My Picket Line Surprise

Today was our first of three one-day walkout days that we have scheduled in the next two weeks. Being on strike in any form is never easy, even though it can be incredibly important. I continue to think about this tweet that I sent out early this morning before leaving for the picket line.

I missed something in here though.

As I was out walking this morning, I was reminded of some things …ย not to do with education, but to do with striking.

  • Time goes much slower on theย picket line.ย Every day in the classroom, I’m surprised by how fast time goes. Usually I feel as though we just head outside, and then it’s over an hour later, and we’re coming in.ย How does this happen?!ย Today though, as my teaching partner, Paula, and I walked and talked with other educators up and down our strip of sidewalk, I made the mistake of checking my watch.ย How had we only been walking for 20 minutes?!ย Striking is the football equivalent of time passage. ๐Ÿ™‚
  • My bladder fills a lot faster on a picket line.ย File this under “too much information” if you want, but as educators know, bathroom breaks for adults are a rarity in the school day. But as I walked back and forth and back and forth again, it quickly became apparent that a comfort break would be much appreciated.ย This was also after one less coffee than usual …
  • A little positive reinforcement can go a long way.ย I was pleasantly surprised by the number of honking horns, enthusiastic waves, kind words, baked goods (including three dozen Grandad’s Donuts), and hot beverages (thanks to our amazing EAs for the hot chocolate this morning) being shared with all of us today. These words of encouragement and yummy treats inspired many of us to keep going.ย Keep walking.ย 

Maybe the biggest moment of wonderful for me personally was when one of our parents arrived this morning with his four-year-old daughter (in our class) and his one-year-old daughter (in the daycare). Dad told us that he offered his four-year-old daughter a choice of things that she could do today, and she wanted to come and walk with us. Her desire to carry one of the strike signs even got me holding a sign for a bit, as we walked up and down the sidewalk together. As the dad then had us gather together for a photograph, it was hard not to feel a little teary-eyed. What a great personal reminder about why we’re doing this:ย for the kids!ย 

Thanks to the dad who gave me permission to share this here.

All of a sudden, I started to have a professional view on my learning from above.

  • It’s the students that make our day go quicker.ย It’s our interactions with them that lead me to send out tweets like the one I did the other night …

  • When involved in the play of 28 kindergarten kids, somehow you get so immersed in things that you forget about other requirements … like the need to pee.ย ๐Ÿ™‚ย Need I say more?!ย Just listen to one minute of our day. Imagine what the rest is like.

  • This JK child, her dad, and her sister were my biggest “positive reinforcement” for today.ย They left me smiling. They gave me that needed push to keep walking, and somehow, that last 1 1/2 hours of picket duty went a whole lot faster.ย 

A student presence was really felt on the picket line today. While I’ve been on strike before, this is the first time that I’ve seen so many parents and students walking with us. When a couple of Grade 7 students came in the last 45 minutes of our picket duty with a carafe of coffee, three dozen donuts, and requests of, “Would you like a coffee and how do you take it?,” I had to smile. Here are intermediate students driven to get involved and support their teachers.ย Doesn’t this make your heart happy?!ย 

A special thank you to our special four-year-old who made me stop and look at today from a different perspective, and not miss the important small moments that I might have overlooked without her there. Today was about kids. And kids are always worth our fight. What’s driving you on the picket line?ย Talks between the government and ETFO have begun again, and in the midst of this educational unrest, I have to believe that there will be good things to come.

Aviva

Twitter-Sizing It: Adventures In Brevity

I just finished writing my Communications of Learning. If this was like previous years, the last couple of weekends would have been full of #CofL (Communication of Learning) Twitter posts, with a countdown on comments completed and comments still left to go. As I’ve blogged about before, a Communication of Learning is different than a report card, and while technology issues, a new Program Document, and the Four Frames have made the Communications of Learning difficult to write at times, I’ve still enjoyed the reflection process. I love the asset-based approach to assessment, and how it’s truly reflective of the child. Having taught from Kindergarten to Grade 6, I was less of a fan of the traditional report cards, always feeling as though I needed to wordsmith my comments to fit in the couple of lines that I got per subject area, but with half-a-page per Frame, I could now write a Learning Story. I wasn’t worried about qualifiers matching marks and not having space to communicate my thoughts. Like blog writing, story writing is what I know. It’s what I do. So while I didn’t always celebrate a weekend or two in front of the computer writing, I did celebrate a reporting option that was personalized and about kids. When sign writing about broken bathrooms, stick ball, worm poop, worm pregnancy, worm houses (there’s a lot to say about wormsย ๐Ÿ™‚ ), and the problem solving involved in descending a tree safely, can all fit well into a reporting template, how can you not love it?! This year was different though.

Our Work-To-Rule requirements mean that kindergarten educators are only writing “one brief comment per Frame.” As I said in a recent blog post, I totally understand and support our job action, but this did provide a new challenge for me.ย How could I capture the essence of each child in four brief comments?ย I think this tweet of mine sums things up.

My comments are incredibly brief, but they are personalized, and they do say something. Even given the few number of sentences, as I proofread the Communication of Learning comments today, I could still get a picture of each child in my mind, and this made me happy. This was important to me, for as we fight for maintaining the current Kindergarten model, I think there’s also something to be said for maintaining a Program Document that supports play, inquiry, and interest-based learning, while developing the thinking, problem solving, and social skills to allow for current and future success. Somehow I wanted to preserve the integrity of these comments, while also keeping them brief. Maybe my word choice experiences from years and grades ago proved useful once again. ๐Ÿ™‚

Now the interesting thing here is that these Communications of Learning, like elementary report cards, are not being sent out this term.

In the end, it will just be me, my teaching partner, Paula, and our principalย who get to see these comments.ย Was the time invested worth it, if these comments are only for us?ย The more that I think about this, the more that I believe that it was. Reflection time is never wasted time, and getting this clear picture of each child can only further support Paula and I as we plan ahead for each of our kids. It’s like the unpublished blog post:ย sometimes writing it is what matters most of all.ย How are you benefitting from your report cards or Communications of Learning even if they don’t make it past your eyes? What value might this reflection process have on your students?ย Now here’s to hoping that my regular Communication of Learning countdown can be back soon enough, but for now, I’ll embrace the Twitter-sized version of a learning story because even with a character count, you can still say something valuable.

Not A Communication of Learning Comment, But Proof That A Story Can Be Brief.ย ๐Ÿ™‚

Aviva

Is It Fair, And Does It Need To Be?

I remember many years ago when I taught at Ancaster Meadow School. It was there when I first started to really focus on my winter parking woes. Being the first one at school in the morning, I set the tone for the parking lot. Due to a limited number of spaces in the lot, we all had assigned spaces. For the life of me, I could not make it into parking space #4 (yes, I still remember my numberย ๐Ÿ™‚ ) no matter how hard I tried. I would use visual cues on the fence to help, but apparently I was always off on my cues, and I still ended up outside of the lines. There was often either an announcement asking me to move my car, or a personal visit from the secretary asking for re-parking.

I tried to fix the problem … I really did! My time at Ancaster Meadow started when we had aย Memos To All Staffย email option, and I decided to start a conversation around a winter parking system. If I parked right next to the cement structure (in my principal’s spot), I would have the perfect visual required to make it into a spot. I might be too far up or too far back, but I would be in. As much as I wanted this change, many people did not.ย Nobody could quite start an email debate like me.ย ๐Ÿ™‚ People are really devoted to their parking spots, and suggesting a change was not easy.

One year, I managed to convince people to try a winter parking system —ย if you can’t see the lines, then park in the first spot of your assigned row, and fill in the spaces accordingly.ย This worked until someone decided that they NEEDED to park in their usual spot, and then the spaces were somehow still off. Maybe as much as I required a change in parking location others required the consistency/routine that comes from having the same spot.ย Now what?

This is when my principal at the time, Paul Clemens, offered up some support. He said, “If everyone else doesn’t want to change, why don’t you and I just switch spots?” It was like my own personal Parking IEP. It also got me to look more closely at the idea thatย for things to be fair, they don’t always need to be equal.ย Others could find their parking spots with the help of a visual cue —ย be it another car or a marking on the wallย — but I couldn’t. My principal understood this, so he gave me what I needed with a winter parking routine that reduced my stress and led to a successful start to the day.ย 

I thought about this again on Thursday during my prep time. When I left the classroom for my prep, both my teaching partner, Paula, and I knew that a couple of things in our space needed to change. Things weren’t working as we wanted them to work.ย But how could we change them?ย I was having problems seeing the space differently, and I needed to do some thinking. Usually during this Period 4 prep, I go to the staffroom. I can have my lunch, upload documentation, and reflect on the morning, but there are always other people in the staffroom at the same time. I like my conversations with all of them, but on Thursday, I needed quiet to reflect. I knew that I couldn’t find this quiet in my usual space.ย Now what?

In the past, I’ve found a hallway space for some quiet contemplation. I considered the kindergarten hallways, but with the gym right across the hall from us, there’s usually noise.

I decided to go on a walk in search of quiet. That’s when I found the stairs out in the front foyer. It was between periods, so the stairs weren’t being used. The hallway was also silent. I decided to sit on the stairs, search online for some sensory spaces as inspiration, and do some thinking. Wouldn’t you know that my principal found me there on his way back into the office?! He chuckled quietly to himself, wondered what I was doing, but also let me be.

He could have questioned my safety of sitting on the stairs, but he also trusted me, and seemed to know that this is what I needed. Now if everyone started piling on the stairs, this could be problematic,ย but again, sometimes “fair” is not always the same.ย 

I share these stories because my teaching partner, Paula, and I discuss fairness a lot. Over our four years teaching together, we’ve learned the students don’t always need the same things and that’s okay.ย 

We’ve had kids with desk spaces …

Students with shelves …

Those that get ready in the classroom, and others that get ready in the hallway …

to name just a few.

Recently, somebody asked us how students respond to these differences, and we realized that not once this year has a child said that it’s “not fair.”

  • Is this because all children feel as though they have what they need, so they’re not concerned?
  • Is this because they recognize —ย even if they don’t articulate itย — that different children need different things?
  • Is this because we’re comfortable with these differences, and somehow,ย even unknowingly,ย project this comfort onto kids?

Maybe it’s something else entirely, but these conversations around “fairness” sometimes make me wonder if our concerns around how kids might react, start with our own adult concerns around if these differences are okay. It’s as I think more about my own adult accommodations that I become even more comfortable with those for kids.ย What are your thoughts and experiences around “fairness?”ย I wonder if it could be fine for kids to not always learn “how to deal” in the same way as others, knowing that as they grow up, they might also need something a little bit different to work for them. I appreciate those people that have supported my differences, and I think that these experiences will always make me speak up a little louder for children.ย What about you?

Aviva

4:45

For 19 years, I’ve gotten up at 4:45 every school day. Some may think I’m a morning person. I’m not. I actually prefer silence in the morning, and my ideal day is one where nobody talks to me until at least 8:30. But over the years, I’ve come to realize that I like a slow start. I am always at school between 6:45 and 6:50, and I work my way around the classroom methodically. I start at the corner by the door, move to the creative table area, over to the sensory bin, down to the lunch table, over to the back counter space and longer table, then onto the two small spaces at the back of the room by the windows, before ending at the big carpet. The last thing that I do is set-up the computer and open all of the tabs for the day. My goal is to be plugging in the computer by 8:15, and I almost always reach my goal. Then my teaching partner, Paula, arrives, and we can have a quick debrief before she starts supervision at 8:55.ย Routine.ย Some might call it boring. Some may argue that I need to get more comfortable with change. I call it the thing that makes me a self-regulated teacher. As you can imagine then, I had A LOT of adjusting to do with our current phase of Work-To-Rule, where we can only enter the school 30 minutes before instructional time begins and leave 15 minutes after the bell goes.

Over the past week, like other educators, I’ve worked hard to adjust to my new normal. I thought, I can sleep in almost two more hours each day. This was more challenging than I realized. I’m so used to getting up early that I tend to wake up by 4:45, even without an alarm clock. I’ve tried to lie there to go back to sleep, but I keep thinking about what I need to get done at school and at home, and sleep rarely comes. I thought about getting up early and exercising in the morning instead of in the evening, but I’ve convinced myself that if I just lie still, I’ll fall back to sleep.ย Then my 6 hours of sleep could become 8 hours, and that would be better.ย But I have yet to really fall back to sleep. Now I’m trying to decide if 6 hours of restful sleep is better or worse than 8 hours of restless sleep. The jury is still out on that one! ๐Ÿ™‚

My day at school is also spent differently now. In order to leave in 15 minutes, instead of two hours, I now spend my nutrition break times and prep time planning with Paula for the next day instead of uploading documentation. The latter I can do at home. The former is harder. Sometimes I find myself taking a photograph of the environment, so that we can reflect on more challenging areas or experiences at night time through text … when the gift of time gives us a chance for further reflection. We know the importance of the environment as the third teacher, and so we find ways to still make our new normal work for us and for our kids.

This is what educators do. And while I’ve been trying to use my Self-Reg strategies — from an extra cup of coffee to a good book to read to a few deep breaths — to work through the stress of a quick set-up, a fast leave, and way more talking in the morning, I still stand 100% behind our job action.ย Why?ย There are many reasons, but maybe the biggest one hit home through part of an email that Paula and I received from a parent this weekend.

“[Name]ย  is very lucky to have you both teaching him!!”

Our program works because of the team component. Our team is a partnership, and it’s what we both bring to the table that makes a difference for kids. In the past four years, Paula’s helped me …

  • better understand how relationships impact on academic as well as social success, and how to build these strong relationships with kids.
  • understand developmental milestones, and how we can be more responsive to kids based on their developmental levels.
  • understand the value in play —ย free, child-directed and led playย — and the learning that can come from this.
  • understand the need to discuss observations in order to gain a better understanding of where to go next.
  • understand the need to listen to kids, and what really listening to kids actually looks like.ย I now respond to student concerns with, “What happened first?,” and try to actually figure out the whole story …ย for there is almost always something that happened first.
  • understand that small changes can have a big impact, and sometimes just moving something to a new area in the room or adding or removing one item, can totally change the play.
  • understand that just because someone asks a question, doesn’t mean that we always have to answer it. Sometimes the answer of, “What do you think?,” is the best answer of all.
  • understand that we are not the only ones that can support children, and the value in supporting student leadership so that even young kids can teach each other.
  • understand what “competent and capable” really means, and that kids SHOULD be exposed to the world around them — from science to artย — and the complex vocabulary that they can use with ease when we use it enough with them.

In 19 years of teaching multiple grades at eight different schools, I’ve honestly never been happier, learned more, or encouraged to think differently more than when I’ve worked with Paula. She makes me a better teacher, and it’s this educator partnership that is truly key to Full-Day Kindergarten. So if coming later and leaving earlier means a fight for the continuation of this Early Learning Model, then it’s totally worth it, as kids deserve the value that comes from these partnerships.

Stephen Hurley touches on the benefits of a team during the VoicEd This Week In Ontario Edublogs recording from last week. Paula and I are mentioned between the 30 minute and 31 minute mark.

Maybe in time I will get used to wake-ups later than 4:45, and if not, then I certainly welcome suggestions to help. I’ve learned in the past week though that things worth fighting for take time, issues are complex, and we all need to find ourย why. This is what makes it easier. This is what gives us staying power.ย What is your “why?”ย This is not the easiest time in Ontario education, but here’s to hoping that things get better soon, and maybe there will be some happy 4:45 wake-ups once again!

Aviva

Perfectly Imperfect: What Our Cubby Connundrum Taught Us About Kids!

I remember when I first started teaching kindergarten 19 years ago. I used to put names on everything —ย from journals to hooks.ย Every new child or mispelled name meant tons of additional work to do. I never really considered how many items had names on them until I had to add or change one. Then over the years things changed, and this year, my teaching partner, Paula, and I put names on almost nothing. It’s kind of like that song,ย Let It Go: this is what we decided to “let go.”

Based on some feedback from another kindergarten teaching team at our school, we didn’t even put names on the hooks in the hallway. At first, this was strange for us, but overall, the kids have figured it out. We have a few sets of hooks, and every day, students select one that works for them. A few children always select the same hook. Others always look for hooks beside their friends. One set of siblings select hooks across from each other, so that they don’t confuse their backpacks and snowpants. I love that they’ve even spent the time thinking about this.ย Metacognitive hook selection … AMAZING! Yes, there’s always a child or two who forgets where they hung up their backpack, but with only a couple of different hook choices and friends to support them, they always find their things with relative ease. In some ways it’s all part of the learning process. In our opinion, if we want kids to be more independent, we have to give them opportunities to have this independence. Now we no longer have to worry about hook changes, name spelling, and problem solving where one more student might go. The kids own these problems!

The same is true in the classroom. On the back wall of our room, we have a lot of open cubby spaces. These could be used for storage. Instead though, we use them as spaces where kids can “save” their work. I’ve taught in classrooms with a similar layout before, and I always labelled these spaces for kids:ย one cubby for each child.ย No more. Our students have figured out that if they want a space, they can create it. Some children have made multiple spaces.

The other day, a four-year-old told me that he was going to get “scissors and tape. I know that I have them in my cubby.”ย And he did.ย While my initial reaction was to think, the scissors and tape are for the classroom …ย why is he holding onto them in his cubby?ย The other part of me loved the problem solving that comes from ensuring that he always has what he needs by putting them in his cubby. It was this other part of me that won out, and I had to smile at his ingenuity.

I love how some children can have more cubbies than others. Other children have no interest in a cubby and don’t save anything. A few children have communal cubbies with friends. All of these different options can co-exist, and every child is happy. Not one student has complained to us about how unfair it is that “[Name] has two cubbies,” or “[Name] is saving his LEGO work, and I never get to save anything.”

  • If you want to save it, make a space.
  • If you want more spaces, make another one.
  • If you don’t like the layout of the spaces, reorganize them.

Yes,ย there are times that I walk by this back wall area, look at the cubbies, and feel an overwhelming desire to clean them out, put back the individual LEGO pieces, and straighten the signs, but Paula has inspired me not to do any of this.ย If the kids have spent the amount of time that they have, organizing the things that they do, should we not respect this?ย I’m coming to fall in love with the highly imperfect, disorganized organization, and what this seemingly small spot says about our view of the child, as “competent and capable” learners. It makes me think about what I inadvertantly communicated to them before, when all classroom organization rested with me.ย 

Strangely enough, it’s our coat hooks and cubbies that help me see how we’ve supported independence in the classroom. Maybe this seems like a primary problem, but when I taught Grades 5 and 6, my students relied even more on me to help them stay organized, find their materials, and figure out where to put their things. I wonder if some open cubbies and a push to have students take charge, would have changed things for them.ย How do you support this independence with your kids?ย Doing a little bit less has eliminated some of our stress and helped children. There’s something to be said for some perfect imperfection.

Aviva