Book Tale: Daring Greatly

If you are ever interested in buying any of the books we talk about through our Amazon store you can find the link under “Book Tales” or here it is.

Ah Brené Brown… sigh… If you have been following us for a while you have probably heard mention of this author before. She was well connected with the research project I worked on and I’ve been trying to read her book for about 6 months now. Well I finally just made sure I left it by my bed and read a bit each night (not because it was hard to read, just because sometimes I find it hard to make time to read!)


This is honestly one of the best books I have ever read. It’s in the self help section but its so much more than self help. It’s self help. It’s teacher help. It’s family help. It’s relationship help. It’s community help. It’s world help… And I just can’t get enough!

She refers a lot to her previous book “The Gifts of Imperfectionism” but at no point did I feel lost having not read it. This book is about living wholeheartedly and fully living life. It focuses on vulnerability and fear, and how those affect every aspect of our lives.

There isn’t a lot that I can say about this book because I am far from eloquent when talking about these same issues but I will say that it has been a cause of transformation in my life – meaning that it made me stop and think about what I am doing and why and change a lot of my thoughts and actions. It has made me start to me compassionate to myself – something I’m realizing that I wasn’t very good at.

I do not read non-fiction very often, besides shorter articles. And I don’t even know if I can say I’ve ever been engrossed in a non-fiction book before? But this book I read from cover to cover and was hooked. I started going to bed early (not normal behaviour for this girl!) every night so that I could get a few extra pages in.

Just read it. Please.


Field Trips: Learning Beyond 4 Walls

On Monday I had my first teacher experience leading a big field trip! I planned this field trip for my two science classes for almost four full months, which was maybe a bit too much, but I wanted everything to be perfect for this big, full day outside the classroom! Let me start by saying our big field trip day definitely was not a perfect day. I won’t go into the imperfect details because I know my students a) probably didn’t even realize the imperfections and b) evidently learned something because it’s been two days since our outing and I’m still catching snippets of hallway conversation about the field trip.


We field tripped for the majority of our Monday at our local aquarium, Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre. The greatest part about our local aquarium is that it educates about the sea life and creatures that surround our island; thus, truly sticking to the “local” aspect of learning. The knowledgeable and skilled volunteers at the aquarium presented my busy, active students with three hands on/minds on curricular and grade appropriate workshops about killer whales. My students and I learned more about our resident K and J pod killer whales in 90 minutes than we ever would from a textbook or YouTube video. If I’m honest, some of my student were skeptical about this field trip because they had either been to the aquarium before or, being the cool grade 8s they are, thought it was too “babyish” for their taste. However, I think the learning that occurred at the aquarium really was authentic because the following day my students were able to report out specific details they remembered from their workshops. I was one impressed teacher!

A complete female killer whale skeleton suspended above the gift shop.

A complete female killer whale skeleton suspended above the aquarium’s gift shop.

Hands on touch pool at the aquarium!

Hands on touch pool at the aquarium.

We saw all kinds of creatures during our day.

We saw all kinds of creatures during our day.

In case you haven’t already caught on, I am a big fan of getting students outside of the classroom walls when it comes to learning. There is a time and place for textbook work, but I firmly believe the most important and authentic learning involves getting out of the classroom and getting in to real life situations whenever possible. Following our field trip day we tuned in to the movie “Keiko’s Journey Home”, the story about the famous killer whale, Keiko (stars as Willy in “Free Willy”), and how he was captured, trained and eventually rehabilitated in a natural-like habitat. My students watched this film rather silently and were really able to connect to Keiko’s story because of all the learning we did about killer whales in the earlier part of the day.

Because we live on the West Coast our sea life environment is very “in our face” on a day to day basis, in fact, the Pacific Ocean is right down the road from our school! I think it’s safe to assume that every one of my students has likely been to the ocean’s beaches at least once in the past few months. Our aquarium field trip brought our awareness to our everyday surroundings (beaches, ocean, seals, whales, sea weed) while offering greater insight to the impact our actions might have on our local sea life environment.

I believe the world will experience real, positive change if teachers are able to educate their students in a way that is meaningful to them, such as educating about our local environment. When students make meaning in and of their learning, making real change is inspired within the learner.

Check out “Keiko’s Journey Home” here:


Teach it Tuesday: Feeling Good

Today’s Teach it Tuesday concerns feeling good. In my grade 8 class we do Feel Good Friday every Friday, but last week I found myself with my students for an extra block, so I decided to jump on the opportunity to spread some goodness. We’ve been working really hard on the whole concept of community for some time now and we have engaged in several in class community building activities; however, last week’s activity has been my favourite community building experience with my class so far.


Here’s what we did! First, we moved our desks into a circle and everyone took a blank sheet of paper and a coloured marker. Then we wrote our names on the top of our paper with the words “you are” following our name (eg. Karley, you are…) Next, we passed our papers to the right and wrote a kind comment about the person whose paper we got. We spent about one minute writing our nice comments and then we passed to the right again. We did this 27 times so that every student had the opportunity to write to every person in our class (I participated, too). The end result was outstanding! The students were excited to collect their papers full of colourful, kind comments. The energy in my classroom was palpable!

Once my students had the opportunity to read through their comments I collected the papers and later that night typed up the “Top 10” comments for each student. My next project will involve creating a Top 10 bulletin board in my class where all students will have their names and top 10 comments posted for all to see. The best part about this bulletin board is that it’s going to be entirely student generated because they wrote the comments about one another. I’ll post photos of the Top 10 board once I have it complete. Until then, I’ll share this photo with you.


I snagged this photo at the end of our colourful commenting day because this was the first day my grade 8s successfully sat in a circle. It was truly a monumental day for me because I adore teaching in a circle. I hope we can hang on to the circle teaching thing for a while…so far, so good.

Feel welcome to share your favourite classroom community building strategies with us!


Dear Practicum Student

Since people who will be graduating from the same program as us are about to head out onto their final practicum (or first or second!) we thought we would give you our best advice today…


Meaghan’s Advice:

1. RELAX – I know this is so hard to do when you are feeling the pressure of everyone watching you and that your career is hanging in the air but, trust me, you will be fine! Just relax and do the job you know how to do.

2. Don’t strive for perfect – Mainly because it’s unattainable, but also because you might forget about the learning. Take criticism as a compliment because those teachers care that you improve. I wish I had done this more often on my own practicum… Once you’re out in the job world you don’t get the privilege of receiving expert advice on a daily basis.

3. Teach who YOU are – You are not and cannot be someone else for your practicum. I can’t tell you how many times I was told to “fake it til you make it” with a teaching style that just wasn’t me. Teachers are incredible for so many different reasons and you too will be incredible in your own way.

4. Get involved – Particpating in the school culture is one of the best things that you can do. Coach a sport, run a club, or simply help out at the school concert or play. It doesn’t have to be much if you are feeling overwhelmed but get your face out there and see your students outside of the classroom.

5. Enjoy yourself – Practicum is a unique experience that you won’t have ever again and there are sooo many fabulous things about it! Soak up knowledge from all the amazing teachers around you and love every second with those beautiful souls in your classroom.

Karley’s Advice:

1. Take time for yourself. Practicum (and teaching in general) can be all-consuming if you let it be. Make sure you take some time for yourself during this practicum placement. I’m currently working in my first full time contract and my strategy to ensure a restful, rejuvenating weekend finds me putting my school books away Friday at 3pm and not looking at them again until Sunday around 4pm. This takes a bit of organizing before putting the books away for so long, but it’s worth it! My weekends feel like they belong to me and not my job.

2. Document, document, document. Take pictures of student work samples (especially of projects/assignments you created!) Write down funny things your students say. Keep detailed notes in your teacher daybook. I am a journal fanatic, but I don’t like journaling in the traditional way. I love looking through my old practicum photos and notes; they’ve definitely served me well for this blog!

3. Make friends with your school’s staff, including the custodian, librarian and office staff. Knowing key people in your school will only make your life easier. During my final practicum I made a point to get to know the teachers in my school and now some of those teachers are my closest friends. I’m being serious when I say these people save me on average three times per week by responding to my “mayday text messages” with excellent advice and outpourings of love.

4. Make time to eat good food. My biggest struggle right now is healthy, wholesome meal prep. Teaching is a busy gig and although I love cooking, I only love doing it when I don’t have 47,000 other things to do. This is a predicament because my husband and I are often scrambling at dinner time. If you come up with a surefire way to meal plan, please share the love!

5. Go to bed. Just stop everything at 10pm, turn off your phone (yes, every night) and go to sleep. Your brain will thank you, your mentor teacher will thank you, your students will thank you. (Yes, I turn off my phone every night at 10pm and it’s one of the best things I do every day).

We wish you all luck and hope that we can be helpful to anyone who might need it during this final stretch! If you have a question or idea for a topic we could blog about let us know. We were in your place ourselves not too long ago and we want to support you in anyway we can!


Friday in Photos: Professional Learning Network

Here is our day today in photos…

Oh yes - We got up this early! Notice the unplanned similarities in our alarms?

Oh yes – We got up this early! Notice the unplanned similarities in our alarms?

6:00 am Skype session with a McGill Education class talking about our blog and life as new teachers - So cool!

6:00 am Skype session with a McGill Education class talking about our blog and life as new teachers – So cool!

We had the opportunity to speak about our blog and the impact it has had on our careers at a technology professional development workshop at Karley's school.

We had the opportunity to speak about our blog and the impact it has had on our careers at a technology professional development workshop at Karley’s school. Photo with Dave Shortreed.

A lunchtime walk in the BEAUTIFUL sunshine we have been so fortunate to have this week!

A lunchtime walk in the BEAUTIFUL sunshine we have been so fortunate to have this week!

We are so unbelievably grateful for all the opportunities that we have had today and in general with our blog – Thank you for your continued support!

By no means are we social media experts and we are definitely learning as we go here but if you are interested in having us speak to a university class or at a professional development opportunity we are ready and willing. Our main knowledge base is built around Professional Learning Networks with a good background in self-reflection. If you are interested please contact us at


Guest Post: TOC Life & an Unstable Income

Tonight’s guest post comes to us from Tom Hayward, a TOC in our district.  Tom and I (Karley) go way back; we used to work at the Saanich Police station together in the Block Watch Office (just for one summer).  Needless to say, after a summer of Block Watch antics, we became fast friends.  When he is not teaching school, you can find Tom tutoring and teaching guitar lessons.  Tom also moonlights as a wedding singer.  I wish I could say this is a joke, but it’s not.  Tom wrote and sang a song about, and for, Joel and I and performed it at our wedding.  It was absolutely amazing.

Here’s what Tom has to say about the financial life as TOC (and how to make ends meet when the paycheque is unstable).

I have spent nearly my entire teaching career as a day-to-day substitute teacher – ahem, teacher teaching on call. While the reasons for this are mostly circumstantial, there have been times when I actively sought to be a TTOC rather than a classroom teacher. After graduating from the BEd program at UVic I worked in some local independent schools here in Victoria. I then left the country for the experience of teaching in London, England. Upon returning I went back to the independent schools before finally getting picked up by the local school district. While this has meant a rather fragmented three-year teaching career, I have been able to adjust quite well to the unpredictable nature of on-call work.

Teaching on call brings with it a large degree of uncertainty. Will my class be “good”? Will I work well with other teaching staff? Will there be a lesson plan? Will I even work today? One thing you can be certain of is this: you won’t be making as much money as a regular classroom teacher. It’s a cold hard fact. Even if you get a call every day, there’s a good chance that some of those days will be half days. Following breaks there is often a lull as teachers return to class healthy and refreshed. With such unpredictable workflow, the financial stress can be very real. Here’s how to cope:

1) Know how the system works. At least in my district, working a morning in an elementary or middle school pays more than an afternoon. If you have the choice, opt for teaching in the morning. As well, working one day in the morning and the next day in the afternoon is usually a smarter idea than working a full day and having a day off. Depending on your district, consecutive days can mean a bigger pay cheque at the end of the month.

2) Get to know the staff. This is huge. Eat in the staff room. Introduce yourself to the teacher next door. Hand out a card. Network. Be pleasant. Smile. This is really basic stuff, but the impression you leave on someone else could pay off in dividends later on.

3) Do a good job. Let me tell you a story. I once subbed in a school and I had a prep block. The teacher said if I felt like it I could do some of the marking on her desk. I did ALL of it. A few months later she needed coverage for the month of June. Who do you think she called? If teachers know you are good at what you do they will trust you with their students. This could mean a good chunk of change in your bank account.

4) Get a part-time job. TTOCs have the luxury of being off work at about three and going home with usually little or no marking or planning to do. Use this time to make a little extra dough. I currently tutor and give guitar lessons in my spare time. It’s not much, but a little bit of cash in my pocket definitely makes a difference to my bottom line. It’s also smart to designate that money as “fun money” so you aren’t dipping into your chequing account every time you want to go out with your friends.

5) Be smart with your money. Teaching can be stressful. Financial hardship can be stressful. If teaching is your passion you don’t want any other stresses affecting your work. Pay your bills on time. Be a bit frugal with your money. Put some into savings each month. Your teaching will improve if you have fewer worries clouding your mind.tom

Being thrust in front of thirty kids you don’t know and teaching something you haven’t seen since grade seven can reduce even the most seasoned teacher to a crumpled pile of frayed nerves, frantically grasping for the nearest stress ball. Master your financial situation and lighten the stress-load that’s weighing you down. Your students will thank you, and you will thank yourself.

-Tom Hayward

What Tom won’t tell you is that he’s actually kind of a big deal…his music has been featured on CBC!  Check this out. 

Kindergarten, Grade 8 or Both?

Over the past two years majority of my teaching (contract and TOC work) has been in grade 8, but another good chunk of that has been with those cute little kindergartners. In fact I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve worked in a class in grade 3, 4 or 5 – Strange isn’t it?

So today I thought I would play a little game with you – Kindergarten, Grade 8, or both? It’s pretty simple, I give you a scenario and you guess if it happened in kindergarten, grade 8 or both?


  1. Me asking, repeatedly “What’s your job right now?”
  2. A conversation about the effects our words and actions can have on other people.
  3. A student majorly over-feeding the class fish.
  4. A student refusing to a game because they were “it.”
  5. Constant reminders that it is cold outside and to dress appropriately.
  6. Two boys chasing each other around the classroom.
  7. Receiving artwork from students.
  8. Students saying “Thank you” to teachers at the end of class.
  9. Giving out bandaids for cuts and scrapes.
  10. Reminding students to wipe off their shoes before entering the building.

So how do you think you did? If you are familiar with both grades some of these were probably pretty easy for you…

  1. Both – All day, every day.
  2. Kindergarten – This is directly related to number 3.
  3. Kindergarten – Student A overfeeds fish, student B yells “he killed the fish”, student A cries, student B and I have a conversation.
  4. Grade 8 – “But I don’t want to be it! That’s not fair! Why can’t you choose someone else? I’m sick. My stomach hurts. I can’t run.”
  5. Both – Although probably more so in Grade 8 because “It’s not that cold” until we get outside and then it’s “why can’t we go back in – I’m freezing”
  6. Both – Kindergarten over a toy car, grade 8 over a pencil…
  7. Kindergarten – Although Karley has received some beautiful artwork from her grade 8’s I am lucky enough to get these…20140122-171526.jpg
  8. Grade 8 – I absolutely love this! I had never heard middle school aged kids say thank you to their teachers until my class last year but now I’ve heard it in quite a few classes at a few different schools – warms my heart!
  9. Both – And for relatively similar injuries when I think about it.
  10. Grade 8 – Probably because kindergartners have a change of shoes though…

So how did you score out of 10? Anyone have similar stories to share. I think it’s one of the best parts of being a substitute teacher – seeing all the kids/grades/schools and figuring out the similarities and differences.


Teach it Tuesday: Time Fillers

20140121-173504.jpgSo you know when your brilliant, perfectly planned lesson ends with an awkward 10 minutes left in class? And you are stuck with too much time to do nothing but not enough to start on something new… Here are some of my time filler suggestions. If you are looking for transition games you can find some here.



Ticket out the Door

I often plan these into my lessons but sometimes I don’t and I just throw them in anyways when we have time after a lesson conclusion. Usually I give out post it notes and have students write what they learned or a question they have on the note and then we all post them up somewhere. This with a little discussion of some of the questions is usually more than enough to fill some time.


This is my go to with primary classes because these songs often get kids moving so it makes for a great little break. My favourite

  • The Animal Song (You repeat each time substituting the animal noise for the name): There was a crocodile (chomp chomp chomp), an orangutan (oo, oo, oo), an eagle flying (whoosh, whoosh), and a silver fox (swish, swish, swish), a bunny (boing), a beaver (chomp), a crazy elephant (crazy elephant noises – fun!) – Na- na-na-na – nana – Na- na -na -na- nana (We just dance in a circle here)

Other favourites: The Moose Song, Herman the Worm, Father Abraham


I love throwing a quick write out there when we have a bit of time. The point of a quick write is to just get your thoughts down and write for the whole time – for me, these are NEVER for marks, just practice!

  • Three word writes – get students to give three different (appropriate!) words and they must use all three words in their story
  • If I were/had… – Typical “what would you do” type story
  • Mid-way story – give students a sentence that would be found in the middle of a story and have them finish it off (e.g. “When all of a sudden…”)


If you have dice then I have games! Here are a couple of full class games. I bought some blow up dice a few years ago and they have been very helpful ever since…

  • Team Rolling. I have the class line up in two teams facing each other and the person at the front of each line rolls a dice. Whichever team gets the higher roll than both people (the two front people) go to the back of that line. The team with the most players wins.
  • Pig. This popular dice game is great for students to play in small groups but I also like playing it where they are trying to “beat the teacher.” If you have never played it you can find some rules here.
  • Higher or Lower. This is a variation on a heads or tails game that uses a bit more probability. I roll one dice and read the number out. Students then put their hands in the air or on their desk to vote on whether they think the next roll will be higher (hands up) or lower (hands down). You can do this elimination style or just have them do something silly if they get it wrong. Taking a step backwards works well depending on the room set up.

I would love to hear how you use these activities in your classroom! And I would also love more suggestions for the “time filler” activities that you use.


This Week’s Agave

This past week was well stocked with some exceptional “Agave Moments” (I just made this term up right now).  In case you don’t know what agave is, it’s a natural  sweetner (25% sweeter than sugar = you use less of it) that can be added to pretty much anything.  Agave (ah-gahhhv-ay) is the sweetner of choice in our house – it also comes from the same plant that makes tequila (barf).

Anyhow, this post will highlight the Agave Moments I experienced this week.  Enjoy!

Monday: We started a new science unit on Monday, which was a bit of a “Hallelujah!” moment for me because I was getting sooo bored of our previous unit.  Don’t get me wrong, the human body fascinates and astounds me, but I was feeling done with the topic and I can only imagine how my students were feeling.  We finished our unit with a gallery walk of our life size human bodies.  During our gallery walk the entire class was able to check out the work their classmates had been doing, while filling in the answers to questions I created about the seven body systems we studied.

I also went to a district self-regulation meeting on Monday.  The meeting began with everyone focusing their gaze at a specific point in the room, while the principal of the school used a singing bowl to further deepen our focus.  The yogi in me back flipped with joy to experience 50+ educators focusing by way of singing bowl.  I was also totally taken aback to notice how effective the singing bowl was on my own mood and focus – I made a mental note to purchase a singing bowl and try to use it in my own class.

Gallery Walk: Circulatory system

Gallery Walk: Circulatory system

Gallery Walk: Nervous system

Gallery Walk: Nervous system

Gallery Walk: Skeletal system

Gallery Walk: Skeletal system

Tuesday: In addition to having Adam Kreek come hang out with us, the best thing that happened on Tuesday was this:

kreek4That’s right! Meaghan and I actually spent time together in the flesh (rarely happens) and we ran our 5.5k in “my backyard”.  I’ve been doing rehab runs(5×1 runs) for my hip and was thrilled to have Meaghan stoop to my rehab level of running.  Unfortunately, a physio appointment later in the week put me back to the “no running until I say so” plan.  The good part? Spending my Friday eve in a traction machine at physio = almost two full days of minimal pain! Hopefully I can get back on track soon.

Wednesday: My husband bought me three teaching related books for Christmas and hid them so well that he couldn’t find them in time to put them under the tree.  We both actively searched for these books several times to no avail.  Wednesday was the magic day and the books surfaced (still in their Amazon box) from their hiding spot.  I started reading “The Spark” by Kristine Barnett immediately and I’m now 100 pages in, I’ve cried four times and I’ve stopped every two pages to tell Joel about this amazing family and exceptional child.  You can guarantee that our Tale of Two Teachers book review will be happening as soon as I finish this phenomenal story.


I encourage you all to watch Jake’s TEDx Teen Series video, especially if you’ve already read Kristine’s book (or are working your way through it right now).  Absolutely incredible.

Thursday: On Thursday I spent my entire day interacting with and learning from other brilliant educators in our district.  This was our group’s third Learning Initiatives meeting where we’ve got to collaborate and professionally develop for the entire day.  I adore LI.  This meeting had us working through a reading/writing unit on compassion; I really appreciated how we were given the chance to be students for the greater part of the morning.  Obviously the learning tasks we did were designed to be completed over several weeks, but even the “fast track” approach of going through this unit as teacher-learners really gave me a taste of the authenticity of the learning tasks.  We discussed Understanding by Design, and the skills it takes to plan a unit of study with the end in mind.  I leaned over to Karen, my former mentor teacher turned good friend, and whispered, “Hey, this is how I planned all my units when I did my practicum with you…” Two years ago I didn’t even know that Understanding by Design (UbD) existed, but I was planning using that framework.  These days I am definitely not planning in the UbD style because I feel like I’m just trying to stay above water.  Our LI group’s discussion about UbD was a nice reminder that I know what I’m doing (for the most part!) and that I have the skills to plan in this way (again, for the most part).  I hope to refocus and restructure the science units I have been planning in order to make them more UbD organized.  I’ll let you know how that goes.  Thursday ended with a walk on the beach with my dear friend, Jess.


Friday: Not the most agave covered day, actually.  If I had the choice, I’d erase Friday from my list of experiences this week.  The behaviour in my class on Friday was absolutely bonkers.  You know those moments where you step back from the insanity in your classroom, take a look around, and think, “What the heck is going on and how am I going to control this situation?”  Yeah – that was every single block of my day on Friday.  Let’s just say my grade 8s experienced an extremely unhappy Mrs. Alleyn and got the sternest lecture I’ve ever had to give in my short two years of teaching.  For those of you who know me well and think I couldn’t deliver a “stern lecture” if I tried…I invite you to push me over the edge when I’m utterly exhausted 😉 My Friday ended with a mayday style text to a friend stating, “I almost quit my job today”  Of course I was joking about the whole quitting thing, but my goodness… My text was responded to in rapid fire pace from another friend (they work at the same school and clearly were in the same room when my first text was sent), “Are you okay? Coffee debrief now?” Sigh.  That was agave moment number one of Friday; I have good people who have got my back…constantly.  Agave moment number two came to me in Feel Good Friday form:


Bless this student. Despite the insanity of the day, he saw right through it all and managed to compliment his angry-frustrated-grumpy teacher anyhow. The truest part of this message is that I do have a pretty fantastic scarf collection.

Cheers to a new week, everyone!


Lucky Number Four

Just a quick post today to let you all know what’s up with me 🙂


Lucky Number

So I’m not superstitious really… I just have favourites that I seem to be more stuck too than the average person.

My favourite animal is a penguin (in this case the ‘favourite’ borderlines on obsession)…


My favourite colour is BRIGHT blue…

My bright blue pants - best buy ever!

My bright blue pants – best buy ever!

And my favourite number is 4…

My parking spot is #4 too

My parking spot is #4 too

So there are a few reasons this number feels lucky right now. The first being that 2014 ends in a “4” and I have this feeling that I’m going to have a great year!

The second being that I got my 4th job offer of this school year and I am so excited about it! Quick recap of the other offers this year before I tell you about my new position and why I’m excited for it…

1. My grade 8 full time contract that I was in for 9 weeks this fall and loved… This was a great contract but it’s over now and life goes on 😉

2. My first full time full year contract that fell through… We don’t really need to go there again. You can read about it here if you weren’t here for that not so fun period of time in my teaching life.

3. I was offered a contract just before the winter break that I didn’t even mention to many people because I had applied for it on a whim and had to follow my own advice to not take it because the hours of the job weren’t good for me.

And now for my new exciting adventure…

Offer #4 – This is a contract at the school I was at in the fall (and love!) teaching one day a week to a lovely group of grade 8’s. I’ve been in the classroom a bunch already and they are an awesome group of kids – and the teacher I’ll work with is so great too and I know I will learn a lot.

I’m so excited and happy! It may not be full time but it feels like it’s just the perfect fit for me right now in life.