Taking Time to Say Thanks

This week held some really important events for me, and I need to thank a few people for their part in it.  You see, I was pushed.  I was pushed in my thinking, pushed in my self-confidence and pushed to share something I am very passionate about that until now I couldn’t share.

Last Saturday, I attended #edcamp35 and hoped to connect with many educators, parents and students who would challenge my thinking.  I wanted to sit back and listen, but Chris Wejr pushed me to facilitate two sessions.  I had opportunity to lead a break-out group from Chris’s session on “Starting with Student Strengths” and also lead a session with Tracy Cramer about student e-portfolios and our experience with using FreshGrade.  The discussions were rich, challenging and thoughtful.  Thanks, Chris, for pushing me to take the lead instead of sit back and be a spectator. I am always grateful for your encouragement and friendship, gently pushing me to share my strengths.

On Tuesday, I had the privilege of attending Surrey School District’s Digital Dinner at the invitation of Elisa Carlson.  I appreciated the opportunity to connect with teachers from Surrey, hear some great Ignite presentations and hear George Couros and Superintendent Jordan Tinney present.  As a district, Surrey has inspired me.  I see them taking risks in their learning.  I see them wanting to be better educators and do what is best for students.  I have learned much from them, and I am pleased that they have “adopted” me as a co-learner.  Thank you Elisa for inviting me to be a part of the evening.

Hearing George Couros speak, I found myself nodding.  A lot.  Every time I read George’s blog I am challenged.  I don’t necessarily agree with everything he writes, but he makes me think and rethink about what I do and how I do it.  Thank you, George, for being that conscience I need to question everything I do.  I appreciate that you are willing to dialogue with me when I have questions and I need to figure things out.

Thursday was a big day for our school.  Our superintendent, Kevin Godden, came to visit.  Rightly or wrongly, there is always a tension when “district admin” come to call.  There is the stress of “will he think I’m doing a good job?” and “what if he doesn’t like me or what I am doing with my students?”  Kevin came into my room and stayed for close to half an hour.  He was interested in what I was doing with FreshGrade and communicating student learning with their parents.  He was excited when my students wanted to show them the things they were building and he was encouraging and receptive to the things I had to say.  Thank you, Kevin, for taking the time to visit.  I know your job does not allow a great deal of time in the classroom, but I was happy to share with you a project that I feel passionately about.  Through the use of FreshGrade, I have been able to make connections with my students’ parents that previously weren’t possible.  I look forward to seeing how our district embraces the concept of the e-portfolio and goes forward, helping our students graduate with a representation of what they have learned and what they are proud of.

Kevin was so excited about what he saw in my class, that he asked Gino Bondi, an assistant superintendent in our school district, to come and visit me the very next day.  Ok, no pressure!

Gino came to Abbotsford via the Vancouver School District and he brings a fresh perspective.  It was a privilege to spend an hour with Gino, taking him around our school, sharing some district and school history with him and sharing the vision we have for the transformation of our Library into a Learning Commons.  I got to show him how I use FreshGrade with my students and how exciting it is to send snapshots of learning home to parents even in the middle of the day, as students are working. Gino was able to share with me the district e-portfolio project that he has been working on with the secondary schools, and we talked about the possibility of someday having a K-12 portfolio for each student.  Thank you, Gino, for spending time talking with me.  It’s not often that teachers and admin just have time to talk and share.  I think that’s an important piece that is missing when we have “formal” meetings.  I felt our time chatting was very inspiring and I felt that you valued what I had to say.

And thank you to my principal, Cameron Friesen, who allowed me to take the time to share my work with both Kevin and Gino.  Your support of my use of FreshGrade and your excitement about this new way of sharing student learning has been what has kept me going when it has been hard to be “the one” to try FreshGrade in our district. Thanks also to Julie Rousseau (Director of Instruction) and Cindy Romanowski (District Principal for Early Learning) for being the first to give me the “Yes!  Try it out!” message.  I appreciate your trust in me to really give this pilot my all and show the possibilities an e-portfolio can present for teachers, parents and students.

Today, Dean Shareski tweeted the following:

Absolutely, a RT can be seen as that admin valuing the work or opinion of a teacher.  The same can be said for a teacher RTing an admin’s work, too.  We all need to value each other and push each other to be better.

And yes, Gino, the visits from you and Kevin this week did give me a “charge”.  Those visits validated the hard work I have been putting into making FreshGrade the type of e-portfolio I am proud to share with parents, students, and educators.

Isn’t the education system so much stronger if we can all encourage each other?  We are better together.  Thank you to all those people who made this week so positive for me.  I hope I can return the encouragement to you, challenging you to be your best selves every day.


Finding MY PEOPLE: How #kinderchat Saved My Career

Last night I had the privilege of giving my first Ignite talk at an event called “Ignite Your Passion for Discovery: The Vancouver Edition” hosted by Dean Shareski.  Here is Dean’s blog about the evening:  Due to technical difficulties, there was no video recording of the event, but I’d like to share my slides and story for those who could not be there.  I was one of 14 speakers, all of whom inspired me with each of their talks.  I hope I inspired some of them, too.


I’m sure you are thinking that my title is a complete overstatement, but honestly, it’s not.  My online and real-life PLN really did give my career a much needed wake up call to save me from being a teacher who had lost her passion.  I was stuck in a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad  RUT.


You see, being a half-day Kindergarten teacher is a very lonely job.  I call it being in the Black Hole of Kindergarten.  I didn’t have recess, and my lunch break was at a different time than the rest of my staff.  Teaching two half-day Kindergarten classes didn’t allow me to connect with anyone.


I joined twitter because I was curious about social media, but it wasn’t until I stumbled upon #kinderchat that I was invited to expand my horizons and change my professional world as I know it.  Amy Murray was leading a discussion on using twitter in the classroom…with kindergarten students.


Connecting with #kinderchat each Monday night at 6pm was something I began to look forward to each week. It was a time that made me think, to become ignited and excited about teaching once again.  That spark has now turned into a burning flame and I have an online PLN cheering me on and keeping me grounded.


Every Monday night I look forward to engaging with Kindergarten teachers from around the globe to discuss a myriad of topics.  We compare and contrast education systems from around the world, but the main focus of every single discussion is “What is best for kids and what works in our classrooms?”


#kinderchat isn’t all serious. We have had a full 15 minutes of a chat filled with talk about grilled cheese sandwiches.  Sometimes we’ve had theme parties like when we all changed our avatars to ugly Christmas sweaters. These snippets of time help to build relationships and community.


One of the biggest turning points for me was when I joined the Kindergarten Around the World Project.  I was paired with Tasha Cowdy from Yokohama, Japan and together we helped our classes connect via twitter messages, snail mail, blogging and yes, even an after-hours Skype call. What a powerful year of learning!


My class wrote in blue and Tasha’s class wrote in red.  We outlined characters, setting and plot before we started drafting the story.  We even published it on iTunes. None of this could have happened without Amy Murray of #kinderchat pairing our classes together.


With so many connections and friendships happening in the #kinderchat conversation stream, it felt natural to wish that we could all be sitting in the same room sharing our stories face to face.  So an idea was born…we would piggy back on a new phenomenon called #edcamp…


And the first #edcampkinder was born!  Ten of us from all corners of the globe met in Las Vegas for four days to talk Kindergarten. Even my Kindergarten Around the World partner, Tasha, came all the way from Japan! Now THAT was a truly mind-blowing experience.  Our connection was real and important.


You see, I found MY PEOPLE. We felt like old friends coming together for a reunion.  We Skyped in other members of our group that couldn’t be there.  Karen Lirenman was stuck at the airport waiting to come and meet us, so we FaceTimed her into our conversation, too.  I connected via Skype with Jason Graham…


He and I asked Ben Sheridan to have our classes collaborate on a project. We passed a Book Creator file back and forth via Dropbox, each class added a page or two and then passed it along to the next class.  We didn’t start out with an end story in mind, but let the children create as they went along.


Because #edcampkinder was so successful in Vegas, I wondered how I could recreate that magic back at home. Meg Unger helped me to organize and host #edcampkinder Abbotsford.  We had 42 teachers from 4 districts join us. Many said it was the best day of collaboration they had ever had.


I was the only one attending ConnectED Canada from Abbotsford,  BUT I was meeting up with my #kinderchat friends. To foster a sense of team I had #kinderchat jackets made.  Each time I wear my jacket it feels like a hug from my #kinderchat family who are spread out all over the world.


At that conference I met Dean Shareski. He tweeted this shortly after I met him, so I asked him if he meant that we inspired fear or respect…he said BOTH! What a humbling and empowering statement.  People outside of #kinderchat were noticing what we were doing!


I was lucky to spend a day at George Vanier School seeing the amazing things they were doing there.  But best of all I had the opportunity to deliver Team Liam bracelets so that Antonio, Gallit, Hugh and Jodi could show their support for Meg Unger’s son who was fighting cancer.  See?  We’re all connected.


This past year I started on a journey towards getting my Masters degree and met some amazing people.  Unfortunately, life got in the way and I am not able to continue on that path right now, but being a part of this “Brady Bunch” was a great opportunity to learn from the shiny brilliance of everyone in the class.


Just last week I had the opportunity to FaceTime into a learning session about the FreshGrade portfolio system.  Here you can see me and Kim Anderson in Abbotsford on the iPad chatting with teachers from Prince George who were visiting Ian Landy’s school in Sorrento.  Collaboration is not location dependent.


But sometimes what we all really need is to take the time to stop our work, get out of the building and really connect on a personal, meaningful level with those people who walk the same road as we do day in and day out.  There is power in hearing “Oh yes, I’ve been there, done that. I understand”.



I hope that you have already found YOUR PEOPLE.  Being AWESOME alone is never any fun.  Thank you to all of MY PEOPLE…many of you are in this room.  Your AWESOME is what INSPIRES me every single day and I hope that some of the things that I share help to inspire you, too.


Baby Steps

When starting a new year in Kindergarten I always forget just how little my KinderPals are. I forget that they don’t know how to put up their hand and wait to be called on. I forget that they don’t know to wait their turn to talk. I forget they don’t know where to put their shoes or hang their coat or put away the toys. I forget that they don’t yet know all the things that I taught my class last year. I forget that they really don’t know how to DO school.

But each year my new group of KinderPals show me growth and development. They show me what it means to learn. They show me that they can change and adapt to their new school environment. And with each passing year I hope they show me what I need to do to be the best teacher I can be.

Slowly, step by step, routines are mastered. Expectations are met and learning happens. One step at a time. One day at a time.

After all, many of my students are only four years old when they come to my KinderPals class. It is only fitting that everything they do is taken with baby steps. May I always be mindful of just how young they really are.