Persevering Positively

Today, the Grade 1’s went on a field trip to Lee Academy to visit our reading buddies. One of the special activities planned for this field trip was to play together in the snow. Lee Academy is a beautiful school on a huge property, and with all of the snow this winter, this playing activity was sure to be fun. Today though, challenged me in a way that I hadn’t expected. 

When we got off the bus at the school, one of the teachers told us that we were going to start with our short hike. Because of all of the snow and freezing rain yesterday, they changed the plans a bit, and this teacher quickly outlined for us the new plans. We needed to walk across the field to get to the trails. No problem! It started off easily enough, but then there were the snow drifts. At one point, I took a step and the snow was higher than my knee. Couple the height of the snow with the weight of my backpack, and I think that it was around this point that I toppled over … a comical sight for sure! :) As I was sitting on my knees, I seriously considered two options:

  • Crawl across the snow. I noticed some students ahead of me that were doing just that!
  • Turn back and give up. I knew that I really couldn’t choose this option, but I was seriously contemplating how I could.

And that’s when I looked behind me at these six- and seven-year-olds that were “persevering.” 

  • They were falling down and getting back up again.
  • They were crawling along the snow when it became too deep.
  • They were kicking the snow out of the way, so that they had a flatter area to walk.
  • They were walking in other people’s footprints.

These Grade 1’s were problem solving, but their teacher was ready to give up. That didn’t sit right with me. 

That’s when I noticed a student from one of the other classes. I think that she had the same  initial thoughts that I did. She was stuck in one place on the path, and looking longingly at heading back towards the main doors of the school. So I went up to her and said, “Do you want to do this together?” And she did! She took my hand, and together, we made it through the snow. We both stumbled. We both fell down. We both benefitted from some encouraging words from other students and other staff members. But we both made it! 

You know what? It was kind of exhilarating to work through something hard — not even really school related – and make it out on top. On our way back to school today, I worked with one of my students to make a PicCollage about this “snow walking” experience. Together, we asked all of the students in our class, “How did you get through the deep snow?” My amazing EA, Melissa Wedgewood, and I even contributed an answer to the question.  While I was chuckling as I spoke and wrote my response, it was interesting to see what everyone said (and the words that they chose to use).


I notice how the students thought positively about problem solving and making it through the snow. I was negative though. I focused on falling, when maybe, I should have focused on getting back up again.

That’s exactly what a fellow teacher at my school, Frances Nicolaides, did after having a similar outdoor experience today. She went skiing for the first time with the Grade 6 and 7 students. Tonight, I happened to catch her Instagram post, which I asked if I could share here.

2015-03-04_19-27-35 2015-03-04_19-27-43Our conversation continued, and Frances spoke more about the importance of perseverance, and the impact that a teacher can have when he/she models this important skill.

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Not only did Frances persevere, but she remembered to do so with a positive attitude. Positive words make a difference. I wish that I could change my word choice now. I may have been trying to be funny, but could the kids tell? Maybe not. I will say though, that like Frances, I’m glad that I struggled through the “snow hike” today, and I’m glad that I could do so with the Grade 1’s. I ask my students to “persevere” all of the time. One child even used this word when talking about how she made it through the deep snow today.

Today reminded me that students need to see how teachers struggle and persevere — inside and outside of the classroom – and maybe this will impact on their desire to do so as well. How do you model perseverance for your students? What impact do you see this having on them? Maybe a little struggle is a good thing … and a little struggle with a positive attitude is even better! :)



A Little “Down Regulating,” For Students And For Staff

In the past couple of years, I’ve really taken to reading professional resources. I’ve read a number of them on inquiry — a passion of mine – some on Language and Math, and even a couple of Science ones. But the one resource that I think has had the biggest impact on my teaching, learning, and classroom environment is Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning. I’ve blogged about this resource numerous times before, and it’s truly helped me gain a better understanding of self-regulation, and what I can do to support students as they get better at regulating their own behaviour.

The other day, I was trying to plan for some of my students, and I thought about creating a self-regulation corner. I wanted to give students a place where they could “down regulate” when needed. I sent out a tweet asking others if they had similar places in their classrooms, and many people shared ideas with me. As I thought about and planned this area for my students, I couldn’t help but think about adult self-regulation needs. Sometimes I think that we need these areas too.

After reading Shanker‘s book, I became more aware of my self-regulation needs. Without being cognizant of doing so, I actually regularly considered self-regulation in my day-to-day activities. I’m a teacher, and I love to teach, but the classroom can often be an “up regulated” environment. Or at least, I regularly feel up regulated in my role. So come nutrition breaks, I often try to down regulate. In a school, this can be hard.

  • The staffroom is often busy and loud.
  • Students in a classroom are often chatty at lunch, as they enjoy their break time with their friends.
  • Hallways, pods, and classrooms are busy with lunchtime practices and working teachers and students.

So where do you find a calm, quiet place to “down regulate?” In my previous school, and even now in my new school, I often go to the office.

  • At my last school, I used to sit on one of the chairs by the principal or vice-principal’s door.
  • Sometimes I’d sit at the chair behind the front desk.
  • I usually brought my iPad or computer along.
  • Sometimes I brought a snack or my lunch. 
  • At my new school, I often sit on one of the chairs by the front door. 
  • Sometimes I sit by students that are downstairs for any number of reasons. Sometimes we even talk quietly. Occasionally, I’ve even worked with some of my students that are downstairs. 
  • I usually still bring along a snack or my lunch, and almost always, my iPad. 

I can’t tell you the number of times at both schools that staff members jokingly asked me if I was in trouble. Hey, maybe I was. :) The truth is though, I just needed this quiet time, and I think now of my students that might feel the same way. How often do we see all “time out” as trouble? How might we change this perception? 

Shanker‘s book helped me realize that it’s okay to need some quiet time. Sometimes it’s hard to get, but maybe we all need to find a way — for ourself and for our students – to get this time when we need it. I know that for me, having this time makes me more patient and understanding for my students, and they need and deserve this. Just like kids, maybe not all adults need this “down regulating” time in the same way at the same time, but when we do, how do we get it? What do you do?


Things I Know For Sure

I was in the midst of writing my last blog post, when I received an email that my previous vice principal, Kristi, just published a new post. I had to read it, and now I’m inspired to publish my list of the five things I know for sure: my tidbits of wisdom learned so far this year.

1) Change is good, but it can be hard. After making a big change, you need to give yourself some time to become accustomed to your new environment. I knew that changing schools and grades were good changes for me, but at the beginning of the year, there was a lot of “new.” I needed time to adjust to the new.

2) We all need “critical friends.” Sometimes these critical friends can be grade team partners or colleagues at our school. Sometimes they can be colleagues from previous schools. Sometimes they can be members of our Twitter PLN. Sometimes they can be past or present administrators. And sometimes they can be any combination of the above. These critical friends aren’t there to evaluate us, but to ask those great questions that help us make positive changes — both for ourselves and for our students.

3) Sometimes we need to be willing to modify our views when students aren’t meeting with success. This was a hard one for me. I knew what I wanted our classroom to look like, but the open-ended, play-based learning approach didn’t initially work for my students. I needed to make some changes to help students meet with success. This was a good reminder for me that ultimately, students need to come first.

4) We need to listen before we talk. I also struggle with this one. While I’d probably say that I’m an introvert, I do like to talk, and I often have ideas to share. I’ve found though that sharing first, sometimes causes other people to be more reluctant to share … especially if their views are contrary to what I might believe. Careful listening though gives me a chance to gain more insight into other people and their beliefs, and time to formulate what I might want to contribute and how I want to contribute it.

5) Always find a way to enjoy your day. Yes, I have bad days. I have days when things don’t go as planned, or when I question if my approach works. I have days when I wonder if there’s more that I can do. I have days when I feel sad. But on these days, I try to find something to enjoy. Maybe it’s a funny story told by a student. Maybe it’s a good conversation with a colleague. Maybe it’s taking just an extra minute to laugh at my parking anecdotes. Whatever it is, I do what my previous principal, Paul, encouraged, and I find the positives, because even in a small way, doing so usually helps turn the day around.

What are the five things you know for sure? I thank Kristi for inspiring me to share my own, and I hope that everyone — parents, educators, administrators, and support staff – do the same. I’d love to know what you’ve learned so far this year!


A Little Fear Is A Good Thing

Yesterday afternoon, my previous vice principal, Kristi, tweeted me a picture shared by Jackie Gerstein. She thought that it might act as a possible blog provocation for me, and it definitely did.


While this picture really looks at the fear of technology, I think that we can extrapolate from this, the fear of “anything new.”

I can’t help but think back on many conversations that I’ve had with colleagues over the years about a new approach just being a “passing fad.” With education constantly changing, it’s sometimes hard not to question the permanency of anything new, but then again, does any approach need to be permanent? I wonder what would happen if the picture above was shared with staff members during a staff meeting or professional development day. What might people say? How might they react? Would change be seen in a different way?

I know that change is hard. Sometimes it’s really frustrating. Sometimes as we’re being asked to explore different programs, tools, and approaches — some of which may not naturally align with our own beliefs on how children learn best – it’s hard not to question why we don’t just go back and use something that’s worked before. But did these other programs, tools, and approaches work for everyone? Could there be a better way? Maybe a change would allow us to reach the same students that we did before, but also reach those few students that didn’t succeed. It’s those students that always make me wonder what more could I do? And it’s for those students that I will regularly embrace change because as hard as these changes may be for me, maybe these changes will make a difference for them. 

At one time or another, we’re all scared. As the picture above shows, we’re not alone. If we never worked past this fear though, we may not have been where we are today. So I’m going to continue being happy with a little bit of fear, and I hope that others will as well. How do you embrace fear of the new? How do you help others do the same? What are benefits or drawbacks that you see to doing so? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


A Challenge To Change

Last week, I read a blog post by Donna Fry that continues to have me thinking ever since I finished reading it … and even after I commented on it. This post speaks to the speed of change in Ontario schools. It talks about how educators are using technology in their classrooms, but also how they’re combining technology with face-to-face interactions. This post is about teaching and learning, and poses a really important question at the end of it:

2015-02-28_10-49-37My comment on the post had me really thinking about “change.” Yes, I’m a person and an educator that embraces change. Change is scary. It often makes me feel uncomfortable. But I stand behind a comment that I tweeted out last night to an EA at my previous school:

2015-02-28_10-53-37I wonder though, as I did in my blog post comment, whether everyone believes that changes need to happen. It’s fine to say that this is “where we’re going,” but if educators, administrators, support staff, and/or parents, question the benefits of these changes, are we listening to these other voices? And if we’re not, what’s the impact on the change actually happening?

The truth is, I completely understand and embrace what Donna’s saying in her post. I’ve often heard that we need to celebrate the “small changes,” but I’ve often become frustrated with how slow change seems to be. Maybe though, I need to start to see things from a different perspective. I can’t help but think back to a The Challenge Game that Kristi, my previous vice principal, taught me about last year in Grade 5. It completely changed our classroom dynamic! Even as a Grade 1 teacher, I use this game a lot with my students. We challenge ideas through the use of questions. The game is not about having a “winner” or a “loser.” It’s about identifying holes in theories or gaps in practices, and having people reconsider their solutions, revise their theories, or revamp their practices. It’s a game all about thinking, and it gets students to think … but what if it was used with adults?

I wonder what would happen if a Staff Meeting or PD session was set-up like a Challenge Game. 

  • Pick a topic (e.g., inquiry in the classroom, blended learning, assessment and evaluation, etc.). Choose one where you know that staff members do not all feel the same way about it.
  • Filter down that topic a bit to look at a specific aspect of it (e.g., looking at assessment and evaluation of inquiry or looking at the impact that blended learning can have on student success).
  • Use a Value Line to have staff members sort themselves according to their beliefs (e.g., 1. You can’t assess or evaluate inquiry because students are all doing different things. 3. Sometimes you can assess or evaluate inquiry, but you do not get enough marks out of it because the process takes so long. 5. You can assess and evaluate inquiry, but it looks different than before, as you are evaluating the process and not just the final product.).
  • Use this Value Line to have people pair up with others from different parts of the line (e.g., people that position themselves at a 1 may pair up with people at a 3.) Depending on the size of the staff and the comfort level of the people playing, create groups of two to four people. 
  • Have the groups sit down together and play Challenge. Let one side share their beliefs, and give a chance for questioning from the other side. Then switch. Get all staff members involved in these Challenge Groups, as it’s important to have the various perspectives.
  • Come back together and reflect on learning and determine next steps. I think that everyone will learn something from this process. It’s not about one right answer and a bunch of wrong answers. I think that there can be questions, concerns, and/or uncertainties about all sides of all topics, but without these frank discussions, good questions, and challenged thinking, will change ever happen?

I think that anybody can feel forced to comply to changes in practices. I also think that with this pressure, the changes that happen will be minimal, and instead of having eager staff ready to tackle the questions or concerns that come up, there will be many reluctant staff members always wondering if these changes are necessary. And maybe not all of these changes produce the best results, or maybe not all of them do for all students, in all grades, at all times. I wonder if we’ll ever know though unless we start to talk freely, listen more, and ask these challenging questions. What do you think?



Reading And Writing, Google Style

Based on student interests, our classroom has started to transform into a Drama Studio. I really wanted to help inspire the students for different play ideas with the use of various books. While I have many books on topics of interest, I knew that I didn’t have enough on all topics that students wanted to write about (e.g., Monster High and Pokemon). So when thinking about some upcoming plans the other night, I thought that I’d show the students how to do a Google search. I figured that the images might help inspire some play ideas. My plan was to have the students help me create a list of some different topics, and then they could type in the word/words that they wanted. And while we did do this, when setting up for school yesterday, I realized that most of the iPads and our two ChromeBooks have a microphone option. I showed the students how to use this option. My one minute lesson was all it took!

Students loved searching by voice. It didn’t take long for them to make some important observations.

  • The more specific, the better. If you give a general category, you might get images or information that you don’t want, but if you’re specific, you’ll get better information.
  • Look closely at the websites, the images, and the videos that appear. You can tell a lot just by the website name. Students quickly realized that if they recognized the name of the producer of the show in the website link or information, it was probably a better source than if they just saw some random names that they didn’t know.
  • Sometimes a website is better, and sometimes it’s not. For some students, they found it hard to find exactly the information and/or images that they wanted, and they decided to look through books or even cards (e.g., Pokemon cards) to quickly get this information instead. The web is not always the best choice.
  • When using the microphone feature, the words appear in the Google search bar. Students realized that if their search produced the correct images, then the word/words were correct. They then used the search terms to spell these words correctly in their play scripts and/or plans. 
  • Not everything online is for kids. Students searched safely, but they also changed search terms and asked an adult and/or another child for help if the search didn’t produce the results they wanted. 

What was amazing about this whole process is that even some of my weakest readers and writers became successful at reading and writing online. Assistive technology makes the Internet very accessible for even our youngest students. We looked at how to be safe online, and students demonstrated for me just how safe they could be.


If they don’t learn how to search, filter through information, and make informed choices online, will they always make these good choices when accessing the Internet? I’ve been somewhat reluctant this year to use too much technology in the classroom, as my students are still young, still learning how to read and write, and still benefitting the most from real world experiences. But watching my class yesterday and today made me realize that as I teach the students to read and write, I can’t forget about teaching them how to do so in an online world. Google provides many reading and writing opportunities for students today. If my six-year-old that is still learning all of the letter-sounds can independently access, discuss, and respond to images and texts online, then I think this Language learning needs to be part of my Language program. What do you think? What role does the Internet play in your Language program, and why do you make the choices that you do? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


The Unexpected Benefit Of Indoor Recess

It’s been one more day of indoor recesses due to our frigid cold February temperatures, and it’s clear that the kids need the outside time as much as the teachers do. :) When inside for recess though, I like when students move around and work together, and it’s fantastic when they have the opportunity to play. This is actually a great chance for kids to practice playing together in unstructured social situations. Usually before indoor recess time, we talk about some possible play options, and then the students figure out what they want to do. This morning, a few of the kids asked if we could bring in the large, heavy tub of Lego from the pod for building, and others said that they wanted to work on a “play.” Okay. I had some work to do in the classroom during the nutrition break, so I thought that I’d sit back and see what happened.

I couldn’t help tweeting out some of the photographs and comments that I heard from the play group. It almost made me chuckle to see students “dancing around the room” as part of their indoor recess activities, but at the same time it had me thinking.

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It’s clear that I have a large group of students that love drama and dance. They are very creative! They were eager to tell a story through their dramatic performance, and they built off of the ideas that the other people shared. Everyone could participate, and many students chimed in at different points this morning and this afternoon. From math expectations (on measurement) to oral language expectations (on listening and speaking for a purpose), there was definitely a lot of overlap between The Arts and other curriculum areas. I can only imagine how much students would love to create a class play — or maybe even multiple class plays!

And for the students that are less eager to participate in the play itself, I know they would love to create the setting (especially if they could use Lego). As these students built together at lunchtime today, I heard them describe the intricate details. I see a great focus on word choice (especially the use of adjectives), and having them use the letter-sounds as they add labels to the setting. They could maybe even make signs for the different parts of the play. I’m sure that these students would have many of their own ideas as well.

So here I sit, at 7:30 at night, thinking about the indoor recess times from today, and how I can help capture this same excitement in the learning tomorrow. Maybe it’s time for the grand opening of Dunsiger’s Drama Studio: Where Dance And Drama Come To Life! I wonder what the students would do if greeted with:

  • a large bin of Lego.
  • a huge supply of sticky notes.
  • the costumes from today’s play.
  • a template for a storyboard.
  • strips of paper for the lines (dialogue).

I think it’s time to find out. Maybe there is a positive spin on indoor recess: without it, I may have missed a new interest with Language (reading, writing, and media literacy), Math (measurement), Science (structures), and Art (drama, music, dance, and visual arts) possibilities. What would you suggest as I think ahead to tomorrow? I’d love to hear your thoughts!