Being Gentle With Myself

As mentioned in a previous post, it’s a new year and I’m at a new school. I often forget that so much goes into learning about a new place, space or community. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself for not knowing the space and I’m asking questions. In this post, I’m sharing some of my experiences this past month. 

Learning Names

Names are powerful and important. They are a part of who we are and a key identifier in schools. I have to admit that learning names doesn’t come easy to me. As a prep teacher, teaching all students in our school, there are times that I feel overwhelmed with making sure that I also know how to correctly pronounce student names. It’s the end of September and I’m almost there but there are a few that I am still learning. This month there has been a lot of asking for reminders and using my time during yard duty to familiarize myself with names. While I wish that from day 1 I remembered them all, I think it has allowed my students to see that I too am learning and they have been patient in the process.

Setting Intentions & Reflecting

I started a journal at the beginning of this school year as a tool for reflection.  Every morning, I take 5 minutes to think about the day and in the evening, I take some time to reflect. In the morning, I list 3 things that I am grateful for; 2 things that will make the day great; and one affirmation for the day. I find that in doing this, I’m able to set an intention that helps guide the day. At the end of the day, I reflect on  3 things that made the day great, 2 actions that I could have done differently, and one thing that I did for myself. For me, it’s an opportunity to think back on the day and determine whether or not I feel the day was a success. The good news is that if I haven’t been successful, I know that I can try again the next day. 

In the beginning, I noticed that the 2 things that I was writing that would make the day great were things that I expected others – students, colleagues, etc. – to do rather than focusing on what was in my control. For example, rather than hoping students would pay attention during a lesson, I could instead write that I hope that the lesson planned would be of interest to students and offer multiple entry points. When I started focusing on what was in my control, I realized that I wasn’t as attached to the actions of others. 

Another thing that I noticed was that there were many days that I wasn’t actively deciding to do something for myself. I was fishing for things to write, which was a reminder of how much we often choose to do for others, especially as teachers. I’m going to keep journaling and reflecting this year.  

“Learning the Ropes”

I can’t tell you the number of times that I have walked into a new school and realized just how different the routines are. From entry to dismissal, every school has their way of doing things. I’ve learned not to make assumptions and to be explicit in asking questions so as to understand the practices of that particular school community. It may seem silly but while “learning the ropes”, I think nothing is off the table in terms of asking questions. Having been on the other end – someone very familiar with the practices of a school – I also realize the importance of sharing information with others who are new and trying to pass knowledge on. 

I hope you’ve had a great start to the school year. If not, I hope you know that it’s ok to be gentle with yourself. I know that I have been and will continue to be. We’ve only just begun. There’s still time yet for things to turn around.

Wrapping Up The Year

The end of the year is the perfect time to reflect and I’m certain that within our profession, I am not the only one who feels this way. Today being the last day of school, my mind is working overtime as I continue to unpack the year that has past and looking forward to the opportunity to rest and recharge over the summer.  For the last month, I’ve spent time in deep reflection, and starting tomorrow, I’m going to be focused on taking care of myself and making sure that I’m up for the challenge in September. In terms of reflection, I like to think back on the year and consider: what worked; what didn’t; how I’ve grown; what I’ve learned; and what I might like to change for the following year.  As I say goodbye to my current school, I’m looking forward to an incredible new opportunity at my next school. In this post, I’m sharing some of my thoughts going into the summer and looking forward.

Students, Students, Students

It’s what teaching is all about! How we support students; how we facilitate student learning; and how we learn with and from students. When students – and their families – are at the center of the work that I do, I feel a sense of purpose and reward. Over the last few years, let’s face it, it’s been challenging. This year, when the distractions came, I tried to focus on what was most important and what I could do. If there was something that I couldn’t do, I didn’t, without guilt. I worked as hard as I could for students and I’m content with what I was able to do. Also, I asked a lot of questions – why is this important? Who does this benefit? If it wasn’t of benefit to students, I kindly declined. It’s easy to get distracted by the myriad of things popping up on our plates. I’m grateful that this year forced me to focus on students and their learning and I plan on continuing come September.

Take Time to Recharge 

We all know that we can’t be good for others if we aren’t good ourselves.  As teachers, many of us are problem solvers and we jump in and are there to support and care for others.  This summer, please take time for yourself. This past year, I learned the value of saying no to “opportunities” and really taking the time to take care of myself. This summer will be the first in years that I will be completely focused on taking care of myself and recharging to make sure that I’m ready for a healthy September. What will you do? How will you take care of yourself this summer? What does recharging look like for you?

Hear or See Something? Disrupt Publically!

I’ve written extensively about my experiences as a Black student and teacher. Things that I saw, heard, and experienced are sadly, things that I see, hear, and experience in the present day, although there are decades in between. Many of us know the lingo to add to our bios or to say in interviews – diversity, inclusion, equity, disrupting, dismantling, etc. – and yet, I wonder how many of us know what they actually mean within the school setting. When you see something, how are you disrupting? This includes experiences between students but also between teachers and students and between teachers. Notice who enters or doesn’t enter certain spaces within the school building. Why is that? What does it say about school culture? How do we build better community within our schools? I can’t tell you the number of times that people have come up to me in private after something public has happened and apologized for the actions of another. It’s time to publicly disrupt or nothing will change for those most marginalized – students and teachers alike. 

The past few years have been challenging. This summer, please take time to rest and recharge. The year ahead will be another filled with challenges. Let’s do what we need in order to make sure that come September, students can be at the center of what we do. Also, once September arrives, when you hear or see something, please disrupt. Congratulations on completing another year in education. Wishing you a safe and restful summer & a great start to the new school year.

Reflecting on Identity Boxes

In my schedule this year, I had a number of periods where I was able to partner with teachers around the meaningful use of technology. During one of these Assistive Technology periods, one teacher brought up the idea of supporting students on creating Identity Boxes, loosely based on the idea of Joseph Cornell’s Box. The idea was to work with students intentionally on understanding the many facets of our identities and how they intersect, and from there, to create a digital version – similar to James Cornell’s – where students could share their learning about themselves, with one another and their families. 

This past month, I had the opportunity to work with students to start the process of bringing their boxes to life and it’s been a great experience to work with them on using technology as a form of communication. From learning to link Slides and the meaning of symbolism to inserting images and formatting text, it’s been an interesting journey with students as they take their content and try to make it visually appealing for their audience. For me, this experience has reinforced three things: understanding identity is important; use of tech should be taught; and children love sharing about who they are when they know you will listen. In this post, I share about these three things.

Understanding Identity Is Important

Everyone is navigating and figuring out who they are in an ever changing world. Children are no different. At a very young age, they are identifying and learning about the different “parts” that make up who they are. While some are obvious, there are also parts that may be hidden or are yet to be uncovered. I think it’s important to discuss aspects of identity with children from an early age. Through open conversations, experiencing supportive relationships and seeing other people with similar identities being valued, children are able to develop a positive sense of self. 

In years past, I’ve worked on different activities to help students understand the various facets to identity. Depending on the age and the group of students, this work can look very different. The way we might discuss identity with a kindergarten student would differ greatly from a grade 7 or 8 student. Not only that, it would also depend on the work that has been previously done within the classroom to build a community where these important conversations can be had, without causing further harm, particularly to students who are already marginalized.

It’s important for teachers themselves to understand identity and how their own identities impact the way in which they teach and interact with students. As such, I always suggest that teachers take the time to do some of their own learning first. judy mckeown has provided teachers with an excellent resource – Pause and Ponder Social Identity Self-Assessment – that teachers may wish to use for themselves. The questions are rich and call for much reflection on how we navigate the world inside and out of our profession. I don’t think that there is one specific way to teach or do identity work with children – there are a variety of approaches that could be effective – but at minimum, I think it’s important for us to start by understanding what it is and how it influences how we navigate the world. 

Use of Tech Should Be Taught

Children are incredible with tech! I remember when my nephew was 2 and the joy he had on his face when he was able to use his iPad to pull up “Baby Shark” on YouTube. I didn’t think it could happen with him not being able to spell the words baby and shark as of yet, but if you can sing or say, “Baby Shark”, an iPad can find it with ease. 

Armed with this knowledge, I think that many believe that if we just give children a device, they’ll figure it out. Most times they do, but I’ve noticed that in order for tech to be used meaningfully, there needs to be some support with the learning. I mentioned in a previous post that I had the opportunity to partner with another teacher this year around supporting students in developing their proficiency with Google Slides. It was a really great experience because students were able to learn some of the basics that supported their use of tech and allowed them to communicate more effectively. These are skills that not only help for a particular assignment but that can be transferred across multiple subject areas and are skills that can be used beyond the classroom. 

Over the years, I’ve seen many strange and interesting things. Centering a title or the line spaces on text are important skills that students need to be able to understand how to do easily.  I’ve seen some who are excited to hit the space bar until the cursor lands somewhere in the middle of the screen. I’ve also seen students hitting the enter button to be able to double space their text, only to realize that if they change the font, the spacing is all off. These might seem like little things, but they’re also easy to teach kids in mini lessons. 

For the project on Identity Boxes, I helped students: link slides; share their slides in preview mode; and in the creation of collages of their images. Simple things that I don’t think we should take for granted that students will somehow be able to know how to do. Going forward, I really want to be intentional about creating mini lessons for students that support them in being more proficient in effectively using the G Suite for Education Tools. 

Children Love Sharing About Who They Are When They Know You Will Listen

Sitting with some of these students, it was apparent that they were eager to share parts of themselves with me. As I sat, I heard stories of their countries of origin – what they missed and what they brought with them – and also heard students share about the languages they speak and love. Although these are students that I also teach French for one period a day, having them share their Identity Boxes was almost like getting to know them on an even deeper level and it was an opportunity to see them in a different light. I felt honoured that they would share parts of themselves with me, so freely and with such joy. This experience has me thinking about the need to further offer students the opportunity to bring their whole selves to school every day and not just on days where they present parts of who they are. 

Reflection has been an important part of my growth over the years. This post allowed me the opportunity to reflect on one assignment, however, I will be taking more time for reflection and really thinking about what I will carry into next year and what I might just leave behind.

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! 

fitness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My June To-Do List

Those outside of the world of education may see June as the month that the school year ‘winds down’. Educators know that ‘winding down’ is not our reality come June. Comparable to September, June is the time where my mind races, I have 87 sticky notes everywhere between my car and my classroom, and not even 2 coffees seems to cut it anymore. June is an ongoing to-do list that seems to never end. Oftentimes, my list feels like a game of whack-a-mole…just as I am crossing off one task I am adding another to the list.

As we enter into the last month of the school year, I created a to-do list that includes my priorities for June 2022 (in no particular order):

  1. Vote in the provincial election 
  2. Share resources with students and families that celebrate the 2SLGBTQIA+ community as we observe pride month
  3. Observe National Indigendous Peoples Day on June 21st and continue to recognize and use my privilege as an educator to advocate for positive change 
  4. Think about how my DECE partner and I will honour all the hard work our students and their families have put into another extremely challenging school year 
  5. Remain present with students as the days become busier and the weather becomes warmer
  6. Continue to foster a growth mindset with my students. Even though the school year is almost over – we will reflect on all we have learned as we wonder about the things we will learn next.
  7. Spend time with my dad on Father’s Day
  8. Celebrate with co-workers who are retiring after years of pouring their heart into a career in education
  9. Complete Term 2 Communication of Learning reports to reflect all of the wonderful accomplishments our students have achieved this school year
  10. Take care of myself. Breathe. Smile. Enjoy the journey!

What’s on your June to do list?

sounds

I love walking around and peeking into classrooms – especially at my own school. As a SERT, it does not seem as weird when I show up unannounced in the middle of a lesson or work time since I am always in and out over the course of a day. In the spirit of transparency, my curiosity has found me marveling in rooms at other schools too. There is so much to see each time the opportunity presents itself. Long before ever becoming an educator, I was wont to wander off the tour when given the chance – still do.  Now that I am, it would be great if we all had more time to visit each other’s amazing learning environments. 

Each of my visits offer informative insights into these incredibly and creatively constructed spaces. I’ve even made some friends along the way as a happy coincidence when my curiosity leads to conversations after compliments. I think every educator wants to check out what is going on in other classrooms, but we are given little opportunity to do so while siloed in our own schools. Wouldn’t it be fun to swap places with a teacher of the same grade for a week to experience what they do and vice versa?

Admittedly, that wonder and awe comes with a hint of professional jealousy as well. I think of the time, effort, thought, and sweat it takes to make learning come alive within them. It is a gift to work among so many talented and caring educators. Each trip to another educator’s classroom is guaranteed to give me a boost of energy and inspiration. Now imagine what would happen if we all had the time outside of our own walls?  

This has occured to some small extent during family of schools events or one-off PD sessions that happen occasionally. I always love it when another educator visits my classroom. It is validation. It definitely keeps me on my toes and, like watching a movie with your own children, you notice things that you might not sans visitor(s). 

I know that when folx come by my room, they do so with an open invitation to my classroom. Over the years I have welcomed delegations from Brazil, Denmark, and Sri Lanka. Not to mention system admin types from time to time. I always wonder what they must feel like to be back in the classroom? What do they remember from “their days” pacing the rows and teaching. What did it look like? What did it sound like? 

For me, their is this constant soundtrack playing in the classroom. Each day it constructs itself out of the rythym and melody of which we all play our part.

Now, I bet you thought it was something like a cross between Brazilian Thrash Metal, Opera, and Worldbeat and it kind of is however the beautiful noise that gets made is more of a melodic cacophony to accompany the magic that happens wherever and whenever students are being taught. If you listen close enough, you here the soundtrack that accompanies a live rocket launch or cornerstone being laid. It could come in the form of a question or a response and the a “Wait! No, I meant…” followed by an answer and mini-exhale. It could sound like 26 pistons each firing perfectly to accomplish a task or like the timed pops of fireworks at 10 pm on a summer holiday (all safety precautions observed, of course). These are the sounds that reverberate off of pastel painted cinderblock walls. 

Sure I could put on some Lo-Fi Hip Hop or share my Productivity Workflow playlist from Spotify, but they could never compare to the intersection of lives and learning going on each day. 

Like our students, the sounds we hear in class have their own rhythms. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as productive noise. It can be unnerving to new teachers who enter the classroom still holding on to their own experiences as learners, but now nearly a decade past those carefree days from K to 8. At risk is losing the energy in a room when order is the only expectation. Teachers each need to work out and manage their “acceptable noise” levels with students. We must also be willing to renegotiate these terms from time to time. Setting routines and irreducible minimum expectations starts in September, but must be consistent from then to June. 

This might require a few changes to be achieved. With the sun burning brightly and birds chirping, the energy/noise levels in classrooms seem to be set to 11 out of 10. As such, a little more outside and movement time built into the day has helped. I am also adding in more time to productively self-direct or collaborate. My recent art classes saw us touring the school and then partnering up to co-create something. Through all of this, the room was filled with creative conversation with only a few moments of chaos.

I wonder whether someone else would hear it that way if they visited? I guess there is only one way to find out. 

 

Graduation – Perhaps Something New?

Graduation time is fast approaching! I know that it’s still early, but I’m certain that conversations are happening in schools and communities. Within the blink of an eye, we’ll be at the end of June and students will be leaving one school and heading off to new adventures. Let’s face it, the pandemic is still very much a real part of our lives. I fear that in a rush of excitement about “going back to normal”, we will miss an opportunity to do something new. While many will be looking forward to going back to “what we have always done”, I wonder what we have learned about equity of access from the last 2 years and how we might celebrate differently this year.

Equity of Access

Celebrating memorable moments with family and friends is exciting. Over the last 2 years, for many, our celebrations have looked different, whether with our friends or families and/or in school. We’ve learned that in-person celebrations are prohibitive for many, for a variety of reasons. We have made adjustments and have proven that when we consider the needs of the most marginalized, we come up with solutions that are effective for all. For this year’s graduation ceremonies, I hope that we keep this in mind. Whether due to disability or school not being a safe space, we really need to consider how we might make access more equitable. How do we ensure access to graduation celebrations for these students and their families? 

Think Outside the Box

I remember the big push a couple of years ago to “reimagine”. We were reimagining attendance and school entry and recess. All of which were great and timely, and I wonder how many of these practices have now gone to the wayside with the “reopening”? 

On a deeper scale, when it comes to issues impacting those most marginalized, I have yet to tangibly see what this reimagining actually means. Where are those conversations now?  Could we have them about graduation? Here are some questions that I have:

  • Could we start from scratch and design a ceremony that is inclusive to all and reflective of the members of our school communities? 
  • Do we have to have awards? Could they be changed in some way? Could students be involved in the selection of the awards if they must be given? Could students know ahead of time what the awards are all about so that they can have an opportunity to work towards them?
  • Speeches – Who are they for and why do they matter? 

I have to say that not much has changed during the life of my teaching career when it comes to graduations. I’ve been teaching for over a decade. Isn’t it time we think outside the box a little?

Celebration of Students

Graduation should be a time to celebrate students. Sometimes, there are other voices that seem to be louder in stating what the experience of students should be. I wonder if we asked students what they might like, what they would say? How might we gather student voice and have students share their input in a way that allows them to share authentically and freely their thoughts and ideas? We often expect students to disclose without creating the space or environment in order for that to be accomplished, without fear of how others may respond to those thoughts and ideas. How might we really center students and their needs during this year’s celebrations?

In conversations about graduation planning, please remember to include students and their families. They are the best at knowing what they have experienced over the last couple of years and may have key insights into making this celebration of the achievement of students, a success for all. Think outside the box as to what might and can be done. While I’m certain that school boards may share guidelines as to what they expect, there may be opportunities to highlight some specific considerations that should be made for your school community.

the eyes tell our stories

Trigger warning: This post may be triggering to some folx as it discusses the emotional and physical toll happening on our students and our profession. I hope you read on.

A student asked to speak with me the other day. They said things weren’t going so well. They didn’t have to say a word. Their eyes told the story of someone who had been going through a lot lately. They shared and I listened while resisting every urge to cry along with them. How has it come to this I thought? How have so many of life’s weights been placed on a student who deserves to enjoy these years without worry, fear, or doubt?

While they spoke, it became known that these feelings of sadness and dread have been building up for a couple of years already. It struck me a bit odd as this student comes across as one of the most well liked, bright, and optimistic persons. If they were struggling, then how many more have not found the courage to come forward? My mind raced around how best to support them in the moment, but then moved to thoughts of what needs to happen on the macro level of our classrooms.

Despite some training, my mental health first aid kit is still only partially stocked, and unless additional social workers can be added to our school, I fear things will only be getting worse.  If it is happening in one school, then it is probably happening in many others. Notwithstanding the already existing immense work loads placed on centralized caregivers in school boards, it does not appear that supply will meet demand any time soon.

I guess that my best move for this particular person will be to check in with them a little more frequently, contact family to construct a cohesive support plan, and to recommend seeking some help from a social worker if at all possible. I am also going to build in some wins for them throughout the week. These could be a few more affirmations or intentional opportunities to have fun in their day.  Maybe this approach could help in supporting staff as well? Read on.

They didn’t have to say a word. The eyes told a story of someone who has been crying a lot lately. What happened before coming to school? How were they going to make it through another day when the sound of fast paced walks toward their door meant another part of the day, intended to plan and organize, was going to be co-opted again. How can this continue to happen when things are supposed to be safer, better, and back to normaler? Cue the tears. Cue the sadness. Cue the confusion. It’s hard to hide the stress or frustration. With all of that to manage, anger is never far behind. So when someone asks what is causing the tears specifically, the answer is nothing and everything at the same time.

Nothing because there is nothing we can do about what is happening other than mask up, make sure the kleenex box is full, and brave out the current chaos of each day. Everything because the number of issues provide more than enough straws to collapse every camel’s back. Mixed messages, inaction, anti-vaxxers, non-maskers, insane rates of infection, lost preps, fatigue, and having to complete the same system work with less time due to time that has been ‘liberated’ from one’s daily schedule.

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via https://twitter.com/MikeJToronto/status/1520175065333219329?s=20&t=NLlivpQQu-yLApHE3_iEUA

I looked into the mirror. My eyes were dull, glassy, and dry. Thankful that another week has passed where I did not have to be out of the classroom. Thankful that I did not have to isolate. Relieved that time outside of school meant a chance to disconnect and recharge.

Although there is no single thing to attribute this current state. It could be because of the daily dread built up from what is happening in schools right now. It has gone far beyond any occasional days when OT jobs went unfilled to a sadly predicatable and unprecedented time in our profession. When was the last time you ever heard of 9 unfilled OTs at one school? Last week comes to mind.

If it hasn’t been mentioned before, the folx caring for this province’s most precious resources are having a tough time and are being pushed to the brink of exhaustion and anxiety. It seems that once again, pontificating politicians have put their heads in the sand when it comes to equipping educators to meet the realities of the day with the resources they need.

Let’s start by having more teachers available to cover the amounts of educators having to take time to quarantine due to illness/exposure to COVID19 or to care for an infected family member in the same home. As we enter the final months of the school year I am not feeling super confident that things will change and that has me worried about my own energy and emotional levels.

Despite every educator’s individual efforts, ‘things ain’t goin’ so good’. No amounts of extra time or out of pocket expenses are going to fix what is happening. We need personal supports for students and staff more than ever not affirmative memos and lipservice from elected/board leaders. Help.