From the classroom...

Diversity (and Change…)

After what seems like back to back triathlons the school year is over and I am halfway into another teacher summer. Long evenings, slow mornings, time to reflect and time to prepare… it’s a wonderful thing…

Over the last five years, as I have worked school wide as a Learning Resource teacher, I have had the opportunity each spring to collaborate with our kindergarten teacher when she assesses the incoming classes. This year the amazing group of children was as diverse as always, which prompted a lot of discussion about growth and diversity in general. 

“We must all know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their colour.”

(Maya Angelou)

No matter what their colour, length, thickness, texture, flexibility or durability, all threads in the tapestry are essential to the composition. 

Having begun my teaching career in Kindergarten twenty years ago this fall, I was quickly schooled in the diversity of little people.  When I moved into Grade One several years later and developed my skills as a literacy coach I expected and supported diversity without question – every first grade teacher knows the spectrum of learners can run from emergent to advanced readers, and teaching to that diversity is part of the job. 

Something I have discovered over time, however, is that the diversity in learners, skills and understanding is part of the package at every age and grade. Often I have heard teachers say “well, it all evens out by a certain grade…” or “kids need to be at this level…”  How impossible are those statements? Every child is starting from a unique place on the learning continuum, and every child is moving at a unique pace, so expecting a diverse group of learners to be the same in any way at any time is unreasonable and, really, unfair. 

“Fairness doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing. Fairness means everyone gets what they need. “

(Richard D. Lavoie, M.A., M.Ed.)

My conversation about the kindergarten students was eye opening in the way that every day epiphanies can be: we realized in that moment that these diverse students are products of diverse parents in diverse homes from diverse backgrounds in diverse circumstances… and that they will follow their own diverse path to learning and adulthood every step along the way. Will they all “even out”? Of course not. Just look around you at the people you know – some are readers, some are gardeners, some are hopeless with numbers. We are as diverse in our understanding and ability in adulthood as ever. Maybe more so. But most of us have learned some hard lessons along the way: about the “social fake”, about finding relatable peers, about sticking with “our own”, or with what we know. We choose situations, jobs and friendships that support our abilities and interests. We may not do it consciously, but we settle into our diversity. And sometimes we do it at the cost of accepting the diversity of others…

How amazing could it be, how much frustration would be avoided, if teachers and parents and students understand and embrace diversity in learners at every age and stage of the learning continuum?  If children are encouraged to discover and develop their own strengths at an early age, if they are supported in understanding and working with their unique challenges at every level, if they are taught to accept the strengths and challenges of others with empathy and acceptance, what would it look like? 

Time for a change. After twenty years of working with young children and most recently in special education I am moving back into a classroom: Grade 5!  I am excited about the opportunity now, more than ever, because the chance to use my experience in literacy development and differentiated learning aligns so well with the redesigned curriculum here in BC – teaching to diversity is at the very heart of it.  

I will still be around here with personal posts now and then but, if you are interested in sharing the teaching journey with me, I invite you to join me on Mrs. Martini’s Grade 5 Jive for classroom learning adventures – I hope you do! If you have thoughts about teaching to diverse children, please share. The only way to move forward is to have all our voices, talents and abilities add to that rich tapestry…

(Amazing art by Grade 6 students…)

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From the art room..., From the classroom...

Old And New…

Some time ago I had a last minute idea that involved students making art to decorate the gym for a concert.  Last minute ideas often end up being executed with last minute supplies, and this one stayed true to that rule…

  

I rummaged through the art room cupboards to find, in a dark dusty corner, some old forgotten rolls of mismatched wallpaper samples, ends of gift wrap rolls and some odd shaped scraps no one else could find a use for. What could they become?
  

I had two weeks and over 100 students (ages 6-10) to work with.  Some of them were eager to be artists, and others came at the process with great reluctance. What, and how, could we create?

  

In the end I chose a different theme for each grade, gave them basic instructions for shapes, and let them create their pieces using the materials at hand. 

 

The end results were as creative and diverse as the students themselves. No two were alike, even with the simple repeated constructs, and every  picture captured the personality of the artist. Amazing. 

  

  
None of these materials you see was originally intended for the purpose of “art”. They had all been relegated to the back of the closet as relics of another time, unable to fulfill their design destiny (brown floral wallpaper anyone?), but with a little bit of imagination and the right tools they became not just one but many new things…
       

  

Going in to this activity we didn’t have a picture of what our efforts would produce, but we had curiosity and enthusiasm for sure. The “doing” part was messy. The “engagement” part was awesome. And the end results were as unique as the sticky fingerprints all over my resource room floor. Hmmm. 

  
  

Thinking about the explore-connect-create process in this context reminds me of an artist’s quote that caught my attention at the Vancouver Art Gallery this past summer: 

“The possible does not have to be justified by the known.” (Wolfgang Paalen)

In other words, we might not know where we are going. In fact, we probably don’t. But that shouldn’t stop us from exploring and doing as we discover what possibilities await…

  

  

Looking back at these pictures of the creative and highly individual found-art project, I am seeing them with the eyes of an “old” teacher exploring the “new” curriculum. For me they make an interesting metaphor: familiar materials, imagination, open ended exploration and guided structure to create something new and ultimately more personal. Is that kind of what it looks like to you?

  

  

The teachers here in BC are well into the implementation of the “new” curriculum by now, but we are still really only at the beginning of understanding the shift in thinking, teaching and learning that is required of us as we move towards discoveries in a world that is evolving faster every day. It feels unsettling, to be sure, but we shouldn’t forget that we already have many of the essential tools in our supply cupboard…

    

  

Watching children create is the thing that inspires me most as a teacher. It reminds me of the passion and enthusiasm that set me on this path to a life in education so many years ago. It encourages me, especially on the difficult days, to remember what is really essential in education. 

  

  

Curiosity, creativity, opportunity, affiliation… 

These things we must have, regardless of what the current theme of the curriculum may be. If children love learning and playing and making – if they have the opportunity and the encouragement and the guidance – then they have everything they need to do great things. 
  

Wherever you are, I hope these things are part of your daily life too…

“To see a World in a grain of sand, And Heaven in a wild flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour.…”

(William Blake, from Auguries of Innocence)


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Peace

Advent, week two.

During this second week we are reflecting on the theme of peace. It seems to come right when we need it the most – December can be the exact opposite of peaceful!  At the Martini house we have been making an effort to find peaceful moments as often as we can, but sometimes the rush of daily life ( a minor blizzard, or two…) gets in the way.

One peaceful family habit we have tried to focus on since October is a meaningful moment of gratitude before dinner every night. We started taking turns reading out of an old family book of daily graces (“A Grateful Heart” – thanks Mimi) and the tradition quickly became so popular with every family member that we sometimes have to have multiple readings.

Day by day the different quotes, prayers and readings seem to echo the significance and concern of our current daily life.  When my turn came last Saturday, on the eve of the “peace” candle, this is what I read:

“By being attentive, by learning to listen (or recovering the natural capacity to listen) we can find our self engulfed in such happiness that it cannot be explained: the happiness of being at one with everything in that hidden ground of Love for which there can be no explanations… May we all grow in grace and peace, and not neglect the silence that is printed in the centre of our being.  It will not fail us.” (Thomas Merton)

The imagery in this passage (“silence printed at the centre of our being”) was so striking to me that I spent some of my Sunday afternoon reading more about Thomas Merton, and discovering a bit of a kindred spirit.  While many aspects of his life and writing are fascinating, the part that connected most with my thoughts about peace was his exploration of the depth of human experience and wealth of perspective available through a collaborative understanding of various faith traditions.

His philosophy is not just inspiring – in our current culture it is essential.  How can we be at peace with ourselves, how can we create peace in our world, when we are overwhelmed with fear and misunderstanding?  Even as we reconnect with our own spiritual roots and traditions we can draw on the mystical traditions of other religions in order to better understand ourselves, as well as our relationship with others and with God (or the “reality that is present to us and in us: call it Being…Silence.” (Thomas Merton – again – brilliant…)

 

Merton’s idea of peace in silence reminded me of another quote I return to often, from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata:

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

Two weeks ago, when coming back from a school field trip with Miss G., I sat with a friend on the bus to the ferry and talked about how we find time for peace in our busy grown-up lives.  “You have to go to it,” she reminded me, emphatically.  “It can’t find you unless you make time and space.”  In her life peace comes in the silence of nature, and she makes time to seek it out every day…

Seeking out a peaceful moment, a peaceful thought or a peaceful time in this modern world is increasingly a challenge.  Being a peace seeker, a peace keeper, a peace maker, has become almost counter-cultural.  (Inspired by another amazing article about Jonathan Lear’s book Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation.)  Peace, however, is imprinted at the centre of our being.  We must not neglect it, and it will not fail us.  Where do you go to find peace?  Is it in the silence of nature, like my friend from the bus, or in the transcendence of music?  Is it in the warmth and comfort of home with your loved ones, or in the rush of energy that comes with dancing, running, sledding, flying?  Can you get yourself there today?

 

“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.  And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.” (Max Ehrmann)

(Art by primary students from Norma Rose Point School)

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Hope

Here we are again in the first week of advent.  A new beginning; a chance to think about the changing seasons, the year behind us, and to learn from what was, what is or what may be…


Our family tradition is to light a candle for each week of advent, and for me the first candle has always represented hope.  One year ago, when we lit the candle of hope, we were hoping for so many things.  One year later, in a different time and a different place, we have a new perspective on what hope means for our family.  Over the year, as the seasons have shifted, we have thought a lot about hope… for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for the world we live in every day.

“All human wisdom is summed up in two words: wait and hope.” (Alexandre Dumas)

It has been a challenging year for us, for many reasons, and I know we are not alone in this.  And yet, through all the challenges, there is hope.  On Sunday evening, when we lit the first advent candle, I thought of the hopes that have sustained me and now I hope to share them with you…


My hope from the past is to carry forward the spirit of the women who inspire me with their lives and passion, who died knowing they lived their own best lives, who passed the torch of creativity, love and light, and who live in my heart everyday.  I’m grateful that they shared their gifts with me, and love that I can pass that legacy on to others.

My hope in the present comes from my children, who fill my days with questions and curiosity.  They live for joy in every season – laughing, growing, bubbling wonder and awe – and have carried my tired spirit through this year in particular.  Miss G, who read Anne Frank’s diary just last Spring, has a gift for being insightful and for respecting others.  Her ability to bring empathy and compassion with her every single day makes my heart sing.  G. Jr., only in the first grade, has charmed his way into the hearts of everyone he meets.  His happiness at the little things is completely contagious – spiders, bottle caps, interesting clouds – through his eyes the whole wide world is one hopeful opportunity after another.

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My hope for the future feels more uncertain, but I imagine it is similar to many of yours: for kindness, empathy, understanding and compassion to reach further than skepticism, criticism, negativity and fear.  Just like the light of that first candle dispels some of the late fall gloom, hope can shine through the darkness that sometimes obscures the better parts of humanity.  Don’t let darkness convince you that you are lost or alone – so many of us are waiting with hope inside.  Whatever it is that brings you hope – hold on tight.

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“Where there’s hope, there’s life.  It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” (Anne Frank)

 

 

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From the art room..., From the desk of...

Falling…

Last year, just about this time, I wrote about my new route to school each day and the beauty in the colours around me as the leaves changed to richer and more complex combinations day by day.  Sometimes a change in routine (or route) is just the right thing; “a change is as good as a rest” my grandmother said…

This year has brought a great deal of change to the Martini family home – some of it slowly and some of it fast,  some of it welcome and some of it worrying, but we are learning to live through the changes as they come and to accept the beauty of each moment.

“Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.” (Wolfgang von Goethe)

If you have been reading along with me for awhile you will know that the hardest change has been the death of one particularly wonderful friend.  She loved the autumn leaves (and wore their colours brilliantly), using the inspiration of the changing season to add colour to the lives and homes of her students and clients…


I miss her everyday, as does everyone who knew her, and especially the easy way she made us all feel important and welcome in her world. She lived through so many difficulties, but never let them change the way she shared so much of herself and her life with others. 

As I have been driving the winding way to work and back each day this month I have been watching the gradual colour change with mixed emotions. This autumn, the first one that she won’t witness with us, seems like a gift from her directly. In her absence I am looking for her in the colour and feelings of the fall all around me.

The trees are so lovely in their ever changing coppers, rusts and golds. They stand like torches against the darkening fall skies, lighting the horizon and  their impending change with courage and resilience.  

These colours are a gift to us. The leaves, in their final days, are fuller and more beautiful than they ever were in spring and summer greens. And the trees are not afraid to let go of what is ready to return to the earth. 

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” (Dan Millman)

It’s time to change. It’s time to let go. It’s time to let the season lead us to renewal and regeneration. In order to open ourselves to the possibility and newness of spring we need to let go and trust that the fall has a purpose. 

Letting go is scary. No anchor, no port, no steady branch to lean against – but trusting in the cycle of change gives us the freedom to become what we are supposed to be. The leaves are lighting the way. Their bold colours are a banner of bravery in the face of the unknown…

“There is freedom waiting for you, on the breezes of the sky, and you ask “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, what if you fly?” (quote by Erin Hanson, but she might have been channeling Margaret, who always called me darling and who championed a life of bravery, choice, passion and adventure…)

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8)

Fly, lovely leaves, fly…
(Art by Miss G. & Gr.5…)

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Pieces (Places)…

Years ago I read a book (I think it was Amnesia by Douglas Cooper) that inspired the way I think about place. I especially remember one passage that suggested every physical place holds the memory of the people, objects, events and emotions that have ever filled it. 

 

I can think of many places where this rings true for me. The apartment my grandmother lived in most of my life has long been demolished (“little boxes…”) but when I drive down the old street I feel strongly the spirit of that space. 

  

The neighbourhood I work in has evolved over the years – it used to be Middlegate and now it’s called “Highgate” to reflect its elevated status – but the spirit of the old 1970s bowling alley hangout still seeps through the sidewalk cracks here and there. 

  

Driving past an old east Vancouver park that was updated years ago I think of the welded steel-pipe rocketship that transformed the space for my own childhood – how many other children travelled with it to imaginary places?
  

I think about visiting my husbands Nonna and her hundreds of years old Italian stone house. How many layers of history are built up there, or in the back alleys of Venice or the mountains of Switzerland?

  

Thinking about the places that have meant something to me, and the people who make and occupy those spaces, has transformed the seed of that idea of place. I am imagining that every physical place I have passed through, lingered in, been inspired or influenced by has left an impression on me somehow. 
  

As much as the places are layers of emotion and experience, I am a patchwork of places. Each piece has been influenced by people and events – my whos and wheres are wrapped up in eachother and without them I wouldn’t be me…

  

Until I was 9 or so I moved quite often with my family. I was used to changing places and carried a sense of wanderlust with me as I grew into myself. I left home (and changed cities) at 17, and continued to move from place to place for more than ten years. My grandmother declared me the “moving-est girl”, and refused to keep updating my status in her address book… 

I was collecting places. 
  

Ironically, although I was voted “most likely to travel the farthest” at the end of high school, my collection of places has circled back on itself. Every day, sometimes more than once, I drive past several of my former schools and many of the other places I have lived, worked, and played…

  

In some cases the places have multiple layers of memory. The childhood/school years/adult versions of myself that echo through the places I pass through every day remind me how the layers of life and experience of place have brought texture to my now. Without the time spent in each of those places (even the painfully difficult ones) I wouldn’t have a complete picture today.
 

As my path continues to wander and wind, I know the places I have been will always hold a piece of me – I have left a layer of love and learning on my way. And as I go, I add the love and learning left by others to my own …

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In Between…

There are certain times and places in life that are neither one thing nor the other. In between seasons, in between jobs, in between awake and dreaming, in between childhood and adult life…

Coming through these in-betweens always gives me a slightly unhinged feeling; the surreal rearranging of place and personality goes through a period of “unsettled” before becoming something new. Nothing is familiar, there are no landmarks or keystones, there is a lingering feeling of discord.

  

I began this post in between seasons – in that wet grey time that isn’t winter and isn’t spring. I kept thinking about it as I travelled with my family – in between work and holidays, in between countries, in between states, in between city and country landscapes, in between ever changing weather patterns…

…but now I have come to an in-between that goes well beyond unsettling. In between life, and death.

I have lost an amazing friend. Even though I knew it was coming, even though I thought I was prepared, I am in between acceptance and overwhelming grief. I might be here awhile.

    
There is no easy way to be in this place.  I am wallowing in sadness – for her beautiful girls, for the man who loves her, for her younger brother and his family too, and selfishly for myself and my own family as we have to live in this world with a little less light in her absence.   

An amazing friend. In her last letter to me she noted the in-between herself:

“It’s funny how certain life changes make us appreciate what we have/ had before it’s too late. It’s good that they come our way sometimes.”

The moments that give us pause, that make us uncomfortable, unhappy, unwilling… Those are the moments that can really open our eyes to ourselves and our possibilities. They’re like windows into or out of reality – a place to change perspective and focus.

  

In those places in-between we have the opportunity to transform. As quoted in my favourite film, just a few seconds are so much more than waiting:

“We Breathe. We Pulse. We Regenerate. Our hearts beat. Our minds create. Our souls ingest. Thirty-seven seconds, well used, is a lifetime.” (Mr. Edward Magorium)

  

In between sunrise and sunset there are hours filled with choice and opportunity. There is life to be lived. There are people to be loved and helped. There is laughter, there is joy, there is kindness. Use your in between – it’s everything…

“The moment in between what you once were, and who you are now becoming, is where the dance of life really takes place.” (Barbara de Angelis)

Oh Margaret; How I miss you…
 

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