Sammy’s Tale: When A “Seal Dog” Loses Its “Seal”

This is post that I’ve been sitting on for a few days now. It’s not an easy one for me to write, and unlike many of my blog posts, this one is not really about education. But it is a reminder to me that as educators, we’re humans, and at times, we are forced to process some really big feelings of our own. In the past five days I’ve been doing just that.

Friday morning, I started off my day as I always do by reading Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. Among the different blog posts featured was one by Beth Lyons. This post is a very emotional read about a very hard time in Beth and her family’s life: the passing of their beloved dog. I commented on Beth’s post at the time, but also mentioned in my tweeted reply that her post had me thinking about one of my own, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to write it yet.

This is that post. Before I write any more, I should mention a couple of things.

  • This post does not discuss the death of a pet.
  • This post does discuss health problems with a pet, some of which may hit close to home for a few of my blog readers.

If you find this post too much to read right now, I completely understand. As I contemplated publishing it, I thought about the many reasons that I blog. One of the reasons is to process my emotions. It was the reason that I blogged when my dad passed away, and it was the reason that I blogged when one of my dogs passed away. It’s the reason that I’m blogging again now.

As many of my blog readers know, I have two dogs. Molly and Sammy are loyal, affectionate cockapoos, and I love them both dearly.

While Molly is happier lying down and taking naps, Sammy — the younger of the two dogs — has always been a free spirit. She goes back to bed when everyone else is up. She runs and jumps like crazy, and can fly up and down stairs and from the sofa to the chair and back again. Her favourite time of all is a morning walk, and she makes a high-pitched crying sound to remind you that it’s time to go. Sammy is as loyal as they come, and as soon as my car — or even my parents’ car — turns the corner onto the street, she is flinging herself into the window, jumping up and down, and barking/crying in anticipation of someone she loves being close by. She’s also an acrobat! I like to think of her as part dog and part seal … nobody can jump higher for food than she can!

Or at least, nobody coulduntil Wednesday. By Wednesday morning, Sammy couldn’t see. At all. She was bumping into walls, unable to locate her food on the floor, and getting caught under the chairs in the kitchen.

The independent, feisty, free-spirited Sammy was missing. Thankfully my amazing mom stays with Sammy and Molly all day when I’m at school, and she watched Sammy carefully. She tumbled down the couple of stairs into the sunken living room, almost fell off the sofa, and walked into everything. Instead of being able to jump onto furniture with ease, she just stood there until someone lifted her up. Then she jumped down from the sofa and landed on Molly, which was not well-received.

Welcome Dr. Google! May I suggest that you never Google medical symptoms. Her glazed over eyes made my parents and I wonder if it could be SARDS. I got a vet appointment on Friday at 4:30. Yes, it looks like it might be SARDS. Sammy’s vision is now almost completely gone. But there’s more … It’s also diabetes. Her glucose level is through the roof. This led to more blood tests on Saturday, a vet appointment on Tuesday evening, and a lot more Googling. Have I mentioned that Googling is not the thing to do?!

This sweet, affectionate, wonderful dog is going to need to get insulin a couple of times a day, with many a prayer that things only improve from here. The prognosis could be great or it could be really, really bad. And Sammy’s vision will not be coming back. I realize that the diagnosis could have been worse, and I’m preparing myself that things might get worse still. I’ve shed a lot of tears over the past five days. A lot.

Right now, I’m working my way through accepting that the dog I knew — the hyperactive, affectionate, acrobatic, please-rub-my-belly-multiple-times-a-day dog — is a very different pet right now. In 48 hours, her world went completely dark, and she’s trying to navigate her new existence while also working through some big medical needs. Yes, her tail still goes non-stop, and she seems happy, but this docile, sleepy, still dog is very different than the one that I had around at the beginning of last week.

I can’t help but think about conversations that I had with parents from school many years ago after completing checklists on their children. I remember their fears about putting their children on medication because their kids wouldn’t be the same as they were before. These past five days have helped me empathize with these parents more. I’m losing the Sammy-that-was while trying hard to adjust to the Sammy-that-will-be … for hopefully many, many more years to come.

This was Sammy just over a week ago …

Life changes on a dime. How could this same dog be so very different in such a short period of time? Here’s to hoping that the hurt, fear, and sadness becomes less in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. I’ve had a permanent lump in my throat for the past five days, and I’m hoping that blogging provides that cathartic feeling that I need right now. As I’ve been reminded recently, Sammy needs me, but I also need Sammy. Maybe more than she will ever know.


Assessment Revisited: Unconventional Problem Solving Care Of Some Lunchbox Woes

Today is a PA Day with a focus on assessment and reporting. For many, today is the day that educators write report cards, or in our case, Communications of Learning. My teaching partner, Paula, and I spent a lot of time today talking about our students, reflecting on their learning and growth, and determining their next steps together. Two topics that we returned to often were independence and problem solving.

I couldn’t help but think about an experience from the past couple of weeks. As many of my blog readers know, Paula and I have always supported a flexible eating schedule in our classroom, and while COVID prevents the eating table experiences from years ago, we’ve come up with different ways to safely let kids eat when they’re hungry. Recently, a child was having a snack, when he became upset. What happened? He had a lot of small containers packed perfectly into his lunchbox, and he decided that he really wanted everything to fit back in as it was before. How was he going to do this? When he explained to me his conundrum, I could have responded in different ways, including a few of the ways that I would have in the not-so-distant past:

  • “Try your best. If it doesn’t fit perfectly, don’t worry about it. Your parents will understand.”
  • “Just ask for help. We can do it together.”

I realized though that both options were problematic.

  • He was worried about it, and telling him not to worry wasn’t going to stop that. I know him well enough to realize that he would focus on his lunchbox for the rest of the day, which would detract from his learning and impact on his involvement in play.
  • Doing the packing for him wasn’t going to help him solve the problem in the long run. I might be able to pack his lunchbox, but I’m not the one who needs to pack it.

And so, I needed a different approach. Paula was on her lunch at the time, so I couldn’t talk through the options with her. The iPad in my hand made me think of a possible solution: I offered to take a photograph of the lunchbox. I dropped it to our class iPad, and he used the picture to pack everything back up again. This solved the problem and reduced his stress.

Now what? The next morning when we came in from our outdoor learning time, this student saw Paula. He asked her to “take a photograph of my lunch so that I can pack it up properly.” I had completely forgotten to tell Paula about what happened at lunch the day before, but this photograph request reminded me. She took the photographs — multiple ones to show each layer of the lunchbox — and I dropped them to our class iPad. Done.

The next day, I asked him if he knew how to take photographs on an iPad. He did. So I told him that he could just take the class iPad and be in charge of his own photographs. He has been every day since. He even told me, “I delete the old pictures so that I don’t get confused.”

A Photograph That I Found In The Deleted Folder Today …
A Photograph That I Found In The Deleted Folder Today …

The greatest thing about this is that this child has owned the solution.

  • He gets the iPad when he needs it.
  • He takes his own photographs.
  • He accesses the photographs when he requires them.
  • He deletes the photographs afterwards and plugs the iPad back in to charge.

Not one child has asked him why he has the iPad and they don’t. He hasn’t attempted to use the iPad for anything minus these lunch photographs. This whole process takes minutes out of the day while reducing a lot of stress.

It’s also become an unexpectedly wonderful way for this child to develop his spatial skills and engage in problem solving. The other day, he came to me wondering what happened. He got me to come and have a look at his lunchbox. This student took me through each of the choices he made and how he matched everything up perfectly for the lunchbox to close, but it wouldn’t. I was also stumped. Why not? Then he looked more closely at the lid of the top container. It wasn’t the same one in the photograph. There are two of these plastic containers, and they are slightly different sizes. Who would have realized that this would make such a difference? But when he flipped the containers around, the lunchbox closed. New learning for both of us!

I share this story here, for as we’re thinking about assessment, evaluation, and problem solving, I’m pulled back to this ongoing lunch experience. Sometimes students solve problems in ways that we expect, and sometimes they don’t, but if they can make these unconventional methods work independently, how are we allowing them to do so? You see, it’s the independence piece with problem solving that matters the most to me. If any children are adult dependent, Paula and I want to figure out what else might be possible. Occasionally this means more scaffolding and more time, but sometimes what this takes, is creative problem solving and the willingness to let kids own the solution — even if this solution varies from what might always make us comfortable. I remember my organizational skills from childhood, and I probably would have begged for a larger lunch bag at this point so that I could just throw all of my containers inside. Either that, or I would have lost the majority of the containers. But I love that this child hasn’t let a stressful problem stop him, but instead, has persevered in a unique and independent way. Could we all learn a little something new from this five year old? I just wish that I had his spatial skills, and then maybe my parking would be a lot less stressful. πŸ™‚

The Social Nature Of Learning: What Do Kids Want And Need?

As I’ve written about before, there are many different reasons that I choose to blog regularly. One of the biggest reasons is to reflect. This is true for my professional blog, but it’s also true for our Class Documentation Blog, which my teaching partner, Paula, and I post on each day. While our blog posts themselves are not necessarily highly reflective, it’s the Instagram and Twitter posts that we embed within, that are. While we attempt to make sense of the learning that we’re seeing in the classroom at the time, sometimes our understanding is further developed when we explore this learning over the course of a week. This is what I noticed this week, even if it was a shorter one (by two days) due to a snowstorm.

In a comment that I left on a recent blog post by Doug Peterson, I mentioned that we had a wonderful week back at school, and sometimes our fears can be worse than reality. I hope that this is the case here, and that the cathartic nature of blogging, helped make things better … even if only in my head.

While there were different things that Paula and I noticed each day, one element that we’ve continued to reflect on day after day is the social nature of learning, both in the classroom and outside. Even though our students were socializing with each other before as they built with blocks and LEGO, now almost everything they do is social. They’re starting to notice and comment more on what others are creating. Even options in the past that were largely independent, such as beading with Perler Beads, are becoming far more social. Below are just some (okay, many) of the posts that encapsulate these observations from the past three days: the Instagram posts are almost like mini-blog posts of their own. πŸ™‚

While Paula and I tried to prioritize socializing, even in our virtual classroom, I have to wonder if being back in-person drives kids to want to connect. I’ve never seen so many happy children coming through the kindergarten pen each morning on their way to school. They are absolutely beaming. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. This doesn’t end in kindergarten. I just came back from a haircut, and the hairdresser mentioned that his son (in high school) was smiling from ear-to-ear after this first day returning in-person. “All it took was one day,” he said.

I know that we’re in the report card/Communication of Learning writing crunch time, and it’s hard not to want to focus on academics right now. Trying to observe and capture learning online is definitely different than in-person, and probably every educator out there (me included), is aware of this impending deadline. That said, I keep returning to this unexpected, but wonderful, reading experience from yesterday, and the social nature of even decoding signs on a bathroom door.

Are kids trying to tell us about what they need most of all, and if so, what does this look like in our classrooms and schools? Some of the protocols do not always make socializing easy, but do we need to creatively and safely find ways to make these moments happen? I would love to hear what others have done and are considering doing — across grade levels — for the connections in the past week tell me that this is what children are craving. And I think that we need to listen to kids.


Sunday Scaries Intensified: Working My Way Through Some More Big Feelings Today

When the pandemic began and we first returned to school, I believed that if we followed certain protocols consistently, we would all be okay. I couldn’t guarantee that nobody would get COVID, but I thought that we could limit the spread with these classroom/school choices and was grateful to our Board for putting many of these protocols in place.

  • Masking when in the classroom, and even at times, outside.
  • Creating independent spaces for kids and providing as much distance as possible.
  • Providing more flexible eating times in the classroom — a luxury that we definitely have thanks to our kindergarten schedule and my amazing teaching partner, Paula — so that everyone is not unmasked at the same time.
  • Using the outdoor space as much as possible to allow for more distancing.
  • Washing hands and sanitizing frequently.
  • Limiting shared materials, and encouraging additional space and smaller groups when kids are sharing materials.

I realize now, reading more and more about how COVID is transmitted, that some of these choices probably helped and some might not have, but I still backed this plan. Paula and I both did. And even when case numbers dropped and more things opened up, we erred on the side of caution and remained vigilant about these protocols in the classroom and outside. We might not have control over home decisions, but we wanted to try and reduce the chance of outbreaks within the room. This was a success.

  • Now was this because of choices that our families made at home in addition to what we did in the classroom?
  • Was this a case of luck?
  • Was this due to the school closures that happened over times of higher transmission rates?
  • Was this because of some community lockdowns that limited gathering options outside of the school?

The answers to all of these questions might be yes or they might be no. Maybe there are other things that we need to consider here. Whether correct or not, I was sure that we could keep ourselves and our students safe, and this made me feel better. It helped me sleep at night. Some might argue that I was kidding myself into believing that our choices were enough, but for over a year, I would have stood by every single one of them.

Right now, things have changed. COVID has changed. Reading about the Omicron variant makes me wonder if masking, distancing, sanitizing, and staying home when sick will be enough. I want to believe that they will be. I need to tell myself that everything will be okay because we’re all going to be going into school every day where COVID could be. This might have been the reality for the past couple of years, but before, I felt confident that the choices we made would reduce transmission. I thought we could contain the spread, and now, I’m not as sure that we can.

Our families entrust us every day with the very best that they have. We love and care for each one of our children and make these relationships paramount.

I know that there’s the statement floating around that “everyone is going to get COVID,” and many are resigning themselves to this. But how will we feel if children get sick in our care? What about if many children do? What if some get really sick? What if there’s little we can do to change this? Parents trust us to keep their kids safe, and I’ve always believed that we could. I know that we’ll continue to do everything we can to make things as safe as possible — and I know that we will not be alone in doing so. As I write this post, I’m trying to push back the tears as I work through my fear of the unknown, and hope that I’m wrong to even be worried. How are others adjusting to the possibility that some elements of safety might be out of our control? Somehow Sunday seems a lot scarier today.


All The Feels And Then Some

Over five years ago now, when I took the Self-Reg Foundations 1 Course, I learned that feelings are complex. We often see the stock photographs of happy, sad, scared, anxious, and the list goes on, but in reality, it’s hard to define feelings in these neat little boxes. Never have I appreciated this knowledge more than with the ups and downs that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In two days, we head back to our classrooms in Ontario. Monday. After 8 days of learning online in our Board: due to two days to deploy devices and get organized. Sometimes I feel as though I’m one of the few educators out there that doesn’t hate remote learning. In fact, there are elements about it that I love, and every time that we go back online, my teaching partner, Paula, and I continue to see students that benefit from this environment. I’m not going to say that it’s for everyone, and sometimes I worry that adult impressions of remote learning can impact on how children view it. We can be very persuasive. That said, I know that many of our students and their families are beyond thrilled to be heading back to the classroom in a couple of days.

Yesterday, I taught from the classroom so that I could set-up for Monday in between meeting times and during our preparation time in the afternoon, and there were numerous excited comments when kids saw my live school background.

Yes, I am teaching on the floor with a LEGO container as my desk. πŸ™‚

I can appreciate all of this happiness, and found myself smiling along with the students, but I think that like many people right now, my feelings don’t end here.

I’m also worried. I live in a multi-generational house right now, and comments such as, “You need to expect that you will get COVID,” terrify me. Yes, I’ve been vaccinated and boostered, and yes, the other people that I currently live with have also been, but will this be enough to protect all of us? We’ve spent years masking, avoiding large gatherings, distancing, hand-washing like crazy, and attempting to always make safe choices, and for two years, this has protected us. Now as I read about what’s happening in other provinces and in the United States, I’m unsure if this will continue to be enough. And the truth is, that no matter what anyone might say about mild cases or preparing myself for the inevitable, I don’t want to get COVID. The news is overwhelming right now. I’ve had to stop reading some of it because I know that I’m going back in a couple of days, and I can’t have all of these scary thoughts swimming around in my head when I do.

I’m scared about the impact that staff and student illness is going to have on the educational system. I know that are different opinions about the value of kindergarten and what children are actually learning when they play all day, but I’m going to tell you that Paula and I along with so many other kindergarten teams, are committed to kids, serious about supporting and extending learning in the classroom, and plan for success every single day. Our program works in large part because of our team approach and the reflecting that’s part of this approach. So what happens if one of us is away sick and there’s no supply? What’s possible in the classroom with just one educator? I want classrooms to continue to be places of creativity, connecting, and learning, and I worry about the impact that illness will have on this. I sent these tweets out into the universe a number of days ago now. I still wonder about these things.

Yes, we’re at the stage in the pandemic where every sore throat, sneeze, and stuffy nose is going to warrant a decision on to send to/go to school or not. I’m so appreciative of families, who will be making this call each morning, and working with us as we try to navigate new screeners together.

On Monday morning, I’ll have a genuine big smile on my face (behind a mask of course), as we welcome numerous students back to school. I’m hopeful that masking and distancing (when possible), plus the vaccines, will be enough to keep us all safe. But know that in addition to this happiness, I also have a nervous stomach that I’m hoping will feel better once we get back into the building and our routine of before. If you, your child, or your families are feeling the same way, I see you. I understand. Let’s give ourselves and others some extra kindness and an additional dose of grace in the days and weeks ahead. This is something that I think we all need right now. Have a great return to school everyone, and please, stay safe!