We’re back and it feels…

  • …like a weird batch of emotions being mixed up in my head everyday. 

I use the word “weird” here as an amalgam of thoughts in order to come to grips with a whole whack of feelings. For now, let’s discuss 4 of the unique states of mind which I have been experiencing. They can be captured by the acronym C.A.G.E – confusion, anger, grief, elation. 


When we said our goodbyes in late June, we went home not knowing what was to come. How could we, no one did? It was a true test of the resilience of our profession as we transitioned from our physical spaces and into the virtual ones. It was emergency distance learning 101 for us all. Nobody knew how long it would go on, or how the students would respond. I recall the incredible stress of having to convert an old table and chair into a workstation at my house, the physiotherapy that came afterwards from my less than ergonomic set-up, and the (a)synchronous instructional awkwardness.

SO, after completing the balance of the academic year online and 3+ weeks of virtual summer school, I was really ready to be back in a classroom. In fact, I was elated at the possibility because things were proceeding as normally as they could as numbers declined and even though everything was up in the air when it came to education. 

At least, our tentative assignments and schedules had been shared, there was more than an air of uncertainty that things were bound to change. Daily news reports, and social media posts had us all still holding our breath. What was school going to look like after “emergency distance learning”? What was the government’s plan? What were are school boards doing to be prepared for September?


There was no shortage of sound bites and stories to fill in the gaps, and for a fleeting moment in late July, it almost looked like the numbers were dropping enough as if the winds of possibility filled the air. Things began looking positive, yet it was still relatively quiet when it came to direction from our current government when it came to education except that they had experts working on it. Come mid-August, my bubble of hope burst with news of increasing numbers of cases. Any residual confusion had given way to anger and disappointment in this educator. 

When school board emails began coming again in mid-August, the uncertainty around COVID 19 in our schools left us scratching our heads, as we did back in March. Little did we know what was about to drop on us all when school boards began surveying families about their choices for virtual or in class learning? But, that’s a topic for another post. 

It was pretty easy to get angry although it didn’t help. Yelling at the TV, like Grampa Simpson, everytime a new daily increase of cases was announced or at how someone somewhere decided that a large social gathering was a good idea without taking precautions. Seeing newsers with the Minister of Education spinning government yarns about funding increases, which they had stripped, and safety of the students raised my ire too. No wonder I spent so many hours muttering to myself while cleaning the garage in August. “Good grief!”


I’d like this to be at the Charlie Brown level when he says, “Good Grief,” but it isn’t. One of the single most powerful emotions I have been battling with since March has been grieving the way that education is now divided into B.C. (before COVID-19) and C.E. (COVID-19 Era). I am sad for my students who missed out on perennial rights of passage such as grads, sports, extra-curriculars, and trips. I feel grief for the students who had to stay at home without contact with their friends other than through blue screens. I feel for the adults who struggled to support their children’s learning while juggling their own work. Acknowledging this feeling is my way of trying to move forward in a healthy way. I know there are many teachers who are feeling something similar.


After great reflection, I chose the classroom option to start this school year. Admittedly, this is a selfish choice, as I thrive in the classroom. My wife mentioned on several occasions that I needed to be back at school too. Although, I am not sure if that was for her sake or mine? Regardless of who benefited most by my return to the classroom, the fact is I was elated to be back, but it also came with a cost. 

I now go for weekly COVID 19 Tests now that my bubble has expanded. With a 96 year old and a spouse with asthma in our home, we are proceeding with great caution. I am wearing a mask and frequently sanitizing my home, trips anywhere are only out of necessity, we are co-ordinating our schedules to reduce interactions so my father in-law does not become at greater risk, and any semblance of a social life or gatherings with extended family outside our residence bubble are now only on the camera roll of my smartphone. Yet, I think it is worth it. 

A stronger feeling of unity amongst colleagues is happening. This turmoil has given rise to a new sense of telepresent professionalism(virtual staff/team meetings). Conversations are fewer, but more meaningful. Smiles are now made more expressive as they are shared behind our masks. All of these little things have made the return to school possible despite the heavy and shifting workload.

Prepping to teach this September has matched the level of confusion and effort of my very first years. It’s tough sledding right now and more changes are ahead as we have only been through a few weeks, but even though my return to the classroom this month has me staggering, I am encouraged and challenged, in a good way, to innovate and adapt.

My head is spinning most days as I grapple to sanitize, mask up, shield up, and emotionally ramp up to teach. Yet, I cannot help, but still find some happiness in all of this each day. And although you can’t see it through my mask, seeing students and staff in real life has become the biggest reason for the smile on my face each day at school despite the CAGE. 

Stay strong. Thanks for reading. 


I had the bulk of this post ready to share our first week back, but could not do it. Something was telling me to bank my initial thoughts for a couple of weeks. Maybe I wanted to take some time for the dust to settle in order to make sense of it all. Sadly, it’s still pretty dusty around here, and based on the daily streams of educators sharing their ups and downs via social media, our collective ability to sift through the mess to make sense out of it, and let the dust settle has not occured. Yet. 

Teachers Are Still Rocking It-

In March we were “Emergency Learning”.  Now we are either teaching “virtually” or “socially distanced” in classrooms.  We never thought we’d be teaching from behind a screen, learning all kinds of new technology tools, wearing masks and shields in front of students or removing all of the manipulatives from classrooms. We don’t know how long this will last.  We don’t know if COVID will worsen.  Educators aren’t used to not knowing things.  Most teachers I know like schedules, routines, knowledge and thrive on consistency.

However, in the midst of the new rules, changes and all of the things that we “can’t” do-teachers are still rocking it.  Throughout the summer I worked with a team of teachers providing virtual professional learning for KPRETFO.  Hundreds of teachers used their summer holidays to learn about technology tools before they even knew whether they were going to be teaching virtually or not. They logged in at 10 am some days in order to learn and some teachers even came to all twenty sessions that were provided. Educators were dedicated to their professional learning all summer long.

At the end of August, I had the privilege of working with another fabulous team of educators who dedicated their time to providing a three day virtual conference for over 500 Ontario Educators with ECOO.  These educators gave up their time to organize all kinds of schedules, sponsorship, presenters, keynotes and much more.  In addition, over a hundred educators created and presented webinars for their colleagues.  It truly FELT like a face-to-face educational technology conference took place in my living room!
There was a feeling of sharing, helping and collegiality.  It was exhausting but my bucket was over flowing.

As our school year is now well under way teachers are reaching out to me for assistance at all times of the day and night through email because they are dedicated to their students and want to do their best.  They are attending our evening “PD in your PJs” webinar sessions through our local union office to learn new tech tools at 7 pm on the week nights. The educators that I work with continually astound me with their dedication to professional learning.

I recently binge watched a Netflix series called “Away”.  It is a futuristic fictional narrative about the first manned mission to Mars.  The astronauts were in uncharted territory.  They encountered problems along the way for which they had not trained.  They endured mental and physical fatigue beyond anything they had ever felt before.  They were innovative and creative in order to solve problems and reach their goal.  While watching, I couldn’t help thinking about the parallels between this movie and the present state of education. We’ve heard that as we design these new learning structures and environments it is like we are building an airplane while flying. If I am going to stay true to the analogy here it is really more of a rocket ship! Educators are facing situations that they hadn’t even thought about in Faculty of Education Programs.  They are encountering issues of teaching without many of the tools they normally use such as manipulatives, group work or technology. They are suffering mentally and physically. They are being innovative  problem solvers around tools, equipment and technology.  They are building the rocket ship while they are flying it and it is full of students.

Are educators stressed?  For sure.  Are their nerves frayed?  You bet.  Are they innovative, creative, dedicated and passionate about learning and teaching? Absolutely, without a doubt.  Every educator is a front line worker,  doing their best, making a difference, being brave beyond imagination and truly an inspiration.



Optimism at 9.2 %

I was working with my students on some proportional reasoning exercises in Math. It didn’t take long before I began thinking about numbers and the relationships that exist so beautifully and naturally within them – as one does. After considering the fractions, decimals, and percentages of our tasks that day, I realized that 18 days have sped past – as of this past Friday (Sept 27th, 2019).  Here is some numerical context.

18 days 
= 2.57 earth weeks (Monday to Sunday)
= 4 school weeks (Monday to Friday)
= 1/20th of a year(non-leap)+/-
= 432 life hours
= 5400 minutes of class time
= 3480 minutes of my teaching time (preps deducted)
= 1620 minutes of recess/lunch time (school days M to F)
= 9.2% of the instructional year

Reflecting on the numbers always makes it clear for me to see that we (grade 7s+ me) have already spent a lot of time working at the speed of education. With 18 days in the books, I am feeling optimistic and here are the P.R.I.M.E reasons why.

Patience pays off, not packets of paper

So often students are hurried back to full speed once September rolls around. I have always found it better to ease learners back into the year with broad cross-curricular learning, to activate as many areas of ability from past grades. This approach may make some teachers uncomfortable because it runs counter to archaic ideas of photo-copied workbooks. However, the buy-in from students has always been positive when they are given the time, space, and appropriate tasks to challenge them.

I choose collaborative work that offers low floor and high ceilings, whether it’s Math problems that cover more than one strand at the same time, or whole class discussions/inquiries into current events. Think about tasks and activities that allow each student to show what they can do, and are differentiated enough to honour each learner’s abilities.

My students are responding well to every chance they are given to work with each other instead of another “busy worksheet” packet. I encourage teachers to possess the patience to allow students a different start to the year instead of photocopied packets, to promote engagement instead of ennui.

Relationships = good

We have worked hard to establish our relationships and expectations. In my classroom this has always meant open and ongoing dialogue. Student voice is key in this educational democracy. By always allowing a place for students to be heard, I have found that classroom management and community building become a collective responsibility and benefit.

Since the first bell in September, we have established irreducible norms about responsibility, respect, collaboration, determination, and otherliness. When students have time to grow within their community in these areas, the dynamics of our class relationships are made more positive and enduring.

Invest with interest

The past 18 days in the classroom have also been about learning what makes each student come alive or avoid at school. Having students share their highs, lows, strengths, and weaknesses has provided invaluable insight into what makes them tick in and out of the classroom.

In 11 years, I have always been surprised by the amazing and diverse interests and talents of my students. Making sure they know I am interested in getting to know them is an investment I am happy to make over and over.

Manage it all

The first 9.2% of this instructional year felt like it happened in a blender. Regardless of years of experience, this can be hard when so many daily variables (ie. schedules, personalities, tasks, etc.) are swirling around for teachers to sort out – myself included. Despite 10 years of practice, I still find that I’m overprogrammed and behind schedule. Thankfully, most of my turmoil occurs outside of the classroom from instructional planning, SERT work, and meetings.

Teachers are known for their tireless work ethics, but there has to be limits too. It’s important not to burn out at the start of the year. Setting some boundaries and giving yourself permission to leave some work for the next day is good advice to manage it all.

Encourage everyone, everytime

Take time to celebrate accomplishments on a daily basis – no matter how small. I used our recent Fire and Lockdown Drills to comment on how my students responded so well in those situations. I have also filled our corkboards with fresh work to celebrate each week. When students know they are being noticed, they will feel and have validation. This is something we can honour 100% of the year in the classroom.

Even though 9.2 % of instruction is in the books, you can see how optimism is reaching its prime already. Wishing you all an excellent next 90.8% of your school year.

Additional reading:


Wearing Pajamas to the Swimming Pool

I go swimming on Friday nights with my friends. It is a good stress reliever and social time after a busy week at work. This past Friday at school, I spilled some coffee down my pants while supporting my students with our coffee cart business. Unfortunately, when I got home and began to get ready for swimming, I realized that I no longer had any clean pants. So, I did what any logical person would do and wore a pair of pajamas out in public to go to the pool.

“Why didn’t you have any clean pants?” many people could ask.

The answer is very simple and a problem that I have had challenges with for the last 15 years of my career.

It is the month of September.

I don’t know what happens in September, but my work life balance goes out the window. My lunches are whatever I can find in the bottom of the fridge, my partner and I wave at each other as we come in and out of the house and the hours spent at work seem never ending.

This year, I was positive that it was going to be different. This was the year that I was going to get it right! I have 9 out of 10 of the same students as last year. Surely, I thought, September would be a breeze. From the picture above with me in my pajamas, you can see that things didn’t quite turn out that way.

There is so much to do in September: reviewing busing routines, introducing new students, setting up activities, lesson planning, creating lesson plan templates, communicating with parents, filing violent incident reports, writing IEPs, introducing new staff, creating new log in information about computers, requesting computer support staff to come to your classroom, joining the Terry Fox run committee, signing in OSRs, reviewing OSRs, completing Annual Learning plans, meeting with Occupational Therapists, preparing for and attending ISRC are just a few of the tasks that takes up your time. It is like the Mt. Everest of work in September that somehow always seems to be crested right at the end of the month.

I see some of my colleagues who don’t look phased by the first month of school and seem to manage their school and home life well. I honestly don’t know how they do it. Do they have a secret time vortex machine that gives them more hours in the day than me? Do they have a maid, cook, gardener and nanny that helps them run their home?

What is their secret?

If you are one of those people who have matching outfits, excellent lunches and a clean car throughout the month of September please leave a comment below and let me in on the secret of how you do it.

As tomorrow is the last day of the month, I will have to say what I have said for the last 15 years….

There is always next year!

I Am From Poems – Building A Positive Classroom Community

I’m hoping that it’s been a great start back for everyone! The month has certainly gone by quickly. Having been out of the classroom for a year and being at a new school community, it was definitely all nerves on the first day. I always try to keep in mind that students might be feeling the same way walking into the new school year. While many of my students have been in the same school together since kindergarten, I have a few students who are new to our school this year and have been thinking of ways to make sure that they feel right at home in our classroom. 

Building a positive classroom community is important starting from day one. As a part of building our classroom community, I often ask students to consider who they are as individuals and what they bring to our classroom space. One activity that I have enjoyed over the years is creating I Am From poems. In the past I’ve jumped right into creating We Are From poems where students work with a partner to find commonalities and differences and share them to the larger group. Once they have created a joint poem, we combine different parts of each poem to create one large classroom poem where everyone is reflected.  This year, instead of creating We Are From poems, we started off instead by creating our own individual poems to share with each other. 

You might be wondering what I Am From Poems are. For years, educators have used George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From poem to inspire students to consider their own narratives. While there are different templates that can be used, I use this template to help guide my students in creating their own. 

On the second day of school, the students in my class were tasked with thinking about who they are and where they are from, learning that our experiences shape who we are as individuals, along with other factors in our lives. By the end of the week, rough copies of amazing poems were complete and students were thinking about the symbols they would use to represent their identities. Just in time for our Curriculum Night, good copies of our poems went up and we had the chance to create continuous line portraits to accompany them. 

Identity work is so important for building a safe and caring classroom community. What ideas do you have for this year? How are students showing who they are and bringing their experiences to the classroom and their learning? If you have great ideas, please share them here!

School year start up

A new school year has begun again and I am once again teaching grade eight, in my opinion, the most exciting and enriching grade I have taught so far.

The first few weeks have been incredible because of the honest conversations we had week one about how great their year can be if they make it that way. We talked about fun trips, ideas and awards that go on during their grade eight year. We talked about what the ideal classroom looks like, sounds like and smells like (ha!) so we made some ideas on how we can achieve those goals. The students have done an amazing job so far on adhering to all of the goals they set out for our own classroom.

A few things have been making this start up so incredible:

  1. There are many student leaders in the classroom who have helped to set the tone for all of the other students in the room. They model positive behaviours and shut down negative ones. There is little to no times where I have interjected to tell them what I expect because another student has already done that for me.
  2. I have already received the help during breaks and afterschool of about 9 or 10 students with teams that go on at our school. These leadership activities have made them stand out in the classroom as well as the extra responsibility has made them thoroughly enjoy each day. That feeling that they are making a difference in their school shows everyday in their mood and behaviours. I am hoping even more students will be interested in these opportunities as only ten of the 26 have stepped up so far. I have awarded these students with small circular stickers that they put on their desk organizers. At the end of the year, we will see who has volunteered the most and those students will be eligible for a token of appreciation (not sure what that will look like yet). It will also help the staff with selecting grade eight awards because they will see who has given up so much of their time for our school community.
  3.  I have offered students homework to complete every night which will help them prepare for grade nine. 19 out of the 26 students have taken this homework and completed it each night. I have three ESL students who I am working on preparing appropriate homework for them so then it will be 22 out of 26. We take up this homework each morning and new homework is given out every night before they go home. The fact that it is optional makes students actively take the initiative to better themselves and their after school time. I am so proud of these students as I mentioned it will help them get ready for grade nine and the few students who took that opportunity last year had the highest marks in the school (they won the principal’s award). It is great hearing groups of students want to hang out after school to work on homework. It is definitely a good after school option for them.
  4. I also have offered students level four or above and beyond opportunities that go with each task we have completed as a class. Seeing those 10-12 students select that option is awesome as they are actively selecting to do better and to challenge themselves each day. I remember being in school not knowing the difference between all of the levels and not knowing how my teacher came up with my mark. I make sure all of my students know how they can excel to the highest level possible.


I think all of these things working together have made it impossible for the students in my room to have a negative experience or to make the day negative for someone else. It is incredible to see such focus and leadership day to day and it makes me so proud of my class. I was away last week at a junior baseball tournament (coached by two of my students) and my supply left only this note, “Your class rocks!” This would not have been possible last year as I must have missed many of these steps in the school year start up. I am really hoping the year will continue in this positive manner.

Having faith in your students and challenging them daily is the best way to go 🙂

Chime and Chant Language Learning

When I was in the Faculty of Education one of my Associate Professors was Jean Malloch, author of “Chime In” and other professional teaching resources.  I learned from her the importance of rhythm and rhyme in the early acquisition of language.  I also love to read and write poetry.   While growing up my sisters shared their own love of  the poetry of Ogden Nash and Dennis Lee.  These poets formed the beginning repertoire of poetry that I have shared with my students over the years with the addition of poets Shel Silverstein, Ken Nesbitt and Loris Lesyinski to name a few.

At the beginning of the school year when teaching in the primary grades, I would create a ‘Chime and Chant’ duo tang for students with two or three poems about September, fall, school and character. Each week during the school year we would add a new poem.  Sometimes it was just because they were fun to read and perform.  Other times they were connected to our topics of study.  We worked together reading these poems chorally in different ways: call and answer, parts attributed to groups of students, leaving out the last word of the line and having the students chime in as well as reading with actions, different types of voices and dramatic effects.  These short poems also provided opportunities for me to teach beginning reading strategies such as word prediction, reading word families and segmenting words.  We would practice our poetry daily and often the students would have the majority of the poetry memorized by the end of the week.  Sometimes while standing and waiting during a transition time we would chant a familiar poem together without even using our duo tangs.  We would take poems apart, mix them up, change the words and use the poems to identify word families, commonly used words and word endings.  Students would increase their fluency in reading and add to their vocabulary.  We stored our poetry books in the student’s book bags and which ensured that when students went to their independent reading time they always had something that they could read independently.  When students partner read they would often choose to read poems chorally.  When students read to their grade four buddies they would proudly show off their reading skills with their Chime and Chant books. As some students soared in their reading, they would choose some of the poems that they wanted added to their Chime and Chant books independently or I would provide some new more challenging poems during their guided reading time.  As the year progressed, the Chime and Chant books became more personalized. We would still chant some of our favourite poems together and I would still share a poem a week but students but less emphasis was placed on the whole class process as they gained their own reading strategies.

Beginning writing in the primary grades can be daunting for some students.  I used poetry writing to provide structures that were easily accessible for beginning writers.  Diamanté, list, free form and fill in the blank poetry structures were among some of the formats that we used.   When I taught students to write poetry we would create shared poems with the structure for a number of days and generate word charts to provide students with familiar vocabulary to reference in order to scaffold the learning and when they were ready, the students would put their own poems together.  After writing the poetry students would then practice reading their poetry, add actions and dramatic effects and then present their poems chorally in front of the class or create a video of their reading.  Some went further and created green screen effects to add to their poetry presentations.  Poetry generated student evidence of learning for reading, writing and oral communication.  It provided a routine and structure to a part of our day that was comfortable for the students and fostered their learning.  Poetry provides shared reading and writing opportunities in a format that is comfortable for children and doesn’t overwhelm them.

Loris Lesynski 

Shel Silverstein

Ogden Nash

Dennis Lee

Ken Nesbitt


Progress Reports

It is that time of year again! Progress reports are due in most boards this month. It is a hard task to think about what your students have done in just a month and a half of school.

I like to give students time to reflect on their learning skills as well as what they have done in each subject. Each year I create a survey for students to self evaluate themselves. Then, I include comments from this evaluation on their progress report. I like to use google forms to create the survey so all of their answers stay in my google drive.

For learning skills, my current grade eight class has made it quite challenging to comment on. They have good and bad days but it is important to set these students up for their next grade. Getting an “E” has to be true at all times since next year I am nervous about how their learning skills would measure up. I gave my students time to come check their current learning skills today and only one student came to my desk to see their mark. At my old school, the entire class used to line up to check their current learning skills. I feel that they may know they aren’t doing the best since they did not come to see their marks.

For math and literacy, progressing very well is very hard to receive as a level four is hard to achieve at all times. I have explained this to my class so that they will not be disappointed by the “progressing well” comment on their reports.

Other subjects we are just getting started on so the “progressing well” comment is hard to justify. “With difficulty” and “very well” also wouldn’t make sense since we have just begun. It is for that reason I find the progress reports timeline a bit challenging and I wish students had a bit more time to dive into each subject. It is hard to get students interested in their marks as well for the first time in my career so this thought makes me nervous for them in high school as well as for the rest of the year.

Is getting students interested in their marks something I can teach or is it just something students come to school with? I am hoping my students will gain that desire soon.

Building blocks

This post is a follow up to Building upon balance. It also has a companion post titled Wyoming 1971 if you want a trip back in time that adds more context to my thinking.

In the 1980’s, if you wanted to attend a university program you needed to complete a 5 year high school school diploma. Grade 13. The big one. It was a make or break year for any and all of us with aspirations of a white collar middle-class jobs whether they be Engineering, Medicine, Law or Finance. That was it. There were no other jobs(sigh).

Grade 13 meant you could choose some of your courses. Some. You still had to take English and at least one Math course. I chose the easiest one, Functions and Relations, or so I thought. By mid-term I was on my way to a failing grade(60%) with poor results at every turn. I wondered why it wasn’t clicking? I had an 85% in Grade 12 Math so a decent mark should not have been out of the question. My teacher was good enough most days, my effort was only questionable some days, but scraping by was not going to get me into university. I ended up with a 51%.

I wondered why things had not come together? Then I realized that my grade 12 Math class had been nearly a year before. My school was on the semester system, and that meant if you took Math in Term 1, you might not be taking it again until a year later. At the bare minimum if I do the Math right, it meant 8 months of not keeping previously acquired skills sharpened if your course ended in January. I limped through the course, somehow graduated, went to university, and got kicked out 3 years later for academic underperformance. Could not practicing Math on a more frequent basis have contributed to my lacklustre results?

Like so many people I was mad at Math. I wasn’t good at it(cop out). I didn’t have a Math brain to solve for x or any other letters of the alphabet for that matter(fixed mindset). I used my Math skills for bargains, business, and family budgets(with a calculator). I did not take another Math class until 20 years later in teachers college. I rediscovered my love for Math after many hours of review and practice problems because I saw it not as problems and symbols on a page, but as a challenge and chance to be a problem solver. It was like working out for the first time and instead of my body waving the surrender flag, it was my brain most of the time. After a number of months, some, but not all of the concepts were returning. However, I had lost a lot of form and vocabulary. To put it another way, the blocks of my foundation were in bad shape and in need of a rebuild(still working on it).

A few years into the future I stood in front of my first Math class as a teacher. To no one’s surprise, the first few weeks were like peddling a bike with square wheels. It took a while to wear down the edges in order to build momentum. The students needed time to build up their brain muscles too. It had been nearly 3 months since their last Math lesson and although the blocks were formed, they were no longer as firmly fixed to their foundations for the time being. It was like a knowlege hemorrhage had happened over the summer. This made me wonder whether I could change the way Math and other subjects could be taught to reduce this from happening each year?

The following September, it became clear that there was some evidence supporting my observation that students were losing their academic edges over the summer break. I wanted to find out whether any academic studies were considerate of this and if there were ways to slow it down or stop it. In a study from 2016 titled Summer Math Loss, this occured much more frequently as a result of socio-economic factors, but that was not the issue at my school which by and large did not mirror the demographics mentioned in the article. However, the Harvard Study provided a practical solution that would help regardless of socio-economic status. Simply, share a little bedtime Math along with that last story of the night. From experience, I can say that a little Math conversation can go a long way. It could be a matter of planning a family fun day or saving for a new toy. It could also happen earlier in the day while driving somewhere by playing license plate Math. Whatever time of day it happened would add some rock solid reinforcement about remainders, ratios, and everyday numeracy. The article goes on to share 4 ways to overcome a “summer slump” that could be easily applied in all seasons.

If it can be done at home, then it can definitely be done in the classroom over the 10 months of learning each year. Teachers can now work at threading or interleaving concepts throughout the entire school year. When we shift from the teach, test, and move on model of instruction to the teach, apply, connect, assess, and revisit model our students’ abilities to acquire, apply and retain concepts will improve. I see the value in doing whatever it takes to help my learners succeed. On one hand a longer school day or year may be the answer. For others, it may still come in the form of more worksheets(please no). There is also the spiralled or interleaved approach that constructs the foundations of understanding block by block the whole school year long.

We have 9 months of incredible opportunities ahead of us. I hope you are already seeing the hard work you are pouring into your classrooms paying off and that the foundations are being strengthened for a growth filled year to come.


I started this post with the intention of arguing about why we need a more balanced school year because our students are not retaining what they have learned. I softened my stance after reading a few papers in the research(some are linked above). I wanted to share my experiences of losing my own skills when they went unused over time. It ended up as a reflection and a call to action, not to tear down the walls, but to strengthen them around our students as often as possible.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post. Please consider sharing it with others and commenting to keep the conversations going strong. Thank you.



Building upon balance

I’m back. You’re back. They’re back. We’re back!!!!!
And it could not have come at a better time. Or could it?

While our transition from summer to school traditionally begins after Labour Day, there are more and more students starting back to class in August than ever before. This is known in edu-circles as a balanced or modified year. It offers quite a few upsides that benefit our learners and with some time for adjustment, for our profession. So I ask…

Imagine if we all started in August with a balanced school year that allowed the learning to be spread out over a longer period of time, but with a few week long breaks built in? What are the pros and cons of such a shift in a historically established calendar? Is it possible to change a 100+ year old practice?

Helping out on the farm

A balanced school year makes sense on a number of levels. Especially, when we consider that the original reason for a September start stemmed from the need for students to be available to work on the family farm. In some areas of the province, farming is still a factor, but it is very evident, that the majority of the nearly 2 million students from K to 12 live close to or in cities. Most are not feeding a herd, driving a combine, or mending fences in July and August.

However, a greater majority of students are left to swelter in concrete jungles trying to stay cool. There are few if any universally accessible programs that do not require a computer bot like skill in order to register on-line for limited spaces. So no swimming lessons, city camps, or classes for all. In fact, the City of Toronto announced that it will try to add 70 000 new program spaces just to accomodate current demand.

Which means, for the foreseeable future, most students will still be given a summer sentence stuck indoors. It is no secret, our cities lack adequate child care, recreation, youth programming, and social spaces. What if all school boards were able to offer a balanced school year and provide working families with an option that would ultimately save them money in conjunction with municipalities? A kind of multi-tiered approach to community and education.

Who will pay?

With government money used for creating and subsidizing child care spaces, an investment in a balanced school year would relieve, not remove, the pressure by allowing younger school aged children to be in the classroom rather than a daycare centre. This in itself could save families 3 to 4 weeks of childcare costs that could then be spread out over time through the year rather than in one expensive 9 week chunk. Granted, that there are extra weeks off throughout the year, but they are distributed over the school calendar.

The biggest obstacle to all of this is from a purely structural point of view and comes from having to retrofit hundreds, if not thousands of elementary schools with adequate climate controls, aka air conditioning. Recent returns to the classroom remind us all that our elementary schools are woefully equipped to deal with irratic temperature fluctuations and extreme heat. 2 fans per classroom do nothing to cut through the sweltering heat on the first or second floors of any ill-equipped building – even with the lights off.

The bigger question that comes to mind is why our province still chooses to provide air conditioning to students in high school, but not from JK to 8? This type of systemic disparity does not seem fair. Are elementary school students and staff expected to feel they are being treated fairly by the government’s funding model? I can see fingers pointing in all directions here, but not a one is doing a thing to acknowledge or remedy the problem. Students suffering from heat exhaustion do not make good learners. Perhaps it’s time for our grade 5 Social Studies classes to mount a letter writing campaign to ask our government to do its job and serve its future taxpayers. We’d better hurry before that curriculum gets changed. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/social-studies-history-geography-2018.pdf

I feel we are about to see bigger problems in our province if facilities equity cannot be guaranteed in all schools. Think of it like this; the province buys or leases 1000s of vehicles each year. After a few years they are traded in or replaced with newer models and the fleet stays rolling. If Ontario maintained its government auto fleet like its schools, some would have hand crank windows, some might have air-conditioning, some would have low mileage, while others would be up on blocks. Most would need to go to the body shop for repairs and others would have to be towed to the scrapyard. Nobody would want to drive in an unreliable vehicle. So why are our schools being left to deteriorate through underfunding and repair backlogs?

How is it fair to expect standardized results when there are no standard facilities? Is it a class thing? A neighbourhood thing?

As teachers, we take pride in our workspace. We have witnessed all that can be done each year despite the structural shortfalls and disparities from school to school and board to board. We also know that the current funding model for our schools cannot be a band-aid solution. The recent cuts by the new provincial government are leaving school boards with open wounds.

It’s not all bad (well the above part is, but below is all sunshine)

This year’s return to school was ushered in with all of the elation, excitement, and chaos of its predecessors. How could it not be so? At my school over 600 hope-filled students converged on the playground for a surreal moment of truth. Who was going to be their teacher? In which classroom? Main building sauna or luxurious portable? I loved the chaos that was the first day. It was perfect weather for a July day in September. Perhaps in the future you will be reading this message in August. In the meantime, welcome back.


In my next post I’ll discuss the aspects of greater knowledge retention that come from a more balanced school year. What do you think of the idea of the school year spread out over a longer period of time? Please share and comment to continue the conversation. Thank you for reading.

Further reading

Interesting blog post explaining how education is funded in Ontario.