The power of listening 

We recently had a community circle with my students. Reports just went home and my principal commented on how much my students have grown up. I too have notice this difference from last year to this year so I decided to ask them, what has been the difference that has made the difference.

At first they gave some stock answers:

1) we grew up

2) we knew you had high standards. I laugh at this one but it is true.

But then one of the students said it was the community circles. I prompted further and asked, ” but didn’t you have them last year?”

They affirmed my thoughts and said yes but this year you listen.

Listen? I asked. Yes you let us talk and then let us say how we should solve the problem. You let us share and you just sit there and listen. 

It’s struck me for a couple of reasons. The first is I often feel I talk too much but also was that really it? Was this really the difference?

I know we all listen to our students but how often do we really listen?

Let me try it a different way. As many of you know I write about my daughter a lot. She has made me a better person and a teacher because of the struggles that she goes through.  I have been reading a lot about parenting and about self regulation. The number one thing that I hear is, all kids just want to be understood and listened too. In fact, I think that most people want that. However, that is not a easy feat. Many of times the battles that I do have with my daughter is because I don’t listen and I jump right to my opinion or my interpretation of what I think happened.

Students are no different. They want to be listened too but how often do we fake listen. 

Please don’t get me wrong. I think as teachers we all do an amazing job and are stetched so thin but I am writing this more as a reminder to myself to take time to listen. Students say the most wonderful things and when they know you care about them, they care about you.

The purpose of teaching is….

Go! Fill in the blank: The purpose of teaching is _______________.

I know we all have our own opinions about what education is, in fact I hope to see some of your thoughts in the comment section. For me teaching is meeting each and everyone where they are at that present moment in time. It is about modelling and growing a future generation to care, love and be creative.  That being said I often question what teaching is because I wonder if everyone thinks the way I do (which by the way I know they do not and that is a good thing) So I ask you, my readers, What is the point of teaching? What is its purpose? How do we know we are meeting that purpose?

I may have blogged about this before but recent presentations have made me think about these questions.

In past research I came across this statement:

The purpose of teaching is to help students learn…~Cathy Fosnot

Now I think we would all agree with this statement. In fact, I would hope that no teacher would disagree. However, this was not what got me thinking. It was the last part of the sentence that really made me ponder.

..however, without learning there is no teaching. ~Cathy Fosnot

When I first read this statement I said to myself is she implying that if my students do not learn then I am not teaching? And to be honest, yes she was. I have always said teaching is an art form. I know that everyone thinks that they can teach but good teachers know how to make people learn. It is the learning that makes teaching rich and important and not everyone does this.


So let me turn this over to you, what do you think teaching is? How do you know you are doing it?


Organizing Against Islamophobia & the US Travel Ban

This is an amazing piece that needs to be addressed. It is the reason why I try to put Social Justice at the forefront of my teaching. The funny thing is its never the kids I need to talk to but their parents. Please have a read and stand up for human rights. All of then.

Heart of a Teacher

anti_trump_protest___gallery-2 Protestors march along Yonge Street Saturday, February 4 as part of a national day of action opposing hatred against Muslims.

I attended an event organized by my community, Parkdale’s Legal Services at the local library. The event focused on addressing Islamophobia in Canada, the province, and the community, as well as the impact of the travel ban on refugees and immigrants.
The event could have used more Muslim voices on the panel. There was only one Muslim woman on it, and her story was great to hear. I appreciated the fact that an attendee called this out. The organizers claim they tried to reach out to Muslims community members, and the local Imam, but they weren’t available.
One of the important things in organizing, whether it’s a movement, events, conferences, etc, is that you have a diverse representation of voices, but most importantly, the voices of those who you’re trying…

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Numberless Word Problems

So I first heard this while I was a guest on Derek Rhodenizer‘s Podcast. during the podcast he mentioned this idea about Numberless Word Problems, you can read about them here.  The idea is basically, to guide and scaffold students through the structure of problems by making them ask and rethinking questions.

Now this was my first attempt but I am going to attempt to share my thinking.

My goal was to get students to think about division. My students have already had practice at division but struggle to use their facts and thinking in a word problem. They just don’t seem to understand what to do or be flexible in their thinking. This is why I thought numberless problems would be amazing idea to try.

As the students came into the classroom I had this picture showing up on the screen.



Right away I had kids oohing and awing. One of the kids shouted out that is Niagara Falls! I figured I picked a good picture.

I then asked them What questions do you have? Do you wonder about anything?

This brought on an onslaught of questions:

  1. How much money did it take to build this?
  2. Why did someone want to build it?
  3. What is the diameter of this?
  4. What is the circumference?
  5. If you could divide the wheel into parts, how many parts could you divide it into?
  6. What is the environmental impact of the Ferris wheel on the neighbouring area? (they just came from science)
  7. what is the total cost to ride?
  8. How much money have they made since it opened?
  9. What is the distance between the mountain and the wheel?
  10. How many Mammoths tall is this? (Loved that question cause it was what I was going for)

I then told them a little more information: The Ferris Wheel is 175ft Tall ( I know I am Canadian but I needed the numbers to match Grade 5. They do 3 digits by 1 digit division so I couldn’t use 53m).

I then asked them does this change any of your questions or do you have any new ones?

Again this brought on an onslaught of hands.

  1. How many humans equal 175?
  2. How many V(student name) would be 175ft?
  3. How much more can the wheel expand till it reaches its maximum tipping point?
  4. Who would want to build a 175 ft Ferris wheel?
  5. If _(insert object)___ is (blank feet), how many of them fit inside 175ft?

I then added: The Ferris Wheel is 175ft tall and the Mammoth still looks kind of small.

Once again (I think you see the pattern) I asked what changes in your questions.

This time they all focused on the Mammoth and came up with two questions:

  1. How tall is the Mammoth?
  2. How many are needed to reach 175ft tall?

Which prompted me to ask them the real question:

The Niagara Falls Ferris Wheel is 175ft tall. The Mammoth’s look pretty small next to it. In fact, the Wheel is 9 times larger than the Mammoth. How tall would the Mammoth be?

What I really like about this approach is that it allowed my highly ELL (English as a Second Language) group to begin to understand how word problems are constructed. It also had them wondering about mathematics and seeing the world through a whole new lens. I am currently reading Jo Boaler’s book “Mathematical Mindsets.”  In the book, she mentions that many of our “math” problems stem from our children seeing math as a set of rules and the right answer. They don’t see the beauty in mathematics. Doing these “numberless” word problems allows the students to wonder, and think about mathematics. I know this post doesn’t do the justice and thinking that Brian has in his posts but I will post more as I go through them. If you have any advice or suggests please let me know or if you have any more ideas I would also love to hear from you.

What Should be Driving our Teaching?

20160803_082912I am not too sure if this title does my thoughts any justice but I hope at the very least it does touch on the topic.

I was recently watching a small clip about schools in Finland. I know Finnish schools have been all over the news for the last couple of years but this clip caught my attention.

Now I know Finland is small in demographics, they are largely Caucasian and they, for the most part, speak one common language (ELL not really a factor). However, as impressive as their scores are it was what the clip said that has always got me thinking.

We try to teach them to be Happy people, respect others and themselves.

I could not agree with this statement more. I fear that we have eliminated the human element out of education. Now please do not get me wrong I think there are many great teachers out there who really strive for this and I think we are getting better but as a whole, I don’t know if we do a could enough job, myself included.

For the last two years I have really started to focus on my students as people (again not that I wasn’t before) but really trying to get to know them, who they are, what they like and help them grow as people first, students second. It’s interesting talking to them about their past experiences. But when I ask them what makes a bad teacher they tell me, when they fake listen to you, or play favorites, or don’t make learning fun.

I want to share a story with you. At the beginning of the year, I was talking with one of my new students, who I was told was a behavior, he told me in a quiet conversation that we had.

S:”You know what Mr.So?”


S:” Last year my teachers thought I was really annoying. They hated me!”

M:”Well I don’t hate you but I won’t lie, I do at times find your actions annoying.”

S:”yeah, I can be annoying sometimes” and we had a good laugh at that. But what was scary was his perception of himself and how he felt his teachers thought of him. 5 years of feeling annoying most likely mean you will just be that.

I see it with my own daughter who in JK decided that she hated school because the teacher didn’t like her. She told me that the reason why she acted out was that all the bad girls got friends. I asked her why she thought this and her answer was well the bad girls in the class do the same thing and never get in trouble and all the kids gather around them. What she failed to notice is how those girls got the friends to stay or that they may have been talked to by the teacher.

Now I know this is student perspective and I am sure that we as teachers do not purposefully go out and do these things, this is not why we got into education but I also know and hear the stories. We all have had those frustrating days. We are all human and get annoyed at behavior, and kids but it does have an impact on their learning and how they perceive school.  The problem lies in the perception that students have of themselves and how long that perception stays with them. The more that they hear you a problem the more they just say, “it’s easier to be one”.

Last year I focused on Collaborative Problem Solving by Dr. Green Ross. I have blogged about this before but basically, it was bringing the students together to discuss problems and situations as a class. I found this dramatically helped. One thing that I took from his book was there is no bad child. I know this may make many of you question the statement but I will say that ALL CHILDREN want to be good. Some may need more teaching than others.

Thanks to my good friend Pete Cameron and an amazing speaker Angela Maiers, I started a #Choose2matter board this year. The board started off with students feelings about themselves. I wanted them to be able to look at it when they felt down and think about a positive thought.


Updated Pic:


This board is now filled with compliments cards from the students to each other. I don’t have to ask them to add to the wall they just go ahead and do it.

I have also been reading about self-regulation and how students who may be deemed behaviour really are just over stimulated or need help to regulate their behaviour. Learning about Self-regulation has allowed me to see students stressors and remove them or calm them down before they happen. It also has allowed me to stay calm and not stress as much with those same kids.

I don’t have quantitative proof with my class but just hearing the comments from my fellow colleagues and principal about my students has made me see the benefits of what I am doing. They tell me that they have really grown up and matured. There doesn’t seem to be as much behaviour from your class this year as last.

I really believe that focusing on students as humans and teaching them how to be kids, role models and believe in themselves is the key to changing our education system.

Now I know this is not a new concept that I am preaching and I know that we all want our students to be successful but reflect for a moment on a couple of things:

  1. How do you interact with your students?
  2. Do you listen to them?
  3. Would you feel comfortable with them evaluating you?
  4. Would you feel comfortable with them telling you how they want to learn and what they want to learn?

It’s not an easy transition or an easy path. As a teacher, I have had to give up control and let go of that “Oh I could have used that 40 minutes to cover curriculum” feeling. It is also not an instant success. It’s not some magical cure but it does and will work. Building trust and community takes time. Yes, students still get on my nerves and yes I still lose my cool and go five steps back but the difference is that the relationships I have built with my students allow me to make a mistake. They know that if I goof and yell or break a relationship it was a mistake and that I flipped my lid.

Now I know this may seem like more of a parenting subject than teaching but I will end with this thought.

Do unhappy children learn?

Love to hear from you.

Self regulation and collaborative problem solving

So if you have been reading my blog recently you know that it has been filled with posts about self regulation and collaborative problem solving. If you don’t know what they are I highly suggest that you read Stuart Shankers and Dr Ross Green’s work. Both are amazing resources for parents and teachers.

This post is a relection that the path I decided to go down actually works. For those that don’t know my daughter has struggled to learn how to self regulate. This goes beyond normal kid tantrums. We often get things thrown at us. Lots of anger and she has no idea what she is doing. Some may say that she does but if you read more of Stuart’s work you will see that kids like Izzy lack or lag in some social skills. To be honest I would socially that most kids and adults lag in thsee behaviours.

We have been working with Izzy for a couple of months on reconozing her stressors and what to do when she feels over stressed. It isn’t always perfect but on the weekend I was amazed at her progress 

This past weekend my sister got married. This meant huge crowds, loud noises and having the cousins over. It’s a perfect storm for over stimulation and stressors. However, at some point in the day I over heard Izzy saying to her cousin and say “please leave me a lone I need a moment to calm down.” I was so proud of her. She recognize  that she was over stimulated and needed a moment.

As I have said it’s not always perfect and to be honest we still have many hard stressful moments but it is getting better. 

So what does this mean for education? LearnING about self regulation has been one of those pivotal moments in my teaching career. One of those changing moments which makes you rethink your philosophy and you overall teaching.  Having an eye open for stresses in my own child has helped me see them in my students. I know it works in my daughter and it works for my students. Often now it takes a small moment for me to say hey do you need a moment? And then they destress and we can talk about it. 

Self regulation has be revolutionary for me and my teaching and I just wanted to share this personal story. 

Our past molds our present but reflection changes our future

This week has been a very busy week (coming off of parent interviews, Ignites, following along with Bit, starting a new course with OISE) but after some awesome Ignite presentations by Fair Chance Learning I couldn’t help but think how our past molds who we presently are.


During my Ignite I mentioned my Father and how he taught (or really didn’t teach) me. You see my father is not a teacher by any means and being an immigrant whose own father had to stay in England to work made him learn on his own. To him learning was individual. What I need to know I go out and get and this is how he taught us. Don’t understand how to rotate the breaks, just go do it. Don’t understand calculus read the book and do it. There was no step by step procedure, someone sitting beside me telling me what to do or helping me, it was just me.

I often wonder if this is the reason why I feel very passionate about letting students explore and create their own understanding. Now please let me preface I also think that learning needs to be in a safe, inclusive and monitored state but that was not always so. I remember when I first volunteered and questioned shouldn’t students just know “it” (it being the subject).

I see it with my parenting and to a degree my classroom management. I grew up in a very strict household. In fact, my Dad often quoted , “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” (please note that it may seem like I had an awful childhood and my Dad was a mean old ogre but in truth, he was the most loving father I could ever have). Now I didn’t take this philosophy to that degree with how I raise my children or students but I have for the longest time taken the stance that a strict firm presence is what all children need to follow the line (boy was I wrong).


Being an unsuccessful parent (in my eyes) has taught me that a lot comes to understanding my children’s needs, stresses and how they respond to that stress. Reflecting on this has changed me for the better, both as a parent, a person and a teacher.

Which brings me to the last point, reflection. It has been through some very hard soul searching and reflecting that many of my teaching changes have happened.  I also mentioned in my Ignite that I was afraid that my students were becoming complacent. I was afraid that every year they were just coming because we told them too and I didn’t think that was the students’ fault. For so many years I would ask this:


Leaving the only common denominator, me. If I was the common denominator then it was me that needed to change and it was because I was willing to change that I am where I am today.

I know I may be rambling here but I have been thinking about all the various debates we have in school (coding, parenting, math) and try very hard now to see the various perspectives at play. What has shaped these discussions? Is it to flee how we have been taught? Is it that it never worked for me so I must find something different? Is it this is how I was raised so I keep on trucking?

All of these questions come into play in our everyday. Each experience we have plays an impactful role in how we handle stress, how we react to people and make-up who we are. However, our past does not define us. It molds us but reflection allows us to create the futures that we need.

I find it interesting to think on this:

  1. What past events or stories has molded who you are today?
  2. How do those events impact you as a person, teacher and all around being?
  3. Do you like the path? or What would you change?
  4. How has reflection changed who you are today?

Thanks for listening to some of my rambles. Love to hear your stories.