Teaching and Growing

Each semester (or year, if you’re an elementary teacher) is a fresh start, a new life.  You have new students, new personalities, and new dynamics.  There is so much to learn, and it’s all so exciting!  Wonderful young minds come into your classroom every day, and you are thrilled by the challenge that they present:  what wild, fun and clever ways can you meet your curriculum expectations, make learning fun, and explore the personalities of every student in your class?  Like a child, everything is a wonder; you are a sponge, soaking it all in with an unquenchable thirst.

Impossible as it may seem, childhood gradually fades away as adulthood becomes your new reality.  The semester is well under way, and your students have begun to make themselves quite comfortable in your classroom.  Their personalities, as lovely as they are, become that much more real, exposing not only the teacher-pleasing qualities they possess, but perhaps some of their less-than-stellar traits as well.  But this is a good thing! Now you’re really getting to the good stuff, growing past the frivolous nature of learning activities that would suit any group of students, your projects begin to be shaped by students’ interests.

Your golden years set in toward the end of the semester, and you begin to reflect on all of the experiences you have collected and treasured.  You remember the good times and think of all the wisdom acquired in the tough times.  The relationships with your students have developed because of so many shared adventures.  You smile because this journey has been a good one, and in so many ways, you have all learned so much.  The grey hairs have a brilliant shine in the silver that is reflected in the light.  On the last day of class, your heart swells with pride when the last student walks out your door.

and then,

a new semester begins again.


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A Student Reaches Out to Clara Hughes

Clara Hughes is one of our country’s best advocates for raising awareness of mental health and its issues.  On June 21, 2014, #ClarasBigRide came through Nipigon, allowing people in our area to be a part of something wonderful:  a chance to witness someone taking a positive stance and making a change on behalf of Canadians.

One of my art students has also taken a stand, and is using art to make a change.  Her blog posts provide her readers with explanations why she wants to share her work with the world:

I’m hoping that my video will raise at least a little bit awareness. Coming from a small town doesn’t mean that my video wont be noticed.. I’m happy to have thought, made and finished the video which is mainly dedicated to my wonderful sister who suffers from a mental disorder. Its time to make a stand and stop the stigma. I love my sister with all my heart and she is my twin and my other half. I don’t know what I would ever do without you. Keep on staying strong Victoria!! The reason for this post is to go along with my video and one day Id like Clara Hughes to respond back to me in some way to know that validation for my sister that there is help, there is more people like her out there and things will get better. (Kayla, March 31, 2015)

I hope that you will read through her blog.  Her posts are thoughtful and so personal.  I also want to thank her family for their courage — you are all an incredible inspiration, and your strength will help others.  (I guarantee it already has)

Recently, Kayla entered her video into TVO’s #ShortDocContest, and although it didn’t make it to their longlist, her work has done so much for others:  students, community members, and many more.  Please watch her video here:  (*we have had some minor issues viewing it on some mobile devices)

I really hope that Clara reads this post, and responds to Kayla in some way.  This is my way to help her out a bit. :)      Please share this post with others, to help Kayla use her art in a very positive way.  Consider leaving her a comment.



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  1. Have you heard of UNESCO?
  2. Do you know what UNESCO does?

Most people will answer yes to the first question, but some might hesitate on the second question.

In 1945, UNESCO was created in order to respond to the firm belief of nations, forged by two world wars in less than a generation, that political and economic agreements are not enough to build a lasting peace. Peace must be established on the basis of humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity.



(source:  UNESCO & Unite4Heritage.org)

My students and I first learned about UNESCO by participating in a Japan Art Mile project.  (Read about it here)  Other than that, we had been relying on knowledge gained from high school history classes.

Another opportunity to appreciate UNESCO’s work recently presented itself on Twitter:

Yesterday, my students and I read this tweet and discussed everything we could think that might relate to the campaign:  the stories about the destruction of precious artworks overseas, stories from WWII and questions about the Monuments Men, stories about Canada’s history and residential schools

What we appreciate about the #Unite4Heritage campaign, is the chance to be a part of something positive.  Rather than simply learning about an event online, or in a history book, we can take an active role in making a change.


Now, we are challenged with the task of thinking about our own heritage sites and artefacts.  What do we cherish?  What would we protect, if it was in danger of disappearing?  What do we take for granted?



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Japan Art Mile

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 6.44.39 PM

Image source: Japan Art Mile

Japan Art Mile is a wonderful way to create and collaborate while fostering healthy relationships among students across international borders.  My students helped to create a beautiful mural; half of which was painted in Japan.


Seisa Kokusai High School students created a beautiful mural, sharing some aspects of Japanese culture.

When we received our package from Seisa Kokusai High School at the beginning of January, we were excited… and then a bit nervous!  Their mural painting was absolutely beautiful, and we wanted to make sure that our painting would complement their design.  We snacked on some tasty Japanese treats while we started to plan our composition…


We were so thankful for these lovely gifts!

My students started to brainstorm ideas immediately; we discussed Canadian culture and popular imagery while sketching and making notes.


We began to notice some similar themes amongst all of the ideas in our class.  Once we made these observations, we started to refine our thoughts with a new round of sketches. This process taught us so much about collaboration within our class, and helped us to develop a sensitivity to the thoughts and concerns of other people.


Once the composition was planned, it was time to get to work.  A proper layout was essential for adding details throughout the mural’s creation.

After moving past the hurdle of beginning to paint, we quickly began to appreciate the progress that we were making.  Students selected colours and designs that reflected our culture and traditions, so a sense of ownership developed over the weeks that were spent painting the mural.

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I am so proud of these students.  This was not an easy task, but they were up for the challenge; their work will represent our school when these murals are exhibited at Japan Art Mile’s next display.


When the mural was finished, it was time to select a few treats for our friends at Seisa Kokusai High School.  I found some very special items at our local grocery store as well as  Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay.

While visiting Fort William Historical Park, our mural was displayed one last time before being packaged up for its long journey back to Japan.  Doesn’t it look wonderful?


Congratulations to my students on the completion of your design!  You are fabulous!


.**Note:  before the mural arrived from Japan, we learned about Japanese culture from our friend Kyoko!  Enjoy our slideshow here:  “Kyoko Visited Our Class Today

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TVO on the Road: Thunder Bay

The Agenda is one of the most thought-provoking programs available to TV (and internet) audiences who are intrigued by compelling topics and lively discussions.  Proudly Canadian, The Agenda is produced by TVO, serving our Nations viewers with relevant material that addresses today’s concerns and curiosities.

What a thrill to discover that TVO was taking the show on the road, and two episodes of The Agenda would be filmed in Thunder Bay!  The city is just over an hour’s drive away, so it was an easy decision to plan a weekend around such an exciting event.

Saturday’s topic of Race Relations provided a wonderful opportunity for audience members to benefit from dialogue that challenged stereotypes and assumptions as well as the state of relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in our area.  Some of the issues and comments were understandably uncomfortable, because race relations is an incredibly sensitive matter.  It isn’t always easy to talk about a topic that can spark controversy because there are so many aspects to consider.  It can feel overwhelming to begin traveling down the road to a better understanding of these issues, but we have to start somewhere.  Thankfully, The Agenda provided several opportunities for this journey to begin and continue.


I was mesmerized by those who spoke with such courage and conviction at yesterday’s filming.  A handful of women captured my interest because they have dedicated themselves to creating projects that serve to help others understand issues surrounding social concerns, prompting us to replace flawed conceptions with healthier perspectives.

Samantha Crowe spoke of her experiences, her concerns for friends and family who face difficulties because of stereotypes, and solutions for youth who are willing to discuss methods to resolve problems.  Take the opportunity to learn about Feathers of Hope on Facebook.

FOH checking out @TheAgenda On The Road! Community discussion regarding race relations within Thunder Bay. pic.twitter.com/6rTIxJVpKa

Michelle Derosier is an award-winning filmmaker who was one of three panel guests from yesterday’s discussion.  Her work on the Walk A Mile Film Project was profiled for the audience, providing us with a glimpse into her artistic vision, which helps to shed light on personal stories of struggle, survival and hope.

Walk-A-Mile Film Project Trailer from Thunderstone Pictures on Vimeo.

Several people spoke of the impact of Walking With Our Sisters, a “commemorative art installation to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous Women of Canada and the United States; to acknowledge the grief and torment families of these women continue to suffer; and to raise awareness of this issue and create opportunity for broad community-based dialogue on the issue.” (source: Walking With Our Sisters) 

I can’t wait to find out more about each of these wonderful projects, to help provide more opportunities for my students to learn about diversity and new perspectives.

On another note, I was absolutely thrilled to meet Steve Paikin, host of The Agenda.  His work has already had an impact on my students, and I wanted to be sure to thank him properly.  What better way than to offer some of the best cuisine in Thunder Bay?  :)


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A Model of Thinking

The Arts Curriculum for Ontario has provided educators with two models of thinking that are very helpful for teachers and students.  If we use these models as a foundation on which we build our understanding of course concepts, our learning can be both personal and structured.

All of my classes are becoming more familiar with the Critical Analysis process, because the format helps to guide our thinking while we approach new artworks and art forms.  Yesterday, each of my classes viewed Sergei Polunin’s performance of “Take Me To Church”.  Unlike most art forms that we would analyze in class, this was a ballet piece.  It was interesting to see how helpful the Critical Analysis process could be while approaching a new and unfamiliar form of art.

Sergei Polunin, “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, Directed by David LaChapelle from David LaChapelle Studio on Vimeo.

We are just finishing the second week of this semester, so I didn’t want to overload my students with too many concepts all at once.  Instead, we focused on our Initial Reactions to the video.

critical analysis

Here are some of my students initial reactions:

“Is he naked??”

“What does it mean, and why that song?”

“What was the story?”

“This is interpretive dance as, a guess, which has emotional meaning to it.  The movement suggests deeper pain behind the dance”

“My questions is ‘why would he be wearing a nude colour, does it have deeper meaning?'”

“When he danced it seemed kind of emotional for him, the way his facial expressions were (grabbing his head)”

“The setting, lighting, and music felt like they formed together.”

“This dance evokes the really sad emotional side of me. I also feel that the white made it a lot more dramatized.”

“The movement suggests that he is emotional and puts a lot of emotion and feelings into his dance.”

“This work brought something to mind.  Mainly an idea for a drawing…  I guess a connection I made with him is the liking of movement, him in actual life, me in drawing.”

“Why is it ballet dancing and not some other form of dancing?”

“Guys can rock ballet.”

“What exactly is it supposed to represent?”

“It was very well done, but it didn’t interest me.”

“How long did the dance take to make and learn?  …and what’s the story behind the dance?”

“I realized that you can tell that the song/dance means something to him.”

“The story being told seems very heartbreaking and sad.  I wonder what the actual story is.”

“This work reminds me of someone struggling.”

“The guy seemed so strong, brave and classy.”

“My first impression of this work is that it shows an inner fight and is exhibited through dance.  This work evokes empathy for the struggle, beauty for the dance, and loneliness for the context.”

“It puzzles me not knowing why he is showing such pain and why he seems so emotional.”

“[The dance] suggests to me that he is alone and there is no one to help him and his troubles.”

“This work evokes emotions and made me feel weird and uncomfortable, but it is still pretty amazing, the way he was dancing.”

“Why did the man not have a shirt on?”

“Watching this, I realized that the man dancing is obviously very passionate about dancing, like a painter when they paint or a singer when they sing.”

“What was the message he was trying to send?”

“What is going through his mind during this time?”

“The dancer is trying to prove a point with his moves.”

“It’s very dramatic.  It’s dramatic because of the music and how he is dancing.  He’s expressing himself and his emotions throughout his dancing.”

“It was like Footloose in the woods.”

“Why are so many artists doing music videos with one ballet dancer in one empty, white room?”

“This work brings the movie ‘Footloose’ to mind because he is dancing in a warehouse place by himself.”

Today, my students will read through all of our initial reactions.  I hope they begin to see how other students think, and that there are many ways to observe and appreciate art.  I also hope that they feel confident that their thoughts are very valid.



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Moving Beyond the Elements and Principles in #ArtsEd

Olivia Gude’s publication, “Postmodern Principles: in Search of 21st Century Art Education” has often been an invaluable resource as I strive to restructure the opportunities for learning in my classroom.  Any art educator will be familiar with the Elements and Principles, but not many will admit to feeling confined by their use as the pillars of creation and analysis of art.  I’m not saying that they have a negative impact on art education, but if we limit ourselves to understanding art through the lens of Modernist design, we are clipping our own wings.

In 2013, I explored the principle of recontextualization through the use of Vine.  This year, my senior students will be encouraged to play with the app, along with other forms of media that provide more freedom of expression.  When I think of Postmodern principles such as layeringinteraction of text & imagejuxtaposition, and appropriation, I wonder about the endless possibilities for artworks that students can create by taking advantage of new possibilities found through thematic work coupled with choice of media.

Today, I learned about Zeega, an online tool that allows you to combine a variety of media (gifs, images, music) to create your own artwork.  These visual remixes allow the user to form new meaning by appropriating material that is free to play with.

I wonder what kinds of stories my students will tell?

Related information:  Amy Burvall


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