The Path To My #onewordONT Goal

Today I felt inspired to blog. I’ve taken a little break from blogging — and really “academic life” — this week, as I nurse the holiday cold that so many of our students had before the Winter Break. I decided to enjoy this first snowy, cold week of holidays with many great books, lots of coffee, and time with family and friends (at least once the coughing stopped 🙂 ). Then this morning, I started out my day as I always do, reading Doug Peterson‘s daily blog post. From his post, I saw Julie Balen‘s one on #onewordONT words, and I was reminded that I’ve finally decided on my “one word goal” for 2018. 

Just like last year, I felt that it was reflecting on my last one word goal that led me to my next one. For the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time considering “perspective.” This word made it into many of my blog posts, and I think became a lot bigger than I initially intended. I think that “perspective” helped me better understand children’s actions, educator decisions, administrator choices, and even academic topics such as growth in reading. And it was my desire for a little perspective that led to a conversation, that a few weeks later, resulted in this blog post. 

This conversation is a hard one to write about, as I want to respect the privacy of everyone involved. Let’s just say that one day, I had a discussion with a colleague that made me start to question our play-based Kindergarten program and our interpretation of the Program Document. While I love our approach and have seen the benefits for kids, I thought about the contrary message that I heard from another educator, and I wondered if I was missing something here. So I took some time to think, I spoke to this colleague again, and then I asked if I could contact the person that shared this message to find out more. She agreed. And I made a phone call. When I phoned, I was tempted to start by sharing my perspective, but instead, I told her what I heard, and I asked her some questions. These questions changed things. They allowed me to find out more, see things differently, and end the discussion feeling as though the gap between our approaches was actually not much of a gap at all. 

Then I knew that the missing part to my “perspective goal” was questioningYes, I like to ask questions. Almost all of my blog posts are full of them. Kristi Keery Bishop, a principal in our Board, has taught me the value in asking and answering “hard questions.” And while Kristi (and others) have helped me get better at asking questions over the years, I think that I’ve somehow forgotten an important component of this questioning: to be truly open to the answers that come from them. 

  • I want to ask questions to inspire thinking.
  • I want to ask questions to inspire discussion.
  • I want to ask questions to find out more.
  • I want to ask questions that lead to problem solving.

I want to be authentic in the questions that I ask both kids and adults, and open to learning more from the answers that I receive. It will come as no big surprise to many of my blog readers that I often have opinions — sometimes ones that are contrary to popular opinion — and am willing and eager to share what I think. Colleagues know this. Administrators know this. Parents know this. Family and friends know this. My online social network knows this as well. And while I’m not opposed to sharing my thinking, I can’t help but wonder how much speaking up has caused conversations to end instead of begin (or continue). So I wonder about the impact of some well-phrased questions: will they lead to deeper discussions and future changes?

Let 2018 be my year of questioning, wondering, and ultimately finding out more! What’s this year going to be for you?


A Need To “Drop And Blog”: My Growing Thoughts On Growing Success

Today is the second day of the Bring I.T. Together Conference, and both conversations and presentations over the past two days have made me contemplate various blog posts. As I sit down for a little quiet time at the end of lunch today, I realized that I needed to write one of these blog posts before the start of the afternoon sessions. A special “thank you” to Jamie Reaburn and Andrew Bieronski for inspiring this post and my growing thoughts on Growing Success.

I decided to attend both Jamie and Andrew’s sessions this morning: one was about giving students voice and choice in their learning, and one was about assessment. During their sessions — especially the second one — Jamie and Andrew discussed the triangulation of data, and how we can use observations, conversations, and work products to assess students. They delved into their own growth in these areas, and addressed how their high school students respond to classroom learning opportunities and feedback options within their rooms. I found out that I’m not alone in loving Growing Success, and it’s great to see these secondary school educators providing a more open model of education that we provide to our Kindergarten learners

While I cannot say enough positive things about the learning opportunities that these two educators are providing for their students, their story leaves me with a deeper worry.

Using Growing Success seems to be novel. 

  • Does it just seem this way because these educators are focusing on their professional growth and changes in assessment?
  • Is this “newness” as true for both elementary and secondary school?
  • What does this mean when it comes to the Growing Success — The Kindergarten Addendum? How long will it remain as “new?”
  • When might Growing Success no longer become “new?” How do we support this change on a bigger scale?
  • What impact might a bigger, total adoption of Growing Success have on how students view assessment, how they view themselves as learners, and how educators view them as learners?

I don’t have any answers to these questions, but I’m hoping that this blog post might continue an important conversation around assessment. #BIT17 is often viewed as a “tech conference,” and I love how this conference has made me contemplate programming, assessment, evaluation, and the full implementation of an important Ministry Document. Pedagogy is definitely alive and well at #BIT17.

Recently, in our classroom, we’ve had a lot of success with a “drop and draw” space. 

Thanks to Jamie and Andrew for inspiring me to create an adult version of this space today and “dropping and blogging.” Some topics call for immediate sharing. What would you add to this assessment/evaluation discussion?


What Are Your “Why’s?”

In Ontario, school starts on Tuesday. As educators go back to the classroom this week to get ready for the students, social media is full of posts about classroom set-up. There are beautiful photographs, amazing videos, and lots of talk about the environment. My terrific teaching partner, Paula, and I have spent most of the week setting up. Every day, we add a new update to our class blog, letting parents and students have a look into the “process” as well as the “final product.” 

I was doing some thinking on my car ride into school today. While I love seeing what rooms look like — and am often inspired by what I see — I also love hearing the thinking behind the decisions. Yesterday, a fellow Ontario Kindergarten teacher, Anamaria Ralph, published this blog post that highlights some of her thoughts around classroom environment and set-up. Her post inspired me to share our “why”: the thinking behind the classroom environment decisions that we made. I decided to try my hand at something new, and make a vlog discussing our decisions. When Paula and I set-up the room, it was our rich conversations that stayed with me, and so I wanted to add that conversing element to this post. As you’ll hear in the vlog — and I do apologize, as it’s long — some of our decisions vary from the ones that Anamaria made. That’s okay. If we were to take 20 Kindergarten educators, we’d probably have 20 different thoughts on how to design a room. It’s not about being right or wrong. What matters the most to me — and what I find the most inspirational — is the thinking behind the decisions.

So as you continue to work on your classroom design, I hope that you’ll consider sharing the “process,” and your “why’s.” Maybe that will be in a blog post. Maybe it will be in a vlog. Maybe it will be in something different altogether. But let’s engage in that risk-taking that we encourage our students to do, and put ourselves out there: not in an effort to be perfect, but in an effort to be visible and open for feedback. Then, as the weeks go on, the children come, and the environment begins to change, let’s share again and explain the reasons for the changes. Imagine how much we could learn from each other. Who’s with me? Let’s live up to the hashtag that Lisa Noble shared with me yesterday: #visiblelearning. I like the idea of starting a new school year in this “visible” way.


Rethinking The Principal’s Office

I’m not a principal, and I’ve never had any interest in being one, but this summer, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for administration. Being a coordinator at one of the Camp Power sites has made me the first person that instructors approach when there are problems. Now instead of me being the one calling for support, I’m the one that people call. Over the past 12 days, I’ve worked with various children, and each experience has made me view the office differently. Yesterday, I had an epiphany. I wonder what would happen if each principal’s office was equipped with a variety of sensory materials (i.e., play dough, clay, water beads, kinetic sand, etc.), some building materials (particularly blocks and Lego), beads, a small container of books, drawing materials, and a tent (or a blanket for draping over a table). Couple this with “time” and “building relationships,” and I wonder if the need for punishment would/could be drastically reduced. 

Over the summer, every time that somebody’s approached me with a problem, I’ve tried to think of Stuart Shanker‘s words: “Why this child? Why now?” I’ve attempted to see the problem through a Self-Reg lens, and respond accordingly. I’m not going to say that this is always easy, or that I haven’t made mistakes, but something interesting happens in the “library office.” As children come in, sit down, and play, they slowly start to calm down. As they start to feel calm, they talk. It’s through this discussion that I begin to see the problem from their perspective. We work out solutions together and find a way to make it back to the classroom.

  • Sometimes the child just needs a healthy snack.
  • Sometimes the child needs to bring back an activity from the library to continue in the classroom.
  • Sometimes the child needs a pair of headphones: a way to make any room quiet.
  • Sometimes the child just needs to know that you’ll check in again and make sure everything’s okay.
  • Sometimes the little break is all the child needed and can go back without anything else. 

Punishment was not my goal this summer, and I’m thankful to say that it wasn’t necessary. I realize the camp program is different from a school. We have fewer children. Groups are smaller. Our age range is a lot less. I also don’t have the same additional responsibilities that a principal would have at school. But being on the other side of solving these problems this summer gave me a whole new perspective on what’s possible when time, love, and self-regulation combine. 

While my summer experience made me rethink the principal’s office, it also made me rethink the classroom. What if sensory materials, building items, beads, books, drawing materials, and a safe “hiding space,” were present in all classrooms? Couple all of these with “time” and “relationships,” and I wonder if many problems could be solved in the room and without the need for punishment. In yesterday’s Ontario Edublogs post, Doug Peterson highlighted Sharon Drummond‘s classroom design post. As we get ready to go back to school, I wonder what impact self-regulation will have on classroom design, and how we can design learning spaces that reduce problematic office visits, increase success for all children, and help create a feeling of calm that children and adults both need and deserve. What might you do? 


A Message Worth Sharing

A few words. Really just a passing comment. But it was the response that has stayed with me for hours today and inspired me to blog tonight. Here’s my story.

As I was welcoming parents into the school at the end of camp today, I connected with one mom, who asked me about her child’s day. I briefly told her how the day went, but then I said, “I really enjoy working with ________. He always makes me think, and we have some great conversations.” That’s when the mom looked at me and said, “I wish everyone felt that way. This is the first time somebody’s said this about my son.” That’s when my heart broke!

I can’t help but think back to the Faculty of Education, and the reminder from professors that it’s important to distinguish between a child’s behaviour and the actual child. We may not like a child’s choices, but we still like the child. My understanding of behaviour has changed a lot since Teacher’s College — and I think that Shanker‘s Self-Reg has helped me view a lot of behaviour differently — but this “language lesson” has remained an important one for me. Even so, this mother’s comment made me wonder if I always remember the power of words when communicating with parents.

Yes, we want to be honest with parents. If there are problems/concerns, we want to be able to work through them together. But in the midst of pointing out the issues, we also need to highlight the positives … and maybe, as this mom reminded me in her comment today, not make the “issue” our view of the child. Every child wants to be loved, and every parent wants to know that their child is loved. 

I’m not a mom, so I can’t speak from a “parent perspective,” but as another mom pointed out to me recently, I’m like a “school mom.” As my teaching partner and I have discussed before, our students are our kids. 

  • We’ve seen them grow: academically, socially, and emotionally.
  • We know what they’re able to do.
  • We believe in them.

And at the end of each year, we create classes for the following year, and we make our little wish that the new teacher will see the “wonderful” that we see and make the connections that we’ve made. Likely, those same teachers are wishing the same thing for their groups of students that are also going off to new classes. That’s what love does. Just as we need to hear these positive affirmations from our colleagues, parents need to hear these words from us. 

I’m not going to pretend that I always remember to share this message, or that I do so as much as I should, but after today’s conversation, I know that I will be doing so more. When parents know we speak with love, the tone of the discussion changes. How do we let kids know “they matter,” and how do we share this same message with the home? This is a message worth sharing.