Think About This! // 4



1. Layers of learning - How do things stick?  Music, visuals, presentations, speech, listening with purpose are all ways of including layering in the learning so that significant concepts "stick".  Examples: Manipulative objects work wonders in math and literature that is read with enunciation and emotion, then enacted, then viewed brings the student INTO the story.

2.  Understand your students - Do your best to understand the student's personality, incorporate the Blooms Taxonomy- with layers of learning, in the various types of learning methods to help students connect.  This assists the teacher in the long run but can be labor intensive at the beginning of the school year.   As you become a "student of the differences", your teaching will blossom.  

3. Separation of school and life - It is not a great idea to have your whole home absorbed into the “school” aspect of life.   Have some “school free zones” where you can simply be.

4. Modify the number of times you ask the student to transition - create transitions that make sense and are smooth.   For example each time you change expectations or resources there is a lapse in learning because the student is learning the new expectations and not necessarily the skills and knowledge you wish them to learn.

5.  Know when to throw up the white flag - The students must listen and comply but choose your battles carefully. Some items just don't have the word Essential attached to them!

6. Less is more - Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication- study the common core and do the best with the main, essential outcomes.  Clutter in thinking, in the classroom, in instructions is all counter-productive.

7.  Enjoy each moment - Moments turn into hours and into all passes quickly and it might be one smile, one belly laugh or one gesture that brings life into a student and into you.


Conversations on Education // 4


Generative which means capable of producing or creating has the synonyms: multiplicative, procreative, propagative and reproductive and is a fabulous overarching descriptor of liberated mentoring and productive teaching,  This word typifies the free, engaged and emulative teacher whose story is clear and whose methods are fair and productive.  She/he is true to her/himself and "gets" who they are and creatively engages in instruction which accounts for inevitable strengths and weakness in themselves and in their students.   There is no judgment of self or student, rather there is a symbiotic growth that reproduces the good qualities found in the accepting classroom.   Students love to emulate the confident, aware and equally flawed persona of their teacher because that teacher is honest, "not perfect" yet highly caring and non-judgmental.   The teacher recognizes that they can laugh at themselves, enjoy the antics of their students and their innately flawed "perfection" gives them the type of empathetic hearts that students so desperately crave .

As a student who grew up in a traumatic home environment, teachers were the life-line toward acceptance, awareness and the ability to "cut-myself-some-slack".   From the perspective of a kid that could not get her parent's approval even with high grades and strong athleticism, perfectionism was to be the slated downfall.   Perfectionism is always a by-product of a constricted mode because it is not possible and is generated from the "prove-one's self" approach.  Liberty that embraces unique yet "non-perfect" qualities is accompanied by an awareness that does not make a student strive for less; rather it inspires them to see what they can achieve despite their situations or their weaknesses.

Take the time to think about what generative teaching, devoid of any constricted modes could mean to you and to your students.   Perhaps brainstorm an honest list of items that would generate a truly accepting and highly productive year of teaching.   This list will have the "perfect" yet "flawed" you written all over it and will make allowances for real successes and brilliant stories of engagement and learning. 


Think About This! // 3


In my musings about what is significant it always boils down to some rather simple, similar concepts.  My hope is that the profound is not lost in the simplicity. Michelangelo's famous quote is a standard I love to live and teach by: Simplicity is the ultimate Sophistication.

1.   Set the stage - Make your classroom a location or destination with organization, cleanliness, simple creativity and a lack of clutter. Ideas don't need to be new … learn from blogs, other teachers, TPT, Pinterest, etc.

2.       Start early -  Be organized for the next year, have garnered learning from the previous year and start early in the morning. (The "morning person", "evening person" concept is often not relevant!)

3.       Prioritize the priorities - Skills based courses like Language Arts and Math need distinct attention.  They form the foundation for all other learning.  Within the Common Core and varied Curriculum standards are the 80% significance and then there are the "nice to have" concepts of minor significance.   Focus on the 'Big Ticket Items'.

4.      Overlap the humanities/ sciences -  Social Studies/ English/ History/Art/Music overlap.  The exact Sciences and Math also overlap. Try to avoid the common boxes in education…learning is holistic. 

5.       Same location - Create a work location, a work time, a work expectation and a schedule within your classroom.   This should be posted on Monday morning so the student knows what is expected.  Students don’t want to get fed each next step any more than we do. We want to know what is expected, when it is expected, the criteria for completion etc.

6.       Same requirements - Your consistency is absolutely necessary, (1) you are the authority figure in this situation, (2) you have to differentiate your personal style from the requirements that education brings.  A teacher can do themselves an incredible favor by establishing a consistent regime in September.   This eventually rolls-out as a peaceful environment for the students because behavioral and educational expectations are understood.

7.       Remember nothing is innately “fun” or “not fun”! It’s like the cup being half empty or half full.  It really depends on how we view life and how much we are willing to color our lives and enhance our experiences.   Making everything "fun" is not your job.   Rather be who you are, laugh often, enjoy the process and "fun" will be a bi-product you all create together.  


SCW Store Update

We're super excited to announce our paragraph instruction and practice resources are now complete and available for purchase in our store!! We've been planning these babies for some time now, so it's thrilling to have them finished in time for the start of this school year. 

Proper paragraph writing is vital. If taught simplistically and consistently, students grasp the concept rather quickly and forever benefit from this versatile skill. With these two resources we aim to provide teachers with the visual aids and engaging practice templates to help their students confidently and correctly write paragraphs. We hope you enjoy! 




Conversations on Education // 3


While chatting with Carli the other day, she mentioned a phrase her husband often uses about dealing with day to day specifics while still keeping the 30,000 foot "stuff" - the bigger picture - in mind.  This is highly applicable within teaching and the classroom. Practical daily "stuff" needs to be ritualistically taken care of as well as the 30,000 foot-view "stuff". The challenge is how to achieve this balance.   The practical daily elements (classroom organization, student activities, targeted learning, scheduling and prioritizing essential outcomes, etc.) is that daily ritual of itemized outcomes, completions and methodological choices. The inspirational-intuitive nature of the teaching process is the 30,000 foot view "stuff"…. the big picture. Within this balance is the student, their future, their dreams, their aspirations and their genius and it's all gold.  

Imagine looking at a fine piece of Rembrandt's art and applying the grid principles that art teachers have often "wowed" their schools with.  Grid the work of art, give each student a section of the grid that they must reproduce and come together with the completed "pieces" to show the collective genius of the classroom full of burgeoning artists. These large mosaics can be found on walls of schools everywhere and when all the pieces are put together, they are inspiring and lovely. They are an example of the 30,000 foot view that no single child could have imagined as they worked on their tiny, methodically gridded portion of the larger picture. Teachers have the opportunity to perfect both the minutia and the grand and will eventually find that these two are quite mutually inclusive of each other. Taking the same steps, the committed steps, the often tedious steps each day brings the teacher to the "ah-ha" enlightened moments of the 30, 000 foot view. 

It is a committed premise that the structure must be solid on a moment by moment basis before the expanse can be enjoyed. Concurrence with this perspective in non-negotiable. If the fence of day to day structure and essential expectations is not built the student will hover in a small section of the possibilities. Their main ambition becomes knowing what needs to take place at that specific moment instead of living within a finely tuned system that sets the students at ease to learn on a larger scale. Through great planning and some visionary insight, the day to day specifics can align with the 30,000 foot view to yield delightful and awe-inspiring results in your classroom. 


SCW Store Update

Hey all! I hope your August is going well and that preparations for the new school year are well underway. I'm popping in today with an exciting update about what's new over at our Start Communications Writing (SCW) store!

August is BIG for teachers so you can trust we're busy bees at work, perfecting more new products than ever before with the kind of systems, simplicity and style you've come to expect from us. We have sooo many ideas, so more teacher-time-saving products are always around the corner. Yay! It's just finding enough hours in each day to create them that's our challenge ;) A good challenge to have, if you ask us! 


This Home Schooling beginning-of-the-year vision planner is a fantastic resource and the first of many home schooling products to come. Map out your family's learning priorities, education vision, curriculum preferences, support structure and more with this interactive booklet, written from Avaline's extensive home school consulting experience.

In case you're new to our story, Avaline is a home schooling teacher and consultant of 21 years and I was fortunate enough to be home schooled by her for several elementary years. Needless to say, in addition to education in general, we are passionate about home schooling done well. We look forward to sharing our tips, tools and resources specifically geared towards home schooling in greater volume in the near future!

This resource is a particular favourite of ours because it facilitates daily practice of an essential essay writing skill, the outline. Included in this pack is a note to teachers, a blank weekly topic sentence template (Monday - Friday) and 5 blank outline templates (Monday - Friday). The purpose of this resource is to encourage students towards strong outline writing by practicing it 5 minutes a day. This resource makes it simple and efficient for teachers to engage student's in this important activity. Photocopy these templates as many times as you'd like for use in your classroom! 
Start the year off right with these graphic dividers for your students' writing portfolios. Many of our resources already file beautifully into this portfolio system and we are in the process of creating the remaining resources which will complete the system. Of course, these dividers are meant to work for your collecting writing resources as well, so be sure to customize the system in whatever way works best for you and for your classroom!

There's a lot more coming soon, so stay tuned! Happy Thursday everyone :)


Think About This! // 2


I've been reading the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, and am thoroughly inspired by it. Specifically, his concept and discussion on the notion of 'smart enough' caught my attention. It got me thinking about this...

Rote measures fall away when awareness kicks in. A student who believes and has imagination may take the world by surprise. Each student is uniquely gifted and is 'smart enough'. Fertilize this combination of belief and imagination with conversation, challenging scenarios and good old-fashioned structures within which to learn and the amalgamation for 'genius' unfolds. 

Education falls short when its measures are static, rote or absurd to the environment within which the student must function and thrive. In a 'classroom' filled with visual stimuli, moving objects, deep conversation and 'off-topic' improvisational laughter the student becomes engaged in a multi-facted and personally interested manner. Just as reading with enunciation and emotive nuance locks the meaning more deeply into the reader, the sparking of the emotive consciousness in the classroom triggers true learning. 

And yes, the smart teacher did the curriculum planning in August, has laid out the entire year in lessons and is completely and utterly aware of the essential outcomes of the common core. Knowing what must be taught, opens the door to "How is it to be taught?". This philosophical perspective does not eliminate optimal review cycles for learning important data, the need to take fastidious notes or the implementation of review. Successful educational practices are immersed into these environments. The student is still required to produce both verbal and written accent to the knowledge through application, through interpretation and beyond this; into influence. 

Each student is 'smart enough' and learns uniquely. This classroom of life and the microcosm portion that the school's classroom represents is the opportunity that the student has to find out how they learn, what triggers their unique genius and how their contributions will undoubtedly make a difference. 


Conversations on Education // 2


At the expense of being right it is always best to be fair. This maze of education has many turns and students come into our lives for a relatively short period of time. In that time, the impact of fairness can literally transform the student from sad to happy, cynic to believers and underachiever to a hard-working young person. I was "that student" that left home at sixteen, many years ago. Industrious by nature and a fighter by choice as well as necessity, I needed to stand up for myself at a younger age than conceivable. Kicked out of the house by an alcoholic father and on my own, I went to a gentleman who owned an apartment complex and for whom I had been cleaning hallways and empty apartments as a summer job."Do you think, if I worked very hard, that you could sublet an apartment to me while I finish high school?" I inquired. His answer was a resounding yes. 

I moved into nice two bedroom apartment, with little furniture, no food and an ambition to get the job done. Life had NEVER been fair! Fortunately, the teachers at school became my surrogate parents. There was little Mr. West, my high school biology teacher. Each day I heard, "How's my girl?" and knew he watched out to make sure my questions were answered. Mr. Goble was the Social Studies teacher who gave consistent kindness, his winning a smile and a quiet assurance that life would become better. My basketball coach, Mr. Brian Clarke, worked incredibly hard to check in, coach me and finally in grade twelve help me to obtain a basketball scholarship for Mount Royal University. With their constant support and my own ambition, I won the top academic student award for grade twelve. Although hatred for my dad still deeply affected me from time to time, I had seen a speck of light in a very dark tunnel. 

At home the word "fair" had not existed. At school though, I was on equal footing with my classmates and this awareness freed me to excel. Since then, I attended university to follow in those teachers' footsteps and have been teaching "that age" of student since 1979. It is still my purpose in the short time that a student is in my class, or on a team I coach, to exhibit fairness and trust even if it means I must retreat from being right, from 'academic' protocol or take that extra time to try to understand what I might never fully know about a student's struggle. A word, a smile, an acknowledgement, an extra chance, a re-write, a listening ear, or any gesture that lets each student know that they will be treated with dignity and fairness speaks louder, much louder than any other thing you will ever teach them. 


Think About This! // 1


1. Plan the year in advance, map out the entire calendar with major expectations and outcomes - be clear on what the essential outcomes are so you don't get caught on tangents that soak up valuable time. 

2. The systemic approach to teaching and learning creates a fence around the growth area so that students feel confident and safe within expected parameters. Real genius blossoms in these situations. 

3. Take out the unnecessary daily drip of common questions that can be eliminated by simply creating the strong systems that students will natural assimilate into their learning and better yet, into their lives. For example, the child who is expected to make his/her bed each morning simply does. There is no need to negotiate, and furthermore better sleep occurs scientifically if we climb into a bed that has been made. In a classroom, if the expectation is set that all essays follow a pattern and are submitted in a particular form, then you as a teacher will have instilled this instruction significantly at the inception of essay writing and will not need to repeat yourself over and over and over again. 

4. Building the foundation takes a lot of time at the beginning of the year but there care no short-cuts to a strong foundation. Consider the non-negotiable systemic needs for your classroom and install them strongly at the inception of the year. By the middle of the year you will have surpassed your curriculum outcome forecast because of less wasted time and unnecessary repetition. 

5. Finally respect, quiet, order, clarity, system are not bad words; they open the door for peace, close the door to turmoil and grant you the opportunity to truly listen, to truly think and to give students an oasis in what might be an otherwise chaotic world. 


Conversations on Education // 1

Kick-starting An Amazing School Year

Wow, it is August, 2014 and we are preparing to enter into the 2014-2015 school year with the hopes of great results, an ease of teaching and a great connection with our new students. Thirty-five years ago, I began this teaching odyssey. The first year was TOUGH. I had not indulged the idea that data and thought and process flows naturally into systems that assist the teacher in their performance and the students in their understanding. I barely survived teaching high school physical education, grade nine history and art and religious studies for grades 7-12. In addition, I was asked to coach the basketball team and the track and field team. Crying was often closer than laughter. It was exhausting. 

However, that was then and this is now. Now I see students as future leaders, and my role as mentor far exceeds the curriculum. It is the role of giving tools that will help the students navigate the essentials of learning and assisting them to create systems within which they can interpret data, design their thinking and present their thoughts in ingenious methods. 

One thing I quickly became clear of is that September is not for fun in my classroom and I have little concern for whether the students 'like' me. With that in mind I do have the experience to know that this sacrifice of establishing credible systems in the classroom, in the student's work and in the manner in which the work is presented results in greatness and deep appreciation from them to me by the end of the year. The most "dreaded" teacher becomes the most loved. Isn't it so funny how this cycle works? Simply put, the order, the pre-work of planning, great resources, consistent expectations and an understanding that our role goes "Beyond the Curriculum" is the kick-start that will bring times of intense concentration, joyful silence and unbridled laughter both from your students and from you.


Teacher's Pay Teachers Sale!


Back to school is very nearly upon us! We can hardly believe it. Why does this time of year always seem to sneak up so quickly? Must be all the summer fun we're having ;)

That said, we think there's something pretty motivating about getting back to work on a fresh school year. The Fall always seems to put a pep in our step as the days cool down and the desire for a return to familiar routine gently knocks at our door.

Since the beginning of the year is always rather labour intensive, we love Teachers Pay Teachers for the many time-saving resources they offer teachers of every grade level and specialty. To celebrate the start of the year, our store is joining in on TPT's annual Blast Off Back To School Sale! August 4-5, everything in our store is 20% off. Use the promo code BTS14 and save even more! Happy buying and best luck as you prep for the beginning of another great year!



Hello! We're so excited you're here! My Name is Carli and together with my my mom Avaline, we write this blog. This is a creative space to engage in discussions about the joys,  challenges and winning strategies of fostering deep learning. We hope to share posts that will inspire and motivate including pep-talk posts from Avaline's 35 years of teaching experience, time-tested classroom how-to's, collected education ideas from around the web, insights on the importance of simplistic instruction coupled with practical design and much more!

Of course we aren't working on our educational resources and this blog all the time (though we love it so much we spend a heck of a lot of time on it!) The fun things that make up a lot of our everyday lives will be shared here as well. After all, what's a blog for if not to chat about anything and everything? :)

Thanks again for checking in on us. We hope you enjoy each time you visit. As always, feel free to join in on the conversations as we'd love to get to know you!