Tuesday, March 08, 2022

The Story of Greta Bergman

With Russia and state brutality on my mind, and also International Women's Day, I thought I'd share a story of a remarkable woman who wanted to be a doctor: Greta Bergman, born 1916 in the village of Dolinsk on the Russian Steppe near the Ural River. This story is taken (and quotes liberally) from a 2016 book that my amazing aunt Susan Suderman wrote on our family history. Greta was my grandfather’s niece, and came from the same German-speaking Mennonite settlement in Russia as my grandparents.

Greta grew up in the aftermath of WWI, the Russian Revolution, Civil War, and collectivization of the Soviet Union's agricultural areas under Stalin, which led to mass starvation, imprisonments, and resettlement for all who resisted. Collectivization death toll = c. 12 million. From a young age, Greta was determined to become a doctor. At age sixteen, in 1932, she left Dolinsk for medical school in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) 2000 km away. By this time, my grandparents and many others from her community had escaped the Soviet Union and moved to Canada.

Greta wrote to my grandparents, describing what life was life was in Leningrad -- scarcity and poverty -- and asking for any bit of help they could provide. They were farmers in the middle of the Great Depression in the Saskatchewan, and could not offer her much in return. In her letters she described the difficulty, at first, of learning and speaking in Russian, her lack of warm clothing, the outrageous prices paid for black market goods, and having to do autopsies on old stinky cadavers. She would have her picture taken, and would send that soon. Greta lived on a stipend of 19 rubles per month, plus a pound of bread per day, and a kilogram each of oats, fish, and sugar per month. When she could afford lunch, she woud buy oat porridge and a bowl of cabbage soup for 80 kopecks (.8 ruble). A pair of shoes cost her 80 rubles.

Greta had some help from her parents, but they were also very poor. She wrote of being incredibly homesick, and of her fond memories of Dolinsk. Greta graduated from medical school and worked at a hospital in Leningrad, and was able to return home at least once during summertime. During a visit home in 1940, Greta married a childhood friend, Abram Janzen, who taught in a nearby village. Their wedding in Dolinsk was the last time she would see her parents. Greta and Abram moved back to Leningrad just a few months before Nazi Germany invaded the USSR. Greta continued to work and study at the Leningrad Medical Institute, while Abram was employed there as a teacher. In August 1941 they had a daughter, Ljudmila, who they called Milotschka. On Sep 8th 1941, the Siege of Leningrad began, one of the longest and deadliest in history.

Hitler’s goal was to starve the population of Leningrad. Hundreds of thousands would die of hunger, lack of water and heat, and bombing. During the cold winter of 1942, Greta, Abram, and Milotschka lived on a ration of a quarter pound of bread per day. When the siege was partially broken in 1943, Greta was able to send a letter to a friend and fellow medical student, who had managed to leave Leningrad. The letter eventually came to my aunt in 2005, and tells the story of Greta’s “deep and uncurable wounds.” Early in the siege, Abram was conscripted but developed a fever and was demobilized, after which he took a job as an orderly at the hospital. When he and Greta were both out, thieves broke in and took all of their remaining food - some rice, powdered eggs, crackers, and herring.

They tried not to eat so that their daughter would not starve. Milotschka receved a bit of milk each day, but it was not enough. Greta writes: “I did everything I could to save the life of our little daughter. But that was impossible... she looked up at us with her big, wise eyes as though to blame us and question us: ‘why have you given me this terrible life?’... On January 26, 1942, she fell asleep forever. The only thing she had left were her big, brown eyes.”

At this point, Abram was bedridden and Greta close to death as well. Getting a coffin or proper burial for Milotschka was not possible, so Greta sewed a clean sheet around her and carried her, “light as a feather... out to the botanical garden where there was a mound of corpses.” As Greta arrived at the moment a vehicle came by to load the bodies, and at her request, “they also took my Milotschka with them, so at least she wouldn’t have to lie in this hell of frozen and half-naked corpses.” She was buried in the Piskariovskoye mass grave near the city. Within a few days, the bakery had closed, no bread was available, and they went without food. Abram grew more gaunt by the day, began hallucinating and screaming out for their little Milotschka. He died 12 days after his daughter, and was buried in the same mass grave.

In the wake of this unimaginable hardship, Greta writes: “That was it. That ended my present life and darkness set it. I left Leningrad on March 17, 1942, and am still struggling and in agony. This will probably continue until the day I die.” After the Siege, Greta was sent to the Igarka Gulag in the Central Siberian Plateau, north of the Arctic Circle. Along with other German-speaking peoples from Leningrad, she was exiled to Russia’s far north for forced labour. However, Greta was given work as a doctor on a ship. Greta petitioned successfully to continue studies at Krasnojarsk in Central Siberia. As a German-speaker, she was under constant surveillance, but was able to practice medicine in Siberian hospitals. She met a Russian man, Ivan, as they worked together and studied radiology. In 1947, Greta married Ivan, and they had a son Sergei, who became an engineer and still lives near Krasnojarsk in Siberia. Despite being “professionals,” Greta and Ivan remained in poverty for their entire lives, and lived without plumbing or electricity.

In the 1950s, Greta was allowed to visit her family home in Dolinsk. She attended her brother’s wedding, but was not allowed to see her mother as she was under “communist command.” Her father had shared the fate of so many former land-owning peasant “kulaks” during the war. Many families from Greta’s home village were torn apart when the men were conscripted during WWII and did not return. The women were left behind to attend to crops and livestocks, haul water, try to keep their children from starving, or were sent to Kazakhstan for forced labour. My grandfather, who alone in his immediate family fled the Soviet Union, had 3 brothers and 5 brothers-in-law, one of which was Greta’s father. All but 1 of these were falsely arrested by the NKVD (pre-cursor to KGB) and sent to Gulag detention camps for hard labour and torture.

In the winter of 1942-43, a year after Greta’s husband and daughter died in the Siege of Leningrad, her father and the rest of her uncles either died in prison or were dragged out to the banks of the Ural River to be tortured and shot. Her father died in the Orenburg Gulag. None of this was known to Greta; the family only learned the fate of their men when in 1989 some government officials showed them a document that acknowledged the false arrests and the nature of their deaths. Even then, they spoke of it to no one until decades had passed. 

After the war, Greta’s remaining relatives were left alone to contunue their lives. My grandparents were able to send some relief packages to relatives in Dolinsk, which apparently saved them from starvation. Greta and Ivan remained in Siberia. Ivan lived until the year 2000, and Greta until 2003, passing away at 83 in Krasnojarsk, Siberia, hopefully with some peace, but also with the heaviness of someone who was witness to the horrors of two wars, a genocidal dictatorship, and immense personal loss. I wish I could know more about Greta’s work as a doctor, and could reach across the divide to offer comfort, but also grateful that through my aunt’s dedicated research, I have been able to know something about this remarkable woman.

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Sod House

Reconstructed sod house at the Mennonite Village Museum at Steinbach Manitoba.

One hundred years ago today, my grandparents, Johann Heinrich Enns and Anna Loewen, were married in a small church in their remote Mennonite colony of "Neu Samara" on the Russian Steppe near the Ural Mountains. They were 22 and 21 years old, and had just lived through the Great War and Russian Revolution, and were in the midst of the famine that gripped Russia during their Civil War. My grandfather, from age 16 to 19, had served in the Forstei and Sanitaersdienst, the Russian alternative foresty and non-combatant medical service. With others from his village, he was sent to the forest of Tossna. I'm not sure where that is, but I understand that it was essentially a forced labour camp. What was life like for them in 1921, living in a sod house or semlin at the back of my grandmother's parent's back yard? My aunt Susan Suderman has conducted extensive family research and tells a moving story about my grandparents in their first year of marriage:

"My parents' first home was a sod hut with a dirt floor on the Abraham Loewen farmyard. They started their life together in extreme poverty. The people of Neu Samara had know crop failures in 1911 and 1916, but in 1921, mainly due to the extreme drought, the harvest was practically non-existent. The government had taken their seed grains, and the meagre crop that was left was eaten by grasshoppers. Barns, granaries, and secret storage places were now empty -- the Red Army had seen to that! Many villagers died of typhus. With the widespread famine, the bodies of those who had died were lying everywhere as they had gone in search of food. Is is said that during these two years, 1921 and 1922, about 7,000,000 Russians dies of starvation. Inevitably, may of those who were still alive succumbed to outbreaks of typhus, cholera and malaria. Animals, too, were dying, and often their carcasses were eaten by the starving villagers. It didn't take long for the villages to be void of dogs, cats, and mice. My father went gopher hunting to add to their meagre food supply. There was no flour for bread. In later years, as my father reflected on those difficult years, he would often say: 'Eascht kaum de Chrich, dann de Revolution, en dann de Hungasch Not.' (First came the war, then the Revolution, and then famine)."

source: Suderman, S. (2016). The Aron Enns family: History and genealogy 1819-1990. Susan Suderman.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Ordination of Firs

A stand of Doug-firs on the northwest corner of UNBC Prince George campus, seen here in February 2020.

Most important things in my life have happened near or under a Douglas Fir tree – Pseudotsuga menziesii – or a Doug-fir as many of us call it. This present adventure – a change in job and a return to school as a student – is no exception, and is reinforced now by the view from my office at the University of Northern British Columbia on a September morning out to a second-growth stand of Doug-firs, the smallest movement there hinting at a breeze, a breath in the forest. 

Walking there, at the edge I can see I am entering a managed ecosystem; some stems have been thinned and the woody debris cleared away, and evidence of a logging history and crisscross of humans and their litter is written on the ground. It is perhaps too close to campus to be called wild, but just a few metres into the stand, the sounds of the university recede and older sounds come through the firs and the willow shrubs. Here, the stand is looking more familiar, with bunchberries and wintergreen and pipsissewa poking through the red featherstem moss that carpets the forest floor. Here, a mushroom brings word of the underground network of fungal mycelium, threads that connect root to root, cycle nutrients and biochemical advice from tree to tree. The mycelial network is likely thriving after whatever setback it faced when this stand was first logged – the trees are sharing secrets in the soil (Wohlleben, 2015). Some of the earliest work that established how trees talk to each other through mycorrhizal associations was done amongst Doug-firs (Toomey, 2016); they have been since, perhaps always, sharing some of their secrets with humans who have been willing to listen. Knowing this for some time, when I walk here, I am aware that a community is at work, sending signals about kin, climate, and food from fir to fir.

From a lifelong fascination with maps, stories, and local geography, I begin to see this as a landscape. In the etymological sense, a landscape is a construct, a land-based representation or portrayal – the ship part (OE scype) refers to an appointment, ordination, or creation (as in a fellowship) rather than a ship (OE scipian) that sails on the seas (Little, et al, 1955, pp. 1874–1875). A ship – an appointment, ordination, or creation. What is being represented here? What layers in the physical and cultural landscape are seen and heard now, and what layers are hidden in this portrayal? What stories are held in place by the humus, stored in the submesic soil in wait for a telling, or being told right now in language I cannot understand? Here, the sightlines of academia are still present, with the sound of a building’s HVAC system coming through the trees like water over rocks, and here is evidence of recent silviculture and what appears to be the remnants of a bike jump; but not long gone are signs of industrial forestry and previous land uses. Here, perhaps, was a hunting trail or berry patch visited by the Lheidli Tenneh; maybe they will be here again when the berries come back. Here, I walk on moss and fir needles. Below the litter is podzolic soil, and deeper still, glacial till, sculpted into spoon-shaped drumlins by the slow violence of ancient ice, and then softened by cold waves in a glacial lake 10,000 years ago. These layers have contributed to the identity of people, place, and land on this campus, this community, this region. These stories, happening many times, are how places are formed (Stafford, 1987), and are all part of what surfaces when the geographer in me asks “what is where, why there, and why care?” (Gritzner, 2002). 

But at this moment, this geographer’s mind almost misses what the Doug-firs are asking of me, carried up from the great fungal threads in the podzol and shipped through the understory by the smell of earth on the small breeze: “what appointment are you seeking here, to what work are you ordained, and what do you hope to create?” This possibility of place, this question from the landscape itself -- a call to ordination from the firs -- is at the root my research. It is also a question that new teachers encounter as they begin their work with students and sort out the kind of pedagogy they wish to establish and what value they hope to find in it. In turn, their students ask similar questions, a wandering about through educational landscapes in search of a path, in search of a horizon. For many educators, a teaching practice that is drawn to place as site and source of learning is an intentional act to engage the questions of their landscapes, to situate and establish their own identity as people who are called to teach, create, and make sense of the paths they walk and the “horizons of significance” they envision (Taylor, 1991), to know who they are in this space. 

My own path here, to the Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (NRES) PhD program at the UNBC, began in September 2019 after a 23-year career in K-12 public education as a Social Studies teacher. The first year in this interdisciplinary program featured coursework on the philosophy of science, frameworks and critical considerations for conducting and communication research, and interdisciplinarity. Since the 2004 completion of my Master’s degree in Education from Simon Fraser University and throughout my teaching career, I have been interested in research into Geography education in K-12 schools, decolonizing schools and pedagogy, place-responsive teaching and learning, and the role of student and teacher storytelling in Social Studies. This interest has been expressed in my teaching, most notably in student inquiry projects that explored self and the world in the context of history, geography, heritage, and culture. That was not always the work that I was appointed and paid to do, but it was certainly the work for which I was ordained by the path I followed. I have used the first year of the doctoral program and employment in UNBC’s teacher education program to synthesize these research ideas and develop a new pathway towards expanded horizons of significance for myself and other place-responsive educators who seek authenticity, to be "people who are perceived as 'authoring' their own words, their own actions, their own lives, rather than playing a scripted role at great remove from their own hearts" (Palmer, 2007, p. 117).


Gritzner, C. F. (2002). What is where, why there, and why care? Journal of Geography, 101(1), 38–40.

Little, W., Fowler, H. W., & Coulson, J. (1955). The Oxford universal dictionary on historical principles(3rd ed.; C. T. Onions, Ed.). London, UK: Oxford University Press.

Palmer, P. J. (2007). The courage to teach guide for reflection and renewal. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Stafford, K. (1987). There are no names but stories. In Places and stories. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press.

Taylor, C. (1991). The malaise of modernity. Concord, ON: House of Anansi Press.

Toomey, D. (2016). Exploring how and why trees ‘talk’ to each other. Retrieved October 1, 2020, from Yale Environment 260 website: https://e360.yale.edu/features/exploring_how_and_why_trees_talk_to_each_other

Wohlleben, P. (2015). The hidden life of trees: What they feel, how they communicate - discoveries from a secret world. Vancouver, BC: Greystone Books.

Friday, May 24, 2019

How to design a Social Studies course in 10 not-necessarily-easy steps

Many teachers never actually plan the course they teach but rather borrow an intact course from another teacher, complete with unit divisions, assignments and projects, lesson plans, and assessments. While this is a nice gift from one teacher to another, and is certainly better than just making it up as one goes along, eventually every teacher has to make their courses their own or risk a loss of credibility and fulfillment. I would suggest that for each course a teacher plans to teach more than once, at some point they should work through some kind of design process, preferably before their first go at the course. If that ship has sailed, it can still be of great value to spend time on design for a familiar course, to take back the curriculum as it were, and own the pedagogy that makes or breaks a great course. The design process below is just one way to plan out a course, but it was worked well for me many times and I am happy to pass it on.

This is a draft -- there are parts I am not yet satisfied with!  Feel free to offer feedback.


Have a skim though the curriculum rationale and goals at <https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum/social-studies/core/goals-and-rationale>. Think about how you could do something to address each of the five goals in your course. Write these ideas down, as well as a simplified statement about why this course will be important for your students. This would be a good time to activate or become familiar with a few other foundations for the work of course planning. These should include the Core Competencies <https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/competencies> and could also include philosophic documents, beliefs, theory, differentiation, and ways of knowing such as the First Peoples Principles of Learning <http://www.fnesc.ca/learningfirstpeoples/>. This is also the opportunity to bring other theory you value into the fore, the chance to do backwards design by starting with the basic beliefs about what you want your students to be able to know, do, and understand. Whether or not your vision for the course is fine-tuned or not (sometimes backwards design doesn’t bring the desired results), come back to this later in the planning process to see how this “grounding” turned out.

Print a one-sided copy of the curriculum guide pdf/doc for your course at <https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum/social-studies>. Read it over, becoming familiar with how the “Big Six” are parsed as Competencies for the course and about the range of topics mentioned or implied in the Content section. Start thinking about how you will group parts of the content and how you will involve the Competencies. For each Big Idea, brainstorm 1 or 2 corresponding class activities, an assignment or project that would tie content and competencies together. You can find a home for these ideas later -- just a rough sketch at this point. Use separate paper of the backs of the printed docs.

Talk to other teachers you respect about how they have taught this course, and what kinds of things fill their lessons. Ask about their major projects, favourite go-to resources, and what their tests, if any, look like, or how they provide feedback and generate marks. Make some notes if you like what you hear. Using your hard copy of the curriculum guide and pen/highlighter to take notes, think about what you know about this course, the competencies, and especially the content. Think about how much of what you know might find its way into the course, including ideas about projects, activities, and resources. Think about the gaps in your knowledge, and whether you have the time or energy to learn about these things before the course starts. Do an internet search for course outlines specific to your course; observe and compare, but don’t get lost in the rabbit hole. Save and/or print 1-3 outlines that strike you as a good way to teach the course.

Think about whether you want to chunk content into units, or use some kind of thematic structure around the Competencies, Big Ideas, or some other schema (like focus questions or content themes like governance, ideology, or rights). If you use content as your structure, decide on a flow of topics and how these fit into units. Chunking topics sequentially on a timeline is a traditional way to this, but is not the only way. Sometime a regional approach works better, e.g. deal with the course timeline in one region before turning to another. As you decide where the content goes, it is quite likely that there will be many topics and skills you don’t have time for, so at this point you should have an idea what you’ll include and what you’ll drop. You should emerge from this step with a list of units and rough idea of the skills, themes, competencies, or content that belong to each one. For most courses you’ll want at least three units, perhaps four or five or more. The sweet spot is one that allows you to enact your vision for the course, makes sense to your students, balances your planning and marking load, and shows fidelity to the curriculum. This means that your unit planning allows multiple ways of addressing moving through the curriculum -- each one can be about the content, competencies, themes, skills, and even the kinds of assignments you’d like your students to do.

On a whiteboard or a big piece of paper (i.e. 11”x17” or larger), map out your division of units in the order you want to teach them. Leave some spaces for adding notes. It usually works best if your first unit is relatively easy (in terms of concepts or content), has high engagement, and is a good place to develop competence -- the first unit is the bootcamp where your students will acquire the skills necessary to proceed to the rest of the course, and set habits that you want to see in your classroom. Some teachers choose a current event or a topic that is germane to whole course and spend a week or so on it as their “bootcamp.” Now, take a good look at your unit map and spend some time “wandering” -- think about which ones will take more time, perhaps because it is connected to a major project and/or a presentation cycle. From your DIVIDE work, jot down the key skills, themes, big ideas, or competencies that will be emphasized in each one. List the main content topics that will be covered -- a good idea is to use a trusted textbook to help select topics, even if you don‘t intend on using the text. If you do plan on using a textbook regularly, this step is important. Include as many details as you wish at this point, including listing particular resources you want to use because you think they will work well -- video titles, special lesson activities, primary sources, etc. List some of the assignments that match the unit; try to include writing, map reading/making, and interpretation of evidence as often as you can. If you can, list some of the more challenging vocab words that will come up in each unit, as well as any “threshold concepts*” that you can identify -- ideas or constructs that will be necessary for students to see the big picture or the topic under study or competency being developed.

Look at your school calendar and determine how many days of instruction you have for this course and how that translates into blocks of time. Subtract a few for assemblies, locker clean-up, etc. Next, divide your days evenly between the units -- this is a placeholder number. Review the priorities and kinds of work you have placed on each unit. Start taking blocks of time away from units that don’t need as much time, and adding them to the ones that do. This will leave you with the rough number of days or blocks of time belonging to each unit. That may be enough for some teachers -- a general sense of how much time they can spend on each unit. If your style is to go down the rabbit holes, to indulge student questions and dive into topics more deep when the opportunity arises, you may want to pick a unit you can live without -- the one you will drop or truncate if you run out of time. On the other hand, if your style is a bit more controlled and measured, you may want to take the extra step of matching your rough allocation of time to your actual calendar. This allows you to match the units to natural breaks, to plan for assessments or project deadlines on specific days, and so on. Only the most festidious and determined of teachers maintains a precise adherence to a course-long day-by-day schedule, but for some it is a reassurance to know what they can or should do on a certain day, even if they regularly deviate from the self-laid path.

Each unit will benefit from a question, statement, quote, idea, or image that ties it together. In particular, a question is a basic and powerful way to do this. While a quote or image can be a creative way to frame a unit, let’s start with a question. What kind do you want? Regardless of the kind of question, it should provide a marker for your unit intentions, where the inquiry will take them, or the basic understanding with which they should emerge from the unit. A general question reiterates the unit topic in the form of a question, e.g. How did Canada change during the 1930s? A focus question provides a little more context and hints at further questions, e.g. how did Canada and Canadians react to conditions of the Great Depression? The driving questions that follow might be more specific, e.g. how the the governments of Bennett and King respond to the economic conditions in the 1930s? An essential question is meant to tie the unit’s topics to larger inquiries or topics of study, e.g. How do Canadians respond to economic crisis? This kind of question might anchor a unit with many lessons about the Great Depression, but it can also open up parallel topics such as modern economic cycles, comparisons with other crises, or a broader look at economic theory. A guiding question can be any of these. For each unit, formulate a guiding question that roughly approximates what you hope your students will come to know, a question that makes other lesson-specific questions possible. If it relates to the Big Ideas of the course, great, but this is not necessary and sometime can be constraining. The Big Ideas should roll in and out of your units and lessons, and serve just as well as course review tools as they do the substance of guiding questions of unit divisions.

Your unit map should be festooned with ideas and plans at this point. At this point, take a clear picture of your whiteboard or scan/copy your paper map. This will serve as a template for further uses. If you have room you can continue with the next step on the map; if you do not have space, use separate paper or a clean whiteboard. This step will provide you with rough lesson plans that you can flesh out later. For each unit, scheme out how you will use the number of days/blocks you have allocated to it. For example, let’s say you have a unit on the different ways Canadians see themselves to which you have allocated twelve 77-minute blocks. Make a box on one side with 12 divisions or bullets, with your guiding question at the top, and on the other side list all of the ideas you have for lesson elements that fit the unit -- see Figure 1 below. Include anything that is likely to soak up some time, such as visits to the library, a video title, an anticipated discussion, test review, or a test. Unless you have a reason not to, include some kind of direct instruction each day (slideshow, chalk-and-talk, lecturette with a student note-taking guide, demonstration, etc.) as well as a learning activity that requires students to be in their heads, even if it is only a short period of time. The remainder of the activities can be quiet or loud, individual or group, sitting or standing, and so on -- these will of course match your teaching style, tolerance for animated learning environments, capacity for classroom management, beliefs about learning (e.g. the research you trust about how learning is effected), and most importantly the needs of your students as you understand them. I would suggest at least one activity that gets students moving, not necessarily for any pedagogical reason but because 77 minutes is a bloody long time to sit in a chair, especially if students have to repeat four times a day. Once you have enough matter on the brainstorm side of your lesson box, draw lines to indicate the block to which they belong. 77 minutes is probably too long to do just one thing, but is also too short to try a dozen things. Your goldilocks zone will depend on the kinds of activities you have planned, or whether you clump things that belong together. I’ve found that three is my magic number of for a 77 minute block. This might be a 1) slideshow with some chalk-and-talk (starting with a good question or an interesting image or source), 2) a video clip or current events story with a student guide that extends into individual work with some questions based on sources, and 3) a review activity involving groups and knowledge organizer on chart paper. Of maybe it’s a play-debrief-replay -- time to explore a provocative question using some unsorted primary sources (the product perhaps being a hypothesis or proposition), a mini-lecture and discussion in the middle to provide some context for the question and sources (with some time for students to share their propositions), then a return to the activity with a renewed focus and probably a different product, e.g. a revised hypothesis with annotated sources on a chart paper. So, my advice would be to have at least three things for you and the students to do in each block. If you decide to use some kind or project-based or inquiry-based program, this still involves specific tasks that need to be attached to specific lessons, not just a big block of time for students to work on the project.

Your actual lesson planning may differ wildly from the sketch-version you have built so far, but after a scan of your work, it will immediately become apparent whether you have enough ideas to populate your lessons (the pattern is satisfying) or whether you need to cycle back through your planning process to find more stuff (the pattern is weak, too regular, or seems boring). Look for trends, e.g. a prevalence of mini-lessons or lecturettes, lots of boardwork, reoccurrence of student activities centred around the interpretation of sources, simulations, bookwork, or time spent on projects. Do these patterns really reflect the way you want to spend your time in the class, or the way you want your students to spend their time? Do they make sense with what you know about how students learn (either from your understanding of research, what you have picked up from others along the way, or observed directly in your own classroom)? If you answer no to any of these, then back up a bit and think of other ways to approach the teaching and learning within your lessons. If you responded with yes, then ask if you are good at these things, and will they provide meaningful use of your students’ abilities? In other words, are you prepared to spend the time necessary to make these patterns successful? If not, either tweak your lesson ideas, or make a commitment to get better at the teaching strategies that are required to get the most of your most common lesson elements.

Now you’re ready to flesh out the details on as many lesson plans as you want to have ready before you begin teaching. For some teachers, this means two or three, for others, they want all of their lessons planned. I would suggest planning the first week, and see how it goes. There are many lesson plan templates out there, some with spaces to indicate connections to Core Competencies, other areas of the curriculum, First Peoples’ Principles of Learning, Differentiation, and so on. Most of them encourage the planner to indicate what both the teacher and the students are expected to do at various points in the class. There are references to the learning intentions, and also assessment. Other lesson plans are short and sweet, just enough information that it is useful for the teacher. It generally holds that the more detailed and comprehensive the course or unit plan, the less detailed the lesson plan needs to be.

* “The notion of the threshold concept arose out of research by Jan Meyer and Ray Land, who define it as a core idea that’s conceptually challenging for students, who struggle to grasp it—but once grasped, it radically transforms the students’ perception of the subject. Although this material is difficult to learn, understanding threshold concepts is essential to the mastery of any field of study.” source: <https://taylorinstitute.ucalgary.ca/resources/threshold-concepts>

Thursday, February 07, 2019

An example of workflow in SS10

Recently, a teacher asked for some suggestions for setting up a BC Social Studies 10 course. I thought I'd preserve the content of our exchange in this blog post... with a few minor edits and of course the caveat that there as many ways to frame a course as there are teachers.

Resources to get started:
Pacific Slope Consortium resource pages: http://www.pacificslope.ca/resources.html
Pacific Slope dropbox share folder: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ie6ojxa3x4jhfvl/AAByxrdeWiVw1kSvqBpWtUJ5a?dl=0
Thielmann's Web River SS10 page: https://www.thielmann.ca/social-studies-10.html

On this SS10 page, the files from a a few years ago -- still a good fit for the new SS10 although they are quite dependent on the textbook (Counterpoints 2nd Edition). The approach is more linear than thematic, and is oriented more to a critical understanding of content than it is to the curricular competencies of the revised curriculum. Still, these could be the basis of a foray into the new curriculum.

I use Pages and Keynote rather than Word and Powerpoint, so posting my original files would not be of much use to most teachers. For my website, I convert everything to pdf and will be updating the later units as I find the time.

Although I've done these in multiple orders and configurations, in a typical 18-19 week course with classes every day, here's how I usually break down my topics:
  1. Canada from the end of WWI to the end of the Great Depression (2-3 weeks)
  2. Canada and WWII (2-3 weeks)
  3. Canadian Politics and Government (2-3 weeks)
  4. Postwar Canada 1946-1984 (3 weeks)
  5. Modern Canada 1984-present (2-3 weeks)
  6. Environment Issues (3-4 weeks)
  7. Project time and presentation time (2 weeks)
It's a tight squeeze. I think it is better to drop some topics rather than push faster to get through them all.  Note: the topic of global development and population issues is absent from the list above -- along with many other teachers, I feel this should be an anchor unit for the new course Social Studies 11 Explorations. Taking a thematic approach, or moving around based on the competencies, would naturally look different, but I consider a certain amount of fidelity to some intentional content to be a basic structure that has to be present for a course to work. In other words, take any approach to setting up a course, but the content needs to be appropriate, deliberate (even if it is simply a protocol for following current events) and paired up with everything that takes place in the classroom.

I usually break my lessons into the following routine:
  1. Some kind of provocative source or image or question to start the class, even just something on screen for them to think about
  2. A handout with questions related to the lesson (these are the files I've posted on my website) -- generally these are overkill and I do not collect them or mark them although they are the basis for the unit test and they can use them as open notes on tests.
  3. A lecturette or chalk-and-talk through the main ideas of the lesson. Many of these are accompanied by a slideshow. These are anywhere from 10-50 minutes depending on the topic, use of media, amount of questions & discussion, tangents, etc.
  4. Some media, either during the lecturette or after, or to finish class: usually short clips from documentaries, e.g. a single scene from the Canada's History series (many of which are available on youtube) or something interesting found online. I avoid the funny/cartoony summary videos that might grab attention but usually lack depth and accuracy. I avoid showing anything longer than about 10 minutes... at any rate I don't show more than a few minutes before stopping and discussing.
  5. I try to build in at least one discussion question or group activity or such to shift the lesson from me to them. Using "manipulatives" is a good way to do this (copies of primary sources related to the topic that they can move around at their desks and make judgments, assess significance, cause & effect, etc.).
  6. I build in some time for students to complete questions -- I don't assign homework but I do suggest they use home time for review and working on long-tern projects.
There are some other things that happen along the way but that's my basic old-school method. Some of my lessons span two or even three classes -- the longer the lesson, the greater the chance I'll use multiple media clips and design a real group activity rather than just wing it with discussion questions.

The use of questions is very important for the Social Studies teacher.  There are so many sliding scales to consider: wait time, level of difficulty, expectations for responses (including how responses are gathered), questions for clarification and keeping a line of inquiry moving vs questions that are meant to slow things down for thought, discussion, or action. Questions can be open or closed, have pre-conceived answers or not, verbal, written, graphic etc.  Some questions can just be thrown out, while others will benefit from structured activities using organizers, stickies, pair/shares, group/shares, journalling, debate, and so on.  Developing techniques to ask good questions, to manage good discussions, and involve as many students as possible takes time and will depend on context (including the identity of the teacher and students).

 usually intend to start each class with a current events item (usually a video clip from an online news source), but sometimes I forget or I'm anxious to get into the main lesson. Current events are picked either at random (because they are interesting) or because they tie in in some way to the lesson. I also use maps allot, and give students blank maps of Canada and the World that they bring out regularly to jot things down, like another place to record notes and orient them to where stuff is actually happening in the world.

Depending on the group of students and your design goals, you may want to propose an essential question or two to guide the course, perhaps something based on the Big Ideas or maybe something that stretches a little further and connects with concepts from beyond the course (that's what distinguishes an essential question from other types of questions).

One that can be used with SS10 is "Why Canada?" -- in other words, how has our political, social, cultural, economic, and environmental identity been formed and changed over time and at home & abroad, what makes us Canadian, is there actually one vision of what it means to be Canadian, how to we move into new ways of understanding this (e.g. reconciliation), how are we different than other countries, etc. etc. -- why Canada?

Another one I've used for SS10 is "Why Bother Voting?" -- in other words why should we bother to learn about our past and present, and care about the future, what are the issues of our time, and what agency do we have in affecting change; how does our government work, how do the other institutions (trade orgs, levels of gov't, education, health care, indigenous & northern affairs, treaties, climate agreements, etc) affect our way of life and future in Canada, what do the parties want, how do know who to vote for, whose voices are left out of the process, how do we include them, in what way should we live such that our beliefs are made real in the world, etc., etc. -- why bother voting?

There are others, of course.  In any case a good essential question is unpacked over time, does not have a simple answer, and lends itself to cycles of inquiry. If you try this route, try to get the students to develop the sub-questions (the "driving questions") and consider the idea of a multi-modal response to the essential question as a summative project or alternate to a final exam. Take a look at this teacher's use of essential questions to guide her Psych 11 class: https://messyprofessional.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/thats-right-i-enjoyed-marking-them/. 

For summative assessments (unit tests), I normally allow open notes. I typically have a few matching and multiple choice questions to cover the basics (essential content) and then short answers to cover most main ideas, often accompanied by prompts like an image or quote. I often have some map questions, or a longer written response based on a set of prompts (sources) or a guiding question from the unit. Sometimes I just use 11x17 paper and have students "map" out their response to an essential question using any info they want from the unit. It's not perfect but usually tells me what I want to know. Obviously, I don't post the tests online but I can send some to you if you wish. I'm a busy guy, but sometimes I get back to folks in a timely manner!

For formative assessment, I sometimes have them put together reactions, interpretations, etc to primary sources either on their own or in groups, and then I provide whole-class feedback and project some exemplary responses (or even typical ones) -- with their permission -- using a document camera. I also move around and read their question responses and give them individual feedback -- mostly if they ask for it.

Lots of other stuff going on in a class, for sure, but I thought you might be interested in my workflow. I have a few longer assignments and projects I've done over the years, but the Echo Project was my favourite <https://www.thielmann.ca/echo-project.html>.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Writing exams: Paper vs Online

Up until a few years ago, our BC Social Studies 11 students wrote a provincial examination to wrap up their course.  This was a standardized test featuring 55 multiple choice questions and two essay questions.  The exam was the same for all students in the province and was sometimes used by the school, district, or province to provide data on how students were doing.  Teachers occasionally used the exam results to give them feedback on whether what they are teaching has had the desired outcome.  In many cases the exam was ignored.  Not precisely a high-stakes exam (although it was worth 40% of the students' overall mark), although for some teachers it drove their course planning and was often seen as a barrier to more creative ways to teacher the course.  In my opinion it was a reasonable assessment; it drew from all areas of the course curriculum -- 20th century Canadian History, Human Development and Environmental Issues, Canadian Politics and Government -- and included a balance of straight-forward and higher order questions.  The exam also assured that students across BC more-or-less got an introduction to common topics of citizenship and Canadian identity, the state of the developed vs developing world, why it was worth voting (and who the parties were), and about Canada's involvement in world affairs. It was perhaps too focused on content and less on broader thinking concepts and subject-specific skills (other than interpreting population pyramids).  The essay questions could be hard for students, but they really showed whether students could synthesize learning from a big chunk of the course, and also whether they could write at a level that could be expected from a Grade 11 student.

In January 2013, a group of Social Studies teachers in Prince George conducted an informal experiment to compare the results of students who wrote their provincial exams using either the paper format or an online format in a computer lab. Who would do better on the written section?

At the first school, the teachers insisted on paper copies of the exam.  At a second school, they decided to try having all of the students write online.  The written section on the exam -- an essay on a historical topic and a second essay on a topic related to human geography or the environment -- is marked by teachers.  Our schools have similar demographics, the exam is the same, and the teachers who taught the course have similar styles and roughly the same attention to content, division of curriculum, and review strategies.  We did notice that the school with the online writers did not seem to emphasize human geography to the same extent as the other school, and this showed up in the responses to the second essay.  There were two classes in each school writing the exam, so we had about 50 exams at each site (thus 100 essays) to provide data.  The students did not get to choose paper vs online, so this perhaps removed the element of preferred styles and comfort-based selection.  Students with special adaptations required (e.g. scribes) wrote the exam in a separate sitting and were not included in our experiment.  The exam session is 2 hours, although most students require and hour or a little more to complete it, so "exam" fatigue" is rarely a concern.  The essays are all scored with the same 6-point grading rubric (see image above), and the teachers marked the exams together with two teachers marking each paper and agreeing on a score.  The discussion of results and conclusions (this blog post) are the result of the conversation between one of the markers from each school -- myself and a colleague. We participated in the marking but did not actually teach any of the classes involved.

While we weren't completely impressed by their achievement, the Paper group won this contest with ease. There was a higher overall average score, with less 0s and 1s and almost no NRs. The student students provided more detail, used more complex sentences, and had fewer lapses with grammar and punctuation. Interestingly, they related more "stories" from class; that is, more anecdotes that sounded like direct quotes from the teacher (for better or worse) or lines of thinking that were the result of activities that likely involved writing or speaking in class (as opposed to something studied before the exam).  They also had more repetition -- cycling back through an idea to fill the space.

The online writers had a lower average, with considerably more NRs, 0s, and 1s, and no 6s. They had shorter sentences and paragraphs, and used more informal grammar and less punctuation. These students had a higher prevalence of poor diction (word choice or vocabulary) but the syntax was fine (arrangement of words and phrases). We concluded that they knew most of the same facts and possessed similar opinions as the paper group,  but simply referenced them without expansion, kind of a "I know this stuff -- just read my mind" approach.  

With all of their writing contained in a textbox, then online writers had no annotation of their text, no circling or evidence of revision (eraser marks) or any other evidence of the "struggle" to capture their thoughts. We admitted that we felt a bias about this -- writing that came from (and had) a "personality" seemed to be more authentic than the digital text. We also found the digital essays easier to mark -- without the "personality," e.g. the peculiarity handwriting (particularly neat vs messy) we spent less time second guessing whether we were assessing a visual quality that was not necessarily tied to their level of understanding. With digital writers, it was simply a matter of how does this piece of writing place on the rubric?

Our interpretation of these results was that students writing essays online fall into a pattern of digital communication that is informal, truncated, and full of insinuation rather than exposition. Their writing has a quality of expedience and we imagined they were written much faster than their paper counterparts. The students writing essays on paper exhibited more care and attention to their work, but also included more material meant to fill up the page.  Perhaps the online writers had no expectation of how "big" their essay should look on the screen, whereas the paper writers looked at three lined pages for each essay and had a feeling that they should at least get to page two before wrapping it up.

We agreed that students are very comfortable writing in digital spaces, but this does not necessarily serve them well for formal tasks such as essay writing.  This conclusion goes against what many experts would suggest -- even based on our own experience, it would seem that the digital format would serve one better: it is easy to go back, fix errors, cut & paste from one section to another for a better flow, change one's mind about various parts including paragraph and so on.  But this is our adult sensibility, we are teachers who have spent years writing, first on paper and later with the "magic" of computers and word processors.  For some of our students, using a word processor is like accessing a heritage skill.  They are more finely attuned to the gestured inputs of digital devices, and are slower to type and less likely to take advantage of editing tools than the generation of students who used computers but did not have smartphones.

We carried these observations forward to other schools in 2013 and resisted them after subsequent SS11 provincial exams; our conclusion were generally reinforced by what we heard from every school.  The school that used the online exam in our experiment in 2013 started giving students a choice about online vs paper, and they also put a renewed emphasis on writing skills in their Social Studies courses.  These particular provincial exams are no longer with us, but I thought this would be an interesting set of thoughts to consider as we anticipate a new round of standardized tests in BC -- the upcoming Grade 10 numeracy assessment and the Grade 10 and 12 literacy assessments.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Collaborating for Inclusion

This is a story about the integration of Outdoor Ed and Social Studies, but also a story about what inclusion looks like.

Ian Leitch is teacher in Prince George and a member of the Pacific Slope Consortium (as am I!). Over the last few years, we have been working on a project we've called TTSP -- you can read about that here.

Many of Ian's contributions to the Pacific Slope and dialogue with TTSP members revolve around his ongoing efforts to integrate outdoor and experiential learning and identity-building curriculum with Social Studies and Outdoor Ed classes. This has translated into unique courses, such as a version of Social Studies 11 Explorations that centers on the Canoe in Canadian history, geography, and culture, with student learning about traditional ecological knowledge and experimenting with "pioneer" skills.

These course trials have led to powerful learning at his school. His wilderness expeditions are legendary, and have taught students about their own limits and strengths, and their capacity for inclusion.

​In 2017, Ian invited Miranda, a remarkable student who lives with severe Cerebral Palsy and spends most of her day in a wheelchair, to join his Outdoor Ed class. With community resources, family and classmates' support, Miranda was able to participate, right up to setting out on a canoe expedition. On a second outing, Miranda had another first -- sitting by a fire and carving wood. This class experience allowed her to act on her love of nature.

Aidan, a young man living with challenging autism, was able to construct his own shelter and spend a – 20 degree winter night under the stars. He did so because the place was made safe for him by his teacher and classmates. One of the key learning outcomes for this course was how to co-design field excursions to involve every student. For Ian's class, inclusion is a team effort.


Photos (Ian Leitch) & names, and stories shared with student & parent permission

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Introducing the Capacities

Or, How to Think Like a River.

In British Columbia, we are about 6 years into 8+ year process to implement new curriculum in our K-12 schools.  The "redesigned curriculum" seeks to make some of the implicit goals of education -- communication, critical and creative thinking, personal and social responsibility -- explicit by identifying them and calling them core competencies.

Within each course, the curriculum is framed by Big Ideas. Curricular Competencies, and Content.  Depending on who you talk to, or which Ministry of Education document you read, or video clip from an expert you watch, these frames (the whole new curriculum really) are quite fluid...
  • Big Ideas can be rolled in or out, curricular competencies can be swapped out for others, and the content is merely a suggestion.
  • There are no standard assessments to measure success.
  • There are multiple opportunities to embed indigenous perspectives, but no detailed prescriptions for what this should look like.
  • There are entry points for community and place-responsive education, and a greater emphasis on holistic interdisciplinary learning.
  • There are implications for pedagogy, but no actual dictates about what that looks like or what paradigms should guide the "new teacher."
  • Having common course outlines within schools will be elusive -- choice and flexibility is where it's at.
  • The implementation was underfunded and lacked clarity, and the whole process has had political undertones related to government funding and control of educational agendas (i.e. as opposed to teachers' agendas).
  • Parts of the process were too slow or experienced punishing delays (e.g. piloting Grade 10 curriculum for three years in a row).
  • Some teachers are organizing their course and assessment using the Big Ideas, others are using the curricular competencies for this purpose, while others are sticking with content to structure units and guide assessment.
  • Most teachers will, of course, pay attention to all three and aim at some kind of synthesis.
For better or worse, this is the plan for the next long while in BC. I am still rather excited to be part of this change, or at least parts of it, but very much aware of its shortcomings, its unintended consequences, and the challenges faced by teachers in making sense of it. I often work with new teachers, both in the local UNBC teacher training program and early career teachers in my school district. These are the ones who are thought to have been "trained in the new curriculum" but in reality they are more uncertain than the "vets" about what it all means. They realize that the "fluid curriculum" gives them creative reach and freedom to experiment, but wow would they ever like some modelling and guidelines.

Speaking of fluidity, I have given some thought to how to assess students in the this brave new curricular world. It is a competency-based system, and yet assessing competencies on their own is great for formative work (try, evaluate, reflect, revise, re-try) but not so great for summative (final standing, marks, and advancement).  For example, I don't think we want to start having report cards that say Johnny got an A in establishing significance but a C- in perspective taking. The curricular competencies work well for individual tasks, for taking apart problems and developing skills.

In the study of stream dynamics, we have a couple of terms to describe how rivers move sediment -- competence and capacity. Steam competence refers to the size of particles that can be carried; the higher the competence, the bigger the particle size. This is mainly the job of young rivers in steep terrain, rolling and dragging big stones and carving away at the valley walls. Stream capacity refers to the total volume of sediment that can be carried.  Rivers with high capacity have already seen the big particles broken down, and carry a big load of sediment in suspension and solution, and lay it down beside the river or cary it out to sea.

I love these terms as a metaphor for what happens in classrooms. At first we take on big problems, one by one, and start to see how it gets easier when the problems start coming apart with small, repeated tasks and strategies. We erode the barriers, and build a unique channel through a challenging landscape. Later, we have the capacity to make broad connections between problems, to communicate what we have done, and take responsibility for the impact of our knowledge and understanding. This process is cyclical, happening over and over again in a class, in a course, and in K-12 education. Thus, I am interested in using my classes to develop both student competence (an explicit goal of the curriculum) and capacity (my understanding of an implicit goal of the curriculum).  While any individual task may practice and assess competence, when it comes to overall marking categories and summative assessment, as well as readiness to advance to the next grade, my focus is on capacity. For the context of Social Studies,  I have settled on four: Foundations -- this is knowledge and understanding of core content, Skills -- both hard and soft, like the ability to read maps, determine bias in sources, or organize an argument, Thinking -- application of concepts (mainly the curricular competencies) and cognitive skills to problems of history and geography, and Connections -- inquiry, synthesis, and activation of learning. Here is the framework I use to position "The Capacities" within the new Social Studies curriculum (and here is the pdf link):

This is my latest stab at trying to reconcile the various parts of the hidden and revealed aspects of the curriculum, and to provide a topography for student assessment. As always, feedback welcome via @gthielmann, in a comment below, or by email gthielmann (AT) gmail (DOT) com.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Teachers as Advocates for Public Education

Like many school districts, the one in which I work has policies on employee rights & responsibilities that includes language on how teachers can speak out:

3.14 is an interesting one and the focus of my post. It has been used as a bugbear by both employees and the employer to suggest that teachers have a gag order on public commentary and should avoid bringing concerns about the education system to the media. This sentiment was not the intention behind the policy nor should it be the basis of interpretation. This was made clear during a policy revision process in 2016-17 that included Policy 1170.3. Both sides affirmed the idea that employees are welcome to use reasonable tools to raise awareness and make improvements to public education.  The employer did not dispute the almost ubiquitous association between responsible use of social media and public commentary. The Prince George Teachers (PGDTA) lobbied to bring changes to this policy, to affirm the idea that healthy, responsible, public comment by teachers was both of benefit to the education system and also respectful of tradition and diversity, not to mention Charter rights. Alas, the feedback and proposed changes from the PGDTA were rejected by the trustees on the advice of senior management.

The wording of this policy as it stands does, however, provide a starting point for a reasonable interpretation of the extent to which teachers can use public commentary to advocate for a quality education system.

The key word here is "irresponsible" -- e.g. a public comment making a critique personal (e.g. directed toward a district employee), or using false information, inflammatory language, breech of confidentiality, slander, careless generalizations, etc. "Responsible" comment should be welcome. There is no gag order (or Charter or Rights exception) on teachers using media to improve the education system, nor does a critique of a particular policy or initiative undermine the public education system -- it is intended to bring about effective change.

We have ample precedents of practising teachers in Prince George and BC responsibly offering public comment in order to identify educational issues and suggest solutions. I have done this myself many times since 2010 on radio, newspaper, TV, public board meetings, and on social media. I have spoken out on technology plans, school closures, program implementation, district budget cuts and budgeting process, superfluous spending, management of student data, student data security, school achievement contracts, asset disposal, collaboration models, labour negotiation, bad faith bargaining, Labour Relations Rulings (one of my faves), school ground greening, school repair, response to mental health services, and many aspects of leadership and district planning process.

As a rule of thumb, the more the public comment is directed towards general trends and local or provincial phenomena that we can all own as a education system, the better. "Public commentary" should be about "public issues" and not about private concerns and personal grudges. A good example is the current revision to the curriculum in BC -- hundreds of BC teachers have chimed in via twitter, facebook, and blogs about how this process has unfolded and about the mistakes made along the way. These folks are not just complaining or hanging on to the past, they consistently offer solutions or alternatives, and speak from a position of authority and/or experience.

There are special circumstances that call for actual whistleblowing, e.g. a response to corruption, gross negligence, child protection, workplace harassment, or serious safety violations.  Sadly, our district policies do not include protection for whistleblowers, and no doubt there have been issues in the past that were allowed to fester unchecked because no one wanted to confront the problems publicly.  I believe that situations calling for whistleblowing should be dealt with separately from Policy 1170.3 -- advocacy for public education is one thing, coming forward with an allegation of harassment or a dangerous workplace hazard is another.

Of course, many teachers are comfortable leaving advocacy on serious or sensitive issues to their union leadership -- that's ok. Full-time released union officers are not bound by Policy 1170.3 or its equivalent elsewhere, and often do spend some of their time preparing briefs for the media and engaging in public comment through social media and public presentations to local school boards. We can rely on the BCTF, too, for providing public education advocacy -- they have devoted considerable resources to this end and have made it a core value of the organization.

Ordinary teachers, however, should be comfortable with the idea that part of their responsibility as a professional is to be an advocate for public education. This means that they should not shy away from responsible public comment and, where appropriate, political action and social justice projects. Our job does not end in the classroom, although that is the most important part. Our job includes diverse roles within overlapping educational communities on many scales, from the classroom all the way through to international solidarity. In between are school, district, and provincial issues that absolutely require both private and public comment from teachers. Thankfully, each of us does not have to attend to all issues at all scales -- do what you are good at, do it when you are ready, and do it responsibly.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

New job

After 23 years of teaching Social Studies, English, Geography, and other fun stuff, sometimes with various pull-outs blocks for leadership or support and coordination, I'll be out of the classroom next year, for at least one year.

I will be splitting my time between Pro-D Coordination (managing the local teacher Pro-D fund and organizing Pro-D events and conferences) and Curriculum Support for senior Humanities teachers.  The first job I've had for 5 years, but the second one is new for me.  I'm thrilled to start this -- in some ways it looks like the work I've done off the side of my desk for years, but it will also involve some new roles.  Here is the concept map that I used to prepare for the interview:

I would like to focus some of this "Curriculum Coach" time on our early career and new assignment teachers as they grow into their roles, even those who may not have senior courses next year.  I will be available for mentoring, curriculum & resource suggestions, inquiry & assessment design, co-teaching or classroom visits, and whatever else may be of use. I'm also envisioning a new addition ro our mentoring series in our district where we connect early career secondary teachers with experienced teachers in an interactive seminar setting -- something like a carousel with hands-on activities. The one-to-one and small cohort models have worked quite well for the elementary teachers but we have not drawn out the secondary numbers we hoped for. The goal here is to impact the development of a vibrant classroom, purposeful teaching & learning, and authentic assessment.

Of course, the other side of this is that I won't be at D.P. Todd next year, perhaps never again as I imagine landing at a new school or situation when my current seconded assignment ends.  I have been at this school for 15 years -- two-thirds of my career -- and I leave with mixed emotions. As I survey the vast hoard of books, lesson material, artifacts, and remainders of student projects that have accumulated in my classroom over the years, I am reminded, mainly, of the things I love about teaching. About teaching high school Social Studies students in particular.  There have been frustrating parts, too, but I've disposed of that evidence and generally suppress those memories because, hey, when you're in in for the long haul it has to be about the passion and positive stuff, otherwise it is time to get out.  I have been really fortunate to have some special students in the last few years, students who may not have been at the top academically, but really stepped up to conduct meaningful research and find creative ways to express their learning.  That's the group I have enjoyed teaching the most.