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Learning curves for everyone

29 Mar

Tomorrow, we are supposed to get details about remote learning from the school district. My principal has warned us that it will have a lot of information. She asked us to look it over, but to not let it overwhelm us. We are having a staff meeting via Zoom on Tuesday to clarify things.

I’ve gotten by with a Google website for many years. We have had other options presented to us, including Google Classroom and Canvas, but I am a simple person and my website has served me, and my students well enough. Knowing that things are about to change radically, I’ve been thinking a lot about how best to present whatever it is I am going to present. I decided to test the waters and dip my toe into Canvas.

I logged into the account I have had for two years, but have never used. I figured the easiest thing to test out would be a reading/writing project I had assigned before we left for Outdoor School. Students already had the details and it wasn’t due yet, so it would be a good test subject. I wrote and uploaded and pressed publish. From my point of view, everything was pretty straightforward and easy. But did it work?

I thought about the two Humanities classes I teach, wondering who I might email and ask to check their Canvas account. I don’t even know if all students use Canvas, although I think most of their Encore teachers use it for their classes.

And then, an opportunity appeared.

It came in the form of this fun email from a student.

Screen Shot 2020-03-28 at 1.08.45 PM

I emailed her back right away, offering suggestions, asking and answering her questions and providing some links to good resources. And, I asked her if she uses Canvas and could she take a look at her Canvas account and tell me if it worked. I confessed to her that this was my first time using Canvas. It seems we are both on a learning curve.


14 Mar

Five chinchillas
Short-haired chinchillas
Chillin’ with the lights out
Chillin’ with the lights out
Chillin’ with the lights out
Chillin’ with the lights out

We were at campfire Wednesday night and the kids were singing their hearts out. Just as we made it to 2 chinchillas, the phone in my back pocket rang.

Who would call me here, now? I wondered as I fumbled to retrieve it and turn off the ringer. When I saw the caller was my principal, I knew I had to take the call.

“Hey, Adrienne. Are there kids around?” she asked.

“We are at campfire,” I replied. “Can you hear them? Give me a moment to walk away.”

And that’s when she broke the bad news. They were sending buses to pick us up the next morning. Outdoor School (ODS) was being cancelled because Oregon was limiting extra-curricular activities  to protect people from COVID-19. And ODS was on that list.

Her final admonition to me was tough. “Don’t tell the other teachers until you get a text from me.”

So, I had to sit through the rest of campfire, holding this sad news in my mind and heart. As soon as it was over and we were walking back to our cabin, I turned to my two teaching partners and blurted, “Veronica called. I have to tell you something.”

There was no way I couldn’t tell them. Back in our cabin we ranted and vented. Maybe we ate more snacks than we should have. We all wished we had some adult beverages. After talking it out we went to to bed, only to be awakened an hour later by camp staff knocking on our door. They had just found out.

The next morning, after breakfast, we told the kids. Their gasp was audible. We spent the remainder of the morning giving the kids the best last few hours of Outdoor School ever.


Tech Queen of the Day

4 Mar

“Who feels as though they’d be a good resource for others?” I asked the class yesterday. A number of students raised their hands.

“You know I am the least tech-savvy person in the room so look around. Ask all of these people before you come to me for help,” I told them, laughing at my own ignorance.

Last week the class turned in the Teen Activism books. This week they are reformatting their work into a website. Not my forte.

And yet, today, I solved several students’ dilemmas.

Scenario 1

Student: Ms. Gillespie, I can’t get my pictures into my website.

Me: Remember, you have to download them into a file before you can add them.

Scenario 2

Student: Ms. Gillespie, I saved my website yesterday, but can’t find it today.

Me: Click here on “New Sites”.

Scenario 3

Student: Ms. Gillespie, I can’t create a new page.

Me (poking screen a few times): There you go.


Maybe I know a little more than I think I do.



25 Feb

Way back in October, in a desperate attempt to spruce up my room for Fall Conferences, I bought three potted chrysanthemums. The flowers they bore were a lovely autumnal mix of yellow red and orange and they really gave the classroom a homey feel. I liked them so much that, when conferences were over, I brought home and replanted them in the containers on my front stoop. I expected them to be gone by now

Although it is still Late Winter, Spring conferences happen at the end of this week.   I have been looking at the chrysanthemums that are still in those containers on my front stoop. They are looking a little raggedy.


It is hard to believe that we are almost two-thirds of the way through the school year, but it is a good time for this next round of conferences because the sixth graders are a bit raggedy, too. They are tired. They have discovered their social lives. I am not as interesting as I used to be. Maybe I am a bit raggedy, too.

I’d been thinking about pulling out the chrysanthemums and planting something more alive. But if you lean in a little closer, your heart will stir.

Little leaves are spouting on the old growth. And a tiny flower will soon bloom close to the soil. Instead of pulling them up, I think I might prune away the dead and dying bits so the new growth has room to grow.

I guess that is a bit what Spring conferences are about – pruning away what is in the way so students can bloom.

Where my brain went

4 Feb

Sometimes, I worry.

So last week, when I checked my email before school and say a message from a parent that simply said,


My husband and I would like to meet with you.  Do you have time on Friday, January 31, 2020 at 4:30?

I worried.

Had I done something wrong? Had I said something wrong?

The day before we had begin a discussion of Hammurabi’s code by talking about justice and fairness. My classroom read aloud is Kate Messner’s Breakout and we had tied Hammurabi in to some of the problems with the criminal justice system she talks about in the book. Had I shown my liberal bias and upset a conservative family?

I sent an email back suggesting an alternative time and ended simply with

Could I as what you would like to meet about. I like to come to parent meetings with the information I need, whether that is grades, curricula, etc.

I worried as I drove to school. I asked the Math teacher if he’d received an email from the family. He had not. The Science teacher wasn’t in yet. I stewed and set off in search of an administrator. If I had done something wrong, I wanted an admin present.

I found the VP who is my direct supervisor and we had a great discussion about race. The night before, he attended a district sponsored conversation about race and found it so powerful that he was hoping to get the recording and share it with staff.

I felt a little better and set about getting ready for the day. I checked my email and I’d heard back from Mom. My new time suggestion worked for them – and they wanted to talk about grades.

Somehow, with all the hullabaloo in my brain, I’d forgotten that report cards had been sent home. Until this year, middle and high school report cards were mailed from Central Office. It took almost two weeks from the time I posted my grades until families received their copy in the mail.  This was the first time they were sent electronically, so I had no idea families had received them.

I relaxed.

When the family came we had a wonderful conversation. Their child was actually doing fine in my class and I had a few suggestions on what to do better. There were a lot of laughs, too.

I don’t know why my brain always goes to the worst case scenario. I am going to file this experience away and hope that, the next time a cryptic email comes from a parent, I give myself some credit for being a good professional.


My Life in Books 2019

24 Dec
I got this from Deb Nance at Readerbuzz.
Using only books that you have read this year, complete these sentences:
  1. In high school I was a—  One-Third Nerdand it was Operatic.
  2. People might be surprised by— How It Feels to Float.
  3. I will never be— Shouting at the Rain or The Lost Girl.
  4. My fantasy job is—   Queen of the Sea.
  5. At the end of a long day I need—  The Bridge Home.
  6. I hate—  The Sound of Things Falling.
  7. Wish I had—  Infinite Hope.
  8. My family reunions are—  A Place to Belong.
  9. At a party you’d find me with—  The Innocents and  away from the The Poison Eaters.
  10. I’ve never been to—  The Fountains of Silence nor Torpedoed.
  11. A happy day includes—  Stargazing and Best Friends.
  12. Mottos I live by:  Look Both Ways and Feed Your Mind.
  13. On my bucket list is —  The Ice at The End of the World
  14. In my next life, I want to have—This Golden Fleece.

Without any reservations

12 Nov

Just after 8 on Thursday morning, the phone in my room rang. At that hour, I assumed it was another teacher in my building, but as I picked up the receiver, I did not recognize the name displayed.

“This is Adrienne,” I said, curious about the mystery person on the other end.

“Hi, Adrienne, I’m K, the VP at XXXXX Middle School. So-and-So applied for a job in our library and listed you as a reference. What can you tell me about her?”

I don’t get this sort of call often, but I was more than happy to talk about So-and-So. We had worked together in the library and had just clicked.

The year before had been hard. The library assistant job had been eliminated and I had relied on a small group of volunteers, some more reliable and competent than others. The next year, the position had been restored and I spent part of the week before school started interviewing potential library assistants. When it was all over, So-and-so had been my first choice. It had been a good choice.

When my library position was eliminated, she had been expected to run the library on her own. She ended up resigning a few weeks into the school year. She was being asked to do a job she hadn’t signed up for, or been trained to do.

We kept in touch and now, almost seven years later, I had the opportunity to help her out. I gave her a glowing recommendation – all of it true. I had no reservations, not one single doubt, that she wold be perfect for the job.

I have yet to hear if she got the job or not, but I sure hope she will.


Randy Ribay

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