MS Teams And Parent Engagement: An Evolving Process

When learning went online back in March, our Board was transitioning between Google and Microsoft. My teaching partner, Paula, and I started to use Microsoft Teams with our kindergarten students for some small group playdates. We definitely did not use the platform to its full potential, but we were determined to learn more about it for this upcoming school year. Thankfully I had the opportunity to experiment with Teams as part of my summer position as one of the Site Leads for the Virtual Camp Power. There is nothing like learning by doing, and I definitely did that here. By the end of camp, I had a way better understanding of MS Teams, but it was playing around with it for this year that helped me see more of its potential.

Back at the end of August, Paula and I created the shell for our Class Team.

We basically used MS Teams as a substitute for our Class Blog. While it was great to get families familiar with the platform, and have a space to share updates with parents, we realized that we were missing something important: parent engagement. All of the ideas and resources were coming from us, but how could we get students and families also connecting with us? Over the years, Aaron Puley has taught me a lot about parent engagement versus involvement, and we really want families to have a voice in our classroom.

Considering our goal, we invited parents to connect with us through Teams. They could send us messages, ask questions, and share ideas. As I mentioned in a tweet last week, a few parents have started to do this.

We wanted to try and engage families beyond this though. We know that wonderful thinking and learning happens at home, and seeing and hearing this learning in action, can support us as we plan for kids. Thanks to Aaron‘s suggestion from many years ago, in the past we offered extension prompts at the end of each of our blog posts. We invited parents to comment on the posts and share what they did at home, bring in the work to share in class, and/or email us about what they tried. We continue to love offering these home extension possibilities, but we wondered if families could upload learning directly into MS Teams. This is where our private channels came into play.

While we have the main channels that are accessible to all, every child has a private channel on MS Teams. The only people that can see this channel are us, the child, the child’s parents, and other staff members that might be working specifically with that child. This is how the Teams portfolio option began for us.

Click on the three dots to add a channel and make it a “Private Channel.” Then you can add members specifically to that channel.

Slowly wonderful is happening thanks to these private channels.

Overall, uploading directly into Teams is very easy to do, with families just having to “Start a New Conversation,” and attach photographs and/or videos to the messages. Then nobody is frustrated by email messages that are too big to send or even the need to open a browser and login to an email program when Teams might already be open.

As we post our extension activities each night, we also suggest Teams for sharing learning. Not everybody is doing it right now, but more are doing it each day.

An example of just one of the extension options from this past week.

It’s a start, and this start makes us incredibly happy. Not only does our Class Team now include a family voice, but student portfolios include home/school connections. We think this could provide a powerful message to parents about how we value learning done at home as well as at school. This thinking aligns well with the Kindergarten Program Document and with our beliefs around the important role that families play in student learning.

Back in March, I think that we were most hung up around the synchronous video calling in Teams and the need to see more than 6 or 9 faces. Now though, we realize that Teams has many more possibilities beyond just video conferencing. How do you use the digital tool options supported by your Board? How do you ensure that families have a voice in these online classrooms and/or teams? As we all adjust to teaching during a pandemic, there is a lot of new to explore and uncover. If ever there was a time to share, I think that it is now. My hope is that others will tell about what they’re doing, so that we can all learn a little bit more together.


Moments Of Wonderful: When The Kids Manage To “Scale The Condo Wall”

Earlier this week, I thought that I would be blogging about what’s missing and what’s different in our new kindergarten reality. Then the end of the week happened, and my impressions and my blog post changed. Let me explain.

My teaching partner, Paula, believes strongly in the power of “time.”

  1. Don’t make changes too quickly. Kids need time.
  2. Don’t move students too quickly. Kids need time.
  3. Don’t add materials too quickly. Kids need time.
  4. Don’t remove materials too quickly. Kids need time.
  5. Don’t swap out provocations too quickly. Kids need time.
  6. Don’t intervene with problems too quickly. Kids need time.
  7. Don’t respond to cries of boredom too quickly. Kids need time.

While I have to fight the urge to respond immediately to students, to requests, and to observations, I’ve seen over and over again that Paula’s words around the value of time, almost always hold true.

This resulted in a conundrum after school on Tuesday, for we had just finished two first days with our students: half the class on Monday and half the class on Tuesday. While we noticed that children were fantastic overall at staying within their individual spaces, they almost exclusively played alone. Now we realize that with COVID restrictions, sharing materials is a problem, but we expected children to talk to each other. To begin to interact with those people around them. Nobody did. The room was basically silent for two days minus any comments that we made to each other or made to kids. We started to foresee a problem. For young children to settle into richer, deeper play, they often benefit from social interaction: even if that interaction is simply feedback, questions, or comments from others. Oral language development is so important for kids of this age, and listening and speaking are both part of this. How might we support oral language development when everyone is playing silently alone? Will this play have lasting power — especially for our youngest learners — without a social component? These questions prompted us to do something that we wouldn’t usually do so early on: change student seating. Now that we had met all of the children, and had a better understanding of their interests, strengths, and needs, we thought that we could create a few distant groupings that might allow for social interaction from afar.

We emailed parents and prepared families for these changes. While both Paula and I realize that it takes time to settle into the classroom, we also thought that this change was important now and going forward. Wednesday was our first day with the whole class, and I’m not going to pretend that magic happened right away. But as we sat down to reflect with each other at the end of the day, we both recalled this special moment.

It was the start of something wonderful! While we both questioned a couple of our moves, we decided to resist the urge to change things again, and see what happened as the week went on. Again, time was key.

As I shared in these tweets on Thursday night, students began to notice and respond to each other.

This continued even more on Friday.

I think that our physically distant walk into the school each day, and then the reminders to give space when playing outside together, has helped students judge a metre plus of distance. COVID has certainly supported estimation skills. By Friday afternoon, we saw a group of students — both in JK and SK — beginning to modify their environment so that they could still stay in their space, a metre apart (or more), but while interacting with each other.

  1. No child went to share materials with others.
  2. Every child kept his/her mask on.
  3. Speaking happened, but from a distance.
  4. Children owned the space.
  5. Children did the problem solving.
  6. Children directed the play.
Listen to the video recording on the third screen as a friend responds to MB’s building.

I seriously could not get enough of the child-led, child-created, COVID safe building and conversations happening in our classroom. It made me wonder if providing children with independent spaces — even past the time of the Coronavirus — would support independent problem solving and independent learners, while also providing the quiet social interactions that would allow for collaborative play and group thinking. On Friday, I felt as though we tackled “scaling the condo wall” (watch Susan Hopkins’ video to see what I mean), but it was the kids who made the climb possible.

Yes, there are some experiences of the past that I crave — from the ease in movement to the collaborative projects to the hugs to the singing — but there are also new moments of wonderful. There are also experiences now that have Paula and I shifting our thinking about what FDK can look like in pandemic times and beyond. As Alex Johnstone, the Chair of our Board, mentions in a recent CHCH interview, there is a focus this month on “learning how to play while socially distant.”

Seeing what our 3-5 year olds have figured out in less than a week of school, I have to wonder what problem solving kids in other grades might be doing. If ever there was a time to believe in “competent and capable learners,” I think it’s now. What were some of the positives from your first week back at school? As we look at what might be lost, I think that we cannot underestimate what also might be gained.


Why Do We Share As We Do?

As we start another school year together, my teaching partner, Paula, and I continue to look at our workflow. While we blogged over the summer about some changes that we were considering, a comment from Doug Peterson had us rethinking our approach.

We decided to create a Documentation Blog to share on our Class Team (in MS Teams), but that would also allow for some sharing through Instagram and Twitter. This week, we realized that the Media Consent Forms were not available yet for parents, so we had to modify our workflow. We decided to write a story of each day without photographs and videos, and then share all photographs and videos separately with parents through individual OneDrive folders.

Now that the Media Consent Forms are available for parents to sign, Paula and I have made a choice to go back to our Documentation Blog workflow, which also includes tweets and Instagram posts. This decision had us reflecting on why do we choose to share as we do?

We share this way because it causes us to observe and listen more closely. When we were uploading the photographs and videos to the OneDrive folders, we weren’t looking and listening back to all of them. We remembered the key points of what was shared/discussed, as we were part of the process. We got involved in the conversations. But often, as we watch the discussion in action again, and listen to what we said and what kids said, we see the learning differently. Maybe more interests are highlighted. Maybe we become more aware of where to go next. Maybe we also think more deeply about our role in the conversation, and possible changes to our own practices. As parents started to sign the Media Consent Forms at the end of the week, we added a few posts to Instagram. Paula and I then went back to watching and listening to videos together. Our reflections in these posts, I think speak to what’s gained by re-looking at lived experiences.

We share this way because it allows us to practice what we preach. Lisa Noble, a fellow educator, has spoken in the past about the value in visible thinking and learning. Right now, as we’re all trying to navigate new protocols and new realities in schools, I think that this visibility is even more important. It means being visible with what we do right and what we do wrong. It means being vulnerable. But hopefully as we share our thinking and others share theirs, we can support each other: benefitting kids, families, and us. Just look to our set-up posts to realize that our plans didn’t always go as anticipated, but as others shared, we were also able to figure out what we might do instead.

We share this way because it allows kids and families to benefit from each other’s thinking and learning. Paula and I never force kids do the same thing at the same time, or even the same thing ever. Our approach to learning is personalized, and with everybody in his/her own space now, it seems even more so. When kids and families can see each other’s work though, hear thinking, listen to our questioning, and observe extensions of learning, maybe something that did not interest a child before will inspire him/her later on. I think of this classroom experience from the other day.

Just as learning is social in the classroom, might it also be social outside of it? Does social media help support that?

We share this way because it encourages the social. We love getting feedback from parents, educators, and administrators. Questions and contrary opinions have us reflecting more, and new ideas often inspire change. I think about what Aaron Puley has shared before around parent engagement versus involvement.

When we share using platforms that allow for dialogue, there is so much more engagement. Many parents are also using social media already, especially Instagram, so meeting them where they’re at can help with increasing two-way communication.

We share in this way because it helps us remember and celebrate the positives! Especially at the beginning of the year, teaching feels like you’re running a marathon. With the mask and shield, you often end the day with that sweaty feeling a marathon might bring. πŸ™‚ When I look back though on the learning and experiences that happened throughout the day, I can’t help but smile. Whether it’s a comical memory …

or the feeling of success …

it’s nice to be able to recall the moments of joy! These moments often inspire us to keep moving forward.

We share in this way because of the implied message that it also sends. When mistakes, struggles, successes, growth, and next steps are all put out there — whether ours or those of our kids — it also speaks to the value that we see in the process of learning. It says that learning is to be celebrated, and not just perfection, but the steps that propel us forward.

If all thinking and learning is just kept private, what do our actions say about our beliefs?

Not all parents will sign the Media Consent Forms, and we understand. There’s a reason that this sharing is offered as a choice. We can share with these families in other ways. There is value in making an informed decision. Hopefully these reasons why we share socially will play a role in that decision. Why do you share as you do? As some of us have done this for a long time, it’s easy to forget to reflect on the why. This post had me going back to do so. What about you?


#Don’tMessWithTheShield: A Little Unexpected, Humorous Teacher Inquiry

I love to laugh, and I feel very fortunate to work with an amazing teaching partner, Paula, who makes me laugh often. We share some good laughs together, including those tears-running-down-your-face chuckles! Yesterday, I was reminded that while there might be some additional stress in education right now, we should not forget about the value in a good laugh. Yesterday’s humour though was brought to you by me, and my questionable problem solving skills! πŸ™‚

As part of Kindergarten Orientation, we got to arrange short, no contact visits with each of our students and a parent or guardian. Since we would be welcoming additional people into our classroom, Paula and I spent our whole day in full PPE: a mask and a shield. I’ve gotten really good with the mask now and can easily wear it for a full day, but the shield is harder. Especially with my glasses on, it fogs up. Even when I take my glasses off, which I do often, I get a lot of additional fog. I’m a mouth breather. Yesterday though, I started to get used to the haze, and made it through the morning in a somewhat foggy covered shield.

Just before lunchtime, I ran into our vice principal. She told me that another teacher on staff found a great way to reduce the fog by creating a few ventilation holes in the foam headband lining. She also mentioned how she saw a principal from another school, who didn’t seem to have the foam lining on her shield. Hers didn’t fog up! Wow! While I mentioned to our VP that I was “embracing the fog,” she commented that I wouldn’t have to anymore. There was a solution. I was intrigued!

When I got back to class, I decided to look at how I could create holes in the foam. I didn’t have a big hole punch, but I wondered if scissors might work. I could certainly cut some circles out. This foam is thick though. Cutting wasn’t working, and instead of having holes, I just had lines. Not good. As I was cutting, I noticed that the foam could be removed from the shield. Is this what the other principal did in order to create her foam-free shield? (Just so you know, it wasn’t. πŸ™‚ ) I pulled, and what do you know, the foam came off! I was excited to see if the shield would be better, but the fogging up actually increased instead of decreased. Oh no!

Now I started to panic. I was having a you’re-going-to-be-in-big-trouble-Aviva moment! What could I do? I decided to ask the kindergarten educators next door, if they had a glue gun. Problem solved. But they didn’t have one, and understandably found my predicament quite amusing. It was at this moment, when I wondered if fixing the face shield was even a possibility, that my fear of getting in trouble increased. This is when the trouble really started, for you see, I have a terrible habit when I’m nervous/scared/worried/anxious about something: I rip things. I am the WORST at a restaurant with straw wrappers and paper napkins. It’s like I create my own snow pile. Yesterday, I didn’t have paper in my hands, but I did have foam. Oh no! That’s when I began ripping the foam pieces into little chunks. All of a sudden, my hands were full of foam. Now what?

I started to play with the shield without the foam lining, and I realized that I could tighten it. The fogging up may have worsened slightly, but the shield was still useable. Okay. A partial solution. This was when Paula decided to go on her lunch, and I sat down to eat. I was looking at the foam pile as I was eating, and I began to think, “Our kids used to glue sponges onto paper using white glue. Why couldn’t I glue some foam pieces onto my shield with our white glue? I could maybe leave a few gaps in between the pieces, and get the same airflow at the other teacher got with her big holes.” A great plan … right?! Wrong!

Moments later, I sent Paula this message …

Unfortunately, the foam pieces didn’t stick to the shield with the white glue, and with the foam absorbing so much glue, all it did was drip glue all over the face shield. If you thought that I couldn’t see before, I might have just exacerbated the problem by a million percent!

The shield, with my glue attempt, is sitting on our table by the door. As @FuntasticTeacher reminded me, Paula did say, “Don’t do anything until I get back!” Apparently, my ability to listen and follow directions is questionable. πŸ™‚ I took her words as more of a suggestion than as a rule. πŸ™‚

Add to that, the problem that we had another classroom visit in 20 minutes, and my shield looked almost opaque with glue. I had no choice but to send out this urgent email to staff begging for help!

In the meantime, our vice principal learned of my face shield woes and came by to ask, “What happened?!” I didn’t have time to get into the details with her before our next visit — which I did do with a highly fogged up face shield — but I went to see her to explain afterwards. Thank goodness for her understanding nature and extra face shield. I think that I’m back to embracing the fog, unless I can get 1:1 support from that teacher in CORRECTLY making the holes in the foam.

The brand new shield. I think that I’ll learn to “embrace the fog.”

I wonder if this is a case where …

  1. the process is better than the product,
  2. there’s value in learning to laugh at yourself,
  3. sometimes even with a growth mindset, you need to know when to step back and start again, and
  4. when a mess happens, don’t forget to hear the story of the learning.

Imagine if I was a child in the classroom. Might I have gotten in trouble for my choices, or might I have been supported in my attempts to at least try to problem solve?

When I tweeted about this experience last night, I received this reply.

I mentioned that we didn’t actually have a group of students in class today, to which Laurie said,

Kids are not the only ones that can experiment, reflect, play, and inquire. How often as educators do we engage in this process, and how often do we share it? As another school week soon begins, I might be chanting to myself, #Don’tMessWithTheShield, while still wondering, if I did borrow that glue gun, would my solution have worked?


You Want To Get Started With Coding? Figure Out How To Walk To The Bathroom Or Sink!

Setting up a classroom this year is a bit like a puzzle. I cannot tell you the amount of time that Paula and I spent measuring out desks and tables, moving furniture around, and problem solving as part of the process. Just look to Twitter to find out that we are certainly not the only ones involved in this set-up process. Anyone who enjoys my parking tweets knows that spatial awareness skills are not my strong suit, and these skills were definitely tested this past week.

For everything we discussed, we probably spent the most amount of time conversing about the bathroom and the sink. We know that these two spaces will be,

  1. high traffic areas,
  2. used often,
  3. and require some waiting time.

This is why we have a huge opening by the doorway. It’s also why we ordered floor tape from Amazon (arriving tomorrow, as apparently Labour Day is not a holiday for Amazon πŸ™‚ ).

On Tuesday this week, among other things. Paula and I will be determining a flow of traffic around the room. We’ll be creating arrows, marking waiting spaces, and engaging in the use of some directional language with each other, so that we can use this same language — with ease — with our kids. The new Math Curriculum for Grades 1-8 has led to a lot of conversation, and the addition of coding has been part of this conversation. Coding is also evident in the Kindergarten Program Document as part of the Demonstrating Literacy And Mathematics Behaviours Frame.

In the past, Paula and I have spent some time talking about how we might support low-tech and high-tech coding through play. This year, the adventures to the bathroom and the sink will provide the greatest coding opportunities.

  1. What is the most efficient way?
  2. What directions must kids follow to get there?
  3. What directions must kids follow on their way back?
  4. How do we debug the program to get to the bathroom and/or sink when problems arise?

We see opportunities here for vocabulary development, problem solving, math learning, and real-world coding as part of our COVID-world kindergarten classroom. Now imagine if we extended beyond our classroom to the school at large.

  1. What directions will our class need to follow to get outside? To get to the gym? To get to our hooks?
  2. How will these directions vary from other classes?
  3. How might we debug problems when the directions don’t work?

I have to wonder how similar questions might be explored in different grades. How might this exposure to low-tech coding be later applied to high-tech coding? The Coronavirus made authentic block coding a part of our walking world, and made me realize that I need to be far more adept at determining left versus right … never mind some turns! πŸ™‚