How Might We Create “Safe And Cozy Schools?”

Wow! What a year! With ending on such a strange note, via an online meeting, from a distance, with our class of kindergarteners, it didn’t feel like previous school years. When the meeting was over, I started working my way through some emails. Both my teaching partner, Paula, and I were incredibly grateful for the kind words and anecdotes that parents shared with us. There was one email though that really stuck with me for the past couple of days … not only because of what was mentioned, but because of what wasn’t.

Here’s the message that we received (with the child’s name removed) on Friday evening.

“[Name] really had a blast this year in your class! It’s so great to see her grow and develop.”

Do you also notice what’s missing? Not one mention of distance learning, and from the parent of a child who attended all 54 days of online meetings: sometimes multiple meetings in a day. This had me pause, for in its own way, I began to wonder if this was part of our intention: to create enough normal so that even from a distance, children were able to engage, create, think, and grow in similar ways that they would have in our physical classroom. 

I started to think about a video message that I watched recently by Kristi Keery-Bishop. She talks about the importance of “safe and cozy schools,” and begins to wonder what this might look like for us now.

It’s something that I’m going to be thinking a lot about this summer, for I have to wonder if a “safe and cozy environment” — and the strong relationships that are a part of it — might allow more kids and adults to experience that feeling of comfort no matter what school itself might look like. I have no doubt that many children, along with many parents, educators, and administrators, will remember the 2019-2020 school year because of the past three months, but what else might also be worth remembering? What’s needed to create a “safe and cozy school,” which exists in spite of the restrictions that might also exist? I know this seems like a Utopian ideal, but the words shared by this mom makes me consider the possibilities no matter where or how “school” might take place.


A Non-Goodbye, But A “Thank You” Just The Same!

Three months.

54 days of online classes.

Sometimes one class. Sometimes two. A few times, three.

New vocabulary learned:

Muting. Unmuting. Patience. Technological difficulties.

But with our kids,

Our families,

Babysitters, nannies, and even grandparents,

We made it through together.

There were Cooking Shows,

Fairy Gardens,

Kandinsky-inspired artwork,

Fun Fitness Fridays,


COVID anecdotes,

Funny stories,

Serious moments,

And even screams of, “I’m going to the bathroom,”

Which made it seem a little bit more like school. 🙂

Saying “goodbye” is never easy.

Saying “goodbye” in an online meeting

With parents, siblings, and babysitters is certainly strange.

Not bad.

Still sad.

Certainly less closure than in the past,

But with the hope that next year we will meet again.

Connect again.

Hug again … or maybe just “air hug” again.

Who could have expected this kind of ending?!

A non-ending. A pause. A we’ll-see-what-September-holds.

But for everyone wrapped up in our memories of the past 3 months,

Thank you!

This is a year that we hope will never be repeated,

But will also, never be forgotten.

Cheers to our COVID Crew!

We love each and every one of you.


“It’s Only 1 Hour A Day. Right?!” Or Is It?

Early this week, we learned about the Board’s pack-up-for-summer plan, and my teaching partner, Paula, and I quickly realized that there would be more involved than we thought. Faced with the task of organizing everything in cupboards and bringing home personal materials from the classroom, we knew that our few hours over a couple of afternoons would not be enough time to get everything done. For a frame of reference, look at all of the personal materials that Paula and I moved from our previous school at the end of last year.

I was becoming quite overwhelmed with the prospect of packing this all up again.

Knowing our packing reality, Paula and I made the difficult decision to cancel our online classes on Friday, Monday, and Tuesday, so that we could spend full days at school cleaning up.

We thought about trying to broadcast from our classroom, but as we keep physical distance in the room, having two different devices on the same call in a small space would likely lead to a lot of feedback. Paula and I also wear masks in the classroom, and we’ve never worn masks online. We were worried about how students would respond to seeing us in this way, and we want our online sessions to be a way to calm and support kids … not cause additional stress. And so, there will still be asynchronous learning options for the full week, but a few days will be without synchronous options. We’re only talking here about an hour (or so) a day. Not a big deal … right?! But as Paula and I were discussing this the other day, we realized that these hours are incredibly precious!

  • They are when we get to see our kids.
  • They are when we get to laugh with them.
  • They are when we get excited about their insightful comments and great new learning.

  • They are when we get to experience a little bit of what we had before. When we were in the classroom. With the kids. Playing together.

Based on a comment shared by Kristi Keery-Bishop last week, we planned on using our last week of online meetings to celebrate some special memories of the past school year. Our hope was that we could extend on the learning from before, and re-explore topics that brought our kids the most joy. Now we’re down half the week due to packing up commitments, and while we understand why this has to happen, we’re also feeling sad. Our hope is that we can finish packing and organizing on Monday, and maybe sneak in an extra day of synchronous learning. This could be wishful thinking, but Paula’s giving me hope.

But next week is the last week of school. It’s a week to celebrate, to make memories, and to reflect on a great year … even if this year was one of the strangest ones yet. I want this week with our kids, and I want to find a little happiness together because we all need this right now. Maybe it will be possible. Maybe it won’t. I do know though that Paula and I plan to maximize the time that we do have with our class, regardless of if it ends up being only a couple of days. What are your plans? What do these short bursts of time mean to you and your kids? Here’s to a wonderful last week of school, no matter how bizarre the week might feel!


Professional Wonderings: What Might Assessment And Reflection Look Like In The Time Of COVID?

For over a week ago now, I’ve been gently nudging my teaching partner, Paula, to write another guest blog post. She even has a topic: assessment in the time of COVID. During the past couple of months, Paula and I have spent a lot of time talking about our assessment practices and how they’ve changed. While there are certain things that we’ve been able to do …

there are other things that we have not been able to do, particularly photograph and record the process of learning and rich conversations that happen during our daily online meetings. For those that follow our class blog during the school year, we share daily posts that capture a lot of learning in action. Video recordings are huge for us! During the past four years working together, Paula and I have learned that it’s not just about capturing the learning of the kids, but also reflecting on how we respond to students.

  • What questions do we ask?
  • How might we paraphrase learning, and do we do this enough?
  • How much wait time do we provide?
  • How do our interactions influence the responses that students give? Do we sometimes, inadvertently, move them away from their interests through our questions?
  • What do we need to focus on for our professional growth, and what impact will this have for kids?

We moved from just recording videos to say that we “captured the learning in action,” to spending hours re-watching the videos, listening carefully to what we say and what kids say, observing our actions and theirs, and helping determine next steps based on our observations and the responses of students. We have both come to realize how much we miss during lived experiences, and how valuable this daily reflection time is for both of us as well as for the kids. 

Back in the classroom, the images and snippets of video recordings often helped frame our morning meeting times. They helped us work with kids to plan for what comes next.

Right now though, with everyone learning at home, privacy considerations restrict the use of photographs and video recordings during our online meetings. We realize why this matters, but we wonder about the possible impact on student and staff learning. Yesterday, we attended a fantastic webinar led by Diane Kashin and some staff from the Seneca Lab School. They also looked at the value in revisiting documentation, which made us wonder, what happens when we don’t have this documentation to revisit? 

As Paula continued to reflect on what she might say in a blog post, I wondered if talking out all of her wonderings might help. Before our online class today, I mentioned recording our conversation afterwards, but then as we got immersed in other topics, and I didn’t mention it again. This blog post topic came up a little later on though, and I decided to screencast our discussion. I thought that I would just share it with her, and she could then decide what to do. While Paula agreed to a recording earlier, she didn’t know exactly when I pressed “record,” so the conversation turned out to be really authentic. When I texted Paula the recording, we both wondered if it could act as the post itself. This is the unedited recording, which includes a perfect view of Paula’s ceiling (completely unintentional 🙂 ), but I also think some very valuable dialogue.

In this discussion, we wonder …

  • how we might capture the conversations during online meetings,
  • how we might revisit this learning with kids (when we don’t have video or audio recordings),
  • what might be missed, or misinterpreted, when we rely solely on our memories of what happened,
  • what the impact might be of these changed assessment practices on our professional learning and growth,
  • what others are trying and/or contemplating, and any successes or failures with different approaches. 

We hope that this starts a conversation, and we hope that you add to this conversation. This is not a post of answers, but one of questions, wonders, and our desire to improve. 

From The Combined Voices Of Aviva And Paula

Special Days: Reflections, Considerations, And A New Approach

Special days. I’ve never been a fan of them. Some people may think that this makes me a Holiday Humbug or a Grown-Up Grinch (I do love alliteration), and I’m probably a bit of both. I think though that it took a closer look at the Kindergarten Program Document for me to understand why I dislike them so much: when we’re planning these special days, are we following the lead of the child or our own lead? How do these days align with the thinking and learning happening in the classroom, and how might they further extend this learning?

While my teaching partner, Paula, and I share many similar thoughts around special days, this school year is also very different than past ones. We are all in our third month of teaching and learning at home, and there’s something to be said for developing class and school communities. One of the harder things about synchronous learning is classroom management. You no longer have the same proximity to students. A look, a gentle touch on the shoulder, and/or even a few different participation options (e.g., participating from a chair at the side or a space over in the corner) are more challenging — and sometimes even, impossible — to coordinate in an online forum. While both Paula and I have worked hard at further developing relationships with kids in our Distance Learning Classroom knowing that relationships are at the heart of classroom management — even building these connections is different online. Paula and I realize that special days are often more dysregulating for students, as they vary with the routine that the kids know. We’re now caught in that tug-of-war between desiring to raise class and school spirit and wanting to support a degree of normal in a sea of abnormal. 

Even though we offer various asynchronous learning opportunities for kids, our daily synchronous online classroom has provided numerous teaching and learning opportunities for our students since April 6th. Now then, we’re faced with a dilemma, especially as we enter the last month of school. While warmer weather, multiple months at home, and the summer looming, makes a decrease in attendance a distinct possibility, Paula and I want to try to end the school year on a high note. We wondered if considering a few special days might help. Along with this consideration though, are some other important ones.

Student Privacy

Our Privacy Officer has published some important memos for educators and families, especially when it comes to synchronous learning. We’ve been reading and thinking about these points, and kept returning to this one on Personal Privacy.

If we want children to think about where they’re learning and what others are viewing, then I think we also have to contemplate clothing choice. Learning is now more on display for others than ever before, so what we’re wearing, where we’re sitting, and how we’re behaving are largely wrapped up in learning environment considerations for both adults and kids. Pajama Days often happened in school classrooms, but are they the best choice for our online classroom?


Know more, do better. This phrase is one that I’ve contemplated a lot recently. While I might never have been gung-ho on special days, I will admit — unfortunately so — that I never really considered the message that we’re sending to kids and families when choosing certain special days. Mrs. Ford, a teacher that I communicate with on Twitter, had me rethinking things. She questioned the use of “Crazy Hair/Crazy Hat Day,” Her tweet later made me think about these two fantastic books that I read recently. 

There are a lot of important considerations here that link to bigger topics, including anti-black racism, self-esteem, bullying, and body image. If Paula and I are considering a special day, we want to be cognizant about what messages we’re sending to families based on our decisions.


As I mentioned earlier in the post, special days can be very dysregulating. There’s a reason that we’ve kept the same schedule every day since April 6th. Even in our school classroom, our schedule was always consistent. The routine provided a sense of calm for us and for kids. It was the predictability that we all needed. Even on special days that we couldn’t avoid, like Valentine’s Day for example, we still tried to insert the special within a bubble of normal. This allowed us to support kids in adjusting to something new. If we are going to embrace a special day, we want to do so in a way that we don’t dysregulate our students and increase stress for our families. 

What is possible then? I love this list of ideas that Mrs. Ford shared on Twitter. 

The open-endedness of many of these options also means that they can connect with classroom learning, be embedded within regular classroom routines (even online classrooms), and provide positive experiences for both students and families. While we haven’t tried these special days yet, we have tried a few of our own.

Our Cooking Show Day

Our first Cooking Show was on Thursday morning.

We loved that this special day could include learning opportunities throughout the week (discussed towards the end of this linked class blog post), and even led later to the creation of a Class Recipe Book. Then the learning opportunities could continue past the date of the Cooking Show.

Our Class Cooking Show

We’ve made a small tweak for this upcoming week, and are connecting cooking with reflection, relationships, and consideration for others. 

Fun Fitness Fridays

A special thank you to our amazing Phys-Ed teacher, Mrs. Kott, for making this special day possible. Every Friday, she joins us in our online classroom for a little phys-ed from home. Not only do her 15-20 minutes fitness classes get everyone moving together, but they also,

  • involve families and siblings, and the connection that comes from having everyone moving together,
  • integrate language skills (from letter-sounds to new vocabulary) and math skills (including counting) with physical activity,
  • and allow for the development of listening comprehension (with an invitation to move freely based on the oral descriptions that she shares). 

Fun Fitness Fridays With Mrs. Kott

These two special days have been so well-received, that we continue to build on them week after week. I also wonder if merging “the special” with “the routine” helps support Self-Reg for both parents and kids.

This week, we also have a new special day option thanks to Paula.

A different learning space for our daily online classroom along with a slightly different conversation might also help with setting-up our learning for the week. Broadcasting from a local park could also inspire kids and families to later on explore this outdoor space together.

As I consider this final special day addition, I’m reminded of the fact that even a small change can make things special for kids, and revive an interest in learning, sharing, and engaging together. What have special days looked like in your Distance Learning classrooms and schools? How might some of these same considerations apply when we head back to school? Hopefully educators, administrators, and family members can chime in with their opinions, as we strive to create learning environments that work for everyone. Here’s to another great week of learning!