Did I Just Require A Change In Perspective?

Back in December, I selected my “one word goal” for this year, and never did I realize that I would be thinking about this word so much during my new position this summer. As part of my position at Camp Power, I’m the person that the teachers contact if they need support with a student or a group of students. During my teaching position from September-June, I’m the one that may contact another teacher, an EA, or the principal for help, and now I’m the one being called. And with this change, comes a change in “perspective.”

I don’t think that I ever really thought much about all of the decisions that a person needs to make when supporting a child in need. When I’ve called for help before, it’s when that help arrived that I’ve often walked away from that problem and went to support other children. I’ve usually followed up later to find out what happened and what I should do the next time, but I never really wondered a lot about what happened at that time of initial contact. Now I was that point of contact, and the only thing that I could do was think about how to turn things around.

  • How might I approach the child?
  • What kind of tone should I use?
  • What caused the problem? (I forever had Stuart Shanker‘s questions of, “Why this child?” and “Why now?” floating through my head.)
  • What might help this child calm down?
  • How can I support this child outside of the classroom, and how can I get this child back into the classroom?
  • How can children support each other?
  • When might I need some more help (there is an administrator on site) and when might I ask for it?
  • What do we need to do to reduce the chance of this problem reoccurring today or on other days?

I worked hard at figuring out when to talk, when to listen, and when to just sit. I tried to make connections with students, while also helping students form important connections with their classroom teachers. Children need to be in their classes, and I want them to feel safe and supported by me, but also have these same feelings in their rooms. 

During our training session on Tuesday, I asked all staff members to share one of their strengths and an area that they wanted to learn more about. I did the same. I said that one of my strengths is my ability to connect with kids. Throughout the week, I got to test this strength of mine, as I connected with children and helped them through more challenging times. And as I did so, I began to view problems differently. I thought about the times that I’ve called for help in the past, and I considered what I might do from now on.

  • When might a child need to leave the classroom?
  • When is a child ready to return?
  • How does my tone impact on the tone and the actions of children?
  • What kind of space can I create in the classroom to support children with various needs, and what needs to be a part of this space?

Over this past week, I’ve seen the benefit of …

  • sensory play (particularly clay and play dough) for children of all ages.
  • independent work spaces.
  • quiet spaces, even in the middle of busy classrooms.
  • technology for some and a break from it for others.
  • predictable, consistent routines.
  • knowing when a lesson (or activity) does not work for one child, and providing something else that might.

I’ve also seen how some children that have struggled — maybe even for years — can meet with success, and just how incredible this success can be. “Success” can be seen in many forms.

  • Maybe it’s a change in attitude towards reading, writing, or math.
  • Maybe it’s a willingness to attempt something that he/she has not attempted before.
  • And maybe it’s a child that starts and ends the day happy … and a parent that hears something different — something positive — about his/her child that he/she has not heard in the past. 

This week, I’ve witnessed all three of these successes, and I’m eager to witness many more in the coming weeks. I can’t help but think about this important message that Stuart Shanker shares so frequently.

I think this new camp experience has helped me see many children differently, and I’m eager to see how this new summer perspective impacts on my perspective in the upcoming school year. What might this mean for me and for kids?


Doing Something That Scares You …

About 5 1/2 years ago now, I applied for a consultant position with our Board. I didn’t get the job, and at the time, I was heartbroken. This was a position that I really wanted connected to a topic that I was passionate about. I still remember when I got the phone call from the principal telling me that I was not the successful candidate. I tried hard to hold it together, and then, I cried. But I also listened to her advice. It was thanks to this principal that I expanded my teaching experience into the junior grades, and I think gained an even better understanding of both students and curriculum. And then, I made a decision to stay in the classroom.

I applied to other teaching jobs after that. I changed schools twice, and I changed grades four times … but I did not apply to a system position again. I’ve seen positions come up multiple times since my unsuccessful experience, and I’ll admit that I considered different ones. I’ve prepared some resumes, and even experimented with different cover letters, but in the end, I decided that I was happiest in the classroom.

Then May of this year came around, and late one evening, I happened to check the job postings on our Board website. It was then that I saw a posting for the Camp Power Summer Curriculum And Site Support Teacher. Camp Power is a Ministry-funded summer program run by our Board, and it’s intrigued me for years. For the past 21 years though, I’ve taught at the same summer program every July, and with some overlapping dates, working at Camp Power was never a possibility. But this year, the other summer program isn’t running, and now I could apply to Camp Power. I was conflicted though.

  • This posting was not for a teaching position.
  • This would be the first leadership role I applied to since the last one that I didn’t get. I was scared of facing disappointment again.
  • The applications were also due in just a few days, and I was battling a terrible cold. Did I have it in me to apply?

I decided to take a chance. I worried that if I didn’t, I would always wonder about what might have been. And so, with some trepidation, I stayed up late, finalized my resume and cover letter, and emailed in my application. After that, I waited … it was not easy to do!

This story though has a happy ending for me. I did get an interview, and I got one of the two positions. I was thrilled!

I’ve learned a lot of new things this summer around …

  • scheduling,
  • time-tabling,
  • budget,
  • ordering,
  • collaboration,
  • staffing,
  • coaching,
  • assessment,

… and staff training just began today. This will be a very different summer for me. For 21 summers and 16 years with the Board, I have always been a classroom educator, and now I’m supporting others as they prepare to run their classroom programs. 

  • I’m delivering professional development.
  • I’m coaching.
  • I’m trouble-shooting and problem solving.

And I’m seeing education through a different lens. This is an exciting change … and a scary one. I think that I’ll be learning a lot over these 17 days. Sometimes we all need to do something that scares us. What are you doing?


When A Passing Comment Leads To A Light Bulb Moment

At the end of last week, I had the opportunity to attend and present at the OTF – Teaching Math Through Problem Solving Conference. After my two presentations, I attended a water cooler session, where I got to sit down with Matthew Oldridge, Royan Lee, and various conference goers to talk about math. This was an informal conversation that touched the most on pedagogical documentation, the learning environment, and how we plan the most effectively for kids. 

I share all of this because my greatest aha moment happened at the beginning of this conversation and before most people arrived. Our water cooler talk was right next door to Jon Orr‘s incredibly popular session, and at first, the only people coming into our room were doing so in order to grab chairs to move next door. This gave Matthew, Mary-Kay Goindi (she helped directionally challenged me find my way to the right room 🙂 ), and I, a few quiet moments to talk. 

The three of us are quite a diverse group of educators. I teach Kindergarten, Matthew supports math educators from Kindergarten to Grade 12, and Mary-Kay is a K-8 teacher librarian, who also teaches Grade 8 math. We don’t appear to have much in common. Our conversation proved otherwise. 

During our talk about math, we started to discuss patterning. I can’t quite remember how this topic came up, but it did. When Mary-Kay started to talk about AB patterns, I was about to mention the simplicity of these types of patterns, and how we encourage students to move from them to more complicated patterns (e.g., ABB or ABBA ones). And then she made the comment that led to my light bulb moment: the important learning that comes from these types of patterns is when students begin to realize that there are the same number of one colour or object as the other one. Just like in ABB patterns, they see that there are twice as many of one colour or object as another one. Of course! This is how patterning connects to algebra (mic drop). In all of my years teaching elementary math, I always emphasized the repetitive nature of patterns … but Mary-Kay’s passing comment made me realize that there’s even bigger learning that comes from patterns.

I’m now starting to think about the questions that we ask around patterning. 

  • What if we helped students see these number relationships instead?
  • What value might this have for them initially and in the long run?

All of a sudden, I see a much stronger connection between patterning and number sense, and I’m re-evaluating how I approach and respond to patterning in the classroom. I can’t wait to talk to my teaching partner about this as we look ahead to next year. 

This experience on Thursday reminded me about the importance of connecting with educators from all grade levels and disciplines. I can’t help but think about my “one word” — perspective — and the value in conversing with people who share different perspectives. You never know when, or from whom, you’re going to learn something new. I wonder how we make these kinds of cross-grade learning opportunities more prevalent at a school and Board level. What have you tried? How has it worked? If we’re open to it — and take that important “learning stance” — I think there’s a lot of potential here. What do you think?


I Packed. I Came. I Shared. And Now I’m Left Wondering.

Yesterday, I had the amazing opportunity to present at the OTF – Teaching Math Through Problem Solving Conference. When Mary-Kay Goindi initially asked me to present, she emphasized that it was important to have hands-on components to the sessions. I decided to facilitate two sessions that were connected togetherone on Math Through Play and one on Documentation. I was excited to bring some “free play” to the conference, and hopefully get people thinking about the math that happens in the everyday and that can be extended through noticing and naming math behaviours. 

As Mary-Kay noted in her tweet yesterday morning, I did not pack light for this conference. 

(Note that the suitcase that’s beside the cart was full of materials as well.)

I’m a big believer in the fact that a Kindergarten classroom provides an optimum learning environment for kids. Math becomes embedded in the whole day, and students really start to see themselves as mathematicians: asking questions, solving problems, and using mathematical vocabulary that we have exposed them to throughout the year. Since I couldn’t bring the people to our classroom, I decided to bring our classroom to the people. 

I really wanted to make this learning authentic, so I chose to present the materials, in much the same way as we present them.

  • There were no signs.
  • There were no posted questions or activities.
  • I told the participants that they could touch everything, move things around, and use items in any way that they wanted. 

For both sessions, I created Padlet walls, where people could add links, ideas, questions, and comments. During the Documentation session, I also printed some documentation examples to include around the room, and encouraged people to document their play: even talking to other educators during the process, as a way to analyze what they observed and discuss and determine some possible next steps. I was so excited about this! I loved the fact that these sessions were not going to be “sit and get” ones, and that as teachers played more, they could discuss different options to link “learning” and “play” in all grades. I’ll admit that in my dream world of how this was all going to come together, we would all get to listen to and participate in rich discussions, ask questions, and leave with new ideas to contemplate and new things to try. 

And while this did happen with a group of participants, something else also happened: in both sessions, the majority of people left early. In the second session, the room almost cleared out completely as soon as I told people that they could “start playing.” In the first session, it took a little longer for this to happen. Some people came to talk to me first, and a few were surprised that our “play time” is our “learning time,” and all tools become “math tools.” Our conversations continued for a little while, but often after talking (and normally without playing), people left. On one hand, I can attribute people leaving to factors such as,

  • this was the second day of the conference, and people were tired.
  • there were lots of interesting sessions happening at the same time, and people wanted to see other ones.
  • my second session was close to lunch, and people were hungry.
  • many people attended both of my sessions, so by the end of the second one, they may have seen and explored everything.
  • people got the ideas and the links to the presentations. Maybe for some people, this was enough.

But on the other hand, I’m left worrying and wondering if there were other reasons for them leaving.

  • Did the sessions not meet their needs? Should I have shown a bigger variety of examples to the full group, and not just have included the links in the Padlets?
  • Did I “release responsibility” too early? Did we need to engage in more playing and documenting as a full group before people went to do so on their own?
  • Was “free play” too “free” for adults? Are we looking for “instructions,” and does this eventually lead students to do the same? How might we change this, and is this something that’s worth changing?
  • “Sit and get” PD is often criticized (I do this as well), but is this what some people wanted? Why? Or did I just need to find a better middle ground?

Criticism is rarely easy to take, but I think that we can learn a lot from all kinds of feedback. I’m making inferences based on my observations from yesterday, and while I did receive some very positive feedback, I also can’t ignore what I saw. Now I’m hoping to hear more. If you were at these sessions, what did you think, and if you weren’t, what might you suggest based on what I shared here? Yesterday, I was excited about the possibilities of “play,” and while some play happened, many materials were left untouched. The learner and questioner in me, needs to find out why.

Can you help?


Are The “Process Expectations” About More Than Just Math?

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of sitting with some educators from our school and some educators from a neighbouring school to help plan our upcoming PA Day. For part of the PA Day, we’re going to be exploring the process expectations in math: problem solving, reasoning and proving, reflecting, selecting tools and strategies, connecting, representing, and communicating. As our conversation progressed today, I started to wonder if these mathematical processes are actually about more than just math.

It started with the problem solving expectation. I thought about an experience from this morning (that I wish I recorded by I accidentally missed). This Instagram post sums up what happened though.

While this discussion was not about a “math problem,” it did start with bringing a “problem” to the class: the need to display art for our upcoming Art Gallery. Students took this problem and started to generate solutions, which eventually led to a child measuring and cutting brown paper for our bulletin boards. 

This is just one example, but there could be so many more. I think about what happened the other day when it was really muddy outside, and we told the children that they could not go on the grass in the outdoor classroom. The other Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Raymond, mentioned that the grass may not grow back in the springtime if it continues to be trampled down. When the children went outside with their snacks, one of our students found some wood pieces behind the shed. He really wanted to get over to the little plastic house in the corner of the grassy area to eat his snack. He thought that if he could “build a bridge” over to the house, then he would be able to walk over there without walking on the grass. Now this is problem solving!

This problem solving continued as he ran out of wood and had to make other changes.

This was not just about problem solving though. Think about the tools and strategies used, reflecting during the process, and communicating thinking throughout. This communication continued after creating the bridge, as this child then used PicCollage to write a note to Mrs. Raymond to ask her about keeping it. 

I realize that there are math connections to this problem, especially related to measurement. This was not presented as a math problem though. In fact, it was not presented as a problem at all. We initially just said, “No mud or grass.” The child created the problem when he identified his desire to eat his snack in the plastic house and realized that he could not get to it without walking on the mud. This is when he found another way.

The Kindergarten Program Document emphasizes that math and language should not be taught in isolation, but instead, reinforced through play. This is where “noticing and naming” are so important. We can see the learning in action and make the connection, for the students, to the expectations. With this approach, I think that we get richer learning, but we also get these process expectations embedded in so much of what we do all day long. And as students problem solve, reason and prove, reflect, select tools and strategies, connect, represent, and communicate in one subject area, will this make them feel even more confident to do so in other subject areas? I think these process expectations cause us to think more about how children learn, in math and beyondWhat do you think?