My Updated One Word Goal

2015 is quickly coming to an end, and yesterday, I noticed that Faige Meller — a retired educator and important part of my PLN — already selected her one word goal for 2016. This got me thinking about mine. Last year, my goal was to get uncomfortable, and as I indicated in this July reflection post, I spent a lot of time doing just that. In July, I started thinking about a new goal for the upcoming school year based on my change in grade (going back to Kindergarten) and teaching environment (sharing the classroom with a partner). I thought that it was time to focus on listening. Listening is definitely a big topic, and in my July post, I thought of many questions connected to listening for me to consider for the upcoming school year. 

Screenshot 2015-12-28 at 10.45.53

The Listening Questions From My July Blog Post

Sue Dunlop, one of our Board’s superintendents and an important part of my PLN, commented on my last post, and her final question makes me wonder now if maybe she knew something that I didn’t at the time.

Screenshot 2015-12-28 at 10.50.55

There’s definitely a lot that we can focus on when it comes to listening, and I know that I need to work on all of the areas in my questions. By creating such a broad topic though, I really wonder if I’ve improved in any of the areas since September. There are times that I’m a better listener than others, but I still think that I interject too frequently, don’t take the time to truly understand various viewpoints, and forget about the importance of wait time. And so, as a new year approaches, Sue has me looking back at my answer to her question.

Screenshot 2015-12-28 at 10.56.45

My updated word for 2015 is hearing. I’m going to focus on “active listening.” To do this, I need to …

  • focus on the person talking.
  • rephrase what the person says before adding my own thoughts.
  • ask questions instead of just interjecting with opinions.
  • let some things “happen” and see how they go. Then reflect together and see what we can do next.
  • not be the first one to offer an opinion or solution: stand back, watch, wait, and listen.

What other ideas would you add to this list? I hope that others will also share their one word goals for 2016, and their reflections on their 2015 goals. How do you plan on meeting your new goal? I would love to know!


No More Desire To Sit Out — What Changed Phys-Ed?

I’ve worked, and continue to work, with some incredible phys-ed teachers over the years. On the last day of school, I had a discussion with one of them that still has me thinking. I was sitting beside Cindy Merritt at lunch time, when she showed me this incredible card that she received from one of her students.

What I loved about this card was that this student recognized that sometimes phys-ed is tough, but with time and practice, it becomes easier … and it’s worth investing the time. While just one student wrote this card, I think that many others would have shared similar sentiments. Over the past 15 years, I’ve taught every grade from JK-Grade 6 in some capacity, and I’m always impressed with the number of students that love their time in the gym. Some students are really strong athletes, and others are not, but they’re usually all eager to go, willing to try, and don’t look for opportunities to sit out. That says something to me. When I was in school, the opposite was often true.

Yes, there were always strong athletes, but those that struggled (and I was one of them) wanted nothing to do with phys-ed. With my visual spatial difficulties, games like volleyball, basketball, and baseball were a tremendous struggle. I certainly never got picked for a team, and I couldn’t blame anyone. Why would I want to be physically active if I was only going to meet with failure?

Times have changed though. This movement to Teaching Games For Understanding is allowing students to develop the fundamental skills and strategies to meet with success. Teachers like Cindy are showing students the value in being physically active, and as I see in our students, they’re not only eager to get to the gym to learn, but they look for movement opportunities all day long.

When I see this change, I wonder about other subject areas.

  • How do we get all students to embrace the struggle in all subject areas?
  • How could we increase student success in all subject areas?
  • What might the short-term and long-term impact be if students start to see subjects in terms of what they can do versus what they can’t?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions. Who knew that a lunchtime conversation would give me so much to think about?


Getting Comfortable With “Jumping Off Stools!”

In our classroom, we have a beautiful window. It’s quite large and lets in lots of light. The only problem is that it’s up high, and our students aren’t that tall. On Twitter and Instagram, I’ve seen many photographs and videos of “wonder windows,” and the amazing learning that can happen as students look outside. Our students can’t see outside though. When the year started, we didn’t do anything with this window, and then one day at the beginning of November, we noticed students moving chairs over to the window to look outside. What?! Standing on chairs? This must be unsafe. While I initially repeatedly asked students not to climb on the chairs, I then started listening to their conversations. They were talking about their observations. They were making connections. They were asking questions. Learning was happening thanks to this window, and we couldn’t continue to let the height of it stop this learning. As a result, I went to Home Depot and bought two of these stools.

Stools From Home Depot

Stools From Home Depot

Students could now safely look out the window. For about a month, this is what they did. Even recently, they’ve occasionally taken an interest in doing so (e.g., when the bus arrives at the end of the day). But overall, the window now isn’t as popular as it was at first.

In the last couple of weeks, we added a provocation on the window ledge to try and bring students back to the window. Many of our children love to build, so we put some wood pieces on the ledge, in addition to some soft blocks and cars. We thought that if students went up high to build, they might also talk about what they see through the window or this might even inspire their creations … and this worked. Oral language and vocabulary skills continued to develop. But then one day, students did something with the stools that I didn’t expect: they moved them.

Recently, a group of students have started to move the stools into the middle of the carpet, and set up an obstacle course. They’ve added two small step stools into the mix. They usually set up the course similarly, but sometimes they change things around (e.g., the other day, they added in two small foam blocks to stand on first before moving on to the other stools). I’ll admit that at first, I got the students to move the stools back. This wasn’t the purpose of them. This had to be unsafe. But then I started to see the potential in what the students were doing in …

  • developing gross motor skills.
  • measurement and counting skills.
  • learning about the use and safety in different equipment.
  • dramatic/role play (as they often direct each other to jump off the stool acting like various animals).
  • self-regulation.
  • personal and social development (particularly related to responsibility and even collaboration, as students tended to collaborate in order to create the course).

One Example Of This Obstacle Course

Now I’ve decided to keep a closer watch when the students are using the stools in this way, but not say, “no,” to the use.

I share this story because of some other happenings from last week. My partner created a couple of different activities for students — one related to math and one related to language — and left them out one day to see what the children would do. Within a few minutes, all of the materials were dumped, mixed with other ones, and used in various ways: none even remotely related to the intended use. We collected the activities and talked later about them. While we thought that maybe the students weren’t ready for them yet or maybe they needed to be modelled with a small group first, now I’m starting to wonder, is it okay that the items were used in different ways? Do students create uses for items based on what they need and/or are ready for, and will these uses change as skills/abilities change? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t model other uses. Who’s to say though that our intended use is the best option for all students? What do you think? Maybe this is just another case of getting comfortable with letting students “jump off stools.”



Today was our school’s annual Breakfast With Santa. I learned this morning that this is the thirteenth year that the Rotary Club of Ancaster has sponsored this special breakfast including delicious food from Montana’s Restaurant, visiting police officers, and time and presents with Santa Claus. After tweeting out some photographs of the event, I received a wonderful surprise: a lovely tweet from a parent thanking everyone for this experience and other opportunities at school.

This parent’s tweet reminded me of something important: even during this holiday season, where we focus a lot on the giving and receiving of items, we can never underestimate the power in the “sharing” of kind words. Last month, a fellow educator and blogger, Kristi Keery-Bishop, wrote this post called, November Thanks. In it, she spoke about how thankful she was for other educators, and she suggested combating the grey November days with some “thankful teacher tweets.” Even though we’re now in a new month, and one often synonymous with joy, I think we should still continue to say, “thank you.” There are so many people to be grateful for this holiday season — let’s not limit our words of appreciation. 

In the coming weeks, please consider joining me with a #2015MerryThanks: a gift that won’t cost anything, but will spread a little extra holiday happiness. Who’s in? Whom would you like to thank?


The “Other Side” Of The Holidays: What Do You Do?

On Wednesday night, I participated in a wonderful Twitter chat about the holidays. This was The Mehrit Centre‘s second Twitter chat, and it focused on the importance of self-regulation during the holiday season (see the Storify Story below). I was thinking about this chat last night as I attended our staff Christmas party.

I work with amazing people! They’re caring, supportive, and incredibly funny, and as such, while I consider myself more of an introvert, I do enjoy social staff gatherings. When I walked into the restaurant last night though, I knew that self-regulation would be important for me.

  • Almost 50 staff members came, and the room in the restaurant was VERY full.
  • With different tables of conversations, there was a lot of loud background noise.
  • The restaurant was incredibly stuffy and warm. (As somebody that loves cold, fresh air, heat is a huge stressor for me.)

Breathe Aviva! And breathe, I did. While I was somewhat tempted to turn around and leave the restaurant, I didn’t. Instead, I did some thinking. First, I tried to get a table near the door. It turned out that the first few spots were taken, but a couple of people offered to move around, which was so nice. I could then sit, look at the people that I was talking to, and have my back to more of the noise. I could also easily get up and get some fresh air when needed. Plus, in a wonderful turn of events, I ended up next to the gift exchange table, so I could turn and listen to the funny commentary, while also easily selecting my Secret Santa gift (and not needing to push through a group of people to do so). Win/win!

I actually had a terrific time at the party, got to converse with some people I don’t always get to talk to, and gave myself permission to leave early enough that I didn’t feel stressed out when I got up to go. As I was driving home last night, I couldn’t help but reflect on this experience and also think about my students.

This week is the last week of school before the holidays. While our students have taken limited interest in the holidays overall, and in fact, the most festive thing that we have up is documentation from our pumpkin inquiry (one holiday ago), some holiday celebrations will be happening in the coming days. This week, we have our Breakfast With Santa (where students receive a hot breakfast and a present from Santa) and our Holiday Concert (where we’re performing a song with another Kindergarten class). While both of these experiences are wonderful for the children and are sure to make them excited, they can also be stressful.

  • I think about the crowds in the gym.
  • I think about the noise as various classes of students are talking around the room.
  • I think about the numerous smells (especially of the different foods).
  • I think about the space restrictions.

Which students might struggle the most with these holiday celebrations? What might they do to help them feel better (self-regulate)? How can I support them during these more challenging times (co-regulation)? I believe there’s value in preparing students for these changes in routine. Maybe some students that might struggle the most can choose to stay closer to us and/or choose a seat that might make them feel better. Being aware of how much time we spend at these different events might also be helpful. We can always leave as we finish eating, or in the case of the assembly, after we perform or at a break in the action. With two of us in the classroom, we can also have one person that takes back those students that articulate the need to leave, and another person, that stays with those that are excited, and able, to stay longer. Keeping some familiar routines in the classroom can also help, and providing more movement opportunities after stressful times, may also be beneficial. We’ve noticed that our students love the outdoors and often calm down when moving around outside. With another beautiful weather week ahead, maybe we can also spend some additional time outside, especially on these stressful days. How do you address holiday stress in the classroom, and what do you notice by doing so?

Here’s to a safe, happy, healthy, and relatively stress-free holiday season!