Earlier this week, I was mentioned in a tweet by Jonathan So, where he shared a blog post that he wrote. Jonathan decided to blog about the top five moments that changed him as a teacher, and he was curious to hear what others would list as their “top five defining moments.”
Matthew Oldridge, another Peel educator, chimed in quickly with a post of his own, and this inspired even more discussion on Twitter. I loved the idea of also blogging on this topic, but I needed to really spend some time thinking about my five points. As the educational troublemaker that I am, I’m also going to add my own little twist to this post. With that said, here are my Top 5-ish Defining Moments.
1. Stuart Shanker and Self-Reg. For anyone that regularly reads this blog, it will come as no surprise that this is my first moment. Stuart Shanker, Susan Hopkins, and The MEHRIT Centre totally changed me as an educator. I now look at everything in my personal and professional life through a Self-Reg lens, and definitely view student behaviour differently. Not only do I often ask Shanker‘s question of, “Why this child and why now?,” but I also look more closely at how my actions impact on the actions (and reactions) of others. I’m far more attuned to my own stressors, and consider what I need to self-regulate, so that I can ultimately give more to my students.
2. Rethinking Relationships. I used to think that I spent time forming relationships with students, but now I wonder if many of these connections were superficial ones. After spending the year watching my teaching partner, Paula, in action, I’ve seen what “relationships” can really mean. I watch how she talks to children, makes time for children, connects with children and parents, has fun with children, and shows the children over and over again how much they matter. I keep thinking back to our morning time conversations. Just before we head outside to meet the class, Paula and I usually have a quick debrief about the day. The Before School Program is in the classroom next door to ours, and often as we’re talking, some of our students come over to say, “hello.” I love how Paula stops everything to take the few minutes to connect with kids. She listens to their stories, she answers their questions, and she always has time for a hug or a high-five. There’s something to be said for the feeling of safety and connection that comes from these kinds of relationships. Paula’s definitely helped me improve in this area!
3. Play. Play used to scare me. Unstructured time caused me stress, and I questioned how anybody learned anything in this kind of environment. I actually left Kindergarten for six years because of the introduction of the new play-based program model, and my uncertainty on if I could deliver this kind of program. Then I moved to teaching some junior grades — Grades 5 and 6 — and I saw what was possible when we allowed children to play. That’s when I knew that I wanted to go back to Kindergarten, and I made the move a couple of years later. My “play” approach has changed even more since then. Now I truly understand the value in “free play”: in letting children make the decisions, in observing the learning, and in knowing when to step in and when to just watch. This is a delicate dance — and one that I continue to navigate with the help of my amazing teaching partner — but the results are incredible. As scary as it may sometimes be, I wonder if we all need to give a little more value to play.
4. Get outside. Last year, I had the amazing opportunity to teach at a school with a fantastic outdoor space. Not only do we have an outdoor classroom, but our property is surrounded by a forest, which we get to visit every single day. I’m a planner, and while I love to plan, I also love how our outside time is not planned. We watch and listen to students, and then we make connections and extend learning based on what they share. (Yes, in many ways, this also happens inside, but it’s different outdoors.) We go outside in all weather — from cold and snow to rain and sunshine — and children do everything from examining bugs to climbing trees. We often spend over an hour outside every morning, and we all love it! Not only is there something incredibly calming about this outdoor space, but the questions, theories, and thinking that happen outside, amaze me every single day. This is where children persevere, problem solve, and connect with each other in a way that’s so different from what happens inside. Maybe it’s the space, freedom, and time that are all special gifts in this outdoor space. All I know is that if I were to teach another grade, I’d be looking at how to also make this forest time a part of our learning time. It’s just that wonderful!
5. This moment is yet to come … This is where I become the “troublemaker.” I was going to list five moments, but I decided to just do four, with the thought that I can keep my mind open for a new moment for this year. If I think about it, all four of these other moments encapsulate learning that really happened over the course of this past year, and I probably would have felt differently about all of these points in previous years. That’s what’s great about education: as we learn more things, read more things, and interact with more people, our thinking changes. So maybe my last defining moment is being open for more defining moments, and let’s see what those moments are when another school year comes to an end.
What are your top five moments? As we head back to school, I think there’s value in reflecting on the learning we’ve already done as well as being ready for the new learning that will happen in the coming months. Thanks Jonathan for the push to reflect on my “defining moments,” and I hope that others take your challenge to share theirs. Here’s to another great school year with many more special moments and new learning!