My Blog Post Reflection After A Lost Exit Card

I have to begin this post with a confession: I lost my exit card from yesterday’s PA Day sessions. Now I should mention that this exit card was a small slip of paper. One of our vice principals placed it in our mailboxes, and knowing my luck — or lack thereof — with paper, I probably should have left it there, but I worried that I would forget to return to the office to retrieve it. So I walked out of the office at 8:30 with the paper. I folded it up in my hands. I dropped by the staffroom kitchen to ask one of the vice principals a question, and I ended up helping her make coffee.

Then I went to set-up for my EdCamp-style session on sound walls, so needless to say, this paper could really be anywhere.

I could have asked for another one, or at least a list of the questions that I could respond to in another way, but I decided that I could create my own reflection instead. This blog post is that reflection.

It’s been a long time since I’ve facilitated an EdCamp-style session, but my fond memories of EdCamp Hamilton, had me really excited for this PA Day. Recently, there has been a lot of interest at our school around sound walls. I will admit that I’m very new to even understanding sound walls, and have many questions around them, including how students use them and how they connect with the pedagogy in the Kindergarten Program Document. My Twitter PLN came through with wonderful examples and ideas to share, and since an EdCamp Model is a conversation, I didn’t need to be an expert to facilitate the discussion.

Our amazing staff did not disappoint with the great questions and conversations that came out of the four sessions. My biggest learning came from two unexpected discussions. The first one was when two French teachers came to the session. Could sound walls be used in a French language classroom? What might they look like? Since French is often on rotary, how might they make these options portable? I wasn’t sure about sound walls in a French class, but I did send a tweet asking for help, messaged other reading specialists to see what they knew, and then did some investigating of my own. A Google search led me to a few options, including a tweet from a French teacher.

She pointed me to a resource to share.

Now the French teachers can look at how they might use these materials in the classroom. I know that they were thinking about a science board option, or even some individual file folder walls. I hope that they’ll share what they end up doing. As I was planning for different grade examples, I never even thought about a different language example. This conversation reminded me about the importance of planning with all learners in mind, and how language can intersect — and at times, be a main focus — in other subject areas.

My second big takeaway came from a great conversation with some educators who support blind and low-vision students in our Board. Over my 21+ years in education, I’ve taught students with a variety of different learning needs and accommodations, but this is my first year working with a few students who are blind or have low-vision. I’ve really had to push myself to think differently when it comes to planning for these couple of students. Initially, I thought about adding Braille to the words on the sound wall. While this option would be valuable, it’s not the only thing to consider. What about the glare from the laminate? Did you know that you can get some laminate with less glare? What about the space and size of the cards? What about the colour choices? We looked at many different examples of sound walls, including the most common ones with the Vowel Valley, but it was this example from Kate Winn, which these educators connected to the most.

They thought that the black background and the arrangement of the cards would make the images and text most accessible to blind and low-vision students. The comment about the background colour made me think about a conversation that I had with a Speech Pathologist many years ago. We were discussing a visual schedule that I had on my board for a child with autism. She said that it was important to consider the background colour, so that the schedule would stand out for this child. Thinking back to this discussion and the insights from the educator team yesterday, had me realizing that certain accommodations might be good for all, but necessary for different groups of kids.

The educators from the Blind and Low-Vision team, also wondered about a key chain sound wall. Could students then access the images and words as they needed them. Would this make the wall more portable and less visually overwhelming for some students? They even showed us these wonderful black, small velcro boards that could be used for a portable sound wall. Thinking about when students might use a sound wall and where they might use it in the classroom, I wonder if these portable options might make these connections to text and print happen in different spaces for different kids. Could this extend to even more authentic reading and writing opportunities? I’m thinking about a classroom environment where reading and writing is happening everywhere, and while I know that students can always go up to a sound wall, I wonder if portable options might be used even more by kids with less teacher push to access the wall. The materials would always be accessible to students, and at their level.

These possibilities intrigue me, and have me thinking about sound wall options beyond the Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest varieties, but maybe they’re too far removed from the original intent of the wall? Maybe they have to happen in conjunction with a typical sound wall to link the instruction more with the use? Maybe the organization and access of the materials would be harder to do than I imagine? I’m not sure, but yesterday’s conversations have me wondering. As K/1 educators begin to explore sound walls in some of their classrooms, maybe we can work through these wonders together.

Whether on an official exit card or in a blog post, I need time to reflect after PD. Yesterday I was reminded of the fact that even facilitators of learning can leave the day with new learning, new ideas, and new wonders. Rich conversations made this possible. Thanks to one of our kindergarten educator teams, who highlighted this in their tweeted reflection.

Here’s to another successful PA Day, with some unexpected ahas along the way. What did you learn from some recent PD? How did this learning change your teaching practices? I might not have a sound wall of my own this year, but I wonder what sound wall or quasi-sound wall options I might be supporting in the coming months, and the impact that these might have on student achievement.


Starting Again With My Social Workflow

When I mentioned on Twitter and Instagram that I was starting a new position as a Reading Specialist with our Board, one question that I later received, was a variation of this one: “Will you still be sharing your practice as you have before?”

I always replied, “Yes,” and I had every intent of documenting learning and reflecting through photographs and videos just as I did before. I didn’t anticipate a small problem though.

When I was teaching with Paula, and the classroom was ours, we communicated with families about our social workflow plan. We worked out options that would work for everyone. But now, I am not one of the main sources of contact with most of the families. I am entering other people’s classrooms, and many of them have established different workflows that work for them. I want to respect this. I also know that it’s through sharing and reflecting publicly, with other educators, that I learn new ideas, hear various perspectives, and make changes to my practices. Professional development is a key component of the Reading Specialist position, and I know that Twitter and Instagram have played key roles in this PD for me in the past. So I soon realized that I could not share as I used to as a classroom educator, but I could still share socially.

My new social workflow plan looks like this.

  • I often share tweets without photographs or videos where I reflect on experiences throughout the day. These tweets help me think more about my position and the choices that I make. Sometimes they generate conversation. Sometimes putting these thoughts out there are more about me finding a way to make sense of my learning.
  • I take photographs of work products without the presence of students, which I then share through Twitter (and periodically) through Instagram. I still record videos of my conversations with kids, and listen back to these videos to help write the mini-learning stories and/or reflections of the experiences. Depending on classroom teacher comfort, sometimes I share these videos, but frequently, I stick with just the picture and the reflection. This way, I can still gain insights from other educators, but appreciate the privacy that families and colleagues might want.
  • I stick predominantly with sharing on Twitter, but usually add a few picture or screenshot posts (and reflections) on Instagram. I find that Twitter is where I dialogue the most with other educators, and a lot of what I’m sharing now, invites this dialogue. I also know though that Twitter might be coming to an end, so maybe a move to Instagram, is what I will be doing next.
  • Since I no longer cross-post onto a class blog, I look back at my sharing throughout the week and decide on a professional blog post to write each weekend. This is a way for me to dig deeper into some of my smaller reflections throughout the week. It also forces me to re-look at my tweets and Instagram posts and start thinking ahead. Pedagogical documentation is such a key component of assessment in Kindergarten. I’m trying to figure out, along with my colleagues, what this might look like in my new role. I often look to my social sharing for these more detailed reflections.

Has your social workflow changed this year? What role does your position play in your workflow? I would love to hear from both classroom educators, as well as those in system roles, as I’m curious to find out where the similarities and differences lie.


An Upside To Covering Classes

As many of my blog readers know, I like to try to take a positive view of things when I can. This doesn’t mean that I never feel upset or angry. but attempting to find the good in situations has really helped with my own mental health and well-being. When I applied to and accepted a position as a Reading Specialist, I knew that sometimes I could be pulled from my position to help cover in other classes at the school. I now teach in a school that’s on the outskirts of our Board, and it’s not uncommon to have unfilled positions. The amazing admin team do everything possible to try and problem solve open jobs without pulling staff if they can, but yes, I have been a teacher or co-teacher in various classrooms since I started at my new school. While I always feel badly reorganizing my schedule at the last minute or cancelling on teachers when they were relying on me, the staff has been incredible, which I so appreciate. Maybe it was thanks to everyone’s support that I found an unexpected upside to covering classes.

The school that I’m at now is the largest elementary school in our Board. There are over 1100 students, and two vice principals in addition to one principal. As a Reading Specialist, I’m working with predominantly Kindergarten and Grade 1 students and educators. At this school, that means supporting 11 classrooms. I like to think that I’m good with remembering names and details about students, but with 20-30 minute visits in each classroom, every day, learning names and connecting with all kids is a challenge. There are also many children with autism as well as English Language Learners, and since part of our Board focus is on closing the gap for those students that are “currently and historically underserved,” I’ve also been trying to connect more with these kids and the staff that support them, so that we can plan and teach together. In an attempt to balance everything, I sometimes worry that I’m just making surface level connections with staff and students. That is, until I’m needed to cover a class. I’ve had some opportunities to spend full days in various Kindergarten and Grade 1 classrooms. Being in the same class all day, has helped me,

  • learn the names of the students.
  • find out about things that matter to the students and staff.
  • start to observe reading, writing, and oral language behaviours in action.
  • have longer conversations with staff members to find out more about program decisions and ideal supports.
  • teach and learn alongside the students, but also, alongside my colleagues.


It’s in the classrooms in which I covered, where I probably have the strongest connections with both the kids and the educators. I have to wonder if a full-day, or even a half-day, at first to observe, to connect, and to immerse myself in play and learning, might have been the best way to begin.

  • Yes, in a school of this size, that would mean over a week of not providing targeted intervention, but would the slower start pay dividends in the end?
  • Would it be worth exploring a similar model now for those classrooms that I have been in less, with the hope of further strengthening relationships with students and staff?

I would be curious to hear what others in similar roles have tried and what they’ve noticed. Sometimes there’s an upside to a last minute absence and a change of plans. For me, it just required a shift in perspective. What about for you?


Full-Serve Gas Stations And UDL: How Might The Two Connect?

While I always start my day reading and enjoying Doug Peterson‘s blog posts, two of my favourite posts of his each week are the This Week In Ontario Edublogs post and the Whatever Happened To post. The first post has Doug connecting Ontario Edubloggers and reflecting on their posts. He often has me checking out blog posts that I’ve missed or finding a new blog to read. The second post is rarely education-related, but normally takes me back to my childhood. I love reading about Doug’s memories of the past, while often commenting and sharing some of my own. For the Whatever Happened To post, Doug invites others to share ideas for topics. I was initially going to message him about this topic of mine, and then I decided to try my hand at my own Whatever Happened To post. Whatever happened to full-serve gas stations?

I have a few different oddities, and one of them is that I’ve never learned how to pump my own gas. I didn’t start driving until I was in the Faculty of Education and about to begin my first teaching placement. I needed a way to get to and from the school, and ideally, that would mean driving. I was fortunate that my parents had a car that I could borrow. After a large number of driving lessons and daily rides out with my step-dad, I passed the driving test mere days before my first practice teaching assignment. Then I purchased my first car that summer. I’ve only ever driven Honda’s, and I heard that there are some tricks to working their gas tanks. Considering my parking conundrum, I was afraid that my gas filling skills would just be another area of stress, so I always chose a full-serve station. Why learn to pump my own gas — where I could make an expensive error — when someone else, who is more skilled than me, could pump the gas for me?

When I started driving 23 years ago, most gas stations in Hamilton had full-serve and self-serve options. I could easily pick the one that worked for me. Over the years, the number of full-serve choices have dwindled, and I only know of two. Last year, one of these gas stations closed permanently. Then this week, as I was driving to get gas after school, I heard that there was a gas spill at this other full-serve station. Thankfully nobody was hurt, but the station is completely surrounded by gates and danger signs. I think it might take a while for it to open again. My new teaching position has me driving about two hours a day, compared to about 10 minutes a day, so I usually fill up twice a week. I also get nervous if my gas gauge dips below half-a-tank. (My step-dad jokingly wonders how I will ever know if my gas light works if I never test it out, but I think that I’m willing to forgo this experiment. πŸ™‚ ) This past week, I asked my step-dad to fill up my gas tank for me, but with the prolonged closure of the last full-serve station that I know about, I think that I will need to go with him and learn how to pump gas this week. Is this what adulting is all about?! πŸ™‚

Strangely though, as I started to think about writing this post, I also drew an unexpected parallel between full-serve gas stations and UDL (Universal Design For Learning). As I’ve blogged about before, Shelley Moore is one of my favourite people of all-time, and the guru of UDL. Shelley has a great YouTube Channel that highlights her thinking and learning around inclusive education in five minutes or less.

Click here to watch.

I really wanted to make my own Moore-like video on full-serve gas stations, but I wasn’t sure that I could do it justice. Think back to those gas stations though that used to offer full-serve. This option was good for all, but necessary for some. Those people like me. The ones that don’t know how to pump gas, and don’t want to mess up my car with an expensive fix, when all could be solved thanks to a knowledgeable employee. (When reading a conversation with Doug on Twitter, I realized that I needed to expand on this connection. As some of my blog readers know, I have a familial tremor in both of my hands. They always shake. Stress and a lack of sleep make them shake more, but sometimes they just shake more for no reason at all. I worry about shaking hands and using a gas pump with success. Full-serve allows me to get a full tank of gas with guaranteed success.) Often when talking about UDL in education, there is pushback, when educators might worry about expectations in another grade or with kids going on to another school. There’s concern about changing everything just to meet the needs of that one child. But maybe when we can draw parallels to our own experiences — even if it is a gas pumping one like mine — we can see things differently. What is your adult UDL experience(s)? I guess that full-serve gas stations and education can be connected, even if only in my head. πŸ™‚ Now if anyone knows of a full-serve option in the Hamilton, Dundas, or Ancaster area, please let me know. I’m all for adding a little less stress to my life!