Facilitating Online Learning When Your Practice Is Based On Relationships?! Finding That Virtual Connection.

Through Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and FaceTime, my teaching partner, Paula, and I continue to talk a lot each day. A recent conversation around relationships led to us discussing a possible “guest blog post.” This is Paula’s guest post. 

I’m so glad that she did start typing, and shared her story. Our story. What’s yours? I’m hoping that this will not be end of her blogging experiences.


My teaching partner, Aviva, and I have had the privilege to work together for the past four years with numerous families, children, and educator teams to co-create the most beautiful kindergarten communities. Each year our students grow, and with them, so does our environment. Our practice is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the children, families, and the communities we service. We are passionate about our craft. We spend hours and hours chatting about our kids. We reflect daily on our observations, documentation, environment, and program goals. But always in the forefront are the children – Are their needs being met? What’s working? What else can we do? What do we need to change? 

We work hard to develop an environment that is respectful of all those individuals who are a part of it and everyone who enters it. Our main goal is to cultivate a community of independent learners who are constantly contributing in an environment that they can navigate independently. A place where everyone can be trusted and everyone is heard. We want our students to know that we believe they are competent and capable of anything! We want them to OWN it. Each of them, in their own way, and at their own pace. 

It’s messy (really messy in so many ways), loud (a constant hum of conversation, dramatic interpretation, heated negotiations, and sometimes high-pitched responses), emotions run high, and it is always filled with beautiful creations and projects of all shapes and sizes, covering every inch of the classroom. It’s not easy, and far from perfect. Every day is different, nothing ever seems to go as planned, and you really need your supportive teaching team – they are your life line

Oh how I miss every second of it! 

Our current reality has presented the biggest challenge to date… How do we do what we do without our classroom? Without our children there with us? Is it even possible? 

Our little utopia doesn’t come easy. It takes months and months of support to create independence. Constant reflection and incredible flexibility in practice is paramount to ensure all developmental needs and domains are being met. How do we get there? 

Relationships. We work to build strong, personal relationships with our students. We make connections. We share stories about ourselves. We listen, we inquire, we try to relate, be present (interested), and if we can’t listen, we make a point of coming back to hear about “it” — whatever that “it” might be. We join conversations. We acknowledge when we are wrong or unknowing. We are honest about our own needs and our own feelings. We respect each other. 

We play! This is where we teach – where we reflect and extend, notice and name, enhance skills, introduce new vocabulary, suggest new materials, inquire, and redirect learning. All through and during play. Almost everything we do is based on what children do and how we can support and extend the learning. 

We set the stage. We plan based on play. Most of our provocations come from our students. Their needs, their likes, their interests. We provide the materials and the inspiration. Very little is random. Our experiences are set-up prior to class and are based on our knowledge of child development, the Ontario Kindergarten Program Document, Growing Success, and the ELECT Document. We consider self-regulation and social dynamics. We limit transitions and support the ones we have with clear expectations, encouraging students to take the lead. We consider space and how we can all learn together successfully within it. We are constantly thinking about Stuart Shanker’s questions: Why this child? Why now? 

We give time. We try to give everything and everyone time. We provide large blocks of play. 

How on earth do we build all of this in an online environment? 

How can we be present for our students? How do we connect, and continue to build relationships? How do we be there for our students when we can’t actually be there? 

I know we are not alone with these thoughts. These are ongoing questions that so many educators are faced with around the globe. It is wild to think about the millions and millions of people affected. 

The amazing Aviva has taught me so many things. What stands out most to me right now is her constant (sometimes annoying) reminder that everyone, everything has an entry point. With this in mind, I think about my role as an online Early Childhood Educator. What is my entry point? How do I adapt my practice to meet my new online reality? What is most important right now? I hear Aviva asking me, “what CAN you do?” 

Here’s what I can do. 

Record videos of myself and post them on the blog.

This is where we started. Aviva and I each recorded a two minute video right after the March Break. We highlighted what we have been doing and how much we missed everyone. That’s all. One parent shared that her child watched these videos over and over again. He was so excited just to see us. (Oh my heart!)

Provide learning provocations through video messages. 

I try to get a little personal here. My first video was of a quiet space for just me. A calm space perfect for working. A place for kids to imagine me as well as hopefully inspire them. I shared photographs of my kids working. I documented my daughter following a recipe submitted by a student

Provide a consistent live learning classroom. 

Aviva and I created an online classroom in Google Meet at the beginning of distance learning three weeks ago (has it really been that long?!). It is at 10 am every school day. It is completely optional. Some children join daily and others when they can. We play the same song as we did to start our gathering at school. It is incredible the comfort this song brings, even to those who didn’t participate at school. While our delivery and provocations change, the setting remains the same … always

Give it time. 

This can be so hard. We instinctively want to fix things that don’t work, but time almost always takes you to the best places. These online classrooms need a different kind of patience than the classroom. There is background noise. Only one to two people can speak at a time or no one is heard. Aviva and I speak often about wait time in the classroom and online. Recently at the end of our classroom sessions (we invite kids who have something more to share to stay and chat), a child shared a LONG story about a piece of artwork. Sometimes, online especially, children don’t always pick up on cues to move onto the next thing. It can be a challenge not to cut a speaker off. In this case we listened, and at the end of the story, she shared the complete life cycle of the butterfly!! What?! We were able to introduce some new vocabulary and make some suggestions that this child used in an oral presentation the following day!!! And to think we almost didn’t give her the time. 

Increase my online presence. 

A classroom with multiple educators has the gift of a variety of perspectives. In our classroom, Aviva shares our voice. Most of what we share to families and communities as a whole is written and presented by Aviva, from both of us. I rarely personally comment on anything. Up until now, I strongly believed that one consistent voice was enough: it is the strength that bonds us as a united team. I wonder though, with our new reality, do the children/families need to hear more from me? Should I start commenting on the work submitted? Is it okay to comment on some and not all? Putting myself out there professionally on a digital forum is a little scary! 

We are fortunate to have an amazing parent group who have embraced our transparent learning community since the beginning of the school year. They are so supportive. We share everything online. Our learning was documented through video clips and photographs daily. I am used to being seen online. I am actually quite famous on our classroom blog. 🙂 My voice is heard, my presence strong. It is my normal. It has become my way of evaluating my own practice. Although it was difficult at first to watch myself in the classroom, I now believe it makes me a WAY better educator. 

Thinking back to Aviva’s thoughts on entry points I remember that everyone is at a different place that can change from day to day. Students, parents, and educators alike. When things get overwhelming and I question the relevance of an online Kindergarten Program and my role within it, I remember this interaction with one of our four-year-old students last week. 

T – “Mrs.Crockett, Mrs.Crockett can you see my shirt?” 

Me – “Yes I see it! It is a beautiful pink.” 

T – “Yes but, Mrs.Crockett, do you love it?” 

Me – “Oh yes T., I love it!” 

And her mic goes off. She goes back to drawing quietly, listening to the rest of the class. With actual tears, every single time, I remember that showing up, being present, and keeping that connection going, are enough. 


Teaching Under Lockdown

This morning, I caught a tweet about Sue Dunlop‘s recent blog post on Leadership and Learning Under Lockdown. While I left a comment on the post, I also struggled through the wording of my comment. 

Once again, I found myself back in that Teacher Leadership course from last year, and questioning if I’m a leader. But whether using the word choice of “teacher” or “leader,” I could really connect to so much of what Sue says here. 

I’m definitely an introvert, and I’m happy to spend days on end readingIt’s one of the things that I look forward to the most about summer break. And while I continue to enjoy reading during my extra time at home, from a teaching/learning perspective, I really miss the classroom. My teaching partner, Paula, and I speak frequently about the importance of relationships, and we build our classroom around these strong relationships. Recently, I was listening to an ECOO Podcast featuring a high school teacher, Alanna King.

Listen to “EP 05 Alanna King” on Spreaker.

I could connect to a lot of what she said here, but what gave me pause, was her comment around the fact that when all of this happened, at least relationships/connections were already formed. On one hand, I agree, but on another, I think that at least for our young learners, we needed to form online relationships before learning could happen.

  • Some kids are scared.
  • They can read — and do respond to — adult stress.
  • They miss people. They miss their friends. They miss their teachers. They miss their class.
  • They miss normal. They need to see what a “new normal” looks and feels like.

It was for all of these reasons that Paula and I decided to create an online classroom. Nobody has to come. A few never do, and some peek in every once in a while. That’s okay. But for some kids, our Google Meeting (which we’re slowly transitioning over to a Microsoft Team) is what they look forward to the most. Their smiles literally light up the screen. There’s one child who always stays until the very end, even if he has nothing to share, because he wants to say, “Goodbye!” It’s sweet. It’s heartbreaking. But these connections — as different as they are from what we had before — make me smile the most every single day. 

I think that I really realized my need for these connections on Monday. We had just started the meeting when my screen froze. Oh no! I tried to get out and login again, and I was told that I had “no connection to the Internet.” What?! I saw the wifi bars at the top of my computer screen, but the computer wasn’t picking up wifi. I tried my iPad. It wasn’t working either. I ran upstairs to reset the modem, but I still received an error message. Talk about terrible timing. Now I knew that Paula was in the room and could handle things — Internet goes down, and it’s out of our control — but I didn’t want to miss out on this meeting. 

  • I needed to see the class.
  • I needed to hear kids’ ideas.
  • I wanted to be a part of this.

And so, in my loungewear, I packed up my laptop and iPad and drove over to the nearest school … about two minutes away. I knew that I could pull close to the door and hopefully pick up the wifi signal from inside. (Without a Smart Phone — call this a #firstworldproblem 🙂 — this was my only option.) Thankfully it worked! While a few dog walkers gave me some strange looks as I helped co-host a meeting from my car, I was still able to be a part of the conversation. I could connect with both the kids and with Paula. 

The best part about all of this is when Paula realized that I wasn’t in the Meet Room — she joins through her phone, so doesn’t see the whole screen — she had a student help her facilitate questions and sharing. Not only did this five-year-old demonstrate some amazing leadership, but she inspired us to support more student leadership. Now other kids help choose those that share and support this ease of sharing. And so, on Monday, I was able to join back in to observe student leadership in action, and that made this call super special. 

While I know how much these online interactions mean to me, they’re definitely different than seeing kids in person.

  • I miss the children that throw themselves into you because they’re so excited to show you right up close exactly what they love.
  • I miss how a look, a gentle touch on the shoulder, or even a move up close can help redirect or support kids without saying a word. 
  • I miss how a “close up observation” and a quick hello, can tell you so much about what a child is thinking and feeling and how best to respond. 
  • I miss the ease of seamless turn-taking that occurs when nobody has to worry about muting and unmuting a microphone.
  • I miss the sound of everyone’s voices together, when we say The Turtle Island Welcome, sing our Sound Alphabet Song, or even read something together as a group.

But as much as I miss, I’m happy to have these daily calls with our class. When Paula and I sent out instructions for joining our new Microsoft Team, we made sure to include “leave on the video.” Usually this is discouraged, especially in a larger group. As Sue also shared in her post, a picture or a bubble doesn’t suffice for the kinds of connections that we’re trying to make right now. In an online classroom context, sometimes seeing a person without even saying a word, can have the biggest impact of all!

A Practice Call With Myself 🙂

Our online classroom connections aren’t perfect, and as I shared in a recent blog post, we continue to reflect and tweak the process, but when teaching under lockdown, they’re the moments that seem to matter the most. As an educator, administrator, parent, or student, how have you adapted to this new reality? Have these adaptations made things better for you and/or others? Thanks Sue for starting such an important discussion!


Never Say Never: Reflecting, Hope, A New Possibility!

When at school, my teaching partner, Paula, and I reflect constantly. You can often find us in the classroom, sitting on two little chairs together after school, sharing our observations, engaging in kid talk, and trying to figure out what to add or change to make things better. Even when things are going well, these discussion times remain, but usually with a focus on how to continue the momentum. As the After Care Program comes in from outside, and some of our kids enter the classroom again, we’ll even have them join in on the conversation and the planning. It’s a whole system of reflection that works.

Now though, teaching and learning looks totally different … but this week, we were reminded how reflection time is equally valuable.

Earlier in the week, we noticed that our Class Video Meets, which usually have 23-26 students attend, had lower numbers than usual. Why? At first, we attributed this to some Internet problems in the area, but the slightly lower numbers continued. Now around 20 students was our norm, and while these video conferences have never been required, we couldn’t figure out the reason for the dip. We always invite parents to email us their feedback, but nobody shared any concerns with us, so now we needed to do some of our own investigating. Paula and I decided to watch kids closely during the online meetings, and see if we could garner anything from their words and actions. We noticed that while some children were excited to share their learning with us, others seemed quite fidgety. They wanted to stay, but didn’t necessarily have anything to add. The nature of the platform coupled with the age of our kids, seem to lead to a lot of turn-taking sharing, but is there a way to make it more than that?

This led to us discussing the possibility of doing an interactive lesson online. 

  • All of our children have paper and a drawing/writing instrument. What if they brought one with them to “class?”
  • We’ve been looking at some artwork that includes shapes and lines. What if Paula demonstrated how to draw different shapes and lines?
  • Kids could practice on their own papers, and then look at how to combine these shapes and lines together to create something. What could they make?
  • We hate to limit creativity time, but would the addition of a timer help keep things on track and support some deeper focus? Kids could always continue drawing or writing past the timer if they want to do so.

I’ll admit that this approach made both of us feel uncomfortable. We never get all children to do the same thing at the same time … or even something so similar. This drawing activity seemed very prescribed, and we wanted to make sure that there were still multiple entry points. Looking at some of our children that seem the most disengaged online — a word that bothers me, but also a truthful representation of what we were seeing — we thought that their love of the Arts would help make this activity a calming one for them, and might increase their interest in this online learning space. Could students then take what they started here, and extend their learning independently at home?

We thought that this new approach was worth a try, and so, we tried yesterday. This was definitely our best meeting yet!

  • When we emailed parents to tell them our plans, more kids came to the meeting to participate in the activity. This had our attendance up closer to normal.
  • Kids carefully watched Paula’s demonstration, and then began to draw their own shapes and lines, which slowly evolved to multiple amazing masterpieces. One child drew a story involving a girl, while another created a beach story with some “abstract seagulls.” A couple of kids created Turtle Island: linking to our classroom learning. Another child drew a group of “zig zag monsters.” There was even a child, who used the lines to form numbers and letters, including an attempt at a “cursive e.” (Due to privacy reasons, I couldn’t take any photographs of the work shared, so hopefully the descriptions suffice.)
  • Everyone could participate. Paula really focused in on the lines and shapes, so kids could apply this learning in multiple ways. While some children just worked on drawing different shapes, others connected the shapes to make pictures. A few students even added words and colours, with one JK child sounding out “Beach” as a title for his picture, while an SK child labelled the entire drawing of her apartment building. I love that we didn’t even make these writing suggestions, but kids chose to do so on their own.
  • Students applied what they learned at school, but in a different context. One JK child shared her incredibly detailed house picture, with little windows and people playing “below them.” She even drew a “concentric sun.” It was great to hear her using the language that we learned during our study of Kandinsky’s work, but in a different context. Concentric shapes must have been popular, as another child drew a picture on an iPad of a jellyfish, and pointed out the “concentric circles” that she included. 
  • Conversation flowed naturally over this same, but different, work. To avoid having too many microphones on at the same time, and hearing a ton of static, usually kids raise their hands to add to the conversation. I pick students, who then unmute their microphone, share their work, and then mute their microphone again. As kids held up some of their work though, they began to notice similarities and differences in their pictures. Sharing seemed to flow naturally. While we did quickly get to a point where I started picking kids again, there was a beautiful few minutes of children muting and unmuting microphones, one after the other, sharing their work, questioning each other, and making connections between their artwork. It was short, but it was perfect! 

When the call ended yesterday, Paula and I spoke about how to continue with this approach. We are going to break things down into smaller bits to allow for multiple mini-lessons, but with an equal amount of open-endedness and sharing. Will this approach work forever? Likely not. Just as we had to make a change on Friday, we know that there will be more changes to come. But upon further reflection, Paula and I realized that in our classroom at school, we’re constantly making small changes. 

  • It could be adding a material.
  • It could be taking something away.
  • It could be describing a new technique or approach.

Small changes — based on observations, and with the intent of extending interest and learning — are a key component of our classroom approach … so how did we miss this component in our online classroom approach? A couple of days ago, I shared this tweet.

I’m fortunate to have a wonderful teaching partner, who shares our online classroom with me, just as she shares our classroom at school. With everyone at home alone though, I wonder about partnerships and connections in other grades. How might you reflect together now? What do these partnerships look like in our new distance learning reality? While in many ways, Paula and I are happy with how things are going in Distance Kindergarten, nothing is perfect. We were reminded of that this week. But hopefully some more reflection conversations will continue to help us tweak our program to better meet the needs of kids. And in this online environment, something that we would have never considered before, became the best new addition to our space. Another reminder of just how different our world is right now, and how some “never’s” might actually hold some amazing possibilities.



A Bad Day. A New Perspective.

Unprecedented times. I’m usually a pretty positive person. I try to find the good if I can. I look for reasons to smile. But in our COVID-19 reality, some days are harder than others. Some days I just want to cry, and some days I do. Yesterday was a day of big emotions for me. The reason doesn’t necessarily matter, and it’s not one to discuss here. As I spent a little time conversing with a friend last night, she made me consider the Self-Regwhy and why now?” that I hadn’t really thought about before. 

Usually, when it comes to change — especially in an educational context — I’m all for it! These changes might be uncomfortable. They might scare me. I might still need to be talked through the process, but I will embrace it. It was 10 years ago that the idea of change had me  blogging and tweeting for the first time with my Grade 1 students. I didn’t think that this was possible before then, but I embraced some new possibilities thanks to the support of educators like Zoe Branigan-Pipe, Jared Bennett, and Aaron Puley. I’ve moved schools three times and grades four times since we started connecting, but years later, these three educators still support, challenge, and extend my thinking in ed-tech and beyond.

Why then is “change” — even changes that might have been considered smaller ones in the past — so much more overwhelming for me right now? I wonder if our current reality has something to do with it. In the midst of a pandemic and with physical distancing rules in place, there’s a lot that we can’t control. Maybe I’m trying to hold onto the few small things that I can, as in their own little way, they almost make things seem that much more normal. In the coming days, weeks, and months, I might need to embrace additional changes: both inside and outside of education. For any changes that don’t just impact me, but also our kids, it’s our positive attitude that might help reduce stress for the entire family. 

As for my hard day yesterday, I tried to work through the stress. 

  • I connected online with good friends.
  • I read a book … even if I couldn’t quite focus on it.

  • I pedalled a little bit harder on the bike — pedalling out some frustration perhaps.
  • And I went to bed early and slept well.

Today’s a new day. I’m hoping for a better one. But I know, watching the daily conversations on edu-Twitter, good days seem to come and go, just as the bad ones do. How do you make it through the harder days? Maybe we all need to hear that making things work isn’t easy. And sometimes our “best” needs to be “good enough,” at least until we can get back at it again. So thanks to those supporters who helped me out yesterday: your kind words and listening ears meant a lot! I hope to return the favour, as right now, there’s something to be said for making it through this TOGETHER.


Our #COVID19 Plan For Social Success

About 1 1/2 years ago now, I blogged in response to one of Doug Peterson’s posts about our workflow and how social media is used as part of the process. Little did any of us know that in March of 2020, our worlds would change due to the Coronavirus pandemic. School life, home life, and just life in general are totally different now. For years, my teaching partner, Paula, and I have had a workflow that works for us and our families, but in response to this pandemic and our new school reality, this workflow has also changed. In many ways, it continues to change. And so, this blog post is actually a work in progress, but it does speak to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. 

First Step — Begin with the Google Meet calls. This is how we connect the most with our kids and families. As with everything that we offer right now, these Google Meet calls are optional, but we usually have 23-26/28 kids join us each day. Parents participate. Siblings join in. This is our way to be social. To build relationships. To support well-being. While much of the large group and small group calls are focused more on open sharing times, sometimes kids share their work with us. This is when we can provide feedback, offer next steps, and maybe get students excited to dig deeper and re-explore previous topics. Paula and I always connect after each Google Meet call, and it’s our discussion that helps us decide where to go next, what new provocations to consider, and how to more deeply engage certain kids. This is not a public social media connection, but the social element of these video calls are certainly evident for us and for our families. 

Second Step — Move to our Class Blog. This is where our approaches continue to vary, especially based on our feedback from families. We decided to post a general plan that can serve as a framework for each week, as well as provide some additional ideas for parents and kids. 

General Weekly Information — We Will Update This Post As Needed

We then add daily contributions to extend on some of the learning shared during our Google Meet calls and through emails from families. This is where our thinking continues to change. After Friday’s call, Paula and I spent a lot of time talking. We realized that while we share daily ideas with parents — and try to always share one day in advance — a lot of what the kids and parents are sharing is in response to the conversations we have with students during the Google Meet calls. The feedback has children running off the calls to try out suggestions.

We recognized that with the many different things that families are doing right now, maybe going through each provocation at home becomes too overwhelming. Paula made a great suggestion: “What if we take 5 minutes each day to present one provocation in the Google Meet room? It can be quick, it can have multiple entry points, and maybe it can get kids excited to try it.” When we thought back to our introduction of an Alphabet Chart in the Google Meet Room, we certainly had far more kids creating different ones. 

Dinosaur Alphabet Book

Alphabet Wall

And so this week, we’re going to try sharing a weekly plan. We will introduce one or two ideas in the Google Meet room each day, and we’ll see how families respond. We’ll invite feedback from parents and kids, and then we’ll probably be back to the drawing board again. The blog will still be the tool, but how it’s used by us might continue to change.

Third, And Final, Step — Engage with kids and families! In many ways, this is also done through our class blog. Many parents are emailing us examples of learning to add to the Family Contributions page on our blog


Through the comments, we try to ask questions and offer feedback to extend the learning. Sometimes children share their work with us in the Google Meet calls instead. While we don’t record these calls, we sometimes reflect on components of them through our blog posts. Our hope is to help share the links between our suggestions and what families are sharing with us. 

The blog also helps us reach beyond our classroom and connect with different educators who support our students. Karen Wilkins, our teacher librarian, not only provides daily provocations through her Twitter account, but also provides feedback to our kids based on what they share. 

Social media connects us when physical connection is not possible. 

Our workflow is similar, but different, now. What’s your current workflow, and how does it change from what you did before? As we all try to make our new reality work for us and for our families, I wonder if sharing some of our approaches will allow us to support each other. If ever there’s a time for help, this seems like the time!