A Ride on ‘The Rollercoaster of Empowerment’ #IMMOOC Week 4

I really am not a fan of rollercoasters, fast ones, ones with drops, or ones that go upside down. Frankly, most of the time, I really do not like them. This week my journey on the Rollercoaster of Empowerment was not an enjoyable experience for me either. I think I spent most of the week being in sheer panic like this boy.

This year, I have implemented a games based, word study program. I was so excited last week when I pulled out alphabet dice and a student said, “I love it when those dice come out! The games are so fun!”. So of course, I had to run down the hall to my neighbour teacher, and fellow IMMOOCer, and share my excitement with her. When I was done, she replied, “Are your students just engaged or are they empowered?”. This was the start of a weeklong ride on the Rollercoaster of Empowerment.

I left that conversation feeling a bit out of sorts. I didn’t know how to answer that question. I started struggling with the idea of if my students were actually empowered. I began questioning my teaching – was I really only engaging my students? It was eating me up inside. I went home that night and watched a video reflection from another IMMOOC participant who talked about how their students were relating their learning to their golf game. I knew his students were older than my Grade 2s, but my students don’t make connections often like that. I was at the top of the rollercoaster, right before going down the biggest drop – I sure was confused and questioning myself as an educator.

The rollercoaster ride continued for the next few days in my head with small turns and ups and downs. I was still grappling with what does empowerment look like in a Grade 2 classroom? I started to think that empowerment must look different in different subject areas and in different grades. Was I empowering my students and just being too hard on myself?

The slowing down of the rollercoaster began towards the end of the week, when I had to ask my school IMMOOC crew to help me out. I admitted my fear –  my students are engaged, but I may not be empowering them. When I finally laid it out, an amazing colleague told me she thought empowerment is about a student feeling like they are in charge of their learning. She reminded me that choice is a form of empowerment and it could be as small as choosing a successful spot in Daily 5. She left me with a beautiful message,

“When a student feels that they are important – that is empowerment, too. I know you do all of these things and many more”.

I thank you Jen Pedersen for helping me see that I do empower my students and allowing me to end my ride on the crazy Rollercoaster of Empowerment.

My rollercoaster ride has made me realize that empowerment is different across classrooms and schools. I do empower my students everyday – they are constantly making choices to “guide their own learning”, as George suggests. From choosing a spot to work best, what tool to write with, what math activity they will do that day, what books they will read, how they will represent their learning, what they want to learn, to creating and teaching others – all of these provide opportunities for the best in each of my students to become visible.

I sure am glad to have survived the ride on the Rollercoaster of Empowerment, but the journey has not made me any more fond of rollercoasters.


That Thing I Used To Do #IMMOOC Week 3

As I was writing the title for this blog post, Taylor Swift’s new song, “Look What You Made Me Do” started running through my head. Her song is about shaming some celebrities for their misbehaviour and wrongdoing. Although my closest friends and colleagues have not dissed me publicly, the colleagues that I worked with at the beginning of my career did contribute to some teaching practices that I regret.

Well, no one made me do anything, except for myself.

This week’s blog challenge: What is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in? Why the change? I could probably write a novel about all the things that I no longer do because I know better. I don’t think there is a teacher out there who could say they haven’t changed anything in their teaching practice. If there is, in George’s words, “You will have become obsolete.”

When reflecting on this prompt, the first things that came to the forefront of my mind were craftivities and theme teaching.Pinterest became really big in my second year of teaching. With the Pinterest craze, came the craftivity craze. I hate to admit that I got sucked into all of the cute little crafts that went along with our writing. The school culture at the school I worked at at the time was very much about show and creating beautiful bulletin boards in the hallway. The craftivites went hand-in-hand with the themes I was centering my Language Arts program around and made for great displays. Each time a new season or celebration would come along, I would put out the matching picture books, put up a display on my door, and plan my lessons around a picture book and writing prompt to match the theme. This cycle would be on a continuous loop for the school year. It was like having the most annoying song ever stuck on repeat.

I never thought, “What if so-and-so doesn’t like Halloween, or winter, or camping?”. The list could go on and on. I was the sole director of the content, with no student voice or choice being given. I seem to recall that my students were engaged, but were they really? Would they have been more interested if they were given choice through inquiry based learning? Where was the deeper learning?

Reflecting back, how many hours did my students spend cutting out the pieces for each craftivity? How many hours did I spend at the photocopier? How much money did I spend on cardstock and coloured paper to make each one look even cuter? I think the sales people at Michaels knew me by name at that point in my career! Too bad I couldn’t go back and have my future self tell me that the learning is more important than how the product looks. Craftivities weren’t sparking my students’ learning, they just developed their fine motor skills.

I’d like to apologize to all my former students and wish I could go back in time to teach you again using the knowledge I now have.

I am now a fully recovered craftivity-aholic. In fact, I just told a colleague to not worry about craftivities, they aren’t worth the time you put in. All of us make mistakes in teaching, but what’s important is to recognize them and make changes to make the experiences in our classrooms the best for our students.


Change is Hard #IMMOOC Week 2

Over the summer my school went through a drastic construction project, which meant half our school was demolished and was replaced by brand new, gorgeous modulars with views to our school forest that were to die for – especially for myself, who was coming from a room that had no view. Due to the construction, I wasn’t able to get into the building to set-up my classroom until four days before the students came. When I first entered the space, I took time to soak in how amazing it was and then my train of thought went straight to how daunting the task of unpacking and organizing everything would be, especially with the time crunch hanging over my head. I had to make myself, and my perfectionist personality, be okay with the fact that not everything was going to look beautiful for the first day. I eventually came to terms with it since I knew it was more important for the students to have a space to be and that school is more about the relationships and the learning, than the beauty of the room.

With the new space, came many new things, but the biggest one was the new interactive projector that was to be installed in my classroom. I was so excited about it that I had read the user manual online over the summer #teachernerd. It didn’t seem that difficult to use, so when installation was finished at 7pm on the night before the first day, I wasn’t overly stressed. I went blind into the first day of school when it came to using it and things didn’t go quite as planned. The protector wasn’t calibrated correctly, the software was different than what I had read about, and the projector was so sensitive that a multitude of windows would start opening whenever anyone went near the board. For a person who loves technology and relies on the projector all day, I was going crazy! The technology was making me frustrated and every time I tried to do something that was so easy on my trusty old SmartBoard, it made me die a little bit more inside and feel more overwhelmed.

Besides adjusting to the new technology, I spent many hours organizing my space and then re-organizing it a different way to make it work better. I had to adjust to how my room worked – a new room meant a new layout and new traffic flow. There was (and still are) many times when I go looking for things and I can’t find them because they are in a different bin or space than they were in in my old room. George Couros says, “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”, but change is also hard. In my case, I think Robin Sharma’s take on change resonates with me a little bit more.


My class and I have now completed 24 days of school together and we are moving towards the amazing and gorgeous part of the change process. Thankfully, the projector has become easier to use. The more I used it, the more I figure out how it responds. There are things that have been tough to get used to and others that have come easily. If I compare my journey of change to that of my students who are starting a new school year, with a new teacher, new expectations, new classroom, and new classmates, I can only imagine how overwhelming it would be for them to adjust.

We ask so much of our students so quickly. I know my journey has been overwhelming, exhausting, and stressful. This experience has made me pause and reflect that we are asking our students to accept their inevitable changes that come with starting a new school year and, for some, the process is easier than for others. It’s important for each student to feel like they are a special part of the classroom. Take time to build relationships with each child and to understand where they are coming from. Understand it will take a while to adjust and appreciate what each child brings to the classroom.

My class and I are adjusting to change, making mistakes, and learning from each other and in the end it’s an amazing and gorgeous place to be!


Shifting Mindsets Through Innovation

Our job as educators is to inspire students and give them the spark to do something great. If I taught my students the same way I was taught when I went to school, I’m pretty sure some would like to roll their eyes at me.

Those methods of teaching wouldn’t inspire the students in my classroom or make them excited about learning. Our current students will be solving problems that don’t even exist yet. What a big responsibility we have as educators to make sure we are doing the best job we can to inspire our students!

This year, I have the privilege of working in our school Makerspace. I’ve been observing lots of creativity and imagination as the students tackle their challenges. I’ve had many interesting conversations from one word answers to long winded stories when I’ve asked students, “What did you create?”. It has been eye opening to see which students have a fixed mindset and cannot see past the materials to create something, which students can only envision one thing, and others who are completely stuck. Then there are those students who come with a growth mindset and I watch them in awe with all of their glorious ideas and perseverance and wish others could have those skills.

I got to thinking about how the youngest students, those just starting Grade 1, are some of the students who are experiencing difficulty in thinking flexibly in the Makerspace. They have already learned to play the game of school and their creativity has been stifled. They’ve already developed a fixed mindset at such a young age.

Innovation is thinking outside the box, giving students time to struggle with the material, making mistakes, and allowing them to grow their brains. Changing learning experiences through innovation will allow students to shift their mindset to become more flexible. We need to allow our students to learn in ways that promote flexible thinking. Give students time to find their aha moments and develop all those glorious ideas.

If you expect students to develop a growth mindset, as an educator you need to model it as well. Ask yourself, “How can I make this better?”, “What can I do differently?”. Practice what you preach – be open minded, challenge others, celebrate risks, inspire others, and most importantly make mistakes.


Oiler Jersey Math

It’s funny how great ideas can just come to you in a flash. Since the Oilers clinched their playoff spot last month, I had been trying to figure out a way to integrate the Oilers and the playoffs into my math lessons. I hadn’t come up with anything more interesting than word problems to practice our addition and subtraction skills until we had Oilers day last week. A group of teachers were in my room during recess and we were all wearing our Oiler jerseys and inspiration hit! We decided to pose the following questions to our Grade 2 and 6 students and then share our thinking with each other.

Oiler Math - Jersey NumbersOiler Math - Jersey Numbers (1)

I posed both of these questions to my class and asked them to come up with solutions that would work with the numbers already presented. Using the thinking behind number talks, I had students find solutions mentally and put a thumbs up in front of them when they had a solution.  After almost the whole class had a solution, I asked students to share their solution and the reasoning behind their thinking. I recorded their  solutions and thinking on the board as they spoke. These are the possible solutions to the questions.

Green: Solutions to the 1st question       Orange: Solutions to the 2nd question

While my students were sharing their thinking and reasoning, their knowledge about numbers and their relationships became apparent. Their responses gave me insight into who was using what they had learned earlier in the year about odd and even numbers and who had gaps in their mathematical understanding.

I had to ask my students if 99 and 97 would be a possible response for the second question as a start of a pattern. We haven’t talked a great deal about patterning yet this year and it would interesting to see if I repeated a similar question to this next month, once we have learned more about patterns, if my students would offer solutions that would make patterns.



Not Taking a Risk is Taking a Risk

This week in class we were reading the book “The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes“. We’ve talked in class about celebrating mistakes and how mistakes lead to growing your brain. The conversation we had around the book was so powerful, but one comment made by a student made me pause and reflect. She said:

“Not making mistakes is making a mistake.”

Jo Boaler talks about how making mistakes are opportunities for learning that cause synapses to fire in our brain, which in turn grow our brains. If you look at this idea through an Innovator’s Mindset, the same can be true if you equate mistakes to risks.

Not taking a risk is taking a risk.

In the Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros talks about how, as a teacher, taking risks are necessary to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all of our learners. Trying new things and challenging the status-quo are both risk-taking scenarios that come with all kinds of mistakes. Nothing is ever perfect the first time, mistakes are bound to happen, and there will be failures. Change is messy, but in order to make things new and better for your learners, you have to take risks.

Be the person in your school that embraces the challenge to move forward, share your experiences, and inspire others to take risks. In George’s words,



Me a Leader – What??

Before the IMMOOC experience many of my colleagues have told me that I am leader. Even my principal has given leadership roles at my school – Technology Coach, Division I Literacy Lead, and Mentor Teacher. My internal response to them was this:

I always think all the things I do are just part of my job as a teacher and who I am as a person. I am always willing to share, welcome others into my classroom, and talk about all the exciting things that I am doing with my learners.

During the Week 5 Live session, Shelly Burgess and Beth Houf brought up the idea that anyone, in any position, could be a leader. After this statement was made, I started to think that, maybe, I am leader in my school and district.

This newfound perspective of myself made me do a little informal research and reflection. The word leader is defined as a person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country. Nope – I’m not this kind of leader. I associate this type of leader with someone in an administration role or Superintendent. So what kind of leader am I then?

The word leader comes from the word lead, which can be used as a noun or a verb. In total, there are twelve different meanings of the word lead. After reading the following definition, I have decided this could fit with how I view myself as a leader.

lead – to show (someone or something) the way to a destination by going in front of or beside them

In my leadership role, I don’t command a group, rather I show someone the way by modelling innovation. I take time to work alongside my colleagues and push them to try things that are new and better. George talks about how savvy leaders are constantly re-inventing. I know I am always reflecting on how to improve my practice and never teaching the same lesson twice, always re-working and innovating to make it better.

Through my informal research, I gathered that a leader is someone who inspires others to such a degree that others would go above and beyond, not because you have to, but because you want to. Leaders encourage, guide, coach, empower, and respect. They are role models who excel, risk takers, and innovators. I’m too humble to say that I have these qualities, but I will say that I strive to be a person who exemplifies them.

Great leaders work together and push one another to do new and better things for our learners. I love talking about the Innovator’s Mindset with my colleagues. We have our own impromptu #georgetalks throughout the day. My one colleague sent me a quote from the book that has become one of my favourites:

“We only get better when we find those who truly elevate us. Look for mentors who will push you to come up with better and brighter ideas and be that person for your followers. Leaders are meant to unleash talent by bringing their people’s strengths to life, not ignoring them.”

She ended the text with a simple: Thanks! 😊👍

After receiving the message, I finally saw myself as a leader.

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