The Importance of Trust

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to uncertainty and change in education.  Just when I think I have a handle on the way things are going to go for the week there is a Government announcement that changes the plan.  I am “pivoting” so much I have motion sickness. When decisions that affect a work environment seem to be constantly changing, trust becomes more important than ever.  In a recent video “How Leaders Build Trust,” author and leadership thought leader Simon Sinek, describes trust:  “Trust is a feeling. It is earned and evolves based on a series of actions that prove that you are worthy of trust.  It creates a sense of belonging.  When you don’t feel trust or without a circle of safety, we inherently concern ourselves with our own survival and become cynical, selfish and paranoid.  You become convinced that everything is trying to hurt you.  We do things to protect ourselves.”  In her book “Braving the Wilderness”, author Berne Brown says that “in the absence of communication we make up stories and the majority of what we tell ourselves isn’t true.  In fact, our brain goes into self-protection mode and those stories that we make up are often exaggerate our worst fears and insecurities.” It is hard to learn or work when you are in self protection mode.

In learning more about culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy, I have noticed that a common keystone element in what I’ve been reading is that trust is crucial to creating a truly inclusive classroom.  In the famous YouTube video “Every Kid Needs a Champion” educator and speaker Rita Pierson stated, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”  I would go one step further to say that even more so, kids aren’t likely to learn from people they don’t trust.

So how do we create an environment of trust in which students can be their absolute best? More specifically how do we do this at a time when we are teaching students over Google Meet, through a PPE shield and mask or even through video that students watch asynchronously? I think that we do it the same way we would in a pre-COVID classroom.  One small interaction at a time.  I recently experienced an a-ha moment while engaging in a webinar called “The Neuroscience of Trust” presented by Dr. Rumeet Billan.  According to Dr. Billan; “Trust is something that has to be given to you and needs to be earned.”  Trust is something that comes from repeated behaviours that demonstrate that we are worthy of trust.  When we repeatedly demonstrate that we listen actively, show authentic care and empathy, we generate trust.  When we provide opportunities that deliberately and intentionally extend trust, such as giving students voice and choice in their learning, we generate trust.  When we provide actionable and meaningful feedback to students and celebrate their learning goals with them, we generate trust.  When we provide learning opportunities for students to make mistakes, when we celebrate the learning from mistakes and provide an opportunity to try again, we generate trust.  When we genuinely demonstrate transparency with students such as admitting to not knowing all of the answers about a concept or sharing times where we have failed and persevered, we generate trust.

Creating an environment of trust with our students and with our colleagues is something that we have to work on daily. It is currency that we build up with one another to draw on in a time of need.  I think of creating an environment of trust like learning how to play a musical instrument.  You cannot learn to play an instrument by practicing for seven hours straight.  You need to practice daily in order to become truly proficient.  When you don’t practice, you get rusty.  When things in my classroom feel as if they are particularly stressful or students are exhibiting behaviours that are uncharacteristic, I usually come to the realization that it is because  trust has eroded between us.  It might be that I haven’t been recognizing their accomplishments as readily.  It might be that I haven’t been giving them challenging opportunities to learn that extends trust to them to persevere and practice resilience. It may be that I haven’t followed through on something that I said was going to happen.  When I come to those realizations I have to go back to the student and repair that trust. Ignoring the event will only widen the gap. If we want kids to be innovative, creative and take risks a psychologically safe space with mutual trust is essential.  It doesn’t happen overnight but by making it a priority, amazing learning will happen.

Staff Relationships: COVID Edition

Everyone wants to feel welcomed, liked and seen at their place of work.

To me, this sense of belonging provides me with the confidence and the resources to have conversations with fellow staff, ask questions when I need help and create new connections.

As an OT, creating meaningful relationships with staff you don’t see daily can be difficult. 

Add in a pandemic with a side of cohorting, social distancing and a dash of remote learning and, like many other things this year, you’ve got yourself a challenge.

This school year, I started Occasional Teaching for a new school board in late September. For me, more connections equals more work and more valuable experience.

Using social media, I have been able to reach out and connect with educators who are seeking Occasional Teachers that are comfortable working in their classrooms. Social media has been a wonderful space to both talk and listen to other people like me. Together, we support each other through the many transitions happening this year, answer each other’s questions and lift each other’s spirits. 

As we approach nearly a year of connecting this way, it feels like the new normal. Will our days soon return where we can attend PD sessions with dozens or hundreds of others? Connecting, talking, listening? 

As our methods of supporting each other constantly evolve, we must continue to place importance on creating and maintaining relationships – no matter how great of a task this may feel. 

As grateful as I am for these online connections, they don’t feel the same. They don’t completely and totally measure up to sharing a coffee with someone or looking them in the eye across the table.

Human connection cannot be replaced.

How have you been creating relationships with fellow staff this year?

Just a Little Patience

I’ve often been described as a person with a lot of patience.

However, in my current role as a contained classroom teacher of 10 students with developmental disabilities, my patience has been tested over the past year and a half.

My students sometimes demonstrate their anger or frustration in aggressive or difficult ways. Other days, my students may forget things that they have mastered for months. Parents sometimes aggressively advocate for their students and yell at me because they are frustrated by the system that allows two year wait lists for things like occupational therapy or speech therapy. All of these things would test most people’s patience.

But that is not what has challenged my patience. I am finding that what I am most impatient with is myself. I’ve asked myself so many questions over the past 15 months on this amazing journey with my students. Why didn’t that approach work today? Why didn’t I handle that conversation differently? Why is the student feeling so angry today? Why? Why? Why? I’ve been really anxious about the speed at which problems have been resolved and how fast my students have settled into their new school.

What I wish is that when all of those self doubts and impatience started to bubble up in September 2018 when I began this class, I could read what I am about to write now 15 months later…

It will all come together. Trust yourself and your skills. You will find a rhythm among your team that address the needs of your students. You will be able to anticipate your student’s stressors and know how to calm and reassure them. You will be able to anticipate the needs of parents and have built such a trusting relationship where they know that you are advocating for their children just as hard as they are. The student that is screaming 8 hours a day at school, just needs a couple of months to adjust to all the new people in his life. The student who has challenges around self regulation will be able to use a calming space regularly to help him stay safe at school.

What I didn’t realize at the beginning of this journey was how much time many of these things would take. All of these changes took many school days of an incredibly committed and reflective team. It also took a lot of humility to admit when I needed assistance. But most of all, it has taken a lot of patience with myself to allow the time needed to build relationships and to really get to know all of the awesome things about my fantastic students.

Picking Each Other Up

Just like most people in all of Canada these past few weeks, I have been watching a crazy amount of basketball. Go Raptors!! One thing I love about basketball is that every time one of the players is on the floor, his teammate is there to put his hand out and pick him up. I think teachers need to take the same approach with each other.

I have a brand-new role this year and there have been some days that I have left school and thought well “that sucked”. I didn’t say the exact right thing to a parent, I didn’t handle a behaviour situation correctly and today my one student flat out told me I was not her friend. Not exactly sunshine and rainbows. We are generally very hard on ourselves because we want the best for our students every day. Since we are so hard on ourselves, it is important that we pick each other up every time we are lying down on the court.

There are so many days in my current role where I lack confidence. I am new to the role and I second guess myself a lot. I guess that comes with being an experienced teacher. I was very confident and experienced in my previous role and it was hard to go some place new and feel like I was back at the beginning of my learning.

Some of my colleagues have been amazing at picking me up off the floor on those tough days.  My favourite was a friend putting her plans aside and saying let’s have a coffee and talk through this issue that is worrying you. She asked me some amazing guiding questions and then looked at me and said this is hard and there is no easy answer. She then asked “Do you have the supports to help you learn how to help this student?” “Is there anything I can do to support?” And finally she looked at me with all the confidence in the world and said “You will get this, it will just take time”. She picked me up about 7 times during the conversation and I left the coffee shop feeling so much better!

Over my career, I have heard some colleagues be less supportive with each other. There are two common things that are sometimes said amongst teachers that definitely leave teachers on the court stranded.

“That doesn’t happen in my room.”  This sentence always drives me absolutely crazy!!!!!!!  There are always so many factors that could contribute to difficulty in a different setting that has nothing to do with the teacher or teaching. Depending on the subject it may include noise levels, physical structure to the space, interest in the subject etc. Even if it is the teaching style saying “this doesn’t happen in my room” is not really helpful. Instead, if a colleague approaches with a concern about a student it would be so much better to ask them if there is anything you can do to help make the situation better.

My number 2 pet peeve is “If that student was in my class, I’d straighten them out/they wouldn’t be having these problems.”I have yet to meet a teacher who didn’t have a challenging student at some point in their career. We have all been there. It is important that we offer help to each other when we are taking time to figure out our students.

Our job is hard, we need to be kind to each other. Make sure that you put out your hand to pick someone else when they are on the court.

Go Raptors!!

 

Setting up a Positive Relationship with Teaching Assistants

I have had the great pleasure of working with a variety of staff over the past decade as a teacher. TAs, or as they are called in my board Educational Resource Facilitators, play an incredibly important role in the success of my students every day. This year has been my first year that I have worked with 3 TAs all day and I have tried to make that relationship a positive one. I have made a ton of mistakes throughout the year but thankfully I have had the most patient and gracious team that has supported me as I learn my new role. I sat down with a few of them to ask what teachers could do to make the relationship between teachers and TAs work well. This is what they had to say:

  • Everyone in the room has a need for information and everyone can do their job more effectively when they have all the information pertaining to students and the running of the classroom. It is important that teachers prioritize communication because much of the information will be given only to the teacher. Information from Speech and Language Reports, Parent phone calls, ISRC meetings and so on will only be shared with the team if the teacher has an effective style of communication. (I admit that I stumble with this sometimes. I feel like there is never enough time in the day to communicate everything I need to share. I am working at it and continue to make this a priority for my professional growth) My team and I realized that we needed a way to share information this year. We designated a place on the blackboard for all of us to place updates and reminders. It has been great way for everyone to stay up to date on things like pizza orders or letters that need to go home.
  • Teacher is not the boss. I have heard TAs over the year talk about the few teachers that they have worked with who have come in and very clearly outlined that they are the boss and that everyone else works for them. It is important to remember that everyone has valuable professional knowledge that they bring to the classroom and when everyone is using their knowledge its benefits students. Teachers and TAs have different training and different roles to play in the classroom. As the teacher, make it clear that you value the skill set of the TAs placed with you.  If everyone is doing their role and using their training the classroom has a greater chance of success.
  • Don’t let things fester. There are a million things that can be irritating when you are in a room with people all day. It is best to deal with things that impact the ability to provide a good environment for students. As the teacher in the room, deal with things that come up and don’t let them go on for weeks and weeks or months and months.
  • Getting to know the people in the room and using their strengths. Plan with everyone’s skill set,experience and knowledge in mind. Observe your team with the intention of analyzing the strengths in everyone. If you focus on what everyone brings to the classroom and highlight it regularly, it will make your class a happy place to be. If you focus consistently on the negative, the classroom will be a negative place. Within my team there is a fantastic artist, an unbelievable organizer and an eternal optimist. A teacher should really value the skills that everyone brings and utilize and highlight the amazing skills often.
  • Different opinions. You will have different opinions. You have to remember that your training is different and you are often seeing things from a different perspective. It is important that you pick your battles and sometime just let things go.
  • Let’s try and see. (This has been something that I have really learned this year). As a teacher, you should encourage everyone to give input into challenging situations with students. The team will work better when you try out a variety of suggestions.  Even if the suggestion sounds really out there, what is the harm in trying something new? If it doesn’t work, go back to what you were doing before. However, you might just be pleasantly surprised!
  • Having Fun! Lighten up. The most important thing to success. As a teacher, you often set the tone. If you are not setting the tone of positivity with all of your students and members of the team in the room, the room will often be a negative place to be.
  • Isolated bubble. Being in a contained class can be very isolating. The only people who understand what is going on is you and your team. Model the expectation that you have each other’s back and that you will support each other through the tough times.
  • Equity. Trying to make everything fair will be really important. Therefore, rotate which staff comes on field trips, to the park or does special events. Make a schedule and post it in the room.

Helping parents transition to school

Hi everyone. My name is Tammy Axt and I am a music teacher in the Peel District School Board.

On the third day of school, which happened to be the first day for our kindergarten students, I went to do my duty at 8:05. I opened the door and observed as our students entered the building. I heard the usual friendly chorus of: “Good morning Mrs. Axt!” as our lovely students entered the building, ready for the third day of school. The door I stand beside is used by our older students in grades 3, 4 and 5 to enter the building. Most of them have been at our school for 5 or 6 years and have contributed to the wonderful climate at my school. They bring their friendly nature, upbeat attitude and are just a pleasure to greet every morning.

This morning there was one addition to the number of students coming in the door and going upstairs to start their days. There was one parent quietly wiping her face as she watched down the hall as her only child started his very first day of kindergarten. In a quiet moment, I spoke with the parent about our school and the very special place that it was. I spoke with her at length about the amazing things that are going to happen for her son this year, including all the friends he was going to make, all the learning he would do, and all the growth he was going to experience.  I also spoke with her about the beautiful and amazing children that come to our school. I told her how kind and helpful they are.

After I reassured her, I stopped and encouraged her to tell me about her son and how she was feeling. She told me through tears that this was the first day that she would be away from her child. This was her only child and today she was feeling like the time is going by so fast. That first day of school is a difficult one for many parents as I see them anxiously saying goodbye to the most important person in their lives and literally trusting a virtual stranger with their child’s emotional, physical and intellectual wellbeing.

This experience was a reminder for me that in the hustle and bustle of the school year to not get hung up on the lessons or the colour of your bulletin board, but instead remember what parents have just done. They have entrusted you with their most valued person in their world. They have trusted that you will care for them, help them and teach them all they need to learn this year. That is one important task facing us all this year.

The parent waiting beside me watched as her child cried for a few minutes and then hung up his backpack and joined the kids in line. He was even smiling in the next minute or two. She turned to me and very excitedly stated, “He is smiling, he is smiling!” She wiped her tears and I reassured her that she could do this. Finally, I gave this mom a confident affirmation that everything would be great, and a high five, and she was on her way.

Ultimately, this parent captured what most of our parents want for their children in our care. They want to know that they are smiling and that they are happy at school. They want to know that their wellbeing is looked after. If that is what we achieve for all our students, we will all have had a successful year! Good luck to everyone over the next nine months. I hope you have a great year.

 

 

Saying goodbye

This time of year can be tough with all the goodbyes. This year, I am saying goodbye to the wonderful teacher who filled in for my teaching partner who lost her battle with cancer this year, my incredibly talented principal, my friendly and bubbly vice principal and my go-to person Behavioural Teaching Assistant. I know that honouring our time together and saying goodbye in a special way was really important to all of us.

The Arts and French department went off and brainstormed some ideas of how to honour our colleagues. Some ideas came really quickly and others took a bit more inspiration.

My hope with today’s blog is that if you are stuck for an idea on how to honour a colleague in the future, maybe some of our ceremonies and events from this week can act as an inspiration to you.

Saying goodbye to our staff:

This idea was really simple and was inspired by Eldorado Public School. At our final assembly this week, we had all of our staff lined up and had our leaving staff go through a high five train. We had music playing and the students cheering for everyone. It had such a great feeling of “Thank you!”.

Here is a picture of Eldorado Public School’s goodbye to staff.

eldorado

Honouring our principal and vice principal:

To honour our principal and vice principal leaving, we had the students and staff both prepare something. The grade four students took time to write a rap song for our vice principal. I walked them through the brainstorming of ideas and then let them create and write their own raps in groups. I took the best ideas from a variety of groups and melded them together into one performance piece. This is the piece we came up with:

Yo Vice, we miss you already, we m-m-m-m-m-m miss you.

You’re the best vice principal in the world and your leaving us behind noooo.

When students need ice,

You make them feel nice,

You’re very kind

you have a great mind

When we shout a yelp

you’ll be there to help.

You help us on the phone

When we call home.

Yo Vice, we miss you already, we m-m-m-m-m-m miss you.

You’re the best vice principal in the world and your leaving us behind noooo.

You wear fancy shoes

and believe we can’t lose.

You work with the staff

and give them a good laugh

When we start to cry,

you’ll always stand by

You’ll be in our hearts,

even when we’re apart.

Yo Vice, we miss you already, we m-m-m-m-m-m miss you.

You’re the best vice principal in the world and your leaving us behind noooo.

Yo vice, hope you have fun at your new school.

Yo vice, hope you have fun at your new school.

My students then began working on ideas for our principal and wrote a short story about all of her amazing qualities. They added all sorts of sound effects and ended the story with the song “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars. This is the story that they came up with:

“Once upon a time there was a wonderful, amazing, extraordinary principal named Miss. Robinson. ( do do do doooo) She brightened the days of every man, woman and child at her school Red Willow. (oooohhhh) She went far and wide (within the school) solving problems and making the school a better place. (ta da) She came to the rescue faster than the speed of light. (whoosh) Just like any other superhero she had awesome superpowers!!! She was organized…. caring…..
Helpful…… responsible… and positive. Red Willow knew that they could always “Count On” Miss. Robinson no matter what. “

Our staff, created a full fashion show for our fashionista vice principal. Our staff members wore sashes with her qualities on them and had a prepared script that described their outfits. It was an upbeat, fun and celebratory event.

fashion show 2

 

fashion show

 

Our principal was honoured through the presentation of a bouquet of flowers presented one flower at a time by the staff. About fifteen staff members spoke and either read a quote, sang a song or just spoke from the heart about the impact that our amazing principal had on our lives. It was a really simple and beautiful event.

flower ceremony2

 

flower ceremony

 

During the last day of school, I will have to say goodbye to some of the most important people in my world over the past couple of years. I hope that they enjoyed their send off as much as we did preparing it.

Have a wonderful summer and a much deserved break!

 

 

 

Appreciate The Now

This past December, my teaching partner of the past five years passed away from the horrendous disease ovarian cancer. Ms. Lynda Wulkan taught me a million things throughout our time team-teaching music together that I couldn’t have learned through an AQ, a workshop or printed resources. She was an incredibly gifted oboe player and a brilliant musician. Her ear for music was unlike any I have or likely ever will encounter and she was a walking encyclopedia of classical music knowledge. She cared deeply about her students and truly loved the Orff philosophy and all that it helped students to achieve.

I was thrown into the music room with Lynda as a drummer with a limited number of skills to ensure success on day one. However, Lynda believed in me. Believed from the very bottom of her gut that I would be successful. She didn’t mince her words in telling me I wasn’t quite there yet but that I could truly do this if I set my mind to it. She talked incessantly about my natural talent and the fact that I could sing in tune if I just opened my voice and made a sound above a whisper. She looked me in the eye every day and believed. As teachers, we give 150% to our students every day and this sometimes leads us to forget to prop up and support the other adults around us. Lynda showed me how that support can feel to those who receive it.

Lynda also taught me that when you are excited about a topic the kids will feed off of your energy. She loved classical music and would talk passionately with me and all of our students about Beethoven, Saint-Saëns, Mozart and Prokofiev. The students enjoyed asking her questions and sharing in her joy of this kind of music.

She also taught me to get out of my comfort zone. In our last concert together Lynda decided to include a play put on by her grade fours. This was not Lynda’s area of expertise, however, she threw herself into the planning and preparation of this event by using all of her break time to practice with the students.  She purchased all of the required props – suspenders, shovels, hats and all to ensure that the props were realistic and that the final performance was polished to her standards.  On the night of the concert at Red Willow, the students performed beautifully and the parents were overjoyed at being able to see their children showcased so wonderfully.  Parents and students still reminisce about this performance.

Overall, this year has reminded me that our time with our students is very precious. It will not go on forever and can be disrupted at any time. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. It has reminded me to slow down the pace and take time to really laugh with the students when they say something funny by accident in class or when a sound comes out of an instrument that was totally unintentional. It also has reminded me that after the students we adore graduate, the people that we will reminisce with are the ECEs, EAs, principals, custodians and other teachers at our school. These people are our second family and our time with them is very precious too.