Sunday, 11 December 2016

Let Me Teach Like The First Snow Falling

Today we finally are getting our first real snowfall of the season!  Rather late, but the snow has been falling steadily since early this morning and is expected to continue all day.  Whenever we get the first snowfall, I always am reminded of one of my favourite poems by Taylor Mali:

Undivided Attention

A grand piano wrapped in quilted pads by movers,tied up with canvas straps—like classical music’sbirthday gift to the criminally insane—is gently nudged without its legsout an eighth‐floor window on 62nd street.
It dangles in April air from the neck of the movers’ crane,
Chopin-­‐shiny black lacquer squares
and dirty white crisscross patterns hanging like the second‐to­‐last
note of a concerto played on the edge of the seat,
the edge of tears, the edge of eight stories up going over—
it’s a piano being pushed out of a window
and lowered down onto a flatbed truck!—and
I’m trying to teach math in the building across the street.
Who can teach when there are such lessons to be learned?
All the greatest common factors are delivered by
long‐necked cranes and flatbed trucks
or come through everything, even air.
Like snow.
See, snow falls for the first time every year, and every year
my students rush to the window
as if snow were more interesting than math,
which, of course, it is.
So please.
Let me teach like a Steinway,
spinning slowly in April air,
so almost-­‐falling, so hinderingly
dangling from the neck of the movers’ crane.
So on the edge of losing everything.
Let me teach like the first snow, falling.


Mali. Taylor. “Undivided Attention.” What Learning Leaves. Newtown, CT: Hanover Press, 2002. Print. (ISBN: 1-­‐887012-­‐17-­‐6)

When I began my work as a curriculum consultant more than ten years ago, most of our professional development took place at the board office or a catering hall.  Teachers would leave their schools, come to a workshop, then return to their schools and be expected to implement whatever strategies had been 'covered' at the session.  As consultants, we were expected to have expertise in our area and to share our expertise with teachers, administrators, trustees and parents.

Since that time there has been a dramatic shift in how we support educators in their professional learning and much of our work is done at the school using a model of collaborative inquiry where the teachers and consultants engage as co-learners in action research based student learning.

This model of collaborative inquiry has pushed consultants and instructional coaches into uncomfortable territory at times.  No longer can we show up with our powerpoint and handouts and our agenda.  Instead, the learning is driven by the observations and analysis of what students are saying and doing and how they are representing their thinking.  There are times when I feel very much like I am 'so almost falling' and on the edge of losing everything, yet it is also exciting and invigorating.  Engaging as a co-learner has allowed us to build relationships in a completely different way.  There is still a time and place for a more directed presentation style workshop, but our work will never be the same, and that's a good thing!

More information on teaching through collaborative inquiry:

Collaborative Inquiry for Educators
    Follow the author on twitter @Jenni_Donohoo


More information on teaching through poetry:




A YouTube video of Taylor Mali reading Undivided Attention:

(outdoors.org)











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