I remember a number of years ago now when my 40th birthday was approaching. This birthday led to a lot of memories about my earlier days of teaching, and also how much I’ve changed over the years. Reflecting back made me feel old, or at least, so much older than I was when I first started teaching. Now 40 takes on a whole new meaning, for it’s the lower limit cut-off for the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Ontario.

When I first heard about the change in the vaccine age range, I still wasn’t ready to sign up. I’ve read many of the articles and tweets that said, “The first vaccine is the best one,” or something to that effect, but I think that I was hung up on the drawbacks of this one. What are the chances of getting a blood clot? Back in my teenage years, I had a blood clotting disorder, and while I don’t anymore, this was all that I could think about when I read about the platelet issues. Then on April 18th, my perception changed. I was scrolling through Instagram, and I saw some screenshots of tweets by Dr. Menaka Pai. Wait! I know her. I went to high school with her, and she was a great friend of mine during those high school years. These tweets took me to Menaka’s Twitter page, and a tweet about an article that gave me a new outlook.

I still didn’t book my vaccine yet, but I thought more about it. And I began to read more about the AstraZeneca vaccine and those that have had it. I also spoke to some people that I know — very important people in my life — who have not only had one AstraZeneca vaccine, but two. Maybe I needed to reconsider my stance.

I was on the fence, but leaning more towards booking an appointment, especially since no other vaccines seemed to be opening up for my age group. That’s when I began to add my name to waiting lists. Lots and lots of waiting lists. I thought of a Yiddish saying that my mom and grandma used a lot as I was growing up: beshert. It means “destiny.” What’s meant to be will be. If I get an appointment for an AstraZeneca shot before any others, then I’ll take it. This was when my teaching partner, Paula, told me about some appointment options close to home. While these pharmacies have online booking systems, they’re not working, so she suggested that I call. I did, and I got an appointment for Thursday afternoon. I rarely take days off, but I will take a half-day for this appointment. It might be the best use of a supply day ever. It really is beshert.

Yes, I’m still nervous. Needles always put me on edge, and the unknown possibility of side effects put me on edge more. But not enough to cancel the appointment. Thinking about my #oneword of the month, I want this vaccine for me, but also all those people that I care about, including our students and their families. This vaccine has the potential to benefit all of us, and it makes me feel as though this truly is the right thing to do. How do you decide which vaccine — if any — to get? Please keep sharing those selfies of joyous moments and memories. I think a few convinced me to re-look at AstraZeneca. What about you?


Giving Kids The Key: How Do You Support Independence?

I remember the first time that my teaching partner, Paula, handed over her key card to a student. A kindergarten student. A four-year-old. I will admit that I internally questioned her choice. Not only was she allowing this student to go back into the school on his own, but she was giving him the key to do so. This was not the type of student that you might consider your “most mature,” and yet, she completely trusted him. Was Paula being irresponsible? Absolutely not! In fact, before she handed over the key, she made sure that he knew how to use the card reader, that he identified exactly what he needed to get from the classroom — which is actually incredibly close to the door — and that he understood the need to be quick. He knew the rules, he was “competent and capable” enough to follow them, and as Paula expected, he did just that. Watching this process evolve and later talking briefly to Paula about it, I realized that she knew something that I didn’t. Right now, maybe more than ever, “kids need some way to demonstrate independence.”

Paula’s words really resonated with me. With numerous safety precautions and restrictions these days, there’s little that children can do on their own. In previous years, we used to have students …

  • walk down the hallway to pick up and deliver milk,
  • bring the attendance to the office,
  • go to the office to get bandaids or medication,
  • fix the stapler,
  • oversee the pencil sharpener,
  • pour glue,
  • self-serve paint,

and the list goes on. Many of these options are now impossible with COVID. With the sanitizing of the key card and the sanitizing of hands before and afterwards, this independent trip back to the classroom is something that children can do.

I was reminded of this topic of independence a few days ago, when I came across this article on Twitter (I wish now that I remember who tweeted it). While we might not be sending four-year-olds out on their own to the store anymore, is this trip back into the classroom the equivalent? While kids can not only go to collect items that they need, they can also go and grab items for us — be it a garbage bag for litter found on the field or another bottle of hand sanitizer. Have no doubt that every child not only craves this responsibility, but is completely capable of having it! Just listen to these two students discuss their announcement adventures when they went inside to get a few things.

Even with no adult in the room to tell them to stop, these children knew that they needed to stand for O’Canada and listen to the announcements. They might not have remembered all of the details in what the principal shared, but what mattered the most to them was certainly easy to recall.

Our Kindergarten Program Document highlights that all children are “competent and capable,” and if we truly believe this, then how does it impact on our choices as educators and/or as parents? I thought a lot about this home component recently thanks to some wonderful tweets shared by Kimiko Shibata. Kimiko’s highlighting a little of the offline learning that her child is doing at home. (Thanks to her for giving me permission to share these tweets here.)

I appreciate how Kimiko is giving her child the opportunity to engage in risky playwith supervision and support as needed, but also, with growing independence. Online, we can’t hand over a key card to go and collect items from the classroom, but what can we do? What have families done to support this independence at home? Our world has certainly changed in the past couple of years, but the need for independence does not need to go by the wayside. If ever there was a time to work with families to make this independence possible, I think it might be now. What have you tried? I watch a few of our young learners login to Teams on their own, select the right meeting from the calendar to join, participate in the meeting by themselves, and mute and unmute the microphone as needed. Big independence for small children and proof to me that so much is possible! Once again, I’m grateful for a teaching partner who gives me these uncomfortable moments of reflection so that I can be a little more comfortable in letting go.


Focusing On My April Word Made This Word Late

The other day, I caught this tweet from Beth Lyons, which reminded me that I have yet to blog about my #onewordX12 goal for April.

I have to wonder if it was focusing on my new word that had me a little late on writing this post.

Last month, my one-ish word was social play. I wondered what might be possible even from a distance. I have to say that my teaching partner, Paula, and I could not be happier with what the students have discovered. Storytelling especially is allowing for this distanced social play that we’re seeing both inside the classroom and outside.

While the April Break started with a real high in our classroom, and I found myself sharing tweets more similar to this one in the days leading up to the Break, I also noticed that I needed this Break. Maybe more than ever before.

Stress, uncertainty, and fear with increased COVID cases, all weighed on me … and I’m sure that I’m not the only one. I craved and required me time. I found myself taking fewer photographs and videos during the day, publishing blog posts a little earlier if possible, and always ending my day — no matter how late — with a chapter or two from a good book. I also ensured that I took at least one day on the weekend just for me. My goal was to read a full book, sleep in, and participate in a family Zoom call with my nephew. Since the beginning of April, I’ve managed to do this, and I will continue.

A few days ago, I also decided to register for our Board’s Teacher Leadership Part 2 Course.

I vacillated on this one, as I continue to be a teacher who enjoys largely informal leadership opportunities. Will this course be for me? Knowing though how much harder it is to connect in-person with other educators and administrators right now, the chance to do so online, excites me. I’m ready for new ideas, good conversations, and hard thinking. This might mean that a couple of times a week, we publish shorter daily blog posts or combine posts for a couple of days, but I think that this will be okay. Will taking time for “me” ultimately benefit our students and my personal and professional growth? April is for me, and I hope that when the month ends, this focus is not completely forgotten.


Scaling The Mountain: Free Play In The Time Of COVID

This morning, I started my day as I always do by reading Doug Peterson‘s daily blog post. Today’s post focused on the fact that Ontario schools are being asked to teach students outside. Doug’s post shares a series of tweets and reflections on what might be possible outside, but also on the limits: from wireless signal issues to material problems (you can’t bring a full class on networked computers outside) to room arrangement. Reading the post, I was reminded of just how different kindergarten is from the other grades, and what this might look like for us.

You just have to read our daily blog posts to see that the outdoors plays an important role in our classroom. We start our day outside every day.

  • When it’s raining, we go out.
  • When it’s snowing, we go out.
  • When it’s a skating rink and there are worries about the slippery ice, we go out.
  • When it’s freezing cold, we actually celebrate the -19 with the windchill, as we can still go outside.

About the only things stopping us are thunderstorms and temperatures below -20 … but we always hope for a stop to the lightening and/or a slight warm up, so that we can still go out. Not only do we go outside each day, but we stay outside for a long time. We basically spend the first 1/3 of our day (about 2 hours) outdoors.

My teaching partner, Paula, and I feel very lucky that we have a huge space out back that we can use each day. We’re not the only ones using this empty field space, and our kids know that with COVID, they have to stay away from those children in other cohorts. Thankfully, we’re usually the only class that starts the day outside — especially if it’s chillier, and definitely if it’s raining — so we often have the run of the playground before others appear. Then cries of “big kids,” have students relocating so that we can still play outside, but in a different space.

Recently, our students have figured out that “the mountain” — a name that they’ve given to a steep hill in the corner of our property — is almost always unused by other classes. It has become their favourite place to go. While the height terrifies me, a student is always there to support me, and it provides just enough risky play to make things wonderful for all of them.

The other day, Paula and I were taken by the incredible free play that happened outside. While the posts below are longer videos, they really do speak to students owning their learning. The two of us sat back in awe of what we were observing. As you’ll see, we did get involved at times to question/probe, suggest extensions, and even provide a few mini-lessons in the midst of the great outdoors. But we also gave students the free play that we think they all need right now, in a space that was most safe for all of them and for us.

Springtime really does bring out the best in outdoor learning, as seen through the incredible snail investigations that dominated our time inside and outside yesterday.

With nothing more than clipboards and a pencil case, every item that our young learners need to count, to measure, to estimate, to create, to story tell, to build, to investigate, and to problem solve can be found in our huge playground space. Besides a trip to the washroom and a sink for some hand washing, we could spend our day outside. Many of our children would probably love if we did, and this might even reduce stress around wrecked creations and unfinished projects.

But with recess time for the rest of the school, our play space would be significantly reduced at least twice a day. Less area, more noise, and more congestion might increase behaviour and allow for far less distancing — even when our distancing measures might not need to be as stringent as they are inside. Tarps and temporary shelters might also be required on extremely rainy days. While we shouldn’t need to worry about temperatures below -20 at this point in the school year, thunderstorms are still a possibility, and they make things more challenging. We could look at coming out again at another time in the day, but there are more students that use this field space later on. We also can’t be outside at the very end of the day when cohorts come out for dismissal. Once again, Paula and I are weighing the benefits of more outdoor play with the drawbacks that come from multiple transitions and a change in the consistent routine that make our children so very comfortable right now.

With warmer weather on the way and the recent news about outdoor learning, will the playground be used more frequently when we return from the April Break? If so, how will our students respond? What impact might this have on the independence and Self-Reg that we’ve seen outdoors? Outdoor learning will always make us smile, but we can live without the need for wifi, thankfully our outdoor classroom space is so much bigger and freer than an arrangement of tables and chairs, and our material needs are limited. We realize that this isn’t true for everyone. What might be possible for you, and what have you considered? I wonder if educators might share some of their ideas and resources for different grades. If ever there was a time for crowdsourcing, it might be now.


Art In The Sink: What Are Your Unexpected Moments Of Joy?

On Thursday, not one child, but multiple children, were drawn to the artwork in the sink. This became such a special, memorable moment of the day, that it inspired a couple of Instagram posts with more reflecting by my teaching partner, Paula, and I than I think either one of us expected.

We are about to head into another week with some high stress possibilities: uncertainty around rising COVID numbers in Ontario and the lead up to April Break. I like to find the “positive” in things, but sometimes doing so is a challenge. I wonder if this week, we all need to look out for those art in the sink moments: the learning, reflecting, and/or conversing that can happen around a small, everyday experience. Will finding these moments bring along some unexpected joy? What are your “art in the sink” moments? Listen to how excited these children sound over a paint mess: the most beautiful mess there is. I think we all require even a sprinkle of this happiness right now. What about you?