Reconsidering Valentine’s Day

Just last week, I was reconsidering the 100th Day of School, and what, if anything, we should be doing in the classroom for this day. Now this week, my mind has shifted to Valentine’s Day. I’m not a fan of celebrating Valentine’s Day at school. I never have been. In fact, I’m not really a fan of the Hallmark holiday itself. Maybe it’s growing up with parents that always believed and articulated the important question of, “Why should we love somebody anymore on one day of the year versus another?” I know that there’s more to Valentine’s Day than this, but I still question celebrating it.

This year is one of those years that I question Valentine’s Day more than ever.

  1. Valentine’s Day celebrations mean a change in classroom routine. They often mean more unstructured time. I have students that would struggle with this, and I want all students to be successful. If we are celebrating Valentine’s Day, how can we address these student needs and create a successful environment for all?
  2. Valentine’s Day is not even on a school day. It’s on a Saturday. So why celebrate it at school?
  3. The Friday before Valentine’s Day (February 13th) is a PA Day for us. The students aren’t at school. Now to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we either need to go back to the 12th or ahead to the 17th (as the Monday is Family Day, and again, no school). 
  4. We’re just beginning a new Phonemic Awareness Intervention Strategy. This is a Grade 1 initiative that aligns with one of our primary division areas of focus. We’re testing this plan out to see how it goes. But if we make February 12th all about Valentine’s Day, does this mean cancelling our groups? Do we want to do so when we’re still in the initial phases of this new system? 

I know that I can link Valentine’s Day to curriculum expectations.

  • There are lots of connections with Learning Skills: from working independently and collaboratively to demonstrating self-regulation (especially on a day that lacks in regular routines).
  • Students can write letters and create cards that also align with the form, spelling, and generating and organizing ideas expectations for Writing.
  • There are tons of books on friendship and love that could align with the decoding and comprehension expectations for Reading and the listening comprehension expectations for Oral Language.
  • There is also a good overlap with our Social Studies expectation on changing responsibilities when circumstances and situations change. With the change in routine on this day, we can look at how responsibilities may change, and what these new responsibilities will be.

But even with these links, is celebrating Valentine’s Day still the best option? I could ask the students what they think, but if they want to celebrate Valentine’s Day, why is that? I noticed that some students got excited about the holiday when they saw that February is almost here. They really wanted a “party.” Do we need a party though? What could be the possible impact on those students that struggle during unstructured time? Am I setting them up for failure? How could I at least scaffold the learning for them?

I’m starting to wonder about addressing the meaning behind “Valentine’s Day.” I know that many of the students still speak about The Kindness Crew from our December learning adventures. Maybe Valentine’s Day at school could be less about a day of celebration, and more about weeks of spreading kindness and making a difference. Maybe the students can think of some ways to do this, and we can use their ideas to jump start a change at the classroom and school level. And it’s as I’m writing this, that I also thought of another idea.

  • What if we created the “Kindness Catchers?”

Every day, two students would be responsible for “catching” kindness in action. Every hour, they would need to take a photograph of “kindness.” Then the next day, they could put these photographs together in PicCollage, iMovie, Explain Everything, or Puppet Pals, and talk about the acts of kindness. Students would be learning how to work collaboratively, addressing multiple Language expectations — including creating media texts (for Media Literacy) — and learning to tell time to the hour (but in a meaningful context).

I think that I’m still going to talk to the class about how they would like to celebrate Valentine’s Day, the reasons behind their decisions, and how we can link the celebrations to the real meaning behind the day. They could even work on organizing a plan (I see some meaningful writing options here), and we could then finalize things and maybe create a Valentine’s Day that’s about more than just a party. What do you think? How do you address these special days? I’d welcome any feedback as I work at becoming less of a Valentine’s Day Grinch. 🙂


“I Don’t Want To Go To School!”

My #oneword for 2015 is uncomfortable, and this blog post is a challenging one to write because it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I’m worried about how the comments might make me feel about my classroom practices, but I also feel like I need to hear these opinions. This is something that matters to me, and it’s something that bothers me a lot: student absences.

As many of you know, I moved schools this year. I actually moved back to teaching at a school not far from one of the first schools that I taught at in the Board, almost 14 years ago. Back then, I always had lots of students away. I taught Kindergarten, and my lowest number of absences was 30. One student was away for almost 100 days. These high numbers of absences weren’t unheard of at this school, and maybe in my first year of teaching, when I often felt like I was just trying to stay afloat, I never took these absences to heart. But I do now. And once again, my daily student absences are very high.

I know that there are many reasons that students are away.

  • Sometimes it’s illness.
  • Sometimes it’s a family emergency.
  • Sometimes it’s for a vacation.
  • Sometimes it’s a bereavement day.
  • Sometimes it’s weather-related.

But sometimes it’s because the child just doesn’t want to come to school, and it’s those times that keep me up at night. It’s those times that give me a lump in my throat and make me swallow back the tears. It’s those times that make me question, what can I do differently?

My problem is that I strongly believe that students should want to come to school. They should love their time there. School should be an exciting place to think, learn, problem solve, and “do.” I really try to work with the students to create this kind of school environment. If students articulate that they’re “bored,” then I listen to them. I try to find out more about what they mean, and what would make a difference for them. And then together, we try to make this difference. I know that I’m not perfect. I make mistakes daily, and I try to learn from these mistakes. But one area that I was confident that I wasn’t making a mistake in was creating an engaging classroom where students would want to be. Listening and observing the students each day make me believe that this is true. Is it true for everyone though? What about those students that aren’t coming?

This is not about all of those times when illnesses or extenuating circumstances keep children at home. It’s about those times when students say that they “just don’t want to come.” Those times happen — way more frequently than I’d like — and it makes me sad. And I want to be able to change things, but I don’t know what to change. I’ve asked these students to try and find out more information, but I’m not getting an explanation. So now I’m blogging in an attempt to look for some help.

This post is not about placing blame. It’s not about me trying to force students to come to school or question why they’re allowed to stay home. It’s about me trying to make positive changes so that they want to come. The bottom line is: I love school. I’m thrilled to get to come and teach every day, and I always have fun in the classroom. My students make me happy. Learning makes me happy. School makes me happy. School brings me joy. How do you help students experience this same joy? How do you respond if they aren’t? I’d love to hear from everybody on this topic! If you have a suggestion, I’ll listen. I know that high levels of absences aren’t uncommon at my school, but if there’s something I can do to change this, I want to make this change. What can I do? What would you do?


Think, And Then, Do!

My nephew goes to school in the States. He’s in Grade 1 right now, and he loves to tell my family, all the time, about his class. One of his favourite sayings to repeat is to, “Think, and then, do.” In the context in which he shares this saying, it’s clear that it’s meant in terms of having students “think first” before “acting” to avoid possible classroom problems. I like to think of this phrase in another context though: give students a chance to “think” and then “do” (or solve problems/find solutions) in their continual effort to learn.

I thought a lot about this saying today as I observed and interacted with students learning. It started this morning, as a group of students were working together on our February Calendar to add important dates. One student looked over at Saturday and said to the students he was working with, “Is this a home day?” When they determined that it was, he went over to the schedule board and grabbed one of the cards. I couldn’t figure out what he was doing, until I saw that he took the word, “home.” That’s when I asked him, “If we’re going to write, ‘home day,’ how could we spell the second word?” He looked up at the days of the week, and with his group members, found the word, “day.” After he wrote, “home day,” on all of the Saturdays, he figured out that he also needed to add these words to all of the Sundays.


This was the same group of students that also figured out that they could take the schedule card off of the board to write in Mrs. Ritter’s name for the days that we have Health. When the year began, the students were constantly looking at me to spell the words and answer the questions. Now they’ve learned how to problem solve on their own and support each other. They are “thinking” and then “doing.”

The calendar provocation resulted in a lot of “thinking” and “doing” today. A small group of students decided to add information to our yearly calendar. It was difficult working in such a small space, and sometimes, the students got mixed up on the dates. I was thrilled when I walked over to the table today, and one student told me this.


She figured out the solution all on her own, and helped correct the errors so that the calendar was accurate. This is another example of “thinking” and “doing” success.

And then came our time this afternoon in the Fitness Room, as students worked together to use their bodies to create structures. We were exploring the concept of stability, and looking at how we could use ourselves to make stable structures, but without leaving the floor (i.e., there was no cheerleading pyramid for today). Students developed plans on how to do this, and their plans met with various degrees of success. I’ll admit that as I listened to their ideas, I already had thoughts of my own for how to modify them, but I resisted the urge to interrupt (at least most of the time 🙂 ), and let them work through the solutions together. Then after experiencing and problem solving their way through various structure options, we made connections to the designs of real structures.

This should say, "make," instead of "mark."

This should say, “make,” instead of “mark.”

“Thinking” and “doing” helped students understand concepts, work through problems together, and create meaning for themselves.

Watching this “thinking” and “doing” in action though, helped create meaning for me.

  • It showed me what students understand.
  • It showed me what strategies they use.
  • It showed me how they interact and collaborate with each other.
  • It showed me how they work independently.
  • It showed me how they problem solve, and the thinking behind their solutions.
  • It showed me what they don’t understand, and what we need to do next.

As educators, we need time to watch our students. We need time to listen to our students. And we need to know what to watch and listen for, so that we can support our students more as we plan ahead. How do you give your students a chance to “think” and “do?” How do you observe and support them during the process? How do you resist the urge to do the thinking for them? I think that “thinking” and “doing” is something that we can support at home and in the classroom, and I’d love to hear more about your “thinking” and “doing” experiences!


Let Me Tell You A Story

Let me tell you a story. It started with the fact that I’m a planner. Yes, I’m constantly changing my plans. Yes, at times I wonder why I bother planning ahead, but I think that I feel better knowing that I have some ideas, even if they constantly change. And so, at the end of last week, when I realized that The Hundredth Day was coming up, I needed to start thinking (and planning).

I shared my questions. I shared my thinking. I shared my plans. And then a wonderful thing happened. My story with my questions and my thinking quickly became “our story.” Comments appeared on the post. Tweets came through. A fellow educator even blogged her thinking. Every thought, every question, and every plan shared, made me reconsider my story. My plans altered, and continue to alter, thanks to your additions.

What may have started off as good became better because of you. This whole experience makes me think of Dean Shareski‘s talk at The HWDSB Principals’ Conference on Thursday. Now I wasn’t at the conference, so my whole understanding of what he shared is through the tweets and blog posts (here and here) that I saw. All of these speak about the power of storytelling. When I blog, I tell a story. When I tweet, I also tell a story (usually numerous short ones 🙂 ). And when people respond with a comment on the post or a tweet in reply, they add to this story. As seen from my 100th Day post, they also make this story better.

Thinking about storytelling, and more so, thinking about that storytelling that happens through social media, makes me wonder about those people that don’t share online. How are their stories told? How do they add to the stories of others? How do they experience the joy of “communal storytelling?” Regardless of your role in education, I’d love to hear the impact that storytelling has had on your “teaching” and “learning” experiences. How do you “tell” stories? How do you let others share theirs? How do you learn from each other? Let’s create a new “story” together!


Getting Uncomfortable … Again!

I love the 100th Day of School! I’ve always loved this day. Teaching junior grades for the past couple of years has meant that I haven’t been able to celebrate this special day that seems to take place in all Kindergarten and Grade 1 classes — and sometimes even some grades past that. Having just finished the 90th day of school, I know that the 100th day is happening very soon (on February 6th), and just the other day, I started to think about our celebration. This is when I got very “uncomfortable.”

Here’s the problem: I started to question why we celebrate this day. I know the connections to math, but practising counting is something that we’ve done all year long. Plus, many of the activity choices that I’ve considered before are not meaningful ones, so the skill development is there, but without the thinking and application. I also have many students in my class that are working on counting to numbers other than 100: either beyond the number because of their understanding of patterning, or less than the number because of other needs.

This thinking got me wondering why do we count down to a day? What are some days that I’ve counted down to before? I couldn’t help but think of Kristi Keery-Bishop‘s tweet from yesterday:


I need to make this learning “real.” And that’s when I thought that the reason that I usually count down to a day is to “celebrate.” But in this case, celebrate what? We could have a party to celebrate the number 100, and then play games and do activities as part of this celebration, but how will this celebration help me meet multiple student needs? How will this celebration incorporate Language and Math, while also providing “voice” and “choice” that I believe are so important? And how will this celebration get my students thinking — really thinking — and solving problems along the way? How will I also provide an authentic audience and “real reason” for their work? 

That’s when it came to me. We can celebrate our 100 Days of Learning, by having students create something to show what they’ve learned in these 100 days of school. They don’t have to share everything they’ve learned. They need to pick something, in any subject area that interests them. There also needs to be a Language and a Math component (especially number sense) that ties into what they make. This number sense component can vary depending on students and their needs. For those children that need additional practice of skills, I can continue to work with them on this day … and on other days too. So it’s with all of this in mind, that I began to create this 100 Days of Learning Innovation Day/Maker-Ed Challenge. Here’s my thinking in my Explain Everything Screencast that I made early this morning.


I just realized that the 100th Day of School is also a Friday, which means that it’s Family Fridays. Parents are invited in to join us at the end of the day to learn along with us. On this Friday, parents can be the audience for our work. They can ask us questions about our learning and celebrate in what we share. Students can also go around and see what their peers made, and hear more of the thinking behind what they created.

Reconsidering the 100th day has been hard for me, but the more that I think aloud, the more that I believe that it’s what’s right for my class. How do you celebrate the 100th day of school? How do you make this learning meaningful? Why do you make these choices? I’d love to hear more about your thinking, as I further contemplate a very different plan than I’ve ever had before.