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I need to write

mac-keyboard-handsTwo years. It has been two years since I have written and posted a blog.  There are so many things I could say to address this void.  I could write about all the things I have done with my time. I could rationalize my reason for NOT writing. I could tell you how busy I’ve been as a mom, a teacher, a coach…I could tell you that I have a new 4-month old baby boy; so naturally, life has been a whirlwind.  BUT…I won’t.  Instead, I just need to write.

I have come to understand the role writing has in my life.  I have stopped insisting there needs to be an adequate purpose or topic to write about.  I have arrived at a more peaceful place, where I realize that I write because it’s a passion of mine. It is not an obligation I have, to those who might read my writing.  But most importantly, I have found my writing freedom.  Writing for me is a release, and my preferred method of expression.

Somewhere along the way, when this blog really started to pick up some traffic, and I had friends and colleagues telling me I should really give writing a go…I lost my voice.  I thought my writing needed to be perfect.  I thought I needed a perfect topic, one that would resonate with my audience.  I thought I needed a perfect title, one that would catch an audience.  I thought I needed the perfect lead, one that would hook my audience.  With these “needs”, writing became a chore, a stress, and an anxiety for me.  All of a sudden, I felt like my writing had to be something an aspiring published writer would produce in their novice years.  I have known for some time that I really just need to write.  It was high-time I get back in the saddle, but I just couldn’t get my leg up in the stirrup.

Writing is cathartic.  When I’m not so busy analyzing what I should write, could write, or ought to write…it’s liberating.  When I’m not generating a dozen questions about what will go into my writing, and what will not… it’s liberating.  When I’m not wondering what my readers will think, how they might comment, or if my post will reach new heights…it’s liberating.

So today, I finally took the leap.  I just need to write.  It’s that simple.  I love the feeling of my fingers hammering away at the keys.  I love how my brain is always ahead of my fingers, and I need to go back to add in the letters and words I omit.  I love the rush and excitement I feel, just knowing that I’m writing and getting my thoughts out in front of my eyes.  The exhilaration that comes over me, as I see the letters race out from behind the cursor.  I’m writing. And it feels good.  I write, because I need to write.

As I look back at a few of my blog posts, even those that are my favourites (Heart and SoulToday marks my fork in the…”Road Not Taken”, and What will I write about today?); I see ways they could have been better.  Better ways to express those thoughts come to mind now, and I smile.  Growth.  I’m okay with these changes I see.  I see the growth in my thinking, and I’m inspired and motivated to write again.  I’m excited. The relief comes over me, as the words leave my head, freeing up the space for new ideas. New writing.

There. I’ve done it. My foot hooked into the stirrup, and I’ve pulled myself up into the saddle. Now it’s time to ride.

I’m a writer again…and I don’t really care if you like it or not…because I’m writing for me.  I need to write.

#ilovetowrite  #writerwannabe  #blogger

Another good read:  The Differences Between Hobby & Professional Writers – See more at: http://jodyhedlund.blogspot.ca/2010/09/differences-between-hobby-professional.html#sthash.RD9wNcZb.dpuf

 

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JOY…is like getting a new puppy!

Aren’t we all drawn in and easily enamoured by all things…cute and adorable? Whenever I look into the eyes of a wee baby I can’t help but smile. But, it’s no ordinary smile. It’s that kind of smile that spontaneously explodes onto my face and cements there. Then there’s the emotion. I leap into joy; heart racing, blood pumping, “lost” in this world where my number one goal is to make the baby smile, or just respond to my crazy efforts. I think we can all connect to this experience, and this is what I call sheer JOY!

“Rocky” is our new 11-week old puppy. He’s a Schmorkie!

Then, there is that joy that comes when you bring home a new puppy!  In their first days, so cute, warm, sleepy, and loveable. Bringing me to the true inspiration for this post. Last week, we brought home a new puppy.  “Rocky” is our 11-week old Schmorkie.  You heard it right…a Schmorkie.  A Schmorkie is a hybrid breed crossing a Miniature Schnauzer, Yorkshire Terrier and Maltese.  As you can see, he is truly adorable.  My nine-year old daughter has been begging us to have a dog for 7 years (she reports).  She has gripped on to the hope and dream of having a dog, much like a talented young Canadian boy hopes and dreams to make it to the National Hockey League.  Dogs bring joy into peoples lives.  Any dog-lover would confirm this.  Dogs are loyal and evolve into these companions that we, the dog lover get swooned and drawn into.  Dogs become your companion, playmate, friend, and part of your support network.  I can see that Rocky is well on his way to doing all these things for us.  He brings joy and excitement into our home everyday.  We are all thrilled to have him…and once trained…we will love him unconditionally (lol).

Joy is by far my favourite human emotion. Joy gives me such a positive,overwhelming feeling.  Not the kind of overwhelming feeling that come with stress. Joy takes over my body, mind and spirit leaving everything else on the OUTSIDE, where I can’t see it all for a while. Perhaps Joy can be better explained through an example. Family time at the beach is truly my  favourite thing to do…experience…I can’t find the words to say how wonderful it is. I don’t love the beach because I love to sunbathe, or swim in one of our splendid Great Lakes. It’s because, being at the beach with my hubby and our kids feels like a romantic and exhilarating retreat all-in-one!

We love to visit Port Stanley, Ontario once a week throughout the summer. Lake Erie is one of three Great Lakes Ontarians love to visit when hitting the beach.

The moment we arrive at the beach my body begins to change. As the kids burst with excitement, I can’t help but smile and join-in showing the same childlike thrill. We run along the shore, have races on the sandbar, and tow the kids through the deeper filling their gullies with water. Getting started it perhaps the best part. I race to the trunk of the car, frantically rummaging through all of our gear trying to find a way to take it all in one trip. All four of us load-up and we scurry down to the sand and water. Everyone is talking, giggling and planning what we’re going to build, dig-up, swim out to, and play. Everyone is a kid again.
This sensation is called…living in the moment. Another on of my favourite states to be in. Within five minutes of being at the beach, my mind and body surrender to these future moments right here…in the moment…at the beach. Gone, are all thoughts about work, house renovations, errands to be done, registrations to complete, bills to pay, things that just aren’t right, people I’m upset with and what to do about it, or all the things the kids need for this and that. All those thoughts rinse away with the waves that roll-up on the Great Lakes shore, and then pulled back out into the open water. Now, I’m actually living in the moment. When the kids begin digging to start their sandcastle I can really see them, when they laugh I can really hear them, when I jump in to pack the sand down I’m really there…playing with them. I become overwhelmed with a feeling of joy. I can’t stop smiling, and everything just feels…right.
Summer fun is wonderful! I used to get irritated by fellow teachers who seemed to clearly be in the profession because of the summers off. But as a mom and hard working teacher, I too have come to love my summers off. This is when I come alive and live in the moment. We don’t have to wait for moments of joy. The beach doesn’t come to us. We should all go out to find the joy we want.  We prepare what we need, pack-up, and drive to the beach. We’re creating these moments of joy.

 

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A teacher’s poetic goodbye

Mixed emotions fill my heart today.  I’m staying up, prolonging what tomorrow will bring.  As a teacher, I have spent most of my career in such a fabulous place.  Thamesford Public School, has been wonderful to me.  It will be tough to leave close friends and a caring community for the great unknown.

I do look forward to something fresh, since that’s what life is all about.  Change is good, and it’s time I had some.  So, I look forward to shorter drives, longer family time, and fresh faces at my new school.

Teachers become attached to their schools.  We gain friends and familiarity, which makes work feel like family time.  We watch our students learn and grow as they move through their education journey. Tonight I attended grad and was so inspired by the passion and drive those graduates displayed.

Cheers! To new beginnings!

I’ll leave you with the goodbye poem I plan to say tomorrow during the final assembly.  I hope I don’t cry when I’m up there since they call me concrete around there. Oh well, even concrete cracks…so let’s just wait-and-see what happens.

P.S. If you’re a teacher….or just curious, stop by my classroom website and check-out our stop motion animation art work.  It was great fun! Click on “Ms. Solway’s,” below in the poem title.

 

Thamesford Public School Thunderbirds

Ms. Solway’s Tribute to the T-Birds

I walked into TPS just nine years ago,
A fresh teacher ready to begin.
I was relaxed by all the friendly TPS staff,
And that helped me find ways to pitch in.

Coaching volleyball was such a natural choice,
The athletes so eager and nice.
First coaching the girls, then the boys,
Such energy and drive added spice.

As the years wore on, my teaching grew,
And balanced literacy became all the rave.
That’s when School Council stepped up to the plate,
Thunderwalk money is what they gave.

Along came Ms. De Vree to take on music,
A school show turned me into a believer.
TPS students – sure do give it their best,
So clear when they caught that show fever!

Grade 5, Grade 5/6, Grade 6, even 4/5,
Students learning with passion and fun.
Learning cycles with teaching staff came ‘round,
We found ways to Bump-Up everyone.

Hmm. Time for a break from this fabulous school,
I think… I’ll head on downtown.
To that big board office where opportunity knocks,
I’ll try on the Literacy coach crown.

People are so serious and official down there,
Not as nice as all of you here.
So, back I came for more volleyball and shows,
Terry Fox, and Remembrance Day cheer.

So many friends I look out there and see,
How is it – I’ve decided to go?
All the fun memories and wonderful people sitting there,
And students I have come to know.

So, TPS please don’t change even one thing,
I love your good hearts and nature.
Thunderbirds soar up high over it all,
Excellence is what you should wager.

So long for now, we’ll see each other again,
For the world is so small don’t you see?
Eight great years as a soaring Thunderbird,
Has been a real privilege for me.

 

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Change is Good!

To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly. ~Henri Bergson

After you’ve done a thing the same way for two years, look it over carefully. After five years, look at it with suspicion. And after ten years, throw it away and start all over. ~Alfred Edward Perlman, New York Times, 3 July 1958.

I wish I could say definitively, that I’ve always been the type who enjoys change. But that would be a white lie. At times my desire to change-things-up, to try something new, or to adjust accordingly have been my best qualities. As a teacher, things pop up out of nowhere, all the time. Planning a school day, down to the minute, is just pointless and very frustrating. We all work in a place where things pop-up and our approach, strategy, technique, or model needs to change. Change equals growth. Change is when we learn new things, and when we learn what we’re made of.

Yes, there are some who know me who would say that I, “go with the flow”, I’m flexible and adaptable, or easygoing. Other people might say I’m highly specific, routine, and consistent…or constant. What I will say though, is I am far from being: rigid, inflexible, controlling (ummm most of the time), or uptight.

I think we all enjoy change, at some point in time. Some of us demand change to be able to stay interested, engaged, or fresh. Others like consistency and routine because it’s comfortable there, or we like to practice and fine-tune things while they stay in one place (that’s me). These people like change…after they feel they’ve absorbed and grown fully from that encounter, or experience. Really, when the target stays in one place, we can practice over-and-over until we hit it. LOL, that sounded a lot like controlling and rigid. Whoops!

When life gets busy, complicated, or too many things are rolling down at once, I get uneasy and feel the chaos coming. I quickly try to CREATE and FIND routines. I look for calm and serenity by creating patterns and predictability. In some instances, I have found this to be very helpful and effective. But some things in life DO NOT lend themselves to patterns, routines, and predictability. So, approaching them as such, leads to failure and frustration. So, this is where it is better to play your flexible and adaptable cards.

What I do believe is this, change keeps things interesting. When things change, I pay attention, I engage, I tune-in, I’m in the moment, I take in the information, I show interest.

Change is good! We all grow with change and we reengage with life. We meet new people, try new things, learn new ways, and find new passion. I’m due for a change. So, after teaching at Thamesford Public School for the past nine years, I am packing up to head to a school closer to home. It is another step closer to simplifying life, so I can have more fun living it!!

What are your views on change?

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Wow, my first blog award nomination!

I must admit, I was quite excited when Coach Sue, over at, “The Courage To Adventure Blog” sent me a message to tell me she was nominating me for the, “One Lovely Blog Award”.  I am grateful and honoured, to receive this “gift” from one of my favourite bloggers.  Coach Sue consistently posts blogs that are inspiring, positive, insightful…and real.  When I read her posts, I come away feeling more relaxed, invigorated and enlightened. So, you have to go and visit Coach Sue! Thank you for the nomination!

Like all blogging awards, the “One Lovely Blog Award” has a few requests of the nominee.  I will do my best to follow the rules, but to be perfectly honest, I have NEVER been very good at doing that (lol). So, here are the rules:

  • Give generous thanks to the blogger that nominated you – Check!
  • Write seven things about yourself.
  • Make a list of 15 bloggers you admire and let them know how awesome they are! These folks are the next round of honorees for the “One Lovely Blog Award” (I have decided to stick with 10).

Here I go…

Seven things about myself:

1) My mom always called me her third son, since I was an extreme Tomboy from a young age.  But with two fully stocked, testosterone brothers; I didn’t stand a chance at becoming a dignified, elegant, feminine lady.

2) I am sort of a published writer…sort of.  Upon completing my Honours BA in Psychology, with thesis…my thesis went on to become part of a published article in the journal, Animal Cognition. The title of the article is, Chunking versus foraging search patterns by rats in the hierarchically baited radial maze. This explains a lot about me, doesn’t it? I studied animal behaviour.  This does explain why I am such and effective grade six teacher (lol).

3) I played varsity volleyball (power hitter) and varsity soccer (goalkeeper) for the University of Windsor Lancers. Being a goalkeeper for a low ranking university soccer team is a very frustrating experience though, trust me.

4) I love teaching students, mentoring teachers, and doing anything related to learning about learning (that sounds awkward), see #2.

5) I think, operate, and approach life at mach speed.

6) I have struggled with bouts of perfectionism, but I think I have finally perfected my way out of it. Ba-ha-ha-ha!

7) Family time is my favourite time.  When all four of us are together, everything just feels better.

Now it’s time to nominate some other worthy bloggers. To be honest, I only visit a handful of blogs because I tend to read every post and all comments.  I try NOT to spend endless hours online, so although I do read a lot of blogs, I don’t follow fifteen.  Many of the blogs I do visit are more commercial or professional and my understanding is that the “One Lovely Blog Award” is not really something they would re-post or acknowledge. I will list as many lovely blogs as I can. I would urge you to visit them, since they all do wonderful work in their own way.

1. http://jamesdez.wordpress.com/ – also on Coach Sue’s list, but it is one of my favourites!
2. http://www.theredneckprincess.net/ – The Red Neck Princess is fun, real, and spirited
4. http://www.thereflectivewriter.com/ – celebrates the many rewards and benefits of writing in a wonderful way
5. http://tracikenworth.wordpress.com/ – shares her writing, her writing tips, and inspires those who love to write
6. http://thechangeyourlifeblog.wordpress.com/ – words to inspire and motivate us to live and be positive
7. http://healthdemystified.wordpress.com/ – real and honest information about health and nutrition
8. http://shalleemcarthur.blogspot.ca/ – for the wannabe writer in me
9. http://thesacc.wordpress.com/ – finding the balance between the busy and the body
10. http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/ – Dan Rockwell doesn’t need my recognition, but you need to follow him if you have any interest in leadership, human resources, business, or organizational harmony (regardless of industry)

Thanks again, Coach Sue! Keep sharing, writing, and inspiring.

All the best,

Heidi

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

How about a bit of poetry?

After a full day of report card writing…I thought I would post a poem I attempted, after hiking one of our wonderful trails at the Lower Thames River Conservation Area. London, Ontario is known as the, Forest City and this is a title we certainly deserve.

Poetry is not really my thing, but I pretend to try every once in a while.

 

OUR FAMILIAR TRAIL

Out we are on our familiar trail, feeling a warm unexpected breeze.

My young ones march on through the mud, with a squish and a squelch.

Nimble they are, tippy-toeing along downed logs, pressing down  in the thick mud.

 

Watch out! I call out, as mountain bikes whiz by!

SQUACK go their brakes, as the riders’ edge down the steep hill on two wheels.

The vitality in the wood vibrates, with animals, critters, and explorers carrying on.

 

Out on the pond their long, ebony necks dip-in, looking for lunch.

My young ones race ahead, taking every risk their path has to offer.

They beam with joy, planning every step, through muddy traps and slippery logs.

 

Detectives we become, seeking out our skinny, slithery friend.

SNAP goes the camera, over-and-over again.  Did we capture his urgent attempts to hide?

We leave him be, and carry on to our destination. Civilization awaits.

 

Up high in the sky, competing with every chirp, tweet, bleat and caw.

Birds welcome this wonderful day in Spring.

Our adventure is complete and we bid farewell to our familiar trail.

My daughter Allie, looking out over a London pond at the Lower Thames River Conservation Area.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Standardized Testing In Schools…is ROUGH STUFF!

Three sessions down, three more to go…we’re half-way there! As a grade 6 teacher in Ontario, I and thousands of my colleagues, are just trying to make it through the dreaded standardized testing period. We’re sweating in thirty-degree classrooms, gnawing on fingernails as we “wonder” what our students are writing, and popping Tylenol in the effort to relieve the stress headaches as we worry about our students.

Everyday, teachers all over the world work hard to design and deliver signature learning opportunities (this is a new buzz word in my school board, TVDSB) to students. We go deep into learning our grade’s curriculum, we research and network with other teachers trying to find new and engaging ways to deliver the curriculum. Then, we juggle every way possible to support our students as they try to learn a few thousand curriculum expectations. So, it becomes very difficult for teachers to sit and watch our students get thrown into such a foreign learning environment, as they write these standardized tests.

In Ontario, students write the EQAO standardized tests. Our testing is done in grades three, six, nine (Math), and ten (Literacy). Students sit down to write SIX sessions of testing. Some schools will take three days, completing two sessions per day, with each session taking 60, to 90, to 100+ minutes (depending on the student). Other schools will simply stretch out the six sessions over six days.

Well, the fact of the matter is, it is very difficult for our students to show their true learning and knowledge when the context for their learning is so severely compromised. You see, all great teachers would agree, students learn best when teachers differentiate:

  • our instruction,
  • our learning environment, and
  • our assessment strategies

When teaching to such a variety of learning styles, teachers work to design ways in which our students can demonstrate their learning to us, in a way that works for them. Quite honestly, today’s classroom is best-managed when there is vibrant discussion, collaborative learning, technology on board, and student choice in how they present their learning. In addition to that, teachers customize their instruction by teaching to small groups, or working one-on-one. Conference conversations are tailored by the teacher, to suit the needs of their students. In my classroom, we all walk away from a conference a little smarter, more confident, and more ready to be successful. This is teaching and learning at its finest, right?

As teachers, when we assess and evaluate our students in everyday practice, we encourage students to:

  • talk to their peers before writing or testing,
  • ask for clarification when they don’t understand,
  • look to the anchor charts on the walls to remind themselves of what is “good”, and
  • be mindful of our learning goals and success criteria

This is all in the name of student achievement! Well, that is all very well and good. But, then along comes standardized testing, which throws all of these carefully crafted instructional choices under the BUS!

The reason I am venting over this standardized testing model, is simply because the assessment style is polar OPPOSITE to how all teacher inservice asks teachers to deliver their instruction and assessment. So, what ends up happening to our students, is they are put into this completely foreign, alien-like classroom environment and given this one-size-fits-all string of assessment tasks. Students find the experience “abnormal”. They don’t know what to make of it, how to tackle it, or how to succeed in standardized testing conditions. Students feel so awkward (despite test preparations) that even if a they have all the knowledge and skills necessary for the assessment tasks, the environment and assessment style renders some of them, “knowledge-less”.

You see, humans often anchor their learning in context. Our learning is often tied to the exact context in which content was delivered. So, here is where standardized testing messes with the theory of, learning in context. In most classes today’s he context is this: students sit in table groups, brainstorming and sharing their thoughts through lessons and tasks, presenting information to their peers, using anchor charts from the explicit teaching, and checking-in with the teacher for clarification. NONE of this resembles the context during standardized testing. During standardized testing, students are expected to sit alone and in silence, only permitted to ask to have a question read verbatim (not clarified, or reworded), and to compose writing assignments and reading responses without talking about ideas first. Math is done 100% alone without sharing the wide range of tactics for which their peers may have tackled the same problem.

Creating this ALTERNATE context also messes with the student’s level of confidence and willingness to take risks. For example, being afraid of “being wrong” is not a feeling students in my class enjoy. Taking risks in unfamiliar territory has taken me a very long time to combat. So, the moment the desks are rearranged for standardized testing…many students lose their confidence, their willingness to take risks, and therefore… knowledge.

Yes, yes, yes. Teachers do a tremendous amount to prepare students for THE TEST. This post is not about getting into my philosophy of test preparation tactics. I also don’t feel the need to talk about the validity of standardized testing. I am not saying standardized testing should not be carried out. Nor am I saying the teaching and learning in school districts should never be assessed. I’m just trying to say that STANDARDIZED TESTING IN SCHOOLS IS ROUGH STUFF. It is hard on the students, the parents, the teachers, the administrators, the staff, and the district. Most importantly, standardized testing is rough on the NERVES. Thank goodness I am three school days away from being finished for yet another year.

What are your thoughts on standardized testing?

 

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