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. 

Looking Back Over the Year

In my twenty three years of teaching, this year has been like no other year. From working from home at the start of the school year, placed in a new central role with new schools, only to be redeployed a few months later into a new school community, to becoming an ETFO blog writer for the very first time. This year has certainly had its ups and downs. 

I am thankful for the support I have received from family, friends and colleagues throughout a very demanding year. Their support has been invaluable to my mental health and my professional journey, especially during these uncharted times. I am also very thankful to ETFO and to you, my readers, for allowing me to speak my mind on matters that are important to public education and social justice. This blog has really given me the opportunity to develop a personal voice and to be able to think critically about issues affecting publicly funded public education. Your feedback and responses to my blogs have been so thoughtful and supportive, it has allowed me to be more conscious of my words and the impact my message could have on viewers and on the profession as a whole, across the province. Thank you for all that you do and for allowing me to be me.

Most educators across the province, myself included, would probably say that they have had a school year like no other. They have seen many changes to their teaching assignments, they have adjusted to the demands of the numerous pandemic protocols, and they have weathered the storm through a very unpredictable political environment. To me, you are all heroes for making it through, for continuously advocating for public education and for always putting students first. We, as educators, are often the last ones to give ourselves props for the good that we do and the impact we make on the lives of students and their families. Well, this is the year we change that. This is the year we begin to see ourselves deserving of being praised and being recognized for our commitment to quality public education. This is the year we celebrate our successes, in spite of any bumps we might have had throughout the year. If others are not willing to recognize and celebrate our successes, then this is the year we do it for ourselves.

I encourage you to take this time to recharge, to rejuvenate and to self-indulge in whatever makes you happy, albeit in a safe and responsible way. Take comfort in knowing that the impact you made this year (and years past) does matter! I, myself, am looking forward to going out again with family and friends, to travelling beyond borders and to breathing unencumbered air again, while remaining safe and prepared for any changes to current protocols. I am going to bask in the sun and enjoy the moment, unapologetically. I deserve this, and so do you. Enjoy it freely! 

Survival tips

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

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

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

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

This is also what hurts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Educational Perfection

As we end another school year and look forward to summer vacation, I think back to my first years in education and what summer “vacation” looked like for me. July was spent taking additional qualification courses and most of August was spent prepping and planning. It wasn’t really much of a vacation.  So why did I do it? Two reasons. I am passionate about learning and I am a (now recovering) perfectionist-especially as an educator.

I must have thought there was some kind of a prize for having the tidiest, prettiest and well organized classroom. I wanted my classroom to look like something out of the Scholar’s Choice catalogue. The custodians would be annoyed at having me in the school and I would wait anxiously for them to be finished waxing our hallway so that I could get in and set up my classroom. I needed everything to match. If I had baskets for items in the classroom they had to all be the same colour. It isn’t always easy to find 24 of the same basket at the Dollar Store.  Before the students started in September I felt the need to have labels on all of their notebooks, duo tangs and I even labelled their pencils. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to control the environment for my students. My classroom looked like a showroom on the first day of school and I would spend the next 194 days trying to maintain that standard. Our first printing practice lesson (because we still did that back then) was to practice writing “A place for everything and everything in it’s place.” When I think back now to all of the time and energy that I wasted not allowing learning to get messy I shake my head. It was exhausting.

After twenty plus years in education I’ve learned a few things about educational perfectionism and letting go of control in order to empower the learners in the classroom. When I was given a portable for a classroom that I wasn’t able to get into much before school started I panicked at first.  I didn’t have space or time to create a showroom. I decided to give the design over to the grade 4-5 students.  I still had labelled duo tangs and a place for each of them to put their things that was their space ready on the first day but the rest, we did together. It built community, it gave the students ownership and it gave me some of my summer back. If you’ve ever taught in a portable that has the coat racks inside, winter is a bit of a nightmare for an organizational freak but eventually I let it go. We still had a tidy classroom because their wasn’t enough space to be too messy but the organization of things didn’t stifle the learning. We learned how to paint in a portable without water using buckets and trips into the school. We brought lawn chairs to school at sat outside at reading time. I loved our little cabin in the woods.

As educators we have a lot of people that we are accountable to in our jobs. Students, families, administrators, our board and our communities are all stakeholders in what we do. The pressure to be perfect in our roles can be overwhelming and paralyzing. What educators do each day is literally driven by “overall and specific EXPECTATIONS”. It took time for me to realize that the expectations that I was putting on myself were much higher than those of anyone else. It took reflection to realize that perfectionism isn’t the badge of honour that I thought it once was and that it was making my life more difficult. I came to understand that it isn’t the room or the resources that make me a good educator.  It is about the connections and relationships with my students and their families that matter. It is about embracing the Ms. Frizzle moments and rolling with it.  If I’ve learned anything from COVID-19 it is that being flexible and letting go of what I cannot control are the keys to staying out of perfectionism. I plan on guarding my summer vacation as I would a medical specialist’s appointment but I’ll likely take a few professional resource books along to read in the waiting room.

 

Attitude of Gratitude

Many years ago I remember watching a gratitude themed Oprah episode.  There was a gratitude journal that the guest had developed and was relaying all of the benefits of writing down things that you were grateful for each day.  The power of suggestion (I’m a sucker for an impulse buy for self-improvement) lead me to the nearest Chapters to purchase one of those journals that weekend.  I certainly didn’t fill that journal. I think I lost interest in a couple of months because it felt as though I was writing the same thing over and over again.  I realize now that gratitude, like mindfulness and meditation, is a “practice.”

Gratitude practice is most effective when life is rough.  It sounds counterintuitive.  It is much easier to be grateful when things are going well right?  Easy to “count your blessings” when you are sitting on a beach in a resort in the Dominican Republic.  I personally feel the power of the gratitude practice when life isn’t going according to plan.  Though, I want to be clear here, there is a fine line between true gratitude practice and “looking on the bright side” or “finding the silver lining.”  That bright-side-silver-lining thinking can border on toxic positivity which isn’t helpful.

Gratitude practice means different things to different people.  For me, it is connected to daily journaling.  Each night since the fall I have been writing about my day in terms of gratitude before going to bed. Some nights I might write for 5 minutes.  Some nights I write for a half hour.  It might read something like, “I’m grateful that we got outside for a walk, that my son felt good about his essay after all of the struggles and tears, that we were able to eat a healthy meal, for Hello Fresh being delivered to my door and for the opportunity to reach out and connect to some new teachers through professional learning today.”  I try to reflect on the events of my day in terms of gratitude.  I could write in my journal that the technology in my professional learning session that day was glitchy, we got off to a rocky start trying to get everyone into the WebEx room, and there were links that didn’t work even though I had tested them twice. Instead, I choose to be grateful for the connection and discussion that I had with the teachers that day.  It isn’t that I ignore that bad things happen or think about how things can be improved, but ruminating on the bad things that happened during the day right before going to bed isn’t going to ensure much of a restful sleep.

In some of the professional learning opportunities that I have recently hosted with new teachers we have discussed the struggles of the current climate in the classroom.  It is important to have a safe place for teachers to voice those concerns and have someone listen with compassion and empathy and ask curious questions.  I will often say that there are many things that I can’t help them with, but that I am there to “embrace the suck” with them.   At the conclusion of those discussions my final question is always, “What is a recent personal or professional success that you’ve experienced that you would like to share with the group?”  This ends the discussion on a note of gratitude. It is SO easy to get caught up in venting and complaining about the situation in education right now. Teaching it is NOT an easy job on any given day but the difficulties have grown exponentially with the pressures that COVID has added.  So when we can take a moment to remember why we continue to go to work each day, why we got into the job in the first place and what our recent wins have been, I think it brings a feeling of hope.

Sometimes I practice gratitude in a less formal way that is more like mindfulness.  Recently while walking on a treed trail on a bright, sunny, winter day with my best friend, I stopped mid sentence and just looked around at the beauty.  I said to my friend, “I just had to take a minute to take this in.  We are so fortunate to be able to walk here.”  It only took a moment.  I don’t do that all of the time, we’d never get anywhere on our walks! However, remembering to do it every so often helps me to deal with stress and the bad things when they do happen.  If in the moment of a stressful situation I can take a moment to breathe and practice gratitude it sometimes keeps the emotions from escalating.  When conversing with someone who is frustrated and perhaps complaining or lashing out I try to remember that this person is doing the best they can at that moment and that each opportunity to interact with someone who is suffering is a chance to learn and I try to be grateful for that.  Author Andrea Owen in her book, “How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t” would call it an AFOG-another flipping opportunity for growth.  When I remember to think about gratitude in a not so great moment, I might do it raised shoulders and through gritted teeth, but I keep trying.  It is, after all a practice.

“If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough.” -Brene Brown

Remote Learning Hereos

Celebrating the Remote Learning Heroes

I wake up to teach each morning, excited to hear my students voices and to teach the lessons for the day. I love every moment with them and I think the world of these students. They really are little super heroes, but do I tell them that enough?

It was brought up at a staff meeting by multiple staff members this week how are our students are super heroes for engaging in a learning setting that we would have never imagined. Just waking up, signing in and listening is something that should be celebrated. But of course, we have to expect more from them and I am delighted by what they show me each day. My students are coming to school each day in a virtual setting, meeting deadlines and participating more than I have ever seen in my seven years of teaching. Just this week alone, they handed in their final copies of their MVP 0f 2020 essays, many of them writing five or more pages about their selected person. Six of my students even wanted to learn about MLA citations and how to format a works cited page. These are things that will help them so much in the future and I was so excited to teach them about that. They also worked hard on their financial literacy final project- coming up with a budget for an imaginary person, looking at how to buy a car and selecting between various interest rates as well as looking up how to save for local universities. Most of my 33 students handed in both of these projects this week and were so excited to celebrate afterwards.

Every week we do student shout-outs and yesterday, I made a “wordle” (mashup of student names) to celebrate each and every one of them. For showing up, but also, for doing so much more than that. I know for some students, the challenging situation we are in right now makes it hard for them to participate in daily lessons. One of my most engaged students told me the other day, “I don’t know how I am doing it. I have the whole world at my finger tips but I am expected to sit and listen to lessons each day. I have to avoid distractions with nobody on the other side of the screen to hold me accountable. I do not know how much longer I can do this.” What an honest statement from my student. My response was yes, what a challenging task! But imagine completing this year and having the skill to avoid distractions and to be responsible for your work without I suppose there isn’t anybody there to remind you to stay on task like there would be in the physical classroom. I encouraged my students to think about all of the things they will be able to accomplish in the future with this new found responsibility. That independence will take them all the way through their academic career.

It is also important for me to remember that they still need to engage with peers, so I have been making breakout rooms each day in a variety of subjects. This is great as well because they have another student to chat with. I love popping into the breakout rooms and hearing the conversations (all on task?!) with students they have never met in real life.

These students are so resilient and they truly are my heroes. I know it is easy to get frustrated with the lack of output from some students, but in the physical classroom, it may have been the same thing. In an online setting, it is just more noticeable. All we can do is continue to encourage our students and remember to celebrate their success, no matter how small. Always try to remember that as challenging as it is for us educators, it is even more challenging for our kids- the remote learning heroes.

 

No Tired, Like Online Covid Teaching Tired – Rest, Sleep, Restore

ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students. ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

It’s been 6 weeks since I started teaching synchronously online and it’s draining me. Before the winter break, I was teaching synchronously online and in class. As a few of my students are solely online, I tried to make them feel included in all our lessons. Being physically in school gave me the opportunity to interact with people, from a distance. I enjoyed my days teaching physically present in school.

But teaching online all day is different. Interacting all day in a virtual class forum drains me.

Teaching online is also lonely. Yes, I get to spend my day talking to students through my online meeting platform. But in this lockdown, I am isolated as my partner is often away working for the Red Cross. It’s just me and my 19-year-old cat, Whitney.

When I was teaching in class, I had a chance to go for a walk, stretch my legs, visit with colleagues (via social distancing) and get outside during my recess duty. While teaching solely online, I am stuck in my home office at my desk.

For me, teaching is more than just explaining and guiding via lessons. Teaching is all about reading how students are feeling about their work and figuring out how to help them understand content and the ideas within the content. When I teach exclusively online, I feel blind as I cannot use my senses to read students’ moods and body language. This means I need to focus solely on students voices and asking questions to promote clarifications within students’ work.

One day, it was particularly challenging as I was dealing with a student who was having challenges attending online. I dealt with constant interruptions while teaching. I told the student that I would help them separately on a one-on-one basis. Their mother was also calling me on my cell phone about this student’s behaviour/mood. I heard the student state that “My mom wants to talk to you right now!” I informed the student that I would help them later and that I would call their mother after school was over. When I did go to help the student, they had left the online meeting. Mom did not pick up when I called.

I usually have a solid attention span, but this situation threw me off. While teaching about the surface area of 3D solids, I made a mistake forgetting that the formula for the area of a triangle is base times height divided by two. It was embarrassing but I turned it into a learning opportunity by explaining that I learned about math by making many mistakes.

I find being online all the time, exhausting. It’s pushed me towards burn out were I sit wanting to do nothing. I am also dealing with ongoing insomnia. My mood is leaning towards more being cranky than experiencing anxiety.

Being online sucks my “social” energy until it is gone.

As I try to write about issues that are informative and helpful to teachers, I’ve included some things that I’ve found helpful being isolated during this lockdown.

Acknowledge Yourself

Taking steps to care for yourself is not a selfish act as it is critical to your happiness and wellbeing. Without self care and setting limits with work, your physical and mental health will be impacted. Your effectiveness in your work will deteriorate. Work less to be more effective.

Restore Yourself

Image

Take time to do something you love.

This could be taking up a hobby you’ve  done in the past or reading books you’ve wanted to read. I’ve learned if I work too much, I become less effective. Taking time to restore myself with non work activities makes me more effective as a teacher in my practice. My hobby? I’ve returned to my cross-stitch, focusing on making “Really Cross Stitch” by @haleykscissors which has been fun and cathartic!

Calling Friends and Colleagues

Talking to friends and colleagues connects me to others and gives me joy to hear their voices. I have not seen some of my friends and colleagues, face-to-face, in over a year now. I miss the regular collegial conversations we once had at work. Reaching out to others also supports them in this time of isolation. It keeps us connected, even though we are apart.

Sleep Hygiene

Getting to sleep is an ongoing issue for me. Waking up is worse as I feel like “molasses flowing in February.”

When I am overworked, I find it hard to relax enough to fall asleep. Being relaxed before sleep means sleep comes quicker. I takes steps to make sure that I do not take any stimulants past 1 pm, drinking only decaffeinated teas at night. I even refrain from chocolate.

My need to fall asleep challenges me as my partner virtually falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow. I end up listening to him and my cat softly snore while I toss and turn, flipping like a fish in bed. The worse thing I can do is look at the clock, noting how long it has taken me to get to sleep. Some nights one, two, and three hours pass before sleep finds me.

When reading up on how to get a better sleep, I’ve found some tips that might promote sleep and establish an improved sleep hygiene :

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends!)
  • Set an alarm to go to bed, as well as to wake up
  • Take a bath with bath salts
  • Hydrate with warm caffeine-free drinks
  • Skip alcohol before bed
  • Try to let go of your daily “drama” related to work and/or family
  • Big one for me – stay off social media (I’m known for my late-night Twitter posts)

Readers, if you have any other tips to pass on, please note them in the comment section.

Wishing you more rest, sleep, & restoration,

Collaboratively Yours,

Deborah Weston, PhD

Per / Con / In / Re – form

Perform 
I am wrestling with my thoughts again. In other words, I am restless again. When this happens many questions appear soon thereafter. Is there anyone out there that feels restless too?

I can’t be the only one in questioning a lot of things right now because most days I feel like a busker at a street festival trying to juggle a bowling ball(technology), a chainsaw(lessons), and a fishtank(learners). Nothing to see here other than a fairly confident educator having a tough time with something that he’s done before – delivering lessons.

So why am I struggling to deliver my lessons? It seems like a good place to start. Right now, I am questioning everything about my professional practice, and it feels like running along a path and tripping over an imaginary object. My week long tumbles are not so much about the content I am teaching, but rather how it is being taught, how it is being received, and how it can be assessed. It is leaving me limping into the weekend? Tell me I am not alone right now.

Conform
And then it hits. How long until the realization that some of my students are not completely engaging with learning right now even though their eyes and emotionless emoticons tell me otherwise? After extended times staring at screens and thumbnail sized student/profile memes I can tell my students are becoming exhausted too despite the brave faces that I see popping up on occasion when called upon. Is this happening to anyone else teaching right now? Are your students tired too? I am. 

Why am I so tired right now? Shouldn’t getting an extra hour of sleep each night, drinking 2+ litres of water per day, reduced caffeine, reduced personal device time, reading more books, and getting more exercise than in years past be helping me out here? I have even added Tai Chi, Yoga, and Hip Hop Dance to our DPA to increase movement during class time. To top it all off, I take daily walks whether I feel like it or not. 

Inform
You see, I force myself to take a walk after each of my hyper-telepresent virtual teaching sessions. Once the goodbyes are done, it is pretty much all I can do to get out of my chair, climb the stairs, and get geared up to go out most days. Especially, when I have to pass by a very comfortable couch whose cushions scream, “Remember us?” It is very tempting, but something even better calls, my daily walks.

Regardless of the weather, these walks are my motivational carrots to keep taking the steps that get me through the many muddy moments along each day’s unpaved path. Knowing that no matter how the day goes, a walk awaits has been all it takes to see me through. Whether a lesson went well or died on the screen in front of me ceases to matter when I inhale that first breath of fresh outdoor air. The exhale feels pretty good too. 

You watch enough TV, and very soon the inside of your head has become a vast, arid plain, across which you cannot detect the passage of a thought. Harlan Ellison

So far this year, I have only missed one day of walking. In hindsight it was probably the day that I needed a it most. Instead, I ended up planted on that inviting couch with a bowl of Smartfood staring at our television. Tuned out. Achy. Sullen. Grumpy. Numb. These feelings got me thinking about screens. 

Reform
Sci-fi author Harlan Ellison referred to TV as the “glass teat”. He even wrote a couple of books about it. I see parallels to how education is being delivered right now. We need to wean our students off of their screens more and more in order to preserve their minds from numbing and tuning out. 

Somewhere along my way outside a struggle ensued about the work I am doing in front of my screen. Is it serving to numb our students over extended periods of time? Will these extended periods of online learning cause irreparable tears in our socio-academic fabric? I am not ready to believe that this is the beginning of the end for in person school and that we are heading for our isolation pods as told in E.M Forster’s The Machine Stops

We cannot continue feeding content from one glass plate after another and expecting students to grow up smart and healthy. A dear friend suggested that cutting the learning day back to 4 days might be a good idea. Allowing the 5th day for asynchronous activities such as self-directed inquiry and catching up on assignments during the day rather than in the evenings when fatigue sets in. Teachers could easily use that time for office hours, for one on one/small group support, and conferencing. Everyone wins. 

Yet to form
This is much more than having the tools to master a domain that has yet to be tamed? Virtual learning means we are virtually learning how to do this while we teach? I can tell you there are few system leaders or consultants that have as much experience as any teachers in this medium, and it has largely been gained through self-teaching and experimentation with their classes.

I worry that too much emphasis has been placed on performance and conformity without serious consideration to being fully informed of the true social, emotional, and physical costs of virtual learning. Teachers, students, and families are feeling the stress from this and without an alternative I fear that there will be problems far greater than being behind on assignments or failing a test.

There is a definite need to refine and reform how we are being asked to serve and support our students. I’d love to take a walk around the neighbourhood with those making decisions on our behalf, share some ideas, listen to one another, breath in some fresh air, and take the steps that would best support students and staff -from a safe distance of course. Maybe if we took away their screens everyone might be able to see eye to eye here about helping to change things for the better, our students. 

In the meantime, I think another walk is in order. 

 

 

“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/

Hindsight is…

Please don’t make me finish the title until the last second has ticked off the clock. I may have developed a defensive outlook about this trip around the sun. While I know this Gregorian Calender measurement of time will soon be in the rearview mirror of our lives, it is still a battle avoiding the queasiness and wincing that come when I think about all we have been through in 2020. Can resolutions be far behind?

Dang! I just wrote 2020

My understanding, perhaps acceptance, of this year is coming into clearer focus. It has been an extraordinary year on so many levels, and thus a great opportunity for personal growth. It has also been an educational year because, dang, I learnt a lot. 

Dang! I just wrote ‘dang’ again. 

I also taught a lot, and despite it feeling like a roller coaster ride from hell along the way, it meant that there were many lessons for me as an educator in 2020 too. Which made me happy to find this quote below after thinking I made it up myself. 

“If you are not learning, then you are not teaching.” Vernon L Smith*

A wise and gentle reminder that there was always something new to learn about ourselves, the students we teach, and the world around us during periods of unexpected loss, labour strife, professional uncertainty, and a global crisis. Smith’s words echoing loudly as I type. Here’s my version of it à la René Descartes. 

I learn, therefore I am a teacher.

So here is what I learnt from hindsight/2020:

  1. Take time to grieve and offer comfort first when students/families are hurting. The lessons can wait. It hurts to lose a student to senseless violence. Our school felt this very deeply last January
  2. Sometimes governments do not have the best interests of the population in their actions. Standing up to malfeasance and legislated tyranny is the right and a responsibility of all educators. 
  3. Mental health matters more than marks. Students/educators who struggle will not miraculously get better after a call to a helpline or a conversation with a social worker/psychologist. It is a process that takes time and patience before progress. I learned that there is much more to learn in this area to better support students, colleagues, and myself. 
    Remember that no matter how many times people tell you to take care of yourself first, there have to be reasonable boundaries and supports to make that happen. An encouraging message from admin, a Board Director’s email blast, or the Minister of Ed is not going to suffice. Set your boundaries. Do what you can do within them. Take time to be still. The work can and will wait. 
  4. Equity in schools needs to go way beyond a single day in the classroom, Orange/Pink/Purple shirt days are great starting points, but most not become performative events, but rather actionable beginnings to build on everyday in classrooms. There are so many amazing inclusion and equity resources being shared via school boards and social media for educators committed to allyship and activism in areas of Truth and Reconciliation, anti-black racism, LGBTQ2+, and culturally responsive relevant pedagogy. I learned that words in a classroom mean very little if they are not accompanied by opportunities to critically engage learners to become agents of change. 
  5. I learned not all educators are ready to confront their privilege and unearned advantage. I also learned that acknowledging my own privilege comes with the responsibility to examine my pedagogy and practice. It is a chance to unlearn, learn, and then teach. 
  6. If you are going to move into emergency distance learning within a short period of time, take it slow and make sure you have an ergonomic work space for those extended hours of screen time ahead. I learned that not all students have the same amounts of available space or bandwidth required for virtual school. I also had to accept that some students checked out the moment learning became asynchronous. 
  7. Rethink, question, iterate, bend, blend, and break everything you have done in the past to teach. Say goodbye to “we’ve always done it this way thinking”. Reimagine your reading lists, your math instruction, your use of worksheets, your classroom management, and your assessment approaches. This will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Embrace the discomfort. Learn from it, and then teach forward knowing 2020 taught us all so much. 

Thank you for a wonderful year at the speed of education. Please feel free to add what 2020 taught you in the comments below. Cheers to you all, and to a safe trip around the sun in 2021. 

*  There is comfort in the knowledge that the quote above is attributed to a Nobel Prize winning thinker because before checking, I thought the words above were mined straight out of my mind. Needless to say, I am happy to share a common thought in esteemed company. Searching out the source of the quote also allowed me to discover some of Smith’s other vast body of work in economics.