Taking The Time To Reflect

This morning, I started off my day as I always do, by reading Doug Peterson‘s most recent blog post. His post today talks about reflections, and taking some time, as educators, to reflect on what we did to make things better for students. At an emotional time of the year, when students are getting both excited and/or anxious for summer break, and both my teaching partner and I are working on packing up our classroom and moving to new schools, it’s nice to focus on the positive. As suggested by Doug, here is my list of 10 things that I did to make things better for kids.

  1. I listened to the students. When I say that I listened to them, I didn’t just listen to what they said, but I listened to what they did. I realized that their actions were telling us what they needed, but also what they didn’t need. It was due to the students that my teaching partner and I re-examined our classroom schedule and re-looked at the need for full group instruction and what that would look like. Carpet time no long exists as it used to, and we’re all better for it!
  2. I listened to my teaching partner, and I relied on her expertise. For years, I’ve been used to teaching on my own. While I’ve been part of large grade teams, I’ve never shared the classroom with somebody else before. It was a learning curve for me to move from making my own decisions to collaborating with somebody else to make decisions. My teaching partner, Nayer, comes with incredible experiences and a wealth of knowledge, and listening to her helped me see many things differently. I think that the students and I both benefited from Nayer’s suggestions, as her ideas helped us meet children where they’re at.
  3. I admitted when I needed help. This is my fifteenth year teaching. It’s my ninth year teaching Kindergarten. I’ve taught at six different schools during this time, and I’ve had a number of different experiences that made me think that I knew what I needed to know in order to be successful in the classroom. This year though, I realized what I didn’t know, and when I needed to ask for help — whether from my teaching partner, from administrators, from our instructional coach, from our Learning Resource teacher, from parents, from fellow educators, and from consultants — in order to help with planning and program delivery. This was a good reminder for me that we can always learn more, that we don’t need to work in isolation, and that when we ask for help (and really listen and respond to it), our children benefit!
  4. I learned to “let it go!” As I’ve mentioned in blog posts before, sometimes we need to decide what really matters. I have learned, and continue to learn, not to sweat the small stuff … and maybe a lot more is small stuff than we think. By giving students more control and not intervening on everything right away, our children have not only learned how to solve more of their own problems, but some richer, deeper learning has happened as a result. Maybe we just need to give kids more opportunities to be creative!
  5. I took the Foundations Courses through The MEHRIT CentreThese Foundations courses gave me a better understanding of self-regulation, and as a result, I now view students and behaviour differently. My final project allowed me to reflect more on Self-Reg in a classroom context — both in terms of my own needs and student needs — and I think about these reflections a lot as I contemplate how to respond to children and why they might be making the choices that they’re making. 
  6. I stopped worrying about benchmarks. This was a hard one for me. I’m a numbers person, I know curriculum, and I enjoy analyzing data. My goal has always been to have my students meet or exceed benchmarks. I still care about student growth and success, but I realized that when I became focused on benchmarks, I sometimes stopped focusing on students. Now I spend the time really getting to know our students. What interests them? What motivates them? What scares them? What do they need to move forward? Connecting with kids, matters, and this year, I’ve spent more time making these connections.
  7. I took the time to focus on social skills, including self-regulation, before academics. This was a challenge for me, for many of the same reasons that I mentioned in point #6 above. I realized though that for children to meet academic expectations, they need to be calm and ready to learn. I went public with my scary plan, and with the help of my teaching partner, I’ve stuck to this plan. We’ve definitely noticed that many children have become ready to learn because they’ve developed these other skills. 
  8. I laugh lots! Laughter’s contagious, and there’s something so wonderful about being in an environment full of laughter. I love that our students make us laugh, that we make each other laugh, and that you can almost always hear laughter — including fits of giggles — in the classroom. On even the most challenging of days, I think it’s good for all of us — educators and students included — to be able to share a big smile and a good laugh!
  9. I (We) created big blocks of learning time. This is not a decision that I made alone, but instead, with my teaching partner. We realized how difficult transitions are for our students, and that learning becomes richer and deeper, when children have longer blocks of time to learn. We re-looked at our schedule, and figured out ways to reduce transitions and create a more fluid movement between indoor and outdoor learning … and learning in our classroom and in other areas of the school. The children are so much calmer as a result.
  10. I connected with parents. I’m a big believer in the benefits of parent engagement. I also think that all parents want to help their children — sometimes it’s just a matter of showing what’s possible and creating those positive home/school connectionsFrom phone conversations, to face-to-face discussions, to classroom visits, to a nightly blog post and email, my teaching partner and I have come up with different ways to connect with parents, and we see that the learning that’s happening at school is being extended at home. Relationships matter!

As I look back over this list, I realize that it’s been a great year of learning — for me and for our students. I hope that I’m not alone in taking Doug’s challengeWhat’s your Top 10 list? Hopefully educators, administrators, and parents will take the time to reflect, for all of us really do try to make things better for kids!


What If Every Space Was A Maker Space?

I just finished watching Yumi Lee’s amazing TED Talk on “being a maker.” Unlike many other TED Talks, this one is done by an elementary school student, that shared the stage on that same day with educators, administrators, and numerous other professionals. She has a powerful voice with an important message. 

This weekend, I’m organizing our full school Maker Day for June 28th. While I stand behind the Maker Movement, I have to wonder if we really need Maker Spaces, or instead, classrooms that embrace the Maker philosophy. 

Last month, I attended EdCamp Mississauga (#edcamp905), and I participated in a session on Maker Spaces. I listened to and saw examples of many incredible things that are happening in classrooms across the 905 area code, but I believe in the words that I shared on that day: a play-based Kindergarten program is a classroom Maker Space. 

  • We don’t need a separate Maker Space area.
  • We don’t necessarily need technology. (In fact, on our Maker Day on Tuesday, all classroom iPads will have been returned for the summer, and all of our Maker stations are low-tech ones.)
  • We don’t need “making” to exist outside of the curriculum.

Instead, I think that we need to develop a Maker culture in classrooms. We need to encourage thinking, problem solving, creating, and a real world application of learning. I think about the examples that Yumi shared in her TED Talk: from the baking she did as a three-year-old to her drawing blog to the songs and drama created in the shows with her parents and siblings to the creation of her current business — Yumi’s DozenThen I think about what happens in our Kindergarten classroom every day thanks to the benefits of play.

  • We have baking and cooking.
  • We have building and creating.
  • We have drawing, painting, cutting, and gluing: creative work that all looks different and is driven by student interests and desires.
  • We have dancing and song writing.
  • We have puppet plays and dance shows. 
  • And we have students that ensure that all of this work is captured — in photographs and videos — and shared on our class blog, so that they have a real audience for their work.

During these regular, every day making times, we teach. 

  • We work with individuals and small groups.
  • We run mini-lessons.
  • We provide direct instruction. 

Thinking about what Yumi said as she discusses the creation of her business and her various Maker experiences, I realize how many curriculum connections there are to making.

  • Math – Number Sense, Measurement, and Data Management
  • Language – Reading, Writing, Oral Language, and Media Literacy
  • Science – The Safe Use Of Tools, Matter and Materials, and Scientific Inquiry
  • The Arts: Music, Drama, Dance, and Visual Arts
  • Social Skills and Learning Skills

Maybe it’s the Maker Days that get this movement started in schools, but I have to wonder if “making” should be confined to a space or a day. If we see the value in this learning — at making curriculum expectations so much more meaningful than a checklist of what we’ve accomplished — then maybe all grades (at least to some extent) can become these Maker Spaces that are so prevalent in play-based Kindergarten classrooms across our province. Yumi has amazing parents that encouraged this creativity at home. What if we could provide it at school? Would all students have the confidence to live by Yumi’s mantra: “Be weird. Be different. Be awesome like me.”? Imagine what this could mean for content delivery and application of learning. So many incredible possibilities …


Grateful For Dr. Davey School

Today was my last assembly at Dr. Davey School. As I sat there watching our students and listening to our principal address the group, it really hit me that I’m leaving. While I’m excited about another new learning opportunity, I’m also sad to go. I will forever be grateful for …

an energetic, thoughtful, and caring staff that always finds ways to enjoy their time with each other and with the students.

incredible children that constantly make me think and laugh, while also challenging me to take risks and become a better “me.”

an amazing teaching partner that is always there to support me and the students, while also taking risks, having fun, and showing the value in sometimes channelling our inner child. 

a terrific principal and vice principal that support me in countless ways: always making the time no matter how busy they may be.

awesome parents that trust us with their children every day, work with us to meet their needs, and connect with us in so many ways: from face-to-face discussions to classroom experiences to online conversations.

A special “thank you” to this parent that let me share this tweet with you.

I was once told that “Dr. Davey is a special place.” It’s true. It is. I can’t find the words to describe the love, the support, and the energy that makes its way through the building, but I’m glad that I had the chance to experience it. 

As the school year comes to an end, what are you thinking? What have you learnt from this year? Here’s to savouring the memories while also making new ones in our remaining days together!


Are there times when it’s okay to “give in?”

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about the idea of “giving in.” For almost all of my teaching career, I thought that we shouldn’t give in.

  • “Ignore the tears.”
  • “Walk away from the tantrum.”
  • Don’t let the yelling work.”

It was always my thinking that if we “gave in,” we were giving children permission to act in these ways. We were saying to them that these options were the preferred ways to respond. While I can see how this thinking could make sense, I’m now finishing the Foundations Courses through The MEHRIT Centre, and I’m starting to view things differently.

  • What if the tears, tantrums, and yelling, are the results of extreme stress?
  • What if these reactions are a “fight” response?

Should we be asking ourselves “why this child” and “why now,” when the tears, tantrums, and yelling happen, so that we can figure out the underlying causes? Is this when our children need us the most? Is this when they need the hug or the listening ear instead of the walking away? 

As the school year comes to an end, and the stress increases — for adults and for children — I think about the behaviour that we might see in our classrooms and around the school. I think about how I’ve responded for years — from walking away to being firm — and I now I wonder if the children’s actions are not “cries for attention,” but “cries of stress” and “cries for help.” How could we support our students when they might need us the most? Are there times when it’s okay to “give in?” I would love to hear your thoughts about this, as I continue to reconsider “giving in.”


My Sister Is Gifted

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post after being inspired by Royan Lee‘s recent TED Talk.

Royan commented on my last post, and it’s his comment that’s actually inspired what I’m writing today.

Screenshot 2016-06-19 at 15.17.28

I’ve blogged about some of my story before, but I’ve never shared the whole story. This is the whole story.

When I was in Grade 2, I was identified with a non-verbal learning disability in the area of visual spatial skills. Geography, geometry (especially transformational geometry), and mapping skills continue to be areas of great weakness for me. Then there is also my parking abilities, which have taken up many blog posts of their own. 🙂 At the time when I was identified as learning disabled, the psychologist told my parents that the gap was “too big,” and I would “never make it to university.” I always wanted to be a teacher, and this identification had the potential to crush my dreams (as extreme as this may sound).

There was another side to this story though: my sister. She is 13 months younger than me, but after being identified as gifted, she skipped Grade 1. We were in the same class. Here I was as a struggling student with a younger sister that was almost always at the top of the class. Thankfully I had parents that attempted to get us into separate classes, whenever possible, so that nobody would compare our skills: myself included. I also had teachers that saw beyond my learning disability and looked for my areas of strength. While I struggled in certain areas, I also excelled in others, and these teachers nurtured these other areas. 

  • They inspired me to write. As you can see from my multiple blogs, I still love writing.
  • They encouraged me to read. I’m still an avid reader that always enjoys a good book. 
  • They listened to my parents and worked with me to determine strategies that work. As I learnt from a young age, students need to be of “average to above average intelligence” to be identified as learning disabled. Yes, I had gaps in my skills (I still do), but I also had the ability to learn.

My parents also spent countless hours working with me. I still remember sitting at the dining room table as my step-dad helped me memorize the locations of provinces on a map. I still remember “flipping” more triangles than you can imagine, and still not being able to determine where they should end up on a grid. I remember crying in frustration, and I remember my parents, patiently, working with me again until we figured out a way that I could see what I seemed blind to at the time. They fought for modifications for me, and they gave me a voice to speak up and advocate for myself. 

  • I attended my IPRCs.
  • I asked for the extra time because I needed it.
  • I got the labelled diagrams on the math exams because then I could do the math that I couldn’t do without them.
  • I got the use of a computer because of my difficulties with fine motor skills.

During all of this time, I also listened as my sister vocalized some of the same concerns as my peers. “Why does she get extra time? Why does she get a computer? Maybe it’s better to be learning disabled.” I guess that this was my first experience with equity, and it was often the discussions with my sister that I thought back to, years later, as I tried to explain to my students why some students needed certain accommodations that others didn’t. I was grateful to those teachers and my parents that gave me what I needed to succeed, and now, I try to do the same thing for my students.

When I was in high school, my marks improved tremendously, and while I worked non-stop to keep them up, I was proud to see what I was able to do. I had proven the psychologist wrong, and I was going to go to university. I would get to be a teacher! I knew that this was what I wanted to do, so I only applied to concurrent education programs, and I ended up accepting the offer to the Introduction To Teaching Program at Nipissing University. I had never been away from home before, and I was terrified to leave my support system — predominantly my parents — to go to school. I’m so glad that I did though! I didn’t travel anywhere near as far as Royan did, but I did “find myself” in North Bay.

  • I found some of my closest friends.
  • I found my ability to “lead”: in residence and at the university.
  • I found my “social self”: I joined committees, I played cards, and I went out with friends for the very first time. 

People at university didn’t know my sister. They only knew me. For once, I felt as though I wasn’t comparing myself to her. I also felt as though others weren’t comparing me to her either. 

When I came back home to Hamilton after four years, my sister was accepted into Brown University on a scholarship, and she was moving to the States. Little did I know that she would find the love of her life in Rhode Island, get married, have a beautiful son, and now make the United States her home. Maybe we both needed to move away to find ourselves.

We’re older now, and while I’m still amazed at what my sister can do and has accomplished, I realize that our goals were different ones. My parents love both of us and support both of us in different ways. Nobody compares us anymore … including me. I’ve learnt over the years that,

  • there’s a place in this world for everyone.
  • an identification does not mean the end of a dream.
  • we all need support systems. Parents, educators, and friends can all be these systems.
  • siblings are not the same … no matter how close they may be in age. Everybody deserves to be treated as an individual.
  • we need to believe in ourselves and we need to believe in others. Everyone needs a champion
  • our own insecurities can sometimes cloud our perceptions. Sometimes we need to get away from our problems to really face them. Moving away to university allowed me to see what I could do, and not what I could do compared to my sister.

Thank you, Royan, for encouraging me to share my story. I hope that others share theirs. What’s your story?