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!

Happy New Year

An Ode to the New Year

Photo by: Djordje Vezilic

A New Year
A New Start
We wish each other a Happy New Year
But are we intentional about making the year so?

What’s in a New Year?
A restart to the continuation of the school year.
An opportunity to explore learning in all its forms.
A chance to tap into new ways of doing, of understanding.

Over the past year, there has been so much we have learned or hoped to learn.
We examined, reflected, and challenged ourselves as educators and members of the larger society.

As we embark on another new year, one we wish is a happy one,
I implore you to move beyond making resolutions to acting on your resolve.
I encourage you to make the time to learn, unlearn, and relearn.
I challenge you to continue to reflect on and refine your praxis.
And I applaud you as you do the needed work of fostering equitable education for all students.

An ode to this new year.
One that I wish is transformative for you.

 

National Ribbon Skirt Day (January 4)

“A bill put forward by Senator Mary Jane McCallum to recognize National Ribbon Skirt Day has received Royal Assent and is now an act of parliament. McCallum was inspired to create the bill after a young Saskatchewan girl named Isabella Kulak was shamed for wearing a ribbon skirt during a formal school event” (Francis, 2022).

Bill S-219 was passed to create awareness and provide an opportunity for Canadians to learn more about the importance of Ribbon Skirts to many Indigenous cultures and heritage. “National Ribbon Skirt Day will provide an opportunity for everyone in Canada to recognize, learn about, and celebrate the importance of Indigenous traditions and expressions of culture. The Ribbon Skirt is one such tradition” (Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, 2022).

In Indigenous communities, “Ribbon skirts are traditionally worn in ceremonies and during special events by First Nations women and represent the person’s identity, unique diversity and strength.  Women, girls and gender diverse people also wear them to express pride and confidence in their Indigenous identity and heritage.” (Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, 2022).

According to the article by CBC News, A young Saskatchewan girl by the name of Isabella Kulak was targeted and shamed at a school function for wearing a ribbon skirt to the school’s formal event.  A teaching assistant told Isabella that her attire did not meet the requirements of ‘formal wear’ and that she should have worn a store-bought (mass-produced brand) to fit with the other students. Unfortunately, in Canada, this oppressive dialogue is not uncommon in the interactions of many racialized and marginalized people groups who choose to honour their culture or religion through their attire. According to Francis, 2022, while speaking at an interview On CBC Radio One, Isabella mentioned that on January 4, she would wear her ribbon skirt. She said, “It makes me really happy because lots of people can now wear their ribbon skirts proudly. I hope they are now proud of who they are” (Francis, 2022). Isabella’s father (Chris) mentioned that “No child should be treated like that regardless of where they come from or who they are” (Francis, 2022).

The passing of this bill is an opportunity for us as educators to gain deeper insight into the importance of traditions and practices in Indigenous culture. It is also a challenge for us to pause and think about what we deem ‘formal’, ‘proper’ or ‘acceptable’ as it has to do with how our students express themselves through their attire or nonconformity to what attires we think they should wear.

Louise Jocko of Birch Island near Manitoulin said, “Each person has their own story behind their skirts. Each person has their own colours that they bring with them when they make the skirt. I think it really does bring about the resiliency, and it shows the strength in our people that we’re reclaiming that culture and identity … wearing these skirts” (Gemmill, 2023).

There is still so much for us to learn, unlearn, and relearn. As we continue to work together to advocate for equitable learning practices and environments for all students, it is imperative that we all understand the importance of Bill S-19 in combating racism, discrimination, and oppression in all spheres, especially as it pertains to raising awareness of and celebrating Indigenous ways of knowing and being.

References

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. (2022, December 21). Bill S-219, an Act respecting a national ribbon skirt day, receives Royal Assent. Canada.ca. Retrieved January 1, 2023, from https://www.canada.ca/en/crown-indigenous-relations-northern-affairs/news/2022/12/bill-s-219-an-act-respecting-a-national-ribbon-skirt-day-receives-royal-assent.html

Francis, J. (2022, December 23). National Ribbon Skirt Day bill passed, to be celebrated on Jan. 4. CBC News. Retrieved January 1, 2023, from https://www-cbc-ca.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.cbc.ca/amp/1.6694428

Gemmill, A. (2023, January 4). Marking 1st-ever National Ribbon Skirts Day in Northern Ontario | CBC News. CBCnews. Retrieved January 4, 2023, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/marking-ribbon-skirt-day-sudbury-1.6702580

Lambert, A. (2020, July 1). Crazy Hair Day. Crazy hair day. Retrieved January 4, 2023, from https://heartandart.ca/crazy-hair-day/

The Wind Down

2022 has come to a close. As I reflect on the year, there are 3 things that I will be taking with me into the next: finding moments to create; doing what I can; and resting. They’re simple and yet, if followed, I think they might help to make 2023 a little better for me.

Finding Moments to Create

When anyone asks me what I enjoy most about teaching, I say that it’s working with children. Sitting down and having the chance to interact and watching as students learn is very rewarding. In my role this year as a STEM teacher, I’ve had several opportunities to do just that. This month, students used cardboard and Makedo to create strong and stable homes that could withstand the huffing and puffing of the “Big Bad Wolf”. As group members worked together on their plans and designs, I had a lot of fun sitting with them to see how we could bring their ideas to life. It wasn’t easy at first but it was really neat to see how even our youngest students – the kindergartens – got the hang of it and created incredible homes that were so unique. Overhearing some tell the stories of their homes and what happens in their homes at the end was a great bonus. 

Reflecting on the year, the times that I enjoyed myself most in the classroom have been when I’ve had the chance to either watch students build or have built with them. Seeing the excitement that students have as they create something is truly a joyous experience. Whether or not it’s perfect, many love to describe the elements of their creations and often ask to save them so that others can see their work. Knowing the joy that creating brings, I’ve tried to incorporate more time for myself to be creative outside of the classroom. Whether it’s through making jewelry, painting or building with Lego, I’ve enjoyed creating and as I walk into 2023, I’m choosing to make more time to do so, whether or not I’m “good at it”. 

Doing What I Can

At the beginning of my career, I think I was very hard on myself when I had a lesson that didn’t go as planned or didn’t get as far as I hoped in a unit, usually due to time. At that point, I didn’t quite grasp that we teach the students in front of us and not who we expect them to be. Once I did, I found that teaching became easier. Don’t get me wrong, my expectations remain high for my students, it’s just that if more scaffolding is required, there’s learning needed and we take our time as we learn before moving on.

This year I had a few different design projects that I had imagined and yet we’re still on our first one. We’ve paused and regrouped while learning new skills and I’m proud of what we have been able to learn and accomplish so far. In 2023, we will continue to do what we can without judgment, knowing that learning is happening.

Resting

This year it didn’t take long for me to fully embrace the fact that I was off for 2 weeks. In years past, I would do a little work towards planning for January or start thinking about Term 1 reports but not this year. I need rest and I’m choosing to not feel guilty about having 2 weeks off to rest and get myself ready for school to start again. There will be no work beyond some writing for this blog and I’ve learned to embrace that. As I walk into 2023 I will continue to be intentional when I am at work and when it’s time to recharge, I’ll take the time to do just that. I do hope that you’re taking some time to rest and relax during this break. Teaching can be quite demanding. Remember that we need to take care of ourselves in order to make the most of the learning experiences within our classroom spaces. Refill your cup. You can only give what you have. 

As you wind down from the events of 2022, what might you take into 2023 that will help make it better for you? Wishing you all the very best for this coming year.

time off time

I received a very encouraging email today while working from home as a result of an imprecisely unplanned present from Mother Nature in the form of a pause prior our previously planned end of school for our winter break. The message could not have come at a more perfect time either. It read;

“I hope you can log off, unplug, relax and enjoy starting asap.  You have all worked so hard under ever-changing and difficult circumstances but the common thread is that you put our students at the forefront of everything you do.”

Perhaps serendipitously as I was adding the quote above, another message arrived in my still open board email inbox. It read;

 “thank you for the work that you do each and every day to support the learning, well-being and achievement of our students. What you do matters. It matters to our students; it matters to our families; it matters to your colleagues and it matters to our community.”

These two messages may not give you the feels as you read them on the first pass. In fact, the version of myself from December 2021, would have been the first skeptic in line however this year, I could not help feeling the sincerity in them both knowing who sent them. I am very fortunate that messages from these senders are not uncommon either. I thought it a good idea to add my own sentiments as well, hence the idea for this post.

It’s time off time folx. As of 3:45 pm on Dec 23, 2022 you have led your classroom of learners for the year. You can also take some satisfaction in knowing that 4 tenths of the school year are now in the books or 2 fifths if you’re in my class and have to reduce your fractions. With all those numbers bouncing around in you minds it is truly time off time.

Time off time to…

  • rest
  • relax
  • reach out to help
  • reach out for help
  • rejuvenate your mind
  • reflect on all of your hard work
  • reconnect with friends and family
  • remain still for as long as you choose
  • remember those who are no longer with you
  • re-establish personal boundaries and respect them

Whether you are a new teacher or pulling a decade plus teaching experience with a long rope, it is important for each of us to recharge our mental and physical batteries. This job is demanding and as I have shared in the minutes in between and survival tips,  self care is crucial to being able to burn brightly without burning out each day. That’s it. That’s the message. Wishing you all a restful, relaxing, and restorative winter break. It’s time out time for this teacher.

kids these days – educator version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there benefits?

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

Are there drawbacks? 

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

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

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

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

 

We’re Building Again!

Lay a challenge before a creative and imaginative group of students and you get nothing but sheer enthusiasm and excitement to tackle that challenge. My school’s kindergarten and primary students, like Iggy Peck, are always up for a building challenge. After reading the book and realizing just how devastating a broken bridge could be, groups of students banded together using linking discs to solve the problem and created some incredible bridges. 

In groups of 3 or 4, students quickly got to work and realized that the task of creating a bridge that was long enough and sturdy enough, during a short period of time, would require all hands on deck. Although each group was given the same task, it was great to see that groups approached the build in different ways.  It was really nice to see groups of students working together and listening to one another about what they might choose to build. Some considered building a straight line, while others tried to create something that looked like a ladder that someone could walk across. For some members, linking the discs was hard and so they took a longer time to help with the build, all while having their teammates there to help them along. From one corner of the classroom, I heard a kinder say, “I’m doing it!” while their classmate replied, “Good job”. 

When it came time to test out their creations, some groups quickly realized that they needed all of their members to help carry their bridges over to the testing station. Along the way, many broke and members had to help each other piece their bridges back together again. At the testing area, some groups found that their bridges weren’t long enough and had to go back and add on. Other groups found that what they had built wasn’t sturdy enough, resulting in the bridges falling or sliding off of the chairs. They too went back to the drawing board and added discs for extra stability, and sometimes weight at the ends.

Part of what I love so much about my work in this role is that I have the opportunity to support students in failing forward. Many were not successful on their first try and it was refreshing to see that we’ve created a space where that’s ok and we can go back and try again. We’ve had a couple of periods each of building bridges and I don’t think they’re tired yet. I’m more excited about the bridges we are building with each other as we support one another in building our creativity.

Pausing and Teaching for Deeper Learning

Have you ever created an assignment or activity only to realize that you need to take a few steps back to do a bit more teaching? This month I found myself once again in this position. I love it because just as we ask our students to be reflective, we as teachers have the chance to do the same. It’s in these moments of reflection that I find better ways of teaching something or supporting students in deeper learning. 

For the last few months, I’ve been working on a design project with students. We started by working on identifying problems; picking one and telling the story of our problem by answering the 5Ws and how. From there, students had the opportunity to focus on a specific user so that they could create a new and innovative solution for that type of person. After coming up with great ideas, students determined the solution that they wanted to work on, storyboarded their solutions and got feedback from peers. As a part of our work, I always believe in the importance of having students share their ideas with authentic audiences and they do this through pitches. Throughout the process, there has been lots of learning and this point was no different. To do our pitches, we are using Google Slides. I realized that as much online learning as we have done over the years, students needed some teaching on how to insert pictures and how to change the font size. When the questions started coming in, I quickly realized that we were a little in over our heads. I wasn’t expecting this. 

We’ve taken a pause and have been working through a Google Slides Scavenger Hunt that was adapted from one created by Caitlin Tucker a few years ago. 

As we’re going through, students are working in partners trying to solve each challenge and are learning some of the basics of Google Slides. We’re taking our time, making sure that we understand how to do each of the tasks so that when it comes time to go back to our pitches, we can easily add pictures and text that will appeal to our audience.

With everything that we feel we have to “get through”, this has been a great reminder of taking the time to pause and explicitly teach so that students can successfully complete a task. I’m certain that after the scavenger hunt there will be things that we might forget about using Google Slides but I do know that with a few simple reminders, students will feel more successful in using the tool to share their innovative solutions with the world. More often than not, our pauses lead to deeper learning.

Curriculum Night

Every year when curriculum night rolls around, I feel challenged. Well, let me clarify. I feel challenged in my hope to ensure that the evening is meaningful for students and their families. I understand that parents are interested in finding out how their child is progressing but with 4 weeks under our belts – and sometimes less than that – I know what I’ve seen so far is often just a tiny glimpse into a child’s potential. We’re still getting to know each other, learning routines and quite frankly, expectations that we may have of each other. So whenever the conversation starts about what we are doing for curriculum night, I ask myself three questions: 

  1. What works for our school community?
  2. How do I encourage students to move freely within our classroom space with a sense of confidence, showing their families what they have been learning?
  3. How can I help parents see this evening as an invitation to open communication and collaboration for this year’s learning journey?

In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on each of these questions.

What works for our school community?

Students, families and the community should be at the forefront of what we do in education. As such, considering all members of our community in planning curriculum night is essential. Being new to my school and school community, it was really important for me to understand what usually happens in order to determine what I might consider doing. I’ve been in schools where the expectations have been formal presentations during particular timeslots and in others where less formal meet-and-greets where handouts are provided. I have found that every school is different. Not only that, but the pandemic has also opened our eyes to what might be done virtually to support a variety of families. This year we went with a less formal, in-person, meet-and-greet where parents popped in and out of classrooms and were free to move around the school at their leisure. During the hour, I found that there were times when there were lulls and then periods when the room was packed and buzzing with excitement. Families felt free to come for parts of the evening when it was ideal for them and had the freedom to not stay for the entire time and I found that worked best for our school community. 

How do I encourage students to move freely within our classroom space with a sense of confidence, showing their families what they have been learning?

This year, I teach prep and although I have a fairly large room, it’s often hard to have student work from all classes on display. As of late, we have been working on design thinking projects that are all in various stages. The kindergarten students and the grade 1/2s all have their animal habitats built and those were on display but the 2/3s and 4/5s have most of their plans and work in piles together as many are just beginning to design prototypes. That said, I tried to consider how students could show parents that they have been learning skills to help them solve real-life problems in a way that was fun and engaging. Our Lego challenges at the beginning of the school year were a great success so I gave out another challenge to students and their families and the builds were on. Families created together and students walked them through their solutions with joy and confidence. It was really great seeing families working together to solve a problem and the rich conversations that came of it. I think it was an opportunity to lighten the pressure of coming in and meeting the teacher and gave students the chance to feel right at home with something familiar that they could share with their families. It was so nice to see some students return later in the evening to sit and build with their families.

How can I help parents see this evening as an invitation to open communication and collaboration for this year’s learning journey?

Being new, this was the first time meeting many families. Because of our Lego challenge, I did enjoy that there wasn’t the pressure of a formal presentation.  I chose to create a slideshow that was on a loop and noticed that many families – while building – were taking a look and jotting down information on how we could connect. I have a classroom blog that I use to update families on what we get up to in our classroom and many noted that it was a great way to start conversations about what students are learning and doing on a weekly basis. I also let parents know that my door is always open and that I look forward to working with them in supporting their children this year. For the few who were asking for specifics, I asked if we could set up a time to speak and also mentioned that progress reports and interviews are coming up soon and that would give me more of an opportunity to get to know their child and for us to have the chance to have a more meaningful conversation.

How does curriculum night work in your school? What considerations are made when planning the evening? Please feel free to share as the more we know and are able to consider, the better we become in our practice. Based on our curriculum night this year, I’m excited to work with students and their families for a successful year of learning.  Hope you are too!