Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

Education- Small but mighty learning November 24, 2018

The following article was originally published in The Gateway newspaper, Sicamous, BC, June 2014.  I no longer teach at ERS, but the school continues to engage in innovative programs with some of the most skilled teachers in SD 83.  When I left, half the teachers had Masters degrees and a third of them were published authors!

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SMALL BUT MIGHTY LEARNING AT ERS.

© Shawn L. Bird 2014

Eagle River Secondary (ERS) has been the educational heart of Sicamous since students began learning on the property nearly a century ago. In recent years, declining enrolment has required the school to become creative in order to offer programs that keep students in town. These successful innovations are causing a stir throughout the province.

The changes have included offering grade specific Core classes (English, Social Studies, Math, and Science) in the mornings and multigrade electives in the afternoons. The electives have embraced the teachers’ varied passions, allowing students to learn through classes in geo-caching, horticulture, international cuisine, cake decorating, hockey, outdoor education and guitar as well as more traditional classes like volleyball, biology and art. Of special note is the Social Justice class, which has students in the community helping at the thrift store and Meals on Wheels, harvesting vegetables for the food bank, gardening, and collecting for various charities.

A new focus on flexible learning by the Ministry of Education became the key to Eagle River’s innovations. The school has been given freedom to develop unconventional approaches to timetabling and course offerings. As a result of the success of these efforts, ERS has been recognized by the provincial government as a flagship school of the BC Ed Plan. Grade eight and nine students have had the opportunity to learn together in their choice of six mixed Science/ Socials classes throughout the school year; grade ten will be added in 2014-15. These courses have provided hands on, project based learning exploring local plants, controversial issues, water, astronomy, sound, electricity, revolutions, world religions, and cultural fashions among other offerings.

ERS is also very active in Career Education initiatives. Students are able to earn credits for their work experience in their jobs outside of school. There are two ERS students working in the community as Secondary School Apprentices, collecting hours with BC’s Industry Training Authority and gaining high school credit while they work as a marine mechanic or electrician. ERS works with School District 83 to provide two other students with dual credits (both college and high school) for career training as an automotive repair technician or a hair dresser. These students do a semester or year of training at another SD83 school, and will return to ERS tograduate with their friends.

Students also have the opportunity to parlay their own interests into Independent Directed Study (IDS) blocks. Students develop a set of learning goals, based on existing Ministry courses, and then leave the building to explore. Presently a pair of students is doing an IDS in fly fishing, learning about insect and fish life cycles, creating flies, fishing, and recording their findings. This is science and physical education for real life! Other students have created IDS courses in music, mountain biking, fitness, and long boarding. ERS partnered with UBC’s Okanagan campus to offer Maker Day. This was a chance to explore creative thinking and problem solving by students and community members working in small, multi-age groups to create prototypes of inventions. Maker Day is a movement dedicated to inquiry learning. Three ERS teachers are working on Masters degrees at UBCO, and the university is keen to have greater involvement with the school.

Eagle River’s innovations are making waves. Schools from all over the province are calling or coming to see what is happening within the walls. With only 150 students in grades eight to twelve, ERS may be small, but it’s mighty. Great things are happening for Sicamous’s kids, and the province is taking

You can find the original article in situ here on page 8. GatewayJun2014-SmallMightp8.

Shawn L. Bird BA, MEd.

 

 

poem-memorized May 20, 2016

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:59 am
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Mrs. Filber’s daughter memorized Poe’s The Raven and recited it for her mother’s sixth grade class. Student Wanda reflected years later, “This was my first encounter with the power of poetry…How independent Mrs. Filber’s daughter was–she could conjure up this poem at any time in the future, enjoying it again and again!” (May, W. 1991. “The Arts and Curriculum as Lingering.” p. 145).

What power in memory

to pull from air,

call upon bardic traditions,

weave words around ears.

Captivate.

Infiltrate.

Enervate

with poetry.

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(A little poetry inspired by my grad school reading today).

 

poem-7 February 19, 2016

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 2:12 pm
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The ancient Greeks formalized education.

Men should seek the seven liberal arts.

They must know grammar,

rhetoric,

dialectics.

Then move on to

music

arithmetic,

geometry,

astronomy

and always consider the tenets of philosophy.

You must begin knowing how words connect,

how to persuade others,

how to think logically and analytically,

then explore

sound,

numbers,

shapes,

and stars.

 

poem-learning January 4, 2016

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 10:55 am
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Who has told you

that learning must be boring?

Why do you think

you cannot learn from listening to others?

When did you lose

your natural creativity and curiosity?

Where will you go

if you’re not embracing opportunities here?

What hope is there for you

if you are so jaded so young?

In this place,

we believe that skills and abilities are more important

than out of date information.

We believe learning is more meaningful when

students ask their own questions and explore their own curiosity.

We believe you have potential to discover

far beyond yourself,

but you never will, if you don’t open your eyes to the world

beyond your nose.

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God preserve me from kids who are ‘too cool for school’.

 

poem-stop November 25, 2015

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 7:48 am
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This is a stop.

But only a brief one.

Long journeys

Pre-school.

Kindergarten.

Elementary school.

Secondary school.

One bachelor’s degree.

Two bachelor’s degrees.

And finally school feels finished.

So we will celebrate as you don the cap and gown,

walk across a stage,

accept the diploma.

We’ll snap the photos and be glad

This is a stop in the educational journey

But soon it will be your own class room,

filled with your students,

and soon you’ll realize,

your education is just beginning.

P1020915

 

poem-erudition September 17, 2015

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 9:55 pm
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We gathered together,

grad students celebrating scholarly excellence,

and discussed philosophy, narrative,

collaboration, theory and practice.

Should such a gathering be called

an erudition of grad students?

 

quote-Ken Robinson on creative people July 15, 2015

Filed under: Quotations,Teaching — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:34 pm
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Some of the most brilliant, creative people I know did not do well at school.  Many of them didn’t really discover what they could do–and who they really were–until they’d left school and recovered from their education.

Sir Ken Robinson in The Element

I am doing my Masters in Education at the moment.  Specifically, I’m on campus at University of British Columbia Okanagan taking two courses, each three hours a day, for three extremely intensive and exhausting weeks.  As I write, I am exactly half way through my degree.  In another week and a half I will have completed 6 of 9 courses. I am presently trying to determine what I will do for a project to reflect the research I do around my question which explores passion-based learning and teaching in a high school.

I come to this research because since I have fulfilled my passions as an author and poet, it has completely changed the way I teach.  I am happier.  I believe my students are happier because of it.  I suspect they learn better because I bring my outside passions (as a writer) into my class room.

Unlike the people Robinson knew, I did do well in school, in the classes I loved like English, History, and Choral, at least.  I didn’t do as well in math and sciences.   I knew I wanted to be a writer even back in high school.  I was in the yearbook (publishing a book each year!), newspaper (publishing a column each month!), as well as musical theatre (applause!).  Back then, all three of those were extra-curricular activities.  How great would it have been to have been earning English and art credits for all that learning?  Our kids today do.

I was so jealous of Sue Hinton who’d written The Outsiders while she was in grade eleven!  Consider: she failed English that year. What a travesty! Next year, I have 2 students who are planning to do Independent Directed Studies writing novels (or perhaps novellas) for credit.  Sue Hinton would have loved English in my school.

I may have known my passion, but I didn’t leap in and start (well, finish) writing that novel in my head until 25 years after leaving high school.  That’s a long time to have a fire smoored, awaiting the flash of flame and burning of achievement!

How about you?  What’s your passion?  Is it smoored or burning?  Did formal school help or hinder development of your passion?

 

question- what is molestation? May 21, 2015

I just heard about celebrity big brother from 19 Kids and Counting Josh Duggar’s confession that when he was a young teen, he behaved inappropriately with younger females, that he underwent counselling, and while he’s sorry about it, he’s received his forgiveness and moved on.

The internet seems full of those who label him a molester and think he should have been sent to jail.  I am somewhat confused by this response, because to my mind, a young teen, awash in hormones he doesn’t know how to deal with, is a boy in need of good counsel, frank conversation, and restorative justice, not a boy who needs to be tossed into jail.

I don’t know the details of Josh’s case, but then neither do those commenting all over the internet, so let’s keep this theoretical:

Facts: Young teen brains are not developed, therefore, impulse control is undeveloped. Pubescent hormones impact judgment.

I have to say that I think this kind of scenario speaks more loudly for the needs of young people to have thorough sex education- including not just the biology of their changing bodies but frank discussion regarding sexual autonomy and gratification.  Those of us who remember the wildly fluctuating passions of our first crushes need to remember that this is all extremely complex and confusing for 13 and 14 year old kids.  Media is assaulting them with messages about what sexuality means, their families and faith communities may have contradictory views.  How much did you discuss this stuff with your parents?  How much do you discuss with your kids?  I think our kids from toddlerhood need to know what is okay touching.  They need to know that they have autonomy over their bodies and that they should keep their hands off other people’s bodies.  But if they don’t, what should happen?

So here’s my question, with respect to pubescent youth– What is assault?  What is abuse?  What is mutual curiosity? What is counselor worthy and what is criminal?   Are there age lines?  Intent lines?  Subjugation lines?  What do you think is appropriate?  How would you want your son dealt with if he confessed to touching younger girls?

What is criminal responsibility for kids?

In the interest of disclosure, I am married to a youth probation officer who deals with this every day.  There definitely can be psychopathic rapists at 14, but they are a rare commodity.  Let’s concentrate on average kids.

 

commentary- Dear Parents of BC September 18, 2014

Filed under: Teaching — Shawn L. Bird @ 10:40 am
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The following is my own opinion.  After discussions with many friends and colleagues, I feel secure in using a collective ‘we’ rather than the singular ‘I’.  We’re voting to ratify a negotiated contract, and the vote is in no way guaranteed.  However it goes, here’s what many of us are feeling.

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Dear Parents of BC:

Every year at the end of the school year, teachers with continuing contracts wave off the students, worn out from a long year and a longer month (June is always that way), bid farewell to the growing ranks of our colleagues on temporary contracts, and lock up our class rooms.

We leave the building pondering the challenges of the year.  We analyze our successes and failures.  Which lessons or units worked well?  Which students had unimagined gains?  Which strategies will we try again?  How will we modify them?  Perhaps we record our thoughts.  Perhaps we let it go.  We breathe.

We walk through our front doors, and introduce ourselves to our spouses and children.  For about three weeks we focus on them.  We relax.  We recharge.

Somewhere around BC Day, we start thinking about the next year.  We consider units.  We research.  We file ideas.   By the middle of the month we may be back in our rooms, hanging borders, photo copying, making posters, preparing for a new year.  We are enthused by our plans, by the potential of the year to come.  We are invigorated and enthused to face the kids, the challenges, the meetings, the classes that get switched up at the last moment.

By Labour Day, we’re ready.    We are energized and ready for the year.

Not this year.

This year we face our class rooms with a weariness that weighs down our bones.  We have been vilified, lied to, and lied about by our employer, the Provincial Government.  We, who have sacrificed our time to other people’s kids, who have shored up years of under-funding with our own money purchasing supplies for our class rooms, have been fined 10% of our wages because we were no longer volunteering our time, and called greedy, to boot.  We have stood up for our rights, and faced jeers.  We have explained about our Charter Rights and Supreme Court decisions.  We have argued with strangers, friends, and loved ones about different definitions of ‘benefits.’  We have discussed massages and propaganda.  We have educated with a passion and effort that rivals our most challenging classes.  We have learned that ignorance is a special need, requiring a skilled approach.  We have given up thousands of dollars of salary to stand up for public education in BC.

We have been embattled.

We have been besieged.

We have been drained.

We have sacrificed our emotional, mental, financial, and physical health in this fight.

We don’t have anything more to give.

We need you.

We need you to continue to fight for public education.

We need you to keep pressure on this government.

We may have a contract, but it is not the contract that will provide the best services for your kids.  It may be the best we could have gotten from this government, but it is not good enough for BC’s kids.

So we are passing the baton.

We will teach.  We will give our very best.  But this year, our best is not going to be our all.  We don’t have anything left in us.

When your child is not going to receive the testing he should have, we’ll tell you.  You can phone our MLA, Mr. Fassbender, and Ms. Clark and demand to know why your child isn’t getting the support she needs.  When we don’t have tissue paper during flu season, or enough textbooks, or are using the same textbook you wrote your name in twenty years ago, please write the Ministry of Education and demand that they fund schools properly.

When no one is available to coach the basketball team, please step up.  When a dance needs supervision, please volunteer.  You’ll see why we love doing these things.  You’ll understand why after a work day, they are an exhausting add on!

The government can dismiss teachers as greedy whiners, but it can’t dismiss an army of enraged, engaged parents.

Your kids deserve better than what they’ve been getting for the last twelve years.

We can’t fight alone any longer.

We’re weary.

We need you.

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(c) Shawn L. Bird.

http://www.shawnbird.com/commentary-dear-parents

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(Feel free to reprint and redistribute this as you like, but please respect my copyright, and leave my name and the link on it).

Proper citation: Bird, Shawn L.  “Commentary-Dear Parents of BC” http://www.shawnbird.com/commentary-dear-parents-of-BC collected (insert date).

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Sept 19/2014

NB-  This is my blog.  

I am a teacher.  I am declaring how I feel after a bitter fight against an unreasonable government with its own agenda.  This is MY reality, and the reality of 40,000 of my colleagues.  We’re entitled to our feelings. 

If you think that  I don’t work hard enough, I don’t care enough about my job, or I am whining, feel free to leave your opinions inside your own head.  I will not reprint them.  We’ve been fighting against such ignorance all summer. I have no patience with it now.

The Supreme Court said twice that this government bargained in bad faith, and they used all the same tactics this time.  If they had been willing to negotiate last June, this would have been settled last June.  They have lied to you, and  they’re laughing at how easily you are manipulated.  

I am thankful for the parents (and perhaps the Chinese ambassador) who put pressure on this government to finally come to the table.  I don’t think the government anticipated your fury being turned on them; their expensive spin doctors are likely losing their jobs.

Be thankful for those who are willing to stand up for public education.  If you’re a parent, please keep up the fight, because this government is not done yet.  We’ll be beside you once we’ve recovered.

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commentary- working for free September 11, 2014

Filed under: Teaching — Shawn L. Bird @ 9:05 pm
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One of the interesting things that happens on a picket line, is that people talk to one another.  In a school, most teachers are so over-worked, they rarely get out of their corner of the world to interact with their colleagues.

This week, we were discussing an interesting situation that we’ve seen increasing over the years.  I work in a VERY small high school with grade 8-12.  There are generally only 25 students in the whole grade, so class size isn’t a huge issue for us, though composition definitely applies.  In our staff of 10 teachers there are only 5 who work full-time.  Of those 5, four of them have non-enrolling blocks (library, counselling, distance ed- that is, blocks used for data entry or dealing with one or two kids at a time, rather than a class)  The fifth teacher is single (and exhausted!)

The other five teachers on staff, could be full-time, but they have all chosen to take part-time leaves.   That means they have chosen to take a cut in pay to buy some mental health.  Aside from occasionally coming in a bit later, those teachers are in their class rooms working when they’re on leave.

Working.

For free.

Most of the population has been to school, and you’re used to seeing teachers in the class room, presenting lessons, coaching, directing plays, etc.  When student teachers arrive to do a practicum, they are prepared for their brilliant and innovative lessons, planned with care.  They are astonished to see the rest of the job.  Teaching is a lot like an iceberg.  What you saw as a student is only a small fraction of what we do.

When I present workshops at writing conferences to adults, I will spend about ten to twelve hours planning, creating a power point for one hour lesson.   Participants crowd around to ask additional questions, and shower me with praise.  I think when I started teaching, I imagined that was how teaching was.  It’s not.

If I have 4 blocks in a day, I will have spent hours reading materials, planning lessons, learning innovative ways to present the material to meet the four learning styles, laying out a long term schedule to cover all the learning outcomes of the course, developing unit plans, structuring group and individual instruction, creating projects, arranging speakers, finding resources, etc.  Because I’ve been teaching a long time, I have a lot of resources and experience to draw on, but even so, it seems that planning time is at least equal to the time the lesson takes, so 5 hours of class time probably equals 5 hours of planning time.  For a new teacher, it will be longer.

A full-time high school teacher teaches 7 of 8 blocks.  In a regular large, semestered school, that means 3 classes and a prep block one semester, 4 classes and no prep the other. I am predominantly an English teacher.  Throughout my teaching career, I have aimed to work .857 FTE so that I have a planning/prep block each semester.  I make it a goal never to bring work home, but  I work in school until five or six o’clock to do marking, make phone calls, manage my school webpage, enter data into my electronic grade book, and photo copy.  At home in the evenings and on the weekends I’ll make hand-outs or plan units, read, and research.  That is in addition to the assigned prep time in my schedule (usually 75 minutes a day).

A high school class generally has 30 students in it.  At 7 classes that’s 210 students to keep track of.  210 interesting young people with unique problems, fears, joys, and concerns.  That’s 210 parents to inform, 210 paragraphs to mark each day (at 5 mins each that’s 18 hours of marking), 210 essays to mark three or four times a semester (if each takes 15 minutes, that’s 53 hours of marking).

There are not enough hours to actually do the job.  Employment Insurance says a teacher’s workday is 9 hours, and I think they’re probably under-estimating, because a part-time teacher will work 9 hours to manage two or three high school classes.  A full-time teacher?  Let’s just say, they’re not sleeping.

So if a teacher wants to spend time with her husband and children, she will give up a block, which is between$5-10,000 of pay.  She will drop to 180 students,  (180 essays will only take 45 hours to mark).

The teachers on part-time leave are still in school for the same amount of time, working to get enough completed at school that they can have a life in the evenings and on the weekends.  I have a friend in Alberta.  She is paid $15,000 more than I am, but her classes are 40 students.  I don’t think the extra pay is worth it, if you can’t do the job well.  That’s why class size and composition becomes important.

If you have a CEA supporting a student, you need to brief the work, provide different materials, and meet to discuss the student’s progress.  If you have a student with an IEP you have IEP meetings with student, parent, and the Learning Resource teacher who manages the caseload.  If that student has a CEA, you’re lucky.  Most of the time you will be trying to give specialized attention to several children without a support worker.  In my school 25% of the student body has a designation identifying them as having a special need (these include things like gifted, mental health concern, violence concern, autism spectrum, Fetal alcohol syndrome spectrum, hearing or vision impaired, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, English as a Second Language, etc).  In practice, generally 25% of every class has a special need and requires specialized individual attention.  In Physics 12, you probably won’t see more than one, if any.  In Drama or Art, we’re going to see more of them.   Kids with designated needs require extra time, and there simply isn’t any.

I bring this issue up as a talking point.  I’m interested to know whether subsidizing public education by taking a part-time leave is a common phenomenon throughout the province.  Does the public know how many of us are taking part-time leaves and subsidizing the Ministry of Education by working for free in those class-free blocks, just to be able to do the job and maintain our mental health?

What would happen if we stopped doing it?

What would happen if we only used our assigned ‘preparation block’ to do marking, planning, etc?

How would it impact our schools?

Could they function?

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I brainstormed all the meetings that happen throughout a school year just out of curiosity.  Some are optional, but most are not.  If you’re a member of the public, did you know about these?  If you’re a teacher, are there any I’ve missed?

Meetings:

*Informal staff meetings weekly to high light the week’s events, check on kids, disseminate information like a police incident involving a student or family, suicides, family traumas, etc.

*Formal staff meetings monthly

*Committee meetings- montly Pro D, Safety, Sunshine, Staff, Literacy, Numeracy, Athletic, etc

*Department meetings- monthly for teachers in multiple departments (a regular thing) this can be several a month  Math dept, Science, dept, English dept, Socials dept, Phys Ed, Applied Skills, Fine Arts, Business

*Student Services- weekly Students that draw concern for any reason are brought up to put a plan in place to see to their safety and success, this inevitably leads to more meetings

*Student meetings- as needed with individuals for extra help, tutoring, planning, concerns

*Parent meetings- as needed either by phone or in person.  These are rarely short

*IEP meetings- 2-3X year to go over students’ individual learning plans

*Support Service meetings- as needed with community health workers, mental health workers, aboriginal support workers, band counselors

*Staff committee- monthly meetings about school organization

*ad hoc planning meetings for things like dances, assemblies, and other events

 

 
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