Finding Joy

School just finished for the Winter Break, and this last week of school, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what brings us joy. As I look back at our outdoor play documentation, I can see and hear the joy in kids.

  • It’s in their laughter.
  • It’s in their conversations.
  • It’s in their dramatic play, which happens so much more, when a bigger space and more airflow allows for more discussions.
  • It’s in their creativity … and the knowledge of just what they are able to do.

Every joyful opportunity that these kids have at school can be connected to expectations. If you listen to the discussions that my teaching partner, Paula, and I have with them, you can probably hear these expectation links. Yet more and more, I’m reminded of the fact that with so many changes this year, and so much that we cannot do (at least not in the same way as before), sometimes it’s just as important to embrace the joy.

I might not have jumped down to make the snow angel (as tempting as it was) …

but I did help make a snowman, and while it wasn’t perfect, I loved every minute of it!

This year has been full of numerous unknowns, and with the announcement just before the Winter Break, there are possibly more unknowns — and changes — to come.

This Winter Break, I plan to focus a little bit more on joy, as I think we all need that right now. I keep thinking about Doug Peterson‘s blog post from the other day, and the little break that he plans on taking from some of his regular posting. I don’t plan on saying, “goodbye,” to blogging, and I know that I will be reflecting this holiday season. But maybe my posts won’t be as regular as before. Usually I would have published a blog post yesterday, but instead, I spent my first day of Winter Break immersed in reading, and it was wonderful.

I plan on starting another book today, and taking that needed break to recharge. I hope that others can do the same, and find their own pockets of joy this holiday season. We need it for ourselves, and when we return to school, we’ll need it for our kids. Happy holidays everyone, and possibly goodbye for just a little bit longer than usual. I will be back.


What Happens When You Choose To Wear Blue?

Thanks to a student initiative from one of our classes, our school’s in the midst of celebrating 12 Merry and Bright Days.

I do appreciate how the days are all open for as much or as little participation as students and staff wish. Being the proud Holiday Humbug, it comes as no big surprise that I have not overly participated in any of the special days thus far — too much variation in routine causes me too much stress — but many of our kids have joined in on the fun. Then Friday came … or really Thursday night

At the end of our Staff Meeting on Thursday, we were reminded about Friday’s special day: Holiday Spirit Day. Students and staff were encouraged to wear holiday colours. Now I’m going to be honest here: when it’s around Christmastime and people suggest wearing “holiday colours,” I feel as though red, white, and green are the ones most individuals expect to see. On Tuesday, classes completed a trivia game, and one of the questions was about the colours for Kwanzaa. I realized that I didn’t know them, and this served as a good reminder for me that there are many different holiday colours. (A quick Google search taught me that they are red, black, and green, for others that might not know them either.) It could be because this question was in my head or it could be because I was off to a “first night of Hanukkah celebration” with my parents, that I realized we could do something different. I asked Paula if she would like to wear blue on Friday (for Hanukkah), and she texted Wendy, the EA in our classroom, to see if she would also come in blue. We could now have a belated Twin Day (we missed it on Wednesday) plus the presence of another holiday colour. Everyone agreed, and we put this plan into action with blue tops for everyone!

On Friday morning, I began to question our decision. Some people wondered why we weren’t wearing “holiday colours,” but their wonders led to us explaining the holiday colours for Hanukkah: a similar educational experience, I think, to the one that I had when I needed to search for Kwanzaa colours. Then I was out on duty, and in the sea of red, white, and green, I saw a child wearing all blue and white. As he passed the kindergarten pen area — where I was for my duty — I told him that I was also wearing blue for Hanukkah. His mom got really excited and showed me her amazing Hanukkah sweater with a menorah that lights up. Christmas might have been predominantly featured on Friday — and I can understand as most of our school community celebrates Christmas — but this interaction at the kindergarten gate reminded me that we were not alone in celebrating something else.

As an aside, in our kindergarten cohort space, my teaching partner, Paula, snapped a photograph of the greatest combination of Christmas and Hanukkah: with a Santa hat and menorah glasses. (I really need these glasses!)

Friday made me realize that change happens slowly through questioning, conversing, and thinking. While there might have been a part of me that wishes others would automatically see the blue as a holiday colour, there’s another — stronger — part of me that welcomes the authentic opportunity to dig in deeply to different holidays versus paying a small tribute to each one.

I keep reflecting back to earlier in the week when one of our students decided to write a Hanukkah book. This story extended over a couple of days, and led to some interesting conversations around various holidays.

The learning happens not in everyone choosing to do the same thing, but in feeling safe enough to vary from the norm and choose to do something different: maybe because you celebrate this holiday or maybe because you hope to highlight some other options. I’m glad that I wasn’t alone in my choice of blue, but I’m also glad that I work at a school that welcomes these differences and learns more from the conversations that commence.

As we start our last week before the Winter Break, I hope that we can all have opportunities to talk about various holidays, explore similarities and differences between holidays, and engage in the important respectful dialogue that leads to new learning. While our streets, storefronts, community spaces, and homes (largely) are full of Christmas trees, Santa Clauses, bright lights, and Elves on the Shelf, it’s easy to remain focused on a single holiday. Even as someone who celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah, this weekend I found myself searching for Christmas scenes and Christmas card examples as provocations for this upcoming week. Why weren’t my search terms more broad? Why wasn’t I more inclusive? The Santa Christmas versus the Jesus one has quickly evolved into a “Canadian tradition” of sorts with decorated trees, presents, and stockings becoming non-denominational symbols instead of ones with overt religious ties. But as much as our kids are eager to create presents for their parents and talk about Santa and The Grinch, I think we should be cognizant that not everyone is celebrating a holiday this month. And, for those that are, not every holiday is Christmas. How might kids feel if they work on an ornament knowing that they have no where to hang it, or create a reindeer and Santa Claus, knowing that neither one would fit in their house? Now I think that the same question holds true if everyone creates a menorah to bring home. We strive for rich learning opportunities for the rest of the school year. What might this mean for during the holiday season? How can we continue these conversations all year long? I’m not sure that I have any answers to these questions, but I know that a decision to wear blue helped me see that we can always learn something new, and sometimes that learning starts with one small step: a different coloured top.


In A Case Of “Dressing The Part,” Is It Key To Know What Your “Part” Is?

Earlier this week, I read an interesting blog post by Doug Peterson on “dressing the part,” and even how clothing decisions in education might have changed due to COVID and new teaching locations and experiences. I tweeted Doug shortly after reading his post, and while I’ve sat on this post for a number of days now, today I decided to blog.

I’m not sure that this post is in direct reply to what he wrote, but it’s what he made me think about.

When I started teaching 20 years ago now, I often dressed far more formally than I currently do. I wore a skirt to school almost every day, and while I’ve never loved heels, I certainly wore more formal dress shoes with at least a bit of a wedge. Now I wear pants and flat shoes every day, and while my tops are professional enough, comfort always surpasses style. COVID hasn’t necessarily changed my work attire, but working with my teaching partner, Paula, has. It’s not because of what she’s chosen to wear or not wear, but it’s because she’s had me reflect on how our clothing choices might inadvertently communicate to kids our level of involvement in their play.

I keep thinking back to this photograph of Paula earlier in the school year when she was supporting a student with taping some work underneath the table.

One of many things that I love about Paula …

If she was in more formal attire, would she have been able to crawl under the table to lend a helping hand? Paula even thought about this the next day when she planned on wearing a skirt to school, but she didn’t, “as you never know when you might have to stop, drop, and tape.” Good point!

With pants, and comfortable ones at that, I wonder if we might be telling kids — without actually saying a word — that we’re willing to get down at their level with them. While I still often choose a low chair over the floor, sometimes it’s great to see the classroom world from a different perspective.

Since working with Paula, I’ve also thought more about the outdoor classroom. For many years before I met her, the outside was just a space for recess. Now it’s an important extension of our indoor classroom environment, and we plan for this space, as much as we plan for our time inside. This also means clothing plans. After a cold winter last year, I succumbed and bought my own snow pants this year. I love them! Just as we often share with parents that kids will be more engaged in the learning outside, if they’re warm and not stressed by the weather, I think that the same holds true for adults. Now even the damp days don’t bother me as much, which certainly makes for a more enjoyable outdoor experience.

Plus, without snow pants, could you sit on a tire or in the middle of a puddle to write or draw with kids? Definitely not as warmly!

I also think about the role that we play as “role models” for kids. While I understand that professional wear can be a part of this role model behaviour, from a kindergarten perspective, I also wonder if it’s about modelling the choice of clothes that can withstand dirt, various temperatures, and different work spaces.

For example, we’ve recently started to experiment with some tempera paint powder outside after a group of children used cut up chalk for outdoor colour mixing.

The tempera paint powder is washable, but it’s also dusty. So you do get dirty … educators included. But as a child shared yesterday when asked, “What do you think your mom will think about your coat?,” and he replied, “I think she’ll think about art,” it’s hard not to embrace at least a bit of the mess. #BestQuoteEver

We also have a child this year that was reluctant to wear snow pants. While we haven’t gotten a lot of snow yet, we have had colder temperatures, and we are outside for about 1 1/2-2 hours straight each day. Our kids wear snow pants well before the first snow fall! While we could have engaged in the struggle and insisted that he wear snow pants, the easiest sell for him was in seeing both of us in snow pants. Just like we need to wear them, so does he, and now he happily puts them on each day.

As for the different work spaces, Paula and I, along with our kids, play everywhere from outside to on floors to in tires to sitting at desks of various sizes. We use chalk, pastels, paint, markers, water, and sometimes mud, on a regular basis. For us, it’s about dressing to engage, not necessarily dressing to impress.

I will admit enjoying dressing up slightly more formally during conference experiences, where I knew that I wouldn’t be called on to crouch down, pump paint, or wash something dirty. But that said, I also enjoy my work wear conducive to messes, floor spaces, and outdoor temperatures. School is my happy place, and even with COVID restrictions, there’s a lot of joy in these four walls.

The Coronavirus didn’t change my dress, but learning how to really play with kids, did. What about you? What might your attire communicate to others, and what message are you hoping to share? Thanks Doug for helping me see how I dress the part that I want to have: immersed in the messy, wonderful play that can still be a part of our educational world, COVID or not.


Miss, Ms., Mrs., Mr.: Thinking Gender In FDK

I’m not sure exactly what spurred this change in me.

  1. Maybe it was last week’s blog post and the follow-up comments, which had me thinking more about differences and how we acknowledge these with kids.
  2. Maybe it was the Inclusive Classroom survey that our principal, Gerry, emailed out to us recently.
  3. Maybe it was the Where Children Sleep book that we used with our class this week, and the incredible conversations that began as a result.

4. Maybe it was Sue Dunlop‘s blog post, which resonates with me every time that I say the word, “guys,” and/or hear other people say it.

Whatever it was, or whatever combination of things it might have been, I’ve become very aware of my word choice lately. And I don’t always like what I hear myself say. Not intentionally, not with a desire to cause discomfort, and not in an effort to be less inclusive … and yet, I still hear these words.

For example, if you listen to the conversations that my teaching partner, Paula, and I have with our kids and even read through the notes that we exchange with them, you will hear and see that most of them just call us, “Dunsiger” and “Crockett.” These have become nicknames of sorts. Also, during a time where we cannot necessarily connect with kids through a gentle touch on the shoulder or a hug, we’re able to further build relationships with children through these name choices.

I share this story because as much as our students naturally gravitate to dropping the Miss, Ms., and/or Mrs., I often find myself calling kids, “Miss ______” or “Mr. _______.” While my intention might be good — this has become a nickname of sorts — I have to wonder how inclusive this choice might be. Am I making assumptions about the pronoun that a child might want to use and/or does use?

Our kids are still young. A few of them just turned four. While some know exactly who they are and who they want to be, others are still figuring it out. Over the years, Paula and I have taught some children with stories similar to the one that Darla Myers shared on a recent Instagram post of mine.

While the referencing part that Darla shared in the last part of her comment is not an experience that we’ve had before, it did cause me to pause. This was my reply to her.

The discussion made me think of a Twitter post that I saw just over a month ago. Parsa Shahid, a teacher in our Board, shared some really powerful observations around self-portraits. I would encourage you to click on the link and read the entire thread.

How ingrained are stereotypes, even at a young age? How ingrained are previously held beliefs around race and gender? What might be needed to change them? While our kids are still in kindergarten, this past week has taught me just how capable they are of having mature discussions. As always, we start with the child, provoke thinking, include families in the conversation, and consider developmentally appropriate practice. These discussions are new for us. They are not always easy, and definitely require additional planning and thought. We are probably making mistakes along the way. Likely many. But we both strongly believe that school should be a safe and joyous space for everyone. Are these difficult conversations also an essential part of ensuring that all kids and adults feel safe, happy, supported, and heard? Know more, do better. We definitely intend on doing just that through the books we choose, the examples we share, the discussions we have, the questions we ask, the words we use, and the choices we make. What about you?