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.


Achoo! Stopping A Sneeze And Reflecting On Self-Reg.

What do you do when you have four hands and three instruments in your mouth and you’re about to sneeze? You write a blog post in your head of course! 🙂 This was me today. I spent a few hours this morning at the dentist. I went there thinking that I needed to get a root canal done, and finding out that thankfully I didn’t, but I did need to get three cavities filled instead. This was my first big experience with my new dentist. I had a wonderful dentist before, but he retired, and I heard terrific things about this dentist. While I procrastinated on going in — going to the dentist terrifies me — I finally made it in there last week. And now I was back today. I didn’t know what to expect, but I definitely didn’t expect a tickle in my nose within the first few minutes of lying down. I couldn’t risk sneezing though, so instead, I did some thinking.

I’m not sure if she’s aware of it or not, but I think that this dentist truly understands Self-Reg.

  • Yes, a dental office room needs to be bright, but right away, she offered me some sunglasses to help darken the space and lighten my stress load. In our classroom, we often only turn on one set of lights, and use natural light as well as some darker areas, to create micro-environments in the room. I really appreciate these different spaces, and I’m very sensitive to bright lights. Knowing that they might be necessary for her, I love how the offer of some sunglasses also gave me what I needed. 
  • She checked on me constantly. The dentist always wanted to make sure that I didn’t feel any pain and that I was doing okay. She even offered me a break between cavity fillings in case it was too much for me to experience multiple ones at the same time. Just as students can benefit from some short breaks, so can adults! (Now I will admit that I was eager to get these fillings done, so I said, “no,” to the breaks, but possibly a break would have helped with my sneezing problem. If only my nose was still tickling then! 🙂 )
  • Everything about her was soft and quiet. From her gentle touch to her quiet voice to the low music in the background, I just felt calm being around her. And just for the record, I am never calm in a dentist’s chair. 🙂 She was the exception though. Again I thought about the classroom. I was like that anxious child: the soft tone and limitless patience made a big difference. 
  • She always made sure I could answer before she asked me questions. One thing that I struggle with at the dentist is when I need to respond to a question and the dentist has his/her hands in my mouth. How can I talk? How will the dentist understand me? This increases my stress, and makes me reluctant to engage in conversation, but then makes me feel rude if I don’t reply to comments made. It’s like this dentist understood that, and she always made sure that she removed her hands from my mouth after she asked me a question. She gave me a way to speak easily, and I so appreciated this!
  • She built a relationship with me first. As a new patient, I had to arrange a 1 1/2 hour meet-and-greet appointment (this isn’t the official name for this appointment, but this is what it was). During this time, the dentist got to know me as a person and as a patient. She found out how I feel about coming to the dentist, what causes me stress, and what makes me feel calm. She took X-rays, went through my teeth with me, and then worked on a plan to support me as one of her patients. Even today, when I came back for some dental work, she spent a little time talking to me about my summer. She told me about her kids (whom I knew from one of my teaching experiences), and she gave us a chance to connect before she started working in my mouth. Self-Reg starts with relationships, and this dentist spent the time to build these important connections!

As an educator, today’s dental experience has me reflecting on the classroom. How do we connect with and support kids? How do we create these calm environments in different places around our school? This dentist could have just seen today as an opportunity to do some work, make some money, and move onto the next patient, but she never did. She spent the additional time needed to connect with me, and it made a huge difference on how I viewed the dental office … even when I needed to sneeze. 🙂 I wonder if a focus on Self-Reg makes as big a difference on how staff and students view the school.


What If We Socialize Even More Of Our Reading?

I love to read. I especially love reading over holiday times, when I have less professional commitments, and I can really take the time to enjoy a good book. I’m a social reader, and after I finish a book, I often post my short reviews on Twitter or Instagram. Summer started a few days ago, and I already posted a couple of reviews. It was a comment that I received on my first book review that makes me wonder if we could take these social reviews a bit further.

After I posted the short note above, Susan Bosher replied with a comment. 

What a fantastic idea! I went for more of a generic hashtag — #summerread2018 — but with Susan’s suggestion, I went back and added #avivaandfriendsrecos. I’m hoping that others will take to share their book recommendations and reviews here. I can’t help but think about a common next step that we often write on report cards: read daily over the summer. The wording might vary somewhat, but the intention is the same. What if we invited parents/families to share some of their summer reads using a Twitter or Instagram hashtag? I wonder if this might lead to more book talks, an increased interest in reading, and greater connections around books for adults and children.

My summer reads are not largely professional ones. I’ll probably read a couple of school books, but I’ll read far more mysteries, suspense novels, and fiction books. I think that’s okay. Our students may enjoy various reads, just as we do. Is the key really to read? If as educators, we share our reading, might we inspire others to do the same? For the people reading this post, I hope that you’ll add your own recommendations to #avivaandfriendsrecos. Maybe a few more of us can connect around books this summer.


What Are Some Things That You’re Not Good At?

We all have things that we’re not good at. My list is long. Here’s just a sampling of some of these things.

  • Coordinating and organizing anything involving paper. This includes forms, brochures, advertisements, and the little sticky notes that people love to pass on to educators. The other day, our principal John, came into the classroom as I was working with some children. He was holding a sticky note. I asked him, “Are you going to give me that?!” I could already feel my blood pressure rising. No worries! He was just letting me look at it. He knows that paper is not my strength. 🙂 
  • Holding onto pens. Today, our principal gave us a brand new pen. In the middle of the staff meeting — and thanks to some help from Chris Cluff — I found out that it was a stylus. I was so excited about this news, and told my teaching partner, Paula, that I already had all kinds of ways that we could use this stylus next year with kids. Her response was, “Do you really think you’re going to be able to hold onto this pen until next year?!” She knows me so well! 🙂 

  • Collecting library books and tracking those students that still have books out.
  • Handing out pizza, delivering milk, and coordinating popcorn orders. I guess that I could do these things, but I don’t want to spend my time in the classroom doing so. Being stuck behind a pizza box when I could be watching, working with, or talking to kids, is not my thing. 

Now I know that these might be considered small things, and for some junior, intermediate, and senior teachers, they might even be questioning why I’m concerned about the items listed here. For primary educators though, it’s often these other little things which can consume our time, and require organization, a systems approach, and effort. 

I remember when I started teaching, and I tried so hard to master the organizational systems that I saw others using.

  • I colour-coordinated and labelled everything.
  • I spent my lunch hours and recess times collecting items from agendas and home bags, and sorting more materials to send home.

I used to almost break down in tears when I found out that I was getting a new student. Did the principal or secretary know how many items I needed to label for just this one child? Or if a name was misspelled, I went through the same process correcting it. This almost became a full-time job, and it was not part of the job that I loved or truly believed was most valuable.

Then these past couple of years, I found my teaching partner, Paula — or really, thanks to John, the two of us found each other. She helped me realize that it’s okay to have these areas of weakness.

  • Kids can collect and organize many of their own papers. With just a photograph, I can create a digital copy of any paper, and it’s easy to add this picture to our Twitter page, Instagram page, or classroom blog for parents to see.
  • By never having a pen, I also show children that there are different ways to write things down. Grab a Sharpie. Use a crayon or a pencil. Or even send yourself an email or text message with the details. There’s not just a single way to stay organized, and it’s great for even young children to see this. 
  • Students can develop responsibility, even at a young age. Let children take ownership over their own library books. Show them where the box is and how to bring the book back to the library. Have children remind each other about library day. And if notices need to go out, have students get them, give them to their parents, and search for the missing book at home. In the end, almost all books tend to make it back to the library … despite my questionable library book collection skills. 🙂
  • Even our youngest learners can do a lot on their own. Do we hand out pizza, collect milk, and coordinate popcorn because we need to or because we’re scared to give up control? This year, we had our kids do all of these things on their own. They self-served pizza. They wrote notes to get the milk, and went down to do so. One student even helped organize the kids that got popcorn, and cross off the bag numbers on the popcorn cards.

Sometimes these student-controlled systems are a little messier, a little more time-consuming, and not quite as predictable, but the problem solving skills, independence, social skills, literacy and math skills, and organizational skills that students learn along the way, make these systems worth it. I’m almost a little happy now that I’m not good at these things. If I were, what might the students lose out on, and how might our classroom change? Yesterday, one of our SK children brought in birthday invitations for his summer birthday party. I was panicking on how I was going to remember to hand them all out. I shouldn’t have worried though. He didn’t even give the invitations to me. He found each child’s name — he had one for every student in the class — handed the invitation directly to the parent or helped the child put the invitation in his/her backpack. He knows me well, and he proved that I’m not necessarily the one that needs to be organized with the paper … at least not all the time. What do you think? As the summertime begins, I can’t help but have a little light-hearted reflection (and acceptance about) some of my weaknesses.


How Do You Capture The Essence Of Each Child?

Tomorrow begins the last week of our school year. I’m feeling kind of sad today just thinking about it. Don’t get me wrong: I am looking forward to sleeping in, reading some great books, spending time with friends, and having a little more “me” time than I’ve had lately, at least until Camp Power begins later in the summerBut I’ve also had a permanent lump in my throat for the past week, and have found myself getting teary-eyed more often than I’d like to admit. Why? Because watching our confident, independent, strong, supportive, and caring students makes me realize just how far these children come in the past 10 months, and just how much I’m going to miss our SKs as they move on to Grade 1 next year. I know that they’re ready, but I’m still sad to see them go. 

Looking at our week ahead and thinking about these Senior Kindergarten students also has me thinking about what we share about kids as they move to the next grade. I know that we tell the next teacher about …

  • reading levels,
  • writing skills, 
  • math levels,
  • friendships,
  • and special needs or considerations,

but how do we capture the essence of each child in these short forms?

  • Do we tell about the child who can express all of her thoughts and feelings in great detail through her artwork?
  • Do we tell about the child that becomes even more motivated to read and write if linked with the topic of fashion?
  • Do we tell about the child that really needs the relationship first? Talk about his hockey game last night, his evening with his brother, or his adventures on the weekend. The safety of these discussions will have this child open up to you.
  • Do we tell about the child that needs to build confidence before showing just what he can do? Read an easier book first. Praise high. Let him know that you 100% believe in him, and then, offer the more challenging text. He’ll amaze you.
  • Do we tell about the child that’s going to need a hug at all of the times that you might not expect? Maybe it’s when he’s loud, or silly, or crying. Offer him a hug, and watch him transform. This connection matters!
  • Do we tell about the child that might scream or stomp or cry, but also knows what calms her, and can make these choices independently if just quietly prompted with, “What might make you feel better?”
  • Do we tell about the child that might challenge you, but if you embrace this challenge, she will also show you just how much she is able to do?
  • Do we tell about the children that might start their day at school really early (possibly even before 7:30), who are still yawning when they come in, eating breakfast around a school table, and interacting with peers that may present some challenges for them? Imagine the impact that this might have on the rest of their day. 
  • Do we tell about the children that have just spent the past couple of years connecting with one group of peers, and now, might need some additional time to connect with others?

I realize now just how much I didn’t tell, just how much I could have told, and just how much I need to find a way to tell before the year is through. I remember all of the years where the information that I wanted the most was the child’s academic levels. Then I would have a starting point for September. Yes, I still value this information, but watching my teaching partner, Paula, interact with kids makes me realize just how much I missed by not wanting to know more about the children themselves. 

  • What motivates them?
  • What scares them?
  • What makes them feel happy, sad, excited, and so many other complicated emotions?
  • What calms them?
  • What ultimately makes the difference for them?

Maybe it’s knowing this information that will also help us support academic growth. For kids really do need to be calm and alert in order to learn

I know that this week, we need to say “goodbye” to 11 SK children who mean the world to us. Somehow, I want to help next year’s teacher see everything that we see when it comes to these kids, so that they can love them just as much as we do. While I know that they will, saying, “goodbye,” is never easy to do. How do you deal with this? Here’s to a wonderful last week of school for everyone, and an exciting look towards the future!