kids these days – educator version

I googled “kids these days” to see what would pop up on my browser and was neither surprised nor happy. In fact there was a complete absence of anything necessary to help me create a catchy opening. By necessary, I mean humorous. 

Of the 4.1 billion possibilities: a bunch of clichéd book titles, a podcast, and some music videos were all that filled the first page. Despite my optimism, all I got was not a lot. So much for this roundabout approach yielding anything interesting as a way to set this piece up. I gave it a shot, and based solely on such underwhelming search results, it is on to plan B.

Plan B: In other, more accurate, words, “the kids are alright”.

For the past month, I have been working with a teacher candidate (TC) from a Toronto area university. Happily, I might add. He now joins a mighty group of amazing educators (14+) who have patiently pursued and plied their practice in my classroom. For the record, the expression shared in the title of this post has yet to enter my thoughts when I consider the preparation, professionalism, and passion being shared each day through our interactions, in the classroom with students, and among the rest of our school community. And when you thought that things couldn’t get any better, our school has been fortunate enough to welcome an additional 3 other teacher candidates into our classes.  

Life is good and it is happening at the speed of education everyday at my school, and it is aided, in part, by the presence of 4 teacher’s in training. We are fortunate to be sure, but it could and needs to happen more often. Which was why it came as a surprise prior to welcoming my TC, to learn it has been a struggle to find host teachers. 

Granted, the last 2 or 3 years must have been very difficult for new teachers to find placements in host schools due to reasons well beyond anyone’s control. At first it was understandable as we were all forced back and forth between our school and home bases to teach on line for the first two years of COVID19, and then came the soul murdering hy&r!d learning model that still triggers my gag reflex each time I think about it. Despite the pile up of so many uncontrollable obstacles, pivots, and uncertainties I still happily welcomed 3 teacher and 4 CYW candidates into our school community. Difficult yes, yet still possible and worth it every time. 

I get that the idea of hosting a student teacher right now might be something educators have put to the side for a while, but now that we are back to school, for now, there is still a lot of upside to a TC in the new non-normal we are teaching in. With another practicum cycle only 5-6 weeks away, I wanted to share this post to encourage you all to consider being a host teacher/mentor at your school. Yes there is additional work to do, and it is worth it. 

So here is my pitch: we need more teachers to host teacher candidates. 

Here goes: firstly, without adding too much sentimentality, we all owe our host teachers some props for helping us as we were getting started. This friendly yet simple reminder never hurts once in a while. I know that my experiences as a TC all those years ago continue to anchor my practice in some way. Whether it was based in inquiry, equity, or photocopied busy work, the potential impact of those first 100 days in the classroom are what equipped me to become a host teacher. For the record, I left the photocopying busy work behind almost immediately.

Imagine if you could go back to when you were a student teacher. What advice would you have wanted to hear? What noise would you have tuned out? This is what pushes our profession forward. My goal remains to help each student teacher turn ripples of potential into limitless waves of possibility long beyond their practicums.

Even those who have not considered because they are newer to the profession I encourage you to do it. Imagine the opportunity to reflect on the growth you have made since you were in their shoes? Imagine the wisdom you have gained since you walked into the classroom as an OT, an LTO, and now as a teacher with a contract? It’s time to give back and get even more in return. 

Are there benefits?

Yes. No classroom is ever hindered by having a well prepared and supportive additional educator in the room. Need more? Sprinkle in daily doses of fresh thinking around curriculum, assessment, and educational philosophy as part of the deal. The daily conversations with my TC have been reflective and thought provoking. It is a two way superhighway of ideas and next steps. Still on the fence? Student teachers are extremely enthusiastic about planning units and lessons, and make good collaborators whether it is in planning or co-moderated assessment. 

Are there drawbacks? 

I have asked folx from different schools what their take on the idea of hosting TCs, and the answers have lined up pretty consistently in favour of them. I have also heard, “Oh, they are a lot of work and I don’t want to take that on that responsibility and paperwork.” This is a valid answer at times, and yes there is a bit of paperwork (mostly digital now), but is often used far too often without realizing the benefits, ideas, and support that a TC brings as well. Any additional work is far outweighed by their contributions in support of students. 

“I had a student teacher once, and they tried to take over my class.” There is always a possibility that a very excited and ambitious educator will come bouncing through your door for their practicum, but it is also a chance for you to impart that wisdom you’ve worked so hard on accumulating. If it is not going to be a good fit, be honest about it right away. I did have occasion to decline working with a candidate after the first day it became very clear they were neither prepared nor able to work respectfully with the students in my classroom. 

“I am not used to giving over control of my classroom.” I get it. We are used to ‘be the one and only’ in our classrooms however fresh views and voices bring a level of excitement along with them and it is good to learn how to let go knowing that you are not abdicating your role, but making room to equip the next generation. 

By sheer amount of space on the page devoted to the pros and cons of having a student teacher, it might appear that there are more downsides, but that is only a visual ruse. By far, working with teacher candidates over the past decade has provided a great deal of personal growth along with it. I hope you can make room for them in yours. 


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:


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,


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. 


Attitude of Gratitude

I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness -- it's right in front of me if I'm paying attention and practicing gratitude.

Many years ago I remember watching a gratitude themed Oprah episode.  There was a gratitude journal that the guest had developed and was relaying all of the benefits of writing down things that you were grateful for each day.  The power of suggestion (I’m a sucker for an impulse buy for self-improvement) lead me to the nearest Chapters to purchase one of those journals that weekend.  I certainly didn’t fill that journal. I think I lost interest in a couple of months because it felt as though I was writing the same thing over and over again.  I realize now that gratitude, like mindfulness and meditation, is a “practice.”

Gratitude practice is most effective when life is rough.  It sounds counterintuitive.  It is much easier to be grateful when things are going well right?  Easy to “count your blessings” when you are sitting on a beach in a resort in the Dominican Republic.  I personally feel the power of the gratitude practice when life isn’t going according to plan.  Though, I want to be clear here, there is a fine line between true gratitude practice and “looking on the bright side” or “finding the silver lining.”  That bright-side-silver-lining thinking can border on toxic positivity which isn’t helpful.

Gratitude practice means different things to different people.  For me, it is connected to daily journaling.  Each night since the fall I have been writing about my day in terms of gratitude before going to bed. Some nights I might write for 5 minutes.  Some nights I write for a half hour.  It might read something like, “I’m grateful that we got outside for a walk, that my son felt good about his essay after all of the struggles and tears, that we were able to eat a healthy meal, for Hello Fresh being delivered to my door and for the opportunity to reach out and connect to some new teachers through professional learning today.”  I try to reflect on the events of my day in terms of gratitude.  I could write in my journal that the technology in my professional learning session that day was glitchy, we got off to a rocky start trying to get everyone into the WebEx room, and there were links that didn’t work even though I had tested them twice. Instead, I choose to be grateful for the connection and discussion that I had with the teachers that day.  It isn’t that I ignore that bad things happen or think about how things can be improved, but ruminating on the bad things that happened during the day right before going to bed isn’t going to ensure much of a restful sleep.

In some of the professional learning opportunities that I have recently hosted with new teachers we have discussed the struggles of the current climate in the classroom.  It is important to have a safe place for teachers to voice those concerns and have someone listen with compassion and empathy and ask curious questions.  I will often say that there are many things that I can’t help them with, but that I am there to “embrace the suck” with them.   At the conclusion of those discussions my final question is always, “What is a recent personal or professional success that you’ve experienced that you would like to share with the group?”  This ends the discussion on a note of gratitude. It is SO easy to get caught up in venting and complaining about the situation in education right now. Teaching it is NOT an easy job on any given day but the difficulties have grown exponentially with the pressures that COVID has added.  So when we can take a moment to remember why we continue to go to work each day, why we got into the job in the first place and what our recent wins have been, I think it brings a feeling of hope.

Sometimes I practice gratitude in a less formal way that is more like mindfulness.  Recently while walking on a treed trail on a bright, sunny, winter day with my best friend, I stopped mid sentence and just looked around at the beauty.  I said to my friend, “I just had to take a minute to take this in.  We are so fortunate to be able to walk here.”  It only took a moment.  I don’t do that all of the time, we’d never get anywhere on our walks! However, remembering to do it every so often helps me to deal with stress and the bad things when they do happen.  If in the moment of a stressful situation I can take a moment to breathe and practice gratitude it sometimes keeps the emotions from escalating.  When conversing with someone who is frustrated and perhaps complaining or lashing out I try to remember that this person is doing the best they can at that moment and that each opportunity to interact with someone who is suffering is a chance to learn and I try to be grateful for that.  Author Andrea Owen in her book, “How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t” would call it an AFOG-another flipping opportunity for growth.  When I remember to think about gratitude in a not so great moment, I might do it raised shoulders and through gritted teeth, but I keep trying.  It is, after all a practice.

“If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough.” -Brene Brown

Basketball players.

Picking Each Other Up

Just like most people in all of Canada these past few weeks, I have been watching a crazy amount of basketball. Go Raptors!! One thing I love about basketball is that every time one of the players is on the floor, his teammate is there to put his hand out and pick him up. I think teachers need to take the same approach with each other.

I have a brand-new role this year and there have been some days that I have left school and thought well “that sucked”. I didn’t say the exact right thing to a parent, I didn’t handle a behaviour situation correctly and today my one student flat out told me I was not her friend. Not exactly sunshine and rainbows. We are generally very hard on ourselves because we want the best for our students every day. Since we are so hard on ourselves, it is important that we pick each other up every time we are lying down on the court.

There are so many days in my current role where I lack confidence. I am new to the role and I second guess myself a lot. I guess that comes with being an experienced teacher. I was very confident and experienced in my previous role and it was hard to go some place new and feel like I was back at the beginning of my learning.

Some of my colleagues have been amazing at picking me up off the floor on those tough days.  My favourite was a friend putting her plans aside and saying let’s have a coffee and talk through this issue that is worrying you. She asked me some amazing guiding questions and then looked at me and said this is hard and there is no easy answer. She then asked “Do you have the supports to help you learn how to help this student?” “Is there anything I can do to support?” And finally she looked at me with all the confidence in the world and said “You will get this, it will just take time”. She picked me up about 7 times during the conversation and I left the coffee shop feeling so much better!

Over my career, I have heard some colleagues be less supportive with each other. There are two common things that are sometimes said amongst teachers that definitely leave teachers on the court stranded.

“That doesn’t happen in my room.”  This sentence always drives me absolutely crazy!!!!!!!  There are always so many factors that could contribute to difficulty in a different setting that has nothing to do with the teacher or teaching. Depending on the subject it may include noise levels, physical structure to the space, interest in the subject etc. Even if it is the teaching style saying “this doesn’t happen in my room” is not really helpful. Instead, if a colleague approaches with a concern about a student it would be so much better to ask them if there is anything you can do to help make the situation better.

My number 2 pet peeve is “If that student was in my class, I’d straighten them out/they wouldn’t be having these problems.”I have yet to meet a teacher who didn’t have a challenging student at some point in their career. We have all been there. It is important that we offer help to each other when we are taking time to figure out our students.

Our job is hard, we need to be kind to each other. Make sure that you put out your hand to pick someone else when they are on the court.

Go Raptors!!


The Gender Gap in Technology

Quote for blog

According to a recent report* by ICTC (the Information and Technology Information Council) Canadian women represent about 50% of the overall workforce but represent only 25% of the technology industry workforce.  Of the 100 major tech companies in Canada only 5 have female CEOs and 1 Co-CEO.   26% of the tech companies have no women in senior leadership at all.  There is a gender wage gap in the industry of $7,000-$20,00 per year.  When I read these statistics I wondered as educators, what can we do about the gender gap in technology?  This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to begin:

1.  Build her confidence in her abilities.

2. Cultivate a community of supportive peers.

3.  Provide a STEM/STEAM club for girls.

4. Ensure that access to technology and computer experiences is encouraged and inclusive.

5. Foster interest in computing careers.

6. Be a role model as a LEARNER.

May 11th is National Girls Learning Code Day.  If you are looking to encourage coders in your school, why not begin on May 11th?  Below you will find links to resources for beginning coding.  Many students code on their own at home and may appreciate the opportunity to mentor fellow students.  The resources attached will get you started.  There is no special equipment or robotics required.  Teachers do not have to be expert coders to encourage their students.  Teachers can be role models of resilience, risk taking and problem solving by learning alongside their students.  Teachers only need to open the door and expose their students to the opportunities.

Girls Who Code Canada

National Girls Learn Code Day

Canada Learning Code


Hour of Code


*Cutean, A., Ivus, M. (2017). The Digital Talent Dividend: Shifting Gears in a Changing Economy. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Ottawa, Canada.

Elaborated and written by Alexandra Cutean (Director, Digital Innovation Research and Policy). and Maryna Ivus (Senior Analyst, Research and Policy) with generous support from the ICTC Research and Policy Team.

Believing in the power of a mentor to support new educators

It’s Progress Report time in many school boards this week. Once again, ETFO colleagues have typed and tweaked their thoughts about student stemming from conversations, observations, and products onto reports that capture “the learning” thus far. This annual first rite of assessment seems to come earlier and earlier each year, but is an important opportunity to map out the learning for then next 7 + months. Then there’s the meeting scheduling and organizing in addition to our already crammed days. So, how are you doing?

Have you had time to catch your breath since the start of the year?

I know the first weeks in the classroom seem to fly by for all of us. Regardless of years experience, it’s a hectic time of year.  This can be especially difficult for new teachers who find themselves working before/after school as well as during evenings and weekends at home to plan, prepare, and assess. All this, in addition to trying to have a personal life that may include time with friends and family or just to be still. To no one’s surprise, the hours that educators invest in their calling are often spent in equal proportions in and out of the classroom. So how are you doing?

What would you change about the first 11 weeks of your year?

Over the years, I have enjoyed numerous conversations with new teachers at Progress Report time. For many new educators, it is the first time that they have had the time to reflect on what has gone on since the first bell in September. Many have shared that they are tired and feel a little overwhelmed by the pace and volume of work. It is not uncommon for new teachers to go through a case of the November Blahs where their energy level has waned a bit from the beginning of the year.

The first question I usually ask after “So how are you doing?” is, “Are you connecting with your colleagues to divide and conquer or are you stuck inside the walls of your classroom?” In my first year as a teacher, I made the mistake of not asking for help because I thought I could solve my own problems as they presented themselves. I did not want to appear weak to my new colleagues or admin. Needless to say, come November of the first year, things were deteriorating. So I suffered. Which means my students suffered too.

Long nights, failed planning, missed opportunities, and frustration were my regular companions at work and at home. I did not feel like I was taking advantage of the natural mentors in the building that first year. However, by my second year, my eyes and mind were open to any and all who were willing to offer their wisdom, guidance, and resources. By taking myself out of my fortress and asking for help I was able to redirect/rescue/re-invigorate my instruction and outlook.

After that point, suffering was optional. I chose to seek out the support of others when things became murky or began to go off course. It was humbling to know that the people I turned to for help had my best interests at heart. Knowing that I did not have to have it all together every moment of the day was like removing a giant gorilla from my back that was constantly whispering, “You don’t need any help. You can do this on your own. Don’t let anyone think your weak.”

Having a peer mentor to turn to has become a cornerstone of my personal development. In turn, I try to support my colleagues when they need someone in their corner. Perhaps when this time rolls around each year the first question I ask teachers is, “So how are you doing?”

Kindness and Gratitude

My hope in asking for a junior division assignment was that the students would be more independent however, I also knew that in exchange, I would be likely dealing with the issues of the tumultuous “tween” years.  My expectations for this group were particularly high because I had taught nearly half of them for two years in grades 1 and 2 and I felt as though I knew them pretty well.  Unfortunately, we have been having social issues in our classroom and the students are having difficulty treating each other with kindness.  I wasn’t prepared to have to “teach” kindness and gratitude at this age.  After 20 years in the primary grades, I suppose I assumed they would already know how to be kind.  Let me be clear.  They are not horrible kids and having raised two kids through the “tweenage” years I know the behaviour is driven by hormones etc.,  Kindness becomes more complicated in the junior grades as the social constructs change and being popular and fitting in becomes that much more important.  What I’m trying to get across to the students is that kindness is actually more powerful than being mean but they aren’t yet all buying into it…yet.  I’m not giving up.

We started by reading the book “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio together as a class.   After every few pages there was so much to unpack in discussion with the students about empathy, “precepts” for living and loyalty in friendship.  In discussions, the students were easily able to empathize the injustices suffered by Auggie and were angered by the actions of the antagonist, Julian. We also went to see the movie in order to compare the stories and they thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were thoughtful in their assessment of the themes and the major differences.  In reality, however, they were having a hard time putting all of this knowledge into practice with one another.

I needed to dig a little deeper and do some research and I happened upon a great website connected to the book; #choosekind is a campaign attached to Palacio’s book and it started us on a journey of kindness.  We’ve also been using lesson plans from the Random Acts of Kindness website and have begun daily gratitude journals.  We started restorative circles using our talking stick using Restorative Circle prompts. We have created our rules and agreement for our circle.  It has been a slow start because we are starting with topics that are allowing students to relate to one another and are not value or character based sensitive topics yet as we work to build trust in the circle.  Our first couple of prompts were, “What are 3 things that you cannot live without?” and “Who is your hero?” Not everyone is able to come up with something right away and sometimes we have to circle back, but it is a beginning.

We also wanted to do something as a class that was more global and would make an impact on people whom we didn’t even know.  In Peterborough, we have a store called Under One Sun.  They are part of a larger organization that supplies crafts from artisans in Haiti, “Restoring Dignity Through Artistry”.   We decided to participate in a Christmas ornament fundraiser which helps to create jobs and sustain families in Haiti. Some of the money goes to the artisans for healthcare, childcare, education and materials and some of the money comes back to the school.  Our class of 22 students alone sold more than $1000.00 worth of ornaments.  This fundraiser makes a difference in our community and for families living in Haiti and broadens our student’s awareness of global issues of poverty.  In addition, we are going to learn how to make paper bead jewelry ourselves as gifts for our own families.

As we move into the holiday season, December is a great month to think about giving, gratitude and kindness.  We are going to be working with the Senior Centre down the street, hanging our art work, singing songs to entertain and presenting a dramatic re-telling of “A Promise is a Promise” written by Robert Munsch.  We have created a kindness calendar which includes random acts of kindness for each day that do not cost money.  Hopefully, day by day, discussion by discussion the students will come to realize the power of kindness.

Book group

A colleague of mine started a book club for educators in our school. We read the book “The boy who was raised as a dog” which takes you on the journey of various stories from the child psychiatrist, Bruce D. Perry. The book group involved seven to eight educators discussing the assigned chapters we had read for the week. I highly recommend this read for any teachers who have ever struggled with a “challenging” student. The book details the accounts of many children Perry encountered whose traumatic past altered their future. The book teaches all teachers to have a compassion that is so necessary for these traumatized children.

We discussed many things during our meetings each week. We started discussing the chapters but the conversations always had a way of covering anything and everything. The meetings helped me go into each day with an open mind and a compassion for a child’s situation that I did not have before. You rarely think of the reason someone behaves “badly” or defiantly. We may just assume that that is the way that child is. Many of us may have not stopped to think of the reason for that action. Realistically, we all have a lot on our plates that day and we may be thinking of a quick way to discipline the child. The book helped our book group members to think of ways to help these children in class so that they may have a successful future outside of it.

Today was our last meeting and we took the last twenty minutes to reflect on our love for teaching. How amazing of a feeling it is when you have that moment in the classroom (or outside) when you just get that feeling of “this is the most incredible job on earth!” We all discussed moments we have felt like that and how incredibly lucky we are to be teachers. The book group was a great way to celebrate and to continue our love for learning. If anyone would like more information about this book, please let me know. The book could change your entire outlook on those “tough” situations, reminding us never to give up on a child or to jump to negative conclusions especially when we do not know their entire situation.