New Book: Art of Protest

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge fan of Design Thinking. Designers inspire me by their inherent optimism to create effective solutions for people. This year, in my role as a teacher for Media Literacy through STEM, I’ve been really thinking about the power of graphic design and how Graphic Designers tell stories through their work. Graphic Designers have a specific message for a specific audience and use what they know of their audience to design specifically for them. I recently happened upon the book, Art of Protest by De Nichols. I was so amazed by this book and my personal learning of how art is used in social movements. In this post, I share some of my learning from this book. In order to respect the author and the content outlined, I’ve merely shared a small portion. 

Why Art Matters in Social Movements

One of the goals of art created in protest is challenging the status quo. Throughout this book, there are so many symbols that are representative of social movements and their desire to challenge current societal rules, norms or what is perceived as acceptable. In reading this section, there was mention of artists repurposing materials to bring awareness of societal flaws. One artist that I took the time to learn about was Elizabeth Vega. On New Year’s Eve in 2019, a group of organizers constructed an altar with a Christmas tree made out of water bottles. This was done in honour of Jakelin Caal who was a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died on December 1st, 2018. Beyond the Christmas tree, they also created a blockade at the entrance to the facility, made out of water bottles that were lit with Christmas lights. In this art installation, the use of the water bottles was symbolic of the issues related to various water crises in America. This section got me thinking about how we investigate and explore messages within current art pieces created in protest and how we might support students in understanding the idea of symbolism. 

What Exactly Is Protest Art

This was by far the most robust section that got me thinking about various art forms that are used to object to an idea or concept. From street art to poetry, photography to music, the history of protest art outlined in this book, blew my mind. In this section, there are prompts that invite you to think about what you see in different art. After taking some time to consider what you see,  you have the opportunity to learn about the use and history of different symbols within. One symbol that I had no idea of was the umbrella. “During protests for democracy in Hong Kong in 2014, activists used umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas and other aggressions by police. Since then, the umbrella has become a symbol of the protests and gave the movement its name” (page 32). In Visual Arts periods, I’ve often taught students to reflect on the different emotions evoked from different colours. There’s a great graphic within this book that explains some of the symbolism of colours and movements associated with them. This was incredible learning for me and something that I have definitely been looking out for as I explore art and learn more about social movements. 

Youth Leadership and Protest Art Around the World

Earlier this week I had the chance to connect with a former student and was asked why I wanted to become a teacher. While my explanation spoke to my long journey to this point, the one thing that I know for sure is that working with students is honestly the best part of the job. I often say that children are the best humans on earth. From their ability to empathize with others to their desire to call out the wrong they see in the world, children are candid and when passionate about an issue, are eager to bring about change. One thing that I loved in this chapter was the Try This prompt – Wear your cause: Paint a t-shirt with a protest message that shares your vision for positive change. Anyone who knows me well, also knows that I have a variety of t-shirts with powerful statements that resonate with me and who I am as a Black woman. I choose carefully which spaces I wear my shirts. While reading this, I envisioned students feeling safe enough to create their own messages for ways in which they would like to see a more just world, and wearing them. What conversations would be sparked by their shirts? What changes would be made within our schools?

Protest Art Beyond Today

People are getting more and more creative in their use of technology in art forms. The quote on page 74 is filled with the inherent optimism I mentioned at the start of this post: “Our world right now is ripe for change, for progress, and for new ideas of what tomorrow can bring”.  One of the many questions I am left with is how might we meaningfully engage students in Art, using technology, to bring about social change for which they are passionate?

To say this book had an impact on me would be an understatement. I think every teacher wanting to support students in social change should take a read, for their own learning and for some of the great ideas within. As for my next steps, I’ll continue to take some time to learn.  I’m also thinking of ways to use this book with students to support them in using elements of design to bring awareness around social issues that are of importance to them. 

What’s Your Superpower?

 

“What’s My Superpower” is a sweet and powerful book written by Aviaq Johnston and illustrated by Tim Mack. This is the story of Nalvana, an Inuit child who lives in a northern community, and her journey to find her own “superpower”. This book was gifted to me by my educator friend, Ellie Clin. She thought I might be able to relate to Nalvana, and she was right!

As we prepare for the end of year, some of us might be hoping to include student voice in our Report Cards and/or facilitate Student-Led Conferences. This story could inspire Writing, Drama, and Visual Arts, as well as meaningful opportunities for self-reflection and celebration of all of our “superpowers.”

Here is how I am planning to use this book:

1. Listen to the story, “What’s My Superpower?” by Aviaq Johnston, read aloud on-line.

2. Reflect: What is your superpower?
For example: What makes you a good friend? What activities feel easy for you? What are your gifts or talents?

3. Write about your superpower. Give examples.

4. Draw a picture of yourself using your superpower.

5. Optional: Dress up as a superhero and share your superpower with the class.


I shared this idea with other teachers in the school, and invited them to co-create the template and “success criteria”. We have been talking about creating a shared writing task that can be implemented across the grades to help us build a skills continuum or exemplars of student work from Kindergarten-Grade 6. This writing sample could be considered both a self-reflection for Learning Skills and an introduction to next year’s teacher. It could be included in every students’ portfolio, and/or used for moderated marking.

Transforming Power:
I recently participated in professional learning as part of ETFO’s MentorCoaching program. One of the workshops was called “Transforming Power,” and it was facilitated by Indy Bathh and Louise Pitre. The first activity we did together was to share our superpowers in the Chat. This was a wonderful way to introduce ourselves to each other, and to practice naming our strengths.

It is always interesting to reflect on qualities of leadership with a group of educators who identify as women. As you might expect, the impact of patriarchy and misogyny, capitalism and racism reinforce the oppressive belief that women have less value. In a group of union leaders, it was still difficult for some of the women to identify their own superpowers. This reminded me of how important it is for all of our students to know their power, and to feel powerful, and to use their power to make change.


I want to encourage everyone who is reading this blog to pause and reflect. What are your superpowers? Make a list or draw them. Can you think of a time when you used your superpower to support and empower others? HINT: You do it every day with your students!

CommUNITY:
As I reflect on my own superpowers, I think about how I have been successful at creating community this year: in the classroom, in the school, and in professional learning communities.  During this time of isolation, building relationships and making connections has been the most meaningful work I have done.

In the classroom, I support everyone to feel like a VIP every day. We play together, and celebrate our strengths by giving and receiving Heartprints. In GLOW Club, I actively teach about love, pride and resistance. I organize whole-school events, like the WTF embodied Land Acknowledgment, Gender Splendour Week, sing and dance like a Mummer, and strut my stuff on the runway during our Kiki Ball. I listen and share picture books with staff, and acknowledge the powerful work they are doing with their students.

In the school, I facilitate brave conversations with families through Book Club and Community Core Values discussions, and I share resources with families about Settler Allyship and how to talk to children about anti-Black racism. As the Union Steward, I use our BBSAT (Building Better Schools Action Team) distribution list to share information about ETFO campaigns and actions by Ontario Education Workers United and Ontario Parent Action Network. 

As part of my own professional learning, I will continue to share ETFO’s Women’s Equality Project with locals, and collaborate with members in Ottawa to build relationships of equity and justice. I will continue to attend ETFO webinars and access resources.  I hope to finish my Masters of Education next year.  It has been an honour and a privilege to learn with educators in community.

Gratitude:
After 12 years, I will be leaving The Grove Community School. As one of the founding teachers, I am extremely proud of the learning we have done together to create the first public alternative elementary school with an explicit focus on environmental justice, equity and community activism. I am deeply grateful for all of the students, families, educators, and community members I have worked with at The Grove, ETT and ETFO.  Thank you!

Thank you to “The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning” for the opportunity to document this unusual year with my Grade 2 students. This summer, my partner and I are moving to Peterborough.  I will be teaching in Kawartha Pine Ridge as an Occasional Teacher next year, which will be a humbling experience.  I will be looking for new allies and educator friends, and re-reading posts from this blog for support and inspiration.

The Show Must Go On…..

I was very disappointed to learn that we would not be returning to school in June. I am missing the students and their families. I feel isolated from my co-workers, and I am longing for the times when we would connect in the hallway and out in the yard. I do not love teaching on-line, but I am finding new ways to engage with my students, collaborate and play.

Reader’s Theatre:
Reader’s Theatre and/or writing and performing original plays works really well on-line. With younger students, you can share the screen and read a poem or a play together as a shared reading activity. Older students can work in Break-Out rooms (ZOOM) or in their own meetings to write and/or read together.  To support the creative process, there are several Drama games and conventions that work on-line, such as speaking in-role, Mirror, exploring different feelings through movement and facial expressions, charades, and more!

It’s Show Time!
As we have all discovered, there is something extra performative about staring at yourself while you are teaching. There are times when I feel like a Children’s Television Host, trying to be as animated and entertaining as possible, which can be exhausting. My students need a body break every 30 minutes, so I always join them to jump and dance to various fitness videos. I have seen educators on social media upload photos of themselves in costumes, sharing ideas about themes such as Beach Day and Star Wars Day. We are all working so hard to be creative and keep our students happy. We deserve a standing ovation every day!!

In preparation for Earth Day, we listened to the story “The Great Kapok Tree” by Lynne Cherry. When a Kapok tree in the Amazon rainforest is threatened, different animals who depend on the tree speak out.  All year, we have been learning about relationships, and the ways in which humans and more-than-humans are all related and connected. This book also supports the Science learning in Grade 2 for Growth and Changes in Animals, as well as environmental justice. I found a Reader’s Theatre script on-line shared by another educator, which I was able to revise for my own students.

Puppets!
Puppets can be used very effectively to tell stories on-line. After choosing their parts, everyone was encouraged to think about how they might develop their character using voice and movement. One of the students’ in the class has two parents who are actors. Krystal Meadows and Eli Ham joined us on-line as special guests. They shared ideas about how we could use the “box” that we are in to move in different ways. We imagined how our character might be feeling, and how that might impact the way the character moves and speaks. We learned about pitch (how high and how low), tempo (how fast and how slow), and timbre (the quality of sound).  During this rehearsal time, everyone was working at home to make a puppet. Some students used a paper bag, or glued a drawing to a stick. Others used toilet paper rolls or socks. They were all very creative!

“Keep Calm and Break a Leg”
After two weeks, we were ready to share our play. In preparation for our performance, some students created their own art to use as backgrounds, which was lovely. We discovered that virtual backgrounds don’t work because the puppet (and the actor) sometimes disappear. During the performance, students were amazing at muting and unmuting themselves. I encouraged everyone to have their own copy of the script so that we did not have to share the screen. We also used “Speaker View” to focus on who was speaking.

The first time we performed, I recorded the meeting and shared it with families to enjoy. We also watched the recording together as a class. We practiced giving and receiving feedback, and thinking about how we might improve our performance. At the next Staff Meeting, I invited other classes to join us for a second performance. I shared our ZOOM link and we had another chance to share our hard work with a new audience.

One of the advantages of performing on-line is that the audience was able to hear the actors clearly. Without a microphone, it can be challenging in-person, (especially when wearing masks) to be heard on stage. If you have an on-line opportunity to write a play with your students or use Reader’s Theatre to perform poetry or a script, I highly recommend it. Drama is so playful and filled with possibilities. Play on!!

Point of View

This month, we are exploring different points of view through reading and writing a variety of texts. This “big idea” has many possibilities for critical thinking and cross-curricular integration with Media Literacy, Social Studies, Science, Visual Arts, Music and Drama.

In my Grade 2 class, we have used point of view to explore issues of accessibility, anti-Black racism, Indigenous sovereignty and homophobia. Here are some of the texts that Kindergarten-Grade 8 educators can use when learning on-line and in class:

William’s Doll
During Gender Splendour Week, we read “William’s Doll” by Charlotte Zolotov, to explore gender stereotypes and homophobia. We also watched a video from the movie, “Free to Be You and Me” that sings the story as a song. “William’s Doll” is about a boy who wants a doll to play with, but he is told that he cannot have a doll because he is a boy.

Young children receive powerful messages from family, media, clothing and toy stores about what is expected of “boys” and “girls.” These binaries reinforce heterosexism, and often cause harm and exclude students who do not fit into these boxes. It is important to give children the opportunity to name, question, and challenge these gender binaries, and create space for more possibilities.

Before reading “William’s Doll”, I asked students to share their ideas about what it means to be a “boy” and a “girl.” We talked about what a “stereotype” is and how these ideas might not include everyone. Students easily made connections to their own personal experiences of shopping, and described how different products are sorted and sold, (e.g., pink Kinder Eggs for girls). After reading, we used a graphic organizer to support our ideas with evidence from the text.  Then, students wrote about different points of view expressed in the text.  

Of Course They Do!
On the International Day of Pink, we continued to have courageous and critical conversations about how schools can be more inclusive, and how we can take action as allies. After reading texts such as, “Of Course They Do! Boys and Girls Can Do Anything” by Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol, and “10,00 Dresses” by Marcus Ewert, students talked about their experiences of being told they couldn’t do something because of their perceived gender. For example, boys with long hair shared their experiences of being challenged in the washroom. We focussed our discussion on how we might respond to questions and/or suggestions that we don’t belong. We used Drama and role-play to practice naming and responding to behaviour.

Hey, Little Ant!
“Hey, Little Ant” by Hannah Hoose and Phillip Hoose, is a story about a kid who is about to squish an ant. The story is told from two different points of view. On each page, we hear the voice of the kid and a response from the ant. The story ends with a question, which is a great prompt for discussion and writing, “What do you think that kid should do?”

This story is a great opportunity to explore empathy and compassion, and students’ relationships with animals. “Hey, Little Ant” also includes a song, which can enrich the text. After reading, students wrote about the different points of view in the story, and then wrote about their own point of view.

The Tree
“The Tree” written by Dana Lyons is written from the point of view of a tree in the Pacific Rainforest. After writing and sharing the story, the author learned from elders of the Lummi Nation, the original inhabitants of San Juan islands, that he has written the tree’s song. Every tree has a song.

We listened to “The Tree,” drew pictures and shared stories about trees that are important to us. Then, students wrote their own poem or song from the point of view of a tree. We used sentence prompts, such as: “I live….” “I hear….” “I have seen….” “My favourite season is…..” “I wonder….” “I hope…” I found a video of Dana Lyons singing the text as a birthday present for Jane Goodall. I hope we will be able to turn our text into songs!

The Council of All Beings
I am always inspired by my teacher friends! Maria Vamvalis is currently working on her PhD, and shares her learning about climate justice with Natural Curiosity as a mentor coach. We took a course together at OISE, and Maria shared how she has used “The Council of All Beings” to allow students to connect with land and speak in-role from the point of view of other life forms, including animal, plant or natural feature, (desert, forest, etc). This article written by Joanna Macy describes the process.

I am learning that the purpose of the Council is to listen and give voice to land, which includes animals, plants, air, water, soil, etc. The process honours our shared responsibilities and relationships with more-than-humans, and helps us to remember and reconnect with land. It requires guidance and thoughtful facilitation. It sounds like a powerful teaching and learning experience.

Joanna Macy explains: “The Council unfolds in three consecutive stages. First, the beings address each other, telling of the changes and hardships they have experienced.” The second stage creates space for humans to hear from the more-than human beings directly. A few students remove their mask and are invited into the centre of the Circle to listen. The third stage of the council involves the other beings offering gifts to the humans. “As ritual guide I might cue this stage by saying, “Many humans now realize the destruction they are causing; they feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the forces they have unleashed. Yet our fate is in their hands. O fellow-beings, what strengths of ours can we share with them, what powers can we lend them?” With this invitation, the beings in the Council begin spontaneously to offer their own particular qualities and capacities. After speaking, each leaves their mask and steps in the centre as humans to receive gratitude and gifts. There is opportunity for singing, dancing and release, as well as reflection and stillness.

I think “The Council of All Beings” would enrich any Earth Day celebrations, and/or National Indigenous Peoples Day. I believe it could be adapted for on-line learning, and would be a powerful collaborative and creative experience for all members of the school community, including families.

People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus Pandemic
I have a new subscription to “Rethinking Schools”, which is an excellent magazine about social justice education. In the Winter 2020-2021 issue, Caneisha Mills describes how she organized a tribunal with her Intermediate students to explore responsibility for the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. Some of those on trial include: Mother Nature, Racism, the HealthCare industry, Capitalism, and the U.S. government. You can read the article, “Who’s to Blame?” here.

Caneisha Mills honours student voice and engages students in a collaborative and critical process of exploring the global pandemic from different points of view.  She honours student voice, and creates a brave space for students to “grapple with profound social injustice” and imagine different possibilities. Mills explains that the “most important part of this lesson involves students writing a 10-point program — inspired by the Black Panthers’ 10-point program, adopted in 1966 — on how to prevent crises like this in the future.”

The article includes a clear teaching plan and provides information for educators who might want to implement the People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus, on or off-line. “This people’s tribunal begins with the premise that a heinous crime is being committed as tens of millions of people’s lives are in danger due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus — COVID-19. But who — and/or what — was responsible for this crime? Who should be held accountable for the spread of the virus and its devastating impact?”

The teacher plays the role of the prosecutor. Students are assigned different roles, and the “defendants” are supported to work in small groups to develop a defense against the charges outlined in the indictments. A jury is selected, and each group shares their arguments at the trial. There is only one rule: They may plead guilty, but they must accuse at least one other defendant of being responsible. After the jury deliberates and explains their verdict, all students are invited to reflect on the experience. Then, they use their voice to demand and create change.

The tribunal sounds like a meaningful learning opportunity for older students to explore different points of view. I am curious to think about how this might be adapted for younger students.

In your point of view, what are some powerful texts and/or dramatic conventions that you have used in the classroom and on-line?  Please add them to the Comments below.



“Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry.” M. Rukeyser

April is National Poetry Month.

During this challenging year, poetry has supported critical and courageous conversations, offered some comfort and hope, while honouring pain and anger. Here are some examples of what this work has looked like and sounded like in our Grade 2 classroom:

Igniting the Spark: Amanda Gorman
The whole world was inspired by the poetry and brilliance of Amanda Gorman in January 2021. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb” filled us with light during this time of “never-ending shade”. Her story about overcoming a speech impairment reminded us all to believe in ourselves and find our voice. I shared her poem and her TEDTalk with my students, and she was the spark for our inquiry about the power and possibilities of poetry.

Power Poems for Small Humans:
I have reached for poems during difficult times when I could not find the words to express my feelings. Jillian Christmas is a Vancouver-based slam-poet, who is an organizer and activist in the arts community. I have shared her poem, “On Honouring Anger” in response to racial violence and injustice that continues to impact students, staff and families, and requires educators to take action.

This poem, and other powerful voices can be found in an anthology called “Power Poems for Small Humans”, published by Flamingo Rampant. Flamingo Rampant is a micro-press that publishes children’s books that center and celebrate stories of kids taking action, disability pride, 2SLGBTQ+ voices, racial justice and more. Please check out their website and bring their books into your classroom library!

Yesterday, I Had The Blues:
When we were learning remotely, I used the Poll feature on ZOOM to check-in with students. One day, the question was: “How are you feeling today? Choose a colour to describe how you are feeling.” Students were invited to analyse the data, and share why they chose the colour. Then, we talked about different ways that people experience colour. We listened to the story, “Yesterday, I Had the Blues” by Jeron Ashford Frame, and made text-to-self connections.

Next, we read selected poems from “Hailstones and Halibut Bones” by Mary O’Neill. I love this book, but it is important to preview the poems, because there is one poem that uses outdated language, and needs to be unpacked or revised. Each poem begins with the same question, (e.g. What is Orange?) and uses the five senses to describe colour in poetic ways. I created a graphic organizer, and students were invited to write their own Colour Poems.

Pink!
On the International Day of Pink, we had a discussion about how some people think that pink is a “girl’s colour.” We talked about where these ideas come from, and how these gender rules might make people feel excluded. We created a poster using post-it notes to capture our ideas, in the style of a JAMBoard. Then, we wrote our own “What is Pink?” poems and displayed them in the hallway. 


Quick as a Cricket:
After reading, “Quick as a Cricket” by Audrey Wood, students wrote poems using the template, “I’m as ____________as a ___________.” This was a fun and accessible way to learn about the poetic device of similes. A simile compares two different things using “like” or “as” in an interesting or unexpected way.

Gratitude Poems:
After reading several poems from a collection called “ThankU: Poems of Gratitude”, we wrote our own “Dear Water,” poems. Students used the following sentence prompts to write a letter to our relative: “I love….I think….I will….I hope….You are….” On World Water Day, we read our letters to each other in the Rainbow Garden and talked about what we value, and how we might protect water. 



Splish! Splash! Splat!
One rainy day, we brainstormed different sounds that water makes. Then, we learned about Concrete poems, which are poems that take the shape of the subject that they are describing. Students chose a shape and wrote a poem about water. 



Respond and Rebuild:
We will continue to explore poetry, self-expression and identity by writing an “I am Me….” poem. This lesson plan is from www.welcomingschools.org and can also be found in ETFO’s newest resource, Respond and Rebuild CRRP Lesson Plans. I am looking forward to integrating movement and choral reading to this work.

What are your favourite poems or poets to explore in the classroom?



Rejuvenation Through Creation

For me as a kid, there was no better feeling than opening up a new box of 64 Crayola crayons.  The big box with the flip top lid and the sharpener on the side.  I can remember agonizing over which colour to pick first and being so thrilled by the perfection of the colour palette in neat rows in that box.  I loved to draw and colour. I could do it for hours never lifting my attention from the page.  In adulthood, I abandoned doing art for pleasure.  It seemed silly for me to sit around and draw or paint for no real reason.  I felt I should be doing something productive.  A few years ago I began to create art again and realized how much I had missed it and how much joy it brought to my life. I create digital art now, which isn’t quite the same rush as opening a box of crayons but it is easier to share with others-like the picture above.  I have recently learned about the health and wellness benefits of creating. Creating is rejuvenating, it is rest and it is soul food.

Dan Tricarico, in his book “Sanctuaries: Self-Care Secrets for Stressed-Out Teachers”, he talks about how people get lost in an activity that you love so much that the rest of the world seems to fade away.  He calls it a state of “flow”.  I find myself getting into that state of flow when I draw, create music, write, cook or do jigsaw puzzles.  It isn’t that passive state of binge watching something on Netflix.  However, sometimes life’s answer is just that.  The state of flow is active and when I emerge from that state of flow, I feel rested and invigorated.  In Jessie Scholl’s article, “Go With the Flow: How States of Blissful Concentration Can Boost Your Overall Health and Well-Being” she states that, “Flow triggers the opposite of a fight-or-flight response.  Breathing becomes more relaxed, muscles loosen, and heart rate slows.  The specific biochemistry associated with flow varies depending on the activity, but the overall benefits to health and well-being are the same. ”  In fact, a 2018 Forbes article, “Here’s How Creativity Actually Improves Your Health” written by Ashley Stahl, claims that creativity increases happiness, reduces dementia, improves mental health, boosts your immune system and makes you smarter. Well, who doesn’t want all of those things?

You don’t have to be a professional musician, writer, artist or athlete to practice flow.  You can do it with any activity with some level of skill that requires you to pay attention.  It is really a type of active meditation.  Flow can be found with exercise, writing, dancing, baking, gardening, robotics or whatever activity brings you joy.

Don’t have the “time” for a creative pursuit?  It definitely requires some intentional effort to ensure that you take some time each day to pursue what you enjoy doing. It doesn’t have to be for hours but make it a specific small goal. In building anything into a routine or ritual, micro habits are key.  These are tiny steps towards implementation that grow into longer lasting habits. When I started creating art again, I just started with doing 5 minutes a day.  I just drew something.  I wasn’t worried about perfection or even completion.  I started getting lost in the flow and those minutes eventually became hours over time.  I continued to build my time until I created the habit to attempt to do something creative at least twice a week.  Beware of your inner perfectionism critic if you have one, like I do.  Give yourself some self compassion if you get out of the habit.  No one is keeping score and it is meant to be for you and your health and wellness.  When I get lost in stress and the life’s duties I often think, I should probably create something and get into that flow state-it has been a while.  Ultimately, I never regret taking that time away from the rush and hustle.

If your activity is just one more thing on your to-do list, it isn’t going to bring you joy and happiness.  In order for something to really feed your soul, it has to be something you value, something authentically you and something that you want to do because it brings you a sense of flow, peace, focus and energy.  Hopefully you will find something that gives you that “new box of crayons feeling,” whatever that means for you.

 

 

Birds of a Feather….

….FLOCK Together!!

In preparation for the Spring Equinox, which is usually held in the Rainbow Garden, I started to think creatively about how we could gather as a whole school community and respect COVID health and safety protocols. I wanted to incorporate dance, and then I remembered about flocking.

WTF?
Flocking is a type of movement improvisation, where the whole group mirrors each other’s movement. Students can be organized in a straight line or in the shape of a diamond. In flocking, there is one student who leads a movement, which is followed by the other students.

Different students can become the leader, just like birds do when they are flying together, by changing their position. In a diamond formation, the student at the top of the diamond is the leader. When everyone rotates a quarter turn, there is a new leader at the top of the diamond. Flocking can be inspired by music that is played, but I wanted to integrate text and embody the Land Acknowledgment.

Thanksgiving Address:
We are learning that many Indigenous and First Nations communities offer greetings and gratitude at the beginning of every gathering. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which includes the nations of Cayuga, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Seneca, Mohawk and Oneida, share The Thanksgiving Address. Here is a video that describes the importance of this text.

In the Thanksgiving Address, all parts of creation are recognized with honour and respect. Here is a link to the text we used. We have been deepening our understanding of this important protocol by speaking and listening to the words, drawing, writing and reflecting. This was our first time exploring the text through choral movement and mindfulness. It was very powerful.

Bear Song:
As educators, it is important to build relationships with First Nations and Indigenous families, which includes consultation and collaboration, and invitations to share knowledge with the community. At our school, we are fortunate to have several parents who have shared songs, drumming and dancing at different events. After gathering in the field, Archer and Ansley sang the Anishinaabe Bear Song to welcome Spring. Here is the song performed by Turning Point Women’s drum group from Skownan, Manitoba.

Medicine Wheel Teachings:
In the article, “Teaching by the Medicine Wheel: An Anishinaabe framework for Indigenous education,” Dr. Nicole Bell (2014) describes how schools might integrate Indigenous knowledge, and create a process of education that is respectful and culturally relevant for Indigenous families. Bell explains that while there are some variations of teachings and representations of the Medicine Wheel, there are common threads of understanding, including the importance of appreciating and respecting the interconnectedness and interrelationships of all things.

I wanted to incorporate Medicine Wheel teachings into our Spring Equinox gathering. The Medicine Wheel is a circle that is divided into four parts, which represent the four directions (East, South, West, North) using four different colours. Each of the directions include teachings that are interdependent, including the four seasons, stages of life, times of day, medicines, life givers, and learning process.

We organized the students into four sections, from youngest to oldest, starting in the East. Everyone was standing in the field, facing the same direction. As the Junior students read the Thanksgiving Address, everyone followed the movements of the Junior leader at the top of the diamond. The refrain, “And Now Our Minds Are One”, was repeated in chorus, and was the signal for everyone to rotate a quarter turn to the right together. Then, we started to follow the movements of a new leader. The rotations and the movements continued until the Thanksgiving Address was finished.

It was flocking amazing to welcome the new season with movement, gratitude and respect. Happy Spring!!





M is for Mindfulness

My inbox and social media feeds are filled with reminders to take care of myself and to focus on the mental health and wellness of my students and community, and I am trying. This month, I felt the phunk of COVID fatigue. I am working hard to create playful moments of joy, and generate my own light.

My teacher friend, Bruce Gramlich, offered me a new resource called, “Fostering Mindfulness: Building skills that students need to manage their attention, emotions and behaviours in the classroom and beyond,” by Shelley Murphy (2019). In this book, Murphy has curated educator stories and several concrete examples of intentional exercises and activities to support the practice of mindfulness. Murphy believes that in order for educators to be successful at supporting students to be mindful, we must focus on our own practice. Like many educators, I am always paying attention and aware of what is happening to those around me, but mindfulness is about paying attention to myself.

What is Mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is both a way of being in the world and a practice. As a way of being, mindfulness is the quality of presence we bring to everything we do. It describes our innate capacity to pay full and conscious attention to something in the moment. It is the awareness that emerges from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of our experience” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013).

Reflecting the Sky:
When I think about mindfulness, I imagine sitting still and meditating, breathing with intention, not thinking about anything, just “be”ing in the moment. Those moments are very rare for me. As soon as I step into the school building, I am pulled into a current that is swift and fast. I am a strong swimmer, but I have to work hard to keep my head above the water. I rarely float, and there are few moments of stillness. I love my work, and I am grateful every day for the creative flow and waves of energy, but I know that the water needs to be calm in order to reflect the sky.

As I begin to cultivate a practice of mindfulness outside of the classroom, I am learning that there are moments of wonder and gratitude in many different activities, including walking in the park, cooking a delicious meal, listening to music, riding my bicycle, playing with my dog, and doing yoga. One of the challenges for me is to re-create these moments in the classroom. Here are some examples of how I am trying to practice mindfulness and honour stillness with/in my Grade 2 students:

Gratitude:
We begin every day outside in a circle. Before we acknowledge the land with respect, gratitude, and a commitment to take action, I invite everyone to take five deep breaths together. We do “Five Finger Breathing,” and use one finger to trace each inhale and exhale around the fingers of the other hand. Acknowledging land includes noticing and paying attention to all of our relatives: the wind, the birds, squirrels, puddles, and roots in our school yard. We recognize the original caretakers of the land and review our understanding that a treaty is a promise. This daily practice of gratitude is an important part of mindfulness and also supports decolonizing pedagogy.



Listen to the City:
As we sit together and breathe, we use our senses to pay attention. I ask students to share what they hear, see, feel, smell. We talk about seasonal changes and transformation. Murphy (2019) calls this practice “Mindful Sensing.” Soundscapes are a dramatic convention that can be used throughout the curriculum, and can be combined with movement. Students use their voices and/or found sounds to tell a story. We have created soundscapes connected to our learning about water and wind. After reading the book, “Listen to the City” by Rachel Isadora, students worked in small groups to create a soundscape about the city and share it with the class.

Blindfold Tree Walk:
In one corner of our school yard, there is a small grove of cedar trees growing together. This area is being cared for and used as an Outdoor Classroom by many educators. One day, we used our sense of touch to do a Blindfold Tree Walk. We worked with a partner to find a special tree. Then, one partner was blindfolded and guided carefully to different trees to touch, until they found their special tree. Before blindfolding students, we talked about what might be challenging for people who are Blind or have low-vision, and how we can support them to walk safely. After participating in this activity, students reflected on the experience, and described what they noticed and how they used their senses to find their special tree. I also tried this activity and was delighted when I reconnected with my tree.



What Does Peace Feel Like?
This activity inspired us to explore another book called, “What Does Peace Feel Like?” by Vladimir Radunsky. This book is filled with the voices of children who use their five senses to describe peace. Students were inspired to write their own descriptions of peace, and used watercolours to paint what peace looks like. We shared our poetry with a special guest who joined us via ZOOM. Donna Jodhan is a disability justice activist who we met ten years ago when she successfully challenged the Canadian government to make websites more accessible for Blind people. It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate, reflect and recognize the importance of allyship and advocacy.



Loving Kindness:
“Heartprints” are celebrations of when we have been successful at meeting our learning goals. Currently, we are working on the following goals: “I can be a good friend”, “I can keep trying” and “I can solve problems.” After recess, I will often ask students to share a story about when they were a good friend to someone, or when someone was a good friend to them. As they are sharing, I write their story on a heart-shaped piece of paper. These heartprints are hung in our classroom. Heartprints support cooperative learning, encourage the practice of gratitude and sharing appreciation, reinforce positive behaviour, and help us to create an inclusive and kind classroom community.



My teacher friend, Kelly Fricker recently supported her Grade 1/2 students to share random acts of kindness and #passiton. Together, they generated a list of positive messages to encourage the adults in the school building, and wrote them on heart-shaped paper. Kelly filled every mailbox with messages such as, “You’ve got this!”, “You are appreciated! ”, “You are my sunshine!” I was inspired and worked with my own students to fill the mailboxes in my school with messages of loving kindness. It was a wonder-full activity. Pass it on!


Virtual Field Trips: Connecting With the World Beyond the Classroom

The pandemic has changed the ways in which we can explore the world around us. Rather than being able to sign up to go on a field trip, many educators are opting for virtual field trips. With so many options out there, how might we ensure that we use these opportunities to connect it back to the learning in the classroom and to life in general? I ask this because I’ve been guilty of giving students these links to get them to simply explore but I wonder if there is more that we might do with these incredible opportunities. In this post, I’ll share a few ideas that I have.

Zoos & Aquariums

The San Diego Zoo and Ripley’s Aquarium are 2 sites for virtual field trips related to zoos and aquariums. I have to admit, these creatures are amazing to look at and I think it’s incredible that we have the opportunity to watch them live. 

While watching, it got me thinking about a debate we had in class several years ago about zoos.  After researching a variety of animal habitats, we used found materials to create our own zoo of sorts in our classroom. Students were tasked with determining what conditions needed for their animal of choice to survive and to build their habitat. Once all of the habitats were created, we organized the animals into areas that we thought made sense based on their needs. It was pretty cool and it led us to start talking about animals in their real habitats and in zoos. 

We researched and discussed differing opinions and feelings about zoos. 

A zoo supporter might say:

  • The zoo is a fantastic place to learn about and see animals from different parts of the world.
  • Zoos help to keep animals safe so that they don’t become in danger of extinction.
  • Zoos help to take care of animals who may become sick.  In the wild, these sick animals may die.
  • Because of pollution and deforestation, animals are having a hard time finding food.  Animals in zoos are well fed and taken care of.

Someone who is against zoos may say:

  • Zoos don’t teach us much about animals because the animals there don’t act the way they would in the forest, jungle, or ocean, where they belong. We can learn more about animals by reading books or watching wildlife programs on TV.
  • Animals are not happy in zoos. They want to be free to walk, run, fly, climb, hunt, and have families. There simply isn’t enough room for them in the habitats that are created at the zoo. 
  • When a zoo doesn’t want an animal anymore, the animal gets killed or sold to another zoo and might have to travel far away by boat, truck, or plane.

After sharing these ideas, students were asked to reflect on a couple of questions, and as a part of our classroom blog, they shared their thoughts and debated their points with their peers. The questions were:

  1. What kinds of things do animals need to be happy? Do you think animals in zoos get all these things? Why or why not? 
  2. Think about the animals you’ve seen at the zoo. Do you think there is somewhere else they would rather be? Something else they would rather be doing? Why or why not?
  3. Do you support zoos? Why or why not?

There was a lot of healthy debate going back and forth as students justified their answers about whether or not they supported zoos. 

Not only might heading on these virtual field trips be a great way for students to see animals they may not have seen before, but it may also be a great start to conversations around the need for zoos and aquariums and the ethics behind them. 

Museums & Art

Art has always been of interest to me. From studying Art from a particular part of the world to understanding how art is connected to culture, so much can be said by looking at a painting or sculpture. Here are a few sites that I’ve explored with students:

  • Christi Belcourt – Christi Belcourt is a Métis artist with a deep respect for Mother Earth, the traditions, and the knowledge of her people.  In addition to her paintings, she is known as an environmentalist and advocate for the lands, waters, and Indigenous peoples
  • Tomb of Menna – Located in Luxor, the tomb of Menna is known for the colorful and well-preserved paintings that adorn the chapel walls.
  • The Canadian Museum of History – The mandate of the museum is “to enhance Canadians’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of events, experiences, people, and objects that reflect and have shaped Canada’s history and identity, and also to enhance their awareness of world history and cultures.”
  • The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology – Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the study of ancient life.
  • The Aga Khan Museum – The Aga Khan Museum presents and collects art from historically significant Muslim civilizations as well as contemporary Muslim communities and diasporas around the world.

When exploring museums and art, I’ve asked students to reflect on pieces that stand out to them and to explain why they were of particular interest. I’ve also had students consider the elements of art – line, shape, texture, form, space, colour, and value – and how the artist used the elements to evoke particular emotions or feelings. I also tend to ask students if there is a particular style that they can attribute to the artists and consider learning more about their particular style. I’ve mentioned before that art is connected to culture. Perhaps posing a question such as, “Is art shaped by culture or is culture shaped by art?”, might spark meaningful conversations around the connection between the two.

Science

Ok…zoos and aquariums fit under this category too. Here are a couple of virtual field trips that my students enjoyed related to physical and earth sciences. 

  • Slime in Space – This is a 15-minute virtual field trip to outer space to see how slime, and water, react in a microgravity environment.
  • Hawaii’s Volcanoes – Take a trip back in time to explore the land shaped by the world’s most active volcanoes.

Everyone loves slime. Ok…well…maybe not everyone. I’ll admit. I’m not a fan. When I stumbled upon the link to Slime in Space, it got me thinking about the time I had a student teach the class how to make slime. It was an opportunity to see the connection between procedural writing for a science experiment and an exercise in problem-solving when it didn’t quite work out.  It was an experiment based on the student’s interest and it was amazing to watch them lead their peers with great enthusiasm. When thinking about student interest, last year I had a student who was so fascinated by natural disasters and when it came to exploring Hawaii’s volcanoes, he was all in. This interactive adventure allowed him to learn more about volcanoes and understand how the land was formed in a way that was more real than reading it in a book. How else might we bring student interest into the classroom through these virtual opportunities?  

The world is changing and it seems as though virtual field trips are a way to still connect us to the greater world around us. By no means is this an extensive list of what is out there in terms of virtual field trips. Hopefully, this gives you some ideas of how they can be used in the classrooms with students. Have other ideas to share? Please feel free to add them in the comments below!

Write On!

I love to write, and I hope that my enthusiasm for the writing process inspires and encourages my Grade 2 students to write on!

VIP:

At the beginning of the year, we are working together to create a brave and inclusive community where everyone is recognized as a “very important person”.  The VIP program celebrates one student each day.  Everybody has a story, and we learn about the VIP by listening and asking questions.  Together, we talk about what good writers do as we write several sentences about the VIP.  We notice the letters in their name and practice printing them correctly.  Then, everyone draws a picture and writes about the VIP.  These pages are collected and sent home as a book for the VIP to share with their family.

On the first day of school, I was the VIP to model the process.  Yes, I was wearing a cape at the time, to demonstrate our superhero arms-distance protocol, and to reinforce that we all have superpowers.

The Peace Book:

Every year on September 21, we recognize the International Day of Peace as part of Peace Week.  Peace Week is an excellent opportunity to introduce and/or review the Zones of Regulation and practice mindfulness strategies.  We share ideas about when we feel peaceful, and brainstorm agreements for how we might resolve conflicts and solve problems in our community.  We sing songs and read stories about peace and justice.  After reading “The Peace Book,” by Todd Parr, we created our own classroom book inspired by his book.

Poetry:

In the early primary years, students are growing as readers and writers.  We all require support to become more independent and confident in our new learning.  Writing prompts and predictable structures can help emergent writers to get started and complete their work.

On the first day of fall, we wrote short poems called “Good-Bye Summer!  Hello Fall!”  We generated ideas for our writing by sharing what we love about summer and fall in a Knowledge Building Circle.  We also used Drama to play out our favourite activities and connect our bodies to our learning.  We sang songs about the signs of fall, drew pictures, and wrote about what we noticed in our Nature Journals.

MSI:

In my first year of teaching, I started as a Long-Term Occasional from October-June.  The teacher who left was exemplary, and she had established a program called MSI: Math-Science Investigation, which I continue to this day.  Before STEAM, there was MSI.  It involves solving problems through building.

During MSI, I invite students to build a structure connected to our current inquiry (e.g., build a structure that includes a repeating pattern, build a habitat for an animal, etc.)  After building with different materials (e.g., pattern blocks, straws and connectors, corks, Lego, etc.) students will write and draw about their structures in their Math Journals.

 

When I asked students to build a structure connected to water, they made: a hydroelectric dam, salmon, a lake, pipes, a boat, and a machine that turns saltwater into freshwater.

Toy Day:

Every 6-8 weeks, I organize a Toy Day in our classroom.  On this day, everyone is invited to bring a toy to share.  We use these toys as provocations for many learning activities in the classroom, including Drama, Math, Writing, Media Literacy, Art, etc.

At the beginning of Grade 2, I am collecting diagnostic assessment data about my students, and I always use the Grade 1 Ministry of Education writing exemplar, which is descriptive writing about My Toy.  After sharing and playing with our toys, students are motivated to write and draw about their toy.

Goal-Setting:

COVID-19 has impacted student learning in different ways.  There might be gaps in achievement, which need to be identified before we can build new skills.  I will use the assessment data to develop individual short-term writing goals with each student, and support everyone to work towards meeting their goals.  When students work towards individual goals that are “just right” for them, they can always feel successful.  These writing goals will also be shared with families, to strengthen the home-school connection and encourage a relationship of collaborative assessment.