The Heart Of It

Here is the heart of it…

Last year I was waiting. The year started off with me being a substitute teacher while I was waiting to head off on my travels. I’ll admit it substitute teaching has never brought out the best in me. I don’t have the relationships with students that make me want to be a great teacher, and I happily leave at the end of the day to get home way earlier than if I had a contract. I remember telling someone that substitute teaching was the best for work/life balance but in my case that is really not true because there is very little on the work side of that scale. Enthusiasm went out the window after week one. I was waiting. Waiting for my travels. Waiting for a “better” job.

When I returned from my travels I headed straight back into the classroom, by straight back I mean that I returned on a Wednesday and started teaching full time on the Thursday. I neglected my work life balance here again but the scale had tipped the other way. My home life was suffering because I chose to dive into a classroom and everything that entails, right after I had been off traveling with friends for 5 weeks. It wasn’t fair to my (now) husband and it wasn’t fair to myself.

After the winter break I entered in to some of the toughest teaching times I’ve experienced. I talked about it a bit and I wrote about it but I wouldn’t say that I really ever dealt with it. During these times I was put in the place of defending what felt like every decision I made as a teacher. My confidence took a big blow but I never acknowledged that part of it. Instead I was back in the waiting game because I knew I had a way out into a different job. A new job meant a fresh start, or so I thought. But by ignoring the healing I needed to do I wasn’t setting myself up for success. Within the first few weeks I had that familiar drowning in work feeling – trying to deal with a new school, new grades, new students, and new colleagues. Again I switched into this “waiting mode” by deciding that I could make it to Spring Break and then start anew after.

Little did I know that after Spring Break I would break my arm, need surgery, and be out of the classroom for weeks. Again with the waiting. And then it was June and the craziness of end of year hit. This is probably the time I enjoyed most out of the school year, but I was still in that waiting stage. Waiting for summer. Waiting for my wedding. Waiting for a break.

No, it wasn’t all bad. I really loved both my classes and made strong connections with lots of students and families. I enjoyed experimenting with the new curriculum. I got to travel and see more of the world, and experience that change in mindset that comes with it. I planned my wedding that was a perfect love filled and fun day.


Well since you asked I’ll throw in a photo…                 Oh you didn’t ask?

So what didn’t work? What did all that waiting mean? It meant that I was not being mindful. I was not living in the moment. I was not fully present for all those moments in my life.

With this in mind, and the fact that I am heading into a busy year with my Masters starting this weekend. By making some important commitments to myself I feel ready for the year and I’m so excited for all the learning and growth that lies ahead. This year I am making a commitment to wait less, process more, and be more mindful:

First, I will listen to constructive criticism from the people I respect, and ignore criticism that is meant to harm.


Second, I will find ways to be happy in the job that I am in. Through good and bad times there are always ways to be happy – a connection with a colleague or a student, a creative teaching idea, an extracurricular, etc. (And no, I don’t have a job yet but I will! Positive thinking, positive thinking!)

Finally, I will practice yoga and/or meditation regularly. Focusing my mind always helps me to live in the moment and be present for the people that matter most.

Here’s to a year filled with mindfulness, love, and lots of laughter – We can do this together, teachers!



The “No” Girl: A Balancing Act

Meaghan and I decided that this year, along with our reestablished commitment to blogging with our authentic voice(s), we needed to figure out where we were at on our own personal blogging and teaching journeys.

My personal challenge this year will be to remain a “no” girl.  That is, I vow to say NO to most things asked of me.  No thank-you, I won’t coach that team. No sorry, I probably won’t make it to that extra-curricular planning meeting.  And, no, I won’t go in to school on weekends.  Let me be clear in saying that almost always I ask and expect myself to do these things.  I am a pleaser, a doer and somewhat of an extremist so if a colleague or my administration asks extra of me this year of course I will professionally consider doing the work, but not before weighing in how the “extra” will impact my family life.  Saying “no” is going to be my secret to balancing work and life this year. Thankfully I have my almost-two-year-old to remind me (quite often) how exactly to say it…noooooooo!


I dabbled with this “just say no!” work/life balance strategy last year a little bit, but I wasn’t entirely successful because I was still an academic teacher who had just come off an excellent year of maternity leave.  I felt stuck as the “do it all” type of teacher that I am, while having a tiny daughter at home to care for.  Mad props to all you working parents. I learned a lot last year and even though I taught and was paid for .6 FTE (three full days a week) I actually worked full time (3+ hours per night at home after my daughter went to bed, even on my days off). Somehow I still managed to exercise and read for pleasure. I don’t want to cram all this in anymore; it isn’t a truly pleasant way to live, to be honest.  When exercising starts to feel like a chore, I know I’ve gone down a slippery slope.

This year, and years in the future, will be different.  After a lot of thinking and debating I have decided to say NO to the classroom for a few years. Instead I’ve chosen to delve back in to the amazing, exciting and fun world of being an exploratory teacher.  A few weeks ago I was offered a (part-time) continuing contract teaching middle school dance and drama and I immediately accepted the offer.  For me, this contract will allow me space.  Space to be the mama I want to be to my incredible toddler.  Space to exercise well. Space to cook and plan healthy meals.  Space to spend time with my family.  And space to take a dance class of my own!  While being an exploratory teacher is no joke (we teach every single student in the school over the course of the year!) teaching dance/drama will totally alleviate the workload because for me teaching dance is second nature.  The sheer joy I find in (teaching) dance can not be matched.  This part-time continuing contract is an incredible gift to me and I plan to do great things with it.  I’ll be working in a school that has never had an established dance program (that I know of), so one could say I am essentially starting from scratch!  While being an exploratory teacher will not be the duration of my entire teaching career, it definitely will play a prominent role for the next five years or so.  I am so excited to see what these next years have in store!

I am in my final year of my 20s and I’m finally learning to say NO to most things so that I can say YES to the things I actually want to do.  Heck, maybe I AM getting wiser with age!


A Story We’re Living

We have been discussing the direction our blog will take for a while now and this year we have made a commitment. Our commitment is not to just blog more, but to blog with a return to our authentic voices.

What spurred this decision? It started with a conversation we had with a colleague in the spring. He thanked us for sharing honestly on the blog and that prompted us to think about how our honest sharing has changed over our time blogging. When we first started blogging we wrote about very personal and professional stories with very little fear of our audience – mostly because we thought our parents would be the only ones reading. Both of us have felt that we have drifted away from this authentic voice over the years. Partly because the line between personal and professional can be a little bit scary on a public forum, and partly because it is often really difficult to share these stories. Elizabeth Gilbert expressed this struggle perfectly in her request for privacy during a difficult time:

“I trust that you understand how this is a story that I am living — not a story that I am telling.”

In response to this same message, Glennon Doyle responded, “Please let the world offer.. no advice, no platitudes, no criticism, nothing but love and gratitude for living and loving and hurting aloud – so that we can see how it’s done.” When we choose to put our stories out for everyone to read there is a lot of trust that goes with that and a lot of risk. But with this risk, this vulnerability, comes a real voice that breeds connection and growth. The best gift of blogging is connection and the more authentic our voice remains the stronger these connections will be. Of course there are stories that will be reserved for our loved ones, but we are committing to sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of this teaching life.

We choose to share our stories.

We want to share our stories.

We love to share our stories.

So our commitment this year to you, our readers, is that we will return to authenticity in voices and our posts. We promise to be honest, truthful and vulnerable and, in return, we hope that you will choose authenticity and vulnerability with your own stories.


It’s Not Goodbye, Just See You Later

Unfortunately welcoming summer brings with it some tough goodbyes. We met up today for a quick catch up outside of school after saying some tearful goodbyes to our amazing coworkers this year.

We have plans to bring back our blog bigger and better next school year but until then have a great and well-deserved break wonderful teachers! Thank you for everything you do for these amazing children in our lives.

Things I Meant To Blog About…

When life gets busy blogging often falls to the back burner. Here are some of the things I meant to blog about over the past few months.

Rube Goldberg

We wrapped up our simple machines unit with a Rube Goldberg day. The kids planned, designed, and created some fantastic projects in our school’s Makerspace. Watch this video if you want some amazing project inspiration!

The one with the can and the light switch actually worked really well!

The Best PE Game

I found this online one morning when trying to plan a quick lesson for baseball… Now I can’t find the link for the life of me but basically in teams of 3-4 students line up and you spread hoops out all over the gym the first student in line runs and stands in a hoop. The next student throws them a ball or beanbag and if they catch it with two feet still in the hoop they bring the hoop back to their team. The team with the most hoops at the end wins! Super easy and can be easily adapted to many sports.

Rock the Salish Sea

Our school had the most incredible opportunity to work with Holly Arntzen and Kevin Wright to perform the “Rock the Salish Sea” concert. It was an amazing experience for the students and the show was absolutely incredible. Very proud teacher moment!

City Hall Visit

To wrap up our unit on government, we went on to City Hall and had a Q&A session with Mayor Lisa Helps. She was so great at answering all the kids questions (even the cringe-worthy ones!) and after they gave the students a snack and let them sit in the counsel chairs. It was such a cool experience for my students and some of the questions that came up were just incredible – I love watching them learn outside of the classroom.

And now back to paper writing, report cards, and field trip planning… Happy June everyone! We are almost there.


Math: The Struggle is REAL!

I have struggled with math for as long as I can remember.  In high school I was the one who attended grade 11 and 12 math help three mornings a week and still shed tears over it every other day.  Throughout my prerequisite math studies for my B. Ed. I failed a stats course (the only class I’ve ever failed…too bad it cost $300). Upon handing in my final exam I was certain I did not pass my Math 360 course, which used to be a mandatory B. Ed course at UVic.  My life has been filled with many frustration filled math related tears and over time I have grown to strongly dislike math.

I am proud to say that the times, they are a changin’ over here in Mrs. Alleyn’s math world and that is largely to do with Nikki Lineham’s fantastic math website, Educating Now. Nikki is a brilliant middle school teacher leader in our district; Meaghan and I are both fortunate and grateful to have had access to her website through our respective schools.  Nikki’s site is a business, and therefore runs by paid subscription, so I won’t divulge the inner workings of her lesson I’m blogging about today, but I do want to share how the lesson went for my grade 8s.  I also want to share how Nikki’s work has turned me in to a more confident math teacher, which is something I never thought I’d ever be!

Today in math my grade 8s and I were working on the concept of “preservation of equality”, that is: “What does the = sign really mean?” My class came up with all kinds of answers to this question, but not a single student was able to tell me that the = sign actually means to BALANCE both sides of the equation.  I was so pleased that no one was able to tell me that = means “balance” because it meant I had found a weakness in their understanding (and, my own understanding, if I’m honest!) We then worked with the concept of a scale/teeter totter and I ended up holding various objects in my hands, arms outstretched, pretending I was on one end of the teeter totter and Charlee, my 1.5 year old daughter, was on the other end.  We talked about what would happen and came to the conclusion that because I am obviously heavier than Charlee, the teeter totter would launch Charlee high in the sky.  We then discussed what might happen if Joel, my husband, joined Charlee on the teeter totter.  Obviously his added weight would raise me into the air.  We then discussed how we could even out the weight between my family on the teeter totter and decided that if Charlee came to my side, perhaps she and I would balance Joel.  It was so interesting to me to use my family in the analogy because I had never thought of the = sign this way before.

Let it be known that my grade 8 class has a very wide range in mathematical competency – I’m talking a range from about grade 4 to grade 11.  I think the best part of today’s lesson is what came next…

After some more work with numbers and teeter totters and balancing my grade 8s set out to complete their learning task, which was to create five questions solving for x, while using the teeter totter concept to help them answer their questions.  Check out the differentiation that occurred once my students let loose:

Are you freaking out as much as I am freaking out over how awesome this learning task is? My struggling learners were able to use the teeter totter to help solidify what the = sign means; therefore, bringing them to a deeper understanding of algebra. My very advanced learners were able to differentiate the task to meet their level of ability, while still being challenged by the pictorial component (let me assure you, my strongest math students are rock solid when it comes to doing math in a procedural manner, but they do struggle when they need to show their work conceptually, as you will notice above).

As I sit here writing this post I am in awe that I taught this lesson today.  I keep thinking, “I did this!? I understand this!?” Today’s lesson was a huge learning experience for me and for many of my students.  I was not taught math like this, but our redesigned math curriculum calls for concrete, pictorial and symbolic representation of student learning, which is why I am so grateful for Nikki’s lessons and teachings.  Nikki’s work has certainly made me a more confident math teacher.

P.S: Meaghan and I, along with a handful of our teacher friends, plan to take Jo Boaler’s new online, self-paced math course this August.  Click HERE to check it out and let us know if you want to join our math posse.  We are certainly interested in collaborating about math over the internet with our international teacher friends and readers!

Note: Tale of Two Teachers is in no way financially affiliated with Educating Now. We simply love their work and both use it regularly in our respective classrooms.This post was written with permission from Nikki Lineham, teacher in SD61 and part of Educating Now. 


The Truth Is…

The truth is I cannot wait until summer.  My students cannot wait until summer. The other day I overheard one student commenting to another about how there are 20 something school days left and when she caught my eye she said, “I mean, we love you Mrs. Alleyn…uhhh…” My reply was something along the lines of, “I get it, I get it…love you guys too…uhhhh…”  We are all just done.

Most days by the end of dinner hour I look like this:


Teaching and parenting simultaneously is border line insane.  These days have been long and yet…short.  These days have been trying and fulfilling all in one.  These days have been incredibly frustrating and completely triumphant within five passing minutes.  I feel as if I’ve been on an educational roller coast since November (when I finished maternity leave) and I am so so so ready to get off this ride for a while.  I’m ready to be just a mama and not a teacher for a while again and I feel guilty about that.

Last night I couldn’t fall asleep when my head finally hit the pillow.  I started thinking about all the school and blog things I wanted to do this year that didn’t happen.  I started going down the “you’re not smart enough” path.  I went through some the areas in my teaching practice that could use some polishing (marking and prompt feedback, math planning and a concrete end to our science unit).  This pattern of negative thinking is familiar to me so I was not surprised that my mind went wandering there, especially following a fun gathering with some brilliant and very skilled teacher friends (Meaghan included) whom I love deeply, but often compare myself to because their standard of work ethic and professionalism is so high.  Eventually I fell asleep.

I woke up this morning thinking that next year I’ll have a year’s worth of being a working mama under my belt, and while I have no idea where or what I’ll be teaching next year (yet) I already know of some things I plan to do differently.  I’ll share these things on the blog once I feel ready, but until then…I am holding on by a thread.

High fives and all the props to all you teacher parents out there.  On those days when you feel you rarely get a moment of silence know that it’s because you likely DON’T ever get a moment of silence; therefore, force yourself to take a deep breath and turn off all the sounds.  This works for me most days!



No pencils, no papers, no problems

My grade 8s have a very exciting year end trip coming up! In a few weeks all the grade 8s in our school will head out on a paddling and camping trip, which they have been preparing for since January.  Our school is incredibly lucky in that we are situated right on the ocean – some classrooms even have a pretty sweet view – allowing us easy access to the water.  Our school is also incredibly lucky to have two very dedicated teacher leaders who have taken on and developed the Big Canoe program over the last few years.  Check out last year’s trip!

It’s been an interesting experience hearing about all the prep my grade 8s have been doing because indeed they are not only “my grade 8s” – I share them with my teaching partner, Amy.  Most canoe prep days have taken place on Amy’s work days, not mine, so it has been easy for me to be far removed from the program.  That said, in the last two weeks our final paddling “training” days have taken place on MY work days and I definitely cannot complain!


Happiest teacher in all the land.

Admittedly, most of my work days are filled with meetings before and after school and during breaks, two massive handfuls of behaviour issues, a handful of parent/staff emails to send, a handful of pencils to dish out (because while we can be prepared for canoeing, we are never prepared for math!), a handful of extra photocopying to do…you know what I’m saying?  There isn’t a lot of time to kick back and breathe in the glory that is these last few weeks of grade 8 with my students.  These last few weeks are precious.  Nerves are uncertain and sometimes behaviours come out stronger than ever (and with every behaviour being a form of communication, my goodness…So. Much. Communicating). The end of grade 8 is full of transition days to high school, final IEP meetings with families, ceremony prep galore, wrapping up assignments, report card writing, class party planning, field trips…it’s busy times.

Our days on the water these last few weeks have provided me with one calming thought:

No pencils, no papers, no problems.

During these last few weeks I’ve witnessed my (our) grade 8s work together in ways I thought were unimaginable back in November.  I’ve seen the struggling learners be leaders in the canoes.  I’ve seen my “usual crew” rise up and build shelters, row in sync with one another, and share chocolate treats with their friends.  I’ve seen the more reserved and reluctant students shine brightly as their confidence on the water grows.  There is just so much learning that happens out there with 13 bodies crammed into one canoe – we have no pencils, we have no papers, and we truly have no problems.  It’s beautiful.


I think, for me, the icing on the cake was being present with some of my students and staff at a recent town hall meeting where our canoe program was presented to local politicians.  Three of my students stood up to speak about how the canoe program has impacted them and influenced their learning.  Things like teamwork, resilience, creativity and perseverance were brought forward.  As I sat in the (very small) audience my teacher heart glowed with pride for these brave, young people who spoke truth about their learning outside of the classroom and who brought the importance of our school’s canoe program to attention with their testimonies.


I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks have in store for these incredible kids!


The Elementary Switch

So first of all… it’s been a while! We both have lots of “we should blog about this” moments but getting them written down is another story. Today’s post was a toss up between this post and the “One Handed Teacher”… 

I broke my arm about three weeks ago so my weeks have consisted of a couple surgeries/procedures, a LOT of Netflix, and trying to get back to teaching before I was ready… typical!

Five years ago I did a practicum in a grade 1/2 class, but since then (besides subbing) I have been strictly middle school. Right now I’m back in elementary teaching grade 4/5 and I’m absolutely loving it! Although I’m definitely a middle school teacher at heart it has been an amazing experience so far.

Elementary Perks

The kids adore you! I get more hugs in one day then I have in my past 4 years of teaching combined probably. They give me beautiful artwork and their sweet faces absolutely light up when they see me. There really isn’t a much better feeling!

Work wise it is about the same in terms of time spent but I find that I’m much less exhausted at the end of a teaching day. I think this is partly because of the non-academic breaks and partly because you don’t have to work quite as hard getting kids to “buy in” to everything you are doing.

Elementary Challenges

These are my challenges, and I’m sure they would be perks for many other people. The CONSTANT holidays, special events, assemblies… When can I teach? This took me by surprise when I started February but I thought, “Oh it’s just a busy month.” Was I ever wrong! February was nothing compared to what May looks like. All of these events are great, don’t get me wrong! I just find it to be the hardest transition from middle school to find the time just to teach.

Another challenge for me is in the curriculum. I really love grade 7/8 curriculum and it has been tricky trying to get in deeply at a younger grade than I’m used to. Luckily I’m at a school that has so many amazing examples of inquiry based learning at any age!


Good Teaching…and stuff.

Oh hey, it’s Karley, you know…the other teacher who writes this blog?  I feel as if I haven’t written a post in for-ages – it’s been all Meaghan keeping up with Tale of Two Teachers lately.  Thank you, Meag! My good friend/used-to-be teaching partner, Leah, sent me this link tonight and I suspect my lack of posting here is because of a heavy dose of “teacher-mom-itis”.  How do you teacher moms do it!?


When I’m not teaching you will likely be able to find me visiting the sheep down the road from our house.  Charlee’s latest is daily “sheep feeds” – she loves them!

I can’t fully blame my teacher-mom-itis though, because another reason I haven’t written a post lately is because so far this year I almost always feel like I have nothing decent to contribute to this blog.  All my lessons have been just “okay” these last few weeks


Hey SD61 middle school teachers, I was the person who dropped her mug in that awesome moment of silence during our keynote session.  Let it be known this same mug left my child with a blistered chest after she poured piping hot coffee all over herself before I left for the day.

(months?!) I leave school feeling like I wish I had more time in my classroom(s) and that I wish I had prepared better for my students.  Granted, I definitely could take and make the time to be better, but I just haven’t been doing that.  It is for this reason I am entirely grateful for our district wide curriculum integration day last Monday, which I found to be educational, inspiring and exciting.

With the curriculum changing here in BC, and becoming mandatory September 2016, many teachers are beginning to dig deeper into it, myself included.  I have been using the new curriculum since its initial draft form was released several years ago, but I feel like I’m only really starting to understand it now and that has largely to do with the way I am re-learning how to plan lessons and units.

Last Monday I attended a session led by an innovative and inspiring educator in our district.  She guided us though the concept of “Understanding by Design” (UbD) and we all began to plan our respective units and lessons accordingly.  Note: Read more about UbD on Jay McTighe’s website I was grateful during this session to have my very good friend, Jess, sitting and working next to me, as well as a colleague from one of my schools.  Together, the three of us got messy with my social studies unit at hand: human rights.  I should take a moment here to thank Jess and Dawn for sharing their insight with me and helping me sort out my thoughts and ideas, while keeping me on the path of “…but is this directly linked to the curriculum?!” It felt so great to finally be planning with experienced, smart, dedicated educators who really know what they’re talking about when it comes to curriculum and UbD.  I finished our collaborative session with a great outline and direction for my socials 7 human rights unit.  I also finished our session feeling like a smart teacher for the first time in almost two years.

Perhaps my own issues around self-confidence in my craft are impeding my ability to teach well these days.  Perhaps I am being too hard on my self (most likely, actually).  Ask me to change a diaper or make dinner with one hand and I can do it!  Ask me to plan a unit that is not only differentiated, but also designed in a way that involves deep thinking and inquiry…not so much. It is the truth that I have felt like a bad teacher since returning back to work in November.  I think I’d actually go as far as labeling myself as a “surviving teacher”.  Planning this human rights unit was a breath of fresh air for me; a reminder that I do indeed know what I am doing.

So today we started the human rights unit and I must admit, I haven’t been this giddy about teaching in a very long time.  I spent some time telling my class about how we would start the unit “EdCamp style”.  I  posted the topics of interest, in our case the 30 human rights, on the board and had my students put a check mark on the topics that interested them the most.


I talked to my class about the essential question I co-created with my two helpful teacher friends.  I also shared with my class what our guiding questions would be.  I explained that this unit wouldn’t be very “work sheet-y”, but more learner/inquiry based (I got a few slow nods by this point).


After we had discussed EdCamp style topic choosing and essential/guiding questions, we figured out (with the help of our wonderful EA!) which topics were the most popular.  I reposted the top 10 topics and students then decided what their three favourites were from the top 10.


Then we were ready to break into our small study groups (2-4 per group) and get to work.  I know it seems like a lot of work and prep to set up this initial “learner interest” component of the unit, but it was completely worth it for me today because my students had some choices around what they wanted to study; their attention and interest was captured from the get go.

This is essentially as far as we got today; however, I must admit some of my students asked if they could go home and do some research this weekend on their topic.  I definitely did not say no!

Cheers to collaborative planning, to UbD, to our new curriculum, to engaged learners and smart educators, to knowing what’s best practice and what’s best for kids.  It feels good to be back in my groove! Stay tuned for the unraveling of our epic human rights study!