track and field

Track and Field Day

Is it possible to have 4 words to usher in the beginning of the end of the school any better than these? Perhaps class party early dismissal come close, but I have to admit track and field day takes first place. Although it’s been a while, we start each year off running with cross country in September and October. Somehow, they have set the pace to a year of engaging students in spaces outside of the classroom.  

Aaah there’s nothing like being outdoors in the fresh air watching students roam, run, roll, and occasionally hop from event to event. Whether it’s a 100 m dash across uncut grass, jumping events (minus high jump) or 4 laps around the building as an impromtu 800 m track it is definitely a day for students to outshine the noon day sun. Now this is my idea of distance learning. 

This year the events were held over the course of a week in order to accommodate for some wet Spring weather, but student spirits were undampened when rescheduling occured. They knew those freezees waiting at the rest station were only going to be more freezier from the wait. When the sun came out to stay, the competitions were underway. And they went off with relatively few hitches or injuries. Especially, that run around the school on an occasionally uneven concrete sidewalk. Even with a less than perfect track and field the students did really well. So why state the obvious in a union blog post?

Well I wondered that too at first when the idea baked into my head while watching our students compete. It also occurred while I watched students run events, while staff supervised, and when students had free time in between. It was like hundreds of different versions of the same moment happening simultaneously yet differently for all of us. WHOA! (Bill and Ted version)

So as I watched the days run their courses, I witnessed a lot of parallel events that might have gone otherwise overlooked if solely looking at the times, distances, and names on the events lists. Here are a few things that made it to the invisible podium that day. I’ll let you decide whether they are positive or negative. 

  1. Students are really helpful when they are empowered to lead and trusted to do so. This was so obvious as I watched volunteers from older grades lead their stations, show up on time, and encourage(wrangle, herd, shepherd) the competitors through their events. 
  2. Students really thrived with the extra time outdoors. These days were pure social with a healthy amount of friendly competition. I really appreciated how students from different grades lined the event areas to cheer on their peers. For the most part this was really wholesome other than the one or two knuckleheads who thought it was okay to mock their friends throwing abilities. #teachablemoment
  3. Students gave their best efforts considering that practice for these events (standing long jump, running long jump, ball throw, shotput etc.) is usually limited to Phys Ed classes that occur only twice per week. Seeing students struggling with these skills shows how much we have missed over the past two years of pandemic learning when we were online. 
  4. There will always be some students who choose to quit before a race is over.

I mentioned earlier that you will have to decide how to see this one

For me this has always been a toughy. Having been taught from the start to give it 110% and every other cliché in the book, I was left wondering why someone would quit in the middle of a short race when they were not injured? Have some of our students cracked some code here? Maybe it was easier for them to control the moment by ending it on their terms? All of this led to an interesting discussion with my 4/5 students. 

Since I was with them for most of that day, I saw a lot of determination and effort. I made sure I told them as such and how I was a bit relieved to see most of them push through even when first place, second place, and third place were not the prizes at the finish line while an unusually larger of their peers did not. I asked them what made them finish anyways? I also asked them what made them stop at certain times? Then I asked myself what needs to happen for everyone to finish their metaphorical events regardless of the outcomes? I guess that question has to be asked of all of us? Just like the events on track and field day, how we prepare ourselves for each day really matters. 

What keeps you going when the finish line seems further away than ever? What keeps you roaming, running, rolling or hopping until the end of the race? 

Whether it is fitness, meditation, hobbies, acts of kindness, family, friends, faith, pets, any or all of the above these pursuits/passions have helped many of us finish another school year strong despite the wretched election results, a year of hybrid learning hell (personal opinion), and countless uncovered COVID 19 absences due to systemic ineptitude. Without them, I am sure that I would not be in a good place this month.

I encourage you all to take heart, you’re almost there. The tape is stretched across the line of this decathlon of months spent planning, communicating, learning, unlearning, supporting, and teaching. You will cross that line and the rest to follow will feel so good. 

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.

Physical Health in students with Developmental Disabilities

If you have a student in your class this year with a Developmental Disability, I’d like to share some statistics today to help you make some decisions about their programming. Students with a DD have a different set of needs than the rest of the students that goes beyond academic programming.

Here are a few statistics taken from the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research:

Adolescents with autism and Down syndrome are two to three times more likely to be obese than adolescents in the general population.

Secondary health condition are higher in obese adolescents with IDD including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, depression, fatigue and low self esteem.

Obesity presents a higher incidence of health problems including decreased social and physical functioning, reduced quality of life, difficulty forming peer relationships and increased likelihood of depression.

Clearly some of our students with Developmental Disabilities are more vulnerable to becoming overweight or obese. Much of the time they have so many things working against them like a disability that has obesity as a symptom, greater medication uses or altered eating habits related to their disability. However, that does not mean that as educators we cannot support students and families to manage their fitness levels.

As educators, we can:

  • Have an excellent relationship with the family of the student. You will NEED their help to ensure the wellness of their child.
  • Ensure that parents know how to access community programs that offer activities that include physical fitness. In addition, help connect parents with community supports that offer funding for these programs. (During Covid, many of these programs are not running as the requirements for physical distancing can’t be maintained with makes the next two points really important)
  • Talk about and model physical activity often. When we meet online, we speak almost every day about activities that we are doing at home.
  • Most importantly, include physical activity into the daily routine of your class. The government of Canada recommends 60 minutes of physical activity every day. During a pandemic, that is tough but encourage your student(s) with a Developmental Disability to move during class. You need to get their heartrate up and a good sweat going on!
  • When you go back to school, prioritize physical fitness for these students. Walking, running, biking, stairs, games, dancing. Put it ahead of many other programming goals to help get these students get back to daily activity.

Anecdotally, when some of my students returned to school in September their physical fitness had dropped significantly. As mentioned above, organized sports for these students did NOT open back up during the summer and my athletic group of students who used to run circles around me struggled to move for 5 minutes at a time. From September to December, I added a segmet of the daily routine that focused only on physical fitness and by December they were back to being very active for an hour at a time.

For many of us beginning any kind of physical program can be tough and motivation can be VERY low. Make sure you have a solid reward program based on anything the student likes (that hopefully is not food). For some of my students it was stickers, for others it was hot wheel cars and my other student was obsessed with Baby Shark colouring pages. Find whatever works and reward them for movement. Start with a couple of minutes at a time and keep increasing from there.  As our students begin to return to learning at school, this is going to need to be a priority for these students to protect their long-term physical health as well as their mental health.

As Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod used to say “KEEP FIT AND HAVE FUN!”

Bumps, bruises, and other lessons from play and weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what the weather teaches us all:

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

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

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

How do we nurture positive relationships amongst our colleagues?

“We come to work for our students but isn’t it nice when we get along with the adults? (Heart and Art Book of Teaching and Learning, pg. 12)

As teachers, we are so careful to nurture positive learning environments for our students to learn and thrive in. We are mindful of the social, emotional, physical and mental well-being of our students and work diligently to ensure that they are safe and secure in our care. Our families are grateful for the love in which we care for our learners and they are resolved in knowing that the adults in the building are committed to their personal well-being of their children. How then, do we nurture this same kind of environment for ourselves and our colleagues? After many years of working with many different educators, I’ve come to realize that adults are super comfortable addressing the needs of students but act in ways that are incongruent with how we take care of ourselves. Collectively, we are intentional about teaching students to be respectful and cooperative, but how might we nurture these great habits amongst ourselves? The following, though not an exhaustive list, are some things we can try tomorrow to foster healthy working relationships amongst our colleagues:

  • Send a thank you note or email to express gratitude.
  • Visit the staffroom for lunch at least once a week. Sharing a meal lends itself to conversation that allows you to get to know those you work with and appreciate the diversity they bring.
  • Start a wellness club that encourages physical, social and mental well-being through physical activity and healthy eating.
  • Escape your “divisional cubical” and reach out to those you may not have the opportunity to work with. We have more in common than we think.
  • Start-up a book club. My favourite thing about reading a good book is talking about it. Why not explore a text together and see how much that ignites collegiality amongst the staff.
  • Say “please” and “thank you”. Manners just makes the world a better place.
  • Presume positive intentions but also be honest when an offence has occurred. Talking it out with the presumed offender will invite a learning opportunity, as opposed to engendering future conflict and harbouring resentment.
  • Smile wide and laugh loud. The radiance of a smile and the joy of laughter always makes for a welcoming.

As the adults in the building, we really need to take care of each other. We are growing the adults of the future and the model we set is read more nuanced than the one we say we expect. Let our actions speak volumes in our commitment to serving our learners. Let us serve the community. Let us serve each other.

That Chickadee Feeling

This classroom field trip is based on a book written by Frank Glew. It is a regular part of my classroom in the winter. Each year in my attempts to keep my students winter active I use this read aloud as a focus for my students to connect to their natural world in all seasons. The precise of the book is about how a young child is bored and has nothing to do. So the parent decides to take them on a hike. The child experiences for the first time that Chickadee feeling.

Finally the day has arrived where my class and I will be heading to our local outdoor education centre where we will try and experience in real life what we witnessed in the picture book. The snow is gently falling and the forest is covered in white with only the underside of branches showing their natural colour. It is a perfect day for what we are wanting to do as there are very few natural food sources available for our winged hosts. As we hike toward their feeding area, the Chickadees know we are coming and they start to follow us, knowing that human presence means it will soon be feeding time. My students start to both hear and see the tiny birds as they stay close to cover to avoid any natural predators.

Finally we arrive at the location where we will attempt to experience that Chickadee feeling. I take a few moments to talk about the best techniques to try and get the tiny winged marvels to land and feed from their hand. One-by-one the students collect some black sunflower seeds (Chickadees are very fussy eaters) and move to a location where we will serve as a human bird feeder.

Within minutes the word has spread somehow in Chickadee language and it seems like dozens of birds arrive and carefully scout out the sudden feast that awaits them. Then, it happens! The first Chickadee lands and perches on my student’s outstretched hand, grabs a seed, looks at my student and flies quickly away. This first landing creates a chain reaction of the same scenario and they feast for the next 10 minutes. Like a proud father I carefully observe my students to ensure that each and everyone of them have that opportunity to experience the Chickadee feeling. The smiles, the chorus of oohs and ah that echo in the forest tells me that they know they have just become a part of the infamous Chickadee Feeling Club. I hope you do one day as well.P1050784 P1050792 P1050786