Teaching dance and health online, yikes!

Happy week after spring break everyone!

Is anyone else feeling super impressed with their students and their ability to get right back into things after a week-long break? I have never been able to say that before so I thought I may as well express these feelings of joy while I can.

As we get closer to the end of our school year, I am quickly compiling numerous tables with expectations, activities and number of periods needed for each subject. Since I have such an engaged group, I want to cover as much as I can so they are ready for their grade eight year. I think I’ve had about ten nightmares related to teaching dance and health since I started my online journey in September. I knew I wanted to start them sooner rather than later so we had time for more relaxed subjects in June. 

So, Tuesday our first day back this week, we started dance and I was overwhelmed with the amount of participation. I wanted to keep things manageable so I started with this specific expectation:

  • Exploring cultural forms, specifically, looking at the evolution of dance over time.

We watched an eight minute long YouTube video called “The Evolution of Dance”. Using what students saw in that video as well as researching on their own, students posted sticky notes on our jamboard link, sharing anywhere from 50-60 different styles of dance. We started in the 1950s and went all the way to present day. One student went so far as to share a comment about how nowadays, dances become popular overnight due to trends set by “celebrities” on tiktok. This app allows a worldwide stage for new and viral dances. This was such a great connection and was something we were going to address the following class. I was very nervous to teach dance, but I am glad I started with some discussions and video sharing. I have never taught this topic and was unsure of how to get a group of 33 grade seven students to dance, but I was able to see such engaging conversations take off around the evolution of dance. An engaging lesson for any who are skeptical about this hard to each subject (especially in a virtual space).

I am also gearing up to teach the health curriculum for the first time in my career. We were asked to send a letter home to parents where it outlines the expectations we will be covering. We also made parents aware of the exemption form that they would be required to fill out if they are requesting an exemption (as per board policy). These are the topics that I will be teaching this year to the grade seven students:

  • Describing the dangers associated with computers/social media and identify protective responses 
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the link between mental health problems and substance use 
  • Explaining the importance of having a shared conversation with a partner about delaying sexual activity until they are older  
  • Understanding consent and the importance of communication 
  • Identifying sexually transmitted, blood-borne infections and describe their symptoms   
  • Identifying ways of preventing infections and unplanned pregnancy 
  • Mental Health Literacy  
  • Substance use, addition and related behaviours 

 The following resources will be used to assist in the delivery of this unit: 

  • Ontario Curriculum sample questions  
  • OPHEA guidelines

We will also be able to attend a lunch and learn for more information as well as hear more about these topics at our staff meeting. For a teacher who has never taught health, never talked about these topics in an online setting and never met their students, it can be quite an intimidating subject. However, I know these topics are very important to talk about and my students are well versed in the importance of learning sensitive things, especially in today’s society. I am hoping I will be able to cover these to the best of my abilities and I look forward to reading the OPHEA resources before doing so. 

If any teachers have tips/tricks for dance and health, I am all ears! For now, these are my go to plans for the two subjects. As for the other subjects I still need to cover, even though they have their challenges, are pieces of cake compared to the unfamiliar dance and health!

Enjoy your weekends everyone and hang in there, we almost made it through this wild and unique year! 

 

It’s Too Much: Teacher Anxiety in the Time of School with Covid-19

can't sleep

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.

As I usually write blogs about educational issues, I’ve decided to make this one more personal. I know that teachers are feeling very stressed at the thought of going back to school in a pandemic while having to face classrooms with up to 30 elementary students. At this point in time, students will return to school with no decrease in class sizes from March 2020.

Issues with teaching in schools in a time of Covid-19

Infection Control

As teachers, we all know that students are “viral conduits” and that we can usually rely on catching some flu or cold before the end of September. In my 20 years of teaching, I’ve contracted H1N1 (2009 swine flu), Whooping Cough twice, various coughs and colds, and had 3 months of bronchitis.

My health was particularly poor when I taught primary grades as students in these grades tend to have less developed immune systems and they like to hug teachers. I taught middle school for 11 years and was sick less often in which I attribute this to the fact that middle school students rarely touch their teachers! What I do know is that no amount of cleaning will be able to keep up with little hands in hallways and classrooms.

Adequate Ventilation

The Ontario Government is complacent to the fact that infections are spread in schools. Elementary school classrooms are usually poorly ventilated as is evident in September and June with no air circulation to combat hot classrooms. Classrooms are also not all the same size but due to equity issues, classes consist of the same number of students. This means a teacher with a larger classroom will have the same number of students as a teacher with a smaller classroom.

Social Distancing Seating

With flexible seating and collaborative learning, many classrooms no longer use desks. Instead, to facilitate a more fluid learning environment, teachers have students sitting at tables in many different groupings. This means that there are not enough desks to put students in socially distanced rows. With underfunding and a lack of hard caps on class sizes, some classes contain up to 30 students or more.  With no cuts to class sizes, this means students will have to sit beside each other.

Social Distancing Hallways

Hallway management is another challenge as students crowd the hall during breaks or classroom changes. Even with arrows and tape on the floor, I cannot imagine having all these students being able to socially distance before, during, or after school. There is simply not enough space to have students move separately through hallways.

Social Distancing Busing

Busing is a further challenge. As an average bus carries 24 students without social distancing, a socially distanced bus would contain only 8 students. I’d like to know where Ontario will be able to find 3 times the amount of buses and bus drivers to drive students to school.

Unknowing Before Schools Closed

In March 2020, when schools first closed, I had no idea what I was about to face. I had a mission to get my classroom learning online and a very steep learning curve to make this happen. Like all the other teachers in Ontario, we worked many hours to make online learning a reality. It is what teachers do for their students. Teachers heard reports for extended school closures hoping for school to open in April, then May, and then June. As online learning work was not to be evaluated, we wrote June 2020 report cards and Individual Education Plans based on assessments and evaluations from before the school closures occurred.

Dealing with Uncertainty and Stress

During this time, I was going through moments of great anxiety which resulted in low-grade panic attacks. This has been an ongoing issue most of my life and in my mid 30s I was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and depression. The first time I took meds, I felt like a curtain had been lifted as I could hear, feel, taste, and see more clearly. In dealing with this anxiety, I considered seeking more medication support. But the idea of more meds was not an immediate option as all medication comes with some side effects. I decided, instead, to manage my anxiety with regular exercise, plenty of water, and eating well.

In addition to my moments of anxiety, I had many sleepless nights between March 2020 and the end of June. I know I am not unique in losing sleep in this uncertain time as I’ve spoken with colleagues and read teachers’ posts on Twitter. Sleepless nights worrying about students is an occupational hazard.

But the exercise, water, food, and light did not help. I reached out to my doctor and started seeing a psychotherapist online. This worked to some extent, but my anxiety was ever-present like a big weight pulling me down. Weekly therapy sessions did help. In coming into summer, my anxiety waivered and became manageable again.

With anxiety and depression, for me, it never really goes away completely. Without meds, my anxiety and depression can become so disabling that my ability to do anything complicated fails me and I’m left on the sofa staring at the ceiling for hours. Even with meds, I can have a low-grade depression staying around like an uninvited guest.

Going Back to School with Covid-19

Given the many challenges that await teachers, it is no wonder why my anxiety is ramping up again. In the past Septembers, I always thought about my return to the classroom with waves of joy. I looked forward to seeing my students, in setting up my classroom, and in catching up with my colleagues. Now, I just feel dread.

Health & Employment

My dread is centred around the health and safety of my school and its community. I worry about my school’s students and my colleagues. I wonder how many students and colleagues will return to school this September given the risks of contracting Covid-19 with little social distancing. There are two reasons why my colleagues may not return to school; personal health and family status.

The first is ongoing health concerns. If some colleagues contract Covid-19, their health would be severely compromised. Colleagues, with health concerns, could also ask for accommodations and work via teaching online instead. Although I am not sure, if a teacher has health issues, they may be placed on short term disability.

The second reason for not returning to school would be to request for accommodations due to family status. This would include needs to provide childcare, eldercare, care to a family member, or living with a family member with a compromised immune system or chronic condition. Here, teachers could work from home via online learning if needed.

As I never completely trust employers, I am concerned that boards may deny teachers paid leave which may precipitate having to go on Employment Insurance. This could be a problem for both the teacher and the employer as teachers would essentially be laid off. Boards would then have to hire teachers back to work. It would also impact teachers as they could lose benefits.

Knowing What to Expect

Another challenge with going back to school is that I have gained a great deal of experience and knowledge since March. Now I have a good idea as to what I can expect to face in my instruction and supervision duties.

I know that some of my students will not be attending school face to face, as attendance is voluntary. This will mean that I will be teaching some students online and some students face to face through a “blended” approach. This will include using synchronous streamed lessons that may or may not be supported with equipment and technicians for set up so it will work seamlessly. I do know that I do not have this equipment and with my previous online experience I know these sessions will likely crash several times a week as they did in the spring.

I also know that some of my students will have a challenging time with social distancing in school, especially at recess. I envision my recess duty will consist of trying to keep students apart. I am shaken at the thought of this!

If schools do shut down again, I know what to expect in teaching online. This means that some students will become completely disengaged and as a result, will miss more learning time which is critical to helping them keep up to their grade level. I know that missing months of learning could present significant disadvantages to students in the long run. This is especially true for students from low socio-economic backgrounds which can limit achievement. Allowing this to happen to any student is highly objectionable.

Evaluation and Reporting

When returning to school, while teaching using online or blended learning, I will be tasked with writing report cards. The ministry of education “recommends that, to the greatest extent possible, assessment, evaluation and reporting activities proceed as usual, with a focus on the achievement of overall expectations and the primary purpose of assessment and evaluation being to improve student learning.” So, this means that assignments will be evaluated as if students were in school.

In evaluating students’ work, I also will not be able to confirm “who” is completing the work. I wonder, if a student does not produce work in an online or blended school year, will I be recording “incompletes” for work not done. Further, will I be taking attendance in an online or blended learning format? Will boards of education be providing additional support for students who are struggling?

I could easily write another page about all the things I think about late at night while I lay in bed awaiting sleep, but I will stop here. What I do know is that I will have my colleagues to support me through this exceedingly difficult time in my career.

It is my greatest hope and prayer that not one person gets sick with Covid-19 as a result of being in schools, where social distancing will not be possible.

Sending my best wishes of health and peace to you and your family.

Collaboratively Yours,

Bitmoji Image

 

 

 

School re-opening smart policy design: How Ontario’s current school reopening policy is not so smart

Education policy implementation is a complex process that requires the input of all stakeholders including teachers, school staff, parents, and school communities. As major players in policy implementation, teachers decode and recode policy texts in the process of understanding and translating with various degrees of intentional and unintentional interpretation (Clune, 1987; Fuhrman, Clune, & Elmore, 1991).

In the complex process of policy implementation, teachers experience challenges with implementing educational reforms where previous policy initiatives have not met their objectives (Fullan, 2001). In the layers of educational initiatives, an “array of policies” implemented simultaneously in schools, can cause policy overload within teachers’ practices (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996; Grossman & Thompson, 2004).

In addition, teachers’ thinking is focused on the complexities and ambiguity of their classroom practice and not necessarily on system-wide views of initiative implementation (Timperley & Robinson, 2000). This means that policies, developed with the system-wide perspective of policy authors, may conflict with the classroom-bound perspectives of teachers.

Teachers’ reactions to the “fragmented and cluttered” policy implementation process  may be viewed as teachers being resistant to change. This instead may be a response to the accumulation of past policy experiences, policy overload, policy fragmentation, policy contradictions, and competing perspectives (Timperley & Robinson, 2000). In other words, most education policies don’t fit into the complex and variable context of teachers’ classrooms.

Even when educational policies do not present the intended results, policy authors still believe the design of their policies is an effective way to make change in education. Greenfield (1993) argues that although this reality “usually fails to shake our faith in such theory” (p. 3), it implies that “we need to ask whether the theory and assumptions still appear to hold in the settings where they were developed before they are recommended and applied to totally new settings” (p. 4).

In other words, are education policies producing the intended results in all schools and classrooms? Policy authors rarely follow up with an audit of the effectiveness of their policies nor do they consider if their policies have resulted in harmful consequences to schools, to school communities, and to students’ lives. This is particularly objectionable when the health and lives of students and teachers is impacted.

What makes good policy implementation?

(Viennet & Pont, 2017)

Smart policy design:

Well developed policies offer a logical and feasible solutions to policy problems. Effective policy implementation is based on the feasibility of adequate resources available to support its successful implementation. These resources should include funding to ensure adequate staffing and supplies to support policy implementation in schools that support the policy’s framework.

For example, if a policy is framed upon students being able to social distance in classrooms, then there should be enough space in classrooms to accommodate students with this level of distancing. If classrooms are not large enough to have over 25 students sitting in desks spread out over the classroom, the policy is sure to fail.

Including stakeholders like educators:

Whether and how key stakeholders (i.e. educators, parents, communities, students) are recognized and included in the implementation process is crucial to any policy’s effectiveness. Without the input of front-line stakeholders, the intended policy objectives could result in unintended consequences.

For example, if a policy is to be implemented in the landscape of schools and classrooms in communities, it is imperative that those with intimate knowledge of the landscape should be consulted in order to unearth any obvious challenges presented. An example of this is the diversity of classroom layouts and its contents. Classrooms are as unique as the people who learn in them. Not all classrooms are the same size or configuration. Further, not all classrooms contain desks and instead have collaborative work areas where students sit at tables. If students are to sit two metres or even one metre away from each other, tables may only have one spot for a student. If a policy is based on a configuration of desk placements, it will fail unless furniture is purchased to meet the policy’s assumptions.

Policy designed for schools and their communities:

An effective policy implementation process recognizes the existing policy environment (i.e. schools before Covid-19), the educational governance (i.e. board and school administration) and institutional settings (i.e. elementary and secondary schools) and the external context (i.e. returning to school in a pandemic). Without input from frontline stakeholders, policy authors may produce policy recommendations that are completely inappropriate for schools and their communities.

For example, implementing a return to school policy based on schools’ past configurations will likely result in a quick realization that this assumption is flawed. The practical conclusion is that there will be no way to fit the same number of students into the same amount of space with the implementation of a social distancing policy.

Sensible policy strategies for schools:

A coherent implementation takes into consideration all the guidelines and resources needed to make a policy operational at the school level (i.e. policy needs to be flexible enough to meet the needs of schools’ in their particular communities).

For example, policy authors may mandate synchronous daily online learning sessions for each classroom. Policy makers may not consider the specific technology and the resultant cost for the set up of these online sessions. One most obvious challenge is that there might not be enough Internet bandwidth to support the synchronous daily learning sessions simultaneously for all classes in all schools in Ontario at the same time. In June of 2020, I personally had my own class synchronous learning sessions crash when my board’s staff meetings were occurring at the same time.

Safe Schools in September?

In summary, without consulting school staff and their communities, policy authors will likely see their policy objectives fail as they did not consider the context in which their policies were to be implemented. On a further note, as school boards are already stretched for funding, no additional funding will result in policy implementation that is not smart and not implemented.

I write this blog in a state of frustration and concern as Ontario’s Ministry of Education released plans to open schools in September 2020. Key stakeholders were not consulted in the making of this policy which have resulted in glaring deficits in it’s implementation, particularly in elementary schools.

As a person who has taught through 20 years of education policy implementation, I know education policies fail more than they succeed. I’ve worked through half-baked policy implementation that was only partly implemented or completely abandoned. I’ve faced the fall out of failed policies such as having hand sanitizer in schools during the H1N1 outbreak as some students became sick from ingesting this substance.

Even the thought of having to manage the social distancing of so many students makes my head spin.

My greatest fear is that school communities will face outbreaks of Covid-19 and people will get very sick. The worse negative consequence is that school communities may have to mourn the loss of a person belonging to their community.

A failed return to school policy may end up failing us all.

Take care of yourself and your communities.

Stay safe.

Deb Weston, PhD – a concerned classroom teacher

PhD in Education Policy and Leadership

References

Clune, W. H. (1987). Institutional choice as a theoretical framework for research on educational policy. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 9(2), 117-132.

Fuhrman, S., Clune, W., & Elmore, R. (1991). Research on education reform: Lessons on the implementation of policy (pp. 197-218). AR Odden, Education Policy Implementation. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Fullan, M. (2001). The new meaning of educational change (3rd ed.). Toronto, ON: Irwin.

Fullan, M., & Hargreaves, A. (1996). What’s worth fighting for in your school? New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Greenfield, T. (1993). Theory about organization: A new perspective and its implications for schools. In T. Greenfield & P. Ribbins (Eds.), Greenfield on educational administration (pp. 1-25), London, UK: Routledge.

Grossman, P., & Thompson, C. (2004). District policy and beginning teachers: A lens on teacher learning. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, (26)4, 281-301.

Timperley, H., & Robinson, V. (2000). Workload and the professional culture of teachers. Educational Management & Administration, 28(1), p. 47-62.

Viennet, R., & Pont, B. (2017). Education Policy Implementation: A Literature Review and Proposed Framework. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 162. OECD Publishing.

Overwhelming Resources

As we engage in distance/remote/online/emergency learning Educators are being inundated with resources and tools to use in their virtual classrooms.  It isn’t easy to decide which would be most effective and which ones are safe for teachers and students to use.  There is no one size fits all answer to this but there are a few things that I do in order to narrow down my choices of whether or not to use a particular digital tool or resource:

  1.  I search for tools that are designed by Canadian or better yet, Ontario Educators and where possible, data is housed in Canada.
  2. I look at whether or not the tool will still be free after the COVID crisis is over or whether it has always been a free tool.  I honestly don’t mind paying for a tool from the outset but I don’t really like the whole free trial thing.  I also don’t want to pay some kind of a monthly fee.  One time price, please!  I don’t want to love a tool so much while it is free and then have to pay for it when I go back into the classroom.
  3. I look at whether or not it is a one time fee or negative billing.  I won’t give anyone my credit card to start a free trial for a tool.
  4. I search for tools that I know will be supported by my ICT department.  Anything that wants access to email contacts in my school board is a non-starter.
  5. I search for tools that inspire collaboration and creativity.  I’m not one to sign up students for a gaming platform that is really just an engaging math drill.
  6. I look at bang for my buck (even if it is free).  Is it a versatile tool?  Does it allow for different forms of communication?  Can I embed audio and video?  Is there an opportunity for a variety of feedback methods?
  7. I look at the Privacy statement.  Although I am no expert in this, I can generally tell when something has red flags.  Anything that is attached to third party social media platforms like Facebook is a non starter for me.
  8. Right now while there are so many sign ups and passwords for students, I stay away from platforms that want to create student accounts and want information apart from an email.
  9. I look to see if it is a Microsoft or Apple Education certified product?  I know that for the most part, those tools are trustworthy.
  10. I look at user reviews and YouTube tutorials.  I want to know what the pitfalls are of something before I invest time and/or money.

At the end of the day no tool is perfect and few tools are unlikely to meet the specific needs of each and every student in your classroom.  However, I hope that what I do when choosing a tool might guide you to the most effective tools in the over abundance of resources that are floating around out there.

Classrooms After Covid-19

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.

I write this blog in response to the Province of Quebec opening their public schools as of May 11th 2020. As the education of students is challenged with many layers of complexity, I will muse about what classrooms might look like when Ontario’s students return to classroom.

Managing the Spread of the Virus

In minimizing the spread of the virus, schools may be given the responsibility of monitoring students’ level of health. This could mean morning temperature checks, hourly hand washing routines, hand sanitizer stations, and the wearing of masks. Custodians would also be tasked with cleaning areas frequented my students such as hallways and washrooms. This would mean more custodians may need to be hired to keep up with increased hygiene demands.

Further, policy might have to be put in place to send students home who are experiencing signs of Illness. As a classroom teacher, I know that parents send their children to school with diarrhea, vomiting, and fever which is likely to spread infection to others. I am concerned about the occurrence of students’ 11 o’clock fever which results in parent dosing their feverish child with Tylenol at 7 am only to have the fever return when the medication wears off 4 hours later. In 2009, when the H1N1 virus hit, one of my grade 7 classes had 18 students sick with H1N1 after a birthday party. From my students, I contracted H1N1 and was fortunately put on antiviral medication, so I recovered within a few days.

In considering teachers already being tasked with many responsibilities and challenges, I suggest that the responsibility of monitoring students’ health be placed in the capable hands of trained medical professionals. This would mean that boards of education would have to hire health professionals such as practical nurses to monitor students’ health and deal with students first aid needs.

Hallways, Entry, Exit, Busing, Recess, Assemblies

In order to limit traffic and honour social distancing, schools may have to set zones, based on students’ age, to limit contact between grade level divisions. This might mean that students in Kindergarten, primary (grades 1, 2, 3), junior (grades 4, 5, 6), and intermediate (grades 6, 7, 8) will have limited access to different hallways and staircases in order to limit numbers of students interacting.

Further, limiting numbers of students interacting may mean staggered entries and dismissals with each grade division having its own entry and dismissal time.

The number of school buses would have to increase to ensure seating to accommodate social distancing for students riding to and from school (i.e. one child per seat).

Students would have to stay in their classrooms to eat lunch and they would also have staggered recess times to limit contact between students of different ages and the number of students outside for recess at the same time.

Assemblies would be cancelled until the chance of spreading the viral infection was limited. Physical Education classes might have to be limited in size of 15 students only and often held outside to limit the spread of the virus.

Classroom Configurations

Classrooms will have to be set up very differently than they are now as flexible seating and collaborative work will not measure up to the requirements of social distancing. This means that students will be sitting in rows 2 metres apart. Students will not be permitted to get out of their seats to talk to their peers or to wander around the classroom. Classrooms will be much like my grade 5 classroom with all students sitting in rows, doing work with classroom instruction on the board.

Younger students may also have to sit separately during carpet time in their marked spot (while teaching grade 2/3, I used tape to indicate where certain students had to sit).

Connected Collaborative Classrooms

In order to engage in classroom collaboration, students, grades 4 and up, will require computers to work to complete classroom assignments and work collaboratively with other students via online classroom applications.

Class Sizes and Staffing

The Province of Quebec indicated that they would limit class sizes to 15 students. This will present a problem for many boards of education as they simply do not have enough schools and classrooms to accommodate these much smaller class sizes. Further, Kindergarten classrooms usually have up to 30 students in each classroom. In accommodating smaller class sizes, students might have to have staggered use of their classroom with half the class coming to school in the morning and the other half coming to school in the afternoon. Or instead, school boards would have to locate twice the classrooms to accommodate all Kindergarten students.

With smaller class sizes, means hiring more teachers. With class size at about 25 students average per class there will have to be 1.1 more teachers for every two classes currently (25 X 2 = 50 /15 = 1.1). If you have been involved in staffing schools, you will know teacher allocations are usually about percentages as there is usually a teacher in a school with a percentage of a whole teaching job e.g. 0.4 = 40% of time and pay of a whole teacher.

In using the numbers for an elementary school, Kindergarten to grade 8, staffing numbers could change as follows for just classroom teachers not including planning time teachers (i.e. Music, Physical Education, Health, Art, Drama, Planning Time):

In this scenario, there would be a 42% increase in teachers needed to teach smaller classes Students

Current Staffing

Covid-19 Staffing

Primary Division

270

15

18

Junior/Intermediate Division

300

13.5

22

Total

600

28.5

40

In cutting class sizes to accommodate physical distancing, there could be an over 40% increase in teaching staff as demonstrated above.

Limiting People with Compromise Health

Further, the Province of Quebec is suggesting that teachers over 60 years or with compromised health challenges work remotely from home. Students with compromised health challenges would also be recommended to stay home thus having them continue their online learning.

Dealing with Mental Health

This is a challenging time for all people; students and educators would require more mental health supports available on site within schools. With the stress of social distancing and more structured changes in learning, many students may not be able to cope.

Violence in schools has already been well documented as a significant concern and with more stress in schools, students will have even more challenges in regulating their emotions. Schools will need mental health professionals, more teaching assistants, and more social workers to support these students who are already at risk.

The Bottom Line for People

In the end, with all this planning and adapting of the educational landscape, parents may choose to keep their children at home. As a parent, I know that children are great spreaders of infection. I have personally missed three Christmas celebrations as my young children got sick at the time and then passed the infection on to me. I believe that viruses and bacteria strengthen in young children only to hit their parents like a tsunami – I have pictures on me lying on the floor while my kids open up their presents! Fortunately my children are adults now.

Governments should be cautious in their advocacy for reopening schools as they put staff, students, and the school community at risk of getting sick or very sick, suffering life changing consequences. Be reminded the Infection Prevention and Control is a significant health and safety concern in all workplaces.

Wishing you, your family and friends best health,

Deb Weston

Resources & Recent News Articles

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) technical guidance: Guidance for schools, workplaces & institutions World Health Organization

COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response WASH and Infection Prevention and Control Measures in Schools Unicef

COVID-19 Guidance: Occupational Health and Safety and Infection Prevention & Control

COVID-19 in Quebec: Some businesses will reopen in May, but no return to ‘normal life,’ says premier

How other countries sent their children back to school amid COVID-19

How will schools enforce physical distancing Your COVID-19 questions answered

May opening of elementary schools, daycares ‘a necessary decision,’ says Quebec education minister

No plan to reopen B.C. schools yet, says education minister

What will Canadian schools look like after COVID-19? Here’s what could change

So you’re teaching from home. How’s your back?

Ouch! Each time that the government extends public school closures because of COVID 19, it hurts more and more. Although, concerns for the safety of our families at home and school are top of mind, it really hurts to be away from students, staff, and the frenetic spaces we normally occupy. It hurts wondering if they are okay or if they are struggling to cope with the turmoil and uncertainty wreaking havoc on our lives.

Well at least we are teaching and reconnecting with our learners again, but as I gaze at my screens, I feel the tension across my shoulders. As my eyes dart about, my ability to focus on digital content for extended periods of time becomes difficult. I feel my body rebelling against its natural urges to move about, write something on the board, and make eye contact. This pain hits the mind and body and I’m not sure which is worse. Ouch!

I am finding that my increased time in front of screens rather than my students is taking a toll on my body and mind that is different than face to face instruction. For one thing, I am sitting more, corresponding via email more, joining virtual meetings more, and aiming my eyes towards my screens more. If you are like me, you might have a work space at home that gets used on evenings and weekends. I use an old kitchen table and chair*. This space, which is normally only used for an extra hour or three each day, has now become my classroom and office for as many as 6 to 8 hours per day. Between the planning, prepping, office hours, and meetings the hours add up. By the end of the day, I feel it.

I never realized that my workspace would be the reason why I have been waking up with an aching neck and back after the daily grind of extended screen time – my spartan set-up has me sore, stiff, and in need of a stretch. I have already flattened 2 couch cushions beyond their intended shape. Decorating aside, this got me thinking about how other students and educators must be dealing with their non-traditional work/learning spaces in a time of physical distancing and social isolation.

I have seen pictures of students at kitchen tables that are just below shoulder height. I have heard of families, all working from home, having to negotiate work spaces between bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens. All flat surfaces have been claimed by computers and books. TV trays are now doubling as desks, while bedrooms have become bastions for team meetings even though I have yet to be on a conference call when a child or pet doesn’t magically appear to add a little levity.

At my house it is 3 generations on 3 floors and even with all of that space, there are still moments that require the utmost patience and grace. I can only imagine what it must be like for families in apartments or condos with limited space where a comfy couch has become a conference space instead of a family refuge? I am also learning that not everyone has a place to escape to when things get crunchy.

The increased time spent in a non-traditional work space trying to do make traditional work happen despite non-traditional circumstances is new to all of us. So, it comes as no surprise that my new classroom hub was not capable of supporting me physically over longer periods of time. Knowing that continuing without making some adjustments was going to end up poorly, I made some adjustments. Here’s a quick list of things I added to help:

  1. Take movement breaks (stretch, exercise, elevate your heart rate).
  2. Hydrate (coffee/tea does not count, water works best).
  3. Take your eyes of screens. Think of the 20/20/20 rule.
  4. Adjust workspace heights. Consider adding a box to your laptop to make a standing desk.
  5. Take a break when you are tired. Call it strategic surrender.

Hopefully, these 5 things can help you to lessen or avoid the physical fatigue that we are experiencing. With so much more happening, I wanted to share some ways on how we can make emergency distance learning less stressful on our bodies. As we face at least 4 more weeks of emergency distance instruction ahead, it will be important for all of us to pay attention to our work at home ergonomics to be at our physical, mental, and intellectual bests.

If you have a story to share about you have adapted your home into a workspace, please share. Stay safe. Stay strong. Stay healthy.

Additional reading:

https://www.fastcompany.com/90480052/how-to-perfect-your-home-work-set-up-so-your-back-stops-hurting-so-much

Some solid information that is easy to digest about ergonomics for students(slide23)

*The table has been in my family for over 40 years and has math work(my sons and my own) pencilled into the soft pine as a inter-generational reminder of many lessons learnt and shared over the years.

Being Allergy Aware

In dealing with allergies in schools, it is important to be aware of potential allergens. Introducing allergens into schools can put people at risk, including students, office staff, teaching assistants, custodial staff, administrators, non-teaching professionals, teachers, and even trades people.

Allergens are not just something that can bother people, allergens can be life threatening. There are a number of life threatening allergies that can result in anaphylactic shock. In extreme cases, life-threatening allergic reactions can happen or make people really ill.

Anaphylactic shock symptoms

  • Skin reactions, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Constriction of airways and swollen tongue or throat, which can cause wheezing and trouble breathing
  • A weak and rapid pulse
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Dizziness and/or fainting

Causes of severe allergic reactions 

As part of a defense against diseases, people’s immune systems develop antibodies to defend against harmful foreign substances. These substances could be bacteria or viruses. But some people’s immune systems develop reactions to substances that usually don’t cause allergic reactions in others.

Some of these substances can include:

  • Medications such as antibiotics and over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Foods like peanuts, nuts, fish, seafood, milk
  • Bites and stings from bees, yellow jackets, hornets, and fire ants
  • Exercise
  • Cosmetics and scents, latex products
  • Air particles like plant pollen, dust mites, animal dander, mold

Allergies causing death

Some allergic reactions can be so severe that people can die from anaphylactic shock. This means that breathing can become highly constricted and, in addition, severe loss of blood pressure can occur. Due to the reality of some people dying from anaphylactic shock, laws have been put in place to protect people from dying from allergic reactions.

 Sabrina’s Law

Sabrina’s Law came about as a result of a young girl dying from anaphylactic shock after accidentally injecting peanut oil.

This act requires that every school principal establish strategies to reduce the risk of exposure to anaphylactic substances. Plans also must communicate information about life threatening allergies to school staff. Administrators must arrange for regular staff training to prepare for an emergency situation. Principals must maintain an up to date file of current information on about each student who has an anaphylactic allergy and establish an individual plan for each student who has a life threatening allergy.

In case of an emergency situation, school staff are authorized to administer an epinephrine auto-injector to a student without the written consent of the student’s physician and parent or guardian or adult student. In addition, staff should call 911 and follow the directions provided by Emergency Management Systems.

There has been some research done to limit and/or prevent life threatening allergies such as the early introduction of peanuts to babies. This prevents children from developing a severe reaction to peanuts thus preventing allergen issues later in life. Early introduction of peanut to babies

Other allergies that are smelly

Besides ingesting food and/or medications, cosmetics and scented products can cause allergic reactions. For some people, scented products can cause serious reactions including asthma, migraines, and other reactions such as rashes.  A person wearing scented products to school could cause another person to become very ill – resulting in the person having to leave work. Even clothes washed in scented products such as wash-in scent balls can trigger reactions. Health and Safety legislation consider scents in the workplace as a workplace hazard. 

Scented products can be found in workplaces in:

  • air fresheners
  • hand sanitizer, hand soap, dish washing liquid, industrial and household cleaners
  • facial tissues
  • laundry detergents and fabric softeners
  • candles
  • building material, upholstery fabrics, carpeting

Being aware of scent allergies means that people do not wear perfume or cologne to work. It means not using cosmetic or laundry products that give off strong scents. It means thinking about the needs of others in schools and in workplaces.

For preventing allergic reactions in other people, be aware of what you bring to school including scents and smells. It’s kind and it’s common scents.

Always fresh and never smelly!

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

Bumps, bruises, and other lessons from play and weather

It’s been Spring for nearly 2 months and I can say that most of the snowsuits in our school have been taken home. Most of them.

It’s also safe to say that our weather readiness has been scaled back from red alert to a beautiful shade of green as the sunshine and warmth arrives. Once again, we have survived Winter’s worst – albeit still recovering.

With the exception of below seasonal average cold days and relentless rain the above statement is true. Well, partially true because it is still very grey out below the constand clouds overhead. Literary scholars might label this as pathetic fallacy. Regardless of location, the weather plays a significant part in everyone’s lives and learning, especially in school.

As of May 22, 2019 we are still dealing with pavement only recesses due to our grass fields still in a wet and muddy state from recent(incessant) Spring Showers. To add to the fun, indoor recesses. When you add it all up, it has meant students are missing out on some crucial time outside. A teacher shared that he knew there had been too many indoor recesses when a student called him dad.

Has the current trend in weather now become a climate crisis issue or a prolonged meteorological anomaly? As it is, the timing of our seasons appears to have shifted slightly and that it feels like Winter and the others are running a month behind schedule? It might make a great Science project to find out.

This is tough because Spring is traditionally a time where we all burst forth with energy and vigour to shake off the wait/weight of Winter to get outdoors, breathe fresh air, ambulate, and soak up some overdue sunshine. However, it has yet full bloom has yet to happen and it is taking its toll.

Like most schools, the outdoor space limits are unable to accomodate numbers. Recent weather has dictated that students be limited to a smaller space(pavement only) if and when they are allowed to go out for recess. This has necessitated some creative ways to schedule, manage, and safely supervise them during these times – emphasis on safely.

Despite splitting the time between Grades 2 to 5 and 6 to 8, students are still arriving in the office with a surprising amount of injuries. These range from cuts, scrapes, sprains, breaks, and bumps. Our office resembles a triage unit somedays and in order to ensure concussion protocols are followed, a team approach is vital.

Our school does this very well. When I 1st arrived at ACPS in 2017, there was already a strong communication infrastructure in place. Staff were expected to carry walkie-talkies while they were on the yard for supervision and or outside for DPA or instruction. This was new for me, but I quickly came to appreciate the connectivity.

That said, there are still numerous injuries that take place on a daily basis in schools. These can range from jammed fingers from basketball, an errant dodgeball(gator) to the face in PE, a fall from the outdoor play structures, slips/trips on the pavement, or bumps to the head.

An ice pack, a kind word, and a bandage is usually all that is required for most school injuries. However, there are still occasions when more attention is required. This usually happens in two places, the gymnasium and outdoors during unstructered time.

When a child incurs more serious injuries, the office is radioed in advance to alert available members from the 1st Aid team of impending arrival(s). In these instances, gloves are on and ready to avoid contact with blood and other bodily fluids(yes, children come to school with the flu). It can often be very loud as students are in heightened states of distress.

Last week a child received quite a gash on their forehead and there was a lot of blood, their sustained scream could be heard throughout the entire school(I think hearing protection might be required when the gloves go on too). This is where having good calming strategies in place is crucial. With some time and focused breathing, all subsided and we were able to provide First Aid.

Most schools have 4 or 5 staff who are trained in 1st Aid, but I highly recommend getting the training whenever it is offered. The peace of mind in being able to promptly and properly care for an injured student or adult is worth the time and effort. The more hands on deck the better. As I mentioned before, most to all injuries are superficial, thankfully.

The bumps and bruises of play also hold lessons for our students. It is never a bad idea to remind them that they are subjects in and subject to the laws of nature. Whether they know it or not, students naturally and opportunely learn most of the concepts of Physics long before they are ever formally taught:

Gravity, objects in motion, centripedal force, centrifugal force, torque, inertia, balance, rotation, angular momentum, acceleration, deceleration, launch angle, and many others all happen when students are in various states of play. So no wonder, they get hurt sometimes. Students also learn their own limits, how to get up after a fall, how to get mud out of clothes, and about pain.

I’d say some of my best learning came from moments at play where I began to understand my limitations as well as potential. Falling out of a tree or jungle gym Our students are learning this way too when given the time, space, and when weather co-operates. How we frame all of this may help learners appreciate the value of play and the weather and the impact the latter has on the former. Let me break it down.

Here’s what the weather teaches us all:

  1. Be prepared.
  2. Plan for the best, but expect the worst.
  3. Things change without warning.
  4. You often do not get what is advertised in the forecast.
  5. Meteorology is a science that involves observing, gathering, and interpreting massive amounts of data. #ScienceForTheWin
  6. Snow days are fun for students and few others who must still drive to school.
  7. Elementary schools are not, but high schools are air-conditioned.
  8. Always have dry clothes to change into after arrival or dismissal duty during a rain storm.
  9. Snow suits are never meant to be worn after April 30th.
  10. Shh = Sunblock, hats, and hydration when spending time outdoors or see 1. above.

We have all gained first hand life lessons from the above, and am sure there are many more, not mentioned. It means that there is always a lesson, to be found in every situation. That’s what makes teaching so fun and meaningful. Stay safe, active, constantly learning…and dry.

If you have a First Aid or a weather related story, please take time to share in the comments.

Before you get hurt…again.

https://pixabay.com/photos/concrete-space-empty-3161863/
https://pixabay.com/photos/concrete-space-empty-3161863/

Student: (momentarily non-responsive to verbal interaction) slap, push, slap, hair grab, lunge, slap, yell, cry, run, crouch, cry, calm, apolgize

Staff: (1 CYW, 2 SERT) block, block, reassure, block, supportive stance, reassure, block, redirect, clear space, block, reassure, follow, remain calm, reassure, accept

The slaps(verbal/physical) are like slabs of concrete that a student piles up when they are in distress(feeling helpless, unheard, confused, frustrated, angry, trapped, hurt, and _________).

Our students are using these slabs to construct walls which will insulate and protect them from what they feel are are real threats to their wellbeing, happiness, and safety. All the while, staff are working tirelessly to keep them from walling off completely to the point of hurting themselves or others because the ability for flight has left, and the fight is on…again.

It has been happening a lot more frequently in our classrooms and it knows no age limit as educators are experiencing violence from JK to 12. Has it happened to you? How about to someone in your school?

A 2016/17 survey of elementary teachers showed that 70% of them had experienced or witnessed violence in their schools. That distills down to an average of 7 in 10 educators are on the frontlines of a serious problem. No one wants to work where threats and acts of violence are now daily bi-products of their job? Yet, that’s what many teachers are facing as they enter the classroom each day. Even with NVCI, CPI, SERT, CYW, EA, IBT, BHS, and Social Work support in the building or available from regional teams, incidents are increasing in number and intensity.

Students are taking out their frustration, anger, and anxiety in physical ways directed towards school staff. More than ever, it is being documented and reported more across all age panels. So what’s happening inside our schools where once seemingly uncommon incidents are now daily occurences? All of this cannot simply be dismissed as statistical anomalies.

A reminder

Before you get hurt, or hurt again. Each time a student slaps, bites, kicks, target throws, pushes, strikes with an object etc. a report must be made. If you are injured, seek medical help first. Make sure you tell someone (union rep, admin, a colleague). See the graphic below to make sure you are protected as you have the right to refuse work when you believe workplace violence is likely to endanger you. If you are hurt, it is not the time to play through pain or put on a hero cape. It is your health and well being that must be protected. No one should go to work expecting to be hurt on the job. If you need help, call your union rep or a colleague. Let your voice be heard.

http://etfohealthandsafety.ca/
http://etfohealthandsafety.ca/

Our schools cannot be left under-supported with an expectation to educate our students in the face of increasing violence and increasingly complex behavioural needs? Our schools need supports in place to ensure safety for all and that includes you.

I will leave you with this final question.

How have spaces of nurture, growth, hope, and community also become places of anxiety, stress, harm, and PTSD for both teachers and students? How are you managing in your school? Please keep the conversation going.


 In case you need some more food for thought

Our notifications, news outlets, and social media feeds are filled with stories, images, and video sharing what’s happening. As I draft this post. CBC News shared a disturbing news story that surfaced online involving a teacher being assaulted by several students in Toronto.

Read more about how ETFO has been lobbying our government to address the issues of violence in our schools.

https://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2017/01/17/teachers-union-raises-alarm-over-rising-violence-in-schools.html

 

Education is in crisis – and so are our students

I wrote this in response to the CBC story about violence in classrooms that went live this past weekend. I was – and am – fired up about it.

If you’re wondering what you can do to help us, to help these children in crisis, to repair our broken system: make education, social services, and mental health support your priorities when you elect public officials. At all levels. This is not only a provincial issue. This is not only a municipal issue. This is not only a federal issue. It is an issue that must be addressed by all levels of government, by all Canadians, by all elected officials.

Kids aren’t “worse” now. It isn’t because of a “lack of discipline”. It isn’t because teachers are “soft”. This comes down to a total failure of social services and mental health support, because these children are IN. CRISIS. They aren’t choosing this. We can’t “fix” them with the right consequences.

They need homes. Food. Caregivers they can rely on. Stability. Therapy. Treatment for anxiety, depression, PTSD. Academic support. Removal of systemic barriers. They need compassion – to know that the adults in their life see them, see what they’re going through, and are finding ways to help them. Their caregivers need a living wage. Access to housing. Adequate transit. Functional health care. Affordable utilities.

And now, because they aren’t getting these things, all of their peers need these things too. Every child in public school right now could use therapy to help them process what they see on a regular basis. Some of them, like my daughter, are growing up thinking that it’s just a regular part of school to have a child in your class who throws chairs and tries to attack other kids or teachers with scissors.

This is a crisis. This is a disaster. These children – all of them, aggressors and bystanders – are going to suffer lifelong consequences from our government’s abject refusal and failure to address these issues.

Help. HELP. It’s hard for us to tell our stories because we have to be careful not to stigmatize children in crisis, not to give identifying information, not to break confidentiality. Please, trust us when we say there are horrific things happening in schools. Please, trust us when we say we’re doing everything we can but we can’t do any more.

Please, just… trust us. It’s not us. It’s not the kids. It’s not school.

It’s the entire system that’s broken.

As my friends shared this post on Facebook and it made its way out to a few strangers, some people commented that they “didn’t buy the perspective” and that it’s somehow our failing as teachers if there is violence in our classrooms. That if we can’t manage our students’ behaviour, we should reevaluate our capability as teachers.

What a painful, frustrating thing to hear.

“I shouldn’t have set them off by asking him to sit down.”

“If I hadn’t taken a sick day, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“I should have gone out at recess to supervise that student (even though it’s not my day to supervise recess and this is my only break today).”

“I shouldn’t have called for help. It only escalated the student more.”

There seems to be no end to the ways teachers blame themselves for violence in schools. Colleagues, let me say this nice and loud:

VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS IS NOT YOUR FAULT.

You didn’t cause this. You didn’t make it happen through your action or inaction. You are doing the best you can within a catastrophically broken system. Our students need us, but they also need everyone else too, because educators alone can’t get the right people into office, the right changes made.

Keep doing what you’re doing. You are superheroes. You are helping. You are making change. Now we just need the rest of our country to back us up.