“Let Me Play,” Said Adults Everywhere!

Yesterday was an incredible day! I got to meet and spend time with three of my biggest educational inspirations: Helen Chapman, Laurel Fynes, and Julie May. Through blog posts and tweets, these three have taught me so much about the Reggio approach, the value of play-based and inquiry learning, and the remarkable capabilities of even our youngest learners. While there is so much that I could blog about from yesterday, our visit made me realize something that I’ve never really thought about before: the benefits of playing/tinkering/creating are not just for kids.

It was just after arriving at Helen’s house yesterday, that I started playing a game of Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe with her six-year-old daughter. Wow does this game get you thinking! While playing, I could help but make the links between this game and spatial awareness and patterning skills.

Thanks Helen for the photograph of our Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe Board.

Thanks Helen for the photograph of our Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe Board.

During our game time, Laurel happened to make this comment — originally Plato’s words — which Helen reminded me of this morning:

Helen created this in Word Swag/Fragment.

Helen created this in Word Swag/Fragment.

In many ways, this quotation was put to the test yesterday, as we continued to play and tinker. After finishing this Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe Game, Helen’s younger daughter showed me how to play Fox and Hounds. This game has the fox trying to move across the chess board as the hounds try to block its way. The fox can move in both directions though, and the hounds can only move forwards. Again, thinking and spatial awareness skills are required, as both the fox and hounds strategize to win.

Helen surprised us by purchasing enough blank game boards for each of us to create our own Fox and Hound Game. She even drew out a sketch to help with determining the correct measurements to use. With a table full of loose parts and art supplies, we got immersed in playing/tinkering/creating.


Thanks Helen for this photograph of your table of supplies.

While we did spend some time just talking, it’s amazing how much more we learned about each other and how the conversation continued to flow, as we played. It was even interesting to see our approaches to the same problem. We all wanted to create one of these game boards, but what supplies would we use? How would we attach them to the board?

  • Helen decided to use the coloured tape with a backing, so that she could measure and cut the tiles, and then peel them off to put on the board. She figured out that the tape was 2 inches wide, but the tiles needed to be 1 inch. No problem! She just divided the amount in half, and cut the tape through the middle. There was some extra room around the outside of the board, but a little extra tape (this time a different colour) made a lovely border.
  • Julie went with a similar approach. She wasn’t sure that her measurements were quite as accurate, but she started in the middle to affix the tiles, and then checked and measured, and checked again, to make a pretty border for her board as well.
  • Laurel used ribbon to map out a board to start. When she got a feel for what she wanted her board to look like, she used a ruler and a pencil to accurately draw each of the squares. Then she used markers to colour in the squares, creating a final board much like a real chess board.
  • I was not as accurate or patient as my friends. Instead of waiting for the ruler, I took the tape and measured the full length of one side of the board, and then I doubled this to get enough tape for the whole board … and maybe a little extra. I then folded the tape through the middle because I knew that I needed 1 inch tiles instead of 2 inch ones. At this point, I asked Helen for one of her tiles, marked off the size of it on the back of my tape, and then folded the tape back and forth so that the whole row was 1 inch squares. I cut along the lines — or kind of close to them — to create my tiles. Helen helped me find the middle of my board, with the help of a ruler, but I must have made a mistake somewhere, for despite starting in the middle to affix the tiles, my borders along the outside were not the same size. I’m going to call this board, Fox And Hound-ish. :) It’s a good reminder of why standard measurement may reign supreme. :)
My Fox And Hound Game Board

My Fox And Hound Game Board

The amount of math, thinking, and problem solving displayed and explicitly discussed during this creation time was amazing. The truth is that I’m not much a tinkerer. While Helen has rooms full of supplies to create and experiment with, I’ve never even thought of spending time at home doing this. Now I’m starting to wonder the value in adults playing/tinkering/creating more.

Look what Helen created just after I left! Thanks for tweeting this out, Laurel!

I have visions now of a Maker Staff Meeting. Imagine a set-up much like Helen’s house. Would the ability to make things, take them apart, and add light or sound help inspire educators to see what else is possible in the classroom? Coding could even be a component of this. As we play, we can also discuss the curriculum links and the links to learning already happening in the classroom. I wonder what we might bring back and try out with our students. 

I’m thinking now of Paul Hatala‘s introduction to our Board’s recent Summer Institute Technology session. He spoke about the roll out of the Board’s Transforming Learning Everywhere initiative, and the importance of putting iPads in the hands of the teachers first. They need to see what’s possible and feel comfortable with the technology before using these devices with students. Maybe the same is also true for playing and tinkering. Do we need to engage in this time first to see the value for our kids? How might this change our practices? What do you think? Many thanks to Helen, Laurel, and Julie for giving me an opportunity to think, play, tinker, create, and learn!


I Said. They Replied. Now What?

Since Valerie Bennett introduced me to Dr. Ross Greene’s ideas in June, I’ve been inspired to make changes to my practices. I’ve been even further inspired after reading Greene’s bookLost At School, and listening to him speak last week. I see such tremendous value in really listening to students, and working collaboratively with them to solve problems. I’ve connected so much with Greene’s ideas that I guess I expected others to make the same shift in thinking when they heard them, but I realized that things don’t always go as we expect. Interactions recently with some friends really have me thinking, and I share this dialogue below because I’d curious to hear your views.


Aviva: Tells the others about Dr. Greene’s approach by sharing one of the examples in the book.

Person A: I sometimes try to find out what the student’s thinking.

Aviva: That’s great!

Person A: Then I tell them what they need to do. Or, I guess, sometimes I give them a choice of what to do.

Aviva: Do you ever work with the student to develop a solution? One that both of you agree on?

Person B: Now the student gets to decide what we do?

Aviva: It’s not about the student deciding. What about coming to a solution together? One that could work for everybody?

Person B: What about the real world? It’s like inquiry. Now the students make all of the choices?

Aviva: What do you mean by “the real world?”

Person B: I hear from my friend that students aren’t as responsible anymore. They don’t take their responsibilities seriously. They cancel appointments. They don’t show up on time. They do what works for them.

Aviva: Wouldn’t Greene’s approach, just like inquiry, teach more responsibility? Wouldn’t it help students take a little more ownership over problem solving and their own learning?

Person B: I’m not sure. What about when they grow up and get a job? Don’t they need to learn to listen to others?

Aviva: What about learning to be critical thinkers? What about learning to collaborate (work together)? Even with Greene’s approach, students need to listen to the adults, but also work with them. Aren’t these skills we need?


Our conversation continued from here, as we spoke more about Greene’s approach and about inquiry. It was a very good discussion that showed the two different sides of a couple of timely issues in education. This discussion left me with the following thoughts:

  • We all want what’s best for kids. We have varying views on what this “best” may be. Could these “best approaches” vary depending on our students and their needs? Do they need a combination of our different approaches? How do we decide?
  • As educators, we’re used to hearing, “You’re already doing something similar.” This is then followed by the small changes that we need to make. Greene’s approach isn’t about small changes. It’s a whole different way of how we solve problems. I think in many ways, inquiry is also about big changes in practice. When change is hard, how do we become comfortable with some big, uncomfortable changes? How do we know that they’re the best ones to make?
  • It’s hard not to look ahead to the future. We may be teaching the students now — in my case when they’re very young — but we still hear about what they need when they’re older. Will these needs change? What’s the “real world” that we need to be concerned about, and are we preparing students for it? 
  • I totally agree that “listening skills” are important. In fact, my new “one word” goal for this school year is listeningIf we want students to listen to us though, do we also need to listen more to them? 

What do you think? I would love to hear your responses to this shared dialogue as I continue to think about problem solving, teaching, and learning!


For My “Joey’s”

I’m very excited to attend the HWDSB CPS Summer Institute on August 20th and 21st. After making the commitment to go, I decided that I was going to read Dr. Ross Greene‘s book, Lost At School, to really understand the thinking behind the C.P.S. (Collaborative Problem Solving) philosophy. I’m so glad that I did!

At the beginning of June, Greene’s belief that, “kids do well if they can,” made me rethink rewards in the classroom and my approach with more challenging students.

While I hadn’t read Lost At School at this point, I really thought that I understood Greene’s thinking. Maybe on a superficial level I did. Now I realize though that there’s so much more. Greene’s book made me think about how I’ve addressed challenging behaviour in the past. I thought that I did a good job.

  • I tried to remain calm.
  • I tried to offer choices.
  • I tried to be proactive.
  • I tried to involve all stakeholders if/when necessary (i.e., students, parents, support staff, administrators, educational assistants, etc.).
  • I documented what we tried, I reflected on how our solutions worked, and I tried to make changes as needed. 

When reading Greene’s book though, I realized something: I always used a Plan A approach to problem solving. I wasn’t as good as I thought.

  • I determined the options and/or solutions.
  • I presented the options and/or solutions to the students, and while I tried to include choice, the ultimate choice was always my choice
  • While I love to question why we do what we do in the classroom, I don’t think that I ever questioned enough why these problems happened in the first place and how we could work together to solve them.

Year after year, I’ve seen students of all ages get sent home and suspended. I know that the problems that are resulting in suspensions are major ones. I know the importance of keeping all students safe at school. I know that we have to consider positive learning environments for all students. But what happens when it’s the same students getting sent home again and again? We can question the home life. We can wonder about the need for a diagnosis. We can question if there’s a need for medication. Maybe though, there’s something more, or something different, that we can do. 

The truth is, it breaks my heart when a student is suspended. In Lost At School, there is a story woven through the book. I keep on replaying the initial problem with Joey and his teacher. When Joey reacted as he did at the beginning of the book, I cried. I’ve had that Joey (or at least a student similar to him). I reacted as his teacher did. I saw a small problem escalate to a bigger one. And I’ve gone home thinking, “how could I have changed (or prevented) this?” 

I think Plan B is the answer. I want to find out more about what my students are thinking, and I question if their involvement in a solution — one that works for both of us — would ultimately change the classroom and school dynamic for the better. As someone that’s teaching Senior Kindergarten this year, I wonder about what Plan B will look like in reality.

  • What images can we use to support the students that are lacking the language skills to share their problems?
  • If language needs are impacting on how much the children can express, then is Collaborative Problem Solving, really collaborative?
  • I see the value of using this approach with the full class, but I question long carpet times and too many full class discussions (with maybe only input from some students). How might this approach be used with small groups instead? 
  • How have people used Collaborative Problem Solving in young primary classes? Does it work for all students? Is there anything special/important that should be considered?

Reading Greene’s book, I can’t help but get swept up in the potential of this approach (Collaborative Problem Solving). I think that it would definitely help me become a better listener, and ultimately, allow me to make even stronger connections with kids and parents. Collaborative Problem Solving is definitely a big shift in how we handle problems, but it has the potential to make a big difference for children and their success at home and at school. Maybe we can reach that child that hasn’t been reached before. Maybe we can have even more “Joey” success stories. I think C.P.S. is worth trying for this alone. What do you think?



“Guide” Vs. “Sage”: Is It As Easy As That?

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about some edu-jargon:

  • Guide On The Side vs. Sage On The Stage.

I’m going to admit that these terms often make me laugh. I think that we’ve all become so immersed in terminology in our schools that we can’t help but use the words. I definitely I do. I wish though that I spent more time thinking about these terms instead of just using them. This particular example of edu-jargon seems to come with this sense of the “right approach” versus the “wrong approach”: we need to avoid being the sage, and instead, be the guide. While in theory, I embrace this philosophy, I wonder if in practice, it’s a lot more difficult than that. 

I think of the classroom.

  • Every time that we meet with the full class, are we being the sage? Do we ever have to meet with the full class? How do we decide? How do we get more student talk, and less teacher talk, even during full class meetings?
  • If we just meet with a small group, are we being the guide? What if we’re still directing the conversation? How do we again get kids talking more?
  • What if we’re observing? Does being a guide count as watching, thinking, and planning ahead for future learning? Can we guide learning even without talking?
  • How do we ensure that we actually guide and not just stay on the side? Are there times when it’s okay to be off at a desk or doing planning? Is it too easy to fall into this habit if we’re not “teaching” in the typical sense? Does everybody know what he/she can be doing if not teaching at the front of the room? I wonder if certain grades and/or individuals are more comfortable with this guide on the side approach than others, and if so, how can we change this? Should we?

I have a secret to share. For the past couple of years especially, my administrators have visited my classroom regularly. They visit all classrooms. They might not come in every day, but usually at least once a week. Their visit may just be for a minute, but it happens. After they come in, I always think, what was I doing when they were there? What were my students doing? Is there a better way that we could have been spending our time? Maybe the timing was such that they always came in when we were sitting on the carpet, but if so, I can’t help but wonder, are we spending too much time doing this?

Here’s what I want my administrators, and other visitors, to see and hear when they come into our classroom:

  • Students talking.
  • Students working together.
  • Students working independently.
  • Students creating.
  • Students solving problems.
  • Students demonstrating skills in meaningful and purposeful ways.
  • Students sharing their thinking, learning, and future goals in ways that work for them.
  • Students doing different things and in different ways.
  • Students persevering through challenging tasks.
  • Students having choices, and students making these choices.
  • Students thinking … and being willing to share their thinking.
  • And me observing, documenting, playing, and interacting with small groups and individual students.

If I always kept these thoughts in mind, I wonder if they would change the classroom dynamic. Seeing the ideas in this list, I think that I more often hope to be a “guide.” I wonder how often I actually am. As I work on “listening” more this year, I really hope to watch more, think more, question better, and talk less. Maybe my new teaching experiences will also help me figure out some answers to my many guide/sage questions. What do you think?


D.I. For The Adult Learner

I am that kid.

  • The one that fidgets if I have to sit still too long.
  • The one that takes almost nothing in without a visual: talk to me too much, and I can’t tell you anything about what you said.
  • The one that never comes prepared with a pen or a pencil, although I always have numerous devices.
  • The one that misplaces just about every paper I’ve ever received … one of many reasons that I love my devices.
  • The one that knows what I need to succeed, and am not afraid to speak up to get it. 

Some people find me outspoken. Others applaud my honesty. I think that I’m okay with both, as I don’t think that change happens if we sit around quietly. 

I’m a huge believer in differentiated instruction in the classroom, and using assistive technology, hands-on learning experiences, open-ended questions, and inquiry to really help reach EVERY child. These approaches work for children. They also work for adults.

I just came home from a full day of workshops about Kindergarten. This morning, we discussed inquiry, observation, and documentation, and this afternoon, we focused on supporting social and emotional development in the early years. All of the presenters were eager to share. They had lots of information for us, and they provided us with opportunities to talk and learn together. This afternoon though, I started to feel overwhelmed. Why? 

2015-08-11_16-18-40 2015-08-11_16-18-50There were so many handouts. I know the thinking behind giving them out. At our table, at least half of the teachers said that they preferred paper, and they wanted to have copies of the presentation and the ideas. I can understand this thinking, but I think differently.

  • It’s not about the trees … although I’m happy to help save the environment. :)
  • It’s about seeing how much there is to read.
  • It’s about seeing the small print and the number of words on the page.
  • It’s about the worry of where to store these papers so that I can find them again.
  • It’s about not getting distracted by the handouts, and still being able to focus on the speaker.

As I’m sitting at the table, taking some deep breaths and trying to calm down (and I’m serious when I say that I was doing this), I couldn’t help but even think about my personal reading habits. It’s no secret that I love to read. Here’s something that not everybody knows about me though: I read almost exclusively on a device. Why? 

  • Because then I’m less overwhelmed by the size of the book.
  • I can focus on one page at a time.
  • I can set the print size and font. 
  • I can read calmly … and reading should be a calming experience.

Now just like with my handout comment, I know that not everyone agrees with me. Some people love reading a “real book” and almost never read on a device. They have the choice for this option though. Are we giving the choice in our PD sessions? What if the learning was shared online — through a GoogleDoc perhaps — and then those that want a hardcopy can make one, and others, can use the electronic copies? 

Our Board is looking at transforming learning everywhereHow do we do this in our professional learning? We’ve done a lot of talking about the SAMR Model and how teaching and learning has changed, or needs to change, in our classrooms. What about professional development? I wonder what impact consistently modelling this change would have on creating this change in the classroom environment. What do you think? What would you suggest?



Reconsidering Reading

I love reading! I’ve always loved reading. When I was a preschooler, my grandmother used to come down from Sydney, Nova Scotia to visit. She’d take my sister and I to the mall, My grandmother and sister loved to shop, but I loved to read. My grandmother used to arrange for somebody to watch me in the bookstore, so that she could go off with my sister for a couple of hours of shopping. Imagine a preschooler surrounded by books on the floor of the children’s section in the Coles store at the mall … that was me! I’m sure that at the age of three or four I couldn’t actually read — hey, I was actually just starting to talk at that point — but it didn’t matter. My mom always read to me at home, and I knew the flow of my favourite stories and how to use pictures to create my own stories. I was captivated by books and I still am! With a month of summer vacation still left to go, I’ve already read 20 books — from humorous novels to mysteries and thrillers to educational reads — and I’m sure that I’ll read almost as many more in the coming weeks. Why do I share these “reading stories” with you? Because as a teacher that’s taught every grade, in some capacity, from JK-Grade 6, I’ve noticed how few students read for pleasure nowadays, and that bothers me. I was thinking of this very thought last night when I listened to Pernille Ripp‘s Ignite at Nerdcamp 2015.

I’m not sure that I feel exactly the same way as Pernille, but what definitely struck me by her talk — and what I continue to contemplate — is why so many students don’t love to read anymore. As teachers, are we partially to blame? I think about what I’ve done for years.

  • I make reading into homework.
  • Students rarely get a chance to share reflections, questions, and connections authentically.
  • Levelled books and levelled readers make up a chunk of our classroom library, and all students know their reading levels.
  • Books are primarily what students read … but what else could they read?
  • Reading takes place primarily separately from other subject areas and activities. Why?
  • We so rarely read just for the “joy” of reading: it’s always about teaching a decoding or comprehension strategy or practising a skill.

And then I remember the couple of days that we spent turning our classroom into a library. Students were so eager to categorize our books, look through them, talk about them, and label the hundreds of resources in our library. 

2015-08-05_15-43-25The part of the day that still sticks with me the most is when one of my students — one that people would probably consider a “struggling reader” — sat down on a chair in the book nook and read through two Five Little __________ (different titles) all on her own. Now she’s heard these stories before and knew the pattern of the song, but she was so focused on the words, the pictures, and the books. This is a student that’s told me before that she “can’t read,” but on this day and at this moment, this is not how she felt.

I love that she saw herself as a reader, and this is what I want all children to feel. How can we find “joy” in reading if we don’t see ourselves as readers? Why would a beginning reader persevere with the reading process if he/she cannot find some happiness in doing so? In September, I start teaching Senior Kindergarten. One of my goals is that I want to help develop a love of reading.

  • This means connecting with the home and seeing how reading can happen at home and at school.
  • This means showing that reading is about more than just “books”: cereal boxes, newspapers, maps, notes, instructions, and diagrams are all things that we can read.
  • This means giving time to let children enjoy reading in purposeful ways and as part of playing/learning.
  • This means providing more authentic options for children to think and talk about what they read. It’s not about the need for detailed follow-up activities.

I know and agree with the importance of developing phonemic awareness and oral language skills to help students learn how to read. This blog post is not about that though: it’s about making reading more than just a school event. If our youngest students can want to read for pleasure, what impact with this have on them as they grow older? How can we help even more students want to read? What might we need to change to make this possible, and are we willing to make these changes?


Getting Over Myself

Sometimes you read some tweets (or a collection of tweets), and they really make an impact on you. This is what happened last week when I read these tweets from Kristi Keery Bishop (read from the bottom, up).

2015-08-02_14-14-02Kristi got me thinking about my own experiences in education. When I started teaching, colleagues and administrators offered me a lot of advice on how to improve.

  • Become more organized.
  • Consider different assessment and evaluation options.
  • Remember to regularly contact parents and track conversations with parents.
  • Know your students. Plan for them. Remember that not all students are the same, so vary activities to meet their individual needs.
  • Know curriculum expectations. Plan for how to address them. Think about this question: what do students really need to learn?
  • Change is scary, but change can be good. Be brave. Be willing to change.

I’m sure that these points are not the only ones that they made, but they’re definitely many that I’ve thought about and reflected on over the years. After these early experiences in education though, I got better. I listened to the advice, and I made improvements. That’s when something different happened: I got less feedback.

  • Maybe it’s because I was improving.
  • Maybe it’s because there is a concern that feedback is evaluative, and teachers are only evaluated every five years. 
  • Maybe it’s because I asked for feedback less than I did in those early years.

And then, a couple of years ago, I started teaching Grade 5. My administrators at the time, Paul and Kristi, visited my room regularly. I was being evaluated that year. After they visited, I began to email them and ask for feedback. At first, I just received some kind notes, and then one day, I received “real feedback.” I still remember that day. I was doing an activity that I thought was great! Our school was really focused on “student voice and choice,” and it was the students that indicated their desire for this type of activity. They were on-task and happily working together. Paul and Kristi started asking them some hard questions though, and while these students may have been “engaged,” they couldn’t think through the answers. This email made me question my approach, and it helped me make changes … positive changes that helped my students think more. This feedback was the first of many emails and face-to-face conversations that I had with Paul and Kristi that helped me think differently, make more changes, and realize that while I may be “proud” of what I’m doing, I’m not perfect.

I’m not going to say that the feedback was always easy to take. It wasn’t. It often made me question myself and question my teaching, but without it, would I be stuck where I was instead of moving forward to where I wanted to be? On Twitter, in blog posts, and in school discussions, I often hear the words (paraphrased), “Nobody’s perfect! We all have areas in which to improve.” I agree with these words. But then, when reflecting on lessons, activities, or days in the classroom, how often do we — myself included — say the following phrases?

  • “That was great!”
  • “I really liked that activity!”
  • “I’ll be doing that lesson/activity again.”
  • “My kids loved that!”
  • “They were so engaged.”

These words could all be true, but what about,

  • what didn’t work and why?
  • what could we do better?
  • what students didn’t understand the lesson, and how could we tailor it more to them?
  • what did the students learn, and can they articulate this learning?
  • where do we need to go next?

I think of staff meetings that we’ve had where teachers share their successes. It’s good to celebrate success, but what about also celebrating a willingness to grow? What about sharing “failures” or at least “next steps?” 

A couple of years ago, I really needed to “get over myself,” and in the very best and most supportive of ways, Paul and Kristi helped me do so. Last year, I worked with two other wonderful administrators, Gerry and Gord, that continued to supportively question and challenge me in order to grow. 

Every day, educators do wonderful things for students. They care about kids, and they work hard to help them meet with success. But what about those students that don’t? What if there was more that we could do? I can’t help but think about Sarah Sanders“one word” blog post, and her goal to be “open” this year. Maybe no matter how proud we are of what we’ve done, we need to be open to what else we can do. I’ve chosen to take Kristi’s good advice, and am hoping that by sharing my story and continuing to get over myself, I’ll be even more open to what else is possible.


Who’s with me?


Looking Back At My “One Word” And Looking Forward To A New “One!”

Yesterday, I caught Sue Dunlop‘s tweeted challenge in response to Donna’s Fry‘s recent blog post.

2015-07-25_10-57-17I knew that I needed to update my “one word” post, as so much of what I’ve done this year has revolved around this word: being uncomfortable. I just did a search on my professional blog for the word “uncomfortable,” and since writing my blog post on December 31st, I have three pages of blog posts all connected to this single word. Looking back at these blog posts, I realized that I’ve been uncomfortable …

  • in my classroom practices.
  • in my reflections and goal-setting.
  • in my interactions with colleagues.
  • in many different choices that I made this year.

Maybe my biggest “uncomfortable” challenge is what I have in store for next year: teaching Senior Kindergarten. It’s not about the grade choice. I’ve taught this grade many times before, and absolutely loved it. But the challenges are,

  • teaching this grade with a new Program Document than we had before. I say that I’ve taught Kindergarten for eight years before, and I have, but never with this new document. While I sat on an advisory committee for the document, and I’ve read it many times before and know the thinking behind it, I haven’t experienced this thinking in practice with four- and five-year-olds. Six years ago, I left Kindergarten because I didn’t agree with the philosophy behind the Full-Day Kindergarten Program. My thinking has changed since then, but as September comes closer, I’m getting scared. What if everything I believe in theory, doesn’t work in practice? How can I stay true to the document, while also addressing the diverse needs of our learners?
  • teaching this grade in a school with many different student needsLast year, I started teaching at a different school. It’s an incredible school with a very diverse student population. Poverty remains an issue down in the area where I teach. For many students, English is also their second language, and this may be the first year that some of our Kindergarten students are learning English. I keep thinking back to a comment that a previous Early Years Consultant made at the time when I last taught Kindergarten: “We don’t withdraw students for support in Kindergarten because the Kindergarten classroom is the ideal place for English Language Learners. There is so much of the oral language that they need.” I understand and agree with this statement. I’m a big believer that all students can learn, and with the right supports in place, can meet with success. What if I’m wrong? If the students don’t make enough academic gains, will people start questioning the Kindergarten program? Will I? How long do we wait for growth to occur before making changes to approaches?
  • sharing a classroom with somebody else. My partner for next year is fantastic, and we’ve already had so many great conversations on classroom set-up, programming, and pedagogy, but for 14 years, I’ve been used to largely planning alone. Now the “I” is becoming “we,” and this is both exciting and scary. How do we continue to develop this strong partnership? If/when disagreements occur, how might we go about solving them? What have others done before?

All of these challenges, while connected to being uncomfortable, are making me think that it might be time to update my “one word.” I know that this was a year-long challenge, but in teaching, the new year starts in September, and I wonder if this is when my word also needs to change. I really think that success for this upcoming year is going to come down to listening. I’d like to think that I’m a good listener. I do watch and listen to people often, but …

  • how often do I “listen” with what I think the answer is already in my head?
  • how often do I “listen” just for the purpose of responding?
  • how often do I “listen” just to give myself time to think about what I want to say next?
  • how often do I “listen” and interject prematurely?
  • how often do I “listen” and nod along, but not really “hear” anything at all?
  • how often do I “listen,” comment, and question, but forget about the wait-time that students and adults may need?

If I can become a better listener, I’ll be able to find out,

  • what students know.
  • what students want to learn about.
  • what students struggle with, and how I might be able to help.
  • how students communicate (with me and with each other) regardless of the language that they’re using at the time.
  • how students solve problems, and what they do if/when they can’t solve them.
  • what my teaching partner thinks and believes.
  • issues/concerns that my teaching partner may have, and how she would like to solve them.

From listening comes next steps, growth, and learning … for both children and adults. As the new school year approaches, I’m going to “get uncomfortable” again as I focus on how to become a better listener for myself, my teaching partner, and my students. What impact has your “one word” had on your practices this year? Will you continue with your current word until the end of December, or will September bring a shift for you? Why? I’d love to hear your response to this updated one word challenge!


Can There Be Many Ways?

Last week, I got involved in a Twitter conversation with David Benay, Stephen Hurley, Andrew Campbell, and Brian Aspinall. The conversation started because of some tweets shared from the Self-Regulation Symposium (#selfreg2015), but as you can see in my Storify Story, it definitely evolved from there.

While reading the comments from David, Stephen, Andrew, and Brian, I came to a conclusion that started to make me feel very uncomfortablemaybe I’ve been looking at the Learning Skills all wrong. Since Friday morning, I’ve been thinking back to comments and marks that I’ve put on the report cards for Learning Skills, and wishing that I could have a “do over.” Why? Because when I’ve evaluated Learning Skills, I think that my definition of success is too narrow, when students might actually be meeting these expectations in many different ways. 

Let me think back …

  • If students need to move around or fidget with objects in order to participate in group discussions, are they still self-regulating?
  • If class discussions are too much for students to handle, and they can recognize this in themselves and come up with alternative options for these times, what mark do they deserve for self-regulation?
  • If students can quietly engage with their peers while working independently, how do I perceive their independent work?
  • If large groups overwhelm students, but they can collaborate well in groups of two or three, what “value” do I give to collaboration?
  • If organizing paper is too much for students, but they can organize their ideas and assignments on a tablet or computer, are they getting evaluated lower on organizational skills? Am I giving students opportunities to choose the way in which to organize their work, or am I enforcing a system that may not work for everyone? Am I being hypocritical knowing that the traditional systems of organization do not work for me?
  • If I’m asking students to take responsibility and show initiative in the classroom, what opportunities am I giving them to do so? If they take initiative, but extend learning in a way that I don’t want, are their marks reflecting this? Is this fair?

I wish that I thought of these questions before now, because maybe then, I would have done things differently than I did in the past. While I’d like to think that I always look for ways to meet individual student needs, I don’t know that I always consider these different needs when it comes to Learning Skills. I am now going to change!

Educational Twitter chats and numerous blog posts talk about the need to change the classroom learning environment. There are lots of discussions on Project-Based Learning, Inquiry, and Game-Based Learning. While we talk about the impact that these approaches have on academic learning, what impact do they have on Learning Skills? How might changing viewpoints on Learning Skills change the classroom and school environment? Are we ready for this change? Before, the marks for Learning Skills never really bothered me as much as the grades in subject areas. Now I question more what these different levels may look like, and if marking Learning Skills is just perpetuating a system where there is one view of success. What do you think?


Not Just For Kindergarten

About 1 1/2 years ago, I got involved in a fabulous Book Club through our Board. We discussed Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning. Reading, thinking, and talking about this book, changed my understanding of self-regulation and many of my classroom practices.

  • I reconsidered bulletin board colours and visual displays in the classroom.
  • I tried to speak in a softer tone.
  • I became more aware of when students were “up regulated” and how to help them “down regulate.” Students also started taking more ownership over this “down regulating.”
  • As a class, we worked on creating more zones in the classroom. We ensured that there were “quiet areas” for when students needed them.
  • I thought of music in a different way, and realized the value that it could have for many students. 
  • After many years of report card comments to the contrary, I finally came to understand that self-regulation was about more than sitting quietly and raising your hand to share ideas

I share all of this now because when I read Shanker’s book, I was teaching Grade 5. The Book Club was advertised as a Full-Day Kindergarten and Early Learning Book Club. Everyone was welcome, but self-regulation was a focus in the Early Years, so this was the target audience. I hate to admit it now, but the only reason that I even signed up for the Book Club was because I really wanted to move from teaching a junior class to teaching a primary one the following year, and I thought that this Book Club would show that I was dedicated to learning more about a topic that mattered in primary. What I quickly came to learn though was that self-regulation isn’t just for kindergarten.

Let’s think about what happens as children grow up.

  • Friendships become more challenging.
  • Students often start to feel more stressed (for various reasons).
  • Puberty often complicates emotional reactions to problems.
  • Relationships start … and they often impact on the classroom environment if we want them to or not.
  • Learning needs become more prevalent. As gaps widen, student frustration often increases. 

And each of these issues, and many more, make it that much more complicated for students to regulate (or control) their behaviour. As teachers, we also expect that as students get older, they know the classroom and school expectations even better, and should be able to follow them with few, if any, reminders. So what do we do when there is drama, tears, outbursts, and/or interruptions in class (regardless of the age of our students)? Would our reactions vary if our knowledge of self-regulation was different? 

I think of this more now because there is currently a Self-Regulation Symposium happening in Peterborough. I was reading some of the tweets later this afternoon, and I saw this one by Cathern Lethbridge: a principal in Midland, Ontario.


I am thrilled to hear this, but I also wonder, how many people and school boards are at this Symposium to hear this message? How can we get this message out to those not there? My tweet below sums up my thoughts.


If I hadn’t chosen to join the Book Club back when I did, I would still see self-regulation as an “FDK topic.” I wonder about the impact of this, for if students don’t learn to self-regulate well, how do they really learn? What do you think?