Kindergarten Orientation: Not Just Another School Event


Our school had it’s Welcome to Kindergarten afternoon today. I love it when new parents and students arrive through our doors at any time of the year, but the feeling I get from over 30 parents and their children arriving at school at once is even more exhilarating!

I have taught Kindergarten at many schools and the orientation format changes from school to school. Some schools have guests move through stations while they learn about important characteristics of the school and Kindergarten program. Some schools provide children a chance to spend time with the Kindergarten teachers while parents are given an overview of the school and the Kindergarten program lecture style. Some schools only invite parents.

Whatever format your school chooses to do, there are some important things that schools need to remember about this annual event. I get it, it’s a really busy time of year and things are crazy, but we can not risk treating this event as yet another obligation at this time of year to get through. I’d say it’s one of the most important events of the school year.

1) This is your chance to shine, to celebrate why your school is so great! With that you need to put your best foot forward. These parents are entrusting their most valuable possession to you. If you are having a bad day (who hasn’t had a bad day?!), put whatever is bothering you aside for a few hours.

2) Your role is to be welcoming. Be open to answering questions, and be patient with new parents who, most of the time, only have their own schooling experience to reference. Some parents and children may be overwhelmed with this new experience.

3) Use this opportunity to get to know kids and their parents. Covertly make note of “issues” children are displaying; however choose another, more private time to ask parents for more details.

4) Keep the teacher talk to a minimum. Share stories of your own kids and/or students. The best response I have received is sharing that I taught Kindergarten for over 10 years and when my own son entered Kindergarten I was a wreck! I needed to know every detail. If I didn’t have to be at work, I would be one of those moms hovering and peeking through the windows.

5) Don’t let them leave empty handed. Give them things to work on over the summer like a pair of scissors, play dough, a list of math and literacy games, etc.. Oh and, of course, you have to give them a tasty snack (healthy choices optional!)!

Kindergarten orientation is such an important event on so many levels, don’t let it go by without some thoughtful planning and discussion.

EdCamp35: A Parent’s Perspective


Yesterday I attended EdCamp35 in Langley. Now I have attended a few EdCamps and I love the format. I love that everyone comes in so excited to make connections, to learn and to share. I love meeting people that I only previously have chatted with online. I love that that EdCamps recognize that there are many “experts” and we all can learn from each other. I love that I always leave with my beliefs challenged and a heavier tool belt of strategies.

This EdCamp, though, was a little different from the ones that I have attended before. This time I asked my good friend Jenn, an active Langley parent, to come with me. I thought she may get something out of it, but I have to admit I was nervous that it may be too focused on teachers. I assured her (and myself!) that I would put my parent hat on, parents were being encouraged to come and there would be sessions that she would be interested in because we could suggest sessions.

Well, as the board started to fill up with session ideas, my fears were coming true… there was nothing Jenn was really interested in going to. So, we put up one suggestion and stepped back. After about ten minutes, there were a few more that we felt we would like to attend.

I have to give credit to the organizers of EdCamp 35. They went out of their way to invite stakeholders from all areas of education, including parents. This was the best EdCamp I have attended because of this. However, I still feel like there is more room for growth. It was really eye opening to attend the event as a parent and have a parent right next to me. The whole experience was definitely intimidating.

The teachers who attend EdCamps are a very passionate bunch. They give up a Saturday to attend, that alone says a lot! It’s really beneficial for parents to see this passion. EdCamps also are a great way to create deeper home-school connections and inform parents about what is going on in schools, but it is also a great format to open up the stage for parents to voice their concerns and thoughts about school.

The one session that Jenn and I put up, Childhood Anxiety ended up turning out great. There were many parents and teachers sharing their stories of successes and concerns and it made the discussion quite robust.

So, future organizers of EdCamps how will you encourage deeper connections and engagement of parents? As with many strategies and events that try to encourage more parent involvement, there is potential with EdCamps, but more work needs to be done than just “inviting” parents.

Some things to think about:

  • Offer a ParentCamp in your district with  facilitators to allow parents to get used to the format of an EdCamp.
  • Offer childcare, call it KidsCamp!
  • When asking for ideas for sessions in your registration page, have these sessions already posted on the board. Many people, not just parents, would be nervous about jumping into the bustle to add sessions.
  • If you are an experienced EdCamper, invite some parents and stick by them until they get their bearings.

Each EdCamp that I attend gets better and better. Thank you EdCamp35 for another amazing experience.


5 Unexpected Lessons from Tech

When our school received our first cart filled with 30 brand new, shiny iPads. My principal at the time, Jackie Howard, said to me, “Iram, this is all going to be you.” I went home that evening terrified. Tech doesn’t like me, it NEVER works. I don’t know what she was thinking!
Well, I sucked it up and acted like I knew what I was doing. Reflecting back, I have realized that I have learned many unexpected lessons from tech that have influenced other aspects of my life and career. Here are my top five.
1. Patience
Yes we are in the 21st century and tech can do amazing things, but sometimes it takes a little time for all the pieces you are trying to connect to register what you are asking it all to do. Who doesn’t work at a school that is trying to squeeze the limits of older tech on sketchy wifi, right? Just take a breath, and let it do what it is doing. That “circle of death” is now, for me, a “focus for meditation.” Who am I kidding, I hate the circle/line of death, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was a focus of meditation?
2. Have a Back-Up Plan… Or Twenty
If things aren’t going they way you planned, be prepared to shift gears and try another plan of attack. This is why it is important to have a variety of tech resources in your tool belt ready to pull out, like cords, dongles, apps, YouTube tutorials, the staff of Apple shrunk to an inch put away in your pocket etc.. There is nothing more frustrating than having a brilliant lesson ready to go and not being able to even begin because of “tech issues”. Most of the time, there are ways around the problem. Your tool belt just has to be full of different options and you have to allow yourself to think outside the box.
3. Let it Go
Sometimes, no matter what you try, things just don’t work at all. That’s when it’s okay to just shrug your shoulders, abort the mission and take time to chew on what went wrong.
4. Let it Go Part 2
The best way to teach tech and encourage tech integration is to let students and teachers explore and integrate it in their own personal lives. I can preach until my face turns blue, but until people have time to actually play, nothing will change. They will just look at you as the “crazy mentally unstable techie” who has drunk way too much of the kool-aid.
5. Build Capacity
The more people who learn the lessons above and the more we allow ourselves to learn from others no matter how old you are or what your job is, the easier it gets! It’s not rocket science!
Which leads me to the the phrase, “you are so techie”. I have realized this means more than just being able to set up and trouble shoot tech. It is a mindset. When someone asks me a tech question or throws a problem at me, I am now comfortable enough to say, “It’s okay, relax. I don’t know, but let’s figure it out.”

The ConnectEd Canada Conference: Connecting and Reflecting

ordinary dayI have been struggling to write this post mostly because I didn’t want a repeat performance of this:


There was so much that happened and so much that entered my brain during the time I spent in Calgary for the ConnectEd Canada Conference. I arrived back at school and many wanted to know, “So, how was it?”…. A garbled mess ended up coming out highlighted with bursts of “awesome”, “amazing”, “so cool”, “blew my mind”, “wonderful”. My colleagues, I understand, were not able to piece together the transformative experience that I had just gone through. So, I stopped talking about it, mulled it over, read blog posts about it, read the Google Docs and Slide Shares that were created from the sessions here and sat.

Before attending, I honestly had no idea what ConnectEd was all about. My friend Tia Henriksen sent me a link one day and said I should go. It looked like a good time, so I signed up. Even the night before I left, I wasn’t really “in to it”. The weather forecast for Calgary was not good; I am miserable when I am cold, and I hate packing.

Thank goodness I had great travel companions (@TiaHenriksen, @RobynThiessen, @teacherdiana1, @KLirenman and @EMSCarlson) who lifted my spirits. After attending the tweet up that night, I realized quickly that this was NOT going to be a normal conference.

I think the best thing that I experienced at this conference was the connecting (the name ConnectEd Canada is perfect).

  • Connecting with the students at Calgary Science School, who were very eager to share and were aware of the kind of learning they were participating in.
  • Connecting with the teachers at Calgary Science School, who not only spoke about inquiry and student led learning, but practice it each and everyday in everything they do.
  • Connecting with the speakers, who all gathered and led “unconferences” to stimulate and allow the participants to share and teach each other.
  • Connecting with teachers and admin. from my OWN district, some whom I have never met before, and excitedly discussing how all of us can go home and influence our students, our schools, and our district.

I wrote about the value of Twitter for educators in my last post. This conference was a perfect example of discussion and face to face meetings stimulated by Twitter.

20130608-175106.jpgThis was written at 12:50 a.m.. I stayed up intil 2 a.m. reading, sharing, and continuing conversations!

20130609-091204.jpgMet these people at the cocktail reception and found out through Twitter that they were sitting at the table next to us.

Then, as quickly as I had been thrown into it, the conference ended and we all headed home.

Coming back from Calgary, I admit, I felt a little let down. I felt like I just test drove a Cadillac and came home to drive an ’88 Ford Escort. However, after three particular district events, the final Engaging Digital Learner Series Dinner, the tweet chat debriefing about ConnectEd on #sd36learn and the Innovative Learning Grant Celebration Day, it hit me that we are a distrct that’s got it going on!

It is often said that sometimes you need to leave to appreciate what you have at home. I truly believe that my district, the Surrey School District, is leading in B.C. for innovative, inquiry based, student led, collaborative, technology integrated education. There are many schools in our district who are on their way, which means we are on OUR way, to changing the face of education.

I recently attended a retirement party and was talking to another teacher who retired a few years ago.  She stated that she was very concerned for the future of education and that she was glad that she “got out” when she did. I responded, I hope passionately, by saying that my view was different.  I can feel that we are in a great time in education.  I can feel the excitiement and the hope. I am so fortunate to be an educator at this time of great change!

Thanks to the ConnectEd Canada Conference and Twitter, I came to realize even more that I am fortunate to be in a school district who supports and encourages us in this movement. I will continue to share and celebrate (particluarly through social media!), to promote this feeling, so people in my district and beyond can see and hear about the great things that are happening right in our own backyard.

20130609-094447.jpg 20130609-155539.jpg

So, I will absolutely be at next year’s ConnectEd Canada Conference and everyone, watch out! I will be bringing MORE of my district family with me. We will be exuberant, proud and definitely wearing matching t-shirts!… Now, that’s if we don’t host it next year! ;o)


The Value of Twitter: An Open Letter to Stephen Toope, President of UBC

stephen toope quote

Dear Stephen Toope,

I saw this quote from you, the President of UBC, in my issue of Trek recently and it made my heart sink. I’ve been thinking about your statement for a while because I wanted to try to understand where you were coming from and what message you were trying to convey.

I am quite shocked that the president of an educational institution like UBC, and specifically an institution that trains teachers, would make such a statement.  I am sure you have heard your share of backlash from this quote. I just wanted to present to you my thoughts as a UBC alumni, an administrator and a teacher.

When I joined Twitter not that long ago I, too, had my heels dug deep. I viewed Twitter as another time waster I didn’t need to introduce to an already busy life. Initially, I did not see the value of it either.  I joined, though, because some of my colleagues wouldn’t stop gushing about it and because I secretly wanted to prove to them that I would hate it. So, I joined and jumped in with both feet… boy was I ever quickly eating humble pie.

Twitter has flattened the walls of society.  I am able to directly connect with people I could never dream of connecting with before. Recently I attended the ConnectEd Canada conference in Calgary. Through Twitter I was able to easily connect with the organizers, the speakers, and fellow attendees.  What made it even more exciting was that we made an effort to meet face to face and connect even more. The conversations I have had, and the potential projects these connections have sparked, are all a result of Twitter.

Twitter has been a tool that has led to deep reflections and connections in the education community. It also has been an outlet for people who are too shy to share at conferences, workshops and meetings. But, you suggest that nothing of importance can be communicated in the limited number of allowable characters Twitter provides. As well, you are concerned with the immediacy of the medium. Why does it have to stop at the limited number of characters? You can just send another tweet! Why do you have to respond immediately?  You can quote people and respond to them later, sparking more conversation at another time!

I am proud to say that my school district has welcomed Twitter.  We have our own hashtag stream where people from the district and outside of the district share, collaborate, and celebrate all in the name of improving education. We also have recently started holding a weekly chat time every Sunday night where people who are interested gather on our hashtag stream to chat about a preplanned topic. The topics have included inquiry based learning, assessment practices, and success stories. Weekly chats like this are happening all over Twitter.

I invite you to join twitter… even under an alias! Give it a try.  Take a look at the many hashtag streams related to education that are out there.  You can not negate the potential of a tool without trying it yourself. Oh, and if you do, let me know @teachermrskhan so I can follow you!


Iram Khan

Joy and Laughter: Why I Became a Teacher

I’ve been working on this post for a while now… actually, since coming home after spending the day with George Couros and fellow educators in my district… Yes, that was about a month ago! We worked through the day sharing and being inspired to foster innovation in our district. George ended the day with a request for bloggers in the district to write about why we became teachers.

Well, this was a harder task than I expected it to be, so I chewed on it for a while. Then I attended Tedx West Vancouver and received the final push I needed! The inspiration resulted from Dean Shareski’s talk, Whatever Happened to the Joy in Education?.

I became a teacher because of the joy I experienced when I was in school. I was joyed when my school supplies were purchased, when we opened new textbooks, when we watched celebrations in the gym, when my teachers would ask ME to share my ideas, and when I passed by the staffroom and the smell of coffee and the sounds of laughter spilled out into the halls. I also felt joy at one time events like finding a perfectly intact butterfly to add to my insect project in grade five; making my teacher laugh hysterically at the story of me running down the hill through a forest on the way to school and losing control of my feet, then losing my shoes and lunch bag and laughing so hard while watching my sister do the same; spending a whole lazy June day with my grade six class walking around in the bush for no reason, but just because, and stumbling upon a cow’s skull; and finally being able to show everyone that I could moon walk in the main hall of the school, which was open often for kids to play games in, dance, and/or just talk at lunch and recess. I could go on and on, school was a joyful place!

Now, I didn’t go through school completely with rose coloured glasses! Try being one of the few minorities in a cautious small town of 1,500. Try being placed in the lowest reading group and knowing it. Try navigating this world as the eldest daughter to immigrant parents who want the best for their child, but are in conflict with what the best in Canada means. Despite it all, I just had great people at school who supported me. I had teachers and administrators who helped me see the joy in everything.

I laugh when others typically laugh, but I also laugh at the joy I get from all the absurdity that happens in this world. I laugh when things aren’t going as planned and I laugh when things go as planned. Yes, I actually was laughing at my friend’s father’s funeral, but my mother was so embarrassed that she violently folded my body in half and rubbed my back to make people think that I was crying. But, to defend myself… We were singing a very sad hymn, and there was a lady next to me singing her heart out to a completely different hymn. I just lost it, it was absurd that at such a serious, sorrowful event, this was occurring beside me.

As Dean Shareski often shares, there is a lot in this world to laugh about. Sometimes we need to laugh so that we are not overcome by all that isn’t good in this world. It is no surprise to me that when things get really stressful at school, I end up laughing a lot. It doesn’t mean that I do not treat things seriously, far from it, but laughing and finding the joy is a way of coping and seeing the light.

I became a teacher, for purely selfish reasons… because school makes ME joyful! It always has and it always will. I also want to share that with everyone. School often takes itself too seriously. We get bogged down through debating what’s best four our students, recording every single thing  to use as “data”, believing that if we take a break kids will fail and not become good citizens of our world. What school needs to do is change out of its three piece suit and put on some pajamas! Schools need to be a source of joy for everyone!

Art Show: We are Family

Zain Family Drawing

I love my school! I love how everyone works together like a family to support each other and get things done, always looking out for what’s best for our students. Like a family we go through the ups and downs of stressful and happy times, and sometimes like a family we make decisions, assumptions, and statements that can hurt. BUT, also like a family we talk it out, forgive, and move on… all because we are looking out for what is best for our students.

Our school recently put on a school wide art show, it has been a tradition for a number of years. After over a week of setting up and dealing with all the details, the show was held for two and a half days. Parents, students, teachers, and district staff, including our superintendent, came to see the hard work our students and teachers put in through a whole year of art making. Our students were proud that their work was displayed, “like in a real art gallery”.

Our school is considered one of the “inner city” schools in our district, and because of the hard life stories that some of these kids come to school with, some do not feel that they are capable of doing anything worthy. As well, the stress and hurt that we feel when we try to help these students sometimes overwhelms us. The art show proved to these students in particular that their work and their learning is important; and proved to us, that what we do with these students to help them come to terms and overcome their difficult situations is important.

When news spread of our art show, we received some wonderful feedback including those of excitement, encouragement, and thankfulness. In particular, one person asked if we had an artist in residence that did this… No we do not. What we do have are teachers and staff who are passionateabout our students’ and their learning. It did not come together overnight and without emotions getting in the way, but we were able to support each other through this large undertaking. We have teachers and staff that work together like a family.

Here is a video of all the art that was shown in our art show. I am so proud of my school, that I want to share this accomplishment (one of many) with everyone! There are some great examples of art projects using a variety of mediums. Maybe you can include some of these in YOUR art show!


So This Happened: Kindergarten Boy 1 Mud Puddle 0


After teaching a crazy Friday morning in K and trying to juggle too many balls in the air at the office, this happened…

20130420-201122.jpgand this happened…


and this happened…

muddy headand this happened!

muddy profile

As the supervisor brought him in after lunch, I just didn’t know whether I wanted to laugh or cry.  My two K teacher colleagues got a sense of this and whisked him away. Photos were taken, an interview was done, and this is the result. Sometimes, you just have to shake your head, smile and be grateful for parents who send a change of clothing right down to socks and shoes!

Teacher: Was the mud fun?

Boy: “Yeah, SO MUCH FUN! We were playing a game, we had to cover the mud with rocks and the ground where the sand was, but NO woodchips! Eight of us, we didn’t cover all the mud, though we’ll finish on MONDAY!”

Not sure about that!

Thank you to my dear colleagues who rescued me from going over the edge!

iPads aren’t for Everyone

bird nest

Okay, so another teaching assignment change for me… Just had teacher librarian added to the mix. I’ll still be teaching Kindergarten one day a week, but I’ll now be in the library three days a week and vice principal one day a week. Phew! Just writing all that made me tired!

I took on the teacher librarian role as an opportunity to collaborate with all the enrolling teachers at my school and as a way to really get to know all the students. I also was excited about the ability to integrate technology during our classes’ library times.

While I know that technology is to be used as a tool for teaching and isn’t a magic solution to all children’s learning needs, I have never really experienced students not wanting to use technology!

Well, in come a group of 4th graders and I excitedly revealed to them that I would be pulling out the iPad cart for them to find more information on the different birds we read about. My announcement was followed by cheers and clapping; they could not wait to get their hands on the iPads! After searching on Google for a few minutes, one student nervously asked, “Are we allowed to go on YouTube?” Me: “Uh, yes, of course!” The library suddenly was filled with bird song and a lot of sharing. We watched videos of robins hatching, a warbler singing, a sparrow building a nest, and many more. So much engaged learning was happening! I was about to pat myself on the back, for a job well done, but then beyond the sea of happily engaged students I spied a group of boys on the carpet at the back of the library… with no iPad… and they were not talking about birds!

Me: “Boys, do you want an iPad?”
Boy 1: “No, I don’t like iPads?”
Me: “Well have you used one before?”
They all nodded and sneered in my general direction, not wanting to make any eye contact.
Me (totally thrown off and not sure where to go with this awkward situation): “Okay… Uh, hmm…”

And then it dawned on me, we were in… A LIBRARY!!
“Do you want to look at books about birds?”
They all nodded eagerly and stood up. I then skipped over to the 598 section (yes, I am becoming a Dewey Decimal System Master!), showed them where the bird section was and they happily looked at the books until the end of their library time… engaged in learning.

Now that was unexpected! The boys looking at books were just as engaged in their learning as their classmates who were using iPads. This was a big reminder that technology isn’t for everyone and it is just another option as we differentiate instruction for our students. Forcing every student to use technology to learn and present their learning is just as ineffective as forcing every student to all use pencil and paper and books in the library!

Oh, and in case you are curious, here are some of the bird videos these students found. Welcome spring!
Robins Hatching

Sparrow Building a Nest

Warlber Singing

Connecting on the “Inner Net”: My Experience With Forums and Twitter

I recently read an excellent article, The Touch Screen Generation which discusses research that shows there is hope… kids using technology like iPads may not create solitary zombies as so often touted by irritated parents and teachers.

“…their child could end up one of those sad, pale creatures who can’t make eye contact and has an avatar for a girlfriend…”

In 1998 when we first created CanTeach, I was part of a teacher forum called Teachers Net.  I was in a rural school, where the closest school was over an hour and a half drive away. Through Teachers Net and CanTeach, I racked up so much time on the internet connecting with teachers from all over the world. My principal noticed… I thought he would praise me for finding a way to connect despite our rural location, but it wasn’t so. He came up to me one day while I was enjoying my lunch to have “a chat”. He had a print out of all the time I had spent on the district’s server concerned that I was forgetting to log out. I embarassingly told him that I was not forgetting to log out and reminded him about all the help I was receiving through fellow educators on the “world wide web”! He promplty gave me a large bill for my internet usage and sternly told me to stop.

But… I didn’t stop, I continued paying the bills and I didn’t care! Some may say I was addicted, but I can truly say I was not (you can even ask my husband!). I admit, though, that I was craving connection with people who understood what I was going through and could help me navigate the struggles of being a new teacher. It was a tough year, I would not have continued teaching without all those kind and generous teachers on that forum.

I continued on that forum and this group of teachers became comfortable sharing beyond professional advice… cancer, unemployment, divorces, births, and deaths.  One memory that still gives me chills is a husband of a fellow teacher getting on the forum one day to let us know that his wife passed away suddenly and to thank us for being great friends to her.  Of course, as “in real life” friends do, we banded together and bought gift certificates for restaurants and sent sympathy cards and flowers for the grieving family.  We were connected.

Now here in 2013, I hope that most people (especially those who are reading this right now) would say that the internet and modern technology has significantly improved how we live our lives and connect with people.

Another reason I have been thinking about all of this is that I recently joined twitter just over a month ago (yes, I know late to the party!). My first tweet was honestly unindented to be ironic. I just found this little comic that appeared on Kottke.Org and I LOLed (yes, when I write LOL, I am one who REALLY laughs out loud!). My tweet that accompanied the comic was “Ha ha! 100 years of blaming technology for the loss of human connection”.

Twitter has brought back the same feelings as I had in 1998, but on a grander scale.  It has allowed me to connect with more people around the world AND especially with the people at my own school district. The interesting thing about twitter is that it doesn’t stop at the tweets, meeting in real life is ultimate!  You see it all over twitter, the many cases of people tweeting that they will be in a certain city for a conference or vacation and that they would like to meet up with fellow educators, then gush about it afterwards!

Now I can’t stop telling people about twitter.  I just want everyone to join, I get so excited that I can’t even form my thoughts in a coherent matter… all that comes out, is “it’s awesome, you just have to try!” Now more than ever, it is important to show our students that we are connected, that we value relationships, and that there are people out there that can help you in many forms. Twitter is just one way of doing that!

Connect with me on twitter @teachermrskhan