tracked and filed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy summer.

sounds

I love walking around and peeking into classrooms – especially at my own school. As a SERT, it does not seem as weird when I show up unannounced in the middle of a lesson or work time since I am always in and out over the course of a day. In the spirit of transparency, my curiosity has found me marveling in rooms at other schools too. There is so much to see each time the opportunity presents itself. Long before ever becoming an educator, I was wont to wander off the tour when given the chance – still do.  Now that I am, it would be great if we all had more time to visit each other’s amazing learning environments. 

Each of my visits offer informative insights into these incredibly and creatively constructed spaces. I’ve even made some friends along the way as a happy coincidence when my curiosity leads to conversations after compliments. I think every educator wants to check out what is going on in other classrooms, but we are given little opportunity to do so while siloed in our own schools. Wouldn’t it be fun to swap places with a teacher of the same grade for a week to experience what they do and vice versa?

Admittedly, that wonder and awe comes with a hint of professional jealousy as well. I think of the time, effort, thought, and sweat it takes to make learning come alive within them. It is a gift to work among so many talented and caring educators. Each trip to another educator’s classroom is guaranteed to give me a boost of energy and inspiration. Now imagine what would happen if we all had the time outside of our own walls?  

This has occured to some small extent during family of schools events or one-off PD sessions that happen occasionally. I always love it when another educator visits my classroom. It is validation. It definitely keeps me on my toes and, like watching a movie with your own children, you notice things that you might not sans visitor(s). 

I know that when folx come by my room, they do so with an open invitation to my classroom. Over the years I have welcomed delegations from Brazil, Denmark, and Sri Lanka. Not to mention system admin types from time to time. I always wonder what they must feel like to be back in the classroom? What do they remember from “their days” pacing the rows and teaching. What did it look like? What did it sound like? 

For me, their is this constant soundtrack playing in the classroom. Each day it constructs itself out of the rythym and melody of which we all play our part.

Now, I bet you thought it was something like a cross between Brazilian Thrash Metal, Opera, and Worldbeat and it kind of is however the beautiful noise that gets made is more of a melodic cacophony to accompany the magic that happens wherever and whenever students are being taught. If you listen close enough, you here the soundtrack that accompanies a live rocket launch or cornerstone being laid. It could come in the form of a question or a response and the a “Wait! No, I meant…” followed by an answer and mini-exhale. It could sound like 26 pistons each firing perfectly to accomplish a task or like the timed pops of fireworks at 10 pm on a summer holiday (all safety precautions observed, of course). These are the sounds that reverberate off of pastel painted cinderblock walls. 

Sure I could put on some Lo-Fi Hip Hop or share my Productivity Workflow playlist from Spotify, but they could never compare to the intersection of lives and learning going on each day. 

Like our students, the sounds we hear in class have their own rhythms. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as productive noise. It can be unnerving to new teachers who enter the classroom still holding on to their own experiences as learners, but now nearly a decade past those carefree days from K to 8. At risk is losing the energy in a room when order is the only expectation. Teachers each need to work out and manage their “acceptable noise” levels with students. We must also be willing to renegotiate these terms from time to time. Setting routines and irreducible minimum expectations starts in September, but must be consistent from then to June. 

This might require a few changes to be achieved. With the sun burning brightly and birds chirping, the energy/noise levels in classrooms seem to be set to 11 out of 10. As such, a little more outside and movement time built into the day has helped. I am also adding in more time to productively self-direct or collaborate. My recent art classes saw us touring the school and then partnering up to co-create something. Through all of this, the room was filled with creative conversation with only a few moments of chaos.

I wonder whether someone else would hear it that way if they visited? I guess there is only one way to find out. 

 

no cape required

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading and for sharing your superpowers. 

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

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

Reframing our mindsets around pandemic learning and reporting

Now that the busy-ness of progress report season is winding down, I’ve been reflecting on my reporting practices and the big picture of how reporting looks for us this year. I know I’m not the only educator in my school building who struggled to write progress reports this year, but I did find it interesting how these struggles looked different for many of my colleagues. My biggest strife? The reporting structures we follow reflect narratives of “learning loss” and “achievement gaps” when, in fact, my virtual students show up and try their best every single day. 

When I think about the big picture of how teaching and learning has looked since March 2020, especially as a 100% virtual teacher myself, I struggle to accept the fact that our reporting structures have not been adapted to consider the effects of trauma, isolation, and deterioration of mental health on students. Should we be writing traditional report cards at all? How can we provide meaningful feedback and assessment that considers the context of teaching and learning through a pandemic?

In spite of barriers maintained by the traditional report card, I try to make a concerted effort to always understand individual student experiences and contexts to adapt to pandemic learning. To push myself further, I remind myself to look at some of the dualities that exist in online student engagement to reframe my mindset:

  • Students are desperate for socialization as they learn by themselves from home—behaviour that is usually considered to be disruptive in the classroom is actually a courageous effort to build friendships.
  • Students are always willing to be their best selves in online school, while also feeling unable to bring themselves to complete work some days. 
  • Students choose to keep their cameras off, resulting in them feeling like they can be their truest selves—independent from their physical appearance.

When we only use learning skills and grades to evaluate student character and academic progress, we are sure to miss their best and bravest moments as learners. How might we include a reframed mindset around pandemic learning within current structures of reporting? There are countless conversations to be had about assessment and reporting from a critical perspective, and I’m looking forward to building on these reflections and connecting with educators who are asking similar questions. 

Moving forward I’m thinking a lot about how I can push my gradeless assessment practices even further and look at the ways that character education and learning skills can be an inequitable way of understanding student achievement. I can’t wait to share these thoughts here! 

Note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that in-person instruction and learning in publicly-funded schools provides the best experience for learning, quality delivery and is the most equitable model for all students. ETFO will continue to demand action from the government, school boards and public health units to ensure in-person learning can resume quickly and safely.

Ants and hot coffee

It’s October’s end and everything is happening at an accelerated pace in education and in nature. As the trees offer their final gifts of colour to cherish before winter, I have been as busy as one of Aesop’s ants in my classrooms (real and digital). This is because I am doing much more work this year even though my assignment is basically the same as last year. Last year nearly broke me and I chalk it up to many decisions which were made on my behalf and all educators by people in places that resemble boardrooms more than classrooms. 

If you reread this cautionary fable, you might get the idea that many of our leaders did a lot of fiddling and fussing over the summer because it certainly doesn’t appear that they prepared for the season we are now experiencing in education. To make it even worse, not a single grasshopper asked whether any of the hard working ants wanted to hear the song they were playing over and over again at full volume. 

For all teachers, regardless of years of experience, the start of school this year might be best described as chaotic and work filled; much like an ant colony preparing to survive a cold winter ahead. Now, a bit of chaos is fine and can be expected each September. It is such an exciting time for students and staff. This year was no different. I actually prepared myself for a little more leeway in my planning to help students transition back to classes in the hopes of creating a safe space for them to land from the year and half before. This meant a lot of reviewing and scaffolding rather than brewing up fresh batches of new learning. 

This approach made a lot of sense for me especially as we are now entering our 3rd year of learning in a global pandemic. In any ‘normal’ school year, routines and rhythms are usually set in place by the first 20 days. Reviews are done and it’s grade level lessons until June the following year.  However, it’s been 2 months and although some normalcy exists, I feel that more time is needed to get students back to pre-pandemic learning. That extra work I mentioned at the start is a direct result. With students online and in-class prepping materials for both groups is adding an extra hour to each day to ensure continuity. Organizing assessments also comes with its share of work. Add in the difficulties students have with tech, WiFi, and their own burnout and you quickly arrive at the conclusion that that all of this is tiring and trying. It is also a bit traumatizing. Kind of like having hot coffee spilled on your hand the moment you pick up a cup.  

Imagine going to your favourite coffee shop and when your order arrives it is filled to the brim so fully that any movement spills that precious elixir over the sides and burns your hands. As a reflective practitioner, I wonder what I did wrong? How come after hundreds of cups of coffee they filled mine to the point where there was no room to move without being burnt? Upon further reflection though, comes the realization that this is not my fault and that I was given a situation which was nearly impossible to handle without a mess or suffering. Each time this has happened to me though, I have never let go or dropped the cup. I see this same commitment, determination, and strength mirrored in educators who choose to persist and hold on despite being handed impossible circumstances. 

Next Monday, me and all the other ants are lined up at that coffee shop hoping that today we don’t get burned, and that there will be enough room left for a little sugar and cream to stir in to suit our taste. It’s November, Spring is around the corner and there’s work to do before the leaves wither and the snow flies. 

This is not my first blog about the currently dissonant state of learning right now, nor is it my first blog about ants. In 2014 I shared this one after Deborah Gordon’s inspiring 2014 TED Talk.

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

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

Survival tips

I am not talkative. I will share my voice in writing though. Perhaps it is more a function of selective participation rather than voluntary silence. Writing provides me with some permanence, albeit only in pixels, as much as it does a chance to reflect on the words I do choose to share. Instead of my mouth going off like a cannon. I can chew on my words a bit more before spilling my thoughts on a page. In short, it has been quite a month and if I am going to survive the next 9, I will need to get some things off my mind.

Most of this September felt like driving in the dark of night and every oncoming car had its highbeams on. I found it hard to see where I’m going and it hurts. With so much time staring at a screen now, the additional online professional learning is blurring my vision and I am starting to develop an aversion to screen time. It has me thinking twice about how much I want to integrate tech in my classroom right now too. 

I see your high beams are on, but do you have to drive in my lane?

I have been trying to make sense of the way the government ghosted education, the rising COVID case numbers in schools, and the unconscionable decisions being made by many school boards regarding hybrid learning

This is also what hurts:

Of course it has been completely safe to go back to school this year even though cases are nearly 5 times higher than September 2020.
We have HEPA filters in every classroom. Mine must be hidden somewhere.

Of course the hybrid model will work for families instead of dedicated Elementary Virtual Schools. “Teachers will figure it out.”
We have figured it out by the way. It sucks.

Of course the glaring gaps in equity and decisions made “for all” only benefit the privileged who have the wherewithall and choice as to whether their child stays home or not.
Here’s a terrible camera and headset so you can syncronously miss being present in your physical and digital classrooms. 

It is very clear that the “brain trust” tasked with these decisions declared, “We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas.” I can’t shake these questions: When was the last time any system leaders taught an online class on a daily basis? Where is their compassion, consideration, or consultation with current classroom educators? Why in good conscience would anyone with mental health as a pillar in their foundation allow this to happen? How did they lose their way so completely at the expense of their most valuable resources? It is dizzying. 

How about the feeling of knowing you are going to pass out just before passing out? That’s how it felt when the news of having to teach the hybrid model came down from the folx above. This decisive disconnect was dropped on us without a single consideration of the trauma it would cause in and out of classrooms. It was at that moment when I went into survival mode. I needed to “guard my heart and mind” from diving into dark spaces as it was very clear that no one else was going to do it for me. 

This realization got me thinking about what I needed to do to keep a grasp on my sanity and professionalism in order to do my job in these conditions. Here is what I have come up with so far:
1. Guard your heart and mind. Don’t get caught up in actions and activities that will only stretch you thinner. It’s okay to let someone else lead a meeting or division, run a club (when permitted), or welcome a student teacher. You are allowed to focus on you first. 

2. Resist through rest. I saw this in a tweet from @MsDhillon6A and it really resonated with me. Educators are notorious for taking on too much. We are doers and getters of things done, but we also need to pace ourselves. Teaching is a marathon not a sprint. It takes stamina and determination to maintain a steady pace. The 2021-22 school year is a great time to learn to say no and to let go of extra activities that drain the life out of your practice, body, and spirit.

3. Set boundaries with colleagues, students, admin, and families. There is nothing wrong with having office hours from 8 until 5 pm Monday to Friday. That email reply from the weekend will wait until Monday. You deserve work-life balance not work-work-life imbalance. 

4. Do something for yourself. Take a personal mental health day. Practice good sleep hygiene. Walk, yoga, play pickle ball, or call an old friend who you used to work with to touch base. I like to read, cook, and work on my not so secret goal to be a stand up comedian. As a primary teacher on occasion, I am used to tough crowds so I am half way there. 
And finally, 

5. Don’t silo yourself away. You do not have to go through any of this alone. Share your frustrations, joys, ups, and downs. It is another year unlike any other. Teachers need to know that there are tens of thousands cheering for each other to make it through the day in the service of our students. Tag me anytime via Twitter  if you are having a rough day and need to share. Watch how the #onted family is there to rally and offer kind words of support. 

I’m going to listen to Gloria Gaynor now? Feel free to join me.

 

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

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

3 things

It’s  the start of week 3 in most public schools, and it feels like we are in for some long months ahead. I have 3 things to share to start the year:
1. Hybrid teaching sucks
2. Your students have something to tell you
3. Did I mention that hybrid still sucks?

1. Despite the social, emotional, and physical toll of teaching and learning during a pandemic, I can’t shake the optimism I have when spending time with my students. Bar none, they are the only source of inspiration strong enough to power me past some medieval level system decisions made by our current government and local school boards.

The hybrid learning option is a stunted and thoughtless response to the educational needs of students and their families. It is an institutional cop out that is replete with a debilitating amount of sadism to demean the well-being of educators charged with making magic with little more than cheap tech, a perfunctory kudo, and a “Your wellness matters” memo. Countless educators have shared how this method of education does little to serve student or teacher yet it was still chosen as the “viable option”. #hybridhurtskids #hybridharmseducators

2. Have you checked in with students to see how they’re doing yet? I know it has been a hella couple of weeks already, but have you asked this year’s class how they feel, how they like to learn or what challenges they are facing being back in the classroom? If you did, were there any surprises? If you didn’t, no worries, it’s never too late.

My experiences with dedicating class time to conversations, Google forms, or free writing tasks to asking these questions are very insightful. Students have voices. They are honest and opinionated. Best of all, students will speak their truths as long as they have a safe, judgement free place to do so.

I have found this beginning of the year check-in to be a powerful way to build relationships of caring and understanding from the start. This comes by establishing the conditions from which they are safe to do so. That usually happens by listening first, holding back the urge to solve or fix or give unsolicited advice or admonishment. Trust me. It’s worth it in order to build trust with learners from the earliest days. This year, more than ever before, students whether in class, EVS or in syncronous hybrid pergatory need to know their teachers are there listening to them, seeing them, and willing to support them.

Here are a few things shared over the past couple of weeks

“I am stressed about getting good marks by my family.”

“I feel anxious when we do math and I get called on.”

“I do not like presenting in front of others.”

“I am bad at; math, art, french, english, science” etc.

“I don’t have any friends who understand the way I feel.”

“My parents are fighting at home and it bothers me and my sister.”

“Someone close to me or my family died, and I am sad.”

“My pronouns are he/him, she/her, they/them,”

Hearing and reading such honesty from students can evoke strong emotions. Their words speak truth into the role we all have in the lives of not only the academic learner, but the whole child. In short, relationship, mental health, trust, and wellbeing need to happen first before any lessons are shared.

Thankfully, these beginning of year conversations and questionnaires also yield a lot of optimism and hope from students too. They are thrilled to be back with their peers, in their school, and with their teachers. Student voice is often the only fuel I need to fuel my emotional fire to teach somedays. We all need something to get us through tough times when the system is designed counter-intuitively to the needs of the community it is tasked to serve.

3. As you read through the 2nd thing, I hope you did not forget that #hybridhurtskids and #harmseducators. As I start my 3rd week with a mic on my head, a mask over my face, and webcam on, I fear for the disconnect that is happening with my OGs(online guys). Now instead of devoting both ears to 26 students in class, I have one ear for 24 and the other for 2 hybrid learners. As age continues to take away my ability to hear, this concerns me. It’s exhausting and many times I am only able to hear a fraction of what I could when not divided and encumbered by tech.

First, how is this fair to any one child when I can only devote half of my auditory function to a room filled with students? How can students be expected to hear me clearly when I articulate a particular pronunciation to practice in reading or vocabulary when I can barely hear myself with a headset on? And then there are the visual content issues?

Not everyone has a document camera to share texts or show how to share thinking spontaneously or good lighting for hybrid kids to see what is being shared on the board. How are students expected to see what I am sharing when the camera does not focus or adjust? Anything projected to the whole class becomes washed in the worst possible lighting fluorescent bulbs can provide.

Then there is the whole OT and prep teacher transition piece. Connecting is not easy, especially when the tech does not always come with the proper cords from class to class. I now have an HDMI, USB-C, and VGA adapter, but know many educators do not. There are significant gaps starting to happen already and coupled with the emotionally taxing work that is happening, something is going to give. Does this seem familiar?

And yet, this is what is going to happen next…

I am going to teach like I am on a reality show tomorrow. I am going to give the performance of the day. I am going to go home defeated, drained, and desperate to believe that the next time back in class will go without a hitch. I will continue to listen to my students first, honour their voices and fight against the derogation of education by people who have not been in a classroom in decades.