that kid

Created by DALL-E
a-class-photo-of-faceless-students-in-the-styles-of-Monet-Rembrandt-Kandinsky-and-Warhol prompt by author

I was thinking about that kid and I found myself getting emotional. 

You know the one. We all do. Whether the name(s) or face(s) you thought of are in your class this year or not. We all have one or two students who popped in there almost immediately. I am not going to sugar coat this either because it got emotional. When I think about that kid, my feelings range quite widely here. Anger, joy, sadness, peace, et al have all staked their claims in my amygdalae and other rose coloured spaces in my emotional thought centre.

My first “that kid” came when I was quite new to teaching. I probably owe them an apology for pushing too hard about their studies without considering how hard it must have been to be truly trying their best, but not meeting the expectations of which I was thoroughly* convinced were so clearly taught and put within reach. Like I mentioned above, an apology has been uttered on a couple of occasions for that learner into the universe. 

There are two other feelings that happens sometimes, relief and angst. Relief that you were able to make it through a year together and grow. Angst over what I missed or, straight up, got completely wrong. My most recent that kid reads like this: 

Is quiet – too quiet.
Sticks to the sidelines as if crazy glued there.
Struggles to start something, and struggles even more to finish.
Whether it is a transition, a sentence, or a math challenge mine has got me thinking about what I need to do differently next time because there will be a next time no matter how hard I work to learn the lessons from the past to use now and in the future.

As teachers, I’ve noticed that we tend to be pretty hard on ourselves much more often than we realize or care to admit. It’s who we are as reflective practitioners who seek to make things better for our learners. I have noticed that we fret far more about any flaws in our work even when there are few if any cracks in our foundations. We are constant works in progress alongside our students and we wear it on our sleeves when it doesn’t go well. 

Sometimes, that kid gifts you some victories too. You see, all that time spent investing in that kid can turn out to be a life enriching moment for you as an educator and even more so for that kid as a scholar. Since my first that kid nearly 15 years ago, I have marveled at hearing from students who are completing degrees at amazing schools and starting to write the next chapters of their lives. This week I ran into a student who will be doing just that.

To be honest, it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops with this particular that kid. If poor choices, bad behaviour, and work avoidance were credit courses, this learner would be top of the class. Fast forward 6 years and they are about to begin a very challenging degree program at a top university. That could have only happened with significant support, responsibility, accountability, and commitment. In other words, the exact opposite to where they were back then. So what turned this scholar around? How did the switch get flipped, and who did the flipping? I was certainly thrilled to receive such news knowing that there would be more good things to come as a result of them finding their stride as a student. Whoever helped this “that kid” turn over a new leaf has changed one young person’s life not for good, but for great. 

I am also aware that there are some who will never get to experience an about face like the that kid above, and I need to take ownership of that and work to improve going forward. Maybe my next that kid will not fall through the cracks through their education? I know that there is always room to improve what and how we do this job of ours. I know that teachers have countless conversations in order to find and fit the complex puzzle pieces we know as students together. I know that there is no single strategy or approach that will reach 100% of our students. What we need to remind ourselves is that we come pretty close to perfection, and we do it across a decade plus of siloed collaboration, between the panels, whether we realize it or not. 

When you think about it, each of our students could have as many as 50 teachers over their K to 12 careers. Of course homeroom teachers occupy the bulk of those first 10 years yet that still means there are countless points of influential interaction to be had between an entire cast of educators all working in concert to make sure each that kid gets and gives the best. 

This job asks us to accept and understand that we often will never know how the work we put in with our students will support them in the future. Closure is not a luxury many elementary teachers ever have once our students move onward and beyond our schools, but that should not bring us down because there is always that kid who takes the time, after several years have gone by, to reach out and connect again: to share how much they appreciated what was taught to them in and out of the classroom all those years ago. 


*On a random note: the word thoroughly breaks down into tho roughly. So now my idea of thorough will always be considerate of whether I was thorough or tho rough

class placements

A Renoir or Matisse inspired impression of a classroom filled with students from all over the world standing, discussing, and solving a math problem together -by Dalle 2 with prompts from author

Now that the April showers and May flowers happy times are done. It is time to get serious about September folx. Wait what?! That’s right, it’s class placement time again. 

I for one am super stoked to be sending 29 unique and empowered learners on to their next grade. If it was possible, I would keep this group together as they have grown so well together since the start of the year. Sure there were some bumps in the sidewalk along the way to this point, but they are to be expected when 29 individual personalities occupy a space for an extended period of time. I can only look back with gratitude to the team of teachers, SERTs, and admin who took the time to curate this group. 

It is in that spirit that I wish to do the same for the lucky, and I mean that sincerely, educator(s) who will be teaching  my current class this September. Firstly, I filled out the little squares with names, academic levels, IEP yes or no, MLL yes or no, unidentified behavioural issues, preferred collaborator(s), non-preferred collaborator(s), and gender. Filling out these cards each year constitutes the most continuous handwriting of my year.

Admittedly, my cards looked like I was writing with my non dominant hand because they were a mess. Scratches, misspellings, and my scrawling will not make it easy on anyone however outside of the superficial look I think we did a good job setting our students up for success. This was especially important as our school is adding new classrooms and we want to be supportive of the new teachers who will be joining us too. 

Avoiding perfect storms is always a good idea, but even the best of intentions can create them in classrooms. I have seen a new teacher arrive at a building along with a new admin or two only to discover that a mix that looked balanced on paper was going to be far different in real life. I know this happens with students coming from primary F.I schools grades 1 and 2 specifically. The sheer logistics of a multi-school class placement exercise can be onerous on all involved. As such some perfect storms are bound to occur. The interesting thing about class placements, is that in the room right next to the hurricane could be cool breezes and calm even though they were placed by the same team of educators, SERTs, and admin. 

This year, we wanted to continue the thoughtful groupings while expanding the opportunities for our students to collaborate with like minded and supportive peers. We have also had to reckon with students returning to classrooms who were once provided SSC support for Language and or Math in the path. To this point, there will have to be a wait and see approach, but class placements will need to be considerate of how much support will be available for those individual learners with modifications in the IEPs. There will need to be an added layer of time to ensure no one falls through the cracks. 

In the past, EAs, CYWs, MLL teachers, and SERTs have been stalwarts for students, but with SSCs closing and teaching assignments being re-allocated, I imagine that there will be a few storms as adapt to the changes ahead as it seems they will be joining in classrooms. I love the multiple-educator potential here, but am not sure there will be enough of the aforementioned to cover the numbers of students requiring support. This is not even factoring in the additional levels of distraction that can occur. I know with a cautious approach that allows time, check-ins, and some one on one support, things could work out for student(s) and educator(s). 

In order to help a smaller class size would be a great first step. Accompanied by a well written IEP this shift could lead to some meaningful re-integration of students into homeroom classes. There will be clouds from time to time, but with strategic thinking around class placements now, the chance for a positive start in September is achievable. Happy placement meetings.


Alternative Curriculum Reporting

It is that time of year again when everyone gets to do their favourite part of teaching….. Report card writing!! Woohoo!!

When I began my job as a teacher of students with Developmental Disabilities three years ago, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to write on my student’s reports. All of my students were working towards Alternative expectations on their IEPs and the reporting on the goals was much different than I was used to doing.  It was the first time that I developed Alternative Expectations (expectations that are developed to help students acquire skills that are not in the Ontario curriculum) and the first time I reported on them at the completion of first term. The ministry of Education explains that “for the vast majority of students, these (alternative) programs would be given in addition to modified or regular grade–level expectations from the Ontario curriculum.” In my students case, they have completely alternative IEPs.

In Ontario, there are five categories of Exceptionalities: Behaviour, Communication, Intellectual, Physical and Multiple. Some of these categories have more than one exceptionality under its umbrella, resulting in a total of twelve exceptionalities as outlined by the Ministry of Education. My students who have a Developmental Disability fall under the Intellectual umbrella along with Giftedness and Mild Intellectual Disabilities.

After consulting with parents, guardians, previous IEPs, Occupational Therapist reports, Speech and Language Reports, other staff and Psychoeducational Assessments,  I created goals that my students focused on for the first term of school. For some students, the goal changed many times throughout the term as we made it more challenging or complex because the child mastered the initial goal. For other students, the goal had to be altered completely to meet their changing needs. When preparing to write the report card, I gathered all the assessment that we as a team had gathered and used the evidence to write a comment that reflected the student’s progress.

After three years in my role, I am no expert by any means, but maybe the comments I have used may help give you some ideas of how to start.

Here are some comments for some areas of the Alternative Curriculum:


_____ regularly initiates conversation with students online and in the classroom. ___ is working on listening closely to others responses and respond to questions that they have asked. ____ is beginning to be able to express her feelings in detail in the classroom.

_________continues to be able to communicate confidently with staff and students online and in person. ___ has improved in his ability to add his own thoughts and questions to conversations and no longer relies on a model to share his experiences and interests. _______ began Speech and Language online sessions in the Winter of 2020 with a focus on improving ______’s articulation. He has adjusted well to the format of the focused sessions and is very committed to improving.

_________ has improved a lot in her ability to express how she is feeling throughout the day at school. She is able to ask for breaks when she is tired or thirsty and confidently shares when she is having a difficult morning. Her ability to express her feelings has helped her to be more focused in class. ______ has gained more confidence throughout this school year and is now able to ask for assistance from multiple people in the classroom.


_______ had a very successful term two. He was able to stay calm and focused by using his strategy board when he felt anxious with minimal prompting from staff. During online learning, he used some deep breaths when he felt overwhelmed and remained very calm and focused.

With minimal teacher support, ________ has made significant improvements in her/his self regulation when upset or frustrated.  The use of a calming space with student selected staff, allowed ______ time to use tools to help manage her emotions throughout the day. Using a first then choice board, _______ was beginning to comply with more requests throughout the day.

Fine Motor/Gross Motor:

________ printing has improved this term. It is more clear and easy to read. ___ spent much of the term writing for specific purposes such as letters to all of her friends at home. ____ is able to use scissors well to cut paper activities and is working on completing lacing activities accurately. Currently, he is able to lace straight lines consistently and is working on lacing curved shapes.

________ is completing 3 to 5 laps of the interior of the school every day on his bike. He rides the bike with fluid motion and lots of energy. _______ with consistent support and encouragement is beginning to go up and down the stairs of the school 3 times a week.

Functional Academics:

______ can count to 100 with 80% accuracy. She sometimes need assistance with the numbers 60, 70 80 and 90. She is able to demonstrate one-to-one correspondence up to 20. When __________takes her time, her accuracy increases and she is able to demonstrate one-to-on correspondence up to 20

____ has expanded his list of words that he can recognize in a variety of texts. The words include, but are not limited to: a, and, big, blue, can, funny, go, here, I, is, in, it, jump, little, look, me, my, play, red, run, said, see, the, to, up, we, yellow, you. ____ is also able to sound out unfamiliar short words with 86% accuracy. _____ loves to write and happily learns new words to write every week.

______  showed great commitment to learning some new sight words this term. She identified them 90% of the time using the Olwein method of instruction which worked very well for her. She also thoroughly enjoyed playing games with the words. She can identify the 5 sight words Cars 3, school, colour, her name and run in a variety of contexts. ______ was also able to trace and copy many personally relevant words for a variety of purposes such as writing letters to her friends who are learning at home.

______ can say the numbers in order from 1-12. She can recognize the numbers 1, 2 and 3 100% of the time and can identify 4 and 5 50% of the time. She is able to demonstrate 1- to-1 correspondence on the numbers 1, 2 and 3 with 50% accuracy.

Social Skills:

_________ requires consistent redirection and cues to treat others with respect and kindness. With these supports has begun to show improvement. She continues to respond well to reminders and will use phrases such as “thank you or you’re welcome” when prompted.

_______ awareness of personal space has improved consistently this year. ______ has used visual tools/cues to check how close she can sit beside someone during whole class gatherings