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.

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.

Play-Time: Virtual Style

As we are nearing the end of September, I begin to reflect on my first month as a virtual Kindergarten teacher. When creating our timetable for the school year, my teaching partner and I dedicated 30 minutes each day to unstructured, open play. 

During this 30 minute block, students share what they are playing with and discuss what they are building, creating or thinking. My teaching partner and I act as facilitators and extend learning by asking questions or helping students make connections between what they are playing (something that takes place naturally within classroom settings but takes some practice virtually). This practice seems unnatural at first, but with time the students are becoming more confident and excited to share. 

Here are the benefits of virtual play so far: 

  1. Play is universal and accessible for all of our learners regardless of ability
  2. Play is an opportunity for our English Language Learners to learn in a relevant and meaningful way while exploring the English language 
  3. Play is a great way for us as educators to get to know our learners, their interests and in what ways they like to learn 
  4. Virtual play gives our students the time and space to create relationships with educators and peers
  5. Play is an ‘easy to enter’ activity that gives students confidence in their own abilities and allows them to take safe risks while exploring new ideas, asking questions and challenging new theories 
  6. Including virtual play allows students to practice what they are learning while providing educators a window into their understandings
  7. Virtual play is fun and students look forward to it daily

As we continue to scaffold student learning and conversations during play, it is our hope that the play grows rich with language, ideas and creates connections between students virtually. 

It feels as though this virtual play time has similar (if not the same) benefits as play time held during in person learning. Here are some of the major differences and barriers that we have seen so far:

  1. Students do not all have the same materials
  2. Students are becoming comfortable engaging in dramatic play experiences with each other but cannot collaborate with learning materials or practice sharing toys
  3. Play happens all the time, every day. We are not often viewing students play experiences outdoors or in areas outside of their learning space. 
  4. Students take time to unmute themselves before sharing. For those learning this new skill, the task of unmuting in itself can derail the student’s thought process. Unmuting can take time away from a students ability to share their natural and initial thoughts, feelings and ideas (Next step: playing in a small group). 

Overall, play time has been a very special time in our virtual Kindergarten classroom. We will continue to evolve and listen to our students, as we navigate our way though challenges and grow as virtual play partners. 

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.

Educational Perfection

As we end another school year and look forward to summer vacation, I think back to my first years in education and what summer “vacation” looked like for me. July was spent taking additional qualification courses and most of August was spent prepping and planning. It wasn’t really much of a vacation.  So why did I do it? Two reasons. I am passionate about learning and I am a (now recovering) perfectionist-especially as an educator.

I must have thought there was some kind of a prize for having the tidiest, prettiest and well organized classroom. I wanted my classroom to look like something out of the Scholar’s Choice catalogue. The custodians would be annoyed at having me in the school and I would wait anxiously for them to be finished waxing our hallway so that I could get in and set up my classroom. I needed everything to match. If I had baskets for items in the classroom they had to all be the same colour. It isn’t always easy to find 24 of the same basket at the Dollar Store.  Before the students started in September I felt the need to have labels on all of their notebooks, duo tangs and I even labelled their pencils. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to control the environment for my students. My classroom looked like a showroom on the first day of school and I would spend the next 194 days trying to maintain that standard. Our first printing practice lesson (because we still did that back then) was to practice writing “A place for everything and everything in it’s place.” When I think back now to all of the time and energy that I wasted not allowing learning to get messy I shake my head. It was exhausting.

After twenty plus years in education I’ve learned a few things about educational perfectionism and letting go of control in order to empower the learners in the classroom. When I was given a portable for a classroom that I wasn’t able to get into much before school started I panicked at first.  I didn’t have space or time to create a showroom. I decided to give the design over to the grade 4-5 students.  I still had labelled duo tangs and a place for each of them to put their things that was their space ready on the first day but the rest, we did together. It built community, it gave the students ownership and it gave me some of my summer back. If you’ve ever taught in a portable that has the coat racks inside, winter is a bit of a nightmare for an organizational freak but eventually I let it go. We still had a tidy classroom because their wasn’t enough space to be too messy but the organization of things didn’t stifle the learning. We learned how to paint in a portable without water using buckets and trips into the school. We brought lawn chairs to school at sat outside at reading time. I loved our little cabin in the woods.

As educators we have a lot of people that we are accountable to in our jobs. Students, families, administrators, our board and our communities are all stakeholders in what we do. The pressure to be perfect in our roles can be overwhelming and paralyzing. What educators do each day is literally driven by “overall and specific EXPECTATIONS”. It took time for me to realize that the expectations that I was putting on myself were much higher than those of anyone else. It took reflection to realize that perfectionism isn’t the badge of honour that I thought it once was and that it was making my life more difficult. I came to understand that it isn’t the room or the resources that make me a good educator.  It is about the connections and relationships with my students and their families that matter. It is about embracing the Ms. Frizzle moments and rolling with it.  If I’ve learned anything from COVID-19 it is that being flexible and letting go of what I cannot control are the keys to staying out of perfectionism. I plan on guarding my summer vacation as I would a medical specialist’s appointment but I’ll likely take a few professional resource books along to read in the waiting room.

 

The Importance of Trust

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to uncertainty and change in education.  Just when I think I have a handle on the way things are going to go for the week there is a Government announcement that changes the plan.  I am “pivoting” so much I have motion sickness. When decisions that affect a work environment seem to be constantly changing, trust becomes more important than ever.  In a recent video “How Leaders Build Trust,” author and leadership thought leader Simon Sinek, describes trust:  “Trust is a feeling. It is earned and evolves based on a series of actions that prove that you are worthy of trust.  It creates a sense of belonging.  When you don’t feel trust or without a circle of safety, we inherently concern ourselves with our own survival and become cynical, selfish and paranoid.  You become convinced that everything is trying to hurt you.  We do things to protect ourselves.”  In her book “Braving the Wilderness”, author Berne Brown says that “in the absence of communication we make up stories and the majority of what we tell ourselves isn’t true.  In fact, our brain goes into self-protection mode and those stories that we make up are often exaggerate our worst fears and insecurities.” It is hard to learn or work when you are in self protection mode.

In learning more about culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy, I have noticed that a common keystone element in what I’ve been reading is that trust is crucial to creating a truly inclusive classroom.  In the famous YouTube video “Every Kid Needs a Champion” educator and speaker Rita Pierson stated, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”  I would go one step further to say that even more so, kids aren’t likely to learn from people they don’t trust.

So how do we create an environment of trust in which students can be their absolute best? More specifically how do we do this at a time when we are teaching students over Google Meet, through a PPE shield and mask or even through video that students watch asynchronously? I think that we do it the same way we would in a pre-COVID classroom.  One small interaction at a time.  I recently experienced an a-ha moment while engaging in a webinar called “The Neuroscience of Trust” presented by Dr. Rumeet Billan.  According to Dr. Billan; “Trust is something that has to be given to you and needs to be earned.”  Trust is something that comes from repeated behaviours that demonstrate that we are worthy of trust.  When we repeatedly demonstrate that we listen actively, show authentic care and empathy, we generate trust.  When we provide opportunities that deliberately and intentionally extend trust, such as giving students voice and choice in their learning, we generate trust.  When we provide actionable and meaningful feedback to students and celebrate their learning goals with them, we generate trust.  When we provide learning opportunities for students to make mistakes, when we celebrate the learning from mistakes and provide an opportunity to try again, we generate trust.  When we genuinely demonstrate transparency with students such as admitting to not knowing all of the answers about a concept or sharing times where we have failed and persevered, we generate trust.

Creating an environment of trust with our students and with our colleagues is something that we have to work on daily. It is currency that we build up with one another to draw on in a time of need.  I think of creating an environment of trust like learning how to play a musical instrument.  You cannot learn to play an instrument by practicing for seven hours straight.  You need to practice daily in order to become truly proficient.  When you don’t practice, you get rusty.  When things in my classroom feel as if they are particularly stressful or students are exhibiting behaviours that are uncharacteristic, I usually come to the realization that it is because  trust has eroded between us.  It might be that I haven’t been recognizing their accomplishments as readily.  It might be that I haven’t been giving them challenging opportunities to learn that extends trust to them to persevere and practice resilience. It may be that I haven’t followed through on something that I said was going to happen.  When I come to those realizations I have to go back to the student and repair that trust. Ignoring the event will only widen the gap. If we want kids to be innovative, creative and take risks a psychologically safe space with mutual trust is essential.  It doesn’t happen overnight but by making it a priority, amazing learning will happen.

Write On!

I love to write, and I hope that my enthusiasm for the writing process inspires and encourages my Grade 2 students to write on!

VIP:

At the beginning of the year, we are working together to create a brave and inclusive community where everyone is recognized as a “very important person”.  The VIP program celebrates one student each day.  Everybody has a story, and we learn about the VIP by listening and asking questions.  Together, we talk about what good writers do as we write several sentences about the VIP.  We notice the letters in their name and practice printing them correctly.  Then, everyone draws a picture and writes about the VIP.  These pages are collected and sent home as a book for the VIP to share with their family.

On the first day of school, I was the VIP to model the process.  Yes, I was wearing a cape at the time, to demonstrate our superhero arms-distance protocol, and to reinforce that we all have superpowers.

The Peace Book:

Every year on September 21, we recognize the International Day of Peace as part of Peace Week.  Peace Week is an excellent opportunity to introduce and/or review the Zones of Regulation and practice mindfulness strategies.  We share ideas about when we feel peaceful, and brainstorm agreements for how we might resolve conflicts and solve problems in our community.  We sing songs and read stories about peace and justice.  After reading “The Peace Book,” by Todd Parr, we created our own classroom book inspired by his book.

Poetry:

In the early primary years, students are growing as readers and writers.  We all require support to become more independent and confident in our new learning.  Writing prompts and predictable structures can help emergent writers to get started and complete their work.

On the first day of fall, we wrote short poems called “Good-Bye Summer!  Hello Fall!”  We generated ideas for our writing by sharing what we love about summer and fall in a Knowledge Building Circle.  We also used Drama to play out our favourite activities and connect our bodies to our learning.  We sang songs about the signs of fall, drew pictures, and wrote about what we noticed in our Nature Journals.

MSI:

In my first year of teaching, I started as a Long-Term Occasional from October-June.  The teacher who left was exemplary, and she had established a program called MSI: Math-Science Investigation, which I continue to this day.  Before STEAM, there was MSI.  It involves solving problems through building.

During MSI, I invite students to build a structure connected to our current inquiry (e.g., build a structure that includes a repeating pattern, build a habitat for an animal, etc.)  After building with different materials (e.g., pattern blocks, straws and connectors, corks, Lego, etc.) students will write and draw about their structures in their Math Journals.

 

When I asked students to build a structure connected to water, they made: a hydroelectric dam, salmon, a lake, pipes, a boat, and a machine that turns saltwater into freshwater.

Toy Day:

Every 6-8 weeks, I organize a Toy Day in our classroom.  On this day, everyone is invited to bring a toy to share.  We use these toys as provocations for many learning activities in the classroom, including Drama, Math, Writing, Media Literacy, Art, etc.

At the beginning of Grade 2, I am collecting diagnostic assessment data about my students, and I always use the Grade 1 Ministry of Education writing exemplar, which is descriptive writing about My Toy.  After sharing and playing with our toys, students are motivated to write and draw about their toy.

Goal-Setting:

COVID-19 has impacted student learning in different ways.  There might be gaps in achievement, which need to be identified before we can build new skills.  I will use the assessment data to develop individual short-term writing goals with each student, and support everyone to work towards meeting their goals.  When students work towards individual goals that are “just right” for them, they can always feel successful.  These writing goals will also be shared with families, to strengthen the home-school connection and encourage a relationship of collaborative assessment.

Say Less, Ask More

Sometimes the smallest change can make a huge difference, especially in education. Things such as greeting students individually upon arrival at school can set the tone for the entire day.  Small changes in habitual behaviours can improve communication and relationships with students.

Over the last few months I’ve been reading the work of Michael Bungay Stanier.  Most recently I’ve been reading “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More and Change the Way You Lead Forever”.  I admit, that at first blush, it doesn’t sound as though this book has much relevance to elementary education.  However, as I was reading I kept making connections to communicating with students more effectively to encourage independence.  As learning becomes more inquiry based in many classrooms, teachers are having to move into more of a coaching role.  I think that the education sector as a whole has made some assumptions that teachers know how to be effective coaches and facilitators.  In my own teaching practice, there has been a huge learning curve.  Teaching through inquiry isn’t about leaving students to their own devices.  Students generally aren’t familiar with the curriculum and other than being children, they aren’t experts on child development.  Educators have to be guides for student learning.  But what exactly does that mean and how do we transition to this type of teaching?

For me the biggest change and challenge in becoming more of a guide in my classroom was talking less and letting the students do the learning. I am a problem solver, helper and rescuer and I’m sure many teachers can relate, which is why it is so hard to be quiet and back off.  I’ve also learned that asking questions might be easy, but asking effective questions is a skill for teachers and students alike.

So what did I learn from a “coaching” book that might help a classroom teacher? Keep in mind, these examples might be better suited for the older grades.  You might need to keep it a bit more simple for Kindergarten.  However, in most cases, better questions get better answers.  Here are some examples:

A student comes in from recess and is visibly upset.  Instead of asking, “What’s wrong? Did something happen at recess?  Can I help?”  Try asking just one question, “What’s on your mind?” and then be quiet and listen. The question “What’s on your mind?” is a focused question and invites someone to get into the heart of the matter. Sometimes all that is needed is a venting session and the child feels better.  You don’t always have to be a rescuer or problem solver. Most of the time, kids just want to be heard.

Normally in a situation like this I’ll ask, “Can I help?’ or “Would you like some help?”  However, the small change to “HOW can I help?” helps the student to articulate their request.  In addition, it gives them the opportunity to identify the solution and not have the adult jump in to solve things for them.

Tweaking the questions that we ask could improve communication and lead to more effective answers.  In addition, asking focused questions could empower students and lead to more independence. Michael’s work and questioning techniques are helpful for dealing with the people in your workplace.  You can sign up for Michael Bungay Stanier’s “The Coaching Habit” Podcast online and find other great coaching resources at Box of Crayons .

 

Triggers and Habits in Teaching Part One

Dreaded Seating Arrangements

Almost every teacher I talk to says, “I have a really difficult class this year.”  The difficulties identified are most often tied to “behaviour” issues.  In my experience effective classroom “management” can be connected to dynamic programming and developing solid relationships with students. Many of us go to things like Class Dojo or incentive programs to “manage” behaviour and some have their merits.  However, they might “manage” behaviour, but does it help student to learn to self-regulate?  I understand that there are students who have behaviour safety plans that can provide challenges and I do not mean to downplay the effect that even one student’s behaviour can have on an entire class.  However, there are ways in which we can have small tweaks in our triggers and habits in teaching that will have a positive outcome on developing a community of learners.

So what is a trigger?  A trigger in psychological terms can  used to describe sensations, images or experiences that re-visit a traumatic memory.  It can also mean to make something happen very quickly; a reaction.  It is also referred to as an event that kicks off the automatic urge to complete a habit.*  Habits are seen as something that people do often or regularly.  Habits can even be unconscious behaviours and sometimes difficult to stop.  What do triggers and habits have to do with teaching?

Over the years I think I have become more self aware in the classroom about my own triggers and habits.  It is easy to continue to do a routine in a classroom simply because it is something that we have always done. Even when we have sound pedagological reasoning, it can be difficult to change or cease a habit. For example, for many years I put names on the desks of students before they entered the classroom on the first day of school.  I don’t really know why I began this habit.  Besides a wedding, some kind of gala or a reservation at a restaurant, I get to choose where I sit every day.  It is a fairly important life skill.  I’m not going to find my name on a seat on the city bus.  Once I recognized that this routine was purely out of habit and was “triggered” by the first day of school, I decided to change it up.  On the first day of school with a grade 4-5 class, the students came into the room and sat wherever they wanted. I admit that this made the perfectionist in me who loves order, routine and habit rather uncomfortable.  I had some students sit in groups, some in pairs and some on their own.  Then we had a class meeting about how they had felt when they entered the room and had to make their seating choice.  There was talk of anxiousness, sweaty palms, heart rate increase, fear of missing out and for some it was no big deal.  I decided to create a google form to survey the students about where to sit in the classroom, how often we would change it up and who would decide.  The results of the survey were fascinating.  Some students wanted me to choose where they sat and wanted to have that same spot every day for 194 days.  Some never wanted to “sit” in a group but wanted to be a part of it during group work time.  We came up with a plan that each Monday the students would choose where to sit for the week and the students who wanted a regular spot would be able to keep it and the other students would respect their choices without question.  We also had some extra choices for seating that students could go to if their choices for that week weren’t working out.  The students gained incredible insight into self-regulation.  I heard things like, “I sat with Gracie all week and we’re such good friends, I didn’t get my work done so I’m not going to sit with her next week.”  or  “I don’t hang out with Olivia but I know she is a serious student so I’d like to sit with her in a group.”

It isn’t easy to be self aware while we are trying to keep our head above water, collect permission forms, listen to announcements, adjust our day plan for the assembly that was announced, deal with a parent that wants to chat in the hallway AND teach curriculum.  I GET that…however, being aware of triggers and habits and making small tweaks to our teaching behaviour can make a big difference in our classroom community.

*106:Triggers-The Key to Building and Breaking Habits, Chris Sparks, 2018

 

I Am From Poems – Building A Positive Classroom Community

I’m hoping that it’s been a great start back for everyone! The month has certainly gone by quickly. Having been out of the classroom for a year and being at a new school community, it was definitely all nerves on the first day. I always try to keep in mind that students might be feeling the same way walking into the new school year. While many of my students have been in the same school together since kindergarten, I have a few students who are new to our school this year and have been thinking of ways to make sure that they feel right at home in our classroom. 

Building a positive classroom community is important starting from day one. As a part of building our classroom community, I often ask students to consider who they are as individuals and what they bring to our classroom space. One activity that I have enjoyed over the years is creating I Am From poems. In the past I’ve jumped right into creating We Are From poems where students work with a partner to find commonalities and differences and share them to the larger group. Once they have created a joint poem, we combine different parts of each poem to create one large classroom poem where everyone is reflected.  This year, instead of creating We Are From poems, we started off instead by creating our own individual poems to share with each other. 

You might be wondering what I Am From Poems are. For years, educators have used George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From poem to inspire students to consider their own narratives. While there are different templates that can be used, I use this template to help guide my students in creating their own. 

On the second day of school, the students in my class were tasked with thinking about who they are and where they are from, learning that our experiences shape who we are as individuals, along with other factors in our lives. By the end of the week, rough copies of amazing poems were complete and students were thinking about the symbols they would use to represent their identities. Just in time for our Curriculum Night, good copies of our poems went up and we had the chance to create continuous line portraits to accompany them. 

Identity work is so important for building a safe and caring classroom community. What ideas do you have for this year? How are students showing who they are and bringing their experiences to the classroom and their learning? If you have great ideas, please share them here!