Mental Health Activities

January 25th was an important day to talk about mental health as each year, “Bell Let’s Talk Day” reminds us all that conversations are such an important part of our day as educators. As educators, it is our duty to ensure the mental well-being of each of our students is thought about daily. Some students keep their feelings inside and some claim to be happy 24/7. How do we dive deep into these important conversations and make sure that we are providing opportunities for our students to speak out? Here are some ways to get talking about mental health without making it the central focus. Starting small to get kids talking.

Math Activity

My students were looking at topics to create an infographic about and as a class, decided the most important infographic that should be on display in every intermediate class was one about mental health. So students looked for statistics related to youth mental health in Canada. They found fractions, percentages and various facts that told a story about the mental health of youth in Canada. They shared these infographics with their peers and discussed many important facts. Then, yesterday I pulled up the website about “Bell Let’s Talk Day” and students found many statistics on this page that they had used in their own infographics. We looked at the resources available and then talked about resources to help within our own school (Positive space groups, social worker, clubs, talking to teachers, etc.)

Drama Activity

I wanted to try an activity with my grade two and three students yesterday that connected to their mental health and it went very well. I encourage you to try it out with any grade in a future drama class or just as a class activity. Here is how the activity worked:

A student would be selected to be the actor and that actor would have some sort of problem that they were needing help with. Some examples are:

  • Getting a bad mark on a test
  • Getting into a fight with their best friend
  • Their best friend was moving
  • They felt sad but did not know why
  • Their goldfish passed away

It was actually challenging to think of situations that would not be triggering for students. I made sure that the actor was okay with the situation and then they proceeded to act out their feelings towards the situation. Then, they would pick three friends from the audience who would one at a time come up and try to make them feel better. It was incredible to hear all of the solutions that their friends had. Students who had not participated in drama class in the past put up their hand for the first time. They were excited to come up and comfort their friend. After the lesson, I asked the students if they could use these strategies in real life and they all agreed that they could. I know this activity comes with a risk of students having to be vulnerable but I think it was useful. I even heard a student say, “I wish I had gotten that advice a month ago!” I loved this activity and hope to try it with my intermediate students in the future.

Language Activity

As report card season is in the midst, I decided to try a different reflection activity this term. I asked students to write one word or sentence  on a cue card that best described their feelings towards report cards. This was an anonymous activity as when I collected the cards, I did not ask them to write their names on them. I then handed out a random card to each student. I asked them to think about why the student had written down that word/sentence. What could have been going through their head? Can you relate to what they wrote? Why or why not? I often hear grumblings about report cards around this time of year so I thought this would be a good chance for students to get it all out. An optional part of this activity could be having students share their word at the end if they felt comfortable doing so.

Art Activity

Last month, we were lucky enough to have someone from the Art Gallery of Hamilton come in to our classrooms. We were involved in a four week program working with watercolours with a focus on mental health. Students completed watercolour techniques in a very relaxing environment, using tape, string and tissues to create different looks. This was my favourite part of the day as every student felt connected to their work and rarely left to access a different space. Students were proud of their work and loved the simplicity of this. The arts have a way of making everyone at peace and I look forward to incorporating more periods to just create without a given set of rules.

These activities are just a few I have tried over the last month or so and I am always looking for new ways to get my students feeling comfortable around their peers and with themselves. I would love to hear about more if you have some that have worked in your own classrooms. I hope to include some photos once I am back in the classroom next week so stay tuned.

the past has passed

As a K-13 student, growing up, I was fooled into believing that the sage on the stage method was the only tried and true instructional practice that would lead to my success as a student. We were taught, tested, drilled, homeworked, derogated, compared to others, overlooked, underestimated, expected to listen to hours of lectures each day, and told “it has always been done this way”. 

There were some really bright spots along the way to be fair, but as many students, unfortunately, find out things change drastically year over year. Even if my experiences were not the norm, there are still others who went through something similar. The cherry on this crud sundae that I am sharing with you is that it was all amplified tenfold in university, but that post will have to wait. Until now, I really never had the scope or tools to consider why? 

After spending the better part of this month reflecting on the past year, it seemed like a good idea to look forward at the road ahead rather than through the rearview mirror of what truly belongs in the past. 

the audacity of it all

Why would anyone so young and uneducated dare to expect anything different let alone differentiated? It seemed that education even into the 2000s was more about control and conformity than the pure pursuit of knowledge, deeper understanding, and meaningful opportunities to put learning into action. Many teachers of a similar vintage as mine learned quickly that those desks were in rows for a reason, that the ancient textbooks weren’t going to cover themselves, and that the first assignment of each year was going to be a retell of what you did on your summer vacation. UGH!!!!

This time provided many eye-opening experiences that required some working out before stepping through the classroom doors in 2009. They can be summed up in a few words: sterile, rigid, and underinspired. 

I never really liked the oppressive nature of my past educational experiences. I have worked hard to unlearn them since becoming an educator. Lately though, I have been reckoning with these truths again as I try to shake them once and for all. Admittedly, it takes effort not to let them creep back into my interactions disguised as something else. Being stuck in a rut can fool you into believing it is a well worn path. Taking time to be mindful of this is especially important as I welcome another 2 teacher candidates into the classroom for Term 2.

I guess we all have to confront our own needs, wants, and desires in the workplace and see if they align with our current realities or not. In that spirit here’s my reflection exercise for you to try if you went through a similar schooling experience or wish to avoid inadvertently providing one for your students. 

taking stock

How much of your past experience from being a student is guiding your leadership in the classroom? I had to work on this especially knowing that learning in the 70s  and 80s was so drastically draconian and undifferentiated.

How do you infuse positive talk with your students each day? More importantly, how are you including positive listening to them? Avoid repeating phrases we were told as students at all costs? Here’s a classic: “If you just work harder you will get it eventually.” For me, eventually was years afterward no thanks to those teachers. What I needed was time and a clearer breakdown of the concept along with some guided practise. Please know that students are usually trying their best why wouldn’t they? 

Here’s another blast from the past: “How come you are the only one who doesn’t get this?” This might as well have been my theme song for grade 13 Math Functions and Relations? How is that supposed to help me or the other students who are too paralyzed with fear to raise their hands? I’ve felt this sentence trying to pass over my teeth and past my lips, but have also developed strategies to make sure it doesn’t happen. 

One more car from the trauma train: “Your brother never had a problem with this.” This was what my sister had to endure. She never deserved to be treated that way. To this day she continues to inspire me despite the attempted spirit murder she went through. It is a terrible injustice to compare siblings in the classroom. Please for the love of pound cake do not let this happen and call it out when it does. 

And finally, and more positively, how are you embracing the future? Does it include space and time for student voice, creativity, equity, intersectionality, identity, inquiry, design thinking, team problem solving, and otherliness? If not, what, other than the chains of the past, is holding you back from adding one, two or all of them to your classroom?

I am asking these questions of myself as a reflective exercise too because we have all come across it through our own years of sitting at our desks while educator after educator leads us through the lesson(s). Yet, even as we were taught multiple intelligences, strengths based learning, zone of proximal development and so much more from Gardner, Maslow, Marzano, Friere, hooks et al. If you are thinking “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” right now you can still benefit from a little proactive maintenance knowing that it is crucial to constantly refine what we do and how we do it in order to ensure a way for our students engage, wonder, and grow towards the future and not the past.

 

Reflections from 2022

As I reflect on the year we just had, I can’t help but feel proud of myself, all the educators and of course, the children that endured all of the challenges of the year we had. From countless closures to the uncertainties, our feelings of normalcy were starting to become a thing of the past. For someone who is normally so positive, I found it hard sometimes to carry on with a smile and try to spread the feeling of “All will be well.” So how do we learn from this? How do we use what happened in 2022 to guide us in 2023.

Well as I set goals for 2023, I think I would like to bring a couple of mindsets into the new year:

Never underestimate the power of an experience

2022 was made up of many lovely experiences- whether it be viewing a musical at the local high school or playing in a soccer tournament- students remember every single experience and love to look back on it. So try to take the opportunities as they come. Read every email because you never know when a fun opportunity could come your way. Also, never be afraid to make a fun opportunity happen! I know sometimes I wonder if the students will like something I plan or ask them to plan but they always end up reminiscing on how great of a time it was. So experiences are the greatest treasure I would take from 2022, right down to a game of trivia on the playground.

Nothing is forever 

I remember being upset multiple days during 2022 thinking, “I hope this doesn’t last forever” and the truth is, it never did. So positive thinking almost always wins and stressing over things that are beyond our control never works well. I hope in 2023 that when I am faced with a challenge, I will approach it without dreading its end date and that I can find a way out of it. I know that this will ultimately make me less stressed and will help me stay positive.

Breaks are for taking a break

I remember trying to plan any break we would get: Christmas, March, summer, etc. I would carve out a few days to plan as far ahead as I could get and not actually spend any of my break on break. This summer, I tried something different. I enjoyed getting married, my honeymoon and then after, I didn’t plan. I didn’t read any documents, instead I watched videos and read articles about first day activities. I read the exciting first day back opportunities our board had made and from there, I let things happen as they may. I started to really plan the curriculum after I got to know my students. Spending weeks of the summer mapping out a plan was something I thought I needed to feel confident about the next school year- however doing so during the first weeks of September proved to be much more productive. By then, I knew my learners and knew the style of teaching I would want to use for that group. This is a style of preparedness I want to save and continue on with for 2023. I don’t think I ever really tried taking time to take a break- a break from the business and the planning. Now I know I can do it.

There are so many other things I’d like to comment on but I have my activities saved in files, my memories saved in photos and of course, actual items saved in my class. I felt it would be most important to write down these mindsets so that others could try them. Although there are many lessons and units I’d love to try again, it’s more important to reflect on the feeling and mindset I’d like to have. Stress is a feeling almost every teacher shares, I’d love to see that change into something else. This blog helps me relieve some of that and I always hope there’s someone out there that will try it too. Either by reading, replying or trying to write their own version. 

Happy new year everyone! 

 

time off time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time off time to…

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

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

The Fall Months

The fall reminds us all of many things. The beauty of nature as leaves change from greens and browns to vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges. The wonder of the fall seasons that we get to partake in every year. The dominance of ‘Pumpkin Spice Lattes’ and all things pumpkin to consume. The excitement of new school sessions that are marked by the “ber” months. The fall months (September to November/December) bring richness, newness, and a sense of adventure. However, for some, there is a ‘sadness’ that fall brings with it.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) affects 35 percent of Canadians. “Another 10 to 15 percent have a mild form of seasonal depression, while about two to five percent of Canadians will have a severe, clinical form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It often starts with fatigue, then symptoms of sadness, lethargy, apathy and depression, said Dr. Robert Levitan, the head of depression research at CAMH” (Kwong, 2015).

The Canadian Psychological Association references “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or Depression with Seasonal Pattern, as a condition that comes and goes based on seasonal changes, appearing in the fall and going away in the spring/summer. If you have SAD, you may find yourself feeling many symptoms of depression, especially irritability, and you may be more sensitive in interpersonal relationships. People often report unusually low energy levels, causing them to feel tired, heavy, or lethargic” (Canadian Psychological Association, 2020).

This disorder may often be regarded as the ‘winter blues’ which can affect many educators who are juggling back-to-school, new schedules, classes, and sometimes responsibilities with little or limited energy to do so (let’s not yet add any home or community responsibilities teachers may have as well). How can one cope when everything just seems so S.A.D? First, it is important to note that you are not alone.

Mental health & wellness resources such as those found on the Ontario Teacher’s Federation website (titled ‘Useful Links for Wellbeing’), as well as resources and services offered by your board are ways in which educators can combat S.A.D. Some boards offer counselling, mental health professional, and community services at low or no cost to educators. These services enable educators to work with a mental health professional to develop strategies, tools, and/or action plans to mitigate/navigate Seasonal Affective Disorder. Similarly, there may be options to connect with paramedical professionals.

Part of the Building Better Schools Plan by ETFO Provincial recognizes that “As the heartbeat of public education, teachers and other education professionals play a critical role in helping to shape the system and develop our students to be the very best they can be. Ontario’s future depends on all of us to protect and build better schools” (ETFO, 2022). There is a richness, a newness, and a sense of adventure that the fall months bring. Part of ensuring Ontario’s future is using available resources and services to protect and capacitate educators’ mental well-being.

Resources to consider

 

References:
Canadian Psychological Association. (2020). “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Seasonal Affective Disorder (Depression with Seasonal Pattern). Canadian Psychological Association. Available at https://cpa.ca/psychology-works-fact-sheet-seasonal-affective-disorder-depression-with-seasonal-pattern/
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2022). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Mental Illness & Addiction Index. Available at: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/seasonal-affective-disorder
ETFO. (2022). Building Better Schools: A plan for improving elementary education. Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. Available at: https://www.buildingbetterschools.ca/the_plan
Kwong, M. (2015). Sad Science: Why winter brings us down, but won’t for long. CBC News. CBC/Radio Canada. Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/sad-science-why-winter-brings-us-down-but-won-t-for-long-1.2981920#:~:text=About%20two%20to%20five%20per,effects%20of%20our%20chilly%20moods%3F

Photo by: Iyanuoluwa Akinrinola

the minutes in between

I think about time a lot. Most of the hours and minutes in between 7 am and 5 pm are spoken for by this passion called teaching. So that leaves me with 14 hours for the many other parts of my life, give or take, depending on whether I am trying to avoid writing progress reports in lieu of writing blog posts.

Granted, those 14 hours are not all free time as they include commuting, housework, personal care (relaxing, catching up on the Bear, Slow Horses, and Reservation Dogs, exercising, avoiding exercising, etc.), eating, brewing coffee, and sleeping. Chores, meals, shows, and self care carve at least 3 to 4 hours out of my day.

When you adjust for seasonal events such as extra-curriculars, report writing, assessment, planning, and errands another couple of hours come off of that free time daily. Then there’s my need for at least 7 hours of sleep which has become an irreducible minimum amount of time to disconnect, clear my head, and recharge for the next day.

Educators are often willing to sacrifice their sleep hygiene to burn the work candle at both ends. We come by this work ethic honestly though. Think back to when you entered your faculty of education and how hard you worked to get there. Many in our calling are predisposed to getting things done regardless of the hour of the day. The problem is that it is unsustainable and begins to effect your cognitive abilities and physical well being.

My advice to you all is to try to set a sleep schedule and stick to it. Your body and mind will reward you with clarity and energy if you do. Prior to the pandemic I was lucky to get 6 hours of sleep per night, and it was beginning to catch up with me. Since then I have upped that to 7+ hours per weeknight and 8+ on the weekends. For me, the result has been a gain in alertness, focus, and creativity.

Now back to those minutes

Okay back to the math; 14 hours outside of educator life less 7 hours of sleep, take away another extra 2 hours for school related work/correspondence, and another 4 hours for life at home leaves me an entire hour or two per day of relatively unprogrammed time if you are keeping track, and that is usually spent catching up with friends, parenting, marriage maintenance, family visits, or doubling back to one of my other daily tasks. If I’m lucky.

Despite having a fairly clear vision of how my days are filled, I find myself still struggling to separate my teacher brain from my Will@home brain and it makes me wonder whether anyone else is going through the same thing? How are you managing the minutes in between the prepping, the planning, the teaching, the counseling, the assessing, and all the other moments that comprise an educator’s day?

For me the routine(s) of school provide a decent frame to parse out my minutes. I am mindful that some days are going to be longer than others, but am also working to become more organized and efficient between the hours of 7 am and 5 pm. I admit that the first 10 years of my teaching career were not as streamlined as the last three. The first step was avoiding work related correspondence outside of work hours. That simple act took a lot of self-talk and restraint at first because I had become conditioned to the fact that teachers were on the clock from the time they wake up until bed time.

I have seen this effects of this play out with many new teachers who are fresh out of their faculties who struggle with parents who for lack of a better description are time thieves with daily requests for progress updates on their children. On numerous occasions, I have encouraged new colleagues to set those boundaries from the beginning at meet the teacher night or sooner. Weekly updates are more than enough when it comes to informing families unless there are significant extenuating issues above and beyond typical classroom learning. I could not imagine what it would be like for a JK/SK educator to respond to 30 families if they all expected daily updates after a full day at the speed of kindergarten. Yet, it is not uncommon for newer teachers to get pulled into that time suck.

Perhaps I can finally find something to be thankful for as a result of the COVID pandemic? Although mentally excruciating and physically draining, the past three years taught me to create some boundaries with my time. It taught me to say “no” and “not now” a little more often. Perhaps it has been that decision to self-preserve and prioritize which has helped maintain my decorum and drive. It is precisely these actions that have allowed me to return to my classroom with a better work-life balance and an excitement and energy for voluntary extra-curricular activities as well. Perhaps this post will encourage you in that direction too.

Has the pandemic changed your approach to your teaching and personal life balance? Please share in the comments what you’ve done to bring more balance into your days.
Thank you for reading.

read a little bell before the bell

I love to read. It wasn’t always like that though. After taking a literature heavy course load through high school and university, I swore off the printed word for a spell.

It wasn’t absolute avoidance or aversion. I did read the paper from time to time, although selectively. When I took a job in broadcasting during the early 90s, my self imposed reading embargo was over as a boatload of reading came with my job as newsreader, DJ, and local reporter. Even though reading was a key part of those workdays, there was not much desire to do so outside of work.

Fast forward to 2007. 

I’m back in university trying to finish a degree that started in 1984. The interweb had become the main source for reams of digital texts and other content from online libraries and newly prescribed course materials. Once again reading became more like work rather than a daily getaway and reward. I struggled to read anything more than what was required. 

As such, it took some time to find a genuine motivation. About 2 months in, it began to change when by some bit of fortune, the text(s) started became so much more relevant to my life as a 40 something adult. I’d like to call this my mid-life renaissance, but fear it maybe considered a bit to melodramatic. Whether it was a personal essayist, scientist, or philosopher it was as if reading no longer felt like assigned work, but rather as tools  intended to strengthen my heart and mind as an educator. It’s 2022 and my reading game is still going strong. 

Teaching Community by bell hooksThis leads me to my most recent read Teaching CommunityA Pedagogy of Hope by iconic educator bell hooks.  Although it took me a bit of penny pinching to add to my collection, it is worth every dollar. I can’t wait to share this text with others who, like me, are on a journey to create inclusive communities in their classrooms.

Please note: I am not naive enough to think that one book could be the lever that moves all barriers and mountains, but I truly believe that the ideas in this text can be leveraged to make a difference when and where they are applied in our classrooms. Be advised that this book contains much “thought fuel” and plenty of feelings too. 

The greatest feelings I had throughout reading this text were this strange sense of acknowledgement and validation. I may have thought and felt many of the ideas shared, but hooks has organized and articulated them so perfectly and has gifted us with an opportunity to reflect, respond, and put community into action. 

I guess what spoke the loudest across the chapters was an emphasis on disrupting the status quo through compassion and community in education. Reading Teaching Community encapsulated my goals as an educator in a personal and professional manner. I love how hooks puts it,
“…the most powerful learning experience we can offer students…is the opportunity to be fully and compassionately engaged with learning.” Creating this space requires 3 things; commitment, courage, and compassion. None will work unless combined with the others. Notice how curriculum wasn’t mentioned? As @callmemrmorris often reminds us via Twitter. “We teach students not curriculum.”

hooks continues, “Refusing to make a place for emotional feelings in the classroom does not change the reality that their presence overdetermines the conditions where learning can occur.” We have to see our students where they are and not in the spaces we want them to fit within. We have to acknowledge that everyday comes with a raft of emotions that rise and fall. Teachers need to be prepared to accept the highs and lows that happen at the speed of learning. Whether a student is sad, anxious, joyful, angry or a combination they are showing us that they do not feel emotionally safe in that moment and will struggle to be truly present as a result. How we choose to respond to them in those moments will determine whether they feel seen and a part of the community or like an outsider looking in. 

hooks also shares, “To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” This is probably the hardest space to occupy as educators. We were conditioned through past experiences and pedagogy to be the centre of our classrooms in the past. However, what was thought to have worked back in the day, was really only a means of perpetuating dominant culture in order to maintain power over students rather than respecting and sharing power with them and empowering them as learners. 

Can you tell that I love this book? hooks also discusses the intersectionality of identity and identity in academia. She writes with clarity and candour that challenged my perspectives while affirming them at the same time. This is why I share that everyone should read a little bell before the bell and I know this will be one of those texts to read over and over as my career continues. 

Happy page turning.

it can wait

Welcome back. 

I’d like to start this year of posts off with a few doses of gratitude. 

Thank you for not rushing towards that photocopier.
Thank you for resisting those urges to cover desks with papers.
It can wait.

Thank you for not going willingly towards that textbook.
Thank you for resisting those urges to get down to business so quickly.
It can wait.

Thank you for not going quickly towards those tests for, as, and of learning. 
Thank you for resisting those urges to assess from the start.
It can wait.

Thank you for not going gently towards getting back to “normal”.
because whatever” normal” was, is no more. 
“Normal has left the building.” 

I share these moments of thankfulness with you as acknowledgement of the incredible work happening throughout elementary schools in Ontario. I see how you are prioritizing students above all else this month by establishing community first. It was clear from day 1 walking around my new school, from check-ins with caring and committed like-minded educators around the province, and via social media that this is exactly what is happening. I am hearing stories of caring climates coming to life where students are feeling included, welcome and connected first in classrooms everywhere. 

Thank you for choosing to establish safe, inclusive, and caring community as that crucial first cornerstone to hold up their classrooms regardless of minstry blustering and ad content. In the past, this was not the priority when law and order, worksheets, and “what did you do over the summer?” tasks were the focus during those first weeks back. Students can tell when it’s authentic, relevant, and when they feel welcome/seen. 

Thank you for thinking of these first few weeks, not as a the chance to make up for some perceived lost time, but rather as an investment in the next 40+ to follow. By taking the time to establish genuine channels of connection before all else, students are going to feel and trust that they are the ones you are teaching and not the curriculum which, by the way, will wait. 

And while I’m at it, thank you for taking the time to read this too. 
Cheers to another great year ahead at the speed and joy of learning. 
W!ll

 

Outdoor Education

I love learning outdoors! To me, the outdoors is an extension of the learning that happens in the four corners of the classroom, except there are no walls and no  barriers to one’s imagination in the outdoors. I believe learning occurs everywhere and at all times; what better way to show students the art of experiential learning than through outdoor education. 

 

What are the benefits of outdoor education?

From all of my experiences as an educator, a physical education specialist, and from all that I have learned and read about the art of teaching and learning, there is no doubt in my mind about the positive benefits of outdoor education. From the development of physical skills, mental health, spatial awareness, self-esteem, problem solving and communication skills (just to name a few) to the love, appreciation and respect for nature and all living things, outdoor education transforms lives and student learning to a whole new level beyond the classroom. I find that, though important in student’s overall growth and development, traditional curriculum tends to focus on test-based learning, leaving less emphasis on experiential, play-based outdoor learning. When students are engaged in outdoor education, their academic performance increases, their focus and attention increase, their mental and social health increase and they develop a deeper connection with, and respect for, the environment. 

 

How can schools/teachers incorporate outdoor education into their teaching practices? 

  • You can always take the lesson and/or activity outside (snow, rain or shine). As long as you prepare for the weather conditions and student safety, many activities, with some minor adjustments, can be accomplished in an outdoor setting. 
  • Consider taking part in the OPAL outdoor play education program. Schools are supplied with equipment and resources that students use in various innovative and explorative ways through free play. For example, students can build forts, balance on large wood spools, swing from tire swings and engage in pool-noodle sword play (just to name a few).  For more information, check out Outdoor Play Canada
  • I have also come across many articles that talk about the benefits of outdoor education and outdoor play in many subject areas: the arts, health and physical education, but also including literacy and numeracy. There are also many resources and organizations that are able to support teachers in building strategies to incorporate outdoor education into their teaching practices. I have used resources from Right to Play and OPHEA teaching tools and found them to be very practical and engaging for students.

If you are new to the idea of outdoor education, my suggestion would be to do a little research of your own, talk with other colleagues and/or your administrators and engage your students in a discussion about outdoor education. Another suggestion would be to start small by focusing on one subject/concept at a time and maybe just doing one activity with students. From there, you can set specific goals and measure success through feedback from participants, looking at improvements in academic performance as well as students’ emotional and social well-being. Overall, the benefits of outdoor education speak volume, in terms of student success, student development, and student mental health and well-being. Outdoor education is beneficial to every child in every school community, and it’s a strategy that I hope will one day be commonplace in all school communities across the province.

fitness

Fitness is a funny word. I get quite a chuckle each time I see this meme. Knowing where to get a laugh comes in handy in this job. The trick is knowing when and where to fit it in?

Yeah, I'm into fitness. Fitness whole pizza in my mouth. – Wag Pet Boutique
https://www.wagpets.com/yeah-im-into-fitness-fitness-whole-pizza-in-my-mouth

Fit in itself covers a broad swath in its meaning as it ranges from adequacy/competence much like whether a premier is fit to govern or if a garment is the proper size. In legal spaces, the courts decide whether someone is fit to stand trial or have custody rights. When someone is upset they are said to be having a fit. When they are inconsistent, things are happening in fits and starts. When someone doesn’t play by the rules and norms they are often told to fit in or labeled that they couldn’t fit in.

Fit can also have a positive light around it such as, “They were a perfect fit for each other” or “all the pieces fit together so well”. When we are starting somewhere new, we always hope to fit in.  When we need an appointment, we are always hoping to be fit into the schedule.

Not to be overlooked, fit can also describe someone’s physical or mental state, as well. So as the days of our 9th month in school wind down I wanted to check in and share some thoughts on fitness in order for all of us to finish strong in June. To no one’s surprise in my world, humour plays a huge part in how I maintain my mental health. Sharing it with my class has become part of our support of one another since the start of the year.

With so much happening in our world right now to crush the spirits of our students and fellow educators, humour, art, acts of kindness, and movement are my goto strategies to combat relentless tragic news stories, a pandemic, and the return of standardized testing. So how does that look in the classroom?

Before I share that, let me reiterate that there is no need, ever, for a head in the sand approach with my students when it comes to tough topics. On the contrary, active discussions about the goings on in our world, nearby and far away are crucial. I believe there is room for conversations for students of all ages. I believe there is room for them to share what they wonder, have heard, and think. I am wary when classrooms are not allowed to be open spaces of inquiry when it comes to the big questions on students’ minds especially when our students possess a world of information, real and fake, at their fingertips. It is important to let go of the control and comfort though. For some that discomfort does not come easy, but hey it’s not about you.

When we fit this work into our days, we tell our students that they are safe to ask when uncertainty abounds. In case you’re wondering. I am into fitting this into my days.  Okay now back to what can only be expressed as a fitting conclusion to a year at the speed education.

  1. Lessons getting shorter. Connecting and applying concepts still continuing.
  2. Time to explore concepts outside of the boundaries and boarders of the curriculum being added.
  3. Collaborations on projects between grades(4 and 5) guaranteed.
  4. Time for exploring new learning with another self-directed inquiry project(Genius Hour)
  5. Student led social activities and DPA. They always know the latest and greatest vids.
  6. Organization of one more PAK (purposeful act of kindness)
  7. More time listening to one another.
  8. More time for the arts beyond our weekly schedule.
  9. Joke(s) of the day.
  10. Time to celebrate that each of our mistakes is evidence that we were trying.

Lastly, there is going to be an end of school in-class celebration to honour each student for their hard work. persistence, growth, and contribution to our class family. As exhausting as the lead up to June is each year, the satisfaction and joy from a job well done lasts far longer than any memories to the contrary.

Each day of this year has been physically and mentally taxing. I have eaten my feelings on occasion. I have been called grumpy from time to time. Mea culpa. I have also found time for a lot more personal fitness in order to combat those tougher days we all go through as educators. Whatever you do to keep fit, I hope it sustains you and gives you joy through the upcoming month and well into a restful summer.

If you see fit, please share what you are fitting into your classroom in June. Thanks for reading.