## Which One Doesn’t Belong? (WODB)

### Have you ever tried ‘ Which One Doesn’t Belong?’ (WODB) in your classroom?

WODB is a short, number talk used to get students thinking before beginning a daily lesson or math activity. Students are shown a picture like the example attached below (from mathbeforebed.com). Students take a close look at the picture and decide which object they think does not belong. After sharing their ideas, students are asked to explain their thinking to justify their answer. Here is why we love WODB in our Kindergarten class:

This gives students the confidence to share their thoughts and encourages them to take risks in their learning.

WODB shows students that there are multiple ways of solving problems

I am finding that aside from building confidence in students’ attitudes towards math, this activity builds community. Students typically begin with a strong opinion on why their answer is correct, but begin to understand and uncover the varying perspectives of their peers. It is also a great activity to practice turn taking, active listening and showing kindness towards others with different ideas.

There are multiple entry points

This activity is inclusive and allows students to use their own mathematical language to describe which one they believe does not belong. Students can participate in this activity regardless of their understanding of specific math concepts. In Kindergarten, with students ranging in various stages of development – this activity gives myself and my DECE partner a window into their thinking.

WODB promotes mathematical thinking and the use of mathematical language

When justifying their answer, students begin to use math words like bigger, smaller, shorter, taller, less, more and begin to use the names of shapes, numbers or symbols they are learning about. Students can activate their prior knowledge and apply their current knowledge while they work with educators to extend their knowledge. I often reframe what students are saying and repeat it back to them. For example, in the picture shown below a student may share that they think the “blue” one does not belong, “because it’s blue and the others are not” and I may say, “(student name) thinks that the blue rectangle piece does not belong”.

WODB can be used in any grade level

While I am currently enjoying this activity in Kindergarten, I think about all the ways this activity could be used with students of any age. As students learn new concepts, WODB could include pictures of fractions, decimals, equations and more. When students get comfortable engaging in WODB activities, they can even begin to create some of their own pictures to challenge their peers to think critically.

Which one do you think does not belong?

## “How can I help?”

The adage of “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” was ingrained in me at an early age.  Until recently, I have always thought that being confident, capable and successful meant never asking for help.  I used to think that asking for help meant that you were weak.  I now think that asking for help is incredibly brave.  My 17 year old son recently told me about a group chat with his workmates.  Someone at work had sent an urgent message to the group asking how to do something while closing up the restaurant.  Many of the coworkers poked fun at the lack of knowledge of the person seeking help.  My son (brace yourself for this proud Mama Bear moment) texted that it was really brave of his co-worker to ask for help and provided the information that the coworker needed to close up for the night. I think that his act demonstrated wisdom an empathy far beyond his years.

Have you ever felt a little territorial or protective about your ideas or lessons in your classroom?  I imagine everyone likes to be valued for their unique talents and abilities.  In general, I don’t think anyone likes to be seen to be struggling and consequently, some teachers might choose to work in isolation. Perhaps it is fear. I’ve spoken to many colleagues who have identified as suffering from imposter syndrome. Perhaps those of us who have experienced imposter syndrome think that if anyone else got eyes on what we do every day that we would be judged and found to be lacking in some way.  Often teachers will tell me that they don’t have time to share with their colleagues-there just isn’t enough time in the day to collaborate. With the busy pace of education, I know that I have absolutely felt that way. My experience has been that when I take the time to collaborate with others I in fact, have more time and consequently better programming.  It is a concerted effort and takes a trusting relationship to co-plan and co-teach but when it works, it is amazing.

In my role as an instructional leadership consultant I am responsible for two portfolios; Innovation and Technology and the New Teacher Induction Program.  At the beginning of the COVID pandemic as teachers were teaching virtually for the first time, some had never used things like Google apps, FlipGrid and Kahoot. I was doing my best to support teachers with tools for teaching online.  Thankfully, I knew some other teachers that I could reach out to and ask for help.  These teachers, close to the beginning of their careers, were using these tools in the classroom and were able to help design and present webinars to other more seasoned colleagues.  As teachers, we often think that we need to have all of the answers for our students and with one another.  I’ve heard it referred to as the “Sage on the Stage Syndrome.” We seem to feel that we need to stay ahead of everything, which is impossible.  Education is changing more rapidly than ever.  I learned so much from my colleagues over the months that we worked together as a team and even though it was stressful at times, it was also incredibly fun.  I look back now on the powerful outreach our work had and the gratitude that was expressed by our colleagues and I am so glad that I got over myself and asked for help.

In the t.v. drama “New Amsterdam” whenever the new director of the hospital is introduced to someone, the first question that he asks is, “How can I help?”  It happens in the first episode about twenty times. This was a BIG a-ha moment for me.  What a powerful question!  How often have we wanted our students to ask for help?  How often have they refused when we have asked “Can I help you?”or “Do you need help?”  Unfortunately, asking for help is still seen as a weakness by many people.  However the question “How can I help?” turns it around so that the responsibility and focus is on the person offering assistance.  It is more difficult for someone to just say “No.” to this question.  It can help to create psychological safety in order to focus on what can be done to help rather than someone sitting in discomfort or shame because they won’t ask for help.  Sometimes just asking can make all the difference to someone when they are feeling overwhelmed, even if they decline the offer.  The four small words, “How can I help?” can make a powerful impact.  Sometimes, asking for help is the bravest thing you can do.

## “Just” an Occasional Teacher

Hello everyone!

I am thrilled to announce that I will be joining the Heart and Art blogging team this school year. I look forward to time spent being passionately curious with all of you.

As educators, it feels we are under the spotlight this year to openly reflect in conversations with curious strangers on how the school year is going amidst the pandemic. Everyone is wondering how educators are creating activities and lessons for students that involve social distancing, mask wearing and constant hand sanitizing. When asked personally about how this crazy year is affecting me, I often find myself replying with “I am just an Occasional Teacher”.

I love my job and feel valued in the school system, especially this year with the demanding need for Occasional Teachers across Ontario school boards. I feel important, worthy and necessary. Why do I sell myself short each time by adding the word “just” in front of my job title?

The word “just” has so much power and holds the potential to remove importance from meaningful concepts. As I reflect upon my own use of the word “just”, I begin to think about how this small but significant word can affect my students. Psychologist Carol Dweck talked about students’ growth mindset and the power of the word “yet”. In terms of growing and learning, students can use the word “yet” to talk about what they cannot do, but will learn to do after practicing, taking chances and making mistakes (for example: “I do not know how to multiply… yet”).

Does the word “just” have the opposite effect? Instead of granting power and adding room for growth like the word “yet” does, “just” seems to diminish the power of whatever follows.

Let’s harness the power of “yet”! Here are some phrases that should not follow the word “just”:

• Students are “just” playing.

Play is how students explore, investigate, discover and create what they don’t know yet. No matter age or ability, each student deserves play opportunities in an environment that respects and celebrates the benefits play can have on academic progress, social and emotional growth and overall student well-being.

• “Just” Art, Phys. Ed, Social Science or any subject that isn’t Math or Literacy.

Each subject and learning area contributes to holistic development while providing opportunities for learning and success in areas which students have yet to grow. Students deserve to know that each subject is important and personal accomplishments can be celebrated in sports, the arts, etc. With the pressures to push for success in reading, writing and math, we must not let talent and passion in other areas go unnoticed, unacknowledged or undervalued.

• You are “just” an Occasional Teacher/Rotary Teacher/whatever your role is in a school.

To all my fellow educators out there, no matter what you are doing, no matter where you are, you will ALWAYS be more than “just” a (insert job title here) to your students, their families and the school community.

You are passionate.

You are important.

You are valued.

For what you know now and for what you do not know yet

## Triggers and Habits in Teaching Part One

Almost every teacher I talk to says, “I have a really difficult class this year.”  The difficulties identified are most often tied to “behaviour” issues.  In my experience effective classroom “management” can be connected to dynamic programming and developing solid relationships with students. Many of us go to things like Class Dojo or incentive programs to “manage” behaviour and some have their merits.  However, they might “manage” behaviour, but does it help student to learn to self-regulate?  I understand that there are students who have behaviour safety plans that can provide challenges and I do not mean to downplay the effect that even one student’s behaviour can have on an entire class.  However, there are ways in which we can have small tweaks in our triggers and habits in teaching that will have a positive outcome on developing a community of learners.

So what is a trigger?  A trigger in psychological terms can  used to describe sensations, images or experiences that re-visit a traumatic memory.  It can also mean to make something happen very quickly; a reaction.  It is also referred to as an event that kicks off the automatic urge to complete a habit.*  Habits are seen as something that people do often or regularly.  Habits can even be unconscious behaviours and sometimes difficult to stop.  What do triggers and habits have to do with teaching?

It isn’t easy to be self aware while we are trying to keep our head above water, collect permission forms, listen to announcements, adjust our day plan for the assembly that was announced, deal with a parent that wants to chat in the hallway AND teach curriculum.  I GET that…however, being aware of triggers and habits and making small tweaks to our teaching behaviour can make a big difference in our classroom community.

*106:Triggers-The Key to Building and Breaking Habits, Chris Sparks, 2018

## Daring Classrooms

I state the obvious when I say that teaching is a demanding job.  If you are reading this, you are most likely a teacher and this is not news to you.  I’d like to highlight a resource that feeds the soul of a teacher (and quite frankly a human being) while also providing some strategies for integrating that soul feeding into your classroom practice for your students.  Wait, what…that exists?  It is a website from Brene Brown called Daring Classrooms.  If you haven’t heard of her yet, you can find “The Call to Courage” on Netflix and/or her Ted Talk on Vulnerability.  She is inspirational in leadership, in life and in work.  Here is a snippet from her #DaringClassrooms website:

“Teachers are some of our most important leaders. We know that we can’t always ask our students to take off the armor at home, or even on their way to school, because their emotional and physical safety may require self-protection.

But what we can do, and what we are ethically called to do as teachers, is create a space in our schools and classrooms where all students can walk in and, for that day or hour, take off the crushing weight of their armor, hang it on a rack, and open their heart to truly being seen.

Teachers are the guardians of spaces that allow students to breathe and be curious and explore the world and be who they are without suffocation. Students deserve one place where they can rumble with vulnerability and their hearts can exhale.

And what I know from the research is that we should never underestimate the benefit to a child of having a place to belong—even one—where they can take off their armor. It can and often does change the trajectory of their life.

Teachers: Everyday should be Teacher Appreciation Day. I am so grateful for you and your willingness to show up and create brave, safe spaces where our children can learn, grow, and be seen.”

Some of the short (8-12 minute) video resources from Daring Classrooms include:

How do we avoid the pressure to please?

How do teachers manage oversharing?

How do we help parents understand failing as part of the learning process?

Does the word “disappointed” shame students?

In addition to the video resources there are free downloads for resources, parenting the classroom and daily life.  There are pdfs that you can print out for working with students.  My favourite one is the list of core emotions.  Sometimes when students have triggers they can’t always name or explain the emotion that caused the trigger in behaviour.  Being able to learn about the names and the definitions of core emotions is helpful for students to self-regulate.

Every year in a classroom brings new challenges.  In fact, every day in a classroom will bring on a new challenge.  I hope that as you lead your own #DaringClassroom you will find this resource helpful and that it may feed your teacher soul.

## The Gender Gap in Technology

According to a recent report* by ICTC (the Information and Technology Information Council) Canadian women represent about 50% of the overall workforce but represent only 25% of the technology industry workforce.  Of the 100 major tech companies in Canada only 5 have female CEOs and 1 Co-CEO.   26% of the tech companies have no women in senior leadership at all.  There is a gender wage gap in the industry of \$7,000-\$20,00 per year.  When I read these statistics I wondered as educators, what can we do about the gender gap in technology?  This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to begin:

1.  Build her confidence in her abilities.

2. Cultivate a community of supportive peers.

3.  Provide a STEM/STEAM club for girls.

4. Ensure that access to technology and computer experiences is encouraged and inclusive.

5. Foster interest in computing careers.

6. Be a role model as a LEARNER.

May 11th is National Girls Learning Code Day.  If you are looking to encourage coders in your school, why not begin on May 11th?  Below you will find links to resources for beginning coding.  Many students code on their own at home and may appreciate the opportunity to mentor fellow students.  The resources attached will get you started.  There is no special equipment or robotics required.  Teachers do not have to be expert coders to encourage their students.  Teachers can be role models of resilience, risk taking and problem solving by learning alongside their students.  Teachers only need to open the door and expose their students to the opportunities.

National Girls Learn Code Day

Scratch

Hour of Code

Code.org

*Cutean, A., Ivus, M. (2017). The Digital Talent Dividend: Shifting Gears in a Changing Economy. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Ottawa, Canada.

Elaborated and written by Alexandra Cutean (Director, Digital Innovation Research and Policy). and Maryna Ivus (Senior Analyst, Research and Policy) with generous support from the ICTC Research and Policy Team.

## Gaming…safely?

We have been trained to watch for concerns of a child’s well being. This didn’t include cyber information. As a responsible teacher I’m drawing the attention of students to current events. During this time of sharing, my students have become more relaxed and open about their after school activities which include gaming for many.

When a child discloses information about their safety we are obligated to report this to children’s services. Write down the facts, call and make a statement, fairly straight forward.

When a child shares information about interactions in Gaming, what do you do? I make a judgement based on what the information is, then I write down the facts are that were shared, then what? I’m really not sure where we go from here. I call the family and have a conversation? I chat with the principal? I provide the student with avenues of help, help lines, internet safety….

This is a new world which effects all of our students. Access to our vulnerable young students is wide open on the internet especially with group gaming and social media. Education is a form of protection. When a child is doing something their family may not agree with, they are reluctant to share concerns and can easily become victims of online abuse. How do we help? Keep open communication lines with students and their family. We all want our children to be safe.

## Partnerships

This past week allowed me an amazing opportunity to work with a very committed and compassionate group of Early Childhood Educators. They are part of ETFO and as such are able to partake in a variety of services that are offered including workshops. The topic of this session was on poverty (Why Poverty? is the official name for the provincial workshop). So on a Monday evening in the month of June, twenty ECE staff showed up after a full day of work to talk and discuss the topic of poverty.

At first I was quite nervous, as I had never facilitated a workshop for anyone but teachers. Over the two hours that we worked together the titles faded away and we just became a group of like-minded people who were seeking ways to help level the playing field for the children in our care.

Then it happened, that aha moment where the idea of partners and partnerships became very real for me. So on my drive home from Hamilton I began to ask myself where else could I find partnerships? Who could also partner with me to enhance the educational experience of my students? The answer was astonishingly simple. I need to look no further then the staff room in my school. I just needed to look with a different lens in order to see the amazing wealth of talent that exists within each school (Child and Youth Workers, Educational Assistants, Early Childhood Educators, volunteers).

Yes, right before my eyes existed a wealth of ideas, passions, skill sets and people who chose a career that focussed on helping young people be successful. The task is to work on bringing them all together, to create an environment that values each person, their profession and not their title. This approach is alive and well in our Kindergarten programs. How do we transfer that to our entire school? How do we bring support staff and teachers together in workshops to learn side-by-side?

I highly encourage the readers to please share their ideas or current practices on how to best create, maintain and foster growth in these types of partnerships. In closing, I would like to thank the Early Childhood Educators from Hamilton who helped me experience the power of a partnership.

## Emotions, Context and the Reluctant Writer

One of the biggest challenges I face is getting my students to enjoy and take risks with writing. Too often they get bogged down with the fear of not knowing what to write or nervous about experimenting with vocabulary they do not know how to spell. There are two critical approaches I take in helping my very reluctant writers to engage in the writing process. The first is to help them understand the stages of writing (Idea, Plan, Draft, Edit/Revise, Publish and Share). Each stage is explored and its purpose discussed and demonstrated in multiple ways. Once a student understands that the edit/revise stage occurs after you are able to get your ideas, thoughts and/or feelings into print form they become more likely to take risks in getting their ideas out. When they give themselves permission to let their ideas free flow without word-by-word critiquing, the quantity and quality of their work improves. A completed draft version allows them to separate I have good ideas and can write from I need help in making sure my writing is correct and ready to share with others. I also experience a huge drop off in the question “How do you spell _____________”.  That focus typically grinds the creative process to a complete halt.

The second element that greatly assists me in helping my reluctant writers is to as often as possible design a writing focus around an event relevant to their life. This may be something going on in their school community like writing a persuasive writing piece on allowing students to wear hats in school. It may be a news event from their community or a global situation that will help connect my students to a bigger audience.

Several years ago when the Chilean mining catastrophe occurred we had taken time to have it as a part of our morning circle conversation. That lead to a brainstorming session on what might we do to help out. The final decision was that we could write letters of support to them.  I found the address to the Chilean Embassy in Ottawa and we mailed our letters to them. The power of the contextual relevance automatically tapped into their emotions. When emotions are involved in the learning process the lesson, the message, the focus becomes more consolidated in their cognitive realm. A magical bonus on this project was that my class received a letter from the Chilean Embassy acknowledging our letters and honouring the efforts of my students. Our next writing unit was accepted with little or no resistance.

## Harvesting Our Apples

It is that time of year when I am able to enjoy the labours of my endless hours of worrying, endless hours of commitment and endless hours of planning for my students. We call it our harvest time.

At the beginning of every school year a new group of students come into our program with a variety of dysfunctional behaviours accompanied by a lack of success in school and we always start with the same story. I bring out a group of apples in various conditions and ask them which one would they choose. Of course all of their decisions are based on what they see on the outside. Is it bruised? Is it ripe enough? Does it have the right shape as compared to all the other apples? But yet the best part of the apple is the part that nobody can see, the inside. That is who my students are. They are completely judged by what people see on the outside and from what they have experienced from the outside. Often, past teachers have no opportunity to experience what a wonderful, young person they truly are due to the violent, aggressive behaviour they exhibit. My first question to the students is how do we show people what an amazing person you really are on the inside. How do we show them your best part?

That is the question that was first asked over 10 months ago and after a year of academic and behavioural programming we have arrived at harvest time. They are now being judged for who they truly are and not what they previously looked like. Both the adults and students in Room 16 take great pride and enjoyment during harvest time. In our daily circles we are preparing them for that transition back to the regular world. That begins by revisiting awkward or negative scenarios that took place in our room, except at this time of the year we are able to laugh about it. The students shake their heads in disbelief as they have come so far and changed for the good so much, those past behaviours seem incomprehensible to them (self evaluation at its best).

They then begin to identify which strategies or skills have worked best for them over the year. They make a list of their most effective strategies, expressions or visuals and we put that together into a laminated bookmark. That is taken with them as they transition back to their next academic setting and becomes the foundation for their next year’s success.

I hope you are taking the time to enjoy your harvest time!