How Do You Find Your “Christmas In September” Again?

This is my 21st year going back-to-school as a teacher with the Board. I love back-to-school time. Yes, when the Staples commercials used to come on too early in the summer they caused me stress, but by the middle of August, I was excited to start thinking about the classroom again.

This really is like Christmastime for me with …

  • the new school supplies,
  • a new wardrobe,
  • new connections with parents and families,
  • exciting new picture books to share with the class,
  • and the start of a classroom set-up. I know that the room arrangement slowly changes as the kids appear, and that makes me even more excited.

I become giddy with anticipation, and even the 4:45 alarm clock doesn’t stress me out. Nothing can bring me down.

This year is different though. The rising COVID numbers mean that restrictions are in a constant state of flux. I spent a lot of time last night reading the press releases and listening to the recordings from this week’s various media events.

This past Wednesday, I was a guest on VoicEd Canada’s This Week In Ontario Edublogs Podcast. The initial conversation was about what will school look like in the fall? The truth is, I’m not sure. I have some inklings and evolving ideas based on information shared online, but I think that safety considerations continue to ping-pong the reality. And while I absolutely, positively want the safest reopening plan possible, Doug Peterson‘s blog post this morning made me realize how much I’m struggling with a changing routine.

Usually, at this time of the year, I’d be making …

  • trips to Staples for Sharpies,
  • and trips to Walmart for cheap deals on school supplies,

but I haven’t gone anywhere yet. I’m still trying to figure out with Paula …

  • what do we need?
  • what materials can kids use this year?
  • how much of each item do we need? If sharing is possible, what will that look like, especially if we need forward facing desks in rows?

I know that we’ll continue to hear more throughout the week, and I know that we’ll adjust given whatever restrictions need to be in place, but I also know that I’m missing that flurry of excitement that’s become synonymous for me with the end of summer. Maybe I need to find another good book and get lost in that instead, but I don’t want to. I want my most wonderful time of the year, and I’m trying to figure out how to recapture that joy. What are you doing to help with this? If my nervous stomach could be due to a flurry of anticipation instead of a flurry of worries, I think it would make a big difference. I know that I need my Christmas in September back again … even with the never-ending COVID craziness. Do you?


How A Puppet Showed Me That It Was Time To Go Back To School

As I’ve blogged about before, I detest — like a whole LOT — puppets. It was then almost comical to consider my experience from yesterday.

I had to return something to a store, so in the early afternoon, I made my way out there to line up at Customer Service. The wonderful employee was processing my return, when I heard a “mmm, mmm, mmm” sound behind me. What was that? I turned around and was unexpectedly surprised by a young boy opening and closing the mouth of a shark puppet. How am I the only person in the world to ever run into a child with a puppet at a store? I’m sure that this isn’t the case, but it certainly felt like it yesterday. Now I had a choice. I could ignore the child and the shark puppet or I could respond. The teacher in me felt the need to say something.

I looked at the shark and I said, “Oh no! Should I be scared right now?!” The shark replied, “Don’t be scared. My favourite food is cheese.” This then evolved into a 10-15 minute story about …

  • cows that break houses,
  • a family of sharks (is it called a “school” like fish?),
  • various types of cheese (how picky is this shark?!),
  • and some party planning for shark time in the pool.

Yes, the play-based kindergarten teacher in me couldn’t help mention the possibility of …

  • invitations for the party
  • and a sign to not break houses (what would this sign even look like?!).

As the shark, the little boy, and I did some chatting and planning together — from a distance and all masked minus the shark 🙂 — the mom looked, listened, and laughed a little. Just as the employee was coming back to tell me that my refund was processed, I mentioned to the mom that I’m “a kindergarten teacher. It’s nice to be able to see kids again.” And you know what? It really was.

I know that I saw kids for months online, and I had some great conversations with them. But being in the same room as this child and having the opportunity to talk with him without muting mics and worrying about static in the background, was a wonderful thing. Yes, September comes with many unknowns. With the increased COVID counts and the uncertainty around the Delta variant, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t anxious. But I am eager to …

  • hear stories again,
  • get immersed in play,
  • feel the excitement that can even come from a cheese-eating shark 🙂 ,
  • and feel the energy that happens when kids get in a room together, even when they’re distanced.

I might still believe that we cannot underestimate the dark side of puppets, but I’ll thank this puppet for showing me that I am ready to go back to school. What about you?


To Buy Or Not To Buy? Clothing, COVID, And Unexpected Decisions.

Yesterday, I blogged about clothes, and the topic of clothing remained on my mind today. Strangely enough, I was thinking about a blog post of Doug Peterson‘s from back closer to the beginning of the pandemic, and then I noticed that he blogged about this topic again today, but going in a different direction. It’s interesting to see the connection between COVID and clothing.

Today, I was thinking about thoughts that were running through my head as I was out shopping yesterday. I ended up going into a store in downtown Dundas, buying a few tops, leaving some other ones behind, and then returning to this store later in the afternoon to pick up those couple of additional tops and an unexpected one. It was the unexpected one that inspired this blog post. As I was paying for my two additional tops, I noticed this really interesting poncho hanging over by the cash register. I don’t usually wear ponchos, as the bulky sleeves can result in a painting catastrophe waiting to happen. 🙂 What I loved about this particular poncho is that it had these black-and-white fake fur cuffs around the sleeves. My eyes were drawn to them. I just had to try this on. Of course, I fell in love with it! I really vacillated on buying it though. The top was more expensive than what I would usually pay, and while I recognize that I’m privileged to even get to contemplate purchasing it, I wondered if it would be worth the money. I was the only person in the shop at the time, so as I was talking to the employee there, she said, “I realize that this wouldn’t be a top for school …,” to which I replied, “Oh, but of course I would wear it there.” I think that she was drawn to the white fur, and wondered what kind of paint mess I could create. Hey, I’ll admit to having the same thoughts. 🙂 I told her that I was going to change and think about it. As soon as I went into the dressing room, I felt the furry sleeves again, and this is when I thought about one of our students from last year.

Taking A Selfie Of Just A Top Is Not An Easy Thing To Do, But You Get The Idea 🙂

This child will be going into SK this year. When we transitioned online at the end of the year, she was not always able to join in on our meeting times. Considering that we’ve been out of school for months now, I think that transitioning back to school in September could be challenging. There are many things that I remember about this child, but one that stands out is that she always liked when I wore my fuzzy black pants. Why? “They just feel so soft, Miss Dunsiger.” No matter where I was standing or where I was sitting, she just had to touch these pants. If this child was ever upset, angry, or tired, feeling these pants made her feel better. It’s that sensory component that seems so calming to many of our young learners. While I realize in the time of COVID that distancing is so important, I would always make sure to wear my mask and shield, so that if she needed to get that little bit closer, she could do so safely.

It’s hard to know exactly what the restrictions will be for this year, but I’m thinking that after many months away from school, this child will not be the only one that needs some kind of sensory connection. All I could think about in that dressing room was, “She is really going to love feeling these furry sleeves.” Yes, this poncho is sure to have some run-ins with paint, mud, water, and maybe even worms and snails, but for a few extra smiles, I think this will all be worth it. Who knows what colour these sleeves will be come June, but thinking about this student had me decide to say, “Yes,” to one other purchase.

For 1 1/2 years, we haven’t had many reasons to dress up or buy new clothes. I still tried to think about …

  • paint,
  • mud,
  • time spent on the floor,
  • time spent outside (in all weather),
  • and creepy crawly critters

when making my clothing choices, but I also decided to live slightly on the edge in a few different ways. 🙂

Maybe I’ll become my own walking piece of artwork, and maybe that will be just fine. Clothing and COVID: what are your stories to share? I bet we all have a few.


Could Clothes Shopping Be A Sign Of Something More?

Yesterday I went out and I bought a lot of clothes. Today I bought more. I haven’t been to a store to buy clothes since January 2020 (prior to the shutdown on March 13, 2020), and with various transitions remotely since then, I didn’t worry about my wardrobe. All anyone was seeing was my top anyway. As I was later chatting with some friends about these purchases, I said, “I think that I decided to finally go clothes shopping as this is something that I can control right now.”

I want to go and buy school supplies. Yes, my teaching partner, Paula, and I ordered some in June, but I always anticipate that I will be buying some things for the classroom. The problem is, I don’t know what to buy yet. I know that our government has come up with a back-to-school plan, but now our Board has to interpret this guidance and create their own plan. I can only imagine how much time this takes, and I appreciate the safety considerations and additional precautions that the Board is considering. Waiting though is hard.

I know that Paula and I can always choose to put in desks and tables again and create assigned areas for kids, but will we do so if these restrictions are not required? What is the best option for kids at this age, and how do we weigh safety with developmentally appropriate pedagogy?

Board guidance will help us determine if we need …

  • pencil cases and clipboards for each child,
  • buckets for every student,
  • and individual containers of sensory materials.

I love back-to-school shopping and I’m eager to go and sift through school supplies, but I also know that there are decisions that we have to make first. Communication from the Board will determine some of these decisions. For now, I wait.

  • I buy clothes.
  • I attempt to read some more books even though my mind right now has a habit of wandering back to school.
  • I blog to make sense of my thoughts,
  • and I try to balance my desire to enjoy the rest of the summer with my need to start thinking more about school.

What are you doing as the days in August creep to an end? If anyone has advice on how to hold the classroom thoughts at bay, I will happily take it. I’ve come to realize that I do much better working with the known — no matter what that might be — versus the uncertainty that comes with the unknown. When there are too many unknowns, I cling to whatever little bit of known that I can; hence the clothes shopping. Now my closet is full. Here’s to hoping that the classroom comes next. 🙂


Being Certain That It’s Time To Embrace The Uncertain: My #OneWord For August

Last month, I shared my #oneword for July, as I continue to explore monthly goals and new learning. My Camp Power experiences had me thinking about leadership, and the role that connections play in leading. I continue to be really interested in a constructivist approach to leadership, and even our in-camp professional learning focuses on letting instructors share ideas and co-problem solve. While the other Site Lead and I are involved in these conversations, we are just one of many voices. It was this kind of problem solving that made me think about my word for August.

Recently, I had a conversation with an instructor about attendance. She noticed some lower numbers and wondered why there might be this drop in participation. Is there something that she could do to increase attendance? While there are all kinds of reasons for a dip in virtual learning attendance during the summer months — from the nice weather to other camp programs to a desire from kids and parents to step away from the screens — I think there’s something to be said for questioning and reflecting on observations, and possibly, exploring changes.

This made me think a lot about the discussions that my teaching partner, Paula, and I had throughout the school year, but especially during our time teaching remotely. We were always wondering.

  • How could we increase [Name]’s participation?
  • How could we increase numbers in our afternoon meeting time, which was often smaller?
  • How could we increase the stamina for some children who stayed for shorter periods of time?
  • How could we better document the learning that happened online?
  • How could we get children to reflect more on what they did online, and extend this learning the next day?
  • How could we personalize learning experiences for all children, whether during small group times or larger group times?
  • How could we create more small group and/or 1:1 times online, and what might be the benefit in doing so?
  • Is there a way to create these small group and 1:1 times, but be present for them together, so that we could learn more from each other as well as from the child?
  • How could we give all parents what they want out of virtual learning, while still holding true to the pedagogy in the Kindergarten Program Document?
  • How could we be responsive to students, while still providing warning to parents of any special materials or projects for remote learning?
  • How might we best address important, but sensitive, topics online, and how can we include families in addressing these topics?
  • How might we engage that child that never seems engaged? Is there more that we could be doing?
  • How can we make necessary changes to our virtual program, while still holding onto the semblance of routine, which seems to reduce stress for our learners?

I would like to say that these are all of our questions, but they’re not. I’d also like to say that we figured out answers to all of these questions, but we didn’t. It’s this last part that brings me to this month’s word: uncertain.

As Doug Peterson shared in a recent blog post, we’re just starting to hear the Ontario government’s plans for schools this year. Soon Boards will be sharing their plans. Then it’s up to classroom educators to take the restrictions and scale the condo wall to explore what’s possible. Paula and I have each been in education for over 20 years. Last year was hard. Really hard. There were many moments when I broke down into tears and questioned how we were going to make it work. Was there more that we could do? Should we be changing our approach? I was so grateful to have Paula there to question with me. To offer new possibilities. To let me know when we should wait it out. And to creep over into the land of uncertain: to try some different approaches with the hope that they would work. Some did. Others didn’t. Some we’ll likely try again this year, and others we won’t. One thing that we’ll keep doing though is questioning.

One of our Educator Reflections when we were in-person.

I think about first year teachers and the TPA process. Whether a beginning teacher or an experienced one, does this process make us feel as though we have to have it all figured out? Instead of trampling through the mucky waters of uncertainty, does it make us feel more “certain” than we need to be? I think that questioning is such a big part of reflecting, and that it’s so important for educators and administrators in any year of service. How do we share our uncertainty with others and become more confident is voicing what is not working as well as what is? I don’t have education all figured out, and I probably never will. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Would you?