Looking Back At My “One Word” And Looking Forward To A New “One!”

Yesterday, I caught Sue Dunlop‘s tweeted challenge in response to Donna’s Fry‘s recent blog post.

2015-07-25_10-57-17I knew that I needed to update my “one word” post, as so much of what I’ve done this year has revolved around this word: being uncomfortable. I just did a search on my professional blog for the word “uncomfortable,” and since writing my blog post on December 31st, I have three pages of blog posts all connected to this single word. Looking back at these blog posts, I realized that I’ve been uncomfortable …

  • in my classroom practices.
  • in my reflections and goal-setting.
  • in my interactions with colleagues.
  • in many different choices that I made this year.

Maybe my biggest “uncomfortable” challenge is what I have in store for next year: teaching Senior Kindergarten. It’s not about the grade choice. I’ve taught this grade many times before, and absolutely loved it. But the challenges are,

  • teaching this grade with a new Program Document than we had before. I say that I’ve taught Kindergarten for eight years before, and I have, but never with this new document. While I sat on an advisory committee for the document, and I’ve read it many times before and know the thinking behind it, I haven’t experienced this thinking in practice with four- and five-year-olds. Six years ago, I left Kindergarten because I didn’t agree with the philosophy behind the Full-Day Kindergarten Program. My thinking has changed since then, but as September comes closer, I’m getting scared. What if everything I believe in theory, doesn’t work in practice? How can I stay true to the document, while also addressing the diverse needs of our learners?
  • teaching this grade in a school with many different student needsLast year, I started teaching at a different school. It’s an incredible school with a very diverse student population. Poverty remains an issue down in the area where I teach. For many students, English is also their second language, and this may be the first year that some of our Kindergarten students are learning English. I keep thinking back to a comment that a previous Early Years Consultant made at the time when I last taught Kindergarten: “We don’t withdraw students for support in Kindergarten because the Kindergarten classroom is the ideal place for English Language Learners. There is so much of the oral language that they need.” I understand and agree with this statement. I’m a big believer that all students can learn, and with the right supports in place, can meet with success. What if I’m wrong? If the students don’t make enough academic gains, will people start questioning the Kindergarten program? Will I? How long do we wait for growth to occur before making changes to approaches?
  • sharing a classroom with somebody else. My partner for next year is fantastic, and we’ve already had so many great conversations on classroom set-up, programming, and pedagogy, but for 14 years, I’ve been used to largely planning alone. Now the “I” is becoming “we,” and this is both exciting and scary. How do we continue to develop this strong partnership? If/when disagreements occur, how might we go about solving them? What have others done before?

All of these challenges, while connected to being uncomfortable, are making me think that it might be time to update my “one word.” I know that this was a year-long challenge, but in teaching, the new year starts in September, and I wonder if this is when my word also needs to change. I really think that success for this upcoming year is going to come down to listening. I’d like to think that I’m a good listener. I do watch and listen to people often, but …

  • how often do I “listen” with what I think the answer is already in my head?
  • how often do I “listen” just for the purpose of responding?
  • how often do I “listen” just to give myself time to think about what I want to say next?
  • how often do I “listen” and interject prematurely?
  • how often do I “listen” and nod along, but not really “hear” anything at all?
  • how often do I “listen,” comment, and question, but forget about the wait-time that students and adults may need?

If I can become a better listener, I’ll be able to find out,

  • what students know.
  • what students want to learn about.
  • what students struggle with, and how I might be able to help.
  • how students communicate (with me and with each other) regardless of the language that they’re using at the time.
  • how students solve problems, and what they do if/when they can’t solve them.
  • what my teaching partner thinks and believes.
  • issues/concerns that my teaching partner may have, and how she would like to solve them.

From listening comes next steps, growth, and learning … for both children and adults. As the new school year approaches, I’m going to “get uncomfortable” again as I focus on how to become a better listener for myself, my teaching partner, and my students. What impact has your “one word” had on your practices this year? Will you continue with your current word until the end of December, or will September bring a shift for you? Why? I’d love to hear your response to this updated one word challenge!


Can There Be Many Ways?

Last week, I got involved in a Twitter conversation with David Benay, Stephen Hurley, Andrew Campbell, and Brian Aspinall. The conversation started because of some tweets shared from the Self-Regulation Symposium (#selfreg2015), but as you can see in my Storify Story, it definitely evolved from there.

While reading the comments from David, Stephen, Andrew, and Brian, I came to a conclusion that started to make me feel very uncomfortablemaybe I’ve been looking at the Learning Skills all wrong. Since Friday morning, I’ve been thinking back to comments and marks that I’ve put on the report cards for Learning Skills, and wishing that I could have a “do over.” Why? Because when I’ve evaluated Learning Skills, I think that my definition of success is too narrow, when students might actually be meeting these expectations in many different ways. 

Let me think back …

  • If students need to move around or fidget with objects in order to participate in group discussions, are they still self-regulating?
  • If class discussions are too much for students to handle, and they can recognize this in themselves and come up with alternative options for these times, what mark do they deserve for self-regulation?
  • If students can quietly engage with their peers while working independently, how do I perceive their independent work?
  • If large groups overwhelm students, but they can collaborate well in groups of two or three, what “value” do I give to collaboration?
  • If organizing paper is too much for students, but they can organize their ideas and assignments on a tablet or computer, are they getting evaluated lower on organizational skills? Am I giving students opportunities to choose the way in which to organize their work, or am I enforcing a system that may not work for everyone? Am I being hypocritical knowing that the traditional systems of organization do not work for me?
  • If I’m asking students to take responsibility and show initiative in the classroom, what opportunities am I giving them to do so? If they take initiative, but extend learning in a way that I don’t want, are their marks reflecting this? Is this fair?

I wish that I thought of these questions before now, because maybe then, I would have done things differently than I did in the past. While I’d like to think that I always look for ways to meet individual student needs, I don’t know that I always consider these different needs when it comes to Learning Skills. I am now going to change!

Educational Twitter chats and numerous blog posts talk about the need to change the classroom learning environment. There are lots of discussions on Project-Based Learning, Inquiry, and Game-Based Learning. While we talk about the impact that these approaches have on academic learning, what impact do they have on Learning Skills? How might changing viewpoints on Learning Skills change the classroom and school environment? Are we ready for this change? Before, the marks for Learning Skills never really bothered me as much as the grades in subject areas. Now I question more what these different levels may look like, and if marking Learning Skills is just perpetuating a system where there is one view of success. What do you think?


Not Just For Kindergarten

About 1 1/2 years ago, I got involved in a fabulous Book Club through our Board. We discussed Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning. Reading, thinking, and talking about this book, changed my understanding of self-regulation and many of my classroom practices.

  • I reconsidered bulletin board colours and visual displays in the classroom.
  • I tried to speak in a softer tone.
  • I became more aware of when students were “up regulated” and how to help them “down regulate.” Students also started taking more ownership over this “down regulating.”
  • As a class, we worked on creating more zones in the classroom. We ensured that there were “quiet areas” for when students needed them.
  • I thought of music in a different way, and realized the value that it could have for many students. 
  • After many years of report card comments to the contrary, I finally came to understand that self-regulation was about more than sitting quietly and raising your hand to share ideas

I share all of this now because when I read Shanker’s book, I was teaching Grade 5. The Book Club was advertised as a Full-Day Kindergarten and Early Learning Book Club. Everyone was welcome, but self-regulation was a focus in the Early Years, so this was the target audience. I hate to admit it now, but the only reason that I even signed up for the Book Club was because I really wanted to move from teaching a junior class to teaching a primary one the following year, and I thought that this Book Club would show that I was dedicated to learning more about a topic that mattered in primary. What I quickly came to learn though was that self-regulation isn’t just for kindergarten.

Let’s think about what happens as children grow up.

  • Friendships become more challenging.
  • Students often start to feel more stressed (for various reasons).
  • Puberty often complicates emotional reactions to problems.
  • Relationships start … and they often impact on the classroom environment if we want them to or not.
  • Learning needs become more prevalent. As gaps widen, student frustration often increases. 

And each of these issues, and many more, make it that much more complicated for students to regulate (or control) their behaviour. As teachers, we also expect that as students get older, they know the classroom and school expectations even better, and should be able to follow them with few, if any, reminders. So what do we do when there is drama, tears, outbursts, and/or interruptions in class (regardless of the age of our students)? Would our reactions vary if our knowledge of self-regulation was different? 

I think of this more now because there is currently a Self-Regulation Symposium happening in Peterborough. I was reading some of the tweets later this afternoon, and I saw this one by Cathern Lethbridge: a principal in Midland, Ontario.


I am thrilled to hear this, but I also wonder, how many people and school boards are at this Symposium to hear this message? How can we get this message out to those not there? My tweet below sums up my thoughts.


If I hadn’t chosen to join the Book Club back when I did, I would still see self-regulation as an “FDK topic.” I wonder about the impact of this, for if students don’t learn to self-regulate well, how do they really learn? What do you think?


The Bathroom As A Learning Space … And Other Things Learned By The Power Of Observation

Earlier this week, I read a fantastic blog post by a fellow Kindergarten teacher, Anamaria Ralph. In her post, she discusses the flow of the day, with some very detailed explanations behind the different components. Anamaria references a resource, Working In The Reggio Way, that asks important questions to help with determining the daily routine.

2015-07-12_13-06-24I decided to make Wurm’s book my first professional read of the summer, and I’m so glad that I did. This book has made me do a lot of thinking and develop many talking points to explore with my partner before September.

When I look back over the notes that I made and the questions that I asked, one important word came to mind: observation. Before worrying about what we say or do, we need to sit back, watch, and listen. I used to think that I did both, but now I’m not so sure. 

  • I watched students, but did I already assume how they would behave, and were my opinions clouded by my assumptions?
  • I listened to students, but did I only listen with a single expectation in mind? Did I listen closely to everything else that they shared — or didn’t share — and did I use this information to think ahead for programming options?

My first a-ha moment came when the author discussed the use of a bathroom as a learning space. She mentioned ideas that I had never really thought about before, but made so much sense. The classroom teachers in this Reggio environment even developed their own professional inquiry based on the use of this bathroom space. Amazing! How did they get to this point? They watched and listened to students. They saw the social interaction that happens in a washroom, and they decided to re-think the possible use of this space. (Now our classroom bathroom is just one small room with a toilet and a sink, so what these teachers did may not work for us, but I still can’t help but wonder what may.) The quality observation that happened in this case, and in so many other cases in the book, made me think about the time needed to observe. 

I am left wondering …

  • How much time is spent watching children versus how much time is spent talking and working with children?
  • How many children were in these classrooms? Do numbers play a role in how we observe and what we observe?
  • With a large number of students that have English as their second language, how can we scaffold the language for them and still spend the quality time watching their interactions?
  • When do we act on our observations? Wurm’s book discusses the importance of “wait time” and wait time that is much longer than what we may be accustomed to (stretching on for even days, weeks, or months at a time). With this wait time in mind, how do we know when to act and when to just continue observing?

Wurm really emphasizes the importance of small changes. She thinks it’s valuable to make one or two changes, observe what happens, and make other changes based on these observations. This will be hard for me. I’m comfortable with change, and I tend to make changes regularly and quickly. I’m going to need to slow down. But how slow do we go? In a school and Board environment where “meeting benchmarks” is important, how do we take the time needed to make positive changes, while still helping our students get to where they need (or maybe it’s where we want them) to be? I think that this summer read will lead to many interesting conversations in the coming months. I’d love to hear more about your thoughts and experiences as I continue to consider the Reggio way.



Learning To Love “Free Time”

Yesterday, I walked a group of campers to a martial arts lesson. We arrived a bit early, so the instructor told the children that they could have some “free time.” What?! All I saw was a big open area and lots of items to kick or hit. Someone was going to get hurt. Nobody did though.

Slowly the children started to get into groups.

  • They played tag.
  • They chased each other around the room.
  • They practiced some of their stretches.
  • They punched and kicked the swinging punching bags.
  • They used the row of punching bags almost like a maze, and they weaved themselves in and out of them as the bags slowly swung back and forth: careful not to get hit.
  • They skipped.

It was amazing to watch the children.

  • How did they interact with each other?
  • Who led and who followed?
  • How did they include other students in their games?
  • What risks did they take, and how did they do so safely?
  • How did they add structure to an unstructured environment?
  • How did they create their own fun?

I remember summertime when I was a kid. Usually my sister and I went to camp for a week or two, and then we were at home with my mom. Our days were not highly scheduled.

  • We read books.
  • We played inside (we did love playing school and house) and outside (tag and hide-and-seek were always favourite games).
  • We ran through the sprinkler.
  • We rode our bikes.
  • We went on walks … and even took our dolls with us in their little strollers. 
  • We connected with friends and had fun with family members.
Some Of My "Free Time" As A Child

Some Of My “Free Time” As A Child

In our own ways, we learned how to enjoy unstructured time and get past the “bored” and to the “fun” (even without electronics). I wonder how we give children more opportunities — at home and at school — to work through the “free time” and learn from the experience. Maybe, despite what I initially thought, “free time” isn’t so scary after all. What do you think?