Filling the Void, if only for a Few Minutes

It would be an understatement to say that I miss our students!  I can honestly share that there is an enormous void in my day, as I work away in my office.  The halls are empty, the classrooms are silent and the yard (although greening nicely as a result of no one playing on the field) is vacant.  There is a feeling of loneliness. Schools in spring are meant to be full of energy, excitement, and effervescent chatter.  By this time in the school year, classroom communities are strong and vibrant. They are places where students are comfortable with each. They are full of laughter and full of intentional and dedicated learning activities.

Each day I try my best to fill that emptiness by virtually popping into as many Google Classrooms as possible.  Today, as I logged into one of our Grade 5 classes, the students were in the midst of sharing some of their latest writing.  I was immediately impressed with so much of what was happening.

  • Their courage to share their work with their peers, with at quick “sharing of their screen”
  • Their kind and heartfelt compliments that they were exchanging in the Chat
  • Their choice of literacy devices; including rich vocabulary
  • Their choice of form and format ~ ranging from biography to Pixton
  • Their excitement about wanting to share their work with me


One student created a Pixton about a group of friends who follow their dog, Prince through a magic mirror into another land.  I readily shared my connection to that story, as it reminded me of C.S. Lewis’, “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”.  I reminisced about my days as a Grade 5 teacher and my love of sharing this story with my class, complete with making Turkish Delight (which sometimes turned out as an edible treat and sometimes resembled jelly) and heated debates about the White Witch.

Another student was excited to share their biography of Jeff Kenny, the author of, “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid”.   I revealed that I had met Jeff Kenny about seven years ago when I attended a Literacy Conference in New Orleans.   Oh, my goodness, the chat feature lit up with so many positive comments.  For a fleeting moment, I was a direct link to an author that almost every grade 5 student is aware of and loves their work.

Even though my visit was about 10 minutes in length, the positives and excitement left me smiling and much less lonely for the remainder of the day.

As I do every day, I give props and Kudos to educators are working their magic and making this latest shift to online learning work.

How are you filling the void left my online learning?

Come write with me….

The Sky’s the Limit

Today someone posted this picture from Shanghai. It’s a scannable QR code that will allow users to download a video game.  Talk about taking information to the airwaves in a whole new way.   Think about the potential of this technology for advertisements.  We’ve already witnessed the evolution of the billboards. Many of today’s billboards have already advanced to digital displays that can be updated remotely.  It is rare to see scaffolding and a team of workers affixing huge sheets of papers, only to have them come unaffixed and start to dangle in the wind.  Passersby would have to use their inference skills to figure out what products were being advertised.  With QR technology, companies can quickly change the advertisement from their iPhones on a regular basis, with the hopes of enticing potential customers.

From smoke signals (one of the oldest forms of visual long-distance communication) to the Bat Signal (which would allow the Caped Crusader know that he was needed it Gotham City) and now to this form of visual communication, to say, “The sky’s the limit” continues to hold true ~ probably even more so!!

Would love to know your thoughts about this latest and greatest technological advancement.

Come write with me….

Sending Love to our Dominican Mentors

As many of my regular readers know, for the past several years I’ve been involved with Teacher Mentors Abroad ~ an organization that pairs Canadian mentors with educators in the Dominican Republic.  Each summer for the past 16 years, a team of Canadian educators have travelled to the Dominican Republic and facilitated a week-long conference. Over the years, the conference has evolved to include sites in both Santo Domingo and Santiago.  With the global impact of COVID 19, the 2020 summer conference and the 2021 summer conference were both postponed. Our program committee, like so many other organizations, used the cancellation of the conference as a springboard to explore digital ways to maintain our relationship with our mentors.  Over the past year, we have intentionally connected with our mentors multiple times for a check -in and to learn how they are navigating school closures and online learning.  This morning, our TMA President sent us the link to the following article Fulcar meets Ozoria to demonstrate he has the backing of the Catholic Church; Educa president blasts tragedy of delayed return to schools

Within the body of the article, the strong relationship between the Catholic Church and the Ministry of Education in revealed, as well as the disturbing fact that, “Instead of carrying out efforts to prepare schools for a return to in-person learning, the Ministry of Education has spent billions on air time and programming for distance learning.”

In Ontario, the voice of the Church is not reflected in the decisions about online learning or the return to in-person learning, it is our Health Units and the Ministry of Education.  And yet, I find it interesting that both Ministries are focusing more on supporting the online learning piece than ensuring additional safety procedures for in-person learning, such as smaller class sizes etc.

The article also shares the D.R.’s moving target in terms of the deciding factor, as determined by positivity rates, for a safe return.  Originally 5 % and now 10%.   Unfortunately the D.R.’s COVID positivity rate is still close to 20%, so their return to school is still significantly compromised.

In Canada, our current positivity rate is 4%.   So even though in Ontario we are still in the throws of another lockdown, we have much to be thankful for.

Sending positive thoughts to all of our DR mentors.

A Whole New Meaning to Safe Arrival

Each day around 2:30, our wonderful attendance secretary sweetly and kindly connects with a few of our homeroom educators to remind them to enter their attendance for the day. Once she submits those final few entries, the safe arrival calls automatically begin and families are notified of their child’s absence.  Even though we are currently all learning from home, this procedure is still in place. I’ve often facetiously commented that if the intent of this procedure is safe arrival, are we now ensuring that our students are safely arriving from their bedroom to the kitchen table.

We’re finding that on a regular basis, about 15 minutes after the automatic calls are generated, the calls from families begin to trickle in.  The attendance expectations for online learning are that as long as a student logs in at least once per day they are marked present. At times it is challenging to capture those moments of “attendance” so it’s understandable that mis-entries are possible.   With many of our students celebrating Eid, both yesterday and today, our attendance has been more challenging to navigate correctly.  So, it wasn’t surprising that today we were fielding more calls than usual from families confirming attendance.

As I was just about to log off of my laptop and lock up the office for the day, the phone rang once more.  I had assumed that it was going to be, yet another, attendance call, confirming that their child had indeed logged on at some point in the day.  I could never have anticipated the call I received.  On the other end of the line was the father of three girls who had been attending our school as in-person learners until March, at which point they needed to switch to remote learning, as the family needed to return to Palestine so that their mother could be a marrow donor for her brother who had been diagnosed with leukemia.  I recall their final day at school as it was filled with lots of tears from their peers.

Today’s call from dad was also about attendance, but it wasn’t confirmation about logging on, it was that his girls would not be logging on at this time as their internet was compromised because where the family is staying is very close to the fighting in Palestine.   His words stopped me in my tracks.  It was a sobering reminder that, in the midst of COVID and all of the challenges that our current circumstances are creating, on the other side of the world, there is a member of our school family who is doing their best to survive this unprecedented wave of violence and the walk between the bedroom and the kitchen may indeed not be that safe.

Sending love and strength to all families in Palestine.

Lighthouses, Bobby Orr and Gratitude

My day started as per usual, with my social media scroll and low and behold I was honoured to see the notification that Doug Peterson and Stephen Hurley were going to chat about one of my recent blog posts on their VoiceEd show this morning. I wondered which one of my “A Post A Day in the Month of May” posts had tweaked their interest.  I truly enjoyed listening to Doug and Stephen banter at the beginning of the radio broadcast about lighthouses and Bobby Orr ~ two of my favourite subjects. Long before I married into the name Bruyns, I was a Bobby Orr fan; and as a lover of the Bruce Peninsula, our photo albums are filled with pictures of both me as a child and our own children standing by one of many lighthouses.

Then came the moment of reveal as they shared that they had selected my post from May 7, a post in which I explored my reflections from our recent interview experiences.   As I listened to the discussion, there were so many times that I had wished I was sitting there with them.  I wanted to participate, ask questions, provide clarification, and learn more. They explored their own interview experiences and how they would have tackled the artefact component of the interview and how the interview process historically permitted teachers to be a part of the process.  I recall early on in my career being afforded that same opportunity ~ to sit in on interviews, not as someone who would approve or deny the candidate, but someone who could provide the candidate with an in the trenches response to questions about the school.

I loved their selections for the artefact prompt.  I can just envision Doug selecting some of his most memorable blog posts to share ~ although I can’t even begin to imagine how he would narrow them down, as so many of them are noteworthy.    And for Stephen, that visual of the headphones would generate so many avenues for a richer conversation.

I would be remiss, if I didn’t share that my stride was just a little more confident this morning after listening to these two educators, for whom I have the utmost respect, highlight my work, and share some very humbling compliments.  To be described as “the consummate learner” and finally “The Quintessential Sue Bruyns” is very humbling!

To Doug and Stephen, a huge shout out and thank you for your continued commitment to supporting the work of Ontario educators who plug away at blogs, hoping that they resonate with someone, somewhere.

Come write with me…. Who knows, Doug and Stephen may highlight your post one day!

An Assignment or a Memorable Learning Experience?

“What if assignments were rebranded as memorable learning experiences?” @mssackstein

I came upon this quote during my daily Twitter scroll and immediately wished that I had found it prior to crafting our interview questions.  It would have been an effective way to allow candidates to showcase their innovative thinking and current pedagogical practices.  I am constantly drawn to the notion of re-thinking, re-envisioning, and re-inventing, not only our thinking about concepts but about how we go about shifting our practice.  For those of us who are curious, the more we learn about something it seems that it naturally leads us to change.  I’m also a firm believer in the notion that words matter. When we intentionally reference the tasks that students complete as “memorable”, it creates the conditions for us to think beyond the low engagement fill-in-the-blanks work sheets. It becomes incumbent upon the educator to attach something emotional to the task ~ whether it occurs during the presentation or as the student works through the task.   Emotional connection can range from humour to sadness and everything in between.  As educators shift from assigning assignments to creating a learning experience, there is so much more that is expected. Often the completion of an assignment involves students retelling (regurgitating) information. The educator is looking for the “right” answer.  Yet, when students are involved in a learning experiences, that means that students are learning something brand new, something that they did not know before or something that they had never thought of before.  An experience in and of itself makes the activity memorable.   Immersing students in choice and allowing their voice to shine through creates an experience ~ one that will undoubtedly help to solidify new learning.

One of the positives of online learning has been that students are demonstrating their ability to create memorable learning experiences by the shear fact that they are at home and for the most part have access to materials that they may not have when at school. (I realize that for some families the opposite is true ~ as materials at home are sparse).   The props from kitchens, bedrooms and family rooms have been both funny and memorable.

As a admin team we have tried to make some of the learning experiences of our students, who are working online, memorable by donning our dramatic hats and portraying stories that connect to curriculum expectations. Our outstanding and amazing TL, Danielle Cadieux wrote a short story to share the importance of insects in the lives of plants.   With her amazing technology skills, my admin partner and I were magically transported into the story.   I can’t help but wonder if our “film” may help solidify those curriculum expectations more solidly than just reading the same text.

As an educator share a memorable learning experience that your students have participated in.

Come write with me…..

Sign, Sign Everywhere a Sign

“Sign, sign
Everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery
Breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that
Can’t you read the sign?”

The magical and rebellious lyrics from The Five Man Electrical Band were echoing in my head as I scrolled through Twitter checking out the ingenious and clever school signs that my colleagues have been displaying in the recent TVDSB Sign wars.  With the absence of school events, as a result of most students learning from home and current COVID safety protocols in place, school teams are using their literacy skills to create signs that not only catch the attention within their own school community but challenge neighbouring schools to participate.

The comments on social media have been both positive and comical as each post automatically leads to a response and ultimately an updated sign from the “tagged” school ~ a whole new meaning to the definition of being “tagged”.

And here we go again ~ just more way in which educators are constantly looking for those moments to bring some sunshine and laughter into our current situation.

As a brand new school who has yet to raise enough funds for our sign (we’re working on it)  this is just one more reason for us to meet our goal.  We want to play too!

Which school sign has made you giggle the most?

Come write with me…..

Respect for Remote

Over the past few evenings, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting a number of candidates for our open positions at our school.  We have met candidates with a great deal of experience and varied backgrounds, and we’ve met educators who are within the first five years of their career.  What is remarkably different this year is the vast number of educators who, through either their own choice in late August or as a result of a late fall reorganization, have found themselves teaching students whose families have selected full remote as their learning model.  Last spring, potential candidates could have drawn from their experiences as an Emergency Online educator, where the expectation was to provide 5 hours per week of asynchronous learning opportunities ~ a very different experience.

For the interview, candidates were asked to share an artefact that represents something that they are most proud of. For our educators who have been teaching remotely, their artefacts and the accompanying narratives were impressive to say the least.  We learned how one educator’s class created nature watercolours, which caught the attention of our Environmental Educator and led to a display at Museum London.  We learned how one educator has created online play groups for her Kindergarten students and extended their intentional teaching time from 5 min to 40 min, with full engagement.  We learned how so many of these educators effectively and masterfully created classroom environments where students demonstrate trust, respect, and kindness for each other.  There were examples of students playing traditional board games from their house with their online classmates.  These educators were able to identify the need for students to “turn off the screens” and get outside for some meaningful learning.  We learned how students very capably and naturally gravitated towards a variety of Apps to demonstrate their learning and how these educators embraced digital platforms to provide feedback and meaningful next steps.  We learned how they overcame access to quality texts without access to school libraries. The idea of equity became something real to acknowledge and address. Time and time again, these educators expressed that they had to “listen” to students more intently than when they were in person and in turn create more choice in instruction, activities, and assessment.

At the end of each interview, my admin partner and myself “tipped our hats” to these educators for the remarkable feat that they have successfully accomplished this year.  When we were growing up and pretending to play school, none of us imagined this world.  We didn’t set up our dolls in front of a computer screen and pretend to teach them. And yet, these educators have made it work. In the midst of a pandemic, they have created classroom environments where students want to log on each morning, where students can’t wait to share, where students are uniquely demonstrating their learning and where students feel loved and cared for.

Kudos to each educator who has been teaching remotely since September and to those educators who have pivoted (yes, I selected to use that term) from in-person to remote, to in-person and now back to remote!

I can’t help but wonder if there are some “future” educators who are now setting up their dolls in front of a monitor and playing “remote” teacher.

Are you teaching remotely this year?  Would love to hear about your experience.

Come write with me…..

My Momma Told Me….

As I’ve shared before, I am a huge fan of Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand.  Whether calming the country in the midst of a tragic shooting, successfully navigating the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 or celebrating her second term in office, she has led with positivity, grace and kindness.  As a young mother, who just happens to be Prime Minister, it didn’t surprise me in the least when she took to her Facebook Page to celebrate other moms on Mother’s Day.

With the ease of talking to the camera as if she was sitting across the kitchen table from the viewer, Ardern smiled and warmly recalled some of the advice that her own mother gave her, which was the theme of the video.   Ardern asked all members of her team to share the best piece of advice that their mum had given them.   The responses varied from the sentimental to the silly and everything in between:

Breath through your Nose

He who hesitates is always lost. Go out there and be Bold

Never go the front unless you’ve been at the back

Be good to your mother


What a wonderful way to celebrate moms and those who stepped up and took on the role of moms for so many children as they were growing up.   Advice comes in all shapes and sizes.  Some moms quietly counsel from the side lines, but you know that without a shadow of a doubt they’ve got your back, when needed. Some moms are quick to share their opinion, on almost any topic, whether requested or not! Yet, regardless of how those nuggets of wisdom are imparted, may we always know that they are shared with love and care. Our moms want the best for us.

As a mom, how do you impart advice to your children?

Come write with me…

It Never Gets Old

It Never Gets Old

As I ventured into a Garden Center today, I heard a faint, “Mrs. Bruyns! Mrs. Bruyns”.   As I turned to see where the summoning was coming from, I was pleased to see two students from our school, sitting in the back seat of a vehicle, with their window rolled down. “Hi Mrs. Bruyns, it’s me”, the student excitedly shared as she pulled down her mask, so I could see her beaming smile.    Her dad chimed in with, “When she saw you, she said, I think that’s my principal”.  I was so delighted that not only did the student recognize me, but that her dad stopped the vehicle and reached out, to ensure that we connected. We quickly exchanged our shared reason for being at the Garden Center ~ flowers are always a popular choice as a Mother’s Day gift.  It was so lovely to see two our students.  As we are currently learning online, the school is a very lonely place and I miss them terribly.

Today was a wonderful reminder of how much it means to us, as educators, when students (current or former) take the time to stop and say, “Hi” when they see us in the community.   Those greetings never get old.

Come write with me….