Is this a sign of progress?

I vacillated on if I should publish this post, but I think it’s an important one, so I’m going to press the “publish” button. The post was inspired by a conversation I had with a student on Friday. My teaching partner, Paula, just went on her lunch break, and I noticed a group of children sitting down at the eating table. I decided to join them. With our open eating time, I love that we can sit and eat with the kids. Some of the most interesting conversations happen in this space.

As I was sitting down with them, a few children went off to play, and another child went to the bathroom. When he came back, he sat down beside me, and quietly asked, “What do girls have for their private parts?” I thought that I heard the question wrong, so I said, “Pardon. What did you say?” He replied, “What do girls have for their private parts? Not penises.” Okay, I was not hearing the question wrong. Now what should I say? I looked at him, and I realized how serious he was being. He was talking in a quiet voice, with sincere interest, and no thought of a laugh. That’s when I replied, “Vaginas.” He then said, “My uncle lives there, or somewhere like there.” I said, “Regina,” and he commented, “Yep! That’s the place.” With that, the conversation was over, but it really had me thinking.

I couldn’t help but reflect back on some discussions from last year. Our class was involved in the Roots of Empathy Program. In preparation for our first visit, Paula spoke about the first lesson, which included, “what makes a baby cry.”

Hunger came up. Many of our students had younger brothers and sisters, so it didn’t take long for someone to mention “breastfeeding” (not recorded in the video above). Just like with the conversation around the eating table the other day, the students spoke with Paula about breastfeeding in such a grown up and responsible way. They know the value of the mother’s milk, and that this is just another way that a mom feeds a baby. I think that I’ll forever remember a few sessions into the program, when a child asked a question about breastfeeding. Not one child laughed. There was not one suppressed giggle. This is in a class of three-, four-, and five-year-olds, where bathroom talk is just about the funniest thing around, and yet, when we teach children terms and the need to respect this language, they do. 

I’m left wondering now though, for I have not always taught primary. I spent a couple of years teaching junior grades. I still remember introducing my Grade 5’s to the human body. I had the most wonderful plaques to share with them, and was so excited to get them talking, but all I got were squeals of “that’s gross!” It took a lot of time to move beyond the grossness to the point in which we could discuss bodily functions without guffaws and embarrassment.

The Music Connection 

I think about some of the topics that our kindergarteners have already brought up, and I wonder if this will later lead to less embarrassment, fewer laughs, and more mutual respect, as challenging topics are discussed in later years. What impact might this have on how these students communicate about different topics (from bodily functions to puberty)My recent experiences have me thinking that the conversations could sound different, but will the comfort with these topics naturally change to discomfort as students get older? Is there a way to prevent these changes? What do you think?

Aviva 

When Level 4 Effort Doesn’t Equate To Level 4 Results …

I think this post should begin with a story. Readers of my tweets and blog posts know that I have lots to say about parking … particularly my parking. I would argue that I work incredibly hard when it comes to parking. Sometimes I will spend upwards of 20 minutes in our school parking lot just attempting to get into a space. My back-up camera has definitely helped, but I still experience parking woes.

I experienced one such woe this past week. For some reason, I couldn’t get in between the lines. I lined up my car as I always do, and reversed, but my back-up camera had some moisture on it due to a recent rainfall. I started too far over to the left. Then I was too far over to the right. I finally got my vehicle between two lines, when I realized that despite the image in the back-up camera, it looked like I was way too close to the fence. I pulled up then and exited the car. I guess that I should trust my camera instead of my eyes, as I was too far up. Into the car I went again to reverse. I did it! This may have been the 17 minute parking experience, but I still celebrated to finally be in a spot. My spot. 

At least I thought it was my spot until I went into the classroom and started to do some work. As I was setting up, I looked out the window and saw another teacher arriving. She was pulling into the first spot, where I always park. Where was my car? Did something happen to it? Just as I began to panic, I looked again, and realized that I actually parked in the second spot. Not the first one. So basically I spent 17 minutes getting into the wrong parking spot. 🙂 As I doubled over in laughter, I also made an interesting connection. 

I’ve had some good conversations over the past couple of months around assessment and evaluation … particularly marks. Does hard work equate to a good mark? Marks may not be my favourite things, and I’m grateful that in Kindergarten, I don’t need to assign them. That said, I’ve taught other grades and had other experiences where I’ve had to give marks. I want students and adults to see the value in hard work, and that hard work pays off. It really does! But thinking back to my parking experiences, it doesn’t always pay off with a good mark — or even the best mark! I may never be a Level 4 parker. On the best of days, I’m probably a Level 3 parker, assuming that the Success Criteria involves making it into a spot. If straightness is part of this criteria, I’m likely a 2+ parker. I have a real knack for being able to park on a diagonal line in a straight spot. 

There are probably few people out there that put more time or effort into parking than I do. Time and effort though, does not always equate to the best mark, the most positive feedback, or the greatest successes. What it does equate to — in my mind — is the willingness to keep at it, knowing that improvement is possible! On most days, I’m a much improved parker: making it between the lines at a faster rate with a straighter car and less wintertime woes. Success! Even if this may be a Level 2 success.

As an adult learner, I’m thinking about a T.P.A. (Teacher Performance Appraisal) that I had MANY years ago, when there were three levels of achievement. (Now it’s just a pass or a fail.) I knew that I was being evaluated that year, and I worked so hard to get an outstanding evaluation.

  • I tried different forms of assessment and evaluation.
  • I looked at ways to differentiate for my students, and I made sure that I could explain these ways.
  • I took courses.
  • I became part of in-school committees.
  • I worked on wait time, questioning skills, and classroom management. 

I passed this T.P.A., but I did not get an “outstanding” evaluation. While I wanted to celebrate the positive comments and growth noted, I also felt defeated. I worked so hard … but I wasn’t there, yet. My skills improved since then, but there are still areas where I’m not “outstanding.” There are still places that I can improve. I know this, and I make goals with my teaching partner based on some of these areas. We work together to support each other in improving. 

As an educator, I will always encourage and support hard work for myself and for others. It’s this hard work that will be reflected in the learning skills, and even in some of the subject area comments. Hard work may not always be equated with success, but it’s that drive that we all need to make it through the challenging times and to persevere when others stop. I may never be an A+ parker, but I will always put forth an A+ effort, knowing that I will never get better without it. How do you support this drive, even when the drive does not always lead to the Level 4 results? Looking ahead to the weekly weather, my parking may be getting worse instead of better in the near future, but even a little snow won’t stop me! What about you?

Aviva

I’ll Definitely Miss You, #BIT18!

This week is the B.I.T. Conference in Niagara Falls, and this year, I’m not going. I think that it’s bothering me even more than I thought that it might. B.I.T. was the first educational computing conference that I attended (under a different name at the time), and it’s one that I’ve attended for many years since then.

This is the conference where I meet many of the educators that I converse with online throughout the year. It’s where I meet my P.L.N.! This is a conference that’s as much about the face-to-face connections (if not more) than about the sessions. It was the incredibly memorable dinner at The Keg last year that helped me re-think my views on media literacy and what “reading” can look like today. These are moments that will stick with me, but they’re also moments that I can’t get from following a conference hashtag — even though I will be doing so. It’s these kinds of conferences that take the 140 (or 280) character conversations and turn them into a rich dialogue that has you thinking and questioning in new ways. Maybe you can capture some of this thinking in a blog post, but it’s beyond what a tweet can contain.

I really did try to think of a way to go. There were just too many things working against making this conference a reality for me this year.

  • My teaching partner, Paula, is off for dental surgery at the beginning of the week, and having both of us out of the classroom, just doesn’t seem to be an option that’s best for kids.
  • It’s the last week of placement for our student teacher, Kate, and I’ve committed myself to being an associate teacher.  This means being at school and in the classroom with her.
  • My Teacher Leadership Course is this week, and I can’t miss it. Trying to make it back from Niagara Falls in time for the course, would be a struggle. (To think that this week we’ll be discussing P.L.N.’s, and I will definitely be missing mine.)
  • We have some visiting consultants from the Board this week, and their visit corresponds to one of the dates of the conference. I want — and need — to be there for this. We’ve already rescheduled this visit once. It’s not fair to do so again.

I tried to think of ways around these problems.

  • Maybe I could go for one day.
  • Maybe I could leave early.

But the truth is that if I go, I want it all. I don’t just want the sessions, but I want the connections that come outside of these sessions. It means staying late. It means the dinner times and the coffee breaks, and it means that this is not the year for me.

BIT18, I will miss you this year, but because you’re about more than just a conference. You’re about the people behind the conference, which again speaks to the importance of relationships — not just for kids, but also for adults! I will definitely follow Twitter throughout the conference, but I hope people blog as well. I’ll be eager to read the big learning that I know happens year-after-year at B.I.T.. How do you connect with others at conferences when you can’t be there? Is this a case of face-to-face connections ultimately being the most valuable ones? I’m left wondering about this as I see the many #BIT18 tweets, and wish that I was also anticipating these three days of learning, sharing, and maybe most of allpeople.

Aviva

How Do You Do Holidays “Right?”

Another Halloween is over! It’s funny how Halloween is a single day, but it almost seems like a week-long (or more) event. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Halloween this week. 

Halloween has never been my favourite day. I’m a creature of habit, and there are many new (and different) routines when it comes to this celebration. (Another teacher in the school always jokes with me that I’m the teacher that arrives 2 1/2 hours before school begins to only have 20 minutes in our classroom because of the Before Care Program. I basically arrive 2 1/2 hours early to work in the staff room. Yes, this is me.) With this very thinking in mind, I’m sure that you can appreciate how dysregulating an upside down day can be for me. I think this tweet kind of sums up my stress on Wednesday.

I will admit then that despite many deep breaths and thankfully my located coffee, I was certainly still feeling the stress of the holiday. Everything about Wednesday seemed different to me.

  • We started our day with a parade instead of outside in the forest. This meant lots of parents lining the hallways and tons of noise, crowds, tears (not from me), and bright lights. With the timing of the parade, we didn’t have time to get outside before nutrition break. I definitely missed the fresh air and exercise to begin our day, and I think that many of our students also did!

  • Our play started earlier. With the excitement of Halloween, we had a shorter group time that began before nutrition break (when usually it begins during the break). This meant that kids got settled into play even earlier in the day. Did this make our long block of play seem even longer?
  • With Pizza Day, many kids ate their lunch earlier, which meant that the quiet transitions to the eating table never really happened. Even when kids went over there, they tended to eat all at once, which varied from the norm of going to graze or at least stopping to eat a few times during the day. 
  • The mess was epic … even by our standards! Play is messy, and as the day goes on, it often looks as though a tornado hit the room. You have to watch out for the Lego pieces, blocks, logs, paper, markers, water spills, etc., that often grace our floor for at least a short period of time. Thus is life in Kindergarten! 🙂 On Halloween, the mess was getting to me more though. Maybe it seemed just a bit bigger. As the day wore on and the students started to enjoy their candy treats in their lunches, the sugar took effect. Sugar rarely helps produce good cleaners, so with big messes everywhere and a lack of interest in tidying anything up, I was feeling more dysregulated. It could have been sensory overload: I seemed hyper-focused on the mess! 

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Sometimes I like to see how kids use a classroom space. Here are some photographs and short videos around the classroom in a 20 minute block of time. How are kids using the space? What are they doing? Do kids stay in one space for a longer period of time or move quickly between multiple spaces? What might help them stay for longer? We use these questions to guide our plans for the next school day. Please note that we do have a few mandala colouring pages for today. @paulacrockett and I both struggle with colouring sheets, but they can be calming for some kids. Today, we thought that this @self_reg might be even more important. Rileigh was also really proud of her “little R.” I thought of this today, as @paulacrockett and I both noticed how J. writes with smaller font size in smaller spaces. Sometimes these different sized spaces are good as kids learn to print and mark make. ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #teachersofinstagram #iteachk

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  • I knew that I needed to leave school earlier today. With getting ready for trick-or-treaters at home, I couldn’t arrive back when I usually do. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m a creature of habit. Trying to leave school earlier on a day with a special celebration, Pizza Day, Popcorn Day (which was thankfully postponed until next week), and no prep day, made leaving earlier that much more challenging. I wanted to be able to reflect with our student teacher, plan for the next day, and upload some documentation, and all that I could envision was getting nothing done. 

No doubt about it: when the day came to an end — despite some highlights — this photograph really resonated with me. 

I really just wanted to celebrate “surviving Halloween!” 🙂 This is when I started to look at some of the photographs and videos shared by fellow educators on Twitter and Instagram throughout the day. There was tons laughter, smiles, and fun! Looking back at our day, the excitement was also palpable as the kids arrived in their costumes. 

I started to wonder: am I doing this wrong? Maybe it’s my own stress over the day that’s making me perceive things differently than they appear and/or inadvertently increasing the stress of others. I started to think about one of my favourite Stuart Shanker quotes.

No matter how much I may have learned about Shanker’s Self-Reg, on certain days the stress seems that much more and the Self-Reg options never seem like quite enough. Am I the only one that struggles on holidays such as this one? How do others deal with the changes in routines and the increased stress? All I know is that on November 1st — which should have been a more challenging dayeverything seemed that much better. I wonder if the ability to get outside (even in the pouring rain) and to settle back into a regular routine, was equally beneficial to us and to the kids. With more holidays on the way, I wonder if there’s a way to reframe the holiday crazy into something more settled. If nothing else, I can definitely relate to that child (or adult) that might struggle. You are not alone!

Aviva

What Will You Do With This Course?

This morning, I was having coffee with my parents, and my mom asked me a great question. I was chatting with my mom and step-dad about this Leadership Course that I’m taking. My mom said, “So what will you do with this course when you’re done?” I’ll admit that at first my response was, “Nothing.” Am I looking to go into a leadership role right now? No. Am I looking for this possibility in the future? Not necessarily. Even so, I can still do some different things with what I gain from this course.

First of all, I think that this course will help me in my role as Site Lead for Camp Power. This is a position that I would like to maintain, and it was due to this position that I decided to take this course in the first place. As part of this course, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at the Ontario Leadership Framework. While there are elements of each of the six domains that I think would hold true for the Camp Power program, I wonder if I have to rely on the Personal Learning Resources (PLR’s) the most in my interactions with staff. This course also allowed me to take the 4Di Quiz, which allows me to not only find out about my leadership style, but about my areas of need. I can now purposely plan for how to address these areas of weakness through my Camp Power position, and my weaknesses really do connect so well to the Social Resources of the PLRs. The planning that I did today based on my 4Di results, will help me as I continue to lead this summer.

I also think that this course will help me in my daily interactions with colleagues. Today, I met a fellow educator for brunch. She teaches at a different school than me, and we often end up talking teaching when we’re together. I kind of think this is what teachers do best. 🙂 This morning, this acquaintance of mine was talking about some challenges that she was having in her classroom. I’ll admit that I’m usually quick to jump in with possible solutions or share my thinking around her comments. Today though, I thought about the norms of collaboration, and I responded differently. I know that “pausing” is hard for me, so I purposely worked on pausing. I didn’t jump in with ideas, as I often tend to do, and I even left some moments of silence after she spoke. These moments allowed me to reflect before responding. Instead of jumping in with my ideas, I tried to “pose questions.” I do like to ask questions — especially in blog posts 🙂 — but when somebody is sharing a problem, I tend to pipe in with solutions instead of questions. Today, I did a lot of wondering aloud. I tried to purposely speak quietly, wonder honestly, and ask more questions as time allowed. I just asked one question at a time, and depending on how she responded, I asked another one. In the end, I just left a question hanging there. She never really replied, and I never followed up with a statement of what I would do. I keep thinking back to the definition of leadership that my group compiled on Saturday at the course. Maybe, in its own way, this was my opportunity to “respectfully push” someone else to “get to that uncomfortable space where learning happens.”

Finally, I’m hoping that this course will help me re-think who can be a leader. I so often see a leader as only an administrator, but as I was reminded yesterday, even students can be leaders. I even think of some of the Kindergarten leaders that we have in our classroom. In the clip below, one leader is supporting other children as they collect their belongings and get ready for home. Even the way in which they communicate — singing vs. talking — makes a difference. 

Leadership may not always look the same, when you’re dealing with kids versus adults or administrators versus parents or teachers, but we’re still all engaged in leadership.

Reflecting even more now about my mom’s question, I now have a different answer. I may not use this course for seeking out a new position, but I think I will use it to gain new knowledge, a new skill set, and improve on my current practices. Sometimes, thinking and learning is just as valuable as doing, and in this case, the Leadership Course is giving me a lot to think and learn about. Considering some of your professional development opportunities, what do you do with courses when they’re over, or even throughout taking them? I think there’s always value in considering, what might come next, and how will this make a difference for me?

Aviva