Conversations on Education // 9


               "Forgiveness does not change the past but it does enlarge the future"

Paul Boese

Today is a unique opportunity to Forgive. It is an opportunity for everyone who suffered at the hands of those who did not care and do not necessarily deserve our forgiveness. We get to give it anyway. 

Forgiveness, is for ourselves and not necessarily for the person(s) we forgive.  Undoubtedly, as it liberates the perpetrator from the constant guilt that may plague them, it may also change them.  This is the hope but not the reason we forgive.

We forgive to be bigger than any circumstance or hurt that tried to take us off our best path. We forgive to defy the bad in this world and while we forgive we purge the darkness that tried to take over our hearts. We wipe it clean of the constant repetition of hurtful events and we create an open, inviting place.  This place is ready for a day by day life unmotivated by revenge and fully engaged in living in an enlarged pleasant life and hopeful future.

This blog is my heart and not necessarily part of teaching protocol taught in universities.   It is, however, entirely human and a constant battle within tough times.   Our responsibility as teachers and parents and overseers is to forgive.  As a result we walk with open futures. We should teach this skill, largely through demonstration. I recognize forgiveness does not diminish our need to protect those who are in our charge. Forgiveness is not admonishment. As a student who received protection from my teachers and eventually learned to forgive I am aware that each situation requires unique wisdom  and sometimes even intervention. This wisdom truly flows more freely from the enlarged future that forgiveness provides.


Think About This! // 8


As a teacher, I believe whole-heartedly that vital, practical, established systems are necessary for expedited learning.   Creating a framework for both how to learn and how to retain learning is highly significant.  Of course this seems contra-indicated to many educational systems that focus entirely on curriculum content with less thought given to equipping life-long learners with systems within which to frame their learning.

As a parent, it was always my intent to encourage tenaciousness and to provide structures that could eventually become the vehicle of each child's brand of genius. My own four children although dramatically different seem to all possess great aptitude for study, reading, writing and living life. The systems although absolutely necessary eventually become quite invisible as they simply provide the vehicle for growth and learning. The benefits from this is that each individual now has the tools to express their gifts and find their passions.  They are intentionally working with high-end systemic "power-tools" in the construction of their lives, insights and enjoyment.

Benefits of strong systems:

1.      Methodological guesswork is eliminated
2.  Study tools, note-taking tools, writing tools provide framework to build learning, academic expression and growth.
3.      Time is saved.  Time is a rich commodity that we must employ expeditiously.
4.       Stress is eliminated as a cache of purposeful, efficient tools is readily available.

Starter Kit of Tools:

1.      Note-taking Methods that loan themselves to efficient study and writing tasks
2.      Note-taking Methods and Optimal Review cycles for Vocabulary development
3.   Writing systems for critical writing tasks- the argumentative/ position essay, the literary essay, the expository essay, research writing, etc.
4.      Study systems incorporating daily review that leads into optimal review
5.      Pinpointed grammar usage- for poignant variation in writing
6.      Test-taking methods
7.      Reading voraciousness of varied genre encouraged from an early age
8.      Comprehension testing from an early age
9.      Math algorithms that become innate
10.  Financial savvy through early intention in how to make, save, invest and spend wisely
11.  Eating systems that fuel the body and assist the mind for optimal health and function

The Starter Kit of Tools is representative and undoubtedly each person could add to it depending on the nature of what life has for them. The main theme of this list is to use and fine-tune systems to provide the structural framework for your growth.  Just like in any beautiful architectural structure the framing may not be highly visible but it absolutely supports and dramatically enhances the purpose and beauty of the architecture.    


Thanksgiving Writing Freebie!

Exciting news! We've just released a Thanksgiving themed freebie writing resource. This activity focuses on sentence-start practice with nouns and adverbs. Click the image above to access your FREE download :)


Conversations on Education // 9


In a recent staff meeting, with a group of wonderful teachers, I was privileged to watch a remarkable YouTube instruction by Rita F. Pierson. It was called Every Kid Needs a Champion. 

I hope that my teaching career is based entirely on the premise of this video.  It is one thing to teach; it is an entirely different thing to believe in the whole child. This requires the teacher to recognize that the faces in front of them each day are not just what they see.  These students have happiness and sadness, strengths and weaknesses, belief and doubts and all the emotions and challenges that we each face as we walk through life. We cannot see into their homes, their history or their hearts but we can remain ready to listen for "that instant" or commit to the process that will provide these students with their champion. We get to champion the causes of these human beings. We get to listen and truly hear. What a privilege. 

Here is the link. I encourage you to visit!

Rita Pierson: Every Kid Needs a Champion


SCW Store Update

Hey everyone! We've got some exciiiiiiiting news to share...Our newest writing mega unit is finished and available through our store! We are so pumped about this one!! Argument writing and the argumentative essay are essential common core elements required throughout middle school and high school but like most in depth essay styles, it can be a bit daunting to know where to start on this one. Our goal in creating this comprehensive resource was to take the sequencing and handout/practice activity prep work largely off your plate. The resource is broken down into 12 information packed lessons, most of which could be expanded into two lessons if preferred. Each lesson includes teachers notes, instructional handouts and printable practice activities. Click the image below to for more details and a preview! 

Just in time for the Halloween and Thanksgiving season, we've also released our Pumpkin Fun: Varied Sentence Starts activity packet. This resource features 5 printable activities to help your students practice 5 different ways to vary their sentence starts. This skill set is fantastic for all writing forms and styles, not just essays. Click the image below for more details and a preview!

Finally, we've got two new literary essay practice resources available! One offers students the opportunity to practice their literary essay writing skills after reading the classic novel, 'To Kill A Mockingbird'. The other offers a similar practice opportunity but for a more spooky literature classic: The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. Perfect for Halloween themed writing practice! Click images below for more information and previews. 


Conversations on Education // 8


I have lived my life rather focused on output and work and doing well at all that I endeavor.  This in and of itself is OK and even respectable. I get things done. However, as a result, I have often been unaware of my surroundings, and the beauty of singular moments. This was well represented to me at a recent teacher's in-service day where we as a group of ten teachers were required to move around from classroom to classroom to perform specific learning activities relative to new educational protocols.  At the end of this exercise we were to return to classroom five which some of the teachers in my group had affectionately called the monkey room. This did not register with me.

When I inquired why they had dubbed this room the "monkey room", they thought I was kidding.  Upon returning to the room, there were monkeys everywhere: in pictures, hanging from the ceiling as stuffed animals, on the bulletin boards etc. Need I say more? I missed an incredibly strong visual as a result of being so riveted on the task. In this situation, no harm, no foul.

My oldest son Chad came to me at the age of four and said, "I can read this book Mom".  We were at a skin specialist for dry skin on his elbows and knees. It was his first encounter with the book. He read it orally; with wonderful enunciation and flow. How had this happened without me knowing it? On another occasion he came to me at age five and presented me with a perfect cube made out of a piece of paper. I'm not a mathematician but this seemed unusual. In both cases I cheered and praised him for these accomplishments. I was, however, unaware of the process he had taken to get there. I recognized his mental acuity at a very, very young age, however I cannot say for sure if I was aware of his processing.  

Since that day, I have had a couple of illnesses: a brain tumor in 2001 and a large cancerous tumor in my right leg in 2009.  Chad, the same boy and 23 at the time of this incident, came with me to many of my appointments for the 2009 situation. We had met with the doctor to hear the verdict and the procedures of chemo, radiation and surgery.  We listened carefully, then he and I walked back to his truck and he opened my door for me. He stopped me before getting into the truck to take me by the hands and said, "I wasn't there for you for the brain tumor Mom, but I am here for you now.  Tears were coming from his eyes and an indelible mark registered on my heart. That was "My Moment" and it transformed my cancer journey. I knew I would make it. There were other moments with my other children that had the same impact but this is an example of when I finally caught the sincerity and revolutionary nature of one moment. 

As teachers, I truly believe every day has a moment that transforms. Some days may have many. We may be aware of their power, or blissfully unaware.  However, life is simply moments followed by moments that we partner in.  They may be indelible like my moment with my son or they may simply point a child in a right direction for that day. Whatever they are, one thing is for sure, they have incredible power.  Today's a great day to look at  each moment as an opportunity and to listen carefully to your intuitive nature. Thank goodness, "Every Day Has a Moment"!


25 Freebies in One Resource!

We are so excited to be a part of this amazing TPT freebie compiled by Literary Sherri! Here's the premise:

- 25 TPT Sellers
- 25 'Meet' pages: learn a little more about the people behind these fabulous secondary stores! Find our profile on p. 14. 
- 25 'Teach' pages: peruse 25 freebie downloadable resources by those sellers that you can use in your classroom immediately! Find our freebie resource on p. 15.

As always thanks for following along and for your continued support. We hope our blank daily outline template in this resource is of great use to you and your students!

If you'd like to access our portion of the eBook directly, click here to download the freebie from our store. Included in this document is a linky page which connects to the eBook download link as well as links to all 25 sellers and their stores.

Hoping your week is off to a great start!


Lately // 1

Just wanted to jump on the blog tonight to post a quick real life update. It's about time we had one of those around here, isn't it? ;)

So September has been busy! Can I get an amen? I'm sure you're all feeling it too. Avaline is back at work on program development, teaching sessions and curriculum design which is always at its most demanding in September. Meanwhile I've been busy at work designing and laying out some of the resources we planned over the summer. Avaline's been fine tuning the material and let me tell you…it's amazing! Now I'm really digging into the design intricacies to make sure that the resources we produce are beautiful and super easy for teacher's and student's to enjoy in their classrooms. Lots on the burner for sure. We can't wait to start posting them on TPT and are working hard to do that as soon as possible. Product update post to come when they're live! 

In non-SCW news, Ryan (my husband) is out of town this week so Avaline joined Lincoln (my wiry and loveable Irish Wolfhound pictured above…her beloved doggie grandson :) and I for a sleepover. We love this time to catch up and explore our beautiful surroundings with Lincoln. He tends to have an adventuring affect on anyone he's around. And we're not complaining. Starting our days traversing river banks and breathing in the crisp fall air always seems to get our creative juices flowing! 

I'm planning on posting a few more real life updates here on the blog in the coming weeks. We'd love to let you know a bit more about each of us and our lives outside the resources we produce and our involvement in the educational community. And on that note, we'd also love to get to know you! Feel free to tell us a bit about yourself in the comment sections of these posts. We're excited for that conversation to develop! 

Happy weekend everyone! 


Conversations On Education // 8

September is so busy that I often get caught up in a work mentality and risk missing the real gems of why I'm in the teaching profession. Granted it IS busy with setting parameters, getting a strong academic start and focusing on systems to enhance expectations. Undoubtedly, a teacher needs to prepare and be working hard in September to obtain and maintain a profound start to the school year.  However, the intuitive nature of why we teach must remain pervasive and alert.

As a child, school was a safe haven for me; a place of peace. I felt comfortable enough to sleep in my grade one class. However, the comment "Avaline would be a great student if she would just wake up" indicated that the teacher was not as pleased with this level of comfort. What she didn't know was that this was a great compliment. I was afraid at home and didn't sleep soundly.

In my mid-teen years, family conflict rose to disproportionate levels and the fear was accompanied with anger, yelling and unfortunately with physical abuse. I was a good student, a strong athlete and a reasonably easy kid.  Mom said I could entertain myself with toys as a small child for hours and as I grew older saw very little use in television but preferred books and study. It may have been my subliminal way of hoping things would get better by retreating into my own thoughts. Additionally, I joined EVERY team I could. It was a way to stay at school even longer every day. 

In the end, all these coping strategies met with a final and difficult beating made my resolve strong enough to leave home without anything at the unreasonably young age of sixteen. 

I have complete forgiveness for the perpetrator but come at life with a different set of eyes because of these experiences. As a suddenly independent and reeling young girl a word, a kind gesture, a momentary smile or a thoughtful comment on a written assignment became lifelines. Teachers and other adults in my life knew this and, from scared young girl to terrified teen, I managed to survive and thrive because of the haven my school had become. The comment "they don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" has always meant a great deal to me. It rang true for me then and rings true now as I try daily to positively impact people (my students, my colleagues, student's parents, etc.) so they too can live peacefully and profoundly, regardless of what other variables they might have working against them in areas of their life I might not have any knowledge of. 

As teachers we have this opportunity daily, to pour into our student's lives and show them how much we care. Curriculum and essential outcomes are important, sure. But the care, compassion, security, and support we offer our students might just be what really makes the difference in one or many of their journeys. I hope you take encouragement from my story and remember what an important role we can all play in the lives of our students. 


Think About This! // 7


I have never enjoyed classroom set-up as it seems there is this in-built protocol for what it should look like and be. Similar to the idea that teachers are a certain "type" of person, (don't get me started… :) the classroom generally has that "classroom" look. 

With the sense of myself in those high school years and the accompanying anxiety I personally experienced in "that" classroom, I knew I had to do something different for my students once I became a teacher. As a student with nothing else to look at or engage me,  "boring teacher talk" often made me want to be anywhere but there. 

Knowing every student is in a different place mentally and emotionally from that personal experience, as a teacher I try to vary the visual dynamic in my classrooms to best facilitate engagement and active learning within the group. I've found my most recent classrooms took on more interest with a few simple touches:
  1. A video screen was always playing my newest DVD of fish swimming, a fireplace going, etc.  This was part of the mood-enhancing that my classroom was needy of and it gave the visual kids something to look at.
  2. When I stopped talking, classical music started playing.
  3. With the benefit of a bank of computers in my classroom, if the lesson was on Renaissance art each computer had a different work of art displayed so that students could move and view.
  4. The bulletin board was a giant map of the world because we were memorizing the countries of the world and all their capital cities as an extracurricular, 'just for fun' activity (not part of the curriculum but wow, were there a lot of kids sitting around the school with atlases in hand!).  Many riotous "girls vs the boys" showdowns proved a great way to get the competitive types memorizing the countries of the world. We included pins with string placed on the map from our location to whatever locations of the world we studied. You could also add whatever locations the students originally came from or had recently traveled to (colour coded). My map took up most of that wall...big was better in my mind, as this visual was a focal point for my students and I.  
  5. In my performing arts class located in a portable we created acting zones that included the hill above the playing field, which was just outside my classroom. The other students loved us taking it one step further and enacting our scenes during breaks right on that hill. This drew a crowd and the lessons were always that much more fun.
  6. Career and Technology Studies landed on my lap! How, I do not know. Instead of teaching each of the endless 25 hour units we did project proposals and project management formatting that I fashioned after a business model. The result was active learning in animal husbandry, fashion, cooking, construction, welding, design, architecture, etc. vs. students sitting through hours upon hours of my instruction on such topics. With the addition of mentors, the students developed a gymnasium 'project fair' of sorts, full of impressive completions that I am still in awe of.

These are some of my ideas…all of which served great purpose in my classrooms and offered engaging alternatives to the conventional classroom set-up. You and your class, with all of your skills and the varied personalities of the students in the room, will also create a room that is full of life and learning over the course of this year. I'm sure in many ways you already have! I think we can all agree that creating this safe haven of learning and growth is so truly worth it. 

If you have any tips or techniques you're especially fond of, please share below. We'd love to hear them. 


Think About This! // 6

Writing Portfolios - A Picture of Progress  

I've had great success implementing writing portfolios in my classrooms over the years, and I've heard from many other teachers who feel the same. Today I want to share some of the main reasons why I consider them such an important part of a student's writing journey. I hope you enjoy! 

Benefits for the Student:
  • The Writing Portfolio is a wonderful tool to display the student's writing process in a visual manner and breaks complex writing skill into tangible outcomes with maneuverable routes. 
  • In addition it provides the student with a marker of their progress, confidence from their edited (published works) and an outline of where they are going.
  • It separates their writing into the diverse categories of writing genre which further enhances their understanding of varied writing forms.  
  • The portfolio can also include an appendix of numerous wonderful writing tools that assist the student in their daily work regarding word usage, varied sentence starts and sentence structure, enhanced vocabulary, writing in the active voice, action verbs, the "dead word" list, varied genre- specific rubrics, etc etc.

Benefits for the Teacher:
  • The structure of writing will be questioned less as the students become self-sufficient as a result of the tools they have provided to them within their portfolio.
  • Pride of ownership of the student's compilation often results in a tangible change in the student's desire to write because they can mentally break writing into its many categories, work on the areas they need to improve upon and enjoy their visible successes.
  • Management becomes much easier for the teacher once they have established strong student portfolio protocols.  There will be less "lost" or "missing" work, fewer questions regarding daily tasks, fewer questions about where and how to submit work and a more manageable format for marking work.
  • When parent meetings take place at Parent-Teacher Conferences, or when the student has opportunity to display the portfolio to their parents the portfolio will give the parents strong insight into their student's growth and also to where practice is still required.

Portfolio dividers can be designed to suit the common core elements of the writing criteria whatever grade you teach. This way, the portfolio remains a significant method of filing and demonstrating the deep and layered levels of learning that the written form lends itself to. A great example of portfolio dividers I use regularly is the 'My Writing Portfolio' bundle Carli and I developed a while back and are now offering on TPT. Click the picture below if you'd like to learn more!

However you choose to organize your writing portfolio system, I strongly encourage you to incorporate this in your classroom. It has been such a help to me and my students, and I'm sure it will be to you and yours as well. If you're already experiencing great success with writing portfolios in your classroom, please share some of your top tips and insight in the comments below. We'd love to learn more about your experiences with this dynamic tool!


Think About This! // 5


There is one confidence that is self-evident for teachers during the beginning of the school year.  To be accepted or "loved" by students is secondary to the understanding that the steps taken in September set the stage for success and respect. These steps (decisions) don't necessarily garner acceptance or immediate appreciation from the student but the seasoned teacher knows they must occur.

I actually "don't care" what the students thinks of me in September. I "do care" that they are better and stronger human beings after participating in my class, receiving my instruction and deeply believe in the perspective that their character development is more important than easy passage

Here are some of my "seasoned" suggestions:

1.  Pre-create: Always know where you are going organizationally and behaviourly.
2.  Work on a finite number of TOP expectations. For example, if a peaceful, well-ordered classroom is your priority set the procedures in place to accomadate this eventuality.
3.  Choose three behaviours to target: It is unlikely that all disruptive behaviours can be stemmed but consistent targetting of specific disruptive attitudes and behaviors will reap a benefit.
4. Understand how to curb behaviors that are counter-productive. Eye contact, specific announcements of expectations and respect for the student are great starting points. I have often used the following method. First,  say the student's name, identify the behaviour and your desire to have the student stop. Second, close the physical gap by half, increase the intensity by half and repeat yourself. Finally, if necessary, close the gap by half again, make eye-contact and register your request.  No escalation in voice or energy is needed. The message is generally received very well!
5. Get parents on board: Parents are your greatest allies and workers. Set up a volunteer schedule and trust them to do the work you give them, after all they taught their children to speak English :) Not an easy task! They will be able to help streamline your work load and grow the students abilities incrementally.  It truly does take a village.


Conversations on Education // 5


Image Via

Starting the school year, the teacher, as one person in a network of people has the true possibility of being a "high impact" positive influence on students.  Beyond the layers and layers of knowledge and technique instruction teachers should look closely for simple common denominators in human experience to know how to effectively impact with one word and one action at a time.

Consider the following far reaching human priorities:

1.  No judgement; show acceptance and compassion
2.  Set clear parameters, give second chances
3.  Clarify and reward learning benchmarks, give students every opportunity to succeed
4.  Each day is brand new: it is a fresh start. Let go of mistakes and give grace instead of blame.
5.  Each word has impact for good and/or bad. Better to have few words than many.
6.  You won't know what your individual students are dealing with; be sensitive.

Helen Keller sums these ideals up beautifully in the following quote. "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart." If we, as well-trained and learned educators, listen to our hearts and follow simple yet foundational wisdom, students will undoubtedly be impacted both powerfully and positively.


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.