Engaging Students Through The Arts

I love The Arts! The arts nourish the imagination and develop a sense of creativity and appreciation of the natural beauty of the world around us. Music was that for me. I played tenor saxophone in elementary and secondary school, and I still do today. I first fell in love with music when I was a young boy growing up in rural Jamaica. Every Sunday morning we would hear the musicians from our church band, particularly the bass guitar and drums, playing with such energy and joy. That was our call to get ready for Sunday morning service. The entire community would be humming and moving to the beat of the music, as we gathered and walked to church. For me, seeing all the musicians playing with such pleasure and delight brought joy to my soul. Today, I play the tenor saxophone in a concert band and I am practising playing bass guitar. Music has turned into a beautiful part of my adult life and has opened many doors to new experiences throughout the years.

Through music, I discovered my own creativity, learned about my own identity and musical culture, and I developed a strong sense of well-being. In fact, music (and sports) kept me in school. The arts worked well with my learning styles and offered me the type of self-motivation and incentive I needed to keep me focused on my academics and to get me through elementary and secondary school. Having an appreciation for the arts has also helped me in my teaching career. I have been able to draw upon my knowledge and creativity acquired through the arts to use in my teaching practices and counselling skills. The arts have empowered me to take risks, to think critically, to be opened to many possibilities and to be resourceful. So why are the arts the first things/subjects on the chopping block when addressing budget shortfalls or when schools have to go through reorganization?

Every year, millions of dollars are cut from school budgets due to education funding cuts by the provincial government. The school boards say the cuts are necessary as a result of decreased provincial funding. However, these cuts are affecting the growth and development, as well as the  learning environment, for many students and even teachers. Funding cuts have created unequal access to arts programs across Ontario for many of our students. In some cases, the arts programs continue to thrive due to parent/community efforts and financial support. While, in other cases, the arts programs suffer due to lack of space in schools, fewer specialist teachers and school boards prioritizing their budget to meet other needs. Students in small and rural schools, schools with higher levels of poverty, and schools with lower levels of parental engagement, might be less likely to have access to equitable arts programs in the classroom.

How do we make sure that all students, no matter the income of their parents/families, are able to have equitable access to quality arts programs, have the opportunity to play in a band or even go see a performance?

We need to put all students first by putting money back into education. We need to address staffing shortages, so that we can get more specialized teachers back into the arts. We need to do better at engaging all students, especially those who are often underserved and those with special educational needs. Not only will an investment in the arts demonstrate a commitment to an investment in students, it will also help close the learning gap, the poverty gap and keep students from dropping out of school prematurely.  

ETFO has launched a new professional learning resource for teachers designed to support the arts as a core part of the curriculum in Ontario primary classrooms. According to ETFO, “Primary ETFO Arts has been created for classroom teachers to counter-balance the lack of arts funding in schools, and the over-emphasis on literacy and math being driven by standardized EQAO testing. It recognizes that the arts are critical in fostering student engagement in learning, along with unique and critical thinking.”

Check out the following ETFO websites for additional information:

First Nations, Métis and Inuit Growth Chart

The Primary ETFO Arts book offers engaging, integrated arts activities with literacy links.

Primary ETFO Arts book

The Power of Groups

It has been a full two years without student desk groupings and I had completely forgotten about all the benefits it brings to the classroom. Not only does it brighten student morale, but it provides so many rich learning opportunities. I wanted to dedicate this post to the celebration of being back in groups!

Last year as we all know, (even though we did group work) students had to sit on their own due to COVID regulations. Since I taught online last year, I did not get to witness many group work settings as my students who worked in breakout rooms chose to keep their microphones and cameras off. I was able to witness group chats but nothing is better than in-person group work.

As restrictions are lifting, students are able to get back to some of the simple things they could enjoy pre-COVID, one of them physically sitting beside their peers. ** I created groups in my classroom last week and I cannot express how much of a change it has brought into the classroom. Just having a peer nearby has brought so many students to life, some who have been putting their head down and not participating this year. Now that they are sitting directly beside a group of people, they have no other choice but to become involved in the conversations and the learning around them. They do not seem frustrated at this, rather they are thankful for this new opportunity. This peer support has really helped a lot of my students. I was starting to think that some of my students would never regain the ability to socialize with others but the proximity of their peers has really helped them grow out of that discomfort. About six students decided they wanted to continue sitting on their own, but after a few days of seeing how exciting the prospect of sitting in a group was, they merged groups with nearby friends. These group settings have created new friendships that couldn’t have started without the new group settings.

Having students working nearby each other has also allowed for many group work activities. Some of the ones we have enjoyed in the past two weeks have been:

  • Solving complex math problems, drawing off the ideas of their peers to contribute to their answer
  • Brainstorming about topics such as the forms of bullying, landforms and types of mixtures
  • Solving hands on tasks that involve building structures or mechanisms
  • Students getting help from a friend with spelling (before they had to travel out of their seat to ask for this assistance which wasn’t allowed)
  • Confidence when solving independent problems by comparing end solutions
  • Sharing devices to research as we only have two iPads in our classroom
  • Being involved in conversations which otherwise would have had to take place across the room
  • Continuing to improve collaboration skills which have been on pause
  • Allowing for differentiated instruction opportunities that have been on pause since 2020

I know that groups can pose a classroom management issue such as breaking up group conversations. I am actually thankful for these conversations as before, it was challenging to get anyone to speak to each other. Attempting to chat with someone across the room was actually more disruptive than it is with the group settings. I continue to work on classroom management techniques as I have not had the practice with managing physical groupings since 2020.

I look forward to continuing to look at new and exciting group work activities as we are able to provide these for our students again. We are currently learning about hydraulics in our grade eight science unit so I am looking forward to students creating their own hydraulic machines together. I am also extremely thankful for the new friendships that have formed, especially with it being so close to the end of the year.

I know these successes are small and it may seem silly, but the power of physically grouping students has really changed things in my classroom and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

If you have any exciting new group work activities you have tried, I would love to hear them as it has been a while since I have done some fun team building activities. 

**Note: All of my students that sit in groups wear masks (their personal and preferred choice).**

ETFO’s recent media release related to masking can be found here.

PLEASE NOTE: 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.

 

Mindfulness in the Classroom

Are mindfulness activities a part of your program? 

Each day more than the last, it feels like mindfulness activities are being promoted for classroom use as part of a solution to what we are currently experiencing as humans on planet earth. 

I am not a mindfulness or meditation expert, nor am I trained in yoga instruction. 

I am however, a curious participant and reflective user of daily mindfulness opportunities in the classroom.

In a blog post for The MEHRIT Centre titled ‘The Self-Reg View of Mindfulness (Part 1)’, Dr. Stuart Shanker, an expert and leader in the field of self-regulation discusses mindfulness through the lens of self-regulation. He states the goal of mindfulness activities is not “developing techniques to suppress or flee from unpleasant thoughts and emotions” but rather to “pay close attention to them with the hope that, over time, you’ll be able to tolerate things that you have hitherto tried to repress or avoid”. 

Shanker highlights that one’s ability to engage in mindfulness and meditation experiences are not instinctive, for neither adults nor children. He acknowledges that for some people, the “act of concentrating on their breath or their emotions” while attempting to sit still or quietly can bring great amounts of stress or anxiety. 

Shanker cites the work of Dr. Ellen Langer and emphasizes the importance she places on understanding “mindlessness” in order to create an understanding of the term mindfulness. 

 

This resonated with me. 

 

If I am not achieving mindfulness am I engaging in “mindlessness”?

It had never crossed my mind how dangerous this dichotomization could be.

 

Mindfulness or mindlessness?

 

Thinking about those who do not find success or find stress in widely used mindfulness activities… are they still being viewed through a positive lens? How can I expose my students to meaningful mindfulness activities that are positive while maintaining a sensitive and trauma informed approach?

As Shanker points out, a state of mindfulness is unique to every individual person and should be achieved as such. Additionally, what calms you “may change from day to day, even moment-to-moment”. Mindfulness must be differentiated and unique: Like any new concept introduced, students need time, patience, space and practice in order to discover what helps them feel calm and under what circumstances. Contrary to this statement, students also need time, patience, space and practice while they discover what does not work for them in order to feel calm. 

Accordingly, the act of differentiating these completely personal moments of mindfulness feels to me like in order to be genuine, they need to be voluntary. To allow for students to discover their own state of calm: Mindfulness opportunities must be optional. Although necessary, offering students a choice of participation in mindfulness activities feels confusing or worrisome. What if they choose not to participate? Can they match the calm state of their classmates in different ways to avoid disrupting the calm state of others? Should mindfulness be practiced as a whole group? What are the benefits to whole group mindfulness instruction? What are the disadvantages to a ‘one size fits all’ approach to mindfulness?

Have I perfected the use of mindfulness in my classroom? No.

Does this exist? Likely not.

Nevertheless, I continue to reflect on the polarization of mindfulness and “mindlessness” and what this means to me.

What does mindfulness mean to you? How does this influence your teaching practice?

Supporting Student Transition from Elementary to Secondary

If you have ever taught grade eight, you are currently a grade eight teacher or you have a child (or had a child) in grade eight then you might appreciate how exciting and stressful this time of the year can be for so many grade eight students as they prepare to transition from elementary to secondary school. As a former intermediate classroom teacher and a guidance counsellor who has worked with many grade eight students, I can certainly say that the process of choosing a high school, applying for a specialized program of study and/or completing course selections for grade nine can be a bag of mixed emotions for students, depending on the level of knowledge and support students have at school and at home. Regardless of the grade students are in, teachers can create opportunities for students to develop strategies and skills that can support them in their transition process. Even though students might feel overwhelmed and isolated at times, they are never alone in the process. They also need to know that our support is non-judgmental, though intentional at times especially for the most vulnerable students, and that our intention is to empower students to make choices about their own life and their own future pathways. 

 

Stress and Anxiety

There is no doubt that the transition from elementary to secondary school can be stressful for many students, especially during the current pandemic when more students are isolated and social support for their transition may not be readily available. Adults and students alike are all experiencing an increased level of stress and anxiety in these uncertain times. For the most part, adults have developed strategies to manage their anxiety, however young children are, more so than ever, depending on the adults in their lives to support them throughout this journey. So, how do we as educators monitor their emotional wellbeing and offer sustainable support?

Here are some suggestions that might be of value to you, regardless of your work circumstances or guidance model in your area:

  1. Get to know your students, whether they are in kindergarten or up to grade eight, and understand their emotional strengths and needs. Pinpoint which parts of the situation students are experiencing that you as an educator have the power to change or influence for the better, and then offer your support accordingly.
  2. Communicate regularly with families/caregivers about their role in supporting student achievement and well-being, as they are the ultimate decision maker in this process
  3. Chances are, you cannot do this alone, so get support to support students. Talk to colleagues, your admin and other school-based support personnel. Keep in mind the best interest of the individual student, the nature of the situation for the student and your Board’s policies around confidentiality. 
  4. Be socially and culturally sensitive to each student’s situation and lived experiences. Above all, be intentional in supporting (without dictating or pigeonhole) vulnerable students, marginalized students and racialized students and ensure they have equitable access to programs and services
  5. Support students in a specialized program or with an Individual Education Plan in having a successful transition
  6. Show care and empathy, and offer assistance to students who might need social/emotional support that best meets their needs

 

Your support to students is crucial now more than ever. Students of all ages and abilities continue to navigate through the pandemic, as well as managing other social and family challenges, and intermediate students also have to adjust to a new destreaming program in grade nine. Some students may find this time of year overwhelming and might need to develop strategies to self-advocate for themselves to ensure all their needs are met. There are many ways to embed self-advocacy in your assessment Of learning and assessment As learning to support student achievement and well-being. With a strong sense of self, students are more likely to see themselves as owners of their own destiny and can independently advocate for themselves. I see this as a gradual release of responsibility and an opportunity to empower students to take charge of their learning and their own future. 

 

Here is a Self-Advocacy Toolkit that was shared with me that could be of some support to you in your classroom (regardless of the grade you teach). This Self-Advocacy Toolkit is intended to be completed by each student. Teachers may wish to facilitate this as part of their instructional day. 

Self-Advocacy Toolkit: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1yCD8KViE7-B_NfB1fEkb2Uvsj74H0qcZ_6oka-b3WwE/edit?usp=sharing

 

Ultimately, when it comes to transition and course selections, students and families/caregivers make the final decision about their destination and pathways. We will offer support and guidance to ensure success and a seamless transition from elementary into secondary, and this support can begin as early as kindergarten. When we work together, support each other and respect each other’s choices, even when our perspectives are different, we enable individuals to self-actualize and reach their full potential.

Mentoring Moments: Time Management 101 for the New Year….

This New Year, I wanted to encourage you to manage your time, your busy time, your spare time and alone time. I can’t think of a better time to blog about this topic than now as we make new years resolutions for the up coming year ahead.

I can honestly say that if you organize your time well as a teacher, you will be able to have work during work hours and build your family and friendship lives separately and explore life the way you would like…

As a mentor or mentee at any given moment in your teaching career, time management skills will help you accomplish everything you want and not burn out in your profession. Remember it’s a career and you need to explore the learning opportunities, balance life and enjoy the moments as we teach daily. So, here are my thoughts. Please feel free to share yours…

Strategies that have worked for me!

  • Using a calendar that is user friendly
  • Goal setting weekly
  • Timed To Do List with daily, weekly and monthly goals

Plan with a Backwards Design in mind

  • Plan the ending of your lesson first.
  • Then plan your teaching goals.
  • Then plan the steps that will take you to the goal.
  • Consider student input in how you plan things out.
  • Set those learning goals for your students and lesson.

Maslow vs. Vygotsky vs. Bloom

  • Put the needs of the students first, with high expectations on what you expect them to do.
  • Remember all students have to feel like the belong to make significant contributions.
  • Let students guide the lesson pace and ideas.
  • Make the space so that you can advocate for your students.
  • Remember “RELATIONSHIPS” are the key.
  • Inquiry with gradual release of responsibility has been my secret to being successful.

It is always important to draw connections between Maslow’s basic needs to ensure they are met and Vygotsky’s learning expectations as we develop skills for students.

Photo credit: for the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs graphic.

Photo credit: for the  Blooms Taxonomy graphic.

 

Photo credit: for the Vygotsky’s philosophy graphic for Inquiry based learning.

We build amazing lesson expectations so that we can guide discussions and lead students to think with higher order thinking skills when approaching problems. We encourage students to look at situations that they face with a problem solving mentality in order to develop their comprehension skills, and resilience.

Reflection: What were your New Year’s resolutions as an educator? Write them down with timelines. SMART goal them. That’s my goal for you as a reader of my blog!

Yours in Education,

Nilmini

The Unspecified Parts of a Lesson Plan

As I was creating my lesson plans one day, I took a step back and thought about what my plans would look like if they were delivered exactly the way that I wrote them. Academic learning and curriculum connections are crucial to the lesson plan itself and seem to be my main focus when planning. I began to think about the ways I engage my students in learning that I don’t record in my lesson plans. I thought about my specific ways of being with students during certain times of the day. The times I exude calmness and the times I exude excitement. I wondered about the times I use words of encouragement, constructive feedback and the moments I applaud students efforts. 

I wondered what would happen to my planning and teaching if I added notes into my plans like “remind students they are important” or “remind students to be safe this weekend”. 

As a newly permanent teacher, I am constantly reflecting on best practices and looking for ways to plan meaningfully and effectively. I am teaching virtually this year and often add additional information about my lessons into the “speaker notes” section of my Google Slides. As I was creating my lesson, I added in some of the above mentioned “unspecified” aspects into my plans. I wanted to explore how or if this practice would impact my teaching or have an effect on student learning. After implementing this practice for one week, here are my reflections:

  1. Adding notes about social and emotional learning into my lesson plans allowed me to continue to be mindful and check in with students about how they were feeling throughout the lesson and the school day itself. 
  2. The added positive notes and words of encouragement to my class were a great way to remind myself that, along with my students, I am also doing the best I can.
  3. My focus remained on my students, rather than the curriculum. Especially during reporting periods, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the worry of meeting curriculum expectations. Adding in my “unspecified” notes grounded me to what was most important. 
  4. Even with my “unspecified” notes, I noticed that I still added meaningful dialogue into each necessary moment. Even though there are daily reminders or common phrases we say to our students – there is no way to predict what each of our individual learners are going to need to be successful or feel loved that day. There is no plan other than to be responsive.

What are the unspecified parts of your lesson plans?

Please note: 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.

 

Saying you care is not enough…

This month, students in our board completed a survey where they answered 60 questions related to their feelings in school. They answered questions about many topics which I assume will give a detailed account of how students view our board. Some of the questions were:

  1. How often are you taught about women, people of colour, Indigenous People and the LGBTQ community? (Often, sometimes, not at all)
  2. How often do you see posters around your school that you feel reflects an image of someone that looks like you?
  3. Do you feel safe when you come to school?
  4. Do you feel you had at least one caring adult in the building?
  5. Do you feel people would miss you if you were not at school?
  6. Do you have a friend/friend group at school?
  7. Do you feel that you have a purpose in your school?

As a grade 7/8 teacher, I know from experience what the answer to most of the above questions would be. Intermediate students often feel that they are never represented, that they are unsafe at school, that they can’t relate to any adults, that they are not relevant and that they do not belong. That is often the case in the intermediate grades because students start to reflect on the “perceived unfairness” of the world around them. But how do we as educators address these issues and the lack of sense of belonging that these teens feel?

These surveys were anonymous. So, unfortunately, I will not be able to see how my students answered the survey. Our board will share the results eventually which I am sure will create a need for new learning. However, our student success teacher created a similar survey last month and I was able to view the results to that survey. The answers shocked me. The students who I speak to the most during the day (since they often approach me for help with their relationships) shared that they felt they did not have a caring adult to speak to in the building. The students who appear to have the most friends shared that they feel that they have no friend group and that no one would miss them if they were absent from school.

I knew I had to have some private conversations to address these concerns, especially about the fact that they cannot connect with any adult in the building. The conversations that followed were very interesting. They knew that the staff would listen to what they had to say but they felt that they just pretended to care. They felt that they would only listen because it was their job, but that they didn’t actually care. It was very hard to convince my twelve and thirteen year old students that I would truly care about something that they were going through. Whatever had happened to these students in the past had led them to believe that adults would say one thing and mean another. I have a long road ahead to show these students that the teachers in their life will always be a positive support system.

I think it all comes back to instilling a positive class community. Taking time to have those conversations with your class about holidays that they celebrate, starting every Monday off with conversations about their weekend, taking time for fun activities are just a few things that can be done to show your students that you care. Also, remembering that at all times, the curriculum comes second to your students well-being and self-worth. I recognize once again the importance of creating that classroom community in September and remembering to take the time to listen to a student’s needs, even if it is when you are about to run out of the classroom at break. Actions speak louder than words and especially after that long period of online learning, students need to be reminded that we are there for them and that we care. Not because we have to but because we want to. I will continue to remind my students of that throughout the rest of this year, because saying that you care is not enough, you have to prove it.

Reminders to Myself

We have entered into more new territory this year as educators. In the 2019-2020 school year, we moved to emergency virtual learning. In the 2020-2021 school year, we navigated teaching in a pandemic. 

For the 2021-2022 school year, I like to call this new territory ‘still’ teaching in a pandemic. 

 

S    t   i   l    l.  Teaching in a pandemic. 

 

Our students feel this, their families feel this, and we feel this. 

Educators work hard every single day to create safe spaces for learning while supporting students mental health and well-being.

Students are exhausted. We are exhausted. We continue to listen and learn from students in order to be responsive, proactive and available to meet their needs.

If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly giving your students reminders.

Reminders to be brave, to take risks, to be kind. 

Reminders to be themselves, to take breaks, to breathe. 

Reminders that it is okay not to be okay, to feel sad, to cry. 

 

Are you giving these same reminders to yourself?

 

I decided to create a short, easy-to-remember list of reminders for myself. Here are my personal ‘words to live by’ for this school year: 

 

  1. I am enough. I often compare myself to others and feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. For me, this can feel like I am not doing enough to support my students, their families or involve myself in my school community. I will remind myself that I’m doing all that I can, with all that I have, and all that I know – I am on my own journey. 
  2. I deserve self-care. It is easy to spend each evening and weekend – working. I will remind myself it is okay to take breaks and enjoy the things I love (and that enjoying my weekend doesn’t mean I love my students any less). 
  3. I am human. I will make mistakes – and I will learn from them. I will allow myself to feel and give myself time to process strong emotions. 

 

You are enough, you deserve self-care and you are human.

 

What will you remind yourself of this year?

Dear New Teacher

Dear New Teacher, 

Welcome to the profession. Please know that you are seen and that during these times that many seem to call unprecedented, it’s ok to be nervous and uncertain about what it means to be a teacher this year. As a teacher of 12 years, I feel the same. I write to you in hopes that you will not give up as I sometimes am tempted to do, but that you will push through the tough moments that may come your way. I also write with a few pieces of advice that have been weighing on my heart and wished someone would have told me in my earlier years. Here goes.

You are more than a teacher

For years I thought much of my worth came from being a brilliant teacher. I gave so much to the profession both inside and outside of the school day. If someone needed something done, I often raised a hand, sometimes at the expense of myself. What the last few years have taught me is that I am so much more than my career. At the end of the day, teaching is rewarding, And yet, there will be times like the challenges that we have had over the last few years, where the reward may seem delayed or small in comparison to the work required. It’s in those times that we may need to dig deep and find our sources of inspiration from elsewhere. I urge you to take time and know what brings you joy. For me, it’s been walking and spending time with like-minded people with whom I can freely speak and who call me to critically think about my practice and life. In these relationships, there have been many moments to express the frustrations that come and moments to laugh and experience deep and lasting joy. My family has also been central in helping to take stock of what is most important. Time is fleeting so I’m making sure that I spend each day with those who matter most. When words elude me or I’m deep in thought about the work that needs to be done, art has been a source of expression. What brings you joy beyond the profession? What makes you get up in the morning, ready to embrace a new day? I urge you to take some time to find out because balance is essential in this profession. 

Mistakes will happen

I think sometimes we forget that teaching is a practice. I think of this word in its verb form: to perform an activity or skill repeatedly in order to improve or maintain one’s expertise. Practice implies that there is improvement being made and I think we need to leave room for and accept that mistakes will happen and it’s from those mistakes that we have the opportunity to learn. As I mentioned before, this is my twelfth year teaching, and I’m teaching something new and not what I had expected. You see, for the last few years, I have been working on my junior program, particularly in literacy, and have had some great ideas as I watched goals on my annual learning plan become accomplished. I had hope that this year, I would be able to further create with students but things have taken a different direction. Teaching prep, I’m learning how to time activities and lessons for 30 or 40 minute periods and doing this from grades 1 to 5. It’s the beginning and I’ve decided to be gracious with myself and to do my best. I’m learning from mistakes as I go and keeping my expectations reasonable. When you walk into your new building, I hope that you will try your best every day and be ok with the result. If things don’t work the first time, it’s ok. Try that lesson again or abandon it altogether. Your worth isn’t wrapped up in how successful or unsuccessful your lesson was. Reflect and try again tomorrow if you choose. It’s ok. 

Speak up

When you don’t understand or when you see something wrong, I urge you to speak up. The more you do, the easier it becomes for others to continue to do the same and to be heard. As one who has spoken up time and again, I know that it’s hard and that the risk is great. The fear of reprisal is something that many of us hold within and yet if we don’t speak up, nothing changes. If you are speaking from a place of privilege, I challenge you to consider what you are willing to give up so that others may have greater access. You will hear lots of talk of equity, I would ask you to consider what this talk really means and how we might move beyond the talk. I’ve heard it described as a “journey”. To me, this is a way of saying that it will take an undefined amount of time to learn and eventually, act. We can also take stops along the way at the things we like and move quickly past the things we don’t or that are uncomfortable. I ask you to demand tangible action when these talks arise. Ask what will be actually done in classrooms and schools to implement true equity. If you yourself don’t know what to do, take some time to learn. Reach out to others with whom you can learn. For far too long, there has been a small group who continues to put themselves on the line for what is right. Imagine the impact you can have by speaking up and doing what you know to be right for students and colleagues in your school. Please speak up. 

So there you have it. My words of advice. Not that you needed any but I thought I would just share. Mistakes will happen, so take it easy on yourself. Know that you are more than a teacher. Speak up. This year will certainly not be an easy one. I hope you take some moments to reflect and really sit with what it means to be a teacher in 2021.  Once again, welcome to the profession. 

Arianna

Milo Imagines The World

This year I am teaching a prep teacher. In this role, I am teaching a Grade 1/2 class virtually and it’s so interesting for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it’s been years since I have taught a primary grade. Secondly, in the past, I have had the opportunity to teach in person and when we’ve had to switch to virtual, we had already established our classroom community. Seeing these students virtually for only 40 minutes, 3 times a week, I’m slowly getting to know more about them and their interests. Last but not least, I’m teaching STEM and it’s been interesting thinking about access to materials when students are virtual and making sure that I keep in mind that STEM isn’t a specific subject or thing but rather a mindset that includes the development of a variety of skills, over time. 

As I have for years with many of my classes, I started this year with a picture book. This year’s book was Milo Imagines the World.  The publisher’s website describes the book as follows:

Milo is on a long subway ride with his older sister. To pass the time, he studies the faces around him and makes pictures of their lives. There’s the whiskered man with the crossword puzzle; Milo imagines him playing solitaire in a cluttered apartment full of pets. There’s the wedding-dressed woman with a little dog peeking out of her handbag; Milo imagines her in a grand cathedral ceremony. And then there’s the boy in the suit with the bright white sneakers; Milo imagines him arriving home to a castle with a drawbridge and a butler. But when the boy in the suit gets off on the same stop as Milo–walking the same path, going to the exact same place–Milo realizes that you can’t really know anyone just by looking at them.

We took our time digging through the pages and the imaginations of Milo as we read. I found the teacher’s guide helpful when it came to posing questions at different parts of the story and also being able to address Milo visiting his mom at the correctional facility. I found the rich conversations around families and our perceptions of others based on their looks so interesting because of the age of these students. Once again, the little people of the world rose to the occasion and we were able to have conversations about these important issues.

As a culminating activity for this book, students – like Milo – created their own images about their lives. We called these posters and spoke about how they share key information with our audience. Once we learned about colours and the size of our font, students got to organizing their own posters that shared different things about themselves with the rest of the class. From their family structures to things they like and are of significance to them, the students had the opportunity to present their posters to the class. Given the option to do it digitally or on paper, many choose to do their own drawings on paper and it was really neat to see their own stories come to life on their pages. It was a great way for me to get to know the students as they eagerly shared about themselves. 

As the year progresses, I’m hoping to continue to build on the classroom community we have already started. Critical and essential conversations around identity can be had at any age. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to start off the year this way and  I also look forward to working with students around building skills in creative ways. This is totally new for me and I’m interested in seeing where this takes us.

Please note: 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.