Bouncing Back — Aviva Style! :)

On Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s ReWired Conference. I’ve been thinking a lot about the conference and my learning from the day. One component of this year’s conference that I loved was the Bounce Back addition. The thinking is that we reflect on one piece of new learning from the day, set a goal, and commit to making a change in the next couple of weeks. Interested participants are invited back in two week’s time to share what they tried, what worked and what didn’t, and make some future plans with the support of the other people there. What a great way to jump start a change and provide a support network for future learning. Here’s my problem: I want a redo.

I had to work through some issues of my own at the end of the ReWired Conference.

  1. The change in weather gave me a major headache. I was trying hard to concentrate, but my head was pounding and I was starting to feel nauseous. I don’t want this to become an excuse, but I do find it harder to think at a time when I’m not feeling my best.
  2. The room was crowded and noisy. This is the reality of a large group, but I know that I don’t do my best reflecting in this kind of environment. I need quiet. I need space. And I need time. I tried to reflect too quickly, and this definitely impacted on the quality of the reflection.

I think that my goal was very vague. I wanted my next step to be about more than using a new tool, but by honing in on pedagogy instead, I’m not sure that I really set an achievable goal. Now, I’ll admit that I could just let this problem go. The surveys were anonymous, and I didn’t ask to be invited back for the Bounce Back session. I’d love to connect with other colleagues, but I’ve been out of the classroom a lot lately, and I don’t want to leave my kids and partner again. That said, I’m a huge believer in the value of regular reflection, and so I need to find some way to make a change, reflect, and tweak this change.

This is when I thought of a comment that Shawn McKillop made during his presentation. I was so excited to see Shawn present. Not only was he talking about one of my favourite topics — social media — but he was also somebody that I’d never met in person yet, but love sharing with online. Shawn was just as warm, positive, inspiring, and funny in real life, as he is on Twitter and Instagram. His message also really resonated with me, especially his comment about storytelling.

We do tell our stories through these social media platforms, but how do we include multiple voices in these stories? How do we also move from classroom stories to school and Board stories? When we tweet, Instagram, and blog about components of our days, we’re sharing successes that go beyond the walls of our room. I’m not sure that I always make these links to our school and Board. What could I choose to share beyond my class Twitter account with our school one?

I thought of this more yesterday evening, when I went back to the school after ReWired. I sat and chatted for hours with my teaching partner, Paula, and she shared some photographs and videos from the day. These pictures and videos told a story, but she also told one through her dialogue about them. As I posted some of these photographs and videos last night, I thought about what Shawn said in his session, and I made a change: I mentioned our school name, and I tagged our Board. I didn’t do this for everything I posted, but I began to reflect more on which of these pieces of documentation might help tell our school and Board stories, and how we could celebrate the successes of them as well.

As many of you know, I do post a lot each day, and I’m not planning on tagging our school and Board in all of my posts (this would be the day that Aviva broke the Internet 🙂 ), but I am planning on thinking more about the bigger story. When do our classroom happenings help tell the Rousseau and HWDSB stories, and how do I help connect them? This is not the call to action that I shared on the Google Form yesterday, but it is the one that I’m going to be focusing on for the next couple of weeks. Thanks Shawn for the inspiration!

I wonder if there are other people out there that may have opted out of the in-person Bounce Back session, but would like to join me in a digital version. Share some tweets, write some blog posts, or even share some Instagram photographs or videos that highlight what you changed. Did it work? Did it not? What might you try next? Being the educational troublemaker that I am 🙂 , I might give myself a little more time and check in again in a month (instead of in two weeks). I’m interested in seeing if linking our classroom story to our school and Board stories results in a stronger connection between all three, and even a different perspective on some of the learning that’s happening in the room. Is anybody else willing to join me in a different sharing platform? Bouncing back and reflecting on new learning is always valuable, even if we can’t always make it out of our rooms to do so.


Here’s To A Lifetime Of Giddiness!

The other day, my teaching partner, Paula, spoke to me about an article that she read sharing that adults don’t laugh enough. I don’t know if this is the article that she found, but it definitely shares the same information. As we chatted about the article, one thing became clear: the two of us definitely laugh way more than the average adult, and so much of this laughter is in the classroom. Maybe that’s what makes work/school so enjoyable. If you’re spending your days chuckling, wouldn’t you want to keep coming back to the place that makes you so happy?!

This got me thinking more about why we laugh so much. Is it because we’re surrounded by four- and five-year-olds, who find everything amusing? In a school, if you want to visit the happiest place on earth, find a Kindergarten class. Everything is exciting! 

  • Listen to this child sing and talk excitedly about the baby worm she found. Joyful! Precious. And it makes me giggle just a little again, as I hear her laughter over her incredibly lucky find.
  • As adults, mud is synonymous with a mess (and likely hours of laundry), but as a kid, mud is all about happy times. Chasing each other with the mud. Exploring in the mud. Even painting with the mud. Nothing is better than this kind of sensory play, and just watching it in action, makes me chuckle along with the kids.

  • You just never know what’s going to be said or done, and it’s the unexpected that can sometimes cause the biggest laughs. It’s like finding the biggest broken branch ever, and hearing your teaching partner say, “I wonder if it can fit through the door.” 🙂 Then it’s actually working with ten kids to carry that branch back to the school, and figuring out with them how to get it through the gate before trying to get it through the door. But of course, you also fall in love with the branch so it has to make it in. After that, there’s also the process of getting this branch over to the floor ready for painting, and then somehow managing to flip it (all on your own), so that the children can access the other side. It’s the sign the children make to remind you that the “big stick” is there — as if someone could miss it — and the many giggles that accompany every step of the process. Then it’s the act of getting that branch back out to the forest again, and the amazing crowd waiting to see you do it. It’s the numerous reminders of “the gate, the gate, the gate,” and realizing that the children are going anywhere but there. Who knew that one broken branch could lead to so much laughter?! 

  • It’s in seeing life and learning from a child’s perspective. Kids see the world differently, and some of the happiest moments are around these differences. Only a child could see a stick as a person, and two sticks, as “kissing people.” And imagine when children then see the perfect birthday present as these kissing people. For what really is better than that?! Then think about the child’s comment around having “scissor hands” for the people. Even more than the comment, I love how my teaching partner never once said, “No,” but instead discussed the potential problems with the child. It’s each of these little moments that brought me some joy, and it’s experiencing every little part of this, that brought on lots of laughter.

Please don’t get me wrong: I couldn’t be happier about the progress that our students have made this year. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. But I’m equally as happy over the tremendous joy that I’ve experienced this year. I love that every day is full of the kind of laughter that makes my sides hurt and my eyes run with happy tears. I love that we can share this kind of laughter with kids, with parents, and with each other. I’m thrilled that I get in way more than four laughs a day, and that these laughs are genuine, are long, and are full of immense joy. If your place of work can bring on this much laughter, then life doesn’t get much better than that! How often do you laugh? What can help you experience more joy in the workplace and at home? Here’s to a week full of many giggles! Surround yourself with people and experiences, which make this possible.


Ode To That Old Photocopier … Finding It Hard To Let Go!

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with our school photocopier. It’s one of those older photocopiers, which consistently jams. Every time you press print, you cross your fingers and hope that a paper will appear. Don’t even think about doing double-sided copies … that causes a whole other realm of problems. Sometimes the photocopier makes that high-pitched squeaking sound, in which you quietly coax it to do its job, even though you know that a jam is imminent. The funny thing is that I’m not a fan of photocopiers anyway. I haven’t been for many, many years. I used to always say that a surefire way to change teacher practice was to get rid of the photocopier. Paper continues to scare me, and I still question the use of black line masters, but I do like to print our day book page every morning .. and I do so on the photocopier. Doing so, almost always results in a jam.

If I print the day book page and don’t head down to the staff room immediately to collect it, one of the other early arrivers, comes down within minutes to our classroom. “Did you print your day book again, Aviva?” Why yes! How did he know?! And off I head to the staff room to find that offending piece of paper, or maybe multiple pieces of paper, which caused the jam. 

Over my two years at Rousseau, I’ve become incredibly adept at fixing these jamming issues. This has almost become an enjoyable, self-regulating part of my morning routine: set-up the classroom, turn on the computer, pull up any websites or instructional videos that we need for the day, and find the offending piece of paper(s) that’s making the photocopier angry. 🙂 Consistency. Predictability. And a feeling of success. 

That’s the thing about teaching. On some days, you feel as though you’ve really made a difference, and on other days, your head is just full of questions. 

  • What could I have done better?
  • How might I have reached that child that I didn’t reach?
  • What do we need to change for tomorrow?
  • Will these changes make a difference?
  • Did my response trigger a bigger reaction from the child(ren)? 
  • What might have been a better response?

But each time that I get that photocopier to work — each time that I find the jam, that I extract the paper, that I hear the happy hum again — I know that I’ve done something right. Seeing as though the only time that I tend to use this photocopier is before 8:00 every morning, there’s nothing better than starting the day on this positive note: believing that what you’ve done, mattered. 

This is why I’m having such mixed feelings this week, when I saw our brand new photocopier on Thursday morning. We now have the Mercedes Benz of photocopiers. From a tech perspective, this thing is amazing.

  • It prints quickly.
  • It’s quiet.
  • It’s highly predictable.
  • It staples, it hole punches, it double sides, and it does so with ease.
  • You can even print from a USB port. 
  • If it would print our documentation in colour, I might actually hug this photocopier. 🙂

And yet, while this machine excites me, it also makes me feel sad. I wasn’t prepared for the change. All of a sudden, on Thursday morning, I had almost half-an-hour of extra time, where I couldn’t go back in our classroom yet because Before Care was there, but everything else was organized and ready to go. What was I supposed to do? While I joked on my Instagram post that I could enjoy my coffee, I was actually having a very hard time sitting still. My routine was disrupted, and I never got that successful feeling of finding the jam. I think that I missed that old, unreliable photocopier more than I anticipated

Strangely enough, this photocopier experience of the week, made me think about a quote that my previous principal, Gerry Smith, always included on his emails: “change is the only constant.” As somebody that has taught at seven different school and taught seven different grades (in some capacity), this is a quote that I believe in. But as I was reminded on Thursday, change is not always easy — even in the photocopier world — and when routines are interrupted, we all begin to feel the stress. So how do you cope? I really want to enjoy this Mercedes Benz of photocopiers, but I’m still missing that on-the-verge-of-death photocopier that brought me a little joy every morning. Maybe I need to find a new way to start my day feeling that bit of success that came with my “paper jam morning routine.” What would you do? If parking can inspire multiple, educational blog posts, then photocopying can surely inspire one. 🙂


Are These Tweens Really Ready?

I still remember the first time that I had to look at children through a developmentally appropriate lens. As educators, we all know the age of the students that are in front of us, and we understand school rules and expectations, but what if our children are at a different developmental level? This was a reality that I faced a number of years ago. And it was this very topic that I thought back to again when I heard a very disturbing story yesterday.

I think often about this group of students, who caused me to really re-evaluate my teaching practices. I was struggling. Really struggling. I was not a new teacher, and I was not a beginning teacher in this grade, but nothing seemed to be working. I was spending my entire day dealing with one problem after another one. I felt as though I was constantly putting out fires, and just as I put out one, another blaze began. Ask any Kindergarten child, and he/she can probably recite the school rules.

  • No hitting.
  • No kicking.
  • No pushing.
  • No spitting.
  • We can look instead at the nicer option of, “Be kind to your friends and keep your hands to yourself,” but the overall message is the same.

For the most part, these students also knew these rules, but they didn’t follow them. How was I supposed to support academic gains, when I was split in so many directions dealing with social problems? At this point, I tried options that worked well in the past, and when these options still didn’t work, I broke down in tears. I went to the principal and asked for help. I wanted to bring in some consultants and Board teams and see what we could do to support these children, as the classroom environment was not working for anyone. I had a wonderfully supportive principal, who was quick to contact some Board supports, and we had a meeting. In the meeting, we talked about The ELECT Document, and where these students might be at a developmental level. I knew where they needed to be, but if they weren’t there, were my instructional approaches really supporting them? This meeting was eye-opening for me and challenging at the same time. I’m a teacher. I teach reading, writing, and math. But these consultants re-framed things for me: I teach kids first! So I walked back into the classroom, feeling partially defeated and partially inspired, and I had a really long talk with my teaching partner. If all of our students were at the developmental level of a toddler, what would a toddler room look like? We made a lot of changes after school that day, which continued into the next day.

  • We covered up shelves.
  • We switched materials in the room.
  • We replaced lengthy read alouds with board books.
  • We added more sensory options (from water to play dough), and even made the sink into a learning space.
  • We changed our schedule: reducing transitions and allowing for more of a flow in the day.
  • We responded differently to kids: modelling social interactions instead of punishing for hitting or grabbing, as this was the developmental stage that the students were at. 
  • We started to sing everything. As an educator that I admire reminded me, “Kids hear music at a different level than talking. They respond to it differently.” And they did!

The next day was the BEST day that I had at school in over two months. Our kids had their best day too. What initially felt like a very dysregulating environment changed to a very calming one. I could feel it, my teaching partner could feel it, and the children could feel it. This was a great reminder to all of us, that while we had our expectations for kids, we needed to respond to the children in front of us. By responding differently, the students also changed. They grew. They matured. And we could gradually address academic needs, as now these children were self-regulated and ready to learn!

I thought back to this experience yesterday when a teacher from a different school told me about a disturbing issue with tweens and social media. The details of this problem are irrelevant. We’ve all heard about these issues before. Be it inappropriate postings, language, or interactions on a social media site, we all know the horror stories or have experienced them. And this is when I started to wonder about elementary students bringing and using their own devices at school. Please don’t get me wrong. I’ve taught up to Grade 6 before, and I’ve used technology in all grades from Kindergarten to Grade 6. I see the value in using technology as a learning tool, and watching students use these devices in the classroom, I think that they also see the academic benefits. But when we add personal devices into the mix, we also potentially add more problems.

  • There’s the ability to text.
  • There’s the ability to upload to Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter (usually used less by students). 
  • There’s the ability to use Snapchat or Kik (a popular option with my Grade 6’s many years ago). 

We could argue that the rule is that the students are not supposed to use these apps in school, but rules are often broken. In fact, most of the social media platforms that these tweens are using are for individuals 13 or older, but many are using it much younger than that. And while, as a teacher, I always circulated and looked at the screens as students used iPads or computers, with hand-held devices it’s impossible to see every screen at every moment of the day. It takes seconds to publish a post, and these seconds can lead to many minutes of problems later. 

I’m beginning to wonder if students in this Grade 5-8 range are emotionally and socially mature enough to deal with the possible repercussions that come from the use of social media. Add into the fact that many of these students are starting to go through puberty, and at times, hormones lead to them responding in a way that may even be outside of their control. I get it. I’ve seen it. And these same students may be genuinely upset later with how they’ve responded, but it could be too late. I know that these individuals are likely to explore texting and social media applications at home, and maybe these same problems will surface, but I wonder if parents can catch issues even quicker. Can they support their tween even more? For these same parents may be watching a couple of kids versus a class of 30+ students. It’s the numbers that concern me the most. 

When I taught junior grades, I did encourage students to bring in their devices from home. Many did. This was what often gave us 1:1 devices in the room, and allowed us to blog and create online, collaborative presentations as frequently as we did. But if I was to go back and teach a junior grade again, I’m not sure that I would encourage these home devices as much as I did before. I’d still use the iPads, Chromebooks, and computers that we have at school, but maybe cellphones could stay in the lockers until after school. Would just this one change minimize the potential for problems and allow me to continue to model technology use for learning, but with Board devices in a classroom setting? These horror stories scare me, and not just because of what happens, but because I wonder if we can truly expect different outcomes from kids of this age. Maybe some kids, but most/all kids? It’s like my teaching story from years ago: when we respond to students at their developmental level, the learning and behaviour changes. I wonder if the social and emotional developmental level of these 10-12 year olds really allow for the independent, mature interaction with the platforms that they ARE using — and will likely CONTINUE to use — on their personal devices. Knowing this, do we need to respond in a different way? What might that way be? It only took one more disturbing story to have me wondering. 


What Makes A Journal Better?

The other day, I had a conversation that has been on my mind ever since. I was speaking with another teacher about writing in Kindergarten. I’m very passionate about authentic writing, and the value in using this writing to also support reading development. In my 17 years of teaching with the Board — and 11 years teaching Kindergarten — all of our children this year are reading and writing more than I’ve ever seen before. All of this writing is authentic.

  • It’s embedded in play.
  • It’s largely student-driven.
  • It takes place all day long.
  • It’s linked with opportunities to read, and supports and includes the development of new vocabulary (oral language).

Writing letters happens a lot in our class. When Brady wrote a note to @paulacrockett to get the milk, Wyatt decided to write a note to return the library books. My reply gave him another opportunity to do some reading. Love how he said the sounds aloud to help with reading the words. Then Brayden and Wyatt noticed that we got one less chocolate milk than we needed, so they wrote Mr. Berg to tell him. Brayden got so into letter writing that he wrote his friend in Grade 4, asking if he was in Mary Poppins. Evan wrote him back at lunch today (not pictured here). Brayden was so excited that he wrote Evan another letter. He read it and delivered it to Evan, who said that he would write him back on the weekend. I love authentic reasons to read and write! ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #teachersofinstagram #iteachk

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My teaching partner, Paula, and I could not be happier about the reading and writing that we’re seeing in our classroom, and we’ve received numerous emails from parents that express their gratitude for the growth that they’ve seen in their children. All of this matters immensely to me! This may have been why I was triggered when this same teacher suggested the use of notebooks/journals for some of our kids. What? Why?

I’m going to share here the same concerns that I expressed at the time.

  • Many journals are lined, and there’s information out there that shows how these lines act as “visual noise,” and can discourage children from writing more. I used lined journals for years with my Kindergarten and Grade 1 students, but as soon as I made the switch to unlined paper, I noticed a huge increase in the quality and quantity of writing. I’ve never gone back! This unlined paper also allows children to easily draw and label their work, which is something that beginning writers do frequently. Drawings are how many Kindergarten students communicate — especially initially — and our Program Document supports this with Visual Arts being one of the ways that children can communicate. 
  • Even if we can find unlined journals, as soon as we make writing about what happens in a notebook or a journal, we start to devalue the writing that happens in authentic ways. I don’t think that this is done intentionally, and maybe it’s not the case for everyone, but often there is far less writing happening around the room and through play when writing happens in a notebook. Maybe it’s in our attempt to make that notebook special that children receive an implied message about the importance of this journal. Maybe it’s because so many of our mini-lessons happen with the journal that the other writing is seen as less valuable, be it in the eyes of adults or children. But for years I’ve noticed that as soon as a journal is introduced, other writing gradually decreases. I think it’s worth exploring why this happens. 

I know that writing starts to look different as we move up in the grades. I’ve taught Kindergarten to Grade 6. Yes, these grades are not all the same. But while the pedagogy is explicit in the Kindergarten Program Document, it’s not explicit in the Language Curriculum. Reading and writing could still happen through play. When I taught Grade 1 at Dr. Davey, a Writer’s Workshop model totally changed things for my students. Kids were writing constantly and for long periods of time, and these were not children that started the year feeling as though they were readers and writers. I had grand plans for how I wanted to run our Grade 1 classroom, but I had to make changes because of the children that were in front of me. This Writer’s Workshop model was one of these changes, and it was a game changer. Even then, my children did not have journals. I did have writing folders, and encouraged students to organize loose papers in these folders, but writing was often done and displayed around the classroom. Signs and labels were used within the context of play, and it was when the interests changed, that children took these papers and began to put them in their writing folders. Perfect!

Please don’t get me wrong. I know that sometimes the value of a journal is not in the writing (the expression of ideas), but in the printing practice (opportunities to form letters correctly and in ways that are readable to others). There is a time and a place for learning proper letter formation … and I realize that sometimes when learned incorrectly, this is a hard habit to break. That said, I’ve noticed that when children get hung up on how to form a letter, many of them stop writing. For some children, just showing them that they’ve made a mistake is enough to discourage more writing. It all comes down to knowing your students. 

  • If Paula and I notice letter reversals, we will often demonstrate how to form these letters correctly.
  • We might write children back a note based on what they wrote us, and even point out the differences in some of our letters versus theirs. 
  • We might encourage students to trace the letter that we wrote and try some of their own.
  • For a few children, we might remind them before they write to remember about uppercase and lowercase letters. 
  • And for some children, we might not say anything because just the very act of writing can be stressful enough, and we want to encourage and support, and not discourage the growth we’re seeing.

And so, we try to put out papers that are of various sizes: from small sticky notes to notepads in the dramatic play restaurant to papers on clipboards. We also put out different writing instruments: from Sharpies (the preferred one) to pencils. We want children to learn to write smaller and more exact, but we also want them to love writing and to understand that writing can be a very valuable and convincing way to express ideas to others. This is why we’ve also started to include technology as part of our writing, and using PicCollage is another way for children to write. They love sharing their PicCollages with a larger audience through Twitter and Instagram. We’ve also started to use Explain Everything in addition to PicCollage to give children a bigger voice in their writing, for often at this age, what children can express orally even exceeds what they can write down. 

Writing is complex and wonderful, and even now as an educator, I’m inspired by what I can share through text. Sometimes this text is a handwritten card (yes, even with the lack of a pen, I still do those 🙂 ), sometimes it’s a blog post, and sometimes it’s a Twitter or Instagram post. These kids that we’re teaching now will grow up to hopefully still be eager writers, who realize that writing can happen anywhere at any time. There’s still time to further perfect the size and formation of the printing, and while it might also matter, the confidence that comes from children realizing that they can communicate to anyone through the messages that they write is powerful. I don’t want to even inadvertently change these feelings by adding a journal into the mix. If children bring their own journals into class — which some do — we’re happy to support the writing that happens in these journals. This is now child-initiated writing that’s meaningful to that child. How can we not? But we’re reluctant to go the route of a journal for everyone — or even a handful of children that have not indicated an interestAre they really necessary? What do you think? I know that the teacher that mentioned this to me the other day got quite the passionate response — and I do apologize for that — but I hope that this post explains why this matters so much to me. With a Program Document that supports authentic writing, why move to a journal? I wonder how authentic this kind of writing really is for our youngest learners.