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Keeping Lessons Engaging to the End of June

It can sometimes be difficult to stick with the curriculum until the end of June. The sun is shining, you hear kids outside your window playing soccer-baseball during gym class, the room is sweaty, it is just time to be done! Resist the urge to abandon the curriculum for recreation, unless you can combine the two!

There are lots of fun ways to keep kids engaged until the very end of the school year. In my experience, the last month of school is the best time to do a big, whole class project.

One year, when studying Ancient Civilizations, we wrote a poem about some of the major battles in Ancient Greece. Then we drew on the Arts curriculum and made a set, props, and developed acting cues for the poem. We worked with the Media Literacy curriculum and marketed our production to the rest of the school and families. We did some math around how many showings of the play we would need to do if we had room for 35 seats in the classroom. We talked about what it would be like if we charged money for the show, what would we use the money for, how much would we get if we charged $0.25 per seat, $1.50 per seat, etc. What if your ticket included popcorn, how much would it cost? We purchased popcorn, popped it and measured how many servings we could get out of it. Then we did the math on how many bags we would need and how much we would need to charge for it. They worked out the math on how long the show was, how much time would be required between showings to get organized again, and then looked at the school schedule to see how many showings they could fit in during the day. They wrote reviews of the play for the newspaper, they wrote ads to go on the announcements, they even filmed commercials! They made a program to hand out, worked out how many copies they would need, they did it all.

The learning in this project was incredibly rich, and it was all culminating in the final 3 days of school when they presented their play multiple times throughout the day. This kept them busy, engaged, and connected to the curriculum for the last month of school. The last few days which can be chaotic, were a breeze. They ran the whole day, bringing classes to and from their play, presenting, and keeping the set organized and ready to go.

There are so many different ways you can plan for this last month to ensure the learning is rich, the students are engaged, and the days fly by! Inquiry Based learning is the perfect way to finish out the year. I had a grade 2 class that was very interested in restaurants. So we incorporated the social studies of food from around the world, and we turned out whole class into a restaurant that served dishes from different places around the world. Again, we did advertising, signage, lots of math around how much we would need of different supplies, etc.

Pick a topic that you know will hook your class. Then turn it into something big and run with it. You will be surprised at how much learning they get out of it and how quickly it takes over!

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Field Trips – Making them Meaningful

Field Trips are often booked in a variety of different ways, for a variety of different reasons. How do you infuse a field trip with learning to ensure it is as valuable as a learning experience, as it is as a life experience?

Some trips are booked for you. The school might have funding for each class to attend a theatrical production, or a science activity, so sometimes you don’t have any say in what trip your class is participating in. In this case, all you can do is know that if admin has booked it or approved it, that it must be educational and board approved. It is not inappropriate to ask admin for a summary of what the trip involves to you can preteach to what the focus will be. If there is content that might not be familiar to your students, it will add significant value to the trip should you prepare the students for some of what they will learn. In the past, my class has been assigned a trip to see a drama troop that had a focus on mime. My kids didn’t know what mime was, so in the weeks approaching the trip, we talked about mime, watched some videos of different types of mime, and then we tried it ourselves. When they saw the live performance, it was so much more meaningful.

When you book a trip yourself, you will likely need to fill out paperwork to have it approved by the board. Often a risk assessment is necessary – is there potential for the kids to get hurt? Once it is approved, you need to ensure you have permission slips, supervisors to meet the adult to student ratio, and a bus booked (or walking route set up). It is NEVER okay to transport students in your own vehicle, nor should you be planning a trip where parents are driving students that are not their own child.

You will also need to consider the cost for the trip. I have been at schools that have a community that can afford to go on expensive trips regularly, while I have been in other areas where asking for any money for a trip can be asking too much of the families. You need to know your clientele and make sure you are booking appropriate trips. If families cannot afford to pay for trips, your school may have a fund that can be accessed to ensure no child is left out. You should not be taking trips that include required content for essential learning and exclude students if they cannot pay. This is a huge equity issue.

You will also want to ensure you have a plan in place if there are any medical emergencies, behaviour issues, or other unforseen problems. Will you call the school to have someone come join you? Will the trip just get cut short? Will you bring an EA along with you that isn’t part of the ratio so if there is an issue the EA can take the student that is struggling and work 1:1 with them to ensure the trip is successful? There are lots of things to take into consideration when planning a field trip.

Make sure you run all plans by the office. The last thing you want, is to have a problem while you are on the trip and find out that the admin had no idea that was part of the trip and that they wouldn’t have approved it if they had known. Cover all of your bases before you leave!

Make sure you bring all epi-pens, medications, therapy devices, and a first aid kit. I always bring my cell phone as well to call for help should I need to. You will want emergency contact info for all students on the trip as well to ensure you can contact parents if there is an emergency.

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Is it worth “picking your battles” in the classroom?

“Choose your battles.” – It is something you have heard a thousand times, and have probably applied it in your classroom or on the playground. But is choosing your battles really worth it in the long run?

The short answer is NO! Absolutely not. But why?

When you set a boundary, like make sure you push your chair in whenever you get up from your desk to avoid tripping, etc., you have to stand by it. If you want it to ALWAYS happen, you have to ALWAYS enforce it. If you have a “no calling out on the carpet” rule, even if you have a child who has a behaviour plan and has an IEP goal to only call out 3 times per carpet time, you still have to address it when it happens. In my classroom, we spend all of September establishing these classroom rules, or boundaries, and we make sure they are solid.

One of my biggest pet peeves is lining up. I hate it when kids just slam their chairs in and run! So all of September we practice. We work on how to stand up all at once (I even have a palms up, pushing up towards the ceiling in front of my body signal for them) and push in our chairs. We try it once and if someone forgets to push in their chair, I address it, and we all sit down and try again. This works best if they are getting ready to go to something they LOVE like recess, gym, snack, etc. They are eager to get it right! Go over it a few times until they get it right. There is always a positive you can point out. “Addressing it” doesn’t necessarily mean saying, “Jimmy didn’t push in his chair and Amy was talking.” You can address the same problems by stating, “Erin pushed her chair in so nicely and Marc was so quiet as he did this!” Jimmy and Amy will (hopefully) recognize their mistakes and correct them the next time. Once they have successfully done that, let them line up. As you move through September, add in steps – silently push in chairs and stand behind them. Wait for the signal to go to the door and WALK quietly. Again, if there is a mistake, go right back to sitting and try again. It doesn’t take that long to perfect and they will love to show off their mad skills to other teachers, classes, principals, really anyone who will watch!

We practice walking down the hall quietly, getting our lunches out, how to leave the coat hook after recess, how to leave the chairs and desks at the end of the day – really anything!

But why do we not just pick our battles. If we are running late to start gym and someone didn’t get into line properly, why bother stopping to correct it? Why not just get to the gym so we can move on? I’ll tell you why. Routine, clear expectations, and boundaries. Children need these things. If most of they have to line up properly, but sometimes they don’t, they will never know when they have to do it properly, and when they can just do it however they wish. This will result in chaos. Children need clear expectations. They need to know that if they do X, the response will ALWAYS be Y. This way they know exactly what your expectations are and can behave accordingly.

If you want kids to put their hands up but then when they call out you accept their answers and don’t address the issue, they learn that it is okay to call out sometimes. They cannot necessarily establish a clear idea of when it is okay, but they know sometimes it will be okay so they sometimes do it. If it is NEVER okay, they don’t need to wonder what the expectations are.

But what if you want kids to be able to call out sometimes? You need a visual or verbal cue. I always had a special hat, or signal. I found a hat or prop was tricky because you don’t always have it. I would put an open palm up to my ear after I asked a question if it was okay to call it out. This is something we also practiced – kind of like Simon Says. You don’t have to make a negative statement when someone slips up, you can address it in a positive manner or joking manner, as long as you don’t belittle the expectation.

Children thrive when they know what is expected of them. If you mix it up and “choose your battles” with them, you will lose many of them. There will always be the students that amidst all of the chaos, will still wait quietly with their hand up because they know that is what you want, but if you don’t reward them by calling on them and pointing out to the others that you are calling on those students because of their positive behaviours, you will undoubtedly lose them all in the end.

Classroom management can be a struggle and it can take years to find something that works for you. But whatever your system, be consistent. If you only follow through sometimes, your students will be moving through your class blindly, never knowing when they will be “on” and when they won’t be. That feeling of uncertainty is overwhelming, especially for young ones. Set clear boundaries, teach them how to work within them, and uphold them. This is sure to set your class on a positive note!

And don’t forget, sometimes you need to modify! If your class can’t handle the stand up, push in your chair, wait quietly behind your desk until you get the signal, then modify it to suit your class. If they can only handle it without the pause at their desk, but do everything else flawlessly, cut that part out. And don’t hesitate to take some time to teach any other teachers that work with your class your classroom magic tricks. I will often even close my eyes and tell the other teacher that the “classroom fairy will move my class from their desks to the door without a peep – watch!” and do the signals and when I open my eyes, they are there. The young ones love this too!

Whatever you do, just be consistent and uphold the “law” all the time! It doesn’t help anyone when you are too lax with the rules.

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Bulletin Boards – Teaching Tool, Art Gallery, or Wallpaper?

Every classroom has bulletin boards, some have one, some have 10! It all depends on the space you have and how you plan to use it. It is easy to set something up with plans for it to change or evolve, only to find that 4 months later you haven’t touched it, taught to it, or even referenced it!!

In my experience, Bulletin Boards end up falling into 1 of 3 categories: Teaching Tool, Art Gallery, or Wallpaper. Some bulletin boards are a blend of two or even all three of these categories. It is important to make the most of the space you have on your walls, while being cognisant of the fact that many children find too much stuff on the walls to be distracting.

When planning your walls, make sure you check with health and safety regulation, as many school boards have a maximum percentage of walls space that can be covered to stay within the fire regulation. So before you hit pinterest for some great ideas, make sure you are even able to cover the space! In my classroom, I have 5 large boards that cover almost every space that isn’t blackboard, windows or doors. The space that the bulletin boards cover is actually above the maximum percentage I can have covered in paper!! So I can’t paper back my boards as it is a fire hazard.

Many teachers like to paint their boards so they look crisp and clean all year. Again, double check with health and safety, as it is often an issue as it adds weight to the board which might not have been considered when mounting it. Especially if you are the 10th person in the classroom to paint them because the previous colours didn’t suit anyone’s decor!

Once you have established what your health and safety guidelines are, you can start to think about what is going on the walls. Ask yourself a few questions before you put something up there.

1. How will this help the students? While a Word Wall CAN help students, if you slap it all up before school starts and casually refer to it from time to time, it is not a useful tool and it is just wallpaper. Make sure you teach to it. Make it with the class and do it organically!

2. Is this something we need up for more than just today? If you only need it for the immediate future, don’t make a whole board of it. If you want to show off student work, I find the hallway is the best place for this type of thing. It gets more “traffic” from other teachers/students/parents, and it isn’t a distraction to learning. If you do need it for more than just today, you may want to ask a few more questions before you decide where to put it!

3. Do I need to put it all up right away and on my own? As teachers, we hate to look or feel like we aren’t organized, prepared, and ready to go! I recall as a young teacher, putting up bulletin boards before the first day of school. Yes, sometimes I taught to them, but generally they were just wallpaper. Many of us are guilty of putting up the whole word wall kit the day we get it! It just looks so pretty when it is done! Put it up gradually, and with the class! This will make it a more meaningful teaching tool. As teachers, we like everything to look complete and not “in progress” – but having the word wall with just 3-4 words up in September is what your students need!

4. Am I done with this? If you aren’t using it anymore, and the kids aren’t, take a picture of it and take it down! The more “stuff” you have on your walls, the harder it is for students to find what they are looking for. If you don’t need it anymore, take it down!

5. Are the kids using this? Even when you read the research, do the work, cut, past, laminate, and put up a beautiful board, the kids may not respond to it and it may not be useful to them. If you put up a board for math showing single digit addition strategies to start off the year, if they have all mastered it by December, they probably aren’t using it anymore. We have a tendency to keep things up in lieu of blank space to avoid looking like we aren’t accomplishing anything as a class! If they aren’t using it, take it down, or teach to it more, modify it, model how to use it. If after teaching to it more, they still aren’t using it – TAKE IT DOWN!!

There are thousands of blog posts and pinterest boards dedicated to amazing bulletin board ideas. Before you put one up, make sure it is actually something you need, that will get used, and that you install it in such a way that the students know how to access it.

There are great blog posts about what to do with your bulletin boards when you are done. My personal favourite is to snap a picture and create a bulletin board binder. That way, if there is still one of two children in the class that still need that bulletin board, they can go to the binder and look at it all year long! It will also serve as a nice reminder of how they looked if you end up needing to recreate it another year!

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How do you push forward when you feel like you are failing?

So often as educators, we feel like we are just failing. It is a common feeling, especially among new teachers. The term “teacher burnout” is often used to describe the exhaustion, both physically and mentally, that comes from teaching. Teacher burnout is especially common in the first few years of teaching. Teaching in Ontario is tough. Everyday you are tasked with planning and accounting for children’s lives from 8:30am to 4pm, give or take. That in and of itself is an exhausting thought. Add to it the curriculum you need to cover, the parents who want to meet to discuss their child, the IEPs that need to be updated, the IST you have to attend, the administrator that is scheduling your Teacher Performance Appraisal, the ministry and the school board coming down on teachers and public sector workers in general, and the overwhelming feeling that the public hates you! It is enough to make you consider another career. So why do we do it? We do it because we love it – plain and simple.

So when things get tough, it is so important to take care of yourself. When you are struggling with content, seek help from others – we aren’t in this to reinvent the wheel! Reach out and find a “pro” that can help you out. Often school boards even have teachers released from their teaching duties to come and work with you 1:1. Take advantage of this!!

You can also turn to the internet (which is possibly what lead you here!). There are countless blogs, Pinterest Boards, and Twitter PLCs, just to name a few places to start. Building your confidence as a teacher can be as simple as finding a simple lesson idea that supports your current learning goals and trying it out. Even if you crash and burn in the middle of the lesson – you can use it as a personal learning experience and reflect on it! Everything we do as educators contributes to our own professional learning. That includes every failed lesson, and every activity planned and abandoned half way through because they just weren’t getting it – these are all ways in which we as teachers evolve and get to know our students.

Each time a lesson flops, don’t be so hard on yourself. If every lesson we did went swimmingly, it might indicate that we aren’t pushing our students hard enough. If every inquiry you did went exactly as planned, perhaps you are guiding your students too much. It is the inquiries that fly off the rails and go in the exact opposite direction you had hoped that really challenge your students and yourself. It is the lessons that you abandon half way through and change course to meet their needs that make you an amazing teacher. Embrace these moments – they will never not be there! Learn to enjoy the ride and if things don’t work out, there is always tomorrow.

I have had my own fair share of days where I felt like it just wasn’t working. I have had weeks and even entire years where I have felt like maybe teaching isn’t for me. But it is when you have that one class, that one student, that one golden moment when everything you have been working for comes together and you see a child show compassion, or empathy, and you know why you got into this business of educating children: the payback the students give you is more than any paycheck you will ever receive, it is more than any World’s Best Teacher mug you will ever get (I may have a shelf in my kitchen cupboard full of these!) – that feeling you get when you know you have made a difference makes it all worth it. Knowing that if you hadn’t been there, if you hadn’t known that child, that might not have happened. You are making a difference everyday and that is what keeps us coming back no matter how tough the job gets!

It is important to note however, that through the course of teaching, the wear and tear of your emotions can be quite difficult and devastating at times. Keep a close watch on your mental health as this is often something teachers struggle with (and rightfully so). When a child is struggling, you struggle along with them. When we walk out the door at the end of the day, no matter how hard we try, it is impossible to leave all of them there. You will find yourself worrying about if a child has enough to eat at supper time while you prepare dinner for your family, or you will wonder if your students are going home to a safe environment. It all adds up. Access your Employee Assistance Program if you can. You will often have access to a counselor that can help you with maintaining proper mental health. Do this early and set yourself up with healthy routines. We don’t plan to teach for a few years and then burnout, but if we aren’t careful, it could happen!


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Homework – how much is too much?

Some teachers don’t give any homework, some give lots! There are lots of schools of thought on homework and if it is necessary, if it is valuable, if it serves a purpose, etc. I have had classes that had weekly homework for the whole year, and I have had classes that didn’t get homework once. It all depends on the group and what they need. I find homework is just as much for the parents as it is for the students, sometimes more for the parents! I follow a few important rules when I send homework home:

1. Never send home a new skill or concept that has not already been taught in class. Quickly explaining it in 2 minutes while you hand it out doesn’t count either – make sure the homework is a review of a skill that has already been taught and worked on in class – otherwise you are sending home an exercise in frustration!

2. Never send home something you want to use as an assessment. You can never truly know if it was done independently, nor can you be sure that it is a true reflection of the child’s ability.

3. Never penalize a child for not getting their homework completed – often it is not their fault. They have things going on after school that keep them busy (sports, clubs, etc.) or they are with a sibling or sitter for a while after school and when they do see their parents, that time is too precious to be used working on skills that they have already mastered.

4. When in doubt, send home reading!! This is universal – you know their ability, you have taught them to read the pictures, so even if the words are a struggle, there are other options.

5. Never send something home for the sake of sending something home. Have a purpose in mind. When you get something ready to send home, before you make copies or hand it out, ask yourself, what am I trying to accomplish with this? If it is not helping you to accomplish your goal, don’t send it home. Homework for the sake of homework is frustrating, especially as the parent at home struggling with your child to get it done!!


When  you establish a homework routine, make sure it is that – a routine. If you are going to have homework coming home regularly, be consistent with it. Don’t send things home randomly and expect parents will just know what to do. I often rely on my child to go through her backpack to find things for me, and if she doesn’t come across her homework (or more likely, ignores it), and we don’t see it until we are packing bags for the next day of school in the morning, as a parent, I feel so blindsided. If I know something is coming home, I can make time for it and be ready for it. If something is coming home randomly, make a big deal of it – make note of it in the newsletter, staple a reminder bracelet around my kid’s arm so I know to look for it, or send an email reminder to parents so they know something is coming.

If you differentiate in class, you need to do the same for homework. If you have a child working on an IEP in class and they need extra help with counting to 100 for example, you could be sending home lots of extra counting to 100 activities. You don’t need to send those home to the rest of the class if they have that skill mastered though. If the rest of the class is working on counting to 1000, don’t bother sending those activities home with your student that is on the IEP if they are not ready for that, as it is not part of their IEP goal, and it will again just be an exercise in frustration for that family.

I would often send home words of the week. No spelling test at the end of that week, just words to work on. We would have a word family to work on that week (primary). We would build our new word family on Friday afternoon for the following week and then each student would pick their words to work on and get their list approved by me from our words we created. So if we were doing -ig words, some of the lower kids might have pig, wig, dig, on their list, but some of the stronger kids might go for ignite, enigma, etc. on their list. At the beginning of the year I sent home a tic-tac-toe board that was laminated. In each of the 9 squares there was a different activity (i.e., make your words out of magazine letters, rainbow spell your words, have a family member make your words into a word search and then solve it, etc.). Each week they had to get 3 in a row. They would mark them with a marker and wipe it clean each Friday. This was great as many of them could be done in the car, while parents were making dinner, etc. They were quick easy tasks that were meaningful, and relevant, and the words the kids were choosing were at a level that was relevant to them. It is impossible to make a spelling list that serves all students in your class. This method helps to give your kids more ownership and responsibility over their words. It was always a successful system!


In the end, you need to make sure you are predictable and consistent, you are serving a purpose, and that you are giving them something meaningful that they need to work on. When in doubt, have a reading challenge!

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Healthy Options at Schools PPM150

With PPM150 having had some time to settle into schools, there are blog posts and parent forums popping up all over with discussions about food options being offered to students at schools. While the PPM does outline expectations for what foods can be offered to students at schools, many teachers provide food in class as a reward for good behaviour, sharing candies and snacks as curriculum connections (graphing M&Ms, making Rice Krispie Squares for measurement, blowing a bubble with bubblegum for procedure writing, etc.). Websites like Pinterest are full of ideas that involved engaging students with food and candies.

As a mom of a child with a food allergy and significant digestive struggles that require a very strict diet, I am often overwhelmed when she chealthy-meal-clipartomes home from school to tell me about all of the special snacks she had that day. It is next to impossible for a 6-year-old to say no to a cupcake, so we as the educators need to make those healthy decisions for them by simply not offering them at all. With poor eating habits and obesity on the rise, we need to take advantage of the time we have when children’s diets are completely dependent on the decisions of adults and only provide them with healthy options.

I have had classes that “earned” a positive behaviour reward and we opted to have a balanced breakfast reward where the first period of our day was spent talking about healthy breakfast choices and then we had a balanced breakfast together complete with wholegrain cereal, milk, fruit, and even some veggies! They loved it because it was a snack and it was out of the ordinary!

Think about the value of what you are giving your students both nutritionally and educationally. If you are giving candy or something that is not a healthy choice, ask yourself if there is a healthier option you could give that would get the same result (i.e., if you are teaching procedure with bubblegum, could you teach procedure with making oatmeal, or salad, or something else that is healthy?).

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Updating the IEP

With the end of Term 1, comes the IEP review and update process. While the intention is that the IEP is regularly reviewed and updated, many IEPs lay stagnant all term and are dusted off at reporting time to be updated. Teachers are excellent at setting goals, supporting goals, working with children to achieve goals, and even revising and modifying goals along the way. We often slip up in the record keeping portion of the process. How many times have we called the parent of a student on an IEP to talk about how they are doing, what they can be working on at home to support progress, etc., and not logged it in the IEP contact record? I often forgot to include that until it was IEP review time and then I would grab my communication binder and update. It is so important to keep the IEP up-to-date always. If you set a goal for a student to be able to count up to 50 and notice that they can count to 60, that goal needs to be changed on the IEP immediately! The whole point of the IEP is to have goals that are attainable, but not too easy. The hope is that we will push the student beyond their current ability level to extend their knowledge, hopefully closing the gap between where they are currently working, and the level their class is working at.

When recording communication, goals, assessments, accommodations, etc. on the IEP, I find it helpful to include as much detail as possible. Many IEP engines have drop-down menus, check boxes, etc. This might not always provide you with everything you need to paint an accurate picture of the student. Don’t be afraid to use the “other” box and explain. If you are doing something that is “outside of the box” for a student and it is working, document it!

We like to think that those students will be at our school forever and so will we, but that is not always the case. Unfortunately, families move, teachers move, people get ill, things happen. If you are suddenly not able to be at school, it is important that those records are up-to-date. Last year, I became ill and was quite abruptly sent home from work to await surgery. I was given next to no notice that I was not going to be at work, and the duration was undetermined. In the time that I was gone, two of my students moved. Had I not had their records up-to-date, I would have had to come in off of my sick leave (which might have jeopardized my leave) to collect up my data to update their records. Keeping things thorough and detailed also means your colleagues who have the student in the future know what things have been done for the student, what works, where the strengths are, etc., without having to track down previous teachers. With Lay-Offs, School Surplus, Transfers, etc., the staff in a school can change pretty rapidly. That document might be he only thing left in the school that really knows a student by the end of the staffing process in a given year.

There are lots of sites that will help with writing goals, scaffolding to ensure goals are progressing toward a larger goal, etc. It is often easy to get the IEP completed once you sit down and get to work. It is feeling the urgency and the importance that the document holds that really motivates a teacher to keep the IEP updated on paper, not just in their daily planning.

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Student Mental Health

With #BellLetsTalk day coming to a close, I thought I would talk a bit about how to address mental health in the classroom and why it is so important. No matter what the grade, it is essential that you model healthy behaviour, and teach strategies to deal with stress and talk to your students about mental health. There are obviously different levels of this and you would gauge that based on the group you have, but no matter what, it should not be ignored.

Last year I was having some personal mental health struggles. My physical health was fragile and I had been given some potentially very bad news about the possible outcomes for my physical health. This, combined with other issues that were weighing down on me, caused my mental health to really buckle under the pressure. I remember one day going into my class of Grade 2s and sitting on the carpet to do Tribes Tribbles. This is an activity where you pass around a card with 5 furry creatures on it and each student completes the sentence, “I’m feeling ______ today.” The blank is a colour and that colour corresponds to one of the characters. Each of the characters has a facial expression and body language to express an obvious emotion (sad, angry, happy, excited, just okay, etc.). The student also had the option to explain why he/she was feeling that way.

This particular day, I started us off. I had been feeling quite down that morning and my emotions were at the surface. Students have the “Right to Pass” if they do not want to share, but I was modeling healthy behaviour by sharing my feelings with a group I trusted. I told my class that I was feeling “blue” today. I decided to tell them why. I explained to them that our hearts are like cups and everything that happens in a day that is upsetting or “bad” is like putting a bit of water into that cup. It makes the cup heavier, and it starts to fill it up. I told them that I had been having a difficult time lately and that my cup was very full. One of my students asked what happened when the up got too full. I explained that everyone handles it differently, but that we often get very upset, and even cry. I then told them that there are ways to empty the cup before it overflows. We brainstormed some ways to empty the cup out – playing with friends, snuggling up with your parent(s), talking to someone about what is bothering you, helping someone else who seems to have a full cup, etc. We also talked about the fact that some of us have big cups, and some of us have smaller cups. Something that will roll of one person’s back, might cause another a great deal of emotional stress and pain. It all has to do with the size of their cup. This made the whole concept of feelings and handling bad feelings more concrete for them.

The most significant part of the whole activity for me though, was that my students could see that I was feeling blue. I was having a tough time. I had been for quite a while. As we went around the circle so that everyone else could have a turn with the Tribbles, my class did something I will never forget: they overflowed my cup and emptied it all at once! They shared their feelings with me in a way that filled my heart with such joy, as I knew they understood the importance of sharing, talking, and supporting each other. They said things like, “I feel blue because my friend is feeling sad today and I don’t know how to help him.” By the end of the circle that day, I was sobbing. My cup was almost full when we started so I knew it wasn’t going to take much. We did Tribbles almost everyday last year and I loved it. It doesn’t always start off in a deep, emotional place, but when it gets there, it is pretty incredible.

I feel like Tribbles or something like it lays a solid foundation for conversations about mental health and feelings in general. This is an activity that can be done from Pre-School up. It is non-threatening and a very positive way to share highs and lows in a non-threatening way.


Watching social media on a day like #BellLetsTalk makes it so clear that there is still a lot of work to be done to educate around mental health. I have included some infographics that were shared today that I found particularly interesting/shocking. Let’s get the conversation started when they are young and the stigma isn’t there!

Photo of Lisa Taylor

Report Cards – Make it Personal

There is lots of talk about using comment banks to create report card comments. I remember when I started teaching, a retiring teacher handed me a USB drive and said, “I am giving you years of work, use it well!” Trying to complete my first set of report cards with that drive was a complete disaster! I didn’t teach the same things she did, nor did I teach them the same way she did, so how could her comments possibly convey what I wanted them to? And she didn’t teach the kids I was teaching, so how would her comments really and truly reflect the kids I was teaching?

After about 3 report cards, trying to find the right comments in her drive, I gave up and wiped the drive clean. Using a bank of comments that someone else has created is not terribly effective. From then on, I started writing my own comments. I am going to describe my process as I have used the same process ever since and it has always worked! We are all different, but this might help you get started!

I would start each report card writing session by taking the strands I was reporting on, and picking the overall expectations I wanted to address. I would write them down or highlight them, and then think about what we had done that term that would demonstrate that. I had done all of this previously in my planning of the unit, but it is nice to refresh and make sure that in the end, you accomplished what you set out to! Once you have established what it is you assessing, find a student you know did really well with it. Review their work and make sure they did as well as you thought, and then write their comment. Then go through and find some more students who are similar in their achievement/work style and give them the same comment, but modify it to truly make it reflect that student. These would be for  your Level 3ish kids. Their next steps should be all individualized. Then bundle up your Level 2 kids and do the same. Then do it again for your Level 1 kids. Level 2 and 1 will often just need an individual comment each anyway, without any copy/paste/modify.

I use that process for subjects like the Arts, Science, Social Studies, Health, Phys Ed., etc.

For Math I do each strand individually and I generally do each strand as described above with some variations.

Language and Learning Skills, I take an entirely different approach. I generally set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, depending on how much time I am feeling like I need. If I have gone through portfolios and have lots of evidence and details to support where that child is working, 10 minutes should be lots. If I need to double check portfolios, etc., then 15-20 might be necessary. I give myself just that much time per student per strand. It seems like a lot of time, but I know I can give each child an individualized account of their abilities, strengths, needs, and next steps, and be sure in my mind that it is accurate and that I have seen the evidence as I was writing it. Learning Skills is usually more 10-15.

I generally do Language in the middle, after I have done a few of the smaller ones (Science, Social, Arts, etc.), and Learning Skills are generally at the very end for me, once I have had a thorough look at that student and all of my records, notes, anecdotals, etc.

Writing report card comments is a very personal, involved process. As a parent, I have read comments that were from a teacher that I could tell knew my child, and I have read comments that were obviously stock comments applied to the whole class or a bunch of kids, that did not reflect my child at all. Once you see a comment like that on a report, it is difficult to take anything else on the report seriously. Take the time and make it meaningful. You don’t have to fill the box, just put something meaningful in the box so parents see that you know their kid and you know what they are capable of.


**Note that I always wrote the IEP comments last as they were pretty quick and easy to write**