Calling My People

Tonight I’m going out for dinner with a friend. This hardly seems worthy of a blog post, but for me right now, this is a big thing. Since the surge of the Omicron variant, I have not eaten in a restaurant. I’ve done some takeout, but that’s it. The thought of sitting across from someone not in my family, removing masks, and eating together is kind of scary — or at least I framed it this way until I engaged in some discussion with Lisa Cranston about her recent vlog.

While Lisa’s post is about her birthday, some of the discussion in it made me realize that her thinking about co-regulation could apply to many other situations. Lisa responded to my initial reply with a story about the first time that she ate out in a restaurant once the restrictions were lifted. I could relate to so many of her feelings.

At first, when my friend texted me about meeting for dinner and if it was safe to do so, I said that I wasn’t sure. She then mentioned …

  • That COVID is here to stay,
  • That we are both vaccinated and boosted,
  • That we’re consistent with wearing our masks (and wearing them properly),
  • That we wash our hands regularly,
  • And that we could choose a restaurant with booths, spaces between tables, and staff that we know consistently follow the COVID protocols.

Hearing her lay out her thinking in this way helped reduce a lot of my stress. We also picked an off-time to hopefully decrease the number of people at the restaurant at the same time.

I share this story here because yesterday, I started my day as I always do by reading Doug Peterson’s blog post. One post that he highlighted in here was a recent one by Matthew Morris about having COVID. This post really resonated with me as I’ve overheard similar conversations over the last month or so between kindergarten students that seemed to normalize COVID. It’s not that the symptoms were overlooked or the seriousness was forgotten, but more kids have started to talk about COVID as they would talk about getting a cold or the flu. Even the rapid tests are spoken about in similar vein to getting a shot at the doctor’s office.

Looking at how our classroom is set-up this year along with all of the students and adults in masks, tell me that we’re not over COVID yet — nor do I think that we should ignore its severity — but somehow there seems to be a bit less anxiety around the protocols as there were before.

Maybe we are all just accustomed to how things are. More and more people also know others that have had COVID — and more kids and adults seem to have had it themselves — which possibly reduces some of the fear. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not, but I also wonder how long one can continue not going anywhere or seeing anyone.

Yes, I still choose to eat my lunch alone at school. Even when I take sips of water, I try to do so over by the classroom door away from kids and other adults. Maybe this is my own way of playing it safe. All of this being said, on March 4th we have a PA Day, and for the first time in almost two years, this meeting is going to be in-person. What exactly this looks like, we don’t know yet, but it will include closer connections with other adults in the building than I have had in a long time. Is this a sign that the world is slowly moving on? Hopefully tonight’s restaurant experience will make me feel even more comfortable with this meeting time on Friday. If not, will having my teaching partner, Paula, there help reduce any stress that I might feel with this new experience? As I was reminded on Thursday, people are highly connected to how we feel, and as we all continue to adjust to shifting protocols and experiences, I wonder if we will look for our people even more.

This person was Angelo: an amazing caretaker, who Paula and I worked with at Rousseau. It was so wonderful to see and connect with him again.


We Don’t Do The Weather Anymore, Or Do We?

When I started teaching 20 years ago now, I spent a lot of time on a calendar routine. This included adding the number for the day, going through the days and months, counting the number of days at school, and discussing the weather. At one point, I think that I even had a Weather Bear where children chose the items to dress the bear based on the weather.

Weather Bear Images Shared Here.

My teaching has changed a lot over the years based on updated program documents, new learning, and interactions with other professionals, including my amazing teaching partner, Paula. The entire calendar routine is something that Paula and I have reconsidered, and largely eliminated, thanks to the Kindergarten Program Document and blog posts like this one by Mardelle. While we’ve attempted a full year calendar before, it’s never quite worked as we hoped. Maybe we need to consider another time or another way to introduce it. This blog post though is less about the calendar, and more about the other part of this calendar routine: the weather.

While Paula and I do not sing a Weather Song with the class, dress a Weather Bear, or graph the temperature, we do discuss weather with the kids … all the time. As many of my blog readers know, we start our day outside. We go out in all kinds of weather, including on cold, snowy days and on rainy days. Recently, I had an epiphany: a look at the weather becomes meaningful for our kids based on how they apply this knowledge to their play.

  • Where can they play outside?
  • What choices can they make?
  • What do they need to consider about their clothing choices and material choices? Why?
  • What might they do to stay safe?

I can’t help but listen back to this conversation from Thursday about the rainy weather. This weather became meaningful because of the association that kids made between rain and worms. Would they find worms outside?

It turns out that yes, it was warm enough for at least one giant worm.

Looking back on moments like this one on Thursday, I can’t help but think more about why the old weather routine is a thing of the past: a rote regurgitation of the weather seemed to provide little options for thinking and application. I have to wonder if our short, daily weather conversations accomplish even more than the Weather Bear used to, and in a more authentic way. What do you think? As we consider what we might be eliminating, do we also have to think about why we’re doing so and what learning we might need to address in a new way? The weather routine of long ago has us answering these questions. What are some of your moments of re-thinking and change? Practices of the past do not always need to be forgotten, but maybe some of them need to be re-thought.


Is Valentine’s Day A Necessity?

On Friday, I started my morning by reading Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. One of the blog posts that he featured in here was a recent one by Kelly McLaughlin about Valentine’s Day. It’s one that I’ve returned to a few times now, especially when considering these tweets that I sent out on Thursday evening.

The most interesting part about these tweets are the replies that I got to them. Here are the screenshots of all of these replies, many of which include a similar message: there is little child interest or demand for Valentine’s Day this year.

As I’ve blogged about before, I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day. I crave routine, and the variations in routine on a “party day” become too much for me. Add in the sugar highs, and this is usually a day where I’m counting down the minutes until the end-of-the-day bell rings — which is so not like me. I did love our World’s Smallest Valentine’s Day space from years ago, but with social distancing, I wonder if we’ll ever get an area like this back again.

Now though comes our conundrum: knowing that the Kindergarten Program Document is all about following the child’s lead, if children are not seeking to celebrate Valentine’s Day, could we skip it?

All year long, we support students in celebrating friendship, exhibiting kindness, and giving to others. Children have been wrapping gifts for each other, for their parents, and for the fairies for months now. We always have cards and envelopes out, and children write notes almost every day to somebody.

I think about this most amazing moment from the end of the day on Friday.

My teaching partner, Paula, and I are all about exposing students to new experiences to help build schema and generate new interests, but is Valentine’s Day an experience that needs to be explored on a large scale at school or could the topics of “love” and “friendship” be supported in other ways instead?

Here’s what we decided to do to safely celebrate Valentine’s Day this year for those students that are interested.

We know that some of our children will get Valentine’s Day gifts at home in the morning, which will likely generate discussion at school tomorrow. And so, we’re going to look at Jim Dine and Romero Britto‘s heart art. We’re also going to look at more Olympic provocations to align with this evolving student interest, stemming from the Fairy Sports Stadium and an end to lockdown in Fairy Village.

As always, we’ll try to observe and follow the lead of the child: maybe this will be down the path of hearts and Valentines, maybe it will be down the path of sports and the Olympics, or maybe it will be down a different path altogether. I keep thinking about the title of Kelly’s post inspired by a conversation with her intermediate students: “I’ve been forced to celebrate Valentine’s Day all my life!” As educators, if we are forcing this, then why, and could COVID be supporting us in considering a different approach? The concern might be what’s lost if Valentine’s Day celebrations are no longer a school focus, but I have to wonder what might be gained.


Studying Silence: What Do We Gain By Just Observing?

Usually my professional blog posts are not just made up on Instagram post reflections, but today’s post is different. Today, I feel as though the Instagram posts tell almost all of the story.

A few days ago, my teaching partner, Paula, and I took turns outside observing some sensory cooking play in the snow and water. This play took place for just over an hour and included very few interactions from either one of us.

One of the hardest things for both of us to do was to stay silent. But both Paula and I think that it is through the quiet observation that you notice how this seemingly simple play is so much richer. Did we really have to say anything or hear from either one of these kids in order to see learning happen?

I know that I talk too much. Every day when we listen back to hours of video conversations, I wonder …

  • Why did I ask that question?
  • What if I waited longer for a response?
  • What if I said nothing at all?
  • What if I listened to the whole story? How might that change the direction in which we go?

I also know that with COVID protocols and students in individual spaces around the room, much instruction happens in a 1:1 setting. Paula and I are always thinking about how to best use the time that we have with each child, and sometimes this seems to mean rushing the discussions or intervening sooner than necessary. This largely silent outdoor play earlier in the week has me wondering what would happen if we stood back and just watched more.

We’re trying to find moments to do this more frequently, particularly as students play together. A couple of days ago, our talking was actually with each other instead of with the kids.

And no, this video does not actually record the moment that we’re discussing, but right after the moment instead.

We know that observations are an important component of the triangulation of data, but how often do we couple observations with conversations? Does this always need to happen? I’m not going to pretend that I stopped talking as much in class this week. There are hours of video conversations shared on our class blog that prove otherwise. πŸ™‚ But I have a little voice in my head now that’s asking me as I talk, do I need to? It sometimes has me biting my tongue to resist the urge. How do you find a place for quiet observations in your classroom or home? What value might there be in doing so? Maybe this upcoming week, I will find a few more moments of silence.


Sammy’s Story: Learning About Accommodations Thanks To My Four-Legged Friend

This is going to end up being that such a teacher post, but I really can’t help myself here. As I shared last weekend, my youngest dog, Sammy, is fighting through some health challenges right now including diabetes and blindness. This post is not about navigating her diabetes diagnoses, but it is about how she is coping and thriving despite her inability to see.

The Inspiration For This Post

My house right now is full of educators — with two teachers and a retired Speech and Language Pathologist — all of whom have a background in Special Education. Thinking of modifications and accommodations is something we do naturally, so why would we not think like this when it comes to a pet? Here are some of the things that we’ve considered over the past week.

  • Buying bells — lots of bells. Now there is a line of bells hanging on the front and back door as well as a bell on Molly’s collar. While Sammy’s sight has gone, her hearing has not. In fact, it almost seems better than before. These bells help her figure out locations for the doors as well as the other dog in the house. This helps her avoid stepping on Molly, which is something that Molly most certainly appreciates. When outside, hearing the bells on the back door help her navigate her way back in. She’s basically listening for chimes.
  • Getting squeakers. Before Sammy became blind, she absolutely loved the large, orange squeaky bone that my parents bought for her. If she was outside and wouldn’t come in, hearing the squeak of the bone had her running for the door. She used to make high-pitched crying sounds as she played with the bone — almost attempting to mimic the squeaks. Now I have a few different squeakers. Sammy follows the squeaks. She does this to walk down the stairs to the sunken living room and also to come in from outside. Just like with the bells, the squeakers help her figure out where she is going.
  • Blocking a staircase. My house is a single floor, but with steps downstairs to a basement. These steps are steep, and while Sammy used to walk down to the landing, she would never descend the stairs to the basement. Molly doesn’t even like walking down to the landing. With her vision impairment now though, the concern is that Sammy will fall down the stairs because she won’t see them first. I don’t want that to happen. So my parents and I worked together to move some furniture to block one side of the staircase. There’s one exit that is still accessible, but can be temporarily blocked with a few chairs on wheels. These prevent Sammy from accessing the stairs, but still allow anyone downstairs to come up and access the upstairs with ease.
  • Talking less. While Sammy follows noise to get where she wants/needs to go, too much noise overwhelms her. Then she doesn’t know which voices, squeaks, or bangs to follow. So when helping Sammy walk to the backdoor and down the stairs, I don’t say much of anything at all. I snap my fingers or squeak a toy to have her follow me. Then I pat the top of the stairs. This helps her stop and walk down them. Talking less allows her to really focus in on the sounds she needs in order to navigate the house successfully.
  • Adding texture. Since Sammy can’t see anything right now, she walks into things. This includes furniture and the wall. Moving some furniture against a wall has helped give her more space, but adding soft textures to the furniture has also helped. My parents tied a large blanket onto multiple chairs. As Sammy walks from the dining room down into the living room, she rubs against this blanket. It helps her realize how long the wall is, and that when the blanket ends, she’s near the stairs. Strangely, the blanket helps her orient herself while also staying safe.

Just like in the classroom, providing this support early on has allowed for more independence later.

  • Sammy now listens for the bells on her own.
  • She knows what the squeaks mean.
  • She hones in on sounds and textures to navigate around the house.

As she approached the stairs yesterday, I noticed her taking smaller, and smaller steps. It was almost like she was tip-toeing. Why? I think she was trying to feel the lip at the top of the stairs so that she knew when she would be descending them … and could do so safely. Sammy seems a lot less skittish than she was a week ago, and is now investigating her world more.

  • She sniffs around the backyard as she ploughs through every snowdrift out there.
  • She walks in and out of the rooms on the top floor of the house to try and figure out where she is and what furniture might be around her.
  • She walks along the cupboards in the kitchen until she finds the food bowl, and then goes behind it, as she knows that this is where to find the water. Her spatial awareness skills are outstanding.
  • She has started putting her front paws up on items in the living room and sniffing to figure out where she might be standing. She used to love jumping up on the windowsill ledge or the benches nearby when she heard noises outside. Yesterday, she wanted to do the same. She started by putting her paws up on the chair with the computer, but she realized that wasn’t the right one. Then she moved along until she found the big opening by the window.
  • She found the bedroom and she sits in there. She used to love jumping on the bed and sleeping there throughout the day. Now the bed is too high for her to get on alone, and I’m worried that she will fall off if I put her on there without being nearby. But she recently started to sit and lie in this bedroom because she knows that this is where she wants to be.

Yes, I still miss the Sammy from before, but it’s incredible watching this amazing dog make sense of her world in the dark. As an educator, I know the value of accommodations and modifications, but seeing these play out in this canine example, strengthens my belief that all kids can succeed with the right supports. With IEPs coming due any day now, could Sammy’s story help inspire some creative options to help achieve success for all? There’s no limit to what this cockapoo can teach me. What about you?