Social Media: Is Avoidance Really The Answer?

Over the holidays, I had a very interesting conversation with a relative. She shared some thoughts about “why educators should not be using social media to communicate.”  These are some of the questions that she raised during our discussion. 

  • What if messages are misinterpreted?
  • What if our tone is misinterpreted? 
  • What if parents, administrators, or students get angry or upset based on something that we’ve shared?
  • What if parents compare their child’s work to another student’s work because of what’s shared? 

These questions highlight for me another reason that some educators choose not to blog: the fear of making our thoughts public and the possible repercussions for doing so. But is this fear a good reason to choose not to share or just a good reminder to be careful and think more before choosing what and how we share?

I use social media (particularly Twitter, Instagram, and blogs) to share student thinking and learning with parents, and I guess ultimately, with the world. I try to be careful about how I capture this work. 

  • I take many headless photographs and videos, and only use student names when agreed to by the students and the parents. I use initials a lot.
  • I try to keep the focus on the work and the learning. By not just taking a photograph or video of each child doing each activity, there are fewer opportunities for comparisons.
  • I consider my captions carefully. Again, I try to highlight the work and the learning, and also, celebrate student growth.
  • I use Storify to not just collect the individual snippets of learning, but provide a context for this learning that helps highlight growth and connections to program expectations.

While much of this documentation makes its way into our daily post on our class blog, I sometimes reflect on this work in other ways on my professional blog. It’s when writing these blog posts that I find myself proofreading more, considering word choice even more carefully, and sometimes, getting an opinion or two before publishing. While it’s largely parents that read our class blog, a more diverse audience reads my professional blog, including parents, administrators, colleagues, and various educators. My professional blog is a way for me to reflect, but also start, and hopefully continue, conversations.

I’m a self-proclaimed “educational troublemaker,” and I’m proud to be one. I appreciate when people comment with their diverse views, so that we can continue the conversations online. Sometimes words do cause strong emotions, and maybe, that’s okay. If we’re professional and open to dialogue, these emotions can be a good thing. Even if people don’t always choose to comment or talk directly to us, our words might get people thinking, and with thinking, often comes change.

I understand why people focus in on the social media horror stories (and cautionary tales) because there are lots of them. It’s these same stories that made me question joining Twitter over seven years ago. Maybe though, instead of focusing on the problems, we need to focus on the positives. (Again, could “perspective” play an important role here?) 

  • The “thank you’s” from parents and students for capturing the school day online, and knowing how to extend learning at home thanks to what’s shared.
  • The parents that years later, still send the occasional tweet with updates on student success.
  • My new learning thanks to the conversations I’ve had through Twitter, Instagram, and blog post comments.
  • Connections I’ve made thanks to social media that I never would have made without it. Just as one example, over three years ago, I tweeted Stuart Shanker some of my blog post links connected to the Calm, Alert, and Learning Book Club I was involved in. That started a connection that eventually led to my work with The MEHRIT Centre.

I don’t think we should ignore the cautionary tales, but could we reduce future problems, by sharing more examples of how to use social media “for good?” Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blogs are not going away. Is attempting to put a stop to their use, really the answer? I don’t think so, but what about you?


Two Students, Two Stories, And More To Think About

The last week of school before the winter holidays is always such an interesting one. While there are lots of fun festivities that always make children happy, there are also lots of changes in routine, that can result in increased problems. This year, we taught until December 23rd, so children and adults were both more aware of the upcoming holidays — particularly Christmas — and these changes in behaviour were very apparent this week. 

  • Classroom conversations seemed louder. There was a lot more noise. Even when children were just talking to each other, they seemed to do so in a louder voice.
  • Crying was at a premium. It didn’t seem to take much to lead to tears, and even children that usually don’t cry, seemed to be more easily upset. 
  • Friendships were tested. We heard many reasons that students were not being good friends or kind friends, and this again seemed linked to increased tears.

Thinking about the key question that Stuart Shanker often asks — Why this child and why now? — you could start to understand the possible reasons why these problems may be occurring. (These are just some possibilities, but there are certainly more.)

  • More classroom holiday festivities that change classroom schedules and sometimes lead to increased stress.
  • Late nights and less sleep as children attend different holiday parties.
  • Colder temperatures that cancel outdoor learning time and shift classroom routines.
  • More sugary snacks shared in the classroom: diet can have an impact on behaviour.
  • More assemblies that also change classroom schedules and increase sitting time.

And yet, even when we might know why, sometimes it’s a challenge to stop and reframe at the time. This week, I was reminded about the need to do just that.

The first time was during one of our assemblies. The problem was actually not with a student in our class, but with a child in a class that happened to be sitting near ours. We had a lot of parents attending the assembly, and as such, we were all sitting very closely to each other. A lack of personal space is a challenge for many students and adults. During one of the presentations, I happened to turn around and see an altercation between two students. Other teachers also saw the problem and responded by trying to get the students to move away from each other, but due to the lack of space, there was not a lot of room to move. Physical closeness only increased the problem. While one child looked as though he was calming down, the other child was clenching his fists and making noises: I knew he was still angry. I went up to the prep coverage teacher and asked if I could help. I’ve developed a relationship with this child, and asked if he wanted to come up and sit with me. He did. He slowly moved out of the crowd and over near the staff chairs. While with me, I was able to quietly talk to him, and he started to take a few deep breaths and relax. As the assembly progressed, he found a spot to sit away from everyone else. Even though this was not one of the assigned seating areas, I love how everyone in the room supported him in sitting there: knowing this is what he needed to succeed. 

The second time was a few days later in our classroom. It was the end of the day and everyone was getting ready for home. The winter weather means that children need to put on snowpants, boots, hats, scarves, and mittens in addition to a coat, so the dressing routine is far longer and more complicated than before. Add in the stress of the holiday season, and for some children, dressing time is further complicated. One child in particular was really struggling. I found him some personal space to get ready, but he just threw his snowpants and coat on the floor and refused. I decided to walk away for a bit, but a few minutes later, I heard him crying softly and making a growling sound. He was mad. I looked at my watch and realized that we had to be outside for dismissal in less than five minutes, and I was starting to feel frustrated. Why wouldn’t he just get dressed?! And then he said something that changed my response. In between the tears and the anger, he said, “Miss Dunsiger, my dragon is coming out.” I thought back to a couple of weeks ago and the dragon story I told. It was then that I turned to him, and in a quiet voice I said, “Do you need a hug?” His response: “Yes!” He walked over to me, we hugged, and then he said, “Now we can both be happy.” In minutes, he got dressed and ready to head home. 

These stories are a great reminder to me that …

  • relationships matter. They often help us see behaviour differently and view each other in a more positive light. 
  • sometimes our angriest students are the ones that need a hug most of all.
  • children know how we feel, and often a change in our behaviour will also result in a change in theirs.
  • we also need to be kind to ourselves. No matter how much we may know, we all make mistakes, and taking the opportunity to learn from them is so important. 
  • teaching is about so much more than just academics, and in those stressful weeks around holiday times, maybe we realize this the most. 

The other day, I happened to see this tweet from Jen Wright about stress behaviour versus misbehaviour. 

I can’t help but think about the two experiences from this past week at school, and how many times I would have responded differently and looked to punish what I was sure was “misbehaviour.” This tweet will be one that I’ll look at again as I head back to school in a couple of weeks: knowing that there’s stress then too, and at all different times of the year, children’s actions may not be as they initially appear to be. How do you remember to reframe and what value do you see for kids? I’m reminded of my one word  perspective — for 2017, and how reframing can help me gain a new perspective. What about you?


How Reflecting On My Last #OneWord Goal Led To My New One

For the past couple of years, I’ve joined other educators across Ontario with setting a one word goal for the new year. Last year, I chose the word “hearing” — related to active listening — which I further clarified in my July reflection post. Throughout the year, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve done at meeting this goal of mine. 

Sometimes I feel really successful. I realize that I’m talking less than I did before, and taking more time to listen before asking a question or making a suggestion. Sometimes I don’t say anything at all. As hard as that may be, I’m getting better at listening to the students talk and hearing how the conversation evolves. Sometimes the questions they ask each other and the suggestions that they make to each other seem to be far better than mine. 

And sometimes I feel really unsuccessful. I listen back to video recordings of discussions and realize …

  • that I didn’t give enough wait time.
  • that I missed an idea that another student contributed because I was focused on a different child.
  • that I intervened with a solution to a problem before letting the child try to solve the problem on his/her own.
  • that I tried to encourage a literacy or math follow-up to an activity before a child was ready to go in this direction.
  • that I was so focused on what the child was saying that I missed what the child was doing … and what this non-verbal communication was telling me.

It was as I was “feeling unsuccessful” the other day that I had an epiphany: it was actually my active listening (thanks to technology) that made me realize what I didn’t hear the first time. 

I’ve been recording videos for years, but I used to just keep these videos as documentation of learning. I rarely listened back to them, and never in their entirety. But this year, my teaching partner and I spend a lot of time watching and listening to these videos. Some of them we watch more than once. I definitely use my observations from this listening to help with future planning … and that is a positive thing.

We have 33 students in our class, and our room is attached to another Kindergarten classroom with no full wall in between. The other room has 33 children in it as well. That’s 66, three-, four-, and five-year-olds in a small space. There’s always noise. We have all learned ways to deal with this noise and maximize the quiet space, but sometimes the hum in the background and multiple requests for help, split our attention. And sometimes “time” is at a premium, and as much as I may want to slow down and watch, I feel the pressure to question, to interrupt, and/or to push things along faster than they need to be. Is this the right thing to do? Probably not … but my epiphany from the other day helped me realize that while I still may have room to grow in one respect (listening at the time), I’ve improved tremendously in another respect (listening and learning from recordings).

This leads me to my one word goal for 2017: perspectiveMy recent experience reminded me about the importance of seeing things from a different point of view.

During an inservice I attended in the summer, our Kindergarten consultants reminded us about the importance of perspective, looking closely, and seeing learning in different ways. About six weeks ago, I was reminded of this when I went to clean up some bead work that students left behind for another day.

I’m drawn to the final sentence in the caption of this Instagram post: “Kids amaze us when we stop and look closely!” I want to continue to be amazed, and I think that a little “perspective” might help with this. What do you think? What is your one word goal for 2017? I’m excited to read the many different goals for the year ahead.


Why Do Children Want To Write?

After school on Wednesday, my teaching partner, Paula, and I were organizing some blocks and chatting about our plans for the next day. We really wanted to extend our “tree project” now that it was up on the board.

Some real world measurement today. #engagemath #ctinquiry #teachersofinstagram #iteachk

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

As we were talking about ways to do so, Paula mentioned options to get students writing on the background paper. I said, “For the first time ever, I’m not worried about getting our students writing. I think they write more — and with interest — than any other group of Kindergarten students I’ve ever taught.” Paula agreed. She then asked me a question that really got us talking: “Why is that?”

Here are many of the thoughts we shared.

      • We see all of our students as writers, and we communicate this belief to them.

  • Students see themselves as writers. Whether they write using pictures, scribbles, random letters, letter-sounds, familiar words, or a combination of all of the above, they all speak about being able to write and show us how they can. 

Different ways students communicated today. #iteachk #earlyyears #fdk #ctinquiry

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

So many different reasons and ways to write today. #ctinquiry #iteachk

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

  • We happily accept all forms of writing. We never tell children that they’re wrong. We encourage all writing and eagerly listen to students share what they wrote. Yes, we both do some mini-lessons when the time is right, but instead of telling children that they’re wrong, we provide the structure for them to correct their errors on their own … and maybe figure out some different ways to write.

    • We provide meaningful reasons for students to write. Writing is not done in isolation. All writing that happens in the classroom, happens through play, and happens authentically. We have writing materials — from pens, pencils, and markers, to various types of paper, clipboards, and even tape — available in all areas of the classroom, as well as a big table and shelf that holds numerous supplies. When the year started, we looked at ways to inspire writing — from maybe adding some labels to structures to creating signs to save work — and now students are starting to pick up the materials to write in these ways (and more) on their own. Even when we do encourage now, we don’t have to do so quite as much, and we get even better results. Just handing someone a marker or placing some sticky notes on the floor, usually leads to writing. We also respect the writing that comes our way. The other day, two children came into the classroom and said that they thought we should make “a reindeer using brown paint, paper, and handprints.” While we both are not big believers in these types of crafts, we listened to this student voice, but didn’t bring out the paint right away. We said, “Why don’t you make us a list of what we need, so that we can get the materials ready for tomorrow?” The students did. We then put out the materials they suggested and let students do what they wished. A few children made reindeers, but others just experimented with combining paint colours and engaging in a fun, sensory experience. A win for everyone, and a little bit of writing as well.

    • We show students that writing can happen anywhere. Writing is not just confined to inside the classroom: we find opportunities to also encourage writing outside. Sometimes it’s just a matter of bringing out some clipboards that allows this to happen, and sometimes, students surprise us with figuring out their own reasons (and ways) to write.

A meaningful reason to write. #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

  • We share why writing matters. Our students know that we write to communicate a message. This is not the only way to communicate, but it can be a powerful way. Students have figured this out first-hand this year, and it’s why many of them choose to write. We model lots of different ways to “write” — through pictures and words — with the hope that this will facilitate more writing in class. We also encourage students to read back what they wrote, helping them see the connection between reading and writing. 

This conversation really got us thinking about why students are writing more and how students begin to see why writing matters. We teach three-, four-, and five-year-olds. All of these students have many more years of writing ahead of them. If they feel this way about writing now, what could this mean in future years? How do we help all students feel confident as writers and “write” in the many ways that work for them? Even as an adult, I love how writing (and really blogging) allows me to share so many ideas and reflect on my teaching and learning. I want our students to continue to have this positive attitude towards writing as they grow up, and maybe even use writing in much the same way as I use it now. I wonder about how to continue to make this possible. What do you think?


When “Transforming Learning Everywhere” Truly Becomes “Everywhere” …

Our Board has created and embraced this Transforming Learning Everywhere (T.L.E.) Model that includes transforming classrooms, relationships, and learning opportunities. While I’ve often considered this model through the structure and learning that can happen within the school environment, last night I was reminded that it can be so much more than that. 

Recently, I spoke to a parent about her child’s reading at school. She mentioned a few different observations that she has at home. I explained that with Growing Success: The Kindergarten Addendum, these home examples can actually act as examples for the Communication of Learning. I made note of the information that this mom shared with me with this very thought in mind. But then she surprised me in the most wonderful of ways.

Just before I shut down my computer last night, this mom emailed me two video clips of her child reading at home. She said that she would welcome any feedback or suggestions for next steps. How wonderful! I listened to both clips, noted some observations, wrote down a couple of questions, and emailed mom back with some suggestions for future home reading options. This parent quickly wrote me back, answered my questions, and explained that she would try some of the ideas I shared. 

This story really highlighted for me how technology helps bridge the connection between home and school. Thanks to this mom, I was able to see the reading that happened at home, provide feedback based on actual observations, and work with parents on possible next steps. Thanks to the sharing of quick video clips, home examples are not just confined to the “home” anymore, just like with the use of a blog, school examples are not just confined to the “school.” The learning environment truly goes beyond the classroom walls and becomes a merge of “home” and “school.” I wonder how we can further harness the power of this to benefit kids. What have others tried? This mom yesterday helped me realize just what “everywhere” in the T.L.E. Model can mean and now I wonder what more is possible.