Monday, December 31, 2018

My One Word for 2019 - Gratitude

I realize for the past few years this blog has remained relatively silent and I do apologize for that.  I am still around, and still teaching too although I have been through quite a few transformations.  In 2013 I left a school I called home for over 18 years, to move to a new school.  I liked my new school but two years later an exciting new program was forming in my school district and I jumped at the opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

The Surrey Academy of  Innovative Learning aka SAIL was born.  I thrived as an educator working at SAIL meeting children with so many unique challenges, but more importantly so many unique gifts.  I was stretched professionally to go from teaching one or two grades at a time, to four and I loved every minute of it. It made me rethink what mattered most and while I'm far from perfect I did work hard to find a good balance for each of my students and the team that I was a part of. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity.

It seems though once I became unhooked from my "long time" school,  moving schools became a lot easier for me.  I loved working at SAIL, even with all the challenges that it came with, yet the opportunity to teach closer to home presented itself for the first time in my 26 year career.  I spoke with my admin and with their full support I started the process to make the jump to work closer to home.  This fall, after over 26 years, I  made the move and quit my dream job with the Surrey School District, and became an employee of the Vancouver School District.  While there are teaching jobs available in Vancouver, as someone new it isn't easy to land your own job right away.   I was fortunate to land a job as a Perm Sub.  But more than being able to get a contract right away (which means my pay and benefits remain the same in my new district), I was placed on the first day of the school year in a good school and I've spent the past few months as a member of  the wonderful MAPLE community at Norma Rose Point teaching the most kind and caring kindergarten children who happen to come with lovely families too.

Even in this new job in a good school with good people there is so much of who I am as an educator that I've shelved for the year as I find my place in a new school district.  At times it gets me down, but then I remember that this was my choice and how fortunate I am to spend my work days with the people (little and big) that I do.  I'm learning tons (it's been over 20 years since I taught Kindergarten on its own) and I am finding my place in my school and hopefully in time my new school district.

The future beyond the year is still unknown for me but I have to have faith that the right job will show up at just the right time.  Where that will be I have no idea.

So why is my word for 2019 GRATITUDE? To be honest GRATITUDE has been my word for a while now. I have been a glass half full type of person for most of my life, looking for and finding the good in even the toughest situations.  As my mother was fighting her brave and courages battle with cancer, I would see what she could still do and enjoy instead of what she couldn't.   As I was training for my triathlons, I would find the good that came out of some of the toughest training periods.  There is bad all around us but I make the effort to focus on the good.

More recently though, while I continue to focus on the good, I want to make a better effort at acknowledging the good in my life. This is where GRATITUDE comes in.  Even in the toughest times I have so much to be grateful for and I want to recognize and acknowledge that on a regular basis.  I want to keep focussing on GRATITUDE to help remind me of how truly blessed I am.  While life isn't perfect for me, and perhaps I am just as good as the next at keeping a brave face in public while I deal with my own demons in private, I know that even in my darkest hours I STILL have so much to be grateful for.  GRATITUDE helps keep me moving forward, It helps keep me grounded in who I am as a person, and it helps me gain strength from those I share this world with.  I am grateful for the similarities and the differences we all share as it's what makes me unique.  I am grateful for who I am and what I have in my life.  This year I will do my best to verbally express how grateful I am, even when I'm struggling.

What is your word for 2019?

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Motivating Ourselves to Be Excellent in the K-2 Classroom!

I was totally honoured when Cool Cat Teacher, Vicki Davis, invited me on to her podcast The 10-Minute Teacher Show.  I love teaching that age level so I jumped at the opportunity to share.   Have a listen...

To learn more about the podcast check out her blog.  To hear this and other episodes subscribe here on iTunes.

Yes, I'm still here!

I do apologize for letting my blog get so quiet for the past few years.  A lot has been happening professionally but taking the time to share on this blog hasn't been a priority.

Back in June 2018 I had the pleasure of creating a digital book in Book Creator for Book Creator, one of my favourite iPad apps. The book was written with an elementary audience in mind and highlights many different ways the app can be used to help students create their own content and share what they know.  It was a real labour of love, and with permission, I was able to share some of the fabulous things my K-3 students at SAIL were getting up to with iPad. The resource is completely free and if you haven't checked it out yet, I highly encourage you to.  You can learn more about it here and can download you're own copy to read off line here.

I hope to get back to blogging once things settle for me.  I just recently switched school districts and I am working hard at finding my place in my new district.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Thoughts from My Brian...

I started this blog post back in September 2016 as I was starting my 25th year of teaching.  It was never finished but figured I should share what was written.

As I begin my 25th year of teaching I will admit that there is still so much that I don't know.  As I often say the more I learn the more I realize how little I know. Here are things I think about often and what I strive to support with my teaching practice.

All children are gifts to this world.

Children are far more capable than many give them credit for.

Children do not behave poorly to simply behave poorly.

Everyone wants/needs to belong.

Each child has a book that will successfully entice them into the world of reading.

Technology can open up a world of creativity, self expression,  and creation for all children.

Kindness can change the world.

Things don't always go as planned and that's okay.

I'd love your thoughts on my thinking.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Innovate with iPad: Lessons to Transform Learning in the Classroom

Kristen Wideen and I are pretty excited to have our book Innovate with iPad: Lessons to Transform Learning in the Classroom available for purchase worldwide through It was certainly a labour of love but we are so excited it to see it in the hands of technology coaches and classroom teachers around the globe.  If you aren't familiar with our book like me tell you a little bit about it.

Kristen and I are both elementary school teachers with a range of teaching experience. We are also both Apple Distinguished Educators who have access to iPad for our students.  She and I both quickly learned that iPad is far more than a tool to do "fun" drill and practice activities with but a tool that can allow students to create their own content.  While we realize there are some great drill and practice type apps, and there is a time and place for those too, we certainly spend far more of our day having our students create their own work, then rely on consumption apps.  What we've learned by having our students create content, particularly in an open-ended environment, they know far more than we've given them credit for.  Open-ended activities allow our students to really show us what they know or in many cases what they don't actually know even though they are able to answer questions correctly or quickly. Using iPad in our classrooms has really made a difference with our students thinking and understanding. Their learning has improved.

Our book features  five open-ended creative apps. These apps include Pic Collage, Popplet, Draw and Tell, Book Creator, and Explain Everything.  We have found with these five apps our students can create most of the content they need. However if you are using different apps with your students, many of our lessons can apply to your specific apps as well. We have also done our best to include other apps that can replace these apps. We realize many districts are limited to free apps, but even with free apps (PicCollage, Popplet Lite, and Draw and Tell  are all free!) there is so much that can be done with iPad.

After introducing the five key apps we also talk about some of the features of the book.  Kristen and I  spent a great deal of time creating the ideal layout for this book so that it can help teachers quickly find what they are looking for.  We have labeled the lessons into specific grade levels, and iPad comfort levels, as well as possible lesson extensions.  In addition most lessons have student samples and some even have links to video samples.  Many of the lessons also have downloadable task cards that you can give to your students to help them work more independently in an iPad station setting.  Our book is beneficial for teachers with one iPad or with one iPad per student and everything in between.

There are five key chapters in this book that divide our lessons up.  The first chapter has lessons focussed around numeracy and iPad.  I think Kristen and I could have written an entire book on just numeracy and iPad lessons as there are so many ways to use iPad in a numeracy classroom.  We have provide many lessons, most of which can be adapted up or down to meet your students specific numeracy needs.  In fact one of our reviews actually mentioned how he could use some of our numeracy lessons with his university students.

The next chapter focuses on literacy and ways iPad can be used to enhance and support your literacy program. Again many of the lessons can be used at various grade levels. Our hope is that you will see the lessons that we have shared and you will be inspired to create some new lessons for your students. Our book is meant to be a starting point, not an end point for innovation with iPad.

We then have  chapters focussed on science and social studies lessons. Once again the content part of the lesson can be swapped out to meet your students' individual needs.

In the final chapter of the book we take a look at ways an iPad can help with student self assessment.  At the simplest level having students be able to add voice to their work, and talk about what they did, what they are proud of, what they worked hard at, what they still struggle with, and set goals for their future learning can have a huge impact on future student learning.  It's exciting that iPad can play an integral part of this learning and growth.

To accompany the book Kristen and I have created a website. Here you will find all the student examples as well as access to the downloadable task cards.  Many teachers have found both the student examples and the downloadable extremely helpful in their classroom environments.

As I mentioned earlier, Kristen and I would love for this book to continue long beyond its purchase.  To help support this vision we have created a space on the book's website to collect and share the great  ideas this book is inspiring in your classrooms.  You can find this special sharing area under the  "Let's Share" section of the website.  Here you will find four Google Slide presentations with easy to follow instructions on how to add your ideas to the slide decks. Our vision is that this book will continue to inspire educators for years to come.

Kristen and I also have created the hashtag #InnovatewithiPad as a place to continue the sharing. Stay tuned as well as we hope to host some twitter chats to accompany the book. We really want this to be a living book that will continue to grow in usefulness.  If you want to stay up to date on these twitter chats and other future adventures with the book please add your name and contact information to this form. We will do our best not to send out too many emails, and of course you can be removed from the list at any time. We respect your privacy. 

As you can imagine, Kristen and I are excited about the resource we have created and we hope that you will find it of value too.  If you have not yet purchased your copy please head over to or and order yours.  If you are reading this and work for a district or school and would like to purchase multiple copies for your environment, please leave us a message with the approximate number you'd like to order and contact information (email works best) and we will be in touch as quickly as possible.  You can leave us a message through the contact us link on the book's blog (or via twitter, this website, Kristen's website, or any other method you have to get a hold of one of us :-)  ) .  Thank you!!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Today's the Day!

Kristen Wideen and I couldn't be more excited about our first book Innovate with iPad: Lessons to Transform Learning in the Classroom.  This has been a complete labour of love, and proof that two friends and dedicated educators can co-write while living over 4,000 km apart.

Today, we are excited to announce that our book is available for purchase on Amazon. Here is what Amazon has to say. 

In “Innovate with iPad: Lessons to Transform Learning in the Classroom” primary teachers Karen Lirenman and Kristen Wideen provide a complete selection of clearly laid out engaging open-ended lessons to change the way you use iPad in the classroom. By simply downloading a few basic, open-ended creation apps, your students will engage in the learning process and demonstrate their newfound knowledge in the way that works best for them. In addition, throughout the book Karen and Kristen provide beginner and advanced lessons and quick tips and practical suggestions to make the integration of iPad go as seamlessly as possible.
This beautifully laid out book also features downloadable task cards, student generated examples and extension ideas to use with your students.
Whether you have access to one iPad for your entire class or one for each student, these lessons will help you transform learning in your classroom. 

For more information be sure to check out  

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The K-3 SAIL Story

This past week I had the pleasure of sharing the beta year of the SAIL K-3 story at ISTE.  While I presented several times over the conference, this session was the one nearest and dearest to my heart.  It is a story that needs to be shared.  At SAIL we are looking at school differently and we are trying to change the way school is done.  I have been fortunate to get in on the ground level and this past year I had the opportunity to reinvent school at the K-3 level.  I won't lie though, it was one of my more challenging years of my career, but it was also one of the most rewarding.  Let me share some of my slides and a bit of our story with you.

The SAIL program came out of the rebranding of the previous Surrey Connect program.  Things weren't as good as they could be with Surrey Connect and SAIL was designed to change that.

In case you are wondering SAIL is a FREE PUBLIC school program which welcomes students from all over the lower mainland. This means you do not have to live in Surrey to attend SAIL.

SAIL is a distributed learning program which means some of the learning must take place away from school.  For us that means four full days in school, and one day away.

The weekly home learning includes parent involvement, family learning, and community learning. I will admit, that this has been one of the challenges of the past year as I'm constantly trying to be creative with my planning so that the home learning that goes home is meaningful, engaging, and connected to our classroom big ideas.  Having my students only 80% of the time means the home learning piece is an important part of the program.

At ISTE I focussed the presentation on the fact that with SAIL we are trying hard to put structures in place for successful student learning.  You need to understand that some of my students were losing patience with their neighbourhood schools for one reason or another.  Some of the structures we've put in place  include valuing student choice and voice AND using child centered reflective teaching practices.  From the slides below you can see that I spoke about some of the ways we value student voice and choice.  I don't think it's so much that we are doing something innovative, but more so that we are open to letting our students have more voice and choice.

 Below are a few snapshots of our classroom.  You'll see that we have no assigned seating and my students can work where they want to within the room.  Some get pretty creative from time to time, but as long as they are on task doing what is expected of them, they select where and how they work.

My students also have the choice of selecting the tool that works best for them.  While we do have access to technology in my room, technology isn't always the first tool chosen. It really depends on the task and the learner.

We also have a lot of self regulation toys in our classroom. We are trying to create an environment where the students have control over their learning.  In a more traditional class these toys may all be available but more often than not it is the teacher deciding who needs what. For example the noise reduction headsets may be assigned to the child who is sensitive to noise. In my classroom these are just tools that any student can grab as needed.  My students are not singled out.  They use the tools available to  them as they feel they need them. And yes, there was pre teaching around this and my students have become much more aware of their unique and individual needs.  Teaching self regulation is a very powerful strategy for student success.

I've also broken down some of the more traditional things I've done.  I've spent  lot of time rethinking what structures I have in place to keep me happy, and found ways to open them up to allow my students to be happy.  At such a simple level, the Valentine's folders below are just one place where I let go.  Yes, my students did have criteria for making them (they had to hold valentines, their name had to be clear, and there needed to be at least one moving part) but how they were made was up to them. As you can see everyone had a different take on the task, and I did what I could to support them.

My students often have a variety of ways to show what they are learning. Take for example the image below.  As part of our inquiry on trout my students were required to create a trout habitat and explain the key features of their habitat.  As you can see by the images below my students created in a variety of different ways, yet each one was able to explain what they did to create their artifact and why.

Inquiry was another big theme in our classroom.  At times I would wonder if we were in fact doing inquiry but as I started to collect a sample of their inquiry projects I was quickly reminded about how much inquiry my students did do. Below is a list of just a few of the inquiry projects my students explored.

In our classroom we also do a lot of learning by design. Below are "dream" playgrounds created and designed in Lego.  It was through their creations, and the discussion and reflections that followed,  I learned a lot more about my students and what they valued.

My students also worked through many design challenges to solve problems linked to real life situations. Here my students are creating a prototype of a shelter for a plant that was stuck in an environment with way too much rain.  My students worked with simple items but explained their thinking at a complex level. Each part they added to the prototype had a purpose.

And of course we have a maker mindset in our classroom. My students knit, sew, garden, bake etc.  They create with and without technology.

If you haven't figured it out yet my approach to teaching is very student focussed. My students help guide the direction of my planning.  As a teacher I strive for child centred reflective teaching practices. I speak of innovative teaching practices and authentic learning but really what I'm trying to do is what's best for my students.

 Below are just a few of the ways my students learn.  They aren't extra "events" in our room, they are just how we learn.

I also try, as best as I can, to bring in real life learning. We are makers by nature growing flowers and food (yes we grew, harvested, prepared and ate potatoes), learning to knit, and creating for purpose, using anything we can get our hands on.

We have come up with ways we can help our classmates, our school, our community and our world.  The Earth Rangers program was a huge catalyst for many of my students as they got right to fundraising to help save endangered Canadian animals. 

We also have a very STRONG motto of kindness and even when we are upset with one another we keep our words kind.  Kindness penetrates everything we do in our room.  My behaviour management system is building relationships with my students, and supporting them with theirs. 

Many think our program is an accelerated one, that you need to be a gifted learning to join, but none of that is true.  The real beauty of the program is that we dig deeper with our learning so the skills that we are gaining will transfer to different situations.

We have many other structures in place to support student success.  Our flexible furniture allows our learning spaces to change as needed.   We learn in multi aged cluster classes which means we focus far less on individual grades and far more on who we are as learners. Yes, each child does work through their required curriculum, but the focus is on them as learners.  We have both interdisciplinary learning where many content areas are uncovered together through some of the projects or activities my students do, and disciplinary learning too.

Technology is seamlessly used in the class. Those who need a device will grab one as necessary.  Many of our devices are shared too if that's what is need.  In general we work pretty collaboratively. There is no point in me being the only teacher in the room when I have a room full of teachers.  My students knowledge is valued.

What I believe has been some key successes of this program is that we have engaged learners whose anxiety has decreased and  there is increased empathy in all situations.  It's really quite wonderful.

But of course everything hasn't been perfect and I'm already thinking about ways to improve and change for the next school year.  You see, that reflective piece is so key for both me as the teacher, and for my students.  My students regularly reflect on what they have done well or are proud of, and what they'd like to get better at.  They have both their blogs and their digital portfolios to do just that. 

Below are a list of a few of the things I'd like to keep working on to improve as we move towards are second year of SAIL.

So that is just a little snapshot of the SAIL program.  If you're curious to learn more about SAIL please be sure to check out the website  There is a great video on the k-7 page that I think you might enjoy.