How we move forward

I love the image of the fancy dancer, spinning forward, head held back. Photo by Melissa Chasse, click image for source.

I love the image of the fancy dancer, spinning forward, head held back. Photo by Melissa Chasse, click image for source.

I’ve had a few conversations with other teachers over the past 2 weeks or so about how quickly we transition into coming school years, even before the previous one is completely done.

For me, I know the students who I will be teaching next year, for the most part – they went through an interview and careful selection process – and I actually found myself letting go of my grade 11s and focusing more on my incoming groups even as exams were still going on. The exam schedule facilitated it – kids were only at the school during the time allocated for their specific exams – so we went from spending just about all day together to seeing each other for a moment or 2 before and after their exams. I invigilated a few of their exams but it wasn’t the same. The group was quiet, serious, anxious – alter egos of their loud, opinionated, emotional, wonderful selves.

Last year I promised myself that I would honour closure in a more formal way. I’m not sure I really did what I was intending to do when I made that promise last year. The schedule was somewhat confusing at the end of the year and it seemed that all of a sudden the year was done. It was the first year for senior school reform exams and no one quite knew what to do with them – these are exams that last approximately 9 hours and are based in group work, dialogue, some individual writing, video viewings… so the exam period began about 2 weeks earlier than usual. Some of my students made a point to come see me during that period for some one-on-one time, to talk about the future, to say goodbye.

Despite the slipperiness of the end of year, I did manage to create a reflective piece for the final Student in Society exam. They had two choices, to either choose a topic that we covered during the year, describe the major issues, and then talk about how it has personally affected them (topics like substance abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy, date rape, self-esteem, protest, controlling parents). A few chose that one and in reading their papers I was moved in ways that I will never return. One girl wrote her exam in tears, loud sobbing tears. I asked her quietly if she preferred to write in a private room and she shook her head, I want to stay here. I think she needed to be with people.

The other choice was a letter to me about their own development over the school year, with permission to vent about things I did that drove them crazy. Some of those were very touching, some made me laugh out loud over forgotten jokes, some made me realize how much what I do sets the tone for learning – both positively and negatively.

I guess grade 11 is about letting go and allowing them to say goodbye and drift off on their own. It’s what they have been looking forward to for so many years. As one of my students wrote – I feel like my life is on hold. I can’t wait to finish school and get on with it already.

So, while they contemplate their changing futures, I contemplate mine. I know (though I also know these things can change) what I will be teaching next year. We have decided to share our students more and become subject specialists as opposed to core group teachers. With all of the work required when teaching the new reform courses it is suicide to try to do so for 7, 8 different programs. Logically it makes sense, I’m not sure yet how it will play out within the alternative program, not having core groups.

Next year I will be teaching History of Quebec and Canada, which has become a research course more than a fact memorizing course, so I will be focusing on themes in history and historical process. I will also be teaching Ethics and Religious Culture, a controversial course in Quebec. With it’s focus on dialogue and ethical process I am looking forward to it. I will be teaching a brand new course called Contemporary World, which is very much a research course designed to move from teacher presented material to student created material throughout the year. My last course is Visual Arts. I love that I am able to bring art back into my daily practice.

My summer will be filled with research for these courses and I am jived. So much more so than if I had to teach math or science (my apologies to math and science teachers) next year. I’m using my tumblr site to collect the resources I find for next year in one place. It’s called 09/10 ~ Thinking Forward.

Besides that, I will be spending a lot of time working on my new home. There is so much planting to do on 2 acres of land! I also have some art projects brewing and now that I have a room dedicated as my studio I have the space to let them breathe.

What are you doing to transition from this to next year?


  • Tracy says:

    Hi Laura and thank you for your comment, what a pleasure to read one like this.

    I did write letters this year, but individual ones. I responded to their own letters with one of my own. I like the idea of the class letter though – it would certainly take less time and emotional energy than these individual letters did!

    I think sometimes we focus so much on our relationship with our students that collegiate relationships gets ignored (hmmm…much like in a marriage at times – focusing on the kids to the expense of the partners). There are definitely times when I feel in the same boat as you. One of the things I have learned to do is to listen and to share stories about the good things that are happening in our classes and in our lives. Especially to listen. It’s amazing what we can learn about our colleagues without even asking a question and that learning can help us support them.

  • Laura says:

    Thank you for your site. I’ve been lurking for ages but decided to write on this piece because closure is one of the things i bang on about the most in schools. I love that you do end of year letters/assignments with your students. I have three scrapbooks filled with mine and they guide my teaching for the following year. Those letters have taught me more about my teaching than any external PD.

    Have you ever considered writing a letter for your class? For each of my courses I write a letter describing the journey we have taken as a class and detailing my favourite memories and achievements from the year. Students love reading about themselves and many tell me they still have their letters, even when returning from university for a visit.

    One of the things I am doing to transition for next year is to think about my colleagues a little more. This was my first year in a new school and I have been blessed with amazing students who work hard and behave well. My relationship with staff, however, has been more fraught. Now that my classroom is (mostly) working I need to spend more time working out how to support colleagues and ensure good relationships. For some reason I find it harder to be patient with colleagues but I’m going to learn. I really am. Any wisdom you have on the matter would be greatly appreciated.

    Good luck with the planting and researching. Sounds like a great way to spend a summer.

  • mike says:

    Hi Trace…. hope this finds you well!

    Funny…. just reading your site gave me a feeling that you may be interested in this work!

    Did not know that you are working with some native american kids…. very nice fit.

    The Cirle of Courage is not a program, like so many others things that are cookie cutter in nature. It is a powerful frame work for building healthy community.

    The Circle of Courage is a model of positive youth development first described in the book Reclaiming Youth at Risk, co-authored by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg, and Steve Van Bockern.

    The model integrates Native American philosophies of child-rearing, the heritage of early pioneers in education and youth work, and contemporary resilience research.

    The Circle of Courage is based in four universal growth needs of all children: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity.

    The Reclaiming Youth Network was established to actualize the Circle of Courage.

    Their journal as well as many of the books this organization puts out…well worth getting!

    Many educators and youth workers mistakenly believe that it is simply a model to be used with at-risk kids.

    What they fail to recognize is that in its original meaning…

    At-Risk was not meant to be used as a descriptor of certain kinds of kids.

    Rather…. At-Risk was used to focus attention on the “hazards in the environment” that can lead to poor outcomes for any children.

    These environmental hazards can be experienced by any child from any socio-economic level, any ability level and include:

    The question isn’t what is wrong with these kids…the question is ….WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM?


    Destructive Relationships- as experienced by rejected or weakly attached children, hungry for love but unable to trust…expecting to be hurt again.

    Climates of Futility- as experienced by insecure youngsters crippled by feeling of inadequacy and the fear of failure of not measuring up to expectations.

    Learned Irresponsibility- as seen in youth who’s sense of “powerlessness” is masked by indifference or defiance.

    Loss of Purpose- as portrayed by self-centered youth (people) desperately searching for meaning in a world of confusing values and a culture that sends very mixed messages to its children.

    These environmental hazards can and do happen to many of our youth as they navigate their worlds.

    Lets take a closer look:

    Children who struggle with Belongings:
    Broken belongings have life time effects. Belongings can and do distort into “artificial belongings”. These can include: gang loyalty, people who crave the attention and affection of others, promiscuous behavior, cult vulnerabilities and other signs of overly dependent behaviors. On the severe end you may see people who: are extremely guarded, isolated, aloof, distrustful and inattached.

    Children who struggle with Mastery:
    The need for mastery usually doe not disappear. It can however.. distort. You may see: extreme workaholics, overachievers, cheaters, arrogant thinking, delinquent skills. These people, frustrated in their attempts to achieve mastery seek to prove their competence in distorted ways. On the extreme end you may see: total non-achievers, avoidance of any risk, unmotivated, extreme fear of failure, gives up easily, and a sense of inadequacy.

    Children who struggle with Independence:
    Fighting against feelings of being powerless…some people may choose to assert themselves in aggressive and violent ways. You may see dictatorial behaviors, manipulative behaviors, bullies, reckless, defies authority….
    Or at the other extreme…… submissive, irresponsible, helplessness, easily lead.

    Children who struggle with Generosity:
    Without opportunities to be of value to others… young people may struggle to become caring adults. A distortion here may lead to: overinvolvement, co-dependence, servitude, playing martyr or on the other end…. Selfishness, affectionless, narcissistic, hardened, anti-social, explotitive.

    The Circle of Courage represents the 4 Universal needs that are designed to create environments that lead to positive human growth and learning.

    These are the 4 basic pathways to Resilience……..

    It comes from the North American Medicine Wheel ( Lakota ) and was developed from studying cultures where the central purpose of life was the education and empowerment of children.

    It can be used as a unifying them of a positive culture and matches up well with the work of people who we are more familiar; Dewy, Maslow, Glasser, Ryan, Deci, Brooks and others.

    4 Universal Needs of the Circle of Courage

    • BELONGING- Attachment
    • MASTERY- Achievement
    • INDEPENDENCE- Autonomy
    • GENEROSITY- Altruism

    Questions certainly drive all learning. I collect them :)

    One of my favorites is from Roland Barth;

    ” The question for educators is not whether all humans can learn but what conditions we can devise so that they will learn.”

    The Circle of Courage certainly identifies those conditions.

    The resiliency literature is also an exciting link.

    The work of Bonnie Benard on resiliency is really the place to look….

    Again…resiliency knows no social or economic class!

    It speaks to the powerful and inspiring concept of
    “turnaround teachers” and “turnaround schools”.

    We can certainly use the Circle of Courage to identify and develop the skills necessary for the development of turnaround teachers and schools.

    These teachers and schools go way beyond the basics and create places where people can expand into what they are capable of becoming!

    “To reclaim is to restore dignity to young persons who have been devalued, to cultivate courage in environments of Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity.”
    (Reclaiming Youth)

    The Circle has driven my work for years. Actualizing it…both as a teacher and as an administrator has become a passion!

    There is alot out there…just a bit hard to find!

    The key first step is the CREATION of the BELONGING Quaderant!

    Martin Brokenleg talked about Belonging as a need for all human beings and as needing to be a felt sense. Creating a sense of Belonging is a felt experience. The Belonging needs of kids ( really all people ) are a critical first step in the creation of positive healthy learning communities in our schools and communities.

    I really like the slice that both Brokenleg and Brendro make concerning Belonging. We here a lot in the world of education about forming relationships but these guys emphasize not simply relationships but CONNECTIONS!!!

    We can have relationships with kids but connections are deeper… they are more meaningful and they allow another to FEEL their SIGNIFICANCE.

    Nothing really happens until Belonging is created it is the critical piece and it is where we start on the Circle.

    Brendtro has written about “ pre-emptive connecting”. Pre-emptive connecting is what “turn around” teachers do. Kids with histories of negative encounters with adults can be strongly influenced by very small signs of respect, humor, good will and simply being noticed.

    Turnaround teachers (adults) recognize the critical importance of making connections with the people they work with…. kids and adults.

    be well…trace…. glad to have stumbled into your space.


  • mike says:

    Hi… sounds like a busy…fun filled summer.

    What i will be doing to transition into next year will be to continue my explorations of turnaround teachers and turnaround schools….

    Here are a few thoughts……


    In my mind……..the Resiliency Research is a pefect fit with the principles and values embedded in the Circle of Courage! What i really like about this research is how hopeful it is.
    Working with troubled kids is an endurence event…. it is long term…. this strength based research gives those working with these kids a powerful end to keep in mind!!!

    Here is a quick sample:

    “ A school can create a coherent environment,” a climate more potent than any single influence- teachers, class, family, neighborhood- “ so potent that for at least six hours a day it can override almost everything else in the lives of children”
    ( Edmonds, 1986 )

    Young people describe “turnaround” schools and classrooms as being like:
    “a family” ; “a community” ; “ a sanctuary” ;
    “ a safe haven”….

    Turning Points 2000 (Jackson & Davis )

    “ Among youth at risk from health or behavioral problems, family dysfunction, poverty, or other stresses, the most important school factor fostering resilience-
    defined as “successful adaptation despite risk and adversity” (Masten, 1994)- may be the availability of at least one caring adult who can function as a mentor or a role model.”
    ( Miller, 1998 )

    “research has shown that the degree to which students are engaged and motivated at school depends to a great extent on the quality of the relationships they experience there.”
    ( Eccles & Midgley, 1998. Lee & Smith, 1993 )


    “A common finding in resilience research is the power of the teacher-
    for the resilient youngster, a special teacher was not just an instructor for academic skills but also a confidant and positive model for personal identification..”
    ( Werner & Smith 1989 )

    Certainly speaks to the enormous power of BELONGING …. the need for us to make CONNECTIONS with all our students
    ( and our staff )

    Been attempting to clarify the behaviors and values of turnaround teachers!

    be well and have fun with all you plans…mike

    • Tracy says:

      Tell me more Mike. Are these books you are referring to? Programs? This research sounds exciting and I would love to know more about it.

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