Dear Students,

As an Occasional Teacher, I meet a lot of awesome students.

This school year, I have had the opportunity to teach in MANY schools (both virtually and in person) across two different school boards. I don’t get to wish each of those awesome students a farewell as this school year nears its last day. Some I may see in September, some I may see in the future as our paths align once again, and some I may never see again.

Here is what I would say to them all, if I could:

Dear students,

Thank you.

Thank you for making a school year filled with masks, shields and social distancing feel like community. Thank you for being your authentic selves and finding it within you to make jokes, be silly and have fun. Thank you for inspiring me to come to work every day, to keep learning, growing and wondering.

Thank you for showing me that connection is so powerful and that strong relationships have the potential to break through computer screens. Thank you for embodying resiliency, love, trust and understanding. It is you who have showed me that not knowing the answer is sometimes the most exciting avenue to take.

From you I have learned so much, but most importantly I have discovered that my learning will never stop. I used to view my experience as an occasional teacher as a means to an end. Upon beginning this journey in 2018, I thought being an OT was just something that had to be done. For me, this experience has been vital to beginning to develop my sense of identity as an educator. You have influenced me advocate for change within education, schools, communities and the world.

I wish you all the best as you continue your adventures.

Sincerely,

Miss Turnbull

“Healthy” Eating 101

The Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum requires students in Grades 1-8 to learn about healthy and active living. The curriculum document stresses the importance of healthy eating and the relationship between healthy food choices and strength of the body and the brain’s preparedness to grow and learn. Sounds ideal right? 

Talking about the positive benefits of foods that are high in nutrients, vitamins or those classified as “healthy foods” must be done with extreme caution. Idealizing certain foods or food groups has the potential to demonize foods that don’t fit neatly into the “health” category. 

Seemingly innocent activities such as ‘colour in the healthy foods’ disregards the role and existence that “unhealthy” foods have in our world. Potato chips, french fries, chocolate, milkshakes – they are here (and they are awesome). Students need to hear that these foods are awesome, and they can be enjoyed and loved. Food is good for our bodies. Sharing food with people we love is good for our bodies – and essential for our mental health. 

How to avoid demonizing food or food groups:

  1. Refer to those above mentioned delicious foods as “sometimes” foods
  2. Talk about how food is not only a part of daily life, but culture, celebrations and traditions 
  3. Talk about the various ways in which people eat across different households and around the world 
  4. Talk about ingredients that are in food 
  5. Talk about how your body feels after eating food
  6. Talk with students about prices of food and why people may choose buying one food over another
  7. Talk with students about how to make food!
  8. And, when we are no longer teaching in a pandemic, make food! Share food together as a community. 

Disordered eating knows no boundaries. Eating disorders exist across all demographics of human beings. We don’t know every student’s relationship with food, nor do we know the relationship with food that our students see at home with their families. 

With love from a teacher who has personally struggled with her own relationship with food: Please, proceed with caution.

 

 

 

Ophea: Healthy Eating Resources https://teachingtools.ophea.net/activities/level-up/program-guide/healthy-eating

School Mental Health Ontario https://smho-smso.ca/

Canadian Mental Health Association https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/understanding-and-finding-help-for-eating-disorders/

Exit Tickets

I often try to put myself in my students shoes and think about how I would have felt as a young student learning online during a pandemic. 

Personally, I learned remotely as an adult when completing my Master of Professional Education degree. But I cannot confidently compare my experience with the experience of these young learners. I chose to learn remotely, I had access to the tools I needed and am privileged to be able to seek out additional information and necessary resources for myself. 

I think back to being that kid who was a perfectionist.

I only ever asked questions quietly to my teachers, in constant fear of looking like I didn’t know what I was doing. I would not raise my hand unless I was confident I knew the answer.

I definitely talked (a lot) to my friends during class time despite being asked not to. But, I did not take risks in front of my entire class when I felt unsure, stuck or confused. 

I always offer help to students in such a way that attempts to empower them to ask for it. While this is ideal for those students who wish to voice their concerns, it leaves behind those who are hesitant to take risks or those who aren’t sure of what questions to ask to receive the help they need. I empathize with those students who are unlikely to raise their hand in the physical classroom and admit uncertainty.

Fast forward to 2020/2021 and online learning. Now, students are joined together on a Google Meet, sitting there at home where their family is likely listening, their classmates are listening, and their classmates’ families are listening. What a terrifying way to put the spotlight on yourself when it’s the thing you wish to avoid the most. 

I decided one day I would try an exit ticket online to give students a voice. I have used these in the classroom for many reasons, including checking for understanding, mental health check ins, or as a way for students to ask questions. I created a quick exit ticket on Google Forms (where an exit ticket template exists already by the way!) and sent it off to my students.

The response was amazing. The very first time I tried it while occasional teaching, I received responses from students who I had not yet heard from in the large group environment of virtual instruction. What kept me coming back to using these was the quality of responses, the honesty of responses, and the vulnerability of responses. 

Here are some exit ticket questions/conversation starters that I have found successful with students, even as an Occasional Teacher:

  1. What is one thing you want me to know about you?
  2. Tell me one thing that helps you learn.
  3. What helps you to focus/listen while learning?
  4. How can I support your learning?
  5. Tell me something you wish I knew. 
  6. What is your favourite class and why?
  7. How are you feeling today?
  8. What questions do you have for me?
  9. What questions do you have about today’s lesson?
  10. What is one important thing you learned today?
  11. What can I do to help you with this task?

I am happy you are here

As I was supply teaching one day in a full remote learning classroom, my wifi decided to take a short vacation. Now if you’re anything like me, technical difficulties feel like they come up at the worst possible times. Now that is a dramatic statement of course, but it really does feel like a “WHY NOW” situation. It can’t just be me?! 

Anyways, in the middle of our math lesson I was logged out of the google meet, leaving the students and their questions behind. I think my immediate reaction was “AHHH”. 

Upon taking a big breath, I was able to log myself back in after about 3 whole minutes. 3 minutes doesn’t sound like a long time, but in this short time frame I had convinced myself the students would have left the meet, had become overwhelmed with the math questions or upset with me for leaving mid conversation. I was cautious upon logging in again and unsure the atmosphere to which I was returning. 

 

I could hear one student say “she’s back”, as I started turning on my camera and microphone. I then started rambling on and began to apologize and explain why I had left mid conversation.

 

“We are just happy you’re here, Miss”, one student replied. 

 

We are happy you are here. 

 

What a simple, yet powerful way to welcome someone into a room or conversation. 

 

To this day, I am still applauding whoever taught this child to say that, whoever fostered empathy within that child, and ultimately applauding the child themself for being so brave and confident to voice such powerful words. 

 

I have adopted this saying and now use it daily in my practice. 

“I am happy you are here”.

This statement shows compassion, empathy, understanding and is welcoming, inviting and warm. 

 

It would never be my reaction to ridicule students for showing up late. As I really believe there is always a reason for this. Especially with my job as an occasional teacher, I typically do not know much about students’ lives outside of school other than what they have chosen to share. Prior to this profound moment for me, if a student had shown up late or at the wrong time I likely would have said “that’s okay!” or “no problem!”. Presently, those statements seem much less inviting and warm and lack appreciation for the presence of another person.

Now, when students arrive late to class I smile and tell them I am happy they have made it. Happy to see they are here. 

To all who read this post…

I am happy you are here.

 

 

 

“Be vulnerable”

A message we are hearing as educators during a pandemic.

What does this mean to you and your practice?

 

To me, vulnerability seems scary, it seems raw – but, both human and necessary. 

Living through this pandemic has provided us with commonality of experiences. Although we are all experiencing different heartache during this time and no two stories are the same, we share a mutual feeling of exhaustion with our students, their families and our colleagues.

 

To create a deeper understanding of vulnerability I turned to the work of Brené Brown, researcher and psychologist who is best known for her work in the areas of shame and vulnerability. In her TedTalk from June 2010, ‘The Power of Vulnerability” (https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability?language=en), Brown summarizes her research on vulnerability quite beautifully with a powerful take home message:

 

“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen”. 

 

To show our true selves to our students is to offer them a window into our souls. This includes expressing our positive and contagious traits of joy, hope, perseverance, inspiration, and integrity. However, in order to find success in vulnerability we need to feel all of our emotions. As much as we would like to carefully select which emotions to feel, Brené Brown unveils, we cannot “selectively numb” undesirable feelings. In fact, in our attempts to ignore negative or undesirable emotions, we “numb” positive feelings – positive feelings that we wish to pour into our virtual classrooms. 

 

Stress, fear, anxiety, sadness, exhaustion.

To be vulnerable means we are human. 

 

When we work from a vulnerable place it allows for us to truly stop and listen to what students need, meet them where they are at, and support them with compassion while promoting their self-worth.

 

Brené Brown studied people who had a strong sense of love and belonging in their relationships. Brown states that the only difference between people who had a strong sense of belonging and people who did not, was the people who felt loved – “felt worthy” of this relationship. 

 

Vulnerability drives connection.

Connection promotes worthiness.

Worthiness equates belonging. 

 

Be vulnerable.

June Tired

Is anyone else June tired in March?

 

The loss of March break has clearly impacted everyone involved in education – students included. The rumours of shut downs coming our way and whisperings of the government cancelling the April break are lurking everywhere I go. The thought of either of these things happening is devastating to me personally for many reasons. 

 

Though we continue to battle a pandemic everyday while committing ourselves to our students, their families and the community – we are tired. We are here. We are doing our best. We are rocking it. But.. we are tired. 

In response to this, I want to get a conversation going. 

What things are you doing for yourself right now? 

Of course, there are many things we are doing for our students to keep learning exciting as we all feel in desperate need of a break. But what are you doing for you? How are you practicing self-care?

Please feel free to comment on this post as a space to share what you are doing for YOU. If you have not done anything for yourself, this is your reminder! 

Take care everyone, secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. 

 

“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love” – Brenè Brown

Staff Relationships: COVID Edition

Everyone wants to feel welcomed, liked and seen at their place of work.

To me, this sense of belonging provides me with the confidence and the resources to have conversations with fellow staff, ask questions when I need help and create new connections.

As an OT, creating meaningful relationships with staff you don’t see daily can be difficult. 

Add in a pandemic with a side of cohorting, social distancing and a dash of remote learning and, like many other things this year, you’ve got yourself a challenge.

This school year, I started Occasional Teaching for a new school board in late September. For me, more connections equals more work and more valuable experience.

Using social media, I have been able to reach out and connect with educators who are seeking Occasional Teachers that are comfortable working in their classrooms. Social media has been a wonderful space to both talk and listen to other people like me. Together, we support each other through the many transitions happening this year, answer each other’s questions and lift each other’s spirits. 

As we approach nearly a year of connecting this way, it feels like the new normal. Will our days soon return where we can attend PD sessions with dozens or hundreds of others? Connecting, talking, listening? 

As our methods of supporting each other constantly evolve, we must continue to place importance on creating and maintaining relationships – no matter how great of a task this may feel. 

As grateful as I am for these online connections, they don’t feel the same. They don’t completely and totally measure up to sharing a coffee with someone or looking them in the eye across the table.

Human connection cannot be replaced.

How have you been creating relationships with fellow staff this year?

“I’m Sorry”

“I’m Sorry” 

A combination of words we are all familiar with.

We’ve said them, we’ve received them, we’ve wished for them, we’ve accepted them and we’ve rejected them. 

Humans make mistakes.

Mistakes are the way we grow and learn.

Consequently, this learning process involves others whom our mistakes can directly impact in negative ways. 

 

Professor, author, and researcher Dr. Brenè Brown hosts a wonderful podcast called Unlocking Us which can be found on Spotify or by clicking here (https://brenebrown.com/podcasts/). In a two part podcast from May 6, 2020 titled  “I’m Sorry: How To Apologize & Why It Matters”, Psychologist Dr. Harriet Lerner discusses the power of apologizing and how to apologize. 

Dr. Lerner goes beyond the limits of “I’m sorry” and dissects the anatomy of a true and meaningful apology. Attached are her “Nine Essential Ingredients of a True Apology”. These nine crucial points are simplified for reference but are explained in great user friendly detail throughout the podcast. 

 

How can we use “True” apologies in the classroom? 

Although this podcast is not specific to education, here are my takeaways through the lens of a teacher:  

Apologize to children

  • Dr. Harriet Lerner pleads that apologizing warrants respect. Teachers are human too and we make mistakes. Displaying vulnerability and owning up to the mistakes we make creates a safe space for students to talk about their mistakes and feel encouraged to take risks in their learning. 
  • Getting frustrated is okay – but  Dr. Lerner says, “don’t frame it as an apology”. Sometimes we can get frustrated (again, not robots here) but apologizing for frustrations is not meaningful if the blame is placed back on the student. Example: “I am sorry I was upset but you kept interrupting me”.
  • If we can’t apologize to our students, how can we expect them to understand or feel motivated to apologize to us

Model effective apologies for children

    • Improper apologies can weaken connections and therefore damage relationships 
    • We can keep in mind that apologies are not an end to a conversation but allow for the foundation of further conversations to be had. Dr. Lerner advises that the apologizer does not tack “but” or “I’m sorry you feel that way” to the end of an apology as it “cancels” out the meaning. Add ons do not attempt to comfort the hurt party but rather attempt to justify the hurtful behaviour. 
    • Other unnecessary add ons include: “stand up straight”, “look me in the eye”, “say it like you mean it”, “you should think about it more”. Dr. Lerner says those types of conversations can be had later, but to focus on what is really important between the two people – their relationship and the connection they want to maintain
    • We can teach our students that apologies do not solve everything. One is not required to respond with “That’s okay” when someone apologizes because sometimes it is not okay. Instead we can teach students to thank the other party for expressing their apology by saying, “Thank you for the apology” or “I appreciate the apology”. 
    • When apologizing we should empathize to understand what the other person needs at that moment. We can do this by providing people with the time and space they need until they are ready to talk. 

 

 

Link to part 1 and 2 of Dr. Brenè Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us with guest star Dr. Harriet Lerner titled “I’m Sorry: How To Apologize & Why It Matters” published on May 6, 2020 –

https://brenebrown.com/podcast/harriet-lerner-and-brene-im-sorry-how-to-apologize-why-it-matters/

Boys vs Girls

A friendly competition?

No. 

No. 

No no no no no. 

 

Boys vs girls in sports? Boys vs girls in games? Boys vs girls in math? 

No again. 

 

Here’s why:

  1. Boys vs girls contests assume there are only two genders and reinforces this idea to children. 
  2. This competition forces children to ‘choose’ which side they are on. For those cisgender students, the choice is simple. For students who are transgender, or identify with genders outside of the two given choices, this is much more complicated. Not necessarily because they are unsure of their gender, but because self-identifying in front of the entire class can be detrimental. Students may not be ready to discuss their gender identity, do not feel comfortable, fear being outed, or they may be working on discovering and understanding who they are. 
  3. Gender roles and societal expectations associated with those roles need to be demolished. Gone are the days where we should teach little girls exclusively to be caregivers while leaving the science, technology and math to the boys. Pinning ‘boys’ against ‘girls’ presents to students the idea that there should be some sort of contest, some sort of competition, rather than collaboration amongst all.

Educators who are seeking to make groups may use alternative approaches to divide their class in order to empower students and create a positive classroom environment. Here’s some ways I like to divide students into groups:

  1. By their birth month
  2. The amount of letters in their name 
  3. ‘This or That’ – ask students to decide, for example, “Do you like blue or green?”
  4. Good old fashioned randomization! Use popsicle sticks with student names, random name generators from the internet, student pictures, the list goes on. Use whatever works best for your classroom.

If you have any more thoughts or ideas on how to make non-gendered groups in the classroom, I’d love to hear from you!

Occasional Teaching Online (part 2 of 3): My Challenges

I will never forget my first supply day for virtual learning. Even though I am early into my teaching career, I believe this experience has changed the way I will reflect on my teaching practice for years to come – dare I say forever?

As I logged onto my first Google Meet with no idea who was greeting me on the other side, so many things raced through my mind and my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. Nerves. Excitement. Fear. 

In my last post I reflected on my realization of the power of connection and children’s drive for relationships. As I continue to venture on with positivity and optimism, I cannot ignore the raw emotions I have felt, the challenges I have faced and the questions I have unanswered. 

 

“I don’t know”. 

 

In my personal and professional life this year, “I don’t know” has been part of my daily conversations with colleagues, friends and family. Last year, saying this out loud would have felt like admitting defeat, accepting failure even. As the uncertainty and the unknown continues, we are being forced to live in a world of “I don’t know”. The challenge is constantly turning the “don’t know” into “let’s try” with a smile on our faces. Of course we want to support our students, their families, and our communities. Of course we want to embrace change, challenge, and even failure. But, the reality is, we are navigating this new path in which there are no correct answers, there is no manual, and there are no instructions.  

Openly admitting what I don’t know feels uncomfortable and scary. But discomfort is required for growth and change. I share my challenges with you as a means of connection. Maybe you don’t know either – and that is okay. Additionally, admitting the unknown provides opportunities to gain insight from those who may know, those who have ideas and those who can say “I have been there, and I know how hard it can be”. 

As an OT I have felt it challenging at times to engage with students who are not turning on their microphone or camera, for whatever reason. I want to get to know them but am also mindful how vulnerable they may feel turning on their video to chat with a complete stranger. How are you supporting student engagement and providing a safe space for all? 

How are you supporting students with special needs, learning challenges and students who are working with limited resources? I once taught in a class where one of the students did not have paper or pencils. 

How are you supporting students through technical difficulties or navigating new online platforms? I have been doing a lot of screen sharing. I often share my own screen and/or ask students to share their screen if they are comfortable. I am finding this method to be extremely time consuming. Although sometimes necessary, it can also be very distracting. When students share their screen, it puts the issue they are having on display for the whole group to see. This can be helpful if someone knows how to solve the problem, or harmful under certain circumstances and can intensify feelings of helplessness for some students. 

 

*Holds breath* 

No correct answers.

No manual. 

No instructions. 

*Exhales*

 

There is beauty in this.

It may be hidden or the view may be obstructed right now. But it is there. Together with our students and our colleagues, we are the creators, we are the inventors, we are the pioneers.