The Day I Wish That I Had Super Powers!

Teachers aren’t superheroes. Some days, it might seem as though we are, or we may wish that we had super powers. I’d love a super power that made tidying up happen with the snap of a finger and noise levels to quickly readjust with just the clap of a hand 🙂 , but I haven’t quite made either of these things happen yet. On most days, I’m good with not having any super powers. I can adjust to the varying volumes and problems that might happen during the day, and can find different places to sit, engage, and listen in on conversations with kids. Thursday wasn’t one of those days.

Even the make-up of the day wasn’t ideal. It was the last day of school before a four-day weekend. While we haven’t been discussing Easter in the classroom, and kids have just made a few off-hand comments about it, many of them have been all about Easter in the Before Care Program. They’ve been making Easter crafts, hiding Easter eggs, and decorating Easter bunnies. The excitement is definitely palpable in the Before Care Program, and this excitement tends to spill over into the classroom program. Just to make Easter a little more exciting, our school had Wacky Hair Day on Thursday. We were collecting donations for Interval House, and coupled this with an exciting day at school. While not everyone in our class participated, a little extra crazy definitely brought up the volume and changed the feel of the room. 

I’d like to say that the dysregulation ended here, but it didn’t. When I got to school on Thursday morning, I received an email that I wasn’t expecting, and ended up with a problem that I had to solve. While everything worked out well, solving the problem took the better part of my before school time, where I would usually get things organized in the classroom. This meant that I was rushing to get everything finished before the bell rang, despite arriving at school with two-hours to spare. How does this happen?!

I was also very aware that this was my no prep, duty day, so I would be limited on extra time to get things done during the school day. I think this is when my headache started. The weather outside wasn’t helping my head, but the stress definitely made it worse. I’m also starting to come down with that cough and cold that everybody seems to have right now, and without a doubt, everything compounded and hit me all at once. I’m not sure that I realized the impact of this at the time, but I did a few hours later.

Our outdoor learning time actually went very well. My heart was exploding with the examples of empathy that Paula and I saw out in the forest. Our kids are truly remarkable! We also got to witness some incredible new friendships, and it was great to see the joy in this play. I think that I was almost convinced that today was turning around. Maybe we should have just stayed outside … 🙂 

While it wasn’t quite raining outside, it was definitely cold and damp, and after almost 1 1/2 hours outside, I was certainly feeling the chill. (I might not have made the best clothing choices for the weather.) I made it inside in just enough time to head back outside for duty. This might have been too much. I couldn’t stop shaking I was so cold, and this is when the coughing started in earnest. I was definitely getting sick! Between the Wacky Hair Day and Easter, duty time was even louder than usual, and I was eager to get back to our classroom, which often feels quieter and calmer. Today it didn’t though.

Play was just starting, and it was Pizza Day, which means that most children wanted to eat right away. Our open eating table — with seats for six to eat throughout the day — usually helps quiet the room a bit and spread children out in different places around the room. Today though, there was a HUGE number of kids eagerly waiting to eat, and some more eating at the back table. This means that the play takes even longer to settle. 

Sometimes I can help things out by sitting down at a space on the opposite side of the room, or beginning to play in an area that has fewer people, and quietly drawing more people my way. I wasn’t feeling it today though. I was having my own difficulties settling. Noise dysregulates me on most days, but when I’m not feeling well, it does so even more. I know this, but I was having problems addressing it. I tried sitting down at the creative table, with the hope that some sensory play might calm me (and the kids) for a bit, and it did, but maybe not for long enough. I should have gotten into the building space, where there seemed to be the most noise at the time, but I didn’t have it in me to quiet it. This is when I started to wander — sweeping the room — which might seem like a good idea in theory, but isn’t in practice. When I wander, kids wander. But I couldn’t settle, so neither could they. Once again, I’m reminder of Stuart Shanker‘s words about the impact that an adult has on a child’s ability to self-regulate. 

This was an all-day struggle. I continued to feel yucky throughout the day, and my headache that went away in the morning, came back in the afternoon. This didn’t help. It was then time to get ready for home. We share a coat room with the Kindergarten class next door to us. Usually they get ready first and head outside, and then we go second. This gives both of us more room in this confined space. Due to the weather though, we were both getting ready at the same time. This meant more kids and more noise …

I finally thought of my teaching partner, Paula, and what she does to make dressing time a calmer experience: she sings. So I sang. Probably nobody would recognize the songs that I made up. I probably couldn’t even reproduce them again. But every time I felt triggered, I sang some more. 

  • I sang to look for splash pants.
  • I sang to put on coats.
  • I sang to collect lunch boxes.
  • I even sang to go sit down.

I will never win a Grammy Award for my singing, but it was definitely singing that kept me regulated. Maybe I should have done some more singing throughout the day. 

I would usually tell you that all of our days are “great,” and they really almost all are! And if you look at our story of Thursday on our class blog, there is a lot to celebrate about the day. But Thursday didn’t feel quite as wonderful to me, and maybe my own dysregulation is to blame. I definitely didn’t help turn things around. I’m sorry! I’m human. On Thursday, I definitely didn’t have the super powers I may have needed to make it through. But I did have a wonderful teaching partner that came back from her lunch with a lovely, calming peach tea for me, and ensured that I got out of the classroom for a good half-hour for my lunch. Both were what I needed. And while the noise still triggered me when I returned, at least I resisted the urge to wander. Instead, I chose to stand back and observe. I’m glad that I could see the good around the room.

Tuesday is another day. I’m using some great restorative ideas from here (maybe not the dancing 🙂 ) to take care of me this weekend, so that Tuesday starts and ends on a much better note.

No matter how much we may know about Self-Reg, as children AND as adults, we’re all human. Mistakes happen. Life takes hold. Susan Hopkins often reminds us to be kind to ourselves. Thursday was not a total loss, but it wasn’t my best. Next week will be better. We can always change a trajectory. How do you help start fresh?


What Are Your Magical Moments With Kids?

Here’s a comment that many people have made to me in the past: “Do you re-watch all of the videos that you take? You post so many of them. How can you watch them all?” I’ll be honest: I don’t watch everything in its entirety. I usually watch snippets of all of them. That said, in the past year, my teaching partner, Paula, and I have started to watch some of these videos together at the end of the day, as we plan for the next day. It was some of Friday’s videos that have inspired this post.

I started to think about this topic when Paula showed me a few videos that she took of a couple of children out in the forest. They found some sticks that resembled “dinosaur bones” and “letters,” and they began to discuss their theories with her. You can hear and see other children in the background, but for this period of time, Paula’s completely focused on these two students. Even without explicitly saying so, imagine what message she’s giving these kids about her appreciation of their thoughts and her belief in their theories. The Kindergarten Program Document highlights the view of the child as “competent and capable of complex thought.” As Paula respects and responds to their words, she’s showing these children how much she embraces this view of the child.

Fast forward to Second Nutrition Break time, and Paula working with the class on tidying up the room. I’m on duty in the primary hallway, and one of Paula’s previous students is eager to go and see her. He asks me if he can, and I say, “Yes.” I know that Paula will be getting the children organized for Phys-Ed and a visit from our reading specialist, Sandy Batenburg, after the Break, but I also know that she always makes time for kids. This very thought is reflected in the video that she recorded in the midst of tidy-up time, when this Grade 2 student noticed our paper mache ball in the sensory bin. He had some ideas to share, and really wanted Paula to record his thoughts so that I could also hear them afterwards. As children are buzzing around her, and some even stop to listen and to share their ideas, Paula remains focused on this past student. She knows that he wants and needs to get out his ideas before he goes back to class. Even after she stops the recording, she encourages him to make her a list of the other planets we would need to make, and any additional information he would like to communicate. She’s trying to inspire him to write about something that matters to him. And then once he leaves and the room is clean-ish 🙂 , she has the other children share the ideas that she didn’t respond to at the time. Now she can also remain focused on them, and what they think and believe.

Then we move onto the last period of the day: music in our classroom. Our music teacher has planned some exciting songs and dances for the kids to participate in. The sitting, the noise, and the action is initially a little too exciting for a child, who’s eager to sit down and read with Paula at the eating table instead. As he explores an alphabet book with her, he’s looking at letters and sounds, as well as the missing numbers that he noticed as he reads. The Bunny Hop is happening right around the two of them, and while I’m finding it hard to ignore, he’s focused on the book, so Paula is focused on him. I love their quiet conversation, even in the midst of so much noise. Again, it’s the relationship that makes this work. The most important person in the room at this time is him, and he knows that! Plus, a calming option at the start of music, helped him later choose to go back and enjoy the rest of the music games with the class: a win/win.

A Kindergarten classroom is a busy place. Most classrooms are. With big numbers and diverse needs, it’s easy to want to focus on everyone … and in the end, we need to. But as I look back over these snippets from Friday, I’m reminded about the value in slowing down, listening to, and forming relationships with kids. 

  • Make them the focus of attention.
  • Connect deeply with each one of them.
  • Value their ideas, questions, and experiences. Value them!
  • Love them … as Paula so clearly does each of these kids and so many more!

As I’m about to start another week at school, the many lessons I learn from Paula are on my mind. There’s something incredibly special and heart-warming about each of these videos, and it’s these kind of wonderful moments that I want to have this week. What about you? I wonder how we can all make these magical connections with kids!






Scared Scripted

As our Board continues to focus on “all children reading by Grade 1,” we’ve been reminded to look back at some resources that came our way a number of years ago. These resources — particularly around modelled reading — have some great lessons to teach children about comprehension strategies, such as inferring and making connections. I’ve used these lessons in the past. I’ve even pulled pieces of them since then. The other day, my teaching partner, Paula, and I spoke about some of these lessons. How might we be able to use them, and how might we adapt them to still support our learners in a play-based Kindergarten Program?

The more that we spoke, the more that I realized that my biggest struggle is the program nature of these resources. I’ve never been great at following a program. Please don’t get me wrong. I definitely believe in the value of planning, and based on discussions that Paula and I have each night, I even do a detailed daybook plan for each day: explaining how our play spaces might align with the Four Frames of the Kindergarten Program Document. That said though, the most important note in our daybook and to any of my supply teachers is that, “We always try to be receptive to kids. Watch them. See what they do and how they respond to the materials in the classroom. Listen to what they say and what they ask, and then make changes accordingly.” Yes, expectations matter. I might even go as far as to say that benchmarks matter too, if only as the reminder about the need to support ALL students in meeting with success. But kids matter first! 

I still remember a conversation that I had with a previous principal of mine, Paul Clemens, after my last Teacher Performance Appraisal (T.P.A.). Evaluations are stressful, and as supportive as Paul always was, the weekend before my T.P.A., I was trying really hard not to throw up. In an effort to feel more relaxed, I came up with a very detailed script for my T.P.A. lesson. I didn’t hold the script in front of me, but I did memorize it. And in typical Aviva fashion 🙂 , I also asked one of my Grade 5 students to record the lesson, as I wanted the opportunity to look back on it later.

It was as I re-watched the lesson that I thought of a comment, which I made to Paul during our debriefing. While I was really pleased with the questions I asked and my wait time — I actually counted in my head to ensure I gave enough time I found myself so focused on the script that I was not as receptive to students. If I wasn’t so focused on what I was going to say next …

  • I might have gone over and supported that student, whom the E.A. brought out of the room half-way through the lesson.
  • I might have tried to engage a couple of the students that didn’t have their hands up, but that I knew could contribute to the conversation. What might they have to say?
  • I would have picked an even more diverse group of students to answer some of my questions. I knew what some students were going to say, and I realized that they would help move the lesson along, so I chose them first. But what about some others? Would hearing from them have supported these students in being even more successful in the follow-up activity, as I would have been able to hear their thinking and ideas?
  • I would have asked more questions and said less. I wanted to keep the lesson to less than 15 minutes, and I was afraid that if I got students more involved in the building of my sample system and the creation of the steps to follow for theirs, I would have gone over time. What might the students say? What might they do? The need for control had me sticking to a script.

Probably the best thing that happened was when I knocked over the Lego skeletal system. I might have wanted to cry at the time, but the need to go off script, actually had me engaging with students more after this point. Maybe that was the crash I needed to bring me back to focusing on kids instead of on the words in my head. 

This makes me wonder then about program scripts. 

  • When do you use them?
  • How do you use them?
  • How do you ensure that you still keep focused on the children, even when paying attention to the script?

From textbooks to teacher’s guides to read aloud or guided reading scripts, we’ve all followed a lesson at some point. There’s likely even research behind the decisions made in these scripted lessons. But as I watch and listen to myself following a scripted lesson, I like the sound of myself even better when I watch and listen to myself following kids. Maybe there’s a way to do both well, and there might even be advantages to both approaches. I think that many programs bring me back to those T.P.A. jitters, and maybe that’s why I have such reservations. Convince me! As Paula and I examined and debated the reading comprehension programs to the learning that comes from them, we saw some benefits for kidsCould this be where our focus needs to remain … even if we may go off script?


Reframing Vacations: Can Learning Only Happen At School?

The other day, I was out for brunch with a fellow teacher, and we spoke about holiday times. She discussed her pet peeve with children going on long vacations during the school year and missing time at school. I understood. This used to be a big concern of mine, until my teaching partner, Paula, helped me reframe vacations. 

I don’t even think that Paula realized that she helped me see things differently, but she did. I still remember when this happened last year. A mom mentioned to me that her daughter would be away for 10 school days because of an upcoming family trip. She wondered what her child would be missing. When I started to tell Paula about this, she said to me, “But just think about what [Name] will be getting! She’ll be going to museums, visiting tourist areas, meeting new people, and being exposed to a different culture.” This is why our students have such rich prior knowledge and such a huge vocabulary: look at their incredible life experiences! 

I always used to see the negative points of missing school. 

  • How will children learn if they’re not with us?
  • Imagine how much content they’re going to miss.
  • How will they be prepared for the upcoming test or assignment? (This was definitely a big concern of mine when I taught older students.)

Now though, I’m starting to consider the positive side of these vacations. I just finished reading a book called, Marvelous Minilessons For Teaching Beginning Writing, K-3. At the beginning of the book, the author links oral language and writing skills, and discusses the importance of a strong vocabulary. As much as educators can introduce children to new terms and reinforce new vocabulary, many children learn and retain these terms through their diverse life experiences. These experiences often happen outside of the classroom. 

I wonder if instead of questioning the value in these trips, we have to work with parents to get the most learning out of these trips. Some parents will do this naturally. The mom that took her daughter away last year definitely did. But I’ve taught at schools before where children would go away for weeks at a time, but didn’t always have these language-rich trip experiences. Is there a way to change this? Maybe.

  • What if we gave parents question prompts to elicit discussions?
  • What if we spoke to parents about the importance of developing new vocabulary, and then modelling how to do so? Learning vocabulary in any language is important for kids.
  • What if we provided parents with a list of possible experiences for their trips (e.g., going on a walk in the community, visiting buildings in the community, looking at houses in the neighbourhood, etc.)?

And if children really need to be present for part of a lesson, maybe there’s a way to use technology to make this happen. I remember when I taught Grade 6, and a student was away for the start of a new unit in math. Not only did she use FaceTime to join the lesson, but she stayed on afterwards to work with a group on the assignment. A vacation didn’t stop her! I’m thinking that now with our daily class blog posts and home extension activities, even students that aren’t at school can learn along with us. I think of what this one mom sent us this year when her daughter was at home sick. We provided her with some feedback, and she emailed us with an updated post.

Being away doesn’t have to stop learning from happening!

Yes, ideally students have good attendance at school and only going on vacations during the holiday times. But I also realize that just because schools are closed doesn’t mean that parents are off work, and for any number of reasons, children may need to be away during school time. So I think that we have a choice here: we can focus on what children lose due to their absence, or we can look at what they might gain. My thinking is that the stronger the home/school connection, the better the chance that educators, parents, and children can work together to get the most from this away time. How do you strengthen this connection and facilitate (or support) learning during vacation times? I wish that I spoke up when my acquaintance voiced her concern, but I am speaking up now. The more that I think about this topic, the more that I wonder, can learning only happen at school? Maybe it’s time to think about the valuable learning that occurs beyond the four walls of our school buildings.


How do we move from observing to doing?

A few weeks ago, we had a very special day in our class. We invited all of our families in for a Family Art Afternoon. While a couple of parents couldn’t come, the majority made it in for this special day. We also had a volunteer, some consultants, an ECE student, and us there to support those students that didn’t have parents with them. And as my teaching partner, Paula, and I reflected on this experience, we could not have been happier with the results. Maybe the most incredible thing about this afternoon is that it wasn’t a show for parents, but instead, an opportunity to engage in play together. 

Paula and I had a lot of discussions in lead up to this day. We wanted it to be different than our Art Gallery from last year. While there have been some overlapping interests, the children have not taken this learning in the same direction. We’ve studied a few artists together — including Vincent Van Gogh, Aelita Andre, and Jackson Pollock — and while we knew children would want to show parents the collaborative pieces that we’ve done in response to their artwork, we’ve also studied art in some new ways.

  • We’ve studied art and design: having a closer look at clothing and art.

  • We’ve studied art and architecture: looking at the connection between building and art.

  • We’ve studied First Nations artwork: exploring how art can be used to tell a story. 

Our discussions about art stem from the creations of the artwork. It’s also through this artwork that we make links to language and math: a key component of the Kindergarten Program Document. We really wanted parents to experience the play that results in these rich learning opportunities for kids. With this in mind, we looked at this Art Afternoon differently than we may have in the past: we discussed materials that we could leave out around the room, and then we made the few hours all about kids and adults playing together. We decided to give all visiting parents a copy of this GoogleDoc, so that they could use the information in it to see the connection between the play and the learning. We also thought that it might provide some question prompts that parents could use when playing with their child. And then we spent the afternoon doing what we do all day long: observing, conversing, and documenting learning.

That should be “use of digraphs for treasure.” Oops!

Looking back on this day, I continue to think about the power of the parent/educator/child connections. We often speak about the importance of relationships, and you could see these in action during this afternoon. The Kindergarten Program Document is unique, as it really does emphasize the important role that parents play in education. Reflecting on our Family Art Afternoon, I can’t help but wonder about the benefit of these kinds of days for students of all ages. 

  • What if we didn’t just invite parents in to “see” classrooms (e.g., at Open House), but instead, to “experience” them?
  • What might this look like?
  • How might we make it happen? 

There’s something beautiful about parents and children playing, learning, and communicating together, and I continue to wonder how we could extend these experiences beyond a single day and a single grade. Imagine