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.

Why a Black History Month?

I have often wondered why February was chosen to celebrate Black History, so I did some research and found out some interesting facts. 

It so happens that Black History Month evolved from the work of Carter G. Woodson, a Black American historian and scholar in the 1920s. He actually first established Black History Week in the 1920s as a week of celebration to follow the year’s study of Black history. The week he chose contained the birth dates of two significant people to the abolition of slavery in the United States: February 12th for President Abraham Lincoln who brought emancipation into law and February 14th for Frederick Douglas who advocated for the freedom of Black people. Toronto first celebrated Black History in the 1950s when the Canadian Women’s Negro Association brought the celebration to the city. In 1978 the Ontario Black History Society successfully petitioned the City of Toronto to have the now monthly celebration formally recognized. Black History Month is now celebrated across Canada to honour the legacy of Black Canadians and their communities. 

 

But Why a Black History Month?

I think that all Canadians should be made aware of the historical contributions made by Black Canadians. It’s important to understand the social forces which have shaped and influenced the Black community and their identities as a means of feeling connected to the educational experience and their life experience in Canada. Canadian history should include all people’s history, and Black history should be no exception.

As a school community, I look forward to the day when all people are recognized, included and valued for who they are in our education system and in the broader society. Most importantly, I look forward to when everyday is a celebration of all our histories and all our contributions, and the topic of why a Black History Month would no longer be up for debate.

 

Move Away from Enslavement to Empowerment

In talking about and teaching about Black History, I find it more meaningful to focus on empowering students to become agents of change rather than victims of circumstances. One of the activities I have used is an Art/History lesson on understanding the social justice impact of Black Artists on our society. Below is an outline of my lesson that I hope might be of some use to you. The Google Doc was shared with me from another colleague, but I modified parts of it to make it culturally relevant to my school community.

 

Why are we learning about this anyway?

  1. To highlight the successes and accomplishments of Black visual artists
  2. To learn how Black visual artists use their work to address real-life, complex problems relating to anti-oppression, equity and social justice

Task: Using Google Slides – Research, analyse and recreate a piece of art from one of the Black artists discussed in class: Ernie Barnes, Varnette Honeywood, Romare Bearden, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Annie Lee

  • Describe, highlight and and explain the artist’s creative style and abilities
  • Explain how the artist’s work can be seen from an anti-oppressive, equity and social justice lens
  • Recreate the selected piece of art as a platform to represent your own interpretation and understanding of the message the art represents in the original piece

Impact: Students were able to use digital tools to make discoveries through inquiry and research. They were also able to make connections to what they are learning to current issues and their lived experiences.

Black History Artists – Assignment

 

“I have been forced to celebrate Valentine’s Day all my life!”

As we enter a new month, we look forward to celebrating new things with our classes. I was so excited to do a group research activity with my class this week, not only to see how well they collaborated, but to see what they knew about as far as days we celebrate in February.

This is the list they came up with:

  • Black History Month
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Lunar New Year
  • Groundhog Day
  • Family Day

Students worked with their classmates to come up with some facts about the celebrated dates. Then, they shared these facts with the rest of the class. During this activity, I saw new students stepping up as leaders and a lot of interesting conversations occurred.

Black History Month

Out of my 24 students, ten can remember celebrating this each year. They had mentioned hearing about it on the announcements or at the beginning of the month from their teacher but not much more. Last year was an interrupted year so perhaps they cannot remember much. Without researching, one student could recall the importance of learning about Black History and how she was looking forward to learning more. Many students wondered why Black History month is just one month? The discussions that came out of this were great as one grade seven offered that we should celebrate Black History as part of our history curriculum. I let her know that I agreed with this and the curriculum is starting to become much more inclusive. Ensuring these important parts of history are captured during each unit rather than once a year is something we all need to try to do. My class voted that they would all like to learn and celebrate during Black History Month this year since they hadn’t been able to remember much from last year.

Lunar New Year

One student in my room mentioned that they celebrate Lunar New Year and that they would be having a nice dinner that evening. They also wore a nice dress shirt to class and will be eating as a family that evening. Other students were unsure about this celebration and I made sure to fill them. When we are back from our Snow Day, I hope to show them an article on how families celebrated this year. No students had ever heard about this or could remember celebrating as a class in the past. One student offered that they had made a lantern in grade one.

Groundhog Day

Many students knew about this day without hearing the research and knew that it occurred each year. They did not want to celebrate or learn about this day as a class this year as they did not find it that important.

Family Day 

The research group found out when Family Day started and that we all have the day off for this holiday. Although we have the day off to celebrate, only four students put up their hand when asked if they would like to do something fun with their family that day. A grade 7/8 audience is hard to ask that question to because finding joy in spending time with family may be challenging to admit to their peers. We learned about how this day was created so that people can spend time to honour the importance of family and to cherish them by spending time with them. Lots of questions were asked about why we needed to have the day off. Great conversations around this as well!

Valentine’s Day 

This was the first celebration that was mentioned when groups selected their celebration. They knew the date of this holiday and many facts about it, not even thinking they needed to do any research. When I asked students how many had celebrated in the past, all hands went up. Students had mentioned doing crafts, going to dances, sending Valentine’s, etc. When I rephrased the question to who would like to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, only 9 of the 24 hands went up. Whether it be their age of their disinterest in this holiday, students who had celebrated in previous years would not like to anymore. One student made a comment that inspired me to write this blog post. Her comment was, “I have been forced to celebrate Valentine’s Day all my life!” This comment really shocked me as I know that in the past, I had brought in cakes, cupcakes, treats, organized dances, organized candy grams, played music, dressed up, etc. all to celebrate a holiday that may not have meant anything to my students. They may not want to celebrate a day that appears on the calendar each year. That is why when administrators mention to be careful how much emphasis you place on certain holidays, it is meant for the students who may not want to celebrate that holiday. This year, I will allow my nine students to find a way to enjoy this holiday with their peers. The other students will not have to give up any of their time on February 14th to participate in something they do not want to participate in.

Lots of food for thought with this discussion, try it with your class if you think they can respond appropriately!

no cape required

Have you ever seen or heard this one? “I teach. What’s your superpower?” It’s on shirts, mugs, plaques and all sorts of other tchotchkes. I’ve heard it at conferences and keynotes too and it never fails to make me chuckle when I do because it seems like a humble brag even though it is true. To continue the candy coated clichés then, it comes as no surprise that each educator possesses super powers that they use everyday.

You know the ones I’m talking about. Pivoting (easy stomach) to emergency online learning with little to no notice, covering classes while losing prep after prep due to a lack of available occasional teachers due to illness or quarantine requirements, putting on a brave face for students and colleagues who are showing the signs of anxiety at the edge of a nervous breakdowns, and facing a barrage of unrealistic expectations from system leaders who are decades between the classroom and the boardroom. I guess the capes these superpowers come with are back ordered due to supply chain issues like our HEPA filtration units, school nurses, RAT tests, and consistent policy. 

Cape or no cape, I guess it’s not bragging when it’s backed up with actions because I know that it is happening in classrooms in Ontario and beyond on a daily basis. 3 weeks into the new year and the shift is coming to relax restrictions rather than enforce measures to protect the public. Each day another classroom is emptied while caretakers “sanitize” because another student departs with symptoms. Each day our front office team deals with 20% more calls and reports of COVID related absences of students. Each day we prepare to accommodate learners who have stayed home able to choose the hybrid option. Each day the struggle to see something positive in every situation becomes more difficult even for the most enlightened optimists among us. 

That is why, this post comes with its own irony, as I write this month, because it is taking all of my superpowers as an educator just to get through each day right now. I truly believe that it is not normal to wake up feeling restless or trudging home with little left in the emotional tank for family let alone friends or additional school work such as planning and assessment. It is taking every ounce of my superpowers to find the air and the serenity right now. Each exit from school at day’s end feels like emerging from underneath water to finally draw an overdue breath of air. 

The move to online and then back to the classroom this month with little to no regard to the wellbeing of students or educators is once again due to negligence and dereliction of responsibility by the current government. There’s nothing better than making sure families start the year wondering and witnessing ongoing acts of orchestrated distraction, unchecked number vomit news pressers, and photo ops provided confusion in the media for the public. These stage managed wretched events only amplified how an out of touch premier and his party of gaslighting grifters are able to go to inconvenience a province and its 2 000 000 students and make it sound like they are doing their jobs.

It is political performance art at its worst through a series of non-messages, announcements about announcements and off news cycle timing intended solely to keep everyone stuck to a web of distraction and uncertainty woven by political incompetence. It is also the kryptonite that weakens education and civil society at the expense of future generations who are only learning about their super powers in our classrooms. 

Thank you for reading and for sharing your superpowers. 

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

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?

misfires and dry spells

I have a problem with self-perception that needs explaining in this medium, and I may not be the only one with it. #fingerscrossed

Have you ever heard the terms “misfires” or “creative dry spell”?  I’ve experienced each of them, In fact, they happen in and out of the classroom fairly frequently. I am pretty sure that it happens to everyone at some point in time. If you’re nodding your head at this, does it come with bouts of self-doubt/loathing for you too? #stuffhappens

Since it is the end of the calender year. Lists are always fun. Here are 6 things that have been on my mind for you to ponder:

  1. Be positive about your skills and know they are always evolving
  2. Stop getting in your own way. Try new things.
  3. Learn that failure can be an excellent teacher. Don’t take it personally.
  4. You can’t control anything around you except how you respond to it
  5. Things will go wrong. Sometimes this will lead to something amazing and new.
    Other times it will require a restart. Educators are natural born problem solvers.
  6. Take time to see and enjoy the big picture of your impact on the lives of learners.

Despite these moments, when nothing flows or moves forward, things manage to get accomplished in some shape or form. At times, I have little to no recollection of how, but accept that going through the highs and lows whether they are in the creative process or in teaching have allowed me still do many things despite the voices of discouragement telling me to give up or that the work is not good enough. #justkeepmoving

In past iterations of my practice, I chose to internalize my inabilities as a personal failure. That was until I accepted that failure was a natural part of the creative process and that every so called failure of mine was actually a lesson as well when looked at objectively. I found this to be quite liberating and began to look at failure without the fear that may have clouded my thinking around it from the past. #learnfromfailure

A few years back there was a poster in my classroom that read FAIL meant Frequent Attempts In Learning. It was accompanied by a Chinese proverb that read, “Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up.” These two thoughts guided our year and ultimately helped students to value their efforts at all times in the process rather than stressing about the mark(s). It was during this time that I confronted my own demons getting in the way of my own creativity and abilities. The first thing to do was stop trying to be everything to everyone and start being myself. #confrontyourdoubts

The next was to not worry about the temporary obstacles placed in my path because they were just that, temporary. This meant learning to move around, under, over or destroying them with a lot of creativity, patience, and an occasional strategic surrender to regroup. I have become comfortable in retracing my footsteps, although it may cost a little time or necessitate starting a journey along a different path if the old one needed to be abandoned in the process. Kind of like teaching in that way isn’t it? #stickwithit

All of this got me thinking about how my “misfires and creative dry spells” might actually be good for my teaching practice. #donotmissthelearning

Teachers by nature are problem solvers. I am no different. This is one of our super powers. Yet, even with these incredible skills to adapt within everchanging spaces, we find it difficult when something goes wrong whether it was within or beyond our control. I have come to love what comes of the inevitable mistakes that occur in my classroom, and have seized upon making my mess and my mistakes a bigger part of my message as they reflect a truer version of myself as an educator. #teachingismysuperpower

I may not be able to control all of the outcomes or actors, but I can definitely control how I respond to them. Accepting that every lesson and class will not be perfect, but will still move us to someplace where we might see things more clearly or at least differently is a great place to start. #teachersashumans

We juggle and manage dozens of moments simultaneously. We are constantly prioritizing the wellbeing and needs of our learners/selves throughout each instructional day. We are adapting to variables with a depth of skill that would astound a chess champion. Teachers make real time course corrections as they navigate students through their learning. In all of this there is bound to some incredible learning occuring in each of these moments. #teachersmakethedifference

And then at the end of the day, we reflect on our reflections about the day and prepare to do it again the next.* It’s okay to nod. #reflecttogrow

Happy Gregorian Calender New Year. May 2022 be good to us all. In safety and solidarity. Thank you for reading. #gratitude

*I remember telling the dean at my faculty of education that I have become a mirror after so much reflection. She laughed.

2 weeks

Happy December folx,

I’m writing this on a Saturday, and it feels good. I am not sure when it will actually be posted though. It has been a day since wishing my in-class and hybrid learners “happy holidays” and “merry Christmas” so the significance of the next two weeks outside of school coupled with exhaustion, uncertainty, and another COVID19 wave have not hit me, yet.

Did anyone else wake up at their normal time even though the alarm wasn’t set? My body and mind will need some time to sync with the holiday hiatus whether they are ready or not. I am not going to force the issue either. It is important to sleep when you’re tired and wake when you are ready over the next 2 weeks.

I have found it best to spend the first 2 days of any long break keeping regular routines. I do this because of the inevitable let-down that happens once my brain and body realize that it will not be business as usual at school on day 3. I have learned the hard way that not easing into the holidays left me really rundown and often with a cold. As the spread of the recent varient rivals the proliferation of Christmas music everywhere, it is wise not to let your guard down.

The holidays offer freedom that when paired with a built-up desire to cram numerous overdue social activities into a finite amount of time can be very tempting. Self-care over this break needs to be your first priority even when a voice in the back of your head is screaming you forgot something at school. I encourage you to leave your work email alone as much as possible over this time, Being aware of this over extended time away from work has been very helpful to my mind and body.

To admit that this break comes as a relief is the best way to express how it feels today. I am tried, tested, tired, and trying to avoid a tirade from a sensed disappointment in students, their families, and fellow educators all of whom have been left looking for some clarity as to what will happen when we are scheduled to return in January.

At days end on December 17th, there was little evidence of a clear message/acknowledgement from the current minister of education or from many school boards in response to the rapidly changing numbers of new infections in our province. I guess we should be thankful to have made it to the end of this school month, since the numbers of new infections have been increasing so rapidly in and out of schools. This year’s break could not have come at a better time. Speaking of the time, I will continue this post tomorrow. I am off to cook dinner.

Time for a little politics

It’s Sunday morning, coffee pot empty, breakfast cooked and eaten, dishes done, and it’s back to the keyboard. A reread of the previous day’s paragraphs, several phrasing/content changes made, and action. By the way, dinner was delish. Asian inspired pork with a tangerine ginger garlic sauce over rice and stir fry veggies. Yum! It’s go time.

Over the holidays our students will be able to isolate more and monitor their health using the 5 RATs (rapid antigen tests) each was given. Now they can line up with their parents while they get theirs and call it ‘family time’. I am appalled that the citizens of our province have been forced to line up to receive a pack of tests like this will solve the spread of COVID19 and its varients. It did not surprise me either to hear that RATs would be available at some LCBO locations, not all. Now their employees(also unionized) can be run off their feet even more during their busiest time of year.

I think local MPP offices would be a much better location to pick up these tests as it would provide a chance for them to look their constituents in the eye and see what their decisions have wrought. They don’t seem to be doing a lot with their free time out of the legislature other than photo-opping.

Teachers felt the mean spirited message the current government sent them when they were not included in the distribution of RATs. It speaks again to the malicious intent to demoralize a decimated workforce already coping with underfunding,  understaffing, poor public policy, indifference, broken promises, and the visceral contempt of the profession by the current government.

We need to demand better from the people who are elected to serve us. Students, their families, and educators deserve better. We deserve leadership that serves the public and not the profiteers in whose pockets they pander.

Stay safe. Stay strong. In solidarity we stand.

Possibly next time

In my last post parents and guardians, I mentioned wanting to share some further thoughts about communication tips in support of new educators, but that will have to be something for the future.

Saying you care is not enough…

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

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

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

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

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

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

parents and guardians

There are numerous allies in education outside of our schools. Parents and guardians are always at the top of the list. To reframe a quote, “they are our partners in education”. In other, perhaps more ominous words, everything we do in the classroom is linked inextricably to them and their children – good, bad, or otherwise. No pressure there, eh?

When I started out as a teacher, I had to learn the delicate dance of dealing with parents. Coming from a media, sales, and entrepreneurial background, prior to education, provided me with a mix of no nonsense and conversational finesse. Perhaps, the number of kilometres on my life odometer have made interactions with parents and guardians different for me compared to my chronologically younger colleagues. I noticed that even though we started out at the same time, our experiences from our first parent conferences back in the day were quite different. This is still happening today, 12 years later as I try to mentor teachers new to their roles in schools. 

Was and is my age a factor ? What about my gender? What about my privilege of being a white-cis male too? Yup, yup, and double-yup.

At first I found it odd that families saw me as more experienced based only on their visual assumptions? I never hid my rookie status from families. Yet, I witnessed how some younger teachers seemed to be second guessed by some parents/guardians for no perceivable reason other than their youth even though they had the same experience as me. I can guarantee you that most of them could teach circles and other shapes around me.

Seeing this year after year proved that this was not an uncommon occurence in education. In subsequent years, I felt strongly about making sure teachers would rally together in support of our new team members on staff by ensuring that there is a supportive structure around them. I know it’s called NTIP, but I never recall meetings with parents and guardians as high on the learning priority list. For me, this focus is also extended to all faculty of education students. It is important that they get a chance to be present when possible for meetings too. 

the set-up

Looking back, it may have been the way I front loaded communication prior to those meetings? For my part, I have always believed that the student is the best agenda. I have always expected them to share their days and responsibilites with the adults at home in their lives. I have also learned that an agenda can be conveniently lost or recycled at the most interesting times.

When I was given my first homeroom, I made sure to let parents know what they could expect in terms of communication forms and frequency. As such, even though students had agendas they were expected to fill them as they saw fit throughout the day. This year I chose not to ask for agendas for my grade 4/5 class which left some parents a bit uncomfortable. A colleague solved that issue by cutting an 80 page writing book in half. Voilà, an agenda is born.

It is important to remember that it is your class and you need to manage it in terms that work best for you. Consider it as a differentiation of sorts. Gardner would be proud. 

I prefer to communicate with adults at home in a more corporate manner via email. This is mostly due to my atrocious penmanship skills. My hand moves too slowly for my brain. Typing has allowed me to find the goldilocks zone for my brain and body. Parents and guardians receive updates about classroom events such as what is being learnt and any assessments that might be coming home or upcoming.

I also use my emails to families as a method of letting parents know how hard their students are working and that I appreciate their support. This medium of communication has always been effective for me. 

If you are fan of agendas then the answer is built into your instructional day already as students copy down what is on the board to take home each night. I see the value of developing the fine motor skills of younger students by printing, but am also aware that this can be an incredible instructional time suck. With the rise of digital classroom spaces (G**gle et al) many of the daily notices can be shared online without daily delay which would give time for other fine motor skills practice anyway.

I also believe that students can come to loathe the activity if they struggle with printing/cursive writing like I do. Communication does not have to be daily. See my above where I mentioned how students can be the conversational conduits of their school days instead of a series of disconnected written prompts that require explanation anyway. This brings me to my next point about how frequently educators need to share with families, but that will have to wait until my next post because there might be some stories and opinions to share that would make this read a bit too much like a long note home in an agenda.