The Downside

It’s a wonderful time of the year…ish. However, there are a few downsides.
Starting with the scary winter weather commutes, bone-chilling outdoor supervision at -16C, or the daily loss of at least a half hour of instructional time while students remove their winter wear or gear up for recess. Today I was convinced that a child went out for recess and returned as a snowman. It was touch and go whether we would need a lifeguard on duty once all of the snow the students brought inside began to melt.

Then, there’s the realization, that maybe, just maybe I missed assessing something for my upcoming report cards. That sent a shiver down my spine. In my mind I just wrote report cards a few weeks ago. 10 weeks is a few, right?

The end of January signals the half way mark of our instructional year and things are clicking in the classroom. We have our routines back in place, students have shown a lot of growth since September, and there is a feeling of hope in the air at times. Maybe that’s tied to the temperature rising a few degrees and for the days when the trek between the portapack and the main building does not require a Sherpa or tethering students to a guide rope. With chilly temperatures, indoor recesses, and daylight still getting longer, this time of year can sneak up on your mental health and well being to blind side you when your not expecting it.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sherpa_Glacier,_Cascades.JPG#file CC BY-SA 4.0

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sherpa_Glacier,_Cascades.JPG#file CC BY-SA 4.0

Today, a student was having a bad day. No one saw it coming. I was called into another class to provide support. The student was experiencing an anxiety attack. The entire class was genuinely concerned for them, and offered their support and kind words. Seeing this warmed my heart on a chilly day, but it also screamed about the fragility that exists in our learners. In my opinion, we never get the whole picture of our students lives. Finding time to fit it all in beyond the superficialities is difficult when deadlines and commitments loom.

Although we are in each others’ presence 6+ hours per day, we are often humans doing more so than humans being aware of one another when they are feeling sad, frustrated, or stressed. I am finding it more and more important to let students vent about what is weighing on their minds. Yes, it’s during instructional time, but it is an absolutely integral part of my classroom mental health strategy.

If my students are sharing from their hearts, they will also know they are being heard in a safe and supportive space. If we miss these chances in favour of trudging through the lessons hoping it will just go away, or that the student will get over it in time, then we are at risk of missing our opportunity to help our students when they need us most. There is a downside to this that could lead to depression, disconnection, and despair.

In his 2017 TEDxKitchenerEd Talk, Andrew Campbell shares the reason why he meets his students at the door each day. While watching him share this incredibly personal message, I wondered whether all of the other educators in the theatre wanted to be back at school at that very minute to greet their own students. I know the next day couldn’t come fast enough for me. I wanted to make sure they knew they mattered, that our classroom cared, and that even though we had just started the year, I cared too. It is only through these connections with students that I see any learning made truly possible.

The choice of whether to support, stand still, or dismiss could mean the world of difference to someone who is struggling. Choosing to connect and care over the curriculum at times may be the cure. No downside there.

 

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The Author

Will Gourley

Grade 5 lead learner and SERT at Adrienne Clarkson PS in the YRDSB. Focused on disruptive, divergent, and modern learning. Member of the global TED-Ed(Club) movement, 1 of 90 TED Ed Innovative Educators, and Global Math Project Ambassador. Twitter @willgourley Proudly blogging here and at https://escheweducationalist.wordpress.com/

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