Could A “Sneaky Approach” To Professional Development Actually Be Best?

My summer camp position is a really interesting one. You can find me …

  • stuffing hamburgers and hot dogs;
  • signing for food orders;
  • setting up tech equipment in the gym;
  • completing and uploading the daily slideshows;
  • sitting down with a child in the hallway, in the library, or in the classroom, who may just need some extra time or additional support;
  • documenting learning around the school;
  • planning for PD sessions;
  • and/or working with instructors and kids.

In different ways and for different reasons, I love each and every one of these jobs … despite a few texture and scent issues. 🙂

That said, without a doubt, my time spent in the classroom continues to be my favourite! I had a very special — and unexpected — moment today thanks to this time. And surprisingly, this moment didn’t happen in the classroom, but instead, at our after camp PD session. 

We meet twice a week after camp for professional development, and today, we were discussing documentation. As part of this session, I asked every instructor to bring along a piece of documentation to discuss. The goal was to look closely at this documentation, talk about the child, and try to determine some possible next steps together.

As I listened in on these conversations today, a couple of people spoke about things that they’ve tried in the classroom. Here’s what surprised me.

  • One instructor mentioned using an alphabet chart with one of the campers, after she saw me introduce this strategy to him. She said that this child was starting to use it independently, and now she’s using the chart with another camper.
  • Another instructor mentioned that she saw what I did with the alphabet chart — and this would have been through Twitter — and she decided to try it with one of her campers. It worked!

The amazing thing about both of these points is that in neither case did I actually directly talk to the instructors about this strategy. By going into the classroom and working with kids alongside the instructors, they were able to see this strategy in action. They were able to see and hear how children responded, and then figure out, what might work for them. Also, by using social media and sharing what I did in different classrooms, other instructors were able to implement similar approaches that might work for their campers. I think about what Lisa Noble has said before about visual learning, and the value in educators, consultants, and administrators, sharing their thinking and learning visibly. 

I’m not an expert here. For 10 months of the year, I happily get to live and breathe the classroom experience, and it’s this experience that I bring into my Camp Power role. I can’t help but think about the some staff members that I’ve worked with in a school setting over the years, including,

  • curriculum consultants,
  • Early Years consultants,
  • instructional coaches,
  • learning resource teachers,
  • and reading specialist teachers,

and how I’ve often hoped to have these individuals pull out students or provide me with PD in-services. Maybe there was something better — something more — that I could have looked for instead. What if we worked together in the classroom to support students? Could the best professional development happen when we actually work alongside each other? I can’t help but think about how we use documentation in the classroom for kids, and the benefits of observing children closely, and using these observations to plan next steps. Maybe when we work in the same space, together, educators do the same thing, and figure out new approaches and how to use them based on what they see and hear. Might a “sneaky approach” to professional development actually be the most effective one?


Is It Time For All Of Us To Stand Up?

I’m scared. Writing this post is a scary one for me. It’s not because I don’t have strong opinions because I really do, but because I know just how public these opinions are when they’re shared in this platform. This afternoon, I saw a tweet from Andrew Campbell, which really made me stop and think, and serves as the basis for this blog post. 

Andrew’s tweet inspired a lot of conversation, including a few tweets of my own.

Read from the bottom, up.

Ever since reading the news that Ontario will be going back to the 1998 Sex-Ed Curriculum (which is actually the Growth and Development component of the Health Curriculum), I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. I teach Kindergarten. Technically, this news will not change how I deliver any of my program come September, but as educators, we’re part of a team, and for many educators on this team, this news is going to make a big difference for them.

I can’t help but think about some of our youngest learners. A couple of years ago, I captured this conversation around the beading table one day. While I realize that there’s a lot of background noise and it’s hard to hear everything, what you can hear are a few children discussing their brothers. Their brothers who like pink. These two girls talk with others about how it’s okay for boys and girls to like pink. Way past my recording time, the children continued to discuss other colours, and how people can like any colour that they want. 

They moved beyond colours though to topics including,

  • dressing up,
  • being princesses,
  • playing with dolls, 
  • and wearing make-up.

These four- and five-year-olds are confident that these are practices that we can support for boys and girls, and “it doesn’t matter as long as this is what they like.” (Thank goodness for some documentation, which allowed me to look back at this conversation even two years later.

I then start to think about other conversations that I’ve heard or been a part of in my last three years in Full-Day Kindergarten.

  • There’s the discussion around “asking for a hug” before giving one.
  • There are the times that children spoke about the body parts on the doll before giving the doll a bath. 
  • There are the numerous conversations around peeing, pooping, and everything in betweenNothing intrigues young children more than bodily functions.
  • There are the kissing discussions, which happened frequently this year thanks to these kissing heads. We did have a further discussion on if both parties were happy with being kissed.
  • There are also the pregnancy conversations … especially those around worms this past school year. 

I share all of these stories because even our youngest learners are coming to school with some different experiences and background knowledge than the students that came before them. From my stories, you can see the start of conversations around gender, identity, consent, and body parts. What’s going to happen when we remove a Health Curriculum, which addresses where these children are already going and need to go next?

I can’t help but think back now to a conversation that I had recently with another educator. I made the comment, “I think that this is what’s best for kids, but …”. When I said, but, this other person replied, “As soon as we know that it’s what’s best for kids, there is no but. We are in the business of supporting kids. Every. Single. Time.” He’s right … and it’s for this very reason that I’m choosing to be scared, but also to press publish. I need to do what’s best for kids, and that means supporting a curriculum document, which aligns with what students are experiencing in their lives today. Creative educators will come up with different ways to professionally address these needs, and ensure that all children are heard and supported. But we need more than just creative educators. Are we all willing to speak up on behalf of kids? I think that change starts with our collective voices being heard.


Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

While most of my professional blogging happens here, I also enjoy sharing monthly blog posts on The MEHRIT Centre’s blog. Back in March, I was inspired to blog there after an experience in our music class. I have music as one of my prep periods, but due to a lack of additional rooms, the music teacher comes into the classroom to run her program. Music happens at the end of the day twice a week, and I usually use this time to sit over at the eating table and upload documentation. On this particular day, I noticed three children that chose to remove themselves from the program. Music is usually quite loud and exciting, and while the students love the regular songs and dances, sometimes it’s too much for a few of them. Sitting out, watching, listening, quietly clapping along, and even reading and writing instead, seemed to be calming options for these children. While I loved, and appreciated, that our music teacher realized what these students needed and respected their decisions, I wondered if not complying would always be seen as a self-regulated choice. There is quite a discussion in the comments on this blog post, and it’s one of these very comments that inspired my post today.

Cheryl, the commenter, shared a concern that I think is quite a common one.

Both Stephanie and I replied, explaining how these kinds of choices at such a young age may not necessarily impact on adulthood. 

While I stand by what I shared here, an experience from the other day has me wondering if there’s even more to add to this discussion. On Thursday, we had the opportunity to have Groove EDGEucation come and visit our school. While Groove worked with classes all day long, after school, the dance instructor worked with the staff. We all got to “groove,” just as the kids did. I’m not going to lie: this was a very dysregulating experience for me. Even though I said aloud the comment that everyone else made, “I can’t get it wrong,” I still felt as though I could get it wrong. I’m not a confident dancer.

  • I find it a challenge to keep with the beat.
  • I was afraid that I wouldn’t know all of the moves.
  • I worry about everyone looking at me. 
  • And the stress is just compounded by being so close to everyone else.

In the classroom, with kids, I can happily dance and have fun with music, but it’s different in a room full of colleagues. I tried though.

  • I kept near the back of the room. 
  • I stayed near my teaching partner, Paula, who knew that this was a challenge for me and was incredibly supportive. Talk about an awesome co-regulator!
  • I made some jokes and shared some laughs. This always makes me feel better.
  • And I tried to give myself a little space … I think this helped me breathe!

But then we got to the part of the dance where we have to “swing our partners.” Ahh!! First of all, the directional component to this worries me. This is something that I really could “get wrong!” Then there’s the fact that swinging around in circles makes me feel dizzy. I worked at it. I swung around with two partners … and didn’t hit anybody or anything. Then though, I moved to the sidelines. 

  • I took a drink of water.
  • I watched from the corner.
  • I still shared a few laughs with friends.

Like the kids in our class though, I opted out, and just like them, this was the self-regulated choice for me. As adults, we actually opt out all the time.

  • We send text messages and emails in meetings.
  • We step out of the room to make phone calls.
  • We sit in the lunch room, but read a device, write a note, or even look at a book.

This opting out may not look the same as it did in our Kindergarten class, but it’s still a way of self-regulating, giving ourselves a break, and doing what we really do need to do for us. Now some may argue that these are “rude choices,” and maybe at times, they are. But is this something that we also might need to re-frameFor when many of us choose to make these decisions, we do so — whether intentionally or not — to find the calm that we need to tackle our next big challenge or to exist happily within the space where we’re at. 

I’d like to think that I’m a “functional adult” because of some of these very choices, and on Thursday, I think a bit of my own opting out was exactly what I needed to do. What about you? Even as this fabulous TEDx Talk implies, the look of self-regulation may vary as we grow up. Maybe not complying is still a good option at times, but just in a different way than our four- and five-year-olds chose to do so. Are there times when, even as an adult, you also choose “not to comply” for the sake of Self-Reg? I guess the troublemaker in me continues to exist.


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?