized that this was a tool that she could use. We need to help our students discover their gifts and encourage them to share them.

Since then, not only has she become more confident in herself, but our relationship has grown. It’s amazing what a little encouragement and believing in someone can do. We’ve all had those teachers who believed in us, so now it’s our time to pass on the gift and show our students how amazing each of them are!

What’s Your Summer Learning Plan?

It’s hard to think of summer when I awoke to large, fluffy snow flakes accumulating quickly on the ground this morning. And yes, it is May 3. Whether you’re staying in town, going on a traveling expedition, or spending time with your family and friends, it seems as educators we always find ways to integrate some kind of learning into our lives. Although summer is consider a break or holiday, teachers still find the time to do what they do best: learn!

Continuing with my own learning, I joined the vibrant twitter #satchatwc chat this morning focusing on summer goals and learning plans. Below I’ve summarized our discussion:

Question #1: Summer provides a great opportunity for us to focus on our own new learning. What’s on top of your list to learn this summer?

Question #2: What learning opportunities are you making available for staff this summer? Share topics and any innovative practices.

Question #3: Share your recommendations – What book and/or blogger do you think is a “must read” for the rest of us? Why?

Question #4: How about for our students? What are you doing or what do recommend to keep students engaged in learning this summer?

Question #5: What would an ideal day of learning look like for you this summer?

The last question asked about non-educational plans for the summer and of course many answers consisted of spending time with family members. The great ideas in this chat made me think about what my summer plan is. What do I want to learn this summer and how do I want to grow? This will be the first summer in years, that I won’t be traveling to an exotic place, and as much as that aches me, instead I am embarking on a new journey of starting my masters. Continuing and expanding my learning is something I’ve always wanted to do, but hadn’t the time. Having to be in town for my sister’s wedding and family visits seemed like the perfect opportunity. A great balance of educational and fun!

Regardless of if you have plans, or are trying to build some now, I challenge you to do something for yourself. Take control of your own learning and follow the path you desire. You may be surprised with where it leads you.

Are You an Enlightened Leader?

Leaders exist all around us; administrators, teachers, students, parents. They are able to create sparks, challenge thinking, and support others in their passions and fears. But what makes a leader great? Is it the way in which they deal with difficulties? Their ability to persevere in challenging times? The strong bonds and relationships they form with others?

I recently came across an article by Sam LeDeaux that highlights the differences between leaders and managers. It’s clear that leaders are ones who inspire, trust, empower, and reflect. They take on responsibilities, do what’s right, and create a climate of safety and care. All of these things may sound simple to achieve, but are they?

Today, I participated in #satchatwc on twitter, whose focus was on leadership. It was an excellent chat filled with ideas and opinions about what enlightened leadership looks like, and the qualities that a leader has in our modern day. Here’s a brief summary of the ideas shared with my PLN:

Question #1: How have the requirements for leadership changed in our current times? What has changed…what stays the same?

Question #2: Enlightened leaders aren’t afraid to take risks. What motivates them to do so?

Question #3: What qualities are necessary for leading in our modern times?

Question #4: How do enlightened leaders motivate other to do new and innovative work?

Question #5: What actions are leaders taking to motivate creativity and innovations at all levels, from technology to risk taking?

Question #6: All leaders face challenges. How do enlightened leaders respond to them? What makes their responses different/unique?

Clearly, the definition and role of an enlightened leader are something to uphold to. In order to be this kind of leader, you need to possess a variety of skills, which help to create an environment of caring and encouraging within your school. Although to some they may sound unattainable, these kinds of leaders exist all around us. They help us to recognize our skills and passions, embrace risks and failures, and provide positive feedback and learning opportunities. They build strong, trusting relationships with their colleagues, and encourage collaboration. They are all around us. Are you one of them?

What Does Character Education Mean to You?

If you haven’t participated in a twitter chat, it’s a must! I have done two this week and am starting to admit that I am becoming addicted. It is great to connect to other educators and hear about the amazing things that are happening in schools all around the world.

On Monday, I participated in the #cdnedchat which focused this week on character education, one of my passions! We started with defining character education, offered opinions on what it means to us and what it looks like in our school, and shared resources. Here is some of the chat, and the great things that are happening across the country:

I think the major points that I valued from this conversation were:
1) Character education MUST be woven into everything you do. Although some concepts should be explicitly taught, issues constantly come up that allow for discussion to happen. Embrace those times, don’t ignore them.
2) Teachers need to model what character education looks like. It’s one thing to preach it, but if you aren’t acting on it, then what’s the point? Children are more observant then you would know.
3) Develop a school community where all members are involved and can continue to help and develop character within your students. This includes teachers, administrators, board members, parents, and families. Everyone should be a part of the process.

This year, our school has been working with the program, Rachel’s Challenge. Instead of focusing on anti-bullying it embraces pro-kindness. Student’s journal, set goals, and reflect upon the acts of kindness that they observe. It takes the focus away from themselves, and instead gets them to look at the world around them. When they see someone performing a kind act, they write it on a link, and then give it to that person. We been attaching our links together, within our classroom and school, to show that one small act of kindness can create a chain reaction. It has been incredible to observe the differences in our students and school atmosphere.

Here are some of our kindness links attached and displayed in the halls.

Here are some of our kindness links attached and displayed in the halls.

Here are some other great things that I learned educators from around our country are participating in:
Project Thank You
Bucket Fillers
Turning Points – Literacy Program
Me to We, and We Day
Roots of Empathy
Classroom Meetings/Character Circles
Family Game Nights
Digital Citizenship

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite character quotes, and always think about this: How do you want to be remembered?