Chesed – חסד

Last week, I met with a young man and his mother via Skype to help give a TED Ed style talk. It was the first of several virtual conversations we planned.

Once the technical bugs were worked out between 500+ km of fibre optics, I was greeted by a shy, yet mischievious smile and a kind woman. There was instant rapport. The pair willingly shared in the conversation. We chatted for an hour and throughout it all, I felt like I’d known them for years. It was like we were family and my Hebrew vocabulary increased too. 

We said our goodbyes and planned to speak again. I left the conversation feeling happy and inspired. What I did not realize at the time, was it was to be our only meeting,

He was less than a decade old, and had probably done more living, in those short years, than most would with 10 times that many.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of medical appointments, diagnoses, and procedures. Yet, never without hope, desire, and strength.

Hope that he will continue to get better.
Desire to be a blessing to the lives of others.
Strength and determination to keep fighting everyday.

Impact is measured in lives changed. His was great and it can be characterized with a single Hebrew word, chesed – the attribute of grace, benevolence, or compassion – all of which he had plenty to spare.

His brief life was a reminder to all that everyone has a purpose to fulfill. And even though the number of days to fulfill our purpose is not known, to borrow the words of his mother, we too can be kiddush hashem, like this young man, true blessings to others.


Innovative Educator

I’m an educator.
Moreover, a thought provoker.

I’m nice.
Maybe too nice?
My students might disagree when I hold them accountable.
I believe that learners need to reach for an opportunity rather than have it handed to them.

I’m funny (ha-ha, not peculiar).
Maybe a little too funny for some people.
What can I say? I believe in using humour in the classroom?
Studies show how laughter relaxes the brain and increases retention in students.

I’m creative, current, and constantly learning.
A sound body is as equally important as a sound mind.
I believe that mental health and wellness are as important as the curriculum in the classroom.
I have become a quasi-psychologist, tech wizard, instructor, first-aid responder, mentor, and arbiter all in one.

Yet, despite all of the things I do in and out of the classroom, in the name of education, not a single one of these things makes me feel like an innovator in my career. So what does?

This year I was given the honour of being named 1 of 28 TED Ed Innovative Educators. Our global cohort has been learning & meeting on-line, creating & sharing TED Ed Lessons since July. On September 1st we were introduced and it felt great. In a way I feel like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of OZ who got his diploma. I know this because it seemed like the only thing that changed was the recognition of my practice. Perhaps recognition as an innovative educator helped me understand how I’m an innovator?

So what do I do to deserve this mind-bogglingly humbling privilege? Let me share:

If a student struggles to write a test because s/he’s hungry, and I provide a snack, support, and some extra time maybe this is what makes me an innovative educator?

Whenever a fellow teacher seeks my support with with a challenging student, and I can help, maybe it’s the ability to collaborate on a solution with that teacher that makes me an innovative educator?

When ideas can be sparked, fostered, and brought to fruition because I got out of the way of my students, is what makes me an innovative educator.

When new ideas, opportunities, and experiences arrive in my world, and I don’t run the other way screaming, but instead turn to embrace and make them my own makes me an innovative educator?

When a parent is worried that their child is not successful, I point out that our class is about progress not perfection, and that their child is progressing well, I am an innovative educator.

When I share my time, experience, and encouragement with others knowing that together none of us is as smart, or innovative, as all of us I am an innovative educator.

When I take current events and mesh them onto ancient curriculum requirements making lessons relevant to modern learners, I am an innovative educator. This includes infusing social-justice, activism, empathy, and life learning in every lesson possible too.

Maybe it simply boils down to this. I care more about students/teachers than myself. I am willing to collaborate/support them to do that which has never been done in order to achieve something incredible.

I will learn, un-learn, and re-learn whenever and wherever necessary.
I will challenge, provide next steps, and encourage students/teachers to get the best out of them.

I am an educator.
An innovative educator.

What are holes made of? Pt 1 Science

Once in a while this past school year, I had the privilege to work with kindergarten students. To no one’s surprise, despite their diminutive(more like Minions) stature, they too are incredibly big thinkers.

I like big thinking. It’s awesome just thinking about it.Sounds like borderline epistemology to me.Trying to confine or quantify big thinking requires patience, and the intangible ability to simultaneously navigate many paths without a map. In other words…it’s fun! As an added bonus, ideas from big thinking opportunities span the spectrum of thought and possibility.

To break the ice, I started asking students to share their favourite words. This led to some interesting, albeit occasionally unpredictable responses. I will leave it to your imagination what the words were, but they do rhyme with art, and gut. OK, so I opened a doorway through laughter and the students had a chance to share, knowing their answers were 100% correct. Photo credit to woodleywonderworks credit to woodleywonderworks

Next time, I had some time with a group of kindergarteners, I decided it was Math time. “Share a number between 1 and 5 with a partner?” “What’s the biggest number you can get if you add them up?” “What’s the smallest number you can get with a partner?” “Could we add up all of our numbers to see how many we have as a group?” “How could we show our answers using materials from the class?”

Well if we’re going to do Math, then Science was not far behind…So into the abyss of our next lesson we dived.

“What are holes made out of?” For a moment I thought I was being controlled from a remote location by Sugata Mitra. This was his type of inquiry question. Mischievous grin included. A-Ha! A question that did not have an immediate answer. A question that asked students to think, and in the process discover, as spoken by Morpheus in the Matrix, “How deep the rabbit hole goes.” Down the Rabbit Hole by Valerie Hinojosaphoto credit: Down the Rabbit Hole by Valerie Hinojosa

After the I don’t knows, blank stares and huhs, came the answers… Air and nothing? Hmm I asked. “Of the two answers, which one do you think is the most correct, because I like them both?”  (more silence) “Air”. OK Air it is. What is air made from? I’ve lost them…for a moment. I know…more questions! “Does a hole have to be round?”

When we think of holes, our immediate responses are the same as the kindergarteners that day. And that’s ok, but when we have time to think about it we can all arrive at some pretty deep understandings about what many just think is nothing.

Holes are all around us. I get the irony of that last sentence, and am still willing to keep writing. Doughnuts, bagels, cheese and other foods have holes. We have holes in our heads. Some animals make their homes in holes. Humans too. Throughout history holes have been included in our architecture. Not that we should brag, but we have also managed to make a hole in our Ozone layer. Not cool humankind. Not cool.

photo via NASA

photo via NASA

When it comes to holes, it is probably the study of black holes which captivates the minds of a majority of scientists, physicists, philosophers, and Sci-Fi enthusiasts. Are the spaces in between just as important as the objects surrounding them? With questions like this flying around our minds, it becomes clear that there is a whole lot to know about holes.

This post is a departure of sorts. I am attempting to script a TED Ed lesson and felt this format would be a great way to flesh out a script and enlist support from peers. Please take time to comment, like and even share. I value your feedback and support. In the process of drafting this post, my son and wife provided several valuable points. And as such, this has now become 2 posts about holes. Will

Now the lesson…Even though the preamble is about holes, here’s an object lesson about air and states of matter.

Sharing that even the air around us is made up of certain types of matter. I share the 3 basic states of matter with the students from gas, liquids and solids. I left plasma out for this age, but was tempted to drop on them anyway. So I take out two identical large clear plastic bags and a metre stick, and ask the students to compare the bags. After a few moments they all agree the bags are the same and the metre stick is a fun substitute for an imaginary light sabre. I shouldn’t have shown them that last thing. I ask a few volunteers if they can help me teach about balance using the metre stick. We then practise with rulers to understand the idea a bit(lot) better.

Next, I fill one of the bags with air, tie it off and tape it onto one end of the metre stick. I ask students to describe what was in the bags? Afterwards, we taped the other bag on the opposite side of the metre stick immediately followed by students’ predictions about what was going to happen next? With 2 students helping, we lift up the metre stick with my finger carefully and precisely placed between the two bags taped onto it. They let go and for some reason one side begins to drop towards the floor. What is happening? What does this mean? Laughs, a few moments of silence to process and then some sharing.
I ask, “So you are telling me that the air around us weighs something?”  “That means it has mass,” I continue, “even though we can’t see what makes up air, it is still made of something.”

“What else has mass?”…

Maybe next time.


Holes of Matter

Inspired to teach

Recently, I was asked to share how I became inspired to be a teacher? Here is my response.

I was inspired to become a teacher by my son Storm. When he was in grade school, he showed so much grit and determination as a learner in a very demanding gifted program. Each day he would come home to share the amazing things his class was learning at school, how they were encouraged to approach thinking/responding differently, and how he was allowed to research on his own time. I wondered whether education could be like that for students in all classrooms?

My own education (70s-80s) did not include inquiry time, or opportunity to study things of interest to me personally. I realized that by the year 2005, education may have changed. I thought, maybe it wasn’t about rote, robotic, regurgitations of dates, facts and banality? Perhaps, it could be something more for learners and there was a place for divergent thinking that was not followed by shunning or shouts of misbehaviour.

Over my career as a student, I’d developed a love/hate relationship with education. After being run out of university for a 3 year streak of solid Cs, it was clear that I may not be academically inclined. Armed with an I’ll show them attitude I set out to make my mark on the world without that “piece of paper” akin to a universal permission slip of potential. Like any former students without qualifications I sought my own paths to success? Along the way, I received a new type of education.Life.brain shared by Elbina Rizakhanova

Now back to my point. In 2007, I was reflecting on my past and current iterations as a realtor, radio DJ/newscaster, tie dye entrepreneur, and youth leader. In one week 4 or 5 people asked me if I had ever considered being a teacher. The weird part was that each one was from a different background. Hmm? It was time to consider whether/where I fit into education. I set about seeking further wisdom, and who better than Storm’s teachers. Each one of them, were women and men of great care and character. Each of whom I witnessed as pivotal forces in the life of my son, and in the lives of their learners.These amazing teachers impacted his academic life, world-view, and ultimately my decision to become a teacher too (with reasons too many to mention). I wanted to do that in the lives of others too.

In the Fall of 2007 I was welcomed back to the university that asked me to leave in 1987. I was going to become a teacher. The first thing I learnt was that only A students should bother applying because it is a very competitive program.

Despite my underwhelming GPA, I applied to every teacher’s college within driving distance (125 km) of my house, and received a perfect rejection record from all of them. The dream was ending much faster than it started. Yet somehow, I didn’t take the rejections as discouragement this time. I was in my 40s, in school full time, and working full time. Why not finish my BA anyway? My work ethic, age and experience were assets this time around. Oh! And a supportive wife, son, and a great deal of maturity too.

It is here that it all came together for me. I realized that my struggles, and journey to this point could be used to encourage and equip others in education. It was an understanding of my own humanity/failings as a learner that provided me a relationship point with other learners. On many levels I wish all teachers were able to work in a number of careers before they ever enter the classroom. I wonder if it had to happen this way in order for me to see the value of equipping and encouraging others. Or maybe it was witnessing unlimited potential gathering in one place to change the world, or a little corner of it? By the Winter term I was thinking about my Master’s Degree since there were no prospects for Faculty of Ed until next Fall. Then Tyndale University happened?

Tyndale was offering a brand new program  and was open to “experienced and diverse learners” as teacher candidates. All I had to do was apply, complete my BA, fund a second year of school and survive a 50 week program that equipped me with some of the most mind stretching learning a middle aged person can bear. Teaching became about developing safe inclusive learning spaces that are meant for students to be inspired and thrive. I wanted to make that come true for others and saw education as the most powerful way to impact/equip the future for good.

So Storm is in 2nd year university and still inspiring me. Living proof of the impact his education and teachers made on our lives. As a bonus I still get to see some of these influential educators never forgetting how they inspired me to become a teacher.