I Did It … I Spoke!

It’s no surprise: I like email. I love to tweet. I adore blogging. I definitely express myself best in writing. Around the middle of the month, I read this thoughtful blog post by one of our Board’s superintendents, Sue Dunlop. She speaks about her own email experiences, and how sometimes face-to-face discussions are better. While I often have phone and face-to-face conversations with parents, I tend to avoid these conversations professionally. I’m a very passionate person, but I also tend to be very emotional. It’s sometimes hard to control these emotions in face-to-face discussions. I like that I can plan out what I’m going to say in an email, and I can take my time formulating a response. Just like students need thinking time, as an adult, I also need it.

Recently though, I decided to do something that’s very “uncomfortable” for me, and I initiated a professional face-to-face discussion. I’ll admit that I tried emailing first. I even considered a blog post. But I couldn’t seem to formulate my ideas well, and I knew that this was something I needed to talk about. This was also a case where it wasn’t good enough to just share thinking on a “general topic” … for my own peace of mind, I needed to dig a little deeper.

And as hard as this was for me, I’m so glad that I had this discussion. Things went way better than I anticipated. I got to hear a different point of view, and now I understand so much more. By thinking ahead about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it, I also managed to keep my emotions in check. This may be a small thing for many people, but it’s a huge thing for me! After talking, I was left with a lot of wonderful things to think about, including the fact that maybe I should have these professional talks a little more often.

Every day, I ask students to take risks. I tell them that a little “struggling” is a good thing. I encourage them to get uncomfortable. I think I need to do the same. I may feel comfortable getting uncomfortable in my teaching practices, but before the year is over, I need to move into more uncomfortable territory in my professional and social interactions. This is going to be hard, but I’m ready! I know how valuable this last conversation was, and now I know that I can do it again. Thanks Sue for the little nudge … even if you didn’t realize that you were giving me one! 🙂

It was back in January that so many of us chose our “one word.” Mine has guided me a lot this year, and I feel as though my definition of it continues to evolve. What impact has your “one word” had on your life so far? As I contemplate my next “uncomfortable” goal, I’d also love to hear your stories.


I’m In The Spot … Maybe The Rest Can Wait For Another Day!

The sun is shining. The birds are singing. It’s a warm and wonderful day in Hamilton, Ontario … maybe one of the nicest ones that we’ve had this year. Despite the perfect weather, I was having a major problem this morning: I couldn’t seem to park in the lines. I could see the lines. I pulled in well, I backed up to straighten my car, and I pulled back in again, but I’m way too far over to the right. I’m almost hugging the line. And when I got out of the car, I realized that there was enough space between the front of my car and the sidewalk for me to almost have a little picnic. 🙂 The photograph below is after three correction attempts, and my eventual acknowledgement that my parking today might be “just good enough.”

My "Best" Attempt For Today

My “Best” Attempt For Today

While I always like a good parking anecdote, I share today’s story for another reason. My ability to park was really challenged this winter. With so much snow and ice, there were months when I couldn’t see the lines, and I had to persevere like never before. By the end of the winter, I truly thought that I might have met my parking goals, and possibly my “Parking IEP” could be reconsidered for next year.

Then today happens, and I’m reminded of something important for me and for my students: the end of the year sometimes exacerbates problems. I think back to my years of teaching students with autism. It was right around now that often behaviour would become more challenging. The weather’s improving. Students (and adults) are starting to think about the summertime. There are already discussions about next year. I know that many of my Grade 1’s are talking about Grade 2 … and while many of these discussions are with excitement, some are with trepidation. Change is scary. For some students, it can cause anxiety. For our neediest students, change is often the most challenging. And so, it’s at this time of the year that problems that weren’t existent for a while may become existent again. These are the students that right now, more than ever, need that calm tone, that routine structure, and that reminder that things really will be okay.

Now is this why I couldn’t park properly today? Maybe not. But as my thoughts were on the day ahead, and as I lacked the focus on pulling into the spot correctly, I struggled. Then each new attempt that brought less success had me struggle more. Eventually, I needed to walk away. Maybe we also need to give our students opportunities to walk away, take a break, and come back again with a clear mind and the desire to try again. Who knows? Maybe I’ll go out at lunch and try parking again, or maybe, I’ll just wait and make tomorrow’s parking better. How do we acknowledge when our students need these same “walk away” opportunities? How do we give these to them? How do we make the coming months calmer for those students that need this the most? I’d love to know what you do!


About More Than The 40 Minutes …

I “facilitate” a Coding Club. It started with close to 50 students in it. Now I have three. Three students that come once a week to code. They don’t need me. These students love to code. They know exactly what they’re doing. They try to teach me something new every week, and usually my head feels like it’s going to explode with all of the new information that I learn. They’re patient though. They show me step by step what to do. They explain why each step is important. And then they provide me with an entry point, so that I can meet with success.

We talk about a lot each week. The student share with me the coding that they’ve done at home. They show me the videos that they’ve made to teach others. They even like to show their work to my Grade 1 students when they come in for lunch. They’re eager to answer questions, and even listen to my Grade 1 students’ coding stories. They’re supportive and kind, and dedicated to this club. These three students really run this club. 

So why do they come each week if they’re not learning anything new? Because for those 40 minutes every week, these students get to do what they love. They also get to connect with each other and with me about something that really matters to them. They get to be the “teacher.” They’re passionate about coding, and learning matters when we get to explore what we love. 


At EdCamp Hamilton a couple of weeks ago, we spoke about Coding Clubs. Many of the people there noticed that our students come to these clubs for the same reasons that I identified above. The same could be true for Dance Clubs, Art Clubs, Choirs, or Bands. It makes me sad though to think that students need to wait for this “once-a-week” to do what they love. Maybe they also get to pursue these passions in a couple of other subject areas (e.g., Visual Arts), but is this enough? I wonder if some students might think differently about school if they got to spend more time sharing their learning in a way that’s meaningful to them. I know that there is more to life than school, but school opens up many possibilities: for now and for the future. If students are inspired and engaged, this is sure to impact on students’ attitude towards school … and attitude matters. How do you encourage students to pursue their passions in the classroom? How might these passions align with different subject areas? What impact do you see this having on student success? I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences!


Learning Through “Talking”

I’m an introvert. I’ve blogged about this many times before, and shared what this means for me as both a person and a teacher. Despite being an introvert though, I learn a lot by talking.

  • Last year, I had many after-school discussions with my vice principal, Kristi. We used to meet in the office after bus duty, and I’d often share what happened during the day. Talking out what worked and what didn’t, allowed me to figure out where I needed to go next. And Kristi’s hard questions never failed to be a catalyst for change … they still are.
  • Last year, I talked to my principal, Paul, a lot. He was rarely in the office, but I used to sit at the little desk outside of his door and wait. While I jokingly suggested that he quickly turn and run away 🙂 , I’m happy to say that he never did. Paul knows that I’m passionate and emotional, and he gave me a chance to be both. He also often helped give me new and different perspectives, and I appreciated this. I think that sometimes we need to know that our voice will be heard, and this was always true with Paul.
  • I talk to my friend, and fellow teacher, Jo-AnnWhile we’ve never taught the same grades at the same times, we’re often grappling with the same questions. We both dove into inquiry at the same time last year, and sharing our experiences, offering suggestions, and trying new things together, benefitted all of our students. Jo-Ann is now an instructional coach in the Board, and while we no longer teach at the same school, we still have this much-needed “talking time” … often over a weekend brunch.
  • I talk to the EAs. We have wonderful educational assistants at our school, and they often offer a different perspective. Meeting with them in the morning before school, chatting over lunch, or even having a discussion together at the end of the day, often results in me ending up with lots of new ideas to think about and try.
  • I talk to my current admin team. Sometimes these discussions are on-the-go, over lunch hour, quickly after school, just before the day begins, or through email, but regardless of how they take place, I’m very appreciative that they do. Gerry and Gord give excellent advice, great feedback, and just like Paul, they offer different perspectives. These are all good things. 
  • I talk to my colleagues. I hear about what they’re doing in the classroom, and I share what I’m doing. We build off of each other’s ideas. Every trip to the staffroom, time in the supply room, or congregation in the hallway, gives me new ideas to consider.
  • I talk to the instructional coach and learning resource teachers. Their experiences are different, so they can usually offer different ideas. Often information they’ve heard at PD sessions or things they’ve read, help me make some good classroom changes. It’s great that we can work together!
  • I talk to my students. I find out about their interests and passions. I hear about their strengths and needs. I listen to their concerns and/or fears. And I try to think of ways to make the learning meaningful for them. Often this means stepping back and giving them more control, while supporting and questioning when needed. This is a “delicate dance,” and I’m still learning the “steps.”
  • I talk to the parents. Sometimes this is with a face-to-face conversation after school. Sometimes it’s a phone call in the evenings or on the weekend. And sometimes it’s through digital means (i.e., tweets, emails, etc.). Parents are not all the same, and their communication preferences vary as well. Hearing their “voices” though is so important. It’s through these discussions that I learn more about their child, and together, we figure out the best way(s) to meet their child’s needs.
  • I tweet and blog. For me, talking doesn’t just have to take place “aloud;” it can take place in writing too. It’s as I share my thinking in my tweets and blog posts, that I make sense of what worked, what didn’t, and where I need to go next. It’s through replies and comments that I also get to learn new ideas or receive questions that make me reconsider my own thoughts. Both are worthwhile.
  • I talk to myself. Sometimes this is on the car ride home or as I sit down to plan for the week ahead. Not only do I type out my plans, but I record them using Explain Everything. Why? Because then I can make sense of where we’re going and what we need to do. I can sketch out an outline by typing it down, but the ideas take shape as I talk them through. Posting them on our class blog, also gives a chance for parents, educators, and administrators to comment, and helps me re-think, re-design, and make my plans better. 

Why do I share this? For me, learning is social. I get better as I talk things through. I improve even more as I listen to what others have to say, and make sense of their ideas for me (and for my students). Talking and listening go hand-in-hand, and I need time for both. How many of our students need this “talking time” as well? How do we give them these “talking opportunities” in all grades? How do we help them improve at listening to the talk shared by their peers (not just the teacher)? I may always be a talker, but as I look to the week ahead, I’m going to try to talk less in the classroom and listen to student talking more. They need this talking time too!


Being Okay With That “Extra Minute”

I learn a lot from my students every day. It was actually a student’s comment at the end of the day yesterday that inspired this blog post. We were running late. All day long, I pay very little attention to the time. I love that our school has no bells — minus those for the nutrition breaks — and since I have my students five out of six periods every day, I rarely even look at the clock. If I’m on duty, I make sure that the students are ready for recess on time, and I try to make sure that they’re organized for when the prep coverage teacher arrives, but other than that, we look at our day as larger blocks of time. We all need time to dive into our learning, and we try to take this time by not working period by period. But then the end of the day comes, and I feel my stress level rise.

The bell rings at 3:10. The hallways are busy, and our class is near one of the exit doors. There is always lots of action near the doors by about 3:08. I know that lining up for too long is problematic for many students, so I try not to give too much extra time to get ready. That being said, we always seem to be running behind. And then, when I realize the bell is going to go any minute, every student seems to have a question, a problem, or a request — it never fails. I know that my patience — that seems to be in big supply all day long — is in short supply at the time when my own stress level is up. Some days are worse than others. Yesterday was one of those days.

It was 3:07, and the students were just collecting the items from our class. Somebody wanted a piece of paper to bring home. Another student couldn’t find exactly what she needed. And about six more students were in line and running out of patience themselves. At that point, I knew we needed to get out into the hallway and get packed up. I told the kids, “We’re late. We’re late. We have to get going. Everything else will need to wait until Monday.” We quickly moved into the hall, and as the students were getting ready quickly, one student was really taking her time. She was folding everything neatly to go into her bag. She was double-checking her locker. I said to her, “Come on. We need to hurry up. We don’t have hours. The bell’s going to ring any second.” That’s when she looked at me and said the words that continue to stick with me: “Oh Miss Dunsiger. It’s not going to take me hours … just a couple of minutes. It will be okay.”

And you know what? She was right. None of my students go on the bus. The school is not going to implode the second the bell goes. Everything will still be fine if we are a minute late. We will not be long, and we will still make it out safely. I’m not going to purposely run late, but I’m going to try to stop panicking. I have an amazing class, with incredible students that make me think, reflect, and change on a daily basis. I love my day at school, and I really am happy all day long. So why should that change in the last second of the day?

When I went home last night, all I could think about was that student that never did get his piece of paper and the student that never did find what she was looking for. This wasn’t their fault. It was mine, and I’m sorry! From now on, time is not going to be the barrier. If I’m less stressed, the students remain calmer, and we all need a little bit of calm in our lives. How do you avoid being pressured by the clock? What impact do you see this having on kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Aviva – Determined To Improve!