Back to One a Day in the Month of May

images (1)It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since I embarked on my quest to publish “One post a day in the month of May”. So as I turned the page on the calendar in the kitchen this morning, I couldn’t help but reflect on last year’s challenge and the benefits that came with daily writing and posting.  During the month of May 2015, I found myself more observant, more reflective and more purposeful in what I was reading knowing that before midnight one of those encounters was going to be the inspiration for my daily post.

So, here we go again….

Day 1:

Yesterday as I was clicking through the channels, I happened upon the 2005 movie, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and I was immediately transported back to 1997 when I was teaching Grade 5 at M.B.McEachren.  Back in those days, full class novel studies seemed to be our best thinking in terms of literacy instruction and I would venture to guess that my unit on The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was by far one of my most favourite ways to engage my students.  We fumbled our way through making Turkish Delight, created dioramas with hinged wardrobe doors and with this particular group of students, we tackled Literature Circles, in the name of differentiation.


I can clearly recall rearranging our desks in a circle and engaging in a deep conversation about the emerging themes in the book, the parallels to Christianity as demonstrated by the characters in the book and the author’s intent in having the mice gnaw away at the ropes binding Aslan. It was one of the teaching moments when you feel as if you are in the “zone”.   No time to think about what was going to happen in the next period, an upcoming parent meeting or items for the division meeting agenda.  I was totally proud of the conversation that my students were having and naively connecting it somehow to my teaching.  They were saying all the “right” things and making their way through the prescribed discussion topics.

Then, it happened…. Michael (with complete sincerity) boldly stated that the White Witch embodied the redeeming qualities of a heroine and we were giving her a “bad rap”.  Now, to add to the background story, Michael typically challenged most of what was asked of him.  He was the last one to submit his work, he found a variety of creative reasons for doing an alternate activity and his parents frequently assisted with providing inventive excuses for lost and misplaced assignments.

As he shared his statement, the rest of the students stopped and waited for my response.  I will admit that initially I assumed that Michael was looking for a reaction ~ and for a split second he received it.  But as we all continued to dig deeper and ask him to explain his thinking, it became clear that his perception of the White Witch and her role in enticing Edmund could indeed be connected with the qualities of a heroine.  Her role was pivotal in Edmund’s decision and ultimate redemption.

It was at moment that I realized the power of creating the conditions in a classroom for not only welcoming but for encouraging opposing views.  I could no longer go back to the boring classroom environment where all students were working towards the one “right” answer.

I certainly didn’t know or use the term “cognitive dissonance” in 1997, but thanks to Michael, I’ve looked for opportunities to engage both students and educators in discussions wherein discord has led to a deeper and more meaningful understanding for the last 20 years.

As an educator, can you recall a defining moment in your career?

Come write with me….

10 thoughts on “Back to One a Day in the Month of May

  1. Hi Sue- my defying moment as a teacher did not come in a classroom or even during the school year. With all the challenges at my school I tried to keep school life separate from home life. I thought I was doing a pretty good job until I got a phone call one early July day about 15 years go. Two students lost their lives in a car accident- I had just taught one and the other would have been in my class in September. I lined up outside a small church to pay my respects along with many others. Seeing nine-year old boys with slicked back hair and in their best clothes in line to say goodbye to their friends was heart-breaking. Giving and receiving hugs from students and families made me realize how important we are in their lives and that I cannot separate my school life from my home life- what we do as teachers is so much more than the day to day routines. I am part of my students and they are part of me.
    Looking forward to reading your blog this month!

  2. Hi Catherine ~ thanks so much for sharing! I completely agree in the power that words can have. They have the ability to empower and to inspire ~ but just as easily they can destroy and denigrate. As educators, we can never underestimate our moral imperative to purposefully and intentionally select our words.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story, Sarah! At the heart of your story is a central theme in our work with students. We need to take the time to know our students before we can effectively impact their world as learners. Thank you for weaving that reminder into your narrative.

  4. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story, Cliff! I wonder if those Superintendents realized that their belief in you and your abilities would become such defining moments in your career?

  5. Denise…Thank you for sharing your story. It is another reminder that we as teachers are blessed to witness those moments when students feel safe enough to make their thinking visible and to “wow” us!

  6. Hi Sue,

    Your story reminded me of a literary journey with an upper level ESL class in highschool. The cutting edge trend at the time was to forego ‘canon’ texts of “old-man white literature” and find text with cultural or experiential relevance to students. (It was still very teacher directed, and in reflection I glad we have drifted from there!). In those days the ESL classes were full of Albanian-speaking Kosovars refugees fleeing persecution when the former Yugoslavia broke down.

    These 14-20 year old students had been refused the right to an education in their first language for 16 years. It had been outlawed. Consequently they didn’t attend school which was taught in the language of their oppressors. Although brave Kosovar educators had made an effort to teach the children secretly, classes were run only when it was safe. Most of the youth arrived traumatized by recent exposure to genecidal bombings and with vert limited prior formal education.

    Recall that these student were in an ESL class. By rights they needed ELD programming, but our collective Ontario educational system was introduced the earliest days of even defining this need, let alone attempting to find and implement effective programming models.

    Therefore, in my state of oblivion, I just saw them as another set of likeable students struggling in school that probably don’t have much of a chance to succeed in academia. I put them through the literary paces to prepare them to move into ‘mainstream’ high school English classes and the, then inevitable, ‘canon’ of British and North-American literature. I had no idea if they had foundational literacy skills, and, if I had understood the depth and breadth of this gap, I certainly did not have the knowledge or skills to support this need. The best I could do was provide a quality, contemporary, adolescent literature text that centered on a refugee youth settling in Canada: The Road to Chlifa by Michele Marineau.

    They LOVED the text, and, in order to ensure comprehension, I read a considerable amount of it aloud to them. They did some reader theatre, we dabbled with literature circles, and had great number of whole class discussions making connections. They thought it would make a great movie, so as a project, we explored how to write a screen play and the difference between film and written narrative. In short, over several semesters we developed a great unit of study.

    One semester, young V, a Kosovar teen was in my class. She went through the motions of school, earned borderline marks, and was very social as she weathered the drama of newcomer adolescence. She wanted, and received, attention from her male classmates. She relished in the drama of rivals and divas amongst her female friends. She rebelled against her ‘old-world’ parents who didn’t understand her desire to become ‘Canadian’ and were fearful of her assimilating to ‘bad behaviour.’ In my mind, she showed little academic promise, but might make a talented and vivacious hairdresser in the future.

    When we got to the novel, she perked up. She made superficial but personally meaningful connections to the story. But she absolutely amazed me when we were discussing which event was the turning point in the narrative arch. The students had devised a set of criteria of a climatic event and had proposed several candidate events. Their task was to chose one and defend it using their criteria. V. proclaimed that it was obvious that the hero’s life threatening rescue of a Canadian classmate in an attempted rape was the only possible one. Not only did he avenge his inability to save his friend, Maya from death back home, but he ‘spilled his blood to make up for her spilled blood’ and now ‘he could get better and get on with his life here.’ I remember thinking-“Whoa! Were did that come from!”

    From that day forward I saw V. as a much more complex person than I had given her credit for. I thank her for that lesson. It has reshaped how I approach newcomer youth. I also became committed to culturally responsive teaching as a key to awakening and unlocking their potential.

    As Anna says in “The King and I”: by my student I will be taught!

    Thanks for this chance to share,


  7. Wow! Cognitive Dissonance! I actually had to go look it up to make sure I actually understood what you were talking about! (pause for 15 minutes) Well, that was a good read!

    I could write all night about defining moments, I have so many! Some for my personal journey, some for my professional journey and then for my years as an educator. Today I’ll focus on the educational part and in particular that part that sent me from a life aimed at the Arts / Theatre and Acting to the technology side of Technology and Computers. After spending years in amature, community and reportory theatre I graduated from Brock Un with a Theatre Arts degree. After one year of teachers’ college I wanted to focus on teaching theatre arts. That didn’t happen but I did end up in various elementary classes / SpecEd / and always used drama in my classes, did the annual school play and produced many Remembrance Day productions etc. But then one day a Superintendent came in and asked me if I’d like a P.E.T. computer? Of course! Never refuse a gift from an S.O. and that started me down the path into the world of technology and computers. Jump ahead some 20 years and another defining moment. A Superintend had visited Sweden and came home and purchased 12 ActivBoards (SMARTBoards by another name) and gave one to each SO and Supervisor and said find 12 people who might try these out and see if we should get more! That was my journey into the world of interactive technology and the rest is history.

    Two defining moments which really were a gift to me from others who saw some potential. The challenge for me even now in retirement is to find potential is others and help create defining moments for them as they make decisions about their own life. And sometimes it doesn’t have to be things they are given, sometimes a word, a smile and a nod is all they need. I know that because sometimes that’s all I need!

  8. Sue,

    Such a great memory – thanks for sharing and renewing the challenge to blog!

    Defining moment in my career would have to be related to learning the valuable lesson of taking time to connect with my students. It may seem like a no brainer, but we can often get wrapped up in our own agendas, missing key opportunities to build relationships with our students. We also often do not give pur students enough credit for what they are capable of.

    So here comes the story – I was havin a doozy of a morning. Things did not go well on the home front before heading to school. I had things to prepare and technology was not cooperating. I spilled my coffee in the car and had forgotten my breakfast “to go” on the counter at home. So when the bell rang I was frustrated and not exactly ready to start my day. My grade 1s were on their way in ready for their learning day and I had to get myself focused and back on track. Several kids needed help tying their shoes, someone was upset they forgot their planner – well it was a typical day really – but one child just sat at his cubby. He sat there and watched everything happening around him. I encouraged him to get ready for the day. Eventually all the other kids were inside and he was still sitting in the hallway. This little man was not the easiest child in my class, but he had a special place in my heart. He struggled with peers and was often in trouble. Once everyone was out of the hallway I crouched down in front of him and asked him if he was OK. He replied “Yes, but you needed some quiet time so I just waited for you.” When I asked him to tell me more he talked about how I helped him to settle down when he was upset or stressed and he sensed I needed a quiet break in that moment. I told him he was right. We took some deep breaths togethe, he gave me a big smile and told me we were now ready to start the day.

    Our students know and are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. This little man showed me that. He also reinforced for me why I spend so much time really getting to know my students. Not only does it help me with planning for their success in the classroom, but in this case it helped me. Spending time getting to know him also allowed him to get to know me. He was as concerned for me as I was for him. Relationships are central to what we do and this is one of my favourite memories from the classroom.


  9. I am so happy to join you on May Blog 2016.
    In response to your question…I would hope that we all have numerous moments, some good, some not so good. Mine usually revolve around a book too (all the great moments) or spoken words (the bad moments). The power of words either written or spoken are powerful reminders of the important role we play in the lives of our students. Having a student say they hate you or one tell you they love you are reflections that I have used to grow, change, and become better than the year before.
    Good luck this month. I’ll be reading (and writing) with you.

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