Exit Tickets

I often try to put myself in my students shoes and think about how I would have felt as a young student learning online during a pandemic. 

Personally, I learned remotely as an adult when completing my Master of Professional Education degree. But I cannot confidently compare my experience with the experience of these young learners. I chose to learn remotely, I had access to the tools I needed and am privileged to be able to seek out additional information and necessary resources for myself. 

I think back to being that kid who was a perfectionist.

I only ever asked questions quietly to my teachers, in constant fear of looking like I didn’t know what I was doing. I would not raise my hand unless I was confident I knew the answer.

I definitely talked (a lot) to my friends during class time despite being asked not to. But, I did not take risks in front of my entire class when I felt unsure, stuck or confused. 

I always offer help to students in such a way that attempts to empower them to ask for it. While this is ideal for those students who wish to voice their concerns, it leaves behind those who are hesitant to take risks or those who aren’t sure of what questions to ask to receive the help they need. I empathize with those students who are unlikely to raise their hand in the physical classroom and admit uncertainty.

Fast forward to 2020/2021 and online learning. Now, students are joined together on a Google Meet, sitting there at home where their family is likely listening, their classmates are listening, and their classmates’ families are listening. What a terrifying way to put the spotlight on yourself when it’s the thing you wish to avoid the most. 

I decided one day I would try an exit ticket online to give students a voice. I have used these in the classroom for many reasons, including checking for understanding, mental health check ins, or as a way for students to ask questions. I created a quick exit ticket on Google Forms (where an exit ticket template exists already by the way!) and sent it off to my students.

The response was amazing. The very first time I tried it while occasional teaching, I received responses from students who I had not yet heard from in the large group environment of virtual instruction. What kept me coming back to using these was the quality of responses, the honesty of responses, and the vulnerability of responses. 

Here are some exit ticket questions/conversation starters that I have found successful with students, even as an Occasional Teacher:

  1. What is one thing you want me to know about you?
  2. Tell me one thing that helps you learn.
  3. What helps you to focus/listen while learning?
  4. How can I support your learning?
  5. Tell me something you wish I knew. 
  6. What is your favourite class and why?
  7. How are you feeling today?
  8. What questions do you have for me?
  9. What questions do you have about today’s lesson?
  10. What is one important thing you learned today?
  11. What can I do to help you with this task?

Break open…and rise up!

Spring is a good time to reflect and pay attention to growth, change and transformation. After a long year of isolation and stillness, everyone is hopeful about the promise of movement and possibility. Planting seeds is a wonderful metaphor of the learning that we are doing together in our school communities.

Planting Seeds:
Jenny Davis is one of the parents at The Grove Community School who has supported the growth of the Rainbow Garden, by working in consultation with First Nations and Indigenous families and community members. In the fall, Jenny harvested seeds from some of the edible plants, including sunflowers, cornflowers, and marigolds. This Spring, families worked together to deliver a paper bag of soil, seeds and a pot to every student.

Jenny facilitated on-line planting with our classes, and shared what she is learning about important Indigenous protocols, such as the practice of gratitude and reciprocity. We were encouraged to sort and describe our seeds and learn their names before planting, to draw pictures on our popsicle sticks to welcome them, to “pay attention” and give them what they need to grow. During our Land Acknowledgment, I have been honouring our plant relatives, and inviting students to share what they notice about their seeds as they break open and rise up.

Me and White Supremacy:
This winter, as part of my ongoing commitment to the practice of anti-racism, I participated in a community Book Club with a small group of parents and staff. Together, we read “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor” by Layla F. Saad. I highly recommend this resource to White educators. This is a powerful book that includes journal prompts at the end of every chapter to support deep reflection and action. Layla Saad first wrote the book as a 30 day Instagram challenge, with daily prompts to support readers who have White privilege to recognize and disrupt White supremacy in their lives. Our Book Club met on-line every month, and we discussed one week at a time.

Layla Saad offers a process for engaging in the work called “The Circle Way”, which was developed by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea. The Circle Way includes guidelines and a structure for readers to follow, including rotating facilitators and a shared intention and responsibility to stay focused on the work. It was very helpful, and can easily be used to facilitate critical and courageous conversations in other contexts. I recently facilitated a discussion about the final chapters, and I invited everyone to think about their own growth, change and transformation, and how we might invite others into this work.

Root into darkness:
This work is not supposed to be easy. Layla Saad explains that feelings of devastation, anger, and confusion are important parts of the work. She writes, “Without those feelings, nothing changes, because there is no reason to heal what does not feel broken.” (page 199) As White educators who are committed to racial justice, we must recognize how we are complicit in a system that is causing harm to Indigenous, Black and racialized people, and allow the pain “to break your heart open” and work towards creating change.

Maya Angelou wrote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” After discussing what holds us back from “doing better”, such as fear, loss of privilege, confusion, or insecurity, the Book Club members made commitments to take action and disrupt White supremacy in our different communities. Each member shared “I will….” statements, and we agreed to continue the Book Club next year, and support new families to join the discussion.

Me and My Commitments:
I want to share my own commitments to anti-racism and publish them in this blog, so I can be held accountable. I will also include concrete actions that I will take towards these goals.

*I will….continue with my own on-going learning and professional development.

(I recently started the ETFO MentorCoaching program, and I am learning about intersectional feminism, anti-oppression frameworks, and transforming power. I will continue to use the reflective journaling prompts in the book to challenge my own White silence and fragility.)

*I will….share my learning with others.

(As an ETFO workshop facilitator, I meet with members from all over the province and always position myself as a co-learner. I will always join committees at school and/or in my local, that are doing racial justice and equity work.)

*I will….use my privilege to disrupt White supremacy in my classroom and school community.

(I will meet with my principal to discuss Equity goals for next year, and share recommendations at our last Parent Council meeting, including an on-going process of discussion and reflection to determine how well we are meeting our collective goals.)

*I will….center and celebrate voices of Indigenous, Black and racialized voices in the classroom.

(I have more learning to do about anti-Asian racism, and integrating curriculum to support East/South Asian students. I will dig deeper into the new ETFO resources, and implement Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy. I will teach love and pride always.)

*I will…listen and learn when I am called out and called in. I will allow myself to make mistakes, especially as I break open and rise up!!

Thank you for reading this blog. Writing and learning in community continues to be a transformative practice for me. I am deeply grateful for all of the support and nourishment I have received to keep growing.

The Annual End of Year Pressure

Does any other educator feel that end of year pressure as we wind down to our final months of teaching? This year, I am feeling it more than ever. Usually, I stress to start the fourth science unit or the final math unit, but this year it is a different kind of stress.

I have been so lucky this year to have a group of 30 inspiring students. Every day they inspire me by showing up, typing in the chat, speaking and presenting in a group of people they have never met and most of all, by persevering. This remote learning idea was never supposed to work and for this group of students, it did much more that. I think many of these students are participating more than they ever had before. It gave shy students a voice for the first time, it gave busy students a time to do many tasks at once and much more. For me, it gave me the chance to respond and give feedback in real type, typing next steps in the chat that students would automatically implement. It also was my first year of teaching without any interruptions. For that reason, my stress is related to not having enough time to do all of the things I could do with such an engaged group of students. I am so thankful for this year as it has allowed me to really get to know them, even if I have never met any of them. This year I was able to focus so much time on asking the important questions such as:

  • How was your break?
  • How was your evening?
  • How are you doing today?
  • What are you feeling at this moment?

Some of these questions are questions that a busy day in a physical school have never allowed me to ask before. I think after break most teachers just quiet the class down and I have never taught to ask how their break actually was. I will take this lesson as one of the most valuable to my in person classroom next year.

As for the end of the year, there are so many activities I would still like to do. It is something that keeps me up at night, the thought of what are the most important lessons to leave with a group of students and which ones can be left out?

I am looking forward to these two topics which I will be starting soon:

  •  Coding: I left it for the month of June as I thought it would be the most engaging math concept and will be easier to teach at the end of the year when students need something very engaging to keep them up and running
  • Health: In my school board, we were asked to only begin teaching this unit after May 5th

However, there are still so many things I want my students to continue practicing so that they can try them next year in the classroom:

  • How to carry all of these phenomenal tech. skills to the classroom
  • How to remember to be positive when faced with challenges
  • How to greet their classmates in the morning
  • How to give positive feedback after a presentation
  • How to get right to work (this is probably impossible)

I am hoping to devote most of June to fun and exciting teaching opportunities. One of them is a fresh and interactive math game for all! For the past two Fridays, my students and I have enjoyed playing the most exciting math game which can be found on http://gimkit.com I encourage every educator that teaches math to download this program as it is so engaging and fun! In the past, I have reviewed math quiz apps and this one is by far the best. There are 8-10 different game show styles that students can join on to try to  show their math skills. Here are some of the gameshow styles we have tried:

  • Trust No One (my classes favourite and is a copy of Among Us)
  • The Floor is Lava
  • Humans vs. Zombies
  • Boss Battle

I have had the most participation in math with this game as a whopping 21 out of 30 students joined today! Yes, 30 would be incredible but there are often technical issues that occur right around math every day. I hope you can all try this soon with your students, especially now that every student is online.

Well as the year winds down, I hope that everyone has the strength to continue and has someone positive in their corner cheering them on to the finish! It has been such a challenging year and not everyone has been fortunate enough to have a group of students that refuse to let anything ruin their day. I will miss the online setting for sure but I know it is in the best interest of our students to get them back in a face to face setting. I will continue sharing my online journey until it is over! I look forward to seeing any comments about fun year end activities that should not be missed 🙂

Have a great weekend!

 

Point of View

This month, we are exploring different points of view through reading and writing a variety of texts. This “big idea” has many possibilities for critical thinking and cross-curricular integration with Media Literacy, Social Studies, Science, Visual Arts, Music and Drama.

In my Grade 2 class, we have used point of view to explore issues of accessibility, anti-Black racism, Indigenous sovereignty and homophobia. Here are some of the texts that Kindergarten-Grade 8 educators can use when learning on-line and in class:

William’s Doll
During Gender Splendour Week, we read “William’s Doll” by Charlotte Zolotov, to explore gender stereotypes and homophobia. We also watched a video from the movie, “Free to Be You and Me” that sings the story as a song. “William’s Doll” is about a boy who wants a doll to play with, but he is told that he cannot have a doll because he is a boy.

Young children receive powerful messages from family, media, clothing and toy stores about what is expected of “boys” and “girls.” These binaries reinforce heterosexism, and often cause harm and exclude students who do not fit into these boxes. It is important to give children the opportunity to name, question, and challenge these gender binaries, and create space for more possibilities.

Before reading “William’s Doll”, I asked students to share their ideas about what it means to be a “boy” and a “girl.” We talked about what a “stereotype” is and how these ideas might not include everyone. Students easily made connections to their own personal experiences of shopping, and described how different products are sorted and sold, (e.g., pink Kinder Eggs for girls). After reading, we used a graphic organizer to support our ideas with evidence from the text.  Then, students wrote about different points of view expressed in the text.  

Of Course They Do!
On the International Day of Pink, we continued to have courageous and critical conversations about how schools can be more inclusive, and how we can take action as allies. After reading texts such as, “Of Course They Do! Boys and Girls Can Do Anything” by Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol, and “10,00 Dresses” by Marcus Ewert, students talked about their experiences of being told they couldn’t do something because of their perceived gender. For example, boys with long hair shared their experiences of being challenged in the washroom. We focussed our discussion on how we might respond to questions and/or suggestions that we don’t belong. We used Drama and role-play to practice naming and responding to behaviour.

Hey, Little Ant!
“Hey, Little Ant” by Hannah Hoose and Phillip Hoose, is a story about a kid who is about to squish an ant. The story is told from two different points of view. On each page, we hear the voice of the kid and a response from the ant. The story ends with a question, which is a great prompt for discussion and writing, “What do you think that kid should do?”

This story is a great opportunity to explore empathy and compassion, and students’ relationships with animals. “Hey, Little Ant” also includes a song, which can enrich the text. After reading, students wrote about the different points of view in the story, and then wrote about their own point of view.

The Tree
“The Tree” written by Dana Lyons is written from the point of view of a tree in the Pacific Rainforest. After writing and sharing the story, the author learned from elders of the Lummi Nation, the original inhabitants of San Juan islands, that he has written the tree’s song. Every tree has a song.

We listened to “The Tree,” drew pictures and shared stories about trees that are important to us. Then, students wrote their own poem or song from the point of view of a tree. We used sentence prompts, such as: “I live….” “I hear….” “I have seen….” “My favourite season is…..” “I wonder….” “I hope…” I found a video of Dana Lyons singing the text as a birthday present for Jane Goodall. I hope we will be able to turn our text into songs!

The Council of All Beings
I am always inspired by my teacher friends! Maria Vamvalis is currently working on her PhD, and shares her learning about climate justice with Natural Curiosity as a mentor coach. We took a course together at OISE, and Maria shared how she has used “The Council of All Beings” to allow students to connect with land and speak in-role from the point of view of other life forms, including animal, plant or natural feature, (desert, forest, etc). This article written by Joanna Macy describes the process.

I am learning that the purpose of the Council is to listen and give voice to land, which includes animals, plants, air, water, soil, etc. The process honours our shared responsibilities and relationships with more-than-humans, and helps us to remember and reconnect with land. It requires guidance and thoughtful facilitation. It sounds like a powerful teaching and learning experience.

Joanna Macy explains: “The Council unfolds in three consecutive stages. First, the beings address each other, telling of the changes and hardships they have experienced.” The second stage creates space for humans to hear from the more-than human beings directly. A few students remove their mask and are invited into the centre of the Circle to listen. The third stage of the council involves the other beings offering gifts to the humans. “As ritual guide I might cue this stage by saying, “Many humans now realize the destruction they are causing; they feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the forces they have unleashed. Yet our fate is in their hands. O fellow-beings, what strengths of ours can we share with them, what powers can we lend them?” With this invitation, the beings in the Council begin spontaneously to offer their own particular qualities and capacities. After speaking, each leaves their mask and steps in the centre as humans to receive gratitude and gifts. There is opportunity for singing, dancing and release, as well as reflection and stillness.

I think “The Council of All Beings” would enrich any Earth Day celebrations, and/or National Indigenous Peoples Day. I believe it could be adapted for on-line learning, and would be a powerful collaborative and creative experience for all members of the school community, including families.

People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus Pandemic
I have a new subscription to “Rethinking Schools”, which is an excellent magazine about social justice education. In the Winter 2020-2021 issue, Caneisha Mills describes how she organized a tribunal with her Intermediate students to explore responsibility for the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. Some of those on trial include: Mother Nature, Racism, the HealthCare industry, Capitalism, and the U.S. government. You can read the article, “Who’s to Blame?” here.

Caneisha Mills honours student voice and engages students in a collaborative and critical process of exploring the global pandemic from different points of view.  She honours student voice, and creates a brave space for students to “grapple with profound social injustice” and imagine different possibilities. Mills explains that the “most important part of this lesson involves students writing a 10-point program — inspired by the Black Panthers’ 10-point program, adopted in 1966 — on how to prevent crises like this in the future.”

The article includes a clear teaching plan and provides information for educators who might want to implement the People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus, on or off-line. “This people’s tribunal begins with the premise that a heinous crime is being committed as tens of millions of people’s lives are in danger due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus — COVID-19. But who — and/or what — was responsible for this crime? Who should be held accountable for the spread of the virus and its devastating impact?”

The teacher plays the role of the prosecutor. Students are assigned different roles, and the “defendants” are supported to work in small groups to develop a defense against the charges outlined in the indictments. A jury is selected, and each group shares their arguments at the trial. There is only one rule: They may plead guilty, but they must accuse at least one other defendant of being responsible. After the jury deliberates and explains their verdict, all students are invited to reflect on the experience. Then, they use their voice to demand and create change.

The tribunal sounds like a meaningful learning opportunity for older students to explore different points of view. I am curious to think about how this might be adapted for younger students.

In your point of view, what are some powerful texts and/or dramatic conventions that you have used in the classroom and on-line?  Please add them to the Comments below.



I am happy you are here

As I was supply teaching one day in a full remote learning classroom, my wifi decided to take a short vacation. Now if you’re anything like me, technical difficulties feel like they come up at the worst possible times. Now that is a dramatic statement of course, but it really does feel like a “WHY NOW” situation. It can’t just be me?! 

Anyways, in the middle of our math lesson I was logged out of the google meet, leaving the students and their questions behind. I think my immediate reaction was “AHHH”. 

Upon taking a big breath, I was able to log myself back in after about 3 whole minutes. 3 minutes doesn’t sound like a long time, but in this short time frame I had convinced myself the students would have left the meet, had become overwhelmed with the math questions or upset with me for leaving mid conversation. I was cautious upon logging in again and unsure the atmosphere to which I was returning. 

 

I could hear one student say “she’s back”, as I started turning on my camera and microphone. I then started rambling on and began to apologize and explain why I had left mid conversation.

 

“We are just happy you’re here, Miss”, one student replied. 

 

We are happy you are here. 

 

What a simple, yet powerful way to welcome someone into a room or conversation. 

 

To this day, I am still applauding whoever taught this child to say that, whoever fostered empathy within that child, and ultimately applauding the child themself for being so brave and confident to voice such powerful words. 

 

I have adopted this saying and now use it daily in my practice. 

“I am happy you are here”.

This statement shows compassion, empathy, understanding and is welcoming, inviting and warm. 

 

It would never be my reaction to ridicule students for showing up late. As I really believe there is always a reason for this. Especially with my job as an occasional teacher, I typically do not know much about students’ lives outside of school other than what they have chosen to share. Prior to this profound moment for me, if a student had shown up late or at the wrong time I likely would have said “that’s okay!” or “no problem!”. Presently, those statements seem much less inviting and warm and lack appreciation for the presence of another person.

Now, when students arrive late to class I smile and tell them I am happy they have made it. Happy to see they are here. 

To all who read this post…

I am happy you are here.

 

 

 

“Be vulnerable”

A message we are hearing as educators during a pandemic.

What does this mean to you and your practice?

 

To me, vulnerability seems scary, it seems raw – but, both human and necessary. 

Living through this pandemic has provided us with commonality of experiences. Although we are all experiencing different heartache during this time and no two stories are the same, we share a mutual feeling of exhaustion with our students, their families and our colleagues.

 

To create a deeper understanding of vulnerability I turned to the work of Brené Brown, researcher and psychologist who is best known for her work in the areas of shame and vulnerability. In her TedTalk from June 2010, ‘The Power of Vulnerability” (https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability?language=en), Brown summarizes her research on vulnerability quite beautifully with a powerful take home message:

 

“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen”. 

 

To show our true selves to our students is to offer them a window into our souls. This includes expressing our positive and contagious traits of joy, hope, perseverance, inspiration, and integrity. However, in order to find success in vulnerability we need to feel all of our emotions. As much as we would like to carefully select which emotions to feel, Brené Brown unveils, we cannot “selectively numb” undesirable feelings. In fact, in our attempts to ignore negative or undesirable emotions, we “numb” positive feelings – positive feelings that we wish to pour into our virtual classrooms. 

 

Stress, fear, anxiety, sadness, exhaustion.

To be vulnerable means we are human. 

 

When we work from a vulnerable place it allows for us to truly stop and listen to what students need, meet them where they are at, and support them with compassion while promoting their self-worth.

 

Brené Brown studied people who had a strong sense of love and belonging in their relationships. Brown states that the only difference between people who had a strong sense of belonging and people who did not, was the people who felt loved – “felt worthy” of this relationship. 

 

Vulnerability drives connection.

Connection promotes worthiness.

Worthiness equates belonging. 

 

Be vulnerable.

Who benefits from Hybrid Online Learning?

Blended Learning

 

Who benefits from Hybrid Learning?

ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students. ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

There has been an ongoing discussion about the possibility of sustaining online learning after the pandemic ends. In addition, there is a possibility that teachers may be online in the fall of 2021. I recently wrote a blog about the pros and cons to online learning which you can access HERE.

I’m currently in my 7th month of teaching using the hybrid online learning model – i.e. teaching students synchronously both in class and online. I’ve been successful in supporting my students’ learning through much cognitive and physical juggling. With my own money, I had to purchase several items to supplement my online learning instruction. I also had to adapt my in-class pedagogy to fit the online students’ needs. In supporting students learning from home, I’ve been making deliveries of classwork materials to the students’ houses!

As I’ve written in another blog, online learning has a particular ecology to it as it differs in space and time to in class learning. I find that time passes more slowly online as each minute counts. In class, students and teachers spend a great deal of time interacting socially with each other within the process of learning. Online, social interactions are limited, leaving behind much of the human part of learning.

Experience with Online Instruction

To put my comments into context, I’ve done a great deal of learning online via many additional teacher qualifications. I have even written an eLearning online course. As an adult, asynchronous learning works best for me as I can choose the time and place to learn. I also do not have to sit for a long period of time and can take breaks as needed.

With synchronous learning, students must sit in front of a computer for hours at a time … which is particularly difficult for those who like to move while they learn.

Cameras On or Off?

Some teachers INSIST that students keep their cameras on so the teacher can see the student sitting in front of their computer. I allow my students to decide whether they will have their cameras on or off. Just because a student is sitting in front of their computer does not ensure that they are attending to the teacher. From a professional point of view, I prefer the cameras off as I do not want to invade my students’ privacy AND the meeting streams better without the cameras on!

Who benefits from the hybrid model of online learning?

Based on my experience, I find that the hybrid model does not benefit either my online students or my in class students. My online students only experience half of what is happening in our classroom as they miss out on the hands-on activities – this is particularly important in learning math concepts with physical math manipulatives. The online students also miss the social aspect of being in school with no chance to socialize with their peers during collaborative class work and lunch and recess.

In class students also miss out in a hybrid environment as the teacher must adapt lessons to meet the needs of online students. This means less hands-on activities and less inquiries that need a collaborative setting.

There are also several equity issues that include access to technology and the reliability of internet services. Further, teachers wonder what constitutes online attendance in class and who is completing the class work. These are issues that could be considered in separate blogs so I will stop the discussion here.

Teacher Burnout

Teachers certainly do not benefit from the hybrid model as it is very taxing on their executive function  – they must juggle the competing agendas of online student needs, in class student needs, lesson planning, answering phones, taking attendance, lesson materials, and teaching curriculum. Ultimately, it is much harder to assess students’ understanding of curriculum through a computer screen. This multitasking leads to teacher burnout.

The hybrid model is not an effective format to meet the learning needs of students or the instructional needs of teachers.

So, who benefits from teaching via the hybrid model? Boards of education and ministries of education benefit because it is cheaper to run programs through the hybrid model. It is a cheaper version of educating students.

It comes down to $$$$.

Think about this.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

 

“How can I help?”

The adage of “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” was ingrained in me at an early age.  Until recently, I have always thought that being confident, capable and successful meant never asking for help.  I used to think that asking for help meant that you were weak.  I now think that asking for help is incredibly brave.  My 17 year old son recently told me about a group chat with his workmates.  Someone at work had sent an urgent message to the group asking how to do something while closing up the restaurant.  Many of the coworkers poked fun at the lack of knowledge of the person seeking help.  My son (brace yourself for this proud Mama Bear moment) texted that it was really brave of his co-worker to ask for help and provided the information that the coworker needed to close up for the night. I think that his act demonstrated wisdom an empathy far beyond his years.

Have you ever felt a little territorial or protective about your ideas or lessons in your classroom?  I imagine everyone likes to be valued for their unique talents and abilities.  In general, I don’t think anyone likes to be seen to be struggling and consequently, some teachers might choose to work in isolation. Perhaps it is fear. I’ve spoken to many colleagues who have identified as suffering from imposter syndrome. Perhaps those of us who have experienced imposter syndrome think that if anyone else got eyes on what we do every day that we would be judged and found to be lacking in some way.  Often teachers will tell me that they don’t have time to share with their colleagues-there just isn’t enough time in the day to collaborate. With the busy pace of education, I know that I have absolutely felt that way. My experience has been that when I take the time to collaborate with others I in fact, have more time and consequently better programming.  It is a concerted effort and takes a trusting relationship to co-plan and co-teach but when it works, it is amazing.

In my role as an instructional leadership consultant I am responsible for two portfolios; Innovation and Technology and the New Teacher Induction Program.  At the beginning of the COVID pandemic as teachers were teaching virtually for the first time, some had never used things like Google apps, FlipGrid and Kahoot. I was doing my best to support teachers with tools for teaching online.  Thankfully, I knew some other teachers that I could reach out to and ask for help.  These teachers, close to the beginning of their careers, were using these tools in the classroom and were able to help design and present webinars to other more seasoned colleagues.  As teachers, we often think that we need to have all of the answers for our students and with one another.  I’ve heard it referred to as the “Sage on the Stage Syndrome.” We seem to feel that we need to stay ahead of everything, which is impossible.  Education is changing more rapidly than ever.  I learned so much from my colleagues over the months that we worked together as a team and even though it was stressful at times, it was also incredibly fun.  I look back now on the powerful outreach our work had and the gratitude that was expressed by our colleagues and I am so glad that I got over myself and asked for help.

In the t.v. drama “New Amsterdam” whenever the new director of the hospital is introduced to someone, the first question that he asks is, “How can I help?”  It happens in the first episode about twenty times. This was a BIG a-ha moment for me.  What a powerful question!  How often have we wanted our students to ask for help?  How often have they refused when we have asked “Can I help you?”or “Do you need help?”  Unfortunately, asking for help is still seen as a weakness by many people.  However the question “How can I help?” turns it around so that the responsibility and focus is on the person offering assistance.  It is more difficult for someone to just say “No.” to this question.  It can help to create psychological safety in order to focus on what can be done to help rather than someone sitting in discomfort or shame because they won’t ask for help.  Sometimes just asking can make all the difference to someone when they are feeling overwhelmed, even if they decline the offer.  The four small words, “How can I help?” can make a powerful impact.  Sometimes, asking for help is the bravest thing you can do.

Online Instruction of Students with Learning Disabilities

ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students. ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Since March of 2020, I’ve been teaching students with learning disabilities in an online environment. I’ve been wondering how well the online learning environment supports the needs of students with learning disabilities.

As a special education teacher of a contained learning disability classroom, this has been a question that’s been tricky to answer. In addition, I’ve got “skin in the game” as I also have a learning disability and can place myself in my students’ shoes.

As with all debates, there are always two sides and I’ll try to capture the main points of each side.

Online learning supports students with learning disabilities

As online learning is technology based, students can access their tools of technology by using talking word processing and many applications that support their lack of phonemic awareness and reading ability in writing and comprehension. My students seemed to thrive in this area as online learning promoted their use of technology to complete assignments. In addition, the forum also allowed them to explore new ways to present their work that did not focus on text.

For my students, some thrived as they preferred working on their own or collaborating via video with another student. One student stated that they would like to learn online all the time. Note that this student had excellent learning skills and support at home. I had my doubts as they would have missed developing the skills needed to work with others face to face. I felt that the student was missing the opportunity to develop the critical soft skills such as collaborating with peers and in building the essential friendships students need as they grow into adults.

Online learning does not support students with learning disabilities

Although I only have a small sample size of students in which to reflect on this statement, I will summarize what I noticed in this last year.

Students with learning disabilities need a great deal of teacher support to develop their reading and writing skills in order to eventually thrive in a mainstream classroom. The challenge with online instruction is that students must have some level of independence to complete work. Further, their teacher must be able to assess when to support the student and when to let the student work alone.

In Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, teachers must provide just enough support to let the student learn on their own without getting frustrated. As a teacher, teaching online, I was challenged by finding this golden spot as I could not use my senses to determine where the student was in their learning. As learning is linked to emotion, I use my senses and empathy to determine students’ level of success or frustration. Without being able to access this skill through a video link, I noted that students became increasingly frustrated before I was able to sense their distress. This is never good as students usually shut down at this point. This is where learning stops.

During online video lessons, I also noted that students with attention deficits had a great challenge attending to lessons. Often, this resulted in me calling their name several times. In a classroom, when watching students, I can redirect those who are off task. Despite presenting my very interesting online lessons, several students became disengaged. This was especially true for students with learning profiles that were tactile in nature.

Further, online learning does not provide the many accommodations needed to support students’ learning needs. Some feedback from students noted “I need to move around when I learn”, “I like to work beside my friend so we can help each other”, “I prefer doing work with a pencil instead of typing things” and “I really need to go for a walk right now.”

Online learning needs and skills specific to students’ profiles

Success in online learning depends on support from home, adequate technology, and students with good learning skills. Due to managing multiple agenda’s, parents are not always able to support their child online. This includes literally sitting beside their child to help them attend to online lessons. Many students lack adequate technology and/or reliable internet access leaving them at a disadvantage to their more resourced peers. Further, not all students have the learning skills to successfully attend and complete work online, instead needing another person to support them in their work. I’ve included a list of considerations to be made when making decisions to learn online.

Students with learning disabilities may consider online learning if they:

    • are able to follow written and/or verbal instructions effectively
    • enjoy working at their own pace
    • are able to work independently
    • are able to interact with peers and the teacher in a positive way
    • have good online manners
    • are able to communicate and ask questions when they don’t understand an assignment or directions
    • are able to start a task with confidence
    • have parental support
    • have adequate technology and internet to support learning online
    • have adequate executive function to attend to online lessons
    • have adequate self control to not play games or watch videos while online lessons are occurring
    • get one-on-one time with their teacher to support learning on an individual basis

Students should consider not participating in online learning if they:

    • need significant instructional support from teachers and/or educational assistants
    • have challenges attending to lessons online
    • need support to follow through and complete assignments
    • lack adequate support at home to stay focused
    • have challenges negotiating the online environment (i.e. finding assignments, resources, etc)
    • lack support at home (i.e. help with homework & completing class work)
    • have poor learning skills
    • enjoy the social part of school and working with others
    • are behind in multiple high school credits

8 Proven Ways to Overcome Teacher Burnout and Love Teaching Again | Prodigy Education

Teaching online is draining

From a teacher’s point of view, I found teaching online extremely draining. It did not help that at several points in the pandemic, I was teaching synchronously online and in class using the hybrid model. Without being able to use my intuition and empathy to read my students needs and feelings, I felt blind. I was only left with my visual and audio senses which became taxed very quickly.

In online learning, teachers must attend to all students, all at the same time. In an in class environment, teachers can focus on one student at a time, while others work on assigned tasks. With my students online, there were simply too many things to attend to … leaving me little energy to focus on specific individual students’ needs.

Online learning does not support the needs of most students with learning disabilities

In the end, I strongly believe that students who have learning disabilities MUST be taught in an in class environment. This means that teachers can assess, if and when students need support. Further, in class instruction allows teachers to assess and focus specifically on what one student needs to support their learning.

In this pandemic, online learning has been a stop gap to provide students with a classroom environment that is just a hint of what happens in an in class environment. Online learning does not promote collaboration and the occasions to play and interact with other students. It lacks the fundamental need, of students, for opportunities to build social skills and make friends. And I believe these skills are what make us most human.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

Back to the Classroom

It’s hard to believe that it’s only February and yet again, I’m sometimes amazed that it is still February! Last week, we headed back into the classroom, and with that, came mixed emotions. With a new principal in the midst of a pandemic, I was hesitant heading back because change is always hard for me. Fear of the unknown, particularly during these uncertain times, is always something that I struggle with. That being said, I was also very excited to have the chance to see my students in person again. The night before we headed back, I didn’t sleep very well but just walking into the space and envisioning my students coming in, gave me a sense of comfort and familiarity. When the bell rang and students entered the building, the familiar buzz and sense of excitement made me feel right at home. 

While we were learning virtually, I learned so much with and about my students. In this post, I’ll share a little about what I hope to continue as we learn again, in-person.

Time to Just Be

We all know the importance and benefits of social interactions in school. Opportunities to play and learn together – no matter the age – have great benefits for all students. I knew this but didn’t realize the magnitude until we went into virtual learning. While students were excited to see each other online and learn together through lessons, I noticed that they wanted more time to just be, together. Every day, I opened up our Meet at 8:45 am and school would officially start at 9 am. To my surprise, many weren’t interested in having the extra 15 minutes to ready themselves for the day but rather, many would just pop in early to talk or share something about themselves and to listen to others. It was an informal space to just be. Some mornings, students came up with games or Art activities to try with each other. We also did passion projects where we showcased something that we were passionate about in breakout rooms in Zoom. The smiles and how much they looked forward to having some “downtime” together made me realize that although learning together in the classroom has its social benefits, these moments where students were just themselves and having fun, held much value also. Since heading back to the classroom, I know that we have recess but I’m trying to figure out how we might incorporate these times – even if they are short – throughout the day. Less structured, while remaining safe and valuing more of what students choose to bring into the space.  

Voices

During virtual learning, I really tried to balance things so that all voices could be heard and not just the ones who were quickly able to hit the “raise hand” button. I was conscious of those who often spoke up and shared. I also tried to encourage those who were more quiet to understand that we so wanted to hear their voices. I was intentional in saying that while online, we need to ensure that all voices are heard and even if it took us an extra few minutes to pause to hear from a variety of students, we would. Coming back into the classroom, this is something that I want to be just as intentional about. We’re pausing and inviting more to share, being conscious of how much space we take up in discussions. 

Technology as a Tool

Since being back, it has taken us some time to get our tech back in the classroom. We’re there now and last week was a great reminder that technology is a powerful tool that is good for all and essential for some. During our time virtually, I continued to try and have students demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. At the end of our Financial Literacy unit, we listed all that we learned during the unit, and students were tasked with creating their own resource to teach the unit to another Grade 5 class. It was amazing to see what students created. From posters and brochures to Slides presentations and videos, it was neat to see the ways in which students took an idea and ran with it, using technology. I have always been a firm believer in open tasks. Seeing what they did independently with this task was a great reminder for me. Technology is a great tool and when given the opportunity, students will use it to create and demonstrate their understanding, if we let them. 

While this learning isn’t necessarily new to me, I’ve appreciated taking the time to reflect on what was successful during virtual learning, and considering how I may bring some parts back into our in-person space. 

If you are returning to in-person learning, really hope that your return to school has been successful so far. If you are continuing to teach virtually, I give you so much credit for your work. It’s challenging to do and I’m in awe. During these challenging times, I know that we are all filled with a mix of emotions. Please remember to take some time to reflect on what is going well and also to take care of yourself!