Mental Health Activities

January 25th was an important day to talk about mental health as each year, “Bell Let’s Talk Day” reminds us all that conversations are such an important part of our day as educators. As educators, it is our duty to ensure the mental well-being of each of our students is thought about daily. Some students keep their feelings inside and some claim to be happy 24/7. How do we dive deep into these important conversations and make sure that we are providing opportunities for our students to speak out? Here are some ways to get talking about mental health without making it the central focus. Starting small to get kids talking.

Math Activity

My students were looking at topics to create an infographic about and as a class, decided the most important infographic that should be on display in every intermediate class was one about mental health. So students looked for statistics related to youth mental health in Canada. They found fractions, percentages and various facts that told a story about the mental health of youth in Canada. They shared these infographics with their peers and discussed many important facts. Then, yesterday I pulled up the website about “Bell Let’s Talk Day” and students found many statistics on this page that they had used in their own infographics. We looked at the resources available and then talked about resources to help within our own school (Positive space groups, social worker, clubs, talking to teachers, etc.)

Drama Activity

I wanted to try an activity with my grade two and three students yesterday that connected to their mental health and it went very well. I encourage you to try it out with any grade in a future drama class or just as a class activity. Here is how the activity worked:

A student would be selected to be the actor and that actor would have some sort of problem that they were needing help with. Some examples are:

  • Getting a bad mark on a test
  • Getting into a fight with their best friend
  • Their best friend was moving
  • They felt sad but did not know why
  • Their goldfish passed away

It was actually challenging to think of situations that would not be triggering for students. I made sure that the actor was okay with the situation and then they proceeded to act out their feelings towards the situation. Then, they would pick three friends from the audience who would one at a time come up and try to make them feel better. It was incredible to hear all of the solutions that their friends had. Students who had not participated in drama class in the past put up their hand for the first time. They were excited to come up and comfort their friend. After the lesson, I asked the students if they could use these strategies in real life and they all agreed that they could. I know this activity comes with a risk of students having to be vulnerable but I think it was useful. I even heard a student say, “I wish I had gotten that advice a month ago!” I loved this activity and hope to try it with my intermediate students in the future.

Language Activity

As report card season is in the midst, I decided to try a different reflection activity this term. I asked students to write one word or sentence  on a cue card that best described their feelings towards report cards. This was an anonymous activity as when I collected the cards, I did not ask them to write their names on them. I then handed out a random card to each student. I asked them to think about why the student had written down that word/sentence. What could have been going through their head? Can you relate to what they wrote? Why or why not? I often hear grumblings about report cards around this time of year so I thought this would be a good chance for students to get it all out. An optional part of this activity could be having students share their word at the end if they felt comfortable doing so.

Art Activity

Last month, we were lucky enough to have someone from the Art Gallery of Hamilton come in to our classrooms. We were involved in a four week program working with watercolours with a focus on mental health. Students completed watercolour techniques in a very relaxing environment, using tape, string and tissues to create different looks. This was my favourite part of the day as every student felt connected to their work and rarely left to access a different space. Students were proud of their work and loved the simplicity of this. The arts have a way of making everyone at peace and I look forward to incorporating more periods to just create without a given set of rules.

These activities are just a few I have tried over the last month or so and I am always looking for new ways to get my students feeling comfortable around their peers and with themselves. I would love to hear about more if you have some that have worked in your own classrooms. I hope to include some photos once I am back in the classroom next week so stay tuned.

the past has passed

As a K-13 student, growing up, I was fooled into believing that the sage on the stage method was the only tried and true instructional practice that would lead to my success as a student. We were taught, tested, drilled, homeworked, derogated, compared to others, overlooked, underestimated, expected to listen to hours of lectures each day, and told “it has always been done this way”. 

There were some really bright spots along the way to be fair, but as many students, unfortunately, find out things change drastically year over year. Even if my experiences were not the norm, there are still others who went through something similar. The cherry on this crud sundae that I am sharing with you is that it was all amplified tenfold in university, but that post will have to wait. Until now, I really never had the scope or tools to consider why? 

After spending the better part of this month reflecting on the past year, it seemed like a good idea to look forward at the road ahead rather than through the rearview mirror of what truly belongs in the past. 

the audacity of it all

Why would anyone so young and uneducated dare to expect anything different let alone differentiated? It seemed that education even into the 2000s was more about control and conformity than the pure pursuit of knowledge, deeper understanding, and meaningful opportunities to put learning into action. Many teachers of a similar vintage as mine learned quickly that those desks were in rows for a reason, that the ancient textbooks weren’t going to cover themselves, and that the first assignment of each year was going to be a retell of what you did on your summer vacation. UGH!!!!

This time provided many eye-opening experiences that required some working out before stepping through the classroom doors in 2009. They can be summed up in a few words: sterile, rigid, and underinspired. 

I never really liked the oppressive nature of my past educational experiences. I have worked hard to unlearn them since becoming an educator. Lately though, I have been reckoning with these truths again as I try to shake them once and for all. Admittedly, it takes effort not to let them creep back into my interactions disguised as something else. Being stuck in a rut can fool you into believing it is a well worn path. Taking time to be mindful of this is especially important as I welcome another 2 teacher candidates into the classroom for Term 2.

I guess we all have to confront our own needs, wants, and desires in the workplace and see if they align with our current realities or not. In that spirit here’s my reflection exercise for you to try if you went through a similar schooling experience or wish to avoid inadvertently providing one for your students. 

taking stock

How much of your past experience from being a student is guiding your leadership in the classroom? I had to work on this especially knowing that learning in the 70s  and 80s was so drastically draconian and undifferentiated.

How do you infuse positive talk with your students each day? More importantly, how are you including positive listening to them? Avoid repeating phrases we were told as students at all costs? Here’s a classic: “If you just work harder you will get it eventually.” For me, eventually was years afterward no thanks to those teachers. What I needed was time and a clearer breakdown of the concept along with some guided practise. Please know that students are usually trying their best why wouldn’t they? 

Here’s another blast from the past: “How come you are the only one who doesn’t get this?” This might as well have been my theme song for grade 13 Math Functions and Relations? How is that supposed to help me or the other students who are too paralyzed with fear to raise their hands? I’ve felt this sentence trying to pass over my teeth and past my lips, but have also developed strategies to make sure it doesn’t happen. 

One more car from the trauma train: “Your brother never had a problem with this.” This was what my sister had to endure. She never deserved to be treated that way. To this day she continues to inspire me despite the attempted spirit murder she went through. It is a terrible injustice to compare siblings in the classroom. Please for the love of pound cake do not let this happen and call it out when it does. 

And finally, and more positively, how are you embracing the future? Does it include space and time for student voice, creativity, equity, intersectionality, identity, inquiry, design thinking, team problem solving, and otherliness? If not, what, other than the chains of the past, is holding you back from adding one, two or all of them to your classroom?

I am asking these questions of myself as a reflective exercise too because we have all come across it through our own years of sitting at our desks while educator after educator leads us through the lesson(s). Yet, even as we were taught multiple intelligences, strengths based learning, zone of proximal development and so much more from Gardner, Maslow, Marzano, Friere, hooks et al. If you are thinking “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” right now you can still benefit from a little proactive maintenance knowing that it is crucial to constantly refine what we do and how we do it in order to ensure a way for our students engage, wonder, and grow towards the future and not the past.

 

Teachers, YOU ROCK!

Do you ever think back in time to the moment when you discovered what you wanted to be when you grow up? Or the moment where you started your education for that career? Or your first official day of work when you have been hired? Well the entire process leading up to that exciting moment is not as easy as one may think. In fact, teaching is actually one of the most challenging careers when you come to think of it.

Just recently, I heard someone commenting on how challenging teaching was, that it was not what they thought it would be. For that reason, they would not be pursuing this career anymore. I think when I was in university, I had some kind of idea how challenging teaching would be, but you don’t really find out until the first day of your practicum. Even then, some candidates do not feel the full challenge of teaching until their first day of work. I feel for the people who go through even half of the process only to discover it’s not for them. Perhaps there needs to be a way for candidates to discover that they be not interested in the career before they put all the time and energy into the program. I remember many students dropping out of my program, maybe realizing the career was more challenging than they had first thought. I am so thankful that was not the case for me as I had been sure since I was 15 that I wanted to become a teacher. I am so grateful I had the most supportive mentors, teachers, friends, family and of course, my placement students who made my job easier than it could have been.

Think about all that teachers do within one day. Not only do they have to care for the safety and well being of 20+ children but they also have to run a successful program while thinking about the specific challenges each child faces. I think during university, I had assumed the lessons we teach were in the curriculum documents or would magically appear in a cupboard within our future classrooms. But no, these lessons have to be carefully curated for our classrooms with what sometimes feels like over 100 things taken into consideration. Then, we second guess them and try to pull them off flawlessly, hoping each child learns something from the lesson and listens to it. That has to be done not once, not twice but sometimes six times throughout a school day. That in itself is a huge success! Plus all the little intricacies of the day have to be perfectly run as well. Teaching is not easy and although it is the most rewarding career in the world (in my opinion), you have to be ready to commit to the time and patience that is required.

Once again, I am so happy my 23 year old self saw past the challenges during my placement, the challenges in the university classroom, the long hours in and outside of the classroom and made it through to where I am today. I do not write this post to scare anyone but really, to congratulate all of us who made it out and are now living proof of what hard work and determination look like. Congratulations and well done because being a teacher is NOT a piece of cake!

The Fall Months

The fall reminds us all of many things. The beauty of nature as leaves change from greens and browns to vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges. The wonder of the fall seasons that we get to partake in every year. The dominance of ‘Pumpkin Spice Lattes’ and all things pumpkin to consume. The excitement of new school sessions that are marked by the “ber” months. The fall months (September to November/December) bring richness, newness, and a sense of adventure. However, for some, there is a ‘sadness’ that fall brings with it.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) affects 35 percent of Canadians. “Another 10 to 15 percent have a mild form of seasonal depression, while about two to five percent of Canadians will have a severe, clinical form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It often starts with fatigue, then symptoms of sadness, lethargy, apathy and depression, said Dr. Robert Levitan, the head of depression research at CAMH” (Kwong, 2015).

The Canadian Psychological Association references “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or Depression with Seasonal Pattern, as a condition that comes and goes based on seasonal changes, appearing in the fall and going away in the spring/summer. If you have SAD, you may find yourself feeling many symptoms of depression, especially irritability, and you may be more sensitive in interpersonal relationships. People often report unusually low energy levels, causing them to feel tired, heavy, or lethargic” (Canadian Psychological Association, 2020).

This disorder may often be regarded as the ‘winter blues’ which can affect many educators who are juggling back-to-school, new schedules, classes, and sometimes responsibilities with little or limited energy to do so (let’s not yet add any home or community responsibilities teachers may have as well). How can one cope when everything just seems so S.A.D? First, it is important to note that you are not alone.

Mental health & wellness resources such as those found on the Ontario Teacher’s Federation website (titled ‘Useful Links for Wellbeing’), as well as resources and services offered by your board are ways in which educators can combat S.A.D. Some boards offer counselling, mental health professional, and community services at low or no cost to educators. These services enable educators to work with a mental health professional to develop strategies, tools, and/or action plans to mitigate/navigate Seasonal Affective Disorder. Similarly, there may be options to connect with paramedical professionals.

Part of the Building Better Schools Plan by ETFO Provincial recognizes that “As the heartbeat of public education, teachers and other education professionals play a critical role in helping to shape the system and develop our students to be the very best they can be. Ontario’s future depends on all of us to protect and build better schools” (ETFO, 2022). There is a richness, a newness, and a sense of adventure that the fall months bring. Part of ensuring Ontario’s future is using available resources and services to protect and capacitate educators’ mental well-being.

Resources to consider

 

References:
Canadian Psychological Association. (2020). “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Seasonal Affective Disorder (Depression with Seasonal Pattern). Canadian Psychological Association. Available at https://cpa.ca/psychology-works-fact-sheet-seasonal-affective-disorder-depression-with-seasonal-pattern/
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2022). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Mental Illness & Addiction Index. Available at: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/seasonal-affective-disorder
ETFO. (2022). Building Better Schools: A plan for improving elementary education. Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. Available at: https://www.buildingbetterschools.ca/the_plan
Kwong, M. (2015). Sad Science: Why winter brings us down, but won’t for long. CBC News. CBC/Radio Canada. Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/sad-science-why-winter-brings-us-down-but-won-t-for-long-1.2981920#:~:text=About%20two%20to%20five%20per,effects%20of%20our%20chilly%20moods%3F

Photo by: Iyanuoluwa Akinrinola

smashing pumpkin spiced thinking – school edition

I can almost hear it now, the sound of the last pumpkin spiced anything be sold and the leftovers being shipped back to the warehouses for next year. I am positive that the chemicals that make up these products have a half life and will ensure it’s best before date does not expire for another decade or more.

Who buys this stuff? To my knowledge, I do not think anyone in my circle of friends has ever been excited about pumpin spiced goodies and drinks. Cue the relief. Not that there is anything wrong with it. We all go through a curious phase or two in our lives, but once the trance wears off it’s usually back to the status quo.

Have you ever been persuaded to try something that you instantly regretted afterwards? At first, you think you like it because how could all that hype be wrong? Once that fades and the taste kicks in you’re left to be alone with your decision(s). I mean where would we all be without the gift of knowledge regret provides us?

I’ll give you an example: Hammer pants  One of many the blessings of being a certain age is that any evidence of my bad decision making has not been digitally preserved. Case in point with this late 80s fashion craze. I am sure that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Speaking of good ideas at the time

Starting out as an educator, all of those years ago, I came with my own set of bags packed full of the way that I was going to lead my class. Inside that luggage were many positive, and unfortunately, negative experiences and I was determined to repeat what worked and bury what didn’t. What could possibly go wrong?

What I quickly realized in those first years was there were already several well traveled paths to follow along that started to be seen as ruts rather than pathways to success. I found myself trying to shape my students around the resources in the building rather than the other way around. Things went well, teach, practice, test, and repeat, but it came with a cost. Those lessons never felt like they were relevant to my students. They lacked depth and scope for a number of reasons, some of which are on me as a new teacher, and others because they fell within the “We’ve always done it this way” space.

When my second year rolled around it was easy to follow along the well worn path once more, but instead of proceeding safely along with so many others, I made a decision to wander off to see what else was out there. Don’t get me wrong, I could still see the trail to provide some cardinal directions, but my detours began to provide us all much richer and diverse perspectives. It only took a year to realize that there were many paths to create and pursue that could edify both students and their teachers.

I began to seek out others who wandered off in their spaces and ended up connecting with an insightful and supportive global professional learning network or PLN. All these years later, I am thankful for the connections and kindness that helped me navigate off of what was the norm and around some other ruts that needed avoiding.

Where do I find these amazing folx?

For me, it started out at school board level events and edtech training sessions. It didn’t take long before I joined Twitter when it became a truly global cohort. Yes, Twitter can still be used for good and not evil despite its new owner and legions of misinformed malicious account holders exercising their free speech without facts or accountability. End rant.

I joined weekly discussions via #edchat and then #etmooc and then #CnEdChat to start and started following some of the more experienced and supportive educators on the platform. As time went on, I started a blog called What and Why are Everything to hash out some of my thoughts. Our weekly Q and A discussions on Twitter became sources of great perspective and growth which continue to inhabit my practice to this day. It was almost like I was given permission to be the teacher I wanted to be rather than another educator flattening the well worn path.

What started happening was the democratization of my classroom through student directed learning, Genius Hours, and the use of videos to enhance the scope of my instruction. What better way could there be to bring an expert into the class room with the click of a button rather than read through a text book that had been written years beforehand.

This shift in thinking helped me realize the static and fluid natures of knowledge that we have to balance each day for our students and ourselves. It also moved me past some of my negative experiences as a student. I appreciate how some of the things I went through empowered me not to repeat them just like I would never buy a pair of Hammer pants or pumpkin spiced anything again.

A Day To Listen

September is a busy month in schools as teachers get to know their students, learn new curriculum, set up classroom norms and some teachers even have to deal with reorganization by the end of the month. It has been an especially busy start for my class as many students are new to our school and some are returning back to the classroom for the first time in almost three years. Getting into a routine has been challenging as I know the routine is an important thing to establish in September.

Having said that, September is an important month about Truth and Reconciliation. As September 30th is Truth and Reconciliation Day, schools prepare differently to reflect as a community. Our school spent time considering a school-wide assembly filled with student created land acknowledgements, a video of all students sharing why they wear orange, various poems, Indigenous art and highlights from the 94 Calls to Action. We shared our thoughts with Indigenous members within our board and were asked to remind the school community that Orange “Every Child Matters” shirts should be worn all year not just on September 30th. They also shared other ideas to ensure our assembly was culturally appropriate.

Students in my class as well as many others started looking at the Land Acknowledgement and thinking about what it really meant. Students hear it on the announcements every day but may not actually understand the meaning of the words. Many students came up with really well written versions and were going to read them to the school.

However, our board sent out an email stating that we needed to avoid assemblies on September 30th and that it would be better to reflect and listen within our own classrooms so that we could support student responses within the classroom. We were asked to concentrate on classroom activities instead. We decided to have students read their land acknowledgements over the announcements and some staff shared their student-created videos by email instead.

I was able to share the video with my class from our member ETFO news from September 28th, where Shawnee Talbot explains her connection to music. The video can be found if you click this link: Music is Medicine. My grade eight history class watched her TedxGrandJunction video about her life as a member of the Two Spirit community and how music has been such an integral part of her life. Students connected with their love for music and how it helps them during their times of need. It was a great discussion and I really encourage you to explore our ETFO news article from September 28th for more resources. The entire resource can be found here: Two Spirit Resource. 

I would like to close this post by sharing a reflective piece of writing by one of my students as she shares how she will help others remember the horrible past of Residential Schools:

“I pledge to remember the people who were here before us on this land and how they suffered in residential schools. Also, to help younger people to remember by telling stories, wearing an orange shirt, watching videos about Truth and Reconciliation and making posters to put up on walls. I would want my teacher to bring a friend or a member of the Indigenous Community to share about Truth and Reconciliation. We should also have moments of silence and reflection to honour the children who died in Residential Schools. I also want the people around to acknowledge that it is Truth and Reconciliation and respect the people who may have lost a family or friend in a Residential school.”

I share this post in a reflective lens and understand I am learning and listening each year as we reflect on the horrible past of our country. 

read a little bell before the bell

I love to read. It wasn’t always like that though. After taking a literature heavy course load through high school and university, I swore off the printed word for a spell.

It wasn’t absolute avoidance or aversion. I did read the paper from time to time, although selectively. When I took a job in broadcasting during the early 90s, my self imposed reading embargo was over as a boatload of reading came with my job as newsreader, DJ, and local reporter. Even though reading was a key part of those workdays, there was not much desire to do so outside of work.

Fast forward to 2007. 

I’m back in university trying to finish a degree that started in 1984. The interweb had become the main source for reams of digital texts and other content from online libraries and newly prescribed course materials. Once again reading became more like work rather than a daily getaway and reward. I struggled to read anything more than what was required. 

As such, it took some time to find a genuine motivation. About 2 months in, it began to change when by some bit of fortune, the text(s) started became so much more relevant to my life as a 40 something adult. I’d like to call this my mid-life renaissance, but fear it maybe considered a bit to melodramatic. Whether it was a personal essayist, scientist, or philosopher it was as if reading no longer felt like assigned work, but rather as tools  intended to strengthen my heart and mind as an educator. It’s 2022 and my reading game is still going strong. 

Teaching Community by bell hooksThis leads me to my most recent read Teaching CommunityA Pedagogy of Hope by iconic educator bell hooks.  Although it took me a bit of penny pinching to add to my collection, it is worth every dollar. I can’t wait to share this text with others who, like me, are on a journey to create inclusive communities in their classrooms.

Please note: I am not naive enough to think that one book could be the lever that moves all barriers and mountains, but I truly believe that the ideas in this text can be leveraged to make a difference when and where they are applied in our classrooms. Be advised that this book contains much “thought fuel” and plenty of feelings too. 

The greatest feelings I had throughout reading this text were this strange sense of acknowledgement and validation. I may have thought and felt many of the ideas shared, but hooks has organized and articulated them so perfectly and has gifted us with an opportunity to reflect, respond, and put community into action. 

I guess what spoke the loudest across the chapters was an emphasis on disrupting the status quo through compassion and community in education. Reading Teaching Community encapsulated my goals as an educator in a personal and professional manner. I love how hooks puts it,
“…the most powerful learning experience we can offer students…is the opportunity to be fully and compassionately engaged with learning.” Creating this space requires 3 things; commitment, courage, and compassion. None will work unless combined with the others. Notice how curriculum wasn’t mentioned? As @callmemrmorris often reminds us via Twitter. “We teach students not curriculum.”

hooks continues, “Refusing to make a place for emotional feelings in the classroom does not change the reality that their presence overdetermines the conditions where learning can occur.” We have to see our students where they are and not in the spaces we want them to fit within. We have to acknowledge that everyday comes with a raft of emotions that rise and fall. Teachers need to be prepared to accept the highs and lows that happen at the speed of learning. Whether a student is sad, anxious, joyful, angry or a combination they are showing us that they do not feel emotionally safe in that moment and will struggle to be truly present as a result. How we choose to respond to them in those moments will determine whether they feel seen and a part of the community or like an outsider looking in. 

hooks also shares, “To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” This is probably the hardest space to occupy as educators. We were conditioned through past experiences and pedagogy to be the centre of our classrooms in the past. However, what was thought to have worked back in the day, was really only a means of perpetuating dominant culture in order to maintain power over students rather than respecting and sharing power with them and empowering them as learners. 

Can you tell that I love this book? hooks also discusses the intersectionality of identity and identity in academia. She writes with clarity and candour that challenged my perspectives while affirming them at the same time. This is why I share that everyone should read a little bell before the bell and I know this will be one of those texts to read over and over as my career continues. 

Happy page turning.

tracked and filed

My reports are completed. One hundred and ninety (190+/-) days of teaching, tasking, note taking, tracking, and now OSR filing are completed. If you are like me, then this time of year seems bittersweet.

Bitter because the act of writing report cards can be onerous. I am the first to admit that I love teaching, but hate putting a mark on things. To me, each time that happens creates a rift in the educational continuum. Regardless of rubrics, success criteria, and descriptive feedback, like on my most recent set of reports, the eyes of the reader will only be trained to the letter or percentage grade earned.

The time accumulating data, sorting through work, providing feedback is such a big part of our jobs. Yet, all this work, collaboration
and relationship building with students is distilled to a single letter or percentage grade.

When it came to the hybrid and emergency online learning many students struggled to complete work efficiently and effectively which would have been completed otherwise without issue in the classroom. Funny how computer tabs giveth and taketh away from one’s attention and abilities to learn as well as in person. In many ways, the past 2 and half years have shown us the value of being in our classrooms regardless of what consultants might have sold the powers that be in the current government.

Students received copious amounts of formative feedback that the summative result was an earned and culmination of their hard work and growth. Imagine if we could do that at every grade level. Perhaps that is the luxury I have had as a grade 4/5 teacher these past two years. Since there are no provincial assessments to ruin students lives in these years, they can really focus on the sheer joy of learning, making mistakes, unlearning, and trying again. I know this year has been a year of confidence building as much as it has been curriculum delivery, but it is important that our assessments match our students needs as their purpose is to improve student learning.

I am afraid we are still being forcibly blinded by a system incapable of seeing the brilliance of its youth each and every time we file another set of report cards. “We’ve always done it this way.” cannot be the next cliché in any of our minds if we truly want to support our students.

Reflecting on assessment at this time of year needs to be the call to action for each of us for this coming September. How can you create a space to track and file the learning that occurs in your classroom? What will be the first thing you change? How will you create the safe place for a do over or a retest or a late submission? How will you assess the strengths of your students’ abilities and needs?

Happy summer.

the eyes tell our stories

Trigger warning: This post may be triggering to some folx as it discusses the emotional and physical toll happening on our students and our profession. I hope you read on.

A student asked to speak with me the other day. They said things weren’t going so well. They didn’t have to say a word. Their eyes told the story of someone who had been going through a lot lately. They shared and I listened while resisting every urge to cry along with them. How has it come to this I thought? How have so many of life’s weights been placed on a student who deserves to enjoy these years without worry, fear, or doubt?

While they spoke, it became known that these feelings of sadness and dread have been building up for a couple of years already. It struck me a bit odd as this student comes across as one of the most well liked, bright, and optimistic persons. If they were struggling, then how many more have not found the courage to come forward? My mind raced around how best to support them in the moment, but then moved to thoughts of what needs to happen on the macro level of our classrooms.

Despite some training, my mental health first aid kit is still only partially stocked, and unless additional social workers can be added to our school, I fear things will only be getting worse.  If it is happening in one school, then it is probably happening in many others. Notwithstanding the already existing immense work loads placed on centralized caregivers in school boards, it does not appear that supply will meet demand any time soon.

I guess that my best move for this particular person will be to check in with them a little more frequently, contact family to construct a cohesive support plan, and to recommend seeking some help from a social worker if at all possible. I am also going to build in some wins for them throughout the week. These could be a few more affirmations or intentional opportunities to have fun in their day.  Maybe this approach could help in supporting staff as well? Read on.

They didn’t have to say a word. The eyes told a story of someone who has been crying a lot lately. What happened before coming to school? How were they going to make it through another day when the sound of fast paced walks toward their door meant another part of the day, intended to plan and organize, was going to be co-opted again. How can this continue to happen when things are supposed to be safer, better, and back to normaler? Cue the tears. Cue the sadness. Cue the confusion. It’s hard to hide the stress or frustration. With all of that to manage, anger is never far behind. So when someone asks what is causing the tears specifically, the answer is nothing and everything at the same time.

Nothing because there is nothing we can do about what is happening other than mask up, make sure the kleenex box is full, and brave out the current chaos of each day. Everything because the number of issues provide more than enough straws to collapse every camel’s back. Mixed messages, inaction, anti-vaxxers, non-maskers, insane rates of infection, lost preps, fatigue, and having to complete the same system work with less time due to time that has been ‘liberated’ from one’s daily schedule.

Image
via https://twitter.com/MikeJToronto/status/1520175065333219329?s=20&t=NLlivpQQu-yLApHE3_iEUA

I looked into the mirror. My eyes were dull, glassy, and dry. Thankful that another week has passed where I did not have to be out of the classroom. Thankful that I did not have to isolate. Relieved that time outside of school meant a chance to disconnect and recharge.

Although there is no single thing to attribute this current state. It could be because of the daily dread built up from what is happening in schools right now. It has gone far beyond any occasional days when OT jobs went unfilled to a sadly predicatable and unprecedented time in our profession. When was the last time you ever heard of 9 unfilled OTs at one school? Last week comes to mind.

If it hasn’t been mentioned before, the folx caring for this province’s most precious resources are having a tough time and are being pushed to the brink of exhaustion and anxiety. It seems that once again, pontificating politicians have put their heads in the sand when it comes to equipping educators to meet the realities of the day with the resources they need.

Let’s start by having more teachers available to cover the amounts of educators having to take time to quarantine due to illness/exposure to COVID19 or to care for an infected family member in the same home. As we enter the final months of the school year I am not feeling super confident that things will change and that has me worried about my own energy and emotional levels.

Despite every educator’s individual efforts, ‘things ain’t goin’ so good’. No amounts of extra time or out of pocket expenses are going to fix what is happening. We need personal supports for students and staff more than ever not affirmative memos and lipservice from elected/board leaders. Help.

what i could’t learn in teacher’s college

12 months in a faculty of education prepared me for a lot of things, but not everything. How could it? Pedagogy, planning, pragmatism, and patience were all part of a very practical preparation and positive preview of what was to come for me as an educator .

Yet, even with rigorous academic, practicum, and professional development poured into the program, a paucity existed due to the finite amount of time for the program to cover the vast scope and variables that are the job. In defence of faculties, it would take several years to cover them and even then, only partially. Perhaps not being prepared for every eventuality was a good thing for me as a teacher because it allowed me to find solutions that did not have their origins in a textbook, but rather ones which were created for each specific moment and context?

I think that there has to be room included in formation of teaching candidates that focuses on situational problem solving. This is where life experience(s) can help out. As a teacher candidate in my forties, I found it interesting to compare worldviews and perspectives, with colleagues who were half my age. It was the times over coffee and in between lectures where some ageless bonds were formed that continue to this day. I also learned that wisdom was ageless as my younger peers so often shared when it came to our discussions about educators having to teach far beyond the curriculum in order to support their students. By beyond, I mean that we had to navigate how we were going to bring humanity into the classroom too.

Outside of lesson planning, curriculum, philosophy of education, and the Education Act there was a lot to cover. I really appreciated the time spent in equity and special education training where we were given numerous real life situations from the classroom to consider and receive coaching on how to best respond. Some of this was really helpful because I at least had a set of tools, but even then there was room for so much more in the kit.

I especially liked the book Beyond Heroes and Holidays and highly recommend giving it a read as a way of sparking staff conversations around racism and equity or as a supportive guide to deeper personal growth. And then came the day when I realized I needed more than that.

Although the seeds were planted in teacher’s college, they did not break through until I was in the classroom where I had to confront a student using racist slurs.

I can still almost feel the time slow down as the blood rushed through my body when it happened. Did I really just hear a student say that? I am pretty sure that my surprise and disappointment were visceral. This was an eye opener for me because that moment did not come with a lesson. Once again, experience became the teacher. What was surprising in that situation was how emotional it all felt. I struggled to process my own responses.

I know that I learned a lot from that event, but knew that my rosy perceptions of innocent school aged children now included a few storm clouds. Hearing from experienced mentor educators added to my comfort and discomfort level all the while building up confidence in the aftermath. It was here where my own experiences and beliefs were transformed into actionable responses rather than reactions in a moment. #learnbeyondthetextbook

Recent news of teachers experiencing anti-Semitic hate perpetuated by students in elementary/middle schools reminds us all that even though we are prepared for some things, we are not prepared for all, especially when it comes to hatred, assault, bigotry or racism. After events like these, it is crucial to have a trusted person to speak with about them. This could be a mentor teacher or administrator who can help process what happened and debrief with you. They can also be there to support you as you overcome. No educator should go through it by themselves

For teachers looking to find or become a mentor, check out the Mentoree website. After years of waiting, I recently joined myself.

I really believe that there are two key elements that need to accompany a B.Ed degree – mentorship and life experience. The absence of one or both will send new teachers out for many challenging days ahead filled with many tests, but few lessons beforehand. And maybe that’s how it is meant to be. A journey of discovery, cutting your path through new spaces. Solving problems as they happen while gathering the tools, surviving the experiences, and keep trying to move forward.

It is so important that educators, regardless of experience, connect with each other whether formally or informally. The days of teachers needing to feel like siloed lone wolves solving every problem that comes their way or its failure thinking are gone. They may or may not be in your building, but there are caring educators willing to offer support, lend an ear, or give advice when asked. Feel free to reach out anytime.

Possible future blog post content below

Since I recommended getting a copy of Beyond Heroes and Holidays, here seems like a good place to suggest some other important must reads for anti-racist educators;

  1. We Want to Do More than Survive – by Bettina L Love
  2. All our Relations – by Tanya Talaga
  3. The Skin We’re In – by Desmond Cole
  4. Black in School – by Habiba Cooper Diallo
  5. Biased – by Jennifer Eberhardt
  6. Caste – by Isabel Wilkerson
  7. 21 Things  You May Not Know About the Indian Act – by Bob Joseph

Feel free to share some of the texts that have pushed you beyond your comfort zones in the comments below. I am always open for book recommendations.