track and field

Track and Field Day

Is it possible to have 4 words to usher in the beginning of the end of the school any better than these? Perhaps class party early dismissal come close, but I have to admit track and field day takes first place. Although it’s been a while, we start each year off running with cross country in September and October. Somehow, they have set the pace to a year of engaging students in spaces outside of the classroom.  

Aaah there’s nothing like being outdoors in the fresh air watching students roam, run, roll, and occasionally hop from event to event. Whether it’s a 100 m dash across uncut grass, jumping events (minus high jump) or 4 laps around the building as an impromtu 800 m track it is definitely a day for students to outshine the noon day sun. Now this is my idea of distance learning. 

This year the events were held over the course of a week in order to accommodate for some wet Spring weather, but student spirits were undampened when rescheduling occured. They knew those freezees waiting at the rest station were only going to be more freezier from the wait. When the sun came out to stay, the competitions were underway. And they went off with relatively few hitches or injuries. Especially, that run around the school on an occasionally uneven concrete sidewalk. Even with a less than perfect track and field the students did really well. So why state the obvious in a union blog post?

Well I wondered that too at first when the idea baked into my head while watching our students compete. It also occurred while I watched students run events, while staff supervised, and when students had free time in between. It was like hundreds of different versions of the same moment happening simultaneously yet differently for all of us. WHOA! (Bill and Ted version)

So as I watched the days run their courses, I witnessed a lot of parallel events that might have gone otherwise overlooked if solely looking at the times, distances, and names on the events lists. Here are a few things that made it to the invisible podium that day. I’ll let you decide whether they are positive or negative. 

  1. Students are really helpful when they are empowered to lead and trusted to do so. This was so obvious as I watched volunteers from older grades lead their stations, show up on time, and encourage(wrangle, herd, shepherd) the competitors through their events. 
  2. Students really thrived with the extra time outdoors. These days were pure social with a healthy amount of friendly competition. I really appreciated how students from different grades lined the event areas to cheer on their peers. For the most part this was really wholesome other than the one or two knuckleheads who thought it was okay to mock their friends throwing abilities. #teachablemoment
  3. Students gave their best efforts considering that practice for these events (standing long jump, running long jump, ball throw, shotput etc.) is usually limited to Phys Ed classes that occur only twice per week. Seeing students struggling with these skills shows how much we have missed over the past two years of pandemic learning when we were online. 
  4. There will always be some students who choose to quit before a race is over.

I mentioned earlier that you will have to decide how to see this one

For me this has always been a toughy. Having been taught from the start to give it 110% and every other cliché in the book, I was left wondering why someone would quit in the middle of a short race when they were not injured? Have some of our students cracked some code here? Maybe it was easier for them to control the moment by ending it on their terms? All of this led to an interesting discussion with my 4/5 students. 

Since I was with them for most of that day, I saw a lot of determination and effort. I made sure I told them as such and how I was a bit relieved to see most of them push through even when first place, second place, and third place were not the prizes at the finish line while an unusually larger of their peers did not. I asked them what made them finish anyways? I also asked them what made them stop at certain times? Then I asked myself what needs to happen for everyone to finish their metaphorical events regardless of the outcomes? I guess that question has to be asked of all of us? Just like the events on track and field day, how we prepare ourselves for each day really matters. 

What keeps you going when the finish line seems further away than ever? What keeps you roaming, running, rolling or hopping until the end of the race? 

Whether it is fitness, meditation, hobbies, acts of kindness, family, friends, faith, pets, any or all of the above these pursuits/passions have helped many of us finish another school year strong despite the wretched election results, a year of hybrid learning hell (personal opinion), and countless uncovered COVID 19 absences due to systemic ineptitude. Without them, I am sure that I would not be in a good place this month.

I encourage you all to take heart, you’re almost there. The tape is stretched across the line of this decathlon of months spent planning, communicating, learning, unlearning, supporting, and teaching. You will cross that line and the rest to follow will feel so good. 

Restorative Circle Activities

Students come to school with many issues on their minds and in their hearts. As educators, we can help them process their thoughts and feelings so they can better handle their situations and be more present in class. Restorative circles are a useful practice to do just that. While frequently used to replace punitive forms of discipline, restorative circles are equally important in proactively building the relationships and skills students need to support one another and collectively address the challenges they face, especially during these unsettling and uncertain times for many of our students. Restorative circles are most effective when they’re an integral part of school culture and are embedded in your daily classroom routines. After all, you can’t “restore” a community that you haven’t built or sustained.

Below are some steps and questions I have researched and used that can support you in initiating a Restorative Circles program in your classroom.

7 STEPS FOR FACILITATING MEANINGFUL CIRCLES

  1. Co-create a safe and supportive space: Circles work best if teachers invest time up front to build relationships, develop skills and design a bank of tools to draw upon throughout the school year.

Early in the process teachers and students together explore values—like empathy, patience, kindness, courage and open-mindedness—that are essential to understand and agree upon when sharing openly and honestly in a circle. These include honoring the talking piece, which goes around the circle as an invitation to share while everyone else listens (participants may pass if they don’t wish to talk). Participants are encouraged to speak and listen from the heart with an equitable and inclusive lens. It is important that educators inform participants at the outset that we are mandated by law to report when a student threatens to harm themselves or others, or when students divulge abuse.

  1. Be prepared: Make sure that you, the facilitator, are well rested, calm and focused.

To hold the circle space effectively, it’s important to be fully present and able to manage other people’s stories and feelings as well as your own. If you’re exploring sensitive issues that may require follow up, consider alerting support staff.

  1. Plan ahead: Decide together on a topic or theme that sustains students’ interest.

Find a relevant activity to open the circle space such as a poem, quote or piece of music. A mindfulness activity can also be used to bring students into the space after a particularly stressful event. Look for information to ground the conversation and develop questions and prompts to invite student perspectives into the circle. Keep in mind that the larger the circle the more time you’ll need for the talking piece to go around. Think about how things might unfold and be ready to adapt and adjust accordingly. Make sure to leave time for a closing activity, giving students a chance to transition into spaces that may be less conducive to being vulnerable. A closing activity can be a commitment to safeguarding the stories shared in a circle or a breathing exercise in which we provide students with prompts and time to put themselves back together again.

  1. Invite student experiences into the space: Encourage students to connect with the circle content by sharing stories from their own lived experiences.

Include storytelling rounds by asking students to talk about “a person in your life who…” or “a time when….” Share authentically with yourself. This gives others permission to do the same. Model good listening skills as the talking piece goes around the circle. Be fully present as others speak. True active listening can create the kind of welcoming space that encourages even the quietest voices to speak.

  1. Acknowledge, paraphrase, summarize and practice empathy: Listen closely to what students share so that you can build on their experiences.

When the talking piece comes back to you, touch on what you felt, noticed or heard. If you sense that there was limited substance in the first round, send the talking piece around a second or third time, asking students for deeper, more meaningful connections, reflections, or additions. If challenging or painful issues come up, model agreed-upon circle practices for students to follow. Listening mindfully and being present with other people’s ordeals and lived experiences can create supportive, healing experiences that strengthen community connections and build empathy. If needed, let students know you’re available to check in with them later in the day or week. You might also have them consider speaking with other supportive adults or students to find solace if they’re in need.

  1. Explore what it means to be an effective ally: Beyond creating a supportive listening environment, ask what else, if anything, students need from you and from each other.

Explore how to be better allies in a circle so that students know they don’t need to face their challenges alone. Invite them to talk about a person in their lives who is a good friend or ally, or a person they’d like to have as a better friend or ally. Discuss the qualities these people have (or lack) and how they make us feel. Invite students to talk about a time they’ve been a good friend or ally themselves, and what gets in the way of being our best with one another.

  1. Zoom out to promote understanding on the systems level: Explore whether there are larger systemic forces that underlie the challenges students have touched on (such as racism, sexism, homophobia or lack of access to resources). 

Introduce information, resources and voices that might shed light on how these systems operate. Look for examples of people who took action to interrupt these and other oppressive systems. Invite students to connect to this information by sharing their thoughts, feelings and related experiences. Studying larger, systemic forces in society can help students better understand their situation and can be a useful starting point for students to become more active themselves. Action and activism can inspire hope, connection and healing.

Video example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjVI-1XDX_Y

Circle time questions – Exemplars

Getting Acquainted

– What is your favourite…?

– If you had $1000 what would you do with it and why?

– How would your friend describe you, or how would you describe yourself to someone new?

– What do you like (or dislike) most about yourself?

 

Values

– Give me an example of when someone has been kind to you in your life (or when you have been kind to someone)? How did that feel?

– What do you want to contribute to the world; How do you want to be remembered?

– Share an example of when you did the right thing when others were doing the wrong thing, or when no one else was watching

 

Story Telling

– A time when you were scared to do something good/important, but you did it anyway

– A time when you laughed a lot

– What (silly/funny/crazy/weird) thing did you used to do when you were little?

 

Achievement

– One thing I couldn’t do a year ago… 

– One of my goals this year is…

– Something I can’t do but want to be able to do by the end of the year is…

 

Behaviour / Conflict

– Share one thing that makes you annoyed.

– Share a time when you were upset but then someone made you feel better.

– How can you show respect to others?

Doodles and Daydreams

As I walk up and down the aisles checking the students’ work, I will inevitably find someone whose side margins of their worksheet are filled with colourful drawings.  When I first started teaching, I would have been annoyed at the lack of work being completed.  Now, I know so much more like some students doodle for mindfulness, or because that is their signal that they need help but are hesitant to ask for assistance.

But of course, I also have a duty to ensure students understand their work.  So, instead of admonishing them, I try to bring what they are doing into the current lesson:

“Wow, that’s a really nice dragon!  Remember how we’re doing colours in French today?  Do you think you could tell me the colours you chose in French on the side?”

“Cool robot!  Hey, you know how we’re talking about rocks and minerals for Science?  I wonder what metallic ores you might use for his body?”

Sometimes I read the stories in my Ontario College of Teachers magazine about Canadian celebrities and the teachers that have made a difference in their lives.  My favourite that I shared with my students was the one on Olympic gold medalist Bruny Surin and how he was encouraged to try out for sports in high school from the coach when he was a shy newly landed immigrant.

I often wonder if I’ll influence someone enough that they’ll mention me in an interview someday.  Then I worry that they’ll mention me, but as “that teacher that discouraged them and didn’t make them feel like they were good enough.”

I wasn’t really a doodler in school, but I was definitely a day dreamer.  There were plenty of times that I probably fooled teachers into thinking that I was paying attention when in reality I was just facing forward running through a story or an episode of my make believe world in my head.  I already understood a lot of the work, but this was my way of dealing with feelings and thinking what to do next with my learning.

I have plenty of students that have struggled with writing and math, but could run circles around me with their art skills.  So yes, sometimes I sigh inwardly at a lack of completed assignments but more often than not, I marvel at the way they use drawing to capture their feelings and assist with their memory.  That’s why I prefer to guide them to use their talents for where their creativity may take them.

Speaking of a doodler and a dreamer, I was reading a book this summer when one of the interview excerpts mentioned a young man who was caught by a teacher years ago making an elaborate storyboard with a Western battle.  Instead of punishing him, she stated she could help him put his work on a giant mural and present it to the class-on the condition that he also got his work finished.

The young man was movie mogul George Lucas.

Probability wise, I’m not likely to have the next big Hollywood writer/director in one of my classes.  But I’ve taught enough to know that my chances of of making a student’s day positive on how I react to their artistic expression are certainly more than 50/50.

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.

“How can I help?”

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

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

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

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

Mindfulness in Education

There is a significant amount of research about the benefits of mindfulness in education.  Much of the research shows that consistent mindfulness practices in classrooms lead to lower stress levels and higher test scores.  It is a hot topic and wanting to to do the best for students, we are seeing more of it in schools. There are all kinds of books and videos on breathing and mindfulness exercises for reduction of stress for kids.  I have learned to practice meditation myself and I have used some mindful practices with my students and believe that at the right time and in the right circumstance mindfulness practices can be powerful.  I am left wondering, however, if the practice of mindfulness in some cases is becoming routine or something to check off on a plan and not truly ‘mindful’ at all?

Let’s take yoga for example.  Yoga instructors go through intense hours of study in order to practice and teach others.  However, teachers pop on a kids yoga YouTube video and we’re “being mindful”.  I’m not being critical.  I have done it myself!  My question or wondering is; what are the implications of these actions on a broader level?  Yoga is about mind and body.  My worry is that we are literally “going through the motions” with students and not really giving them a true mindful experience.

How about a timed meditation?  Everyone drop everything and take part in a guided meditation right now!  I understand the idea behind this strategy; the whole school is engaging in the practice at the same time. However, isn’t the idea that students will learn to develop mindfulness skills to help them in stressful situations? It is a starting place, but hopefully there is more in-depth practice and explicit teaching happening.  Otherwise isn’t it more a kind of fast-food approach to mindfulness?

Mindfulness needs to have an environment that is conducive to practice.  Norms and expectations need to be established and there has to be “buy in” from the students. Students require a variety of skills in order to truly practice mindfulness and they need to be explicitly taught so that students can use what they know in order to transfer the knowledge into other situations.  Finally, it has to be modeled by the adults in the room.  If there is mindfulness being practiced, everyone should be doing it and debriefing the experience and learning together.  If a teacher is busy organizing the classroom library while the students are being mindful, it won’t demonstrate that mindfulness is valued.

We can’t be experts at everything.  We can’t always have a certified yoga teacher come into our classroom.  Whatever we are teaching it must be done with intention, done explicitly and through modeling.  Going through the motions out of habit and routine may do more harm than good.

 

 

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

 

Daring Classrooms

I state the obvious when I say that teaching is a demanding job.  If you are reading this, you are most likely a teacher and this is not news to you.  I’d like to highlight a resource that feeds the soul of a teacher (and quite frankly a human being) while also providing some strategies for integrating that soul feeding into your classroom practice for your students.  Wait, what…that exists?  It is a website from Brene Brown called Daring Classrooms.  If you haven’t heard of her yet, you can find “The Call to Courage” on Netflix and/or her Ted Talk on Vulnerability.  She is inspirational in leadership, in life and in work.  Here is a snippet from her #DaringClassrooms website:

“Teachers are some of our most important leaders. We know that we can’t always ask our students to take off the armor at home, or even on their way to school, because their emotional and physical safety may require self-protection.

But what we can do, and what we are ethically called to do as teachers, is create a space in our schools and classrooms where all students can walk in and, for that day or hour, take off the crushing weight of their armor, hang it on a rack, and open their heart to truly being seen.

Teachers are the guardians of spaces that allow students to breathe and be curious and explore the world and be who they are without suffocation. Students deserve one place where they can rumble with vulnerability and their hearts can exhale.

And what I know from the research is that we should never underestimate the benefit to a child of having a place to belong—even one—where they can take off their armor. It can and often does change the trajectory of their life.

Teachers: Everyday should be Teacher Appreciation Day. I am so grateful for you and your willingness to show up and create brave, safe spaces where our children can learn, grow, and be seen.”

Some of the short (8-12 minute) video resources from Daring Classrooms include:

How do we avoid the pressure to please?

How do teachers manage oversharing?

How do we help parents understand failing as part of the learning process?

Does the word “disappointed” shame students?

In addition to the video resources there are free downloads for resources, parenting the classroom and daily life.  There are pdfs that you can print out for working with students.  My favourite one is the list of core emotions.  Sometimes when students have triggers they can’t always name or explain the emotion that caused the trigger in behaviour.  Being able to learn about the names and the definitions of core emotions is helpful for students to self-regulate.

Every year in a classroom brings new challenges.  In fact, every day in a classroom will bring on a new challenge.  I hope that as you lead your own #DaringClassroom you will find this resource helpful and that it may feed your teacher soul.

School year start up

A new school year has begun again and I am once again teaching grade eight, in my opinion, the most exciting and enriching grade I have taught so far.

The first few weeks have been incredible because of the honest conversations we had week one about how great their year can be if they make it that way. We talked about fun trips, ideas and awards that go on during their grade eight year. We talked about what the ideal classroom looks like, sounds like and smells like (ha!) so we made some ideas on how we can achieve those goals. The students have done an amazing job so far on adhering to all of the goals they set out for our own classroom.

A few things have been making this start up so incredible:

  1. There are many student leaders in the classroom who have helped to set the tone for all of the other students in the room. They model positive behaviours and shut down negative ones. There is little to no times where I have interjected to tell them what I expect because another student has already done that for me.
  2. I have already received the help during breaks and afterschool of about 9 or 10 students with teams that go on at our school. These leadership activities have made them stand out in the classroom as well as the extra responsibility has made them thoroughly enjoy each day. That feeling that they are making a difference in their school shows everyday in their mood and behaviours. I am hoping even more students will be interested in these opportunities as only ten of the 26 have stepped up so far. I have awarded these students with small circular stickers that they put on their desk organizers. At the end of the year, we will see who has volunteered the most and those students will be eligible for a token of appreciation (not sure what that will look like yet). It will also help the staff with selecting grade eight awards because they will see who has given up so much of their time for our school community.
  3.  I have offered students homework to complete every night which will help them prepare for grade nine. 19 out of the 26 students have taken this homework and completed it each night. I have three ESL students who I am working on preparing appropriate homework for them so then it will be 22 out of 26. We take up this homework each morning and new homework is given out every night before they go home. The fact that it is optional makes students actively take the initiative to better themselves and their after school time. I am so proud of these students as I mentioned it will help them get ready for grade nine and the few students who took that opportunity last year had the highest marks in the school (they won the principal’s award). It is great hearing groups of students want to hang out after school to work on homework. It is definitely a good after school option for them.
  4. I also have offered students level four or above and beyond opportunities that go with each task we have completed as a class. Seeing those 10-12 students select that option is awesome as they are actively selecting to do better and to challenge themselves each day. I remember being in school not knowing the difference between all of the levels and not knowing how my teacher came up with my mark. I make sure all of my students know how they can excel to the highest level possible.

 

I think all of these things working together have made it impossible for the students in my room to have a negative experience or to make the day negative for someone else. It is incredible to see such focus and leadership day to day and it makes me so proud of my class. I was away last week at a junior baseball tournament (coached by two of my students) and my supply left only this note, “Your class rocks!” This would not have been possible last year as I must have missed many of these steps in the school year start up. I am really hoping the year will continue in this positive manner.

Having faith in your students and challenging them daily is the best way to go 🙂