What Will You Do With This Course?

This morning, I was having coffee with my parents, and my mom asked me a great question. I was chatting with my mom and step-dad about this Leadership Course that I’m taking. My mom said, “So what will you do with this course when you’re done?” I’ll admit that at first my response was, “Nothing.” Am I looking to go into a leadership role right now? No. Am I looking for this possibility in the future? Not necessarily. Even so, I can still do some different things with what I gain from this course.

First of all, I think that this course will help me in my role as Site Lead for Camp Power. This is a position that I would like to maintain, and it was due to this position that I decided to take this course in the first place. As part of this course, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at the Ontario Leadership Framework. While there are elements of each of the six domains that I think would hold true for the Camp Power program, I wonder if I have to rely on the Personal Learning Resources (PLR’s) the most in my interactions with staff. This course also allowed me to take the 4Di Quiz, which allows me to not only find out about my leadership style, but about my areas of need. I can now purposely plan for how to address these areas of weakness through my Camp Power position, and my weaknesses really do connect so well to the Social Resources of the PLRs. The planning that I did today based on my 4Di results, will help me as I continue to lead this summer.

I also think that this course will help me in my daily interactions with colleagues. Today, I met a fellow educator for brunch. She teaches at a different school than me, and we often end up talking teaching when we’re together. I kind of think this is what teachers do best. 🙂 This morning, this acquaintance of mine was talking about some challenges that she was having in her classroom. I’ll admit that I’m usually quick to jump in with possible solutions or share my thinking around her comments. Today though, I thought about the norms of collaboration, and I responded differently. I know that “pausing” is hard for me, so I purposely worked on pausing. I didn’t jump in with ideas, as I often tend to do, and I even left some moments of silence after she spoke. These moments allowed me to reflect before responding. Instead of jumping in with my ideas, I tried to “pose questions.” I do like to ask questions — especially in blog posts 🙂 — but when somebody is sharing a problem, I tend to pipe in with solutions instead of questions. Today, I did a lot of wondering aloud. I tried to purposely speak quietly, wonder honestly, and ask more questions as time allowed. I just asked one question at a time, and depending on how she responded, I asked another one. In the end, I just left a question hanging there. She never really replied, and I never followed up with a statement of what I would do. I keep thinking back to the definition of leadership that my group compiled on Saturday at the course. Maybe, in its own way, this was my opportunity to “respectfully push” someone else to “get to that uncomfortable space where learning happens.”

Finally, I’m hoping that this course will help me re-think who can be a leader. I so often see a leader as only an administrator, but as I was reminded yesterday, even students can be leaders. I even think of some of the Kindergarten leaders that we have in our classroom. In the clip below, one leader is supporting other children as they collect their belongings and get ready for home. Even the way in which they communicate — singing vs. talking — makes a difference. 

Leadership may not always look the same, when you’re dealing with kids versus adults or administrators versus parents or teachers, but we’re still all engaged in leadership.

Reflecting even more now about my mom’s question, I now have a different answer. I may not use this course for seeking out a new position, but I think I will use it to gain new knowledge, a new skill set, and improve on my current practices. Sometimes, thinking and learning is just as valuable as doing, and in this case, the Leadership Course is giving me a lot to think and learn about. Considering some of your professional development opportunities, what do you do with courses when they’re over, or even throughout taking them? I think there’s always value in considering, what might come next, and how will this make a difference for me?


How Might You See Beyond The Stick?

Sticks. They cause adults stress. I know: I’ve been, and sometimes still am, the stressed out person when I see kids with sticks. The longer stick, the pointier the stick, the closer the stick is to others, the bigger the concern. Then there are the sticks that look like guns, and those cause even more stress. I cannot tell you the amount of stick play that I’ve stopped in the past because of the very nature that the play involves a stick. Yesterday though, I was challenged to think differently.

As always, we started our day out in the forest. Shortly after we got out there, Paula and I noticed two children that were coming towards us with a stick, and oh no, it certainly looked like one of those gun sticks. What were they going to do? I’ll admit that I was tempted to just tell them to put the stick down, but instead, I wondered aloud about it. Thank goodness I did! They saw the stick as a letter. But which one? This one stick then turned into a great conversation about letters, sounds, words, and even, syllables. I’ve been spending some time lately exploring the norms of collaboration. We speak about the importance of “presuming positive intentions.” Should this apply as much to our interactions with children as it does with adults?

Paula and I had to have a similar mindset when we saw two JK students coming towards us with the tallest stick that I’ve seen in a long time. Just to make the stick better, of course it had a great, big point at the top. I’m sorry to say that I’ve told MANY children before to put sticks like this “down on the ground” before even inquiring about why they might have these sticks or how they planned to use them. My teaching partner, Paula, had a different approach. She spoke to these two children about the stick. They discussed how “strong” they were, and that’s why they could carry it so well. Then they transitioned to measuring with the stick. I love that this measurement decision happened organically. We didn’t discuss it. The kids led it.

This truly ended up being one of the best math talks of my entire teaching career. Each question and answer gave me a little more insight into the children’s mathematical thought processes. 

As incredible as these stick experiences were, I can’t help but think about the number of times that I would have stopped them from ever happening. What if we started more of our conversations with kids with a question or wonder instead of a closed statement? Would the open opportunity to at least hear student thinking and plans, lead to the possibility of some rich, new learning? I’m not always sure it’s easy to see beyond the stick, but I wonder if it’s necessary.


Am I The Lone Wolf In A Sea Of Wannabe Principals?

Yes, I believe in doing things that scare you. It’s for this very reason that I signed up for the Teacher Leadership Course through our Board. I struggled with this decision. I don’t really see myself as a leader — at least not in the more formalized way that I often see “leadership.” I have no dreams of being a principal. At one time, I had dreams of becoming a consultant, but those dreams have at least currently been replaced with my love for the classroom. I truly do love being around and working with kids. I have an incredible teaching partner, Paula, who teaches me something new every day, and I could not be more fortunate than to share a classroom space with her and our 29 amazing kindergarteners. Why then am I taking this course?

It’s a really good question. Last year, on my Annual Learning Plan, I indicated an interest in developing my leadership skills. I just finished my first year as the Curriculum and Site Support Teacher for Camp Power, and I wondered if some more formal leadership training would make me better at this position. I was no longer in charge of only my classroom, but instead the programming and implementation of this programming, for an entire camp. I needed to work closely with instructors. I needed to support instructors, children, and parents, while also collaborating with an on-site administrator. I was definitely moving out of the teacher realm. My plan was to take Leadership Part 1 through our Board last year, but I missed the sign-up deadline, and was then taking Reading Part 1. So I waited for the next school year, and now Leadership Part 1 has become a Teacher Leadership Additional Qualification Course. 

When I initially saw this news, I waited. I kept re-reading Kristin‘s tweet and the information posted online. And then, as a few spots remained, I took the plunge and signed up. October 17th was our first class, and in the first five minutes, I wondered if I made a mistake. As I looked around the room, thought about the people there that want to become administrators, and looked at the Ontario Leadership Framework on the table in front of me, I feared that this course was not meant for a teacher like me. Am I really this kind of leader?

I shared some of my fears with the table group. I even shared some with the course instructor that was part of our group … but I didn’t leave the room. I didn’t walk away. I’ll admit that I considered it, but the truth is, this course is really interesting. It’s giving me a better understanding of the leaders that I know in our school and Board settings …

  • from principals,
  • to consultants,
  • to reading specialists,
  • to teacher leaders … maybe even those people like me.

This course is forcing me to think about how I act, what I do, and what I believe, and it’s causing me to reflect on myself in a leadership role.

  • How am I as a listener?
  • How do I view colleagues?
  • How do I make decisions?
  • What changes could I make to my practices?
  • How might these changes impact on me and those around me?

It’s forcing me to slowly expand my definition of “leadership,” and maybe see a school leader as more than just a principal. And this is just after the first class. While I still wonder if I might be one of the few people here that does not have dreams of becoming a principal, maybe that’s okay. I wonder if this course gets at the heart of any professional development: what you get out of it may vary depending on your background knowledge, starting point, and goals. My leadership dreams may be different from those of some other educators, but there’s still value in learning how to be a better leader. Have others taken a leadership course and felt similarly apprehensive? Did your course change these feelings, and if so, how? I wonder if I might shortly learn that I am not a lone wolf in a sea of wannabe principals, but if not, I’d like to believe that all of us can still happily co-exist. 


Saying Goodbye To “Be Careful!”

Yesterday, I was browsing Instagram over breakfast, and I saw the image below included in Carmelina Di Grigoli’s Instagram story.

This message really resonated with me because this is the message that my teaching partner, Paula, lives by. I remember her teaching me this very lesson when I came to the school just over three years ago.

It was the very first day that we took kids out to the forest. I was so excited to have a space where kids could explore nature, climb trees, and make discoveries. Imagine the oral language possibilities. As a Board, one of our strategic directions is to have “all kids reading by Grade 1,” and I really believe that the risk-taking, new vocabulary, and perseverance developed in this incredible outdoor space will help us reach our goals. But then, here I was watching children climb down the fallen tree, and I was terrified. What if they fall? How will they get around that hump? Should I be supporting them? As much as I wanted to explore other areas of the forest, I was stuck at the side of this tree, sure that the children needed me. I was also forever uttering the words that now I try to avoid: “Be careful!”

After school on that same day, Paula and I spoke about this forest experience. I shared my worries with her. She pushed back. She wondered if the concerns were about the kids or about me. “Did they have a plan for how to get down? Were they being mindful in their decisions? Were they being patient with each other?” All great questions, and a good opportunity for me to realize that I was the one that was scared. Not them. But by expressing my fears, was I increasing their panic and maybe even impacting on the success of the climb?

That day, I decided to spend more time watching and listening to Paula. How did she handle these scary moments? She never makes her voice portray fear. She also chooses her words carefully. Instead of saying, “Oh my gosh! You’re too high,” or “Be careful! You’re going to fall,” she asks, “Do you have a plan for getting down?” And do you know what? Kids do have plans. They’ll talk us through their plans. They’ll show us how careful and responsible they can be, and how they can support their friends in being the same. Climbing is never a competition, and we never put kids up on trees, nor do we get them off. Both are key! Kids climb when they’re ready, and some may never climb, and that’s okay.

We don’t have to utter the words, “Be careful!,” as children are, for they’ve also reflected on the decisions that they’re making. This reflection is so important. Just as we wants kids to reflect on academic areas (e.g., reading), we want them to reflect on their gross motor skill development. What’s the right choice for them, and when do these choices begin to change? Think about the potential here for classroom carryover. Assessment AS Learning is all about self-reflection. As kids consider their strengths and needs, realize their limits, learn to take safe risks (and realize what’s safe for them), they also become far more reflective, independent learners, thinkers, and problem-solvers. Isn’t this one of our biggest goals as educators? I wonder if a regular forage out to the forest might be the key to this kind of success.

I know that this forest space might not be the reality for everyone (or for many), but if it’s not, how else might we develop these same skills in a different environment? I think of the other times we say, “Be careful!” One of these moments presented itself this week.

In our classroom, we use real knives, graters, screwdrivers, and hammers. We have real glasses, mugs, and dishes in dramatic play. We’ve used a step ladder with kids.

There are many times that I’ve had to bite back the words, “Be careful,” and a few times that I’ve let them slip through. But then I think about the “competent and capable” line in the Kindergarten Program Document, and the many times kids show us just how competent and capable they are. If we want them to demonstrate these skills, do we also need to trust them with the tools and experiences that allow them to do so? What impact might doing so have on the kinds of kids that are going through our educational system? I’m thrilled that Paula helped me reframe my worries, and I hope that others have done the same. Kids will continually amaze us with just what they can do.


If You’re Having A Bad Day, Cause A Flood

I’d like to think that every day is a great day … and the vast majority of days truly do seem to be. But some days seem a little less enjoyable than others. Thursday was starting off as one of those days. There were many factors at play here.

1) The forest was busier than usual. A couple of other classes joined us today, which made the forest louder. Usually this is a calming place to connect with nature, but as my teaching partner, Paula, said when we left, “The animals may have been happy for some quiet now.”

2) I had a prep period 2. This means that the phys-ed teacher joins us outside. With the additional kids and the additional noise, the play never settled before my prep occurred. This made it even harder to settle afterwards. Instead of kids heading inside calm, many were heading inside dysregulated.

3) Paula and I were both feeling a bit dysregulated. We love this forest time, and the calmness that it brings to our day. The change in feeling made both of us feel a little less settled, and when adults are dysregulated, kids also tend to be.

4) There was additional noise. With the forest time not calming any of us as it usually tends to do, the room was louder. It felt a bit more chaotic. Don’t get me wrong: there were still some wonderful things happening, but kids were finding it harder to settle, and Paula and I felt the same way.

This was definitely one of the wonderful things from Thursday.

5) It was Pizza Day. Almost all of our students get pizza, and as such, they almost all wanted to eat right away. Usually our eating table allows for some gradual eating throughout the day, and a few quiet connections during play. Instead, the table was full right away, with a few more spaces for pizza eating, and then remained empty. Again, we were missing some much needed quiet.

6) With duty for me during the second nutrition break, Paula had to leave for her lunch early, which meant that the play hadn’t fully settled before she left. Trying to settle 29 kids into play on your own is not an easy task, and while there were moments of calm, I did find myself standing back a lot and wondering, how can I help make this better?

I then got back from my second nutrition break duty, and Paula was feeling the same stress that I was before I left. We had no plans of tidying up for another 50 minutes. What were we going to do? We both needed to turn today around.

This is when I went over to the sensory bin. Yes, I find sensory play calming, and I thought that getting my hands in the watery juicy mixture with the flowers and connecting with some kids would be a good thing. With flower petals, lemons, oranges, and limes everywhere, we had a HUGE mess to clean up. Why not start the process early?

We’ve extended this same sensory play over the last week, and the flower petals and citrus juice pieces keep clogging our sink. Every day, we’ve had to get kids to write a note to the caretaker asking for a plunger. Yesterday, he even gave us one of our own to keep. 🙂 I was so determined not to clog the drain again that I wondered about straining the juice. I asked a child to go next door and see if they had a strainer we could borrow. She came back with a small strainer to use.

I don’t know what I was thinking, but somehow in my mind, I thought that I could put the small strainer across the little bowl, and pour the sensory bin liquid into the strainer to drain the solids out. Big sensory bin. Small bowl. Smaller strainer. Maybe this was not my best plan, but the heavy lifting and tipping of the sensory bin is always a favourite activity of mine. So the student set-up the strainer and the bowl for me, stood back, and watched. She didn’t stand back quite far enough. My angle wasn’t perfect, the liquid splashed everywhere, the strainer toppled into the bowl, and I caused a tremendous flood. But boy did it make me laugh … like huge guffaws of joy! Paula did the same. The kids joined in, so very happy to see “Miss Dunsiger making a mess!” This flood changed everything!

A few kids got involved in writing notes to the caretaker telling him about my massive mess. He quite likes our class, despite the daily calls for assistance, and was just as amused by my mess as the kids. Then a couple of more kids got involved in wiping up the watery juice, as we waited for him to come with a wet mop. The feel of the room started to change!

In the meantime, Paula was across the room trying to help clean up dramatic play. We must clean this area ten times a day. Every time kids clean it, somebody else goes in. You turn around, and poof, there’s another child there pulling out items and leaving a trail behind. Paula and I joked that we would need to cover the whole space in a sheet to actually make it closed. We didn’t go quite that far, but Paula did get kids involved in making the most massive “No!! Closed!” sign of life. They sounded out the words, they measured the space to hang it, and they got it up. Again, more fun. More laughter. Pure joy! In these last 50 minutes of the day, the room changed, and we were actually sad to tidy up for home. As one of our kindergarteners said, “Today was the funnest day ever!!” Perspective.

This was the greatest reminder to me that you can always change a trajectory. Make a mess. Find some joy to connect you and the kids. Get that reason to laugh … and laugh that wonderfully deep belly laugh that totally changes how you’re thinking and feeling. A previous principal of mine, Paul Clemens, used to start every day on the announcements with these words: “Make it a great day or not. The choice is yours!” We found a way to make Thursday into a great day, and while it may not have been the very best day at school, it certainly did end in one of the very best of ways. How do you turn a day around? What role might humour play in your day? If you ever had a day like we did on Thursday, try pouring a big mess into a little bowl and seeing what happens. You might be surprised.