If You’re Having A Bad Day, Cause A Flood

I’d like to think that every day is a great day … and the vast majority of days truly do seem to be. But some days seem a little less enjoyable than others. Thursday was starting off as one of those days. There were many factors at play here.

1) The forest was busier than usual. A couple of other classes joined us today, which made the forest louder. Usually this is a calming place to connect with nature, but as my teaching partner, Paula, said when we left, “The animals may have been happy for some quiet now.”

2) I had a prep period 2. This means that the phys-ed teacher joins us outside. With the additional kids and the additional noise, the play never settled before my prep occurred. This made it even harder to settle afterwards. Instead of kids heading inside calm, many were heading inside dysregulated.

3) Paula and I were both feeling a bit dysregulated. We love this forest time, and the calmness that it brings to our day. The change in feeling made both of us feel a little less settled, and when adults are dysregulated, kids also tend to be.

4) There was additional noise. With the forest time not calming any of us as it usually tends to do, the room was louder. It felt a bit more chaotic. Don’t get me wrong: there were still some wonderful things happening, but kids were finding it harder to settle, and Paula and I felt the same way.

This was definitely one of the wonderful things from Thursday.

5) It was Pizza Day. Almost all of our students get pizza, and as such, they almost all wanted to eat right away. Usually our eating table allows for some gradual eating throughout the day, and a few quiet connections during play. Instead, the table was full right away, with a few more spaces for pizza eating, and then remained empty. Again, we were missing some much needed quiet.

6) With duty for me during the second nutrition break, Paula had to leave for her lunch early, which meant that the play hadn’t fully settled before she left. Trying to settle 29 kids into play on your own is not an easy task, and while there were moments of calm, I did find myself standing back a lot and wondering, how can I help make this better?

I then got back from my second nutrition break duty, and Paula was feeling the same stress that I was before I left. We had no plans of tidying up for another 50 minutes. What were we going to do? We both needed to turn today around.

This is when I went over to the sensory bin. Yes, I find sensory play calming, and I thought that getting my hands in the watery juicy mixture with the flowers and connecting with some kids would be a good thing. With flower petals, lemons, oranges, and limes everywhere, we had a HUGE mess to clean up. Why not start the process early?

We’ve extended this same sensory play over the last week, and the flower petals and citrus juice pieces keep clogging our sink. Every day, we’ve had to get kids to write a note to the caretaker asking for a plunger. Yesterday, he even gave us one of our own to keep. 🙂 I was so determined not to clog the drain again that I wondered about straining the juice. I asked a child to go next door and see if they had a strainer we could borrow. She came back with a small strainer to use.

I don’t know what I was thinking, but somehow in my mind, I thought that I could put the small strainer across the little bowl, and pour the sensory bin liquid into the strainer to drain the solids out. Big sensory bin. Small bowl. Smaller strainer. Maybe this was not my best plan, but the heavy lifting and tipping of the sensory bin is always a favourite activity of mine. So the student set-up the strainer and the bowl for me, stood back, and watched. She didn’t stand back quite far enough. My angle wasn’t perfect, the liquid splashed everywhere, the strainer toppled into the bowl, and I caused a tremendous flood. But boy did it make me laugh … like huge guffaws of joy! Paula did the same. The kids joined in, so very happy to see “Miss Dunsiger making a mess!” This flood changed everything!

A few kids got involved in writing notes to the caretaker telling him about my massive mess. He quite likes our class, despite the daily calls for assistance, and was just as amused by my mess as the kids. Then a couple of more kids got involved in wiping up the watery juice, as we waited for him to come with a wet mop. The feel of the room started to change!

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I’ve mentioned in the past that spatial skills are not my strength. For some reason, I thought I could pour the liquid from the sensory bin into the little bowl with the strainer to prevent the flowers from going down the drain. I missed, and I made a big mess. The kids loved that the mess was my fault. Leah and Joshua were happy to write notes telling the caretaker that this was all my fault! As I explained to our AMAZING caretaker, my mess is all a part of my literacy initiative: reading and writing with a purpose. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! 😆 He came and he solved the problem. Mr. Angelo rocks! And he helped make our floor all better! The notes worked. He does love these notes of ours. ❤️❤️❤️ Joshua’s note also allowed him to work on extending his ideas, with questions between each draft to think of more to possibly add. Leah grabbed my tag right away to write “Dunsiger,” and we looked at the missing ending sound together. I love that she calls me “Dunsiger.” Makes me think of @andtogerry. SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry

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In the meantime, Paula was across the room trying to help clean up dramatic play. We must clean this area ten times a day. Every time kids clean it, somebody else goes in. You turn around, and poof, there’s another child there pulling out items and leaving a trail behind. Paula and I joked that we would need to cover the whole space in a sheet to actually make it closed. We didn’t go quite that far, but Paula did get kids involved in making the most massive “No!! Closed!” sign of life. They sounded out the words, they measured the space to hang it, and they got it up. Again, more fun. More laughter. Pure joy! In these last 50 minutes of the day, the room changed, and we were actually sad to tidy up for home. As one of our kindergarteners said, “Today was the funnest day ever!!” Perspective.

This was the greatest reminder to me that you can always change a trajectory. Make a mess. Find some joy to connect you and the kids. Get that reason to laugh … and laugh that wonderfully deep belly laugh that totally changes how you’re thinking and feeling. A previous principal of mine, Paul Clemens, used to start every day on the announcements with these words: “Make it a great day or not. The choice is yours!” We found a way to make Thursday into a great day, and while it may not have been the very best day at school, it certainly did end in one of the very best of ways. How do you turn a day around? What role might humour play in your day? If you ever had a day like we did on Thursday, try pouring a big mess into a little bowl and seeing what happens. You might be surprised.


A Need To “Pause,” But Wait …

This year, I decided to get involved with our Board’s N.T.I.P. Mentorship Program. It’s been many years since I’ve been involved, and I thought that this would be an exciting new leadership opportunity for me. On Thursday, we met for our first session as mentors. I was really excited when I heard that Kristin Roy would be joining us to give us some training around the Seven Norms of Collaboration. While I’ve heard of these norms before and discussed them at some staff meetings in the past, my learning around these norms is still new. I was eager to dig into them more. We focused on two norms: paraphrasing and pausing. As I tweeted during the session, I had some initial thoughts on both of these norms, and I’ve contemplated them even more since Thursday. 

Since returning to school at the end of the day on Thursday, I’ve found Kristin’s voice running through my head. At the end of her presentation, all of the mentors thought of ways that we could practice these norms before meeting with the new teachers in the next couple of weeks. I had a few different thoughts on how I could practice, but one was definitely in the classroom.

My teaching partner, Paula, and I have had many recent conversations around “wait time,” and I definitely see the connection between this and “pausing.” Since we record so many videos in the classroom, listening back to the recordings after school each day, gives us an opportunity to reflect on wait time. I happened to think even more about this on Thursday, as Paula also shared with me some videos that she took while I was away. Since I wasn’t there to hear the discussions at the time, I listened even more carefully to them, and even reflected on them in my Instagram posts. 

When I returned to the school Thursday afternoon, I took a few minutes to talk to Paula before our staff meeting. Most of our talk was around “wait time.” We both struggle with the same thing: we know that wait time is valuable for kids, but how do we give students the additional time that they need in a busy Kindergarten classroom where time can be at a premium? 

I wondered about the idea of walking away. If we gave the student a prompt such as, “What sounds do you hear?,” and then moved away to work with another child, would that first student start to problem solve independently? I don’t know. I think of a couple of children that keep coming up again to ask for help, or want to know that each sound is correct before moving on. I wonder about that child who waits until you’re there to even attempt the task, and then waits for reassurance before moving on. How much wait time do you give the child? How do you know when a student actually needs more help versus needs more time? Sometimes I’ve seen success with working through a problem together first, building confidence, and then being able to provide the wait time for independence. But is one problem enough? If the child looks for support do you give it or do you wait? I want to be kind and empathetic, but I also don’t want to solve problems for children that they can solve on their own. 

On Friday, I really pushed myself to wait when working with a child on some reading and writing. In many ways, it worked, although at times I wonder if I still gave her more support than she needed. Did I say sounds again when she could have been prompted to repeat them? 

As I mentioned after school to Paula, there was a lot that I put off as I sat here to work with this child. Was my time spent with her valuable? Yes. Did it help her build some confidence in her skills? Yes. But is it always possible to put some other things off, and what might be some possible drawbacks in doing so? I’m trying to weigh the pros and cons here, while figuring out what’s necessary, what’s reasonable, and how reality might compare to the research. How do you make “wait time” a feasible reality in your classroom or home, and how might children respond to having this extra time? I can’t help but think of a conversation that I had yesterday with my principal minutes before the nutrition break bell rang for returning to class. He ended up pausing when I most definitely should have, but the pressure of the bell, changed things for me. I certainly have work left to do on “pausing,” but if nothing else, Thursday’s training has made me far more aware of this. Thanks for taking up an important spot in my head, Kristin Roy!


When Lots Of Kids In A Small Space Make For Success …

When I started teaching, I rarely read about education, unless I was doing so as part of a course or for some school professional development. In the past few years, that’s changed, and I’ve found myself interested in finding out more. I always add some educational reads to my holiday reading lists, I read blog posts and articles every day, and I try to partake in conversations online about educational topics and issues. I’m even one of those teachers that enjoys reading curriculum documents — including the front matter — and I tend to memorize what I read, so I also think about and reflect on these documents a lot. The more that I read though, the more that I see situations from various perspectives, and then what doesn’t make sense in one way begins to make a lot more sense in another.

My teaching partner, Paula, and I experienced one of these strange situations this past week. While we made some very deliberate choices about our classroom environment back in September, the kids have helped us change the environment since then. Their needs and interests dictated these changes, and often they helped co-create this space with us. The room looks similar to how it did before, and yet, a bit different. 

There is one space that continues to surprise us: the block area. Most of what you read about the successful organization of a block space is contrary to what we’ve done. Due to recently adding some painting into our dramatic play area, we moved the green table into the block area for a different building surface. While there’s value to having a table in a block area, our block space is already quite small. This table makes it even smaller, and way more confined. We have quite a few different block and construction items in this space, and while we’ve tried to move some to another area (for example, the creation of a different domino space), children are not drawn to these items elsewhere. They want them here. 

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This morning, we looked back at the mural that Tommy started yesterday. What might be outside a window at a restaurant? Tommy recruited some friends today, and they began to discuss and draw some pictures of items to add. Having a big paper hanging on the door beside the mural, gave a space for those kids that just want to explore random lines and shapes. The restaurant was still open during construction, and it was interesting to watch Elise and Mackenna order from the menu. Pointing to the pictures, helped. Tommy and Filip then got to a place where it was time to start painting. They made a list of colours. @paulacrockett really worked on just listening and giving them the time to sound out the words. With time, they did it! ❤️ This is just the start of the mural experience. SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #cti_thearts

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Filip read me the list of colours he wrote with Tommy. Slowly sounded out the words, and when given the time, figured them all out. Time is key! (Will tweet out a video later.) Then the painting began. Colour mixing and #problemsolving throughout the process. Having a parallel mural for those that just want the sensory painting experience, really helped. Mya was also very excited when she helped Tommy make green. He didn’t know how to do so, but she remembered “from the Mouse Movie [Mouse Paint, the book], and it worked.” Such happiness to help a friend! ❤️ Great to see the play that continued around the paint: allowing all children to get what they needed from this space. This mural experience did not end here though. ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #cti_thearts

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This little table in the building space changed the play today. Helped support some cooperative play while still allowing for parallel or independent play. Seemed to contain the space, so made the block play less frustrating for some. Interesting to see the dramatic play with the addition of the people. In one video that @paulacrockett captured, there were two sets of mini-worlds in one space, but one child was choosing to work alone while others worked together. E. made an interesting comment about the shelves as well. Kids also decided to draw at this space, and H. really appreciated this area for drawing his robots today. One table used in many different ways. SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry

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A contained space with so many people building together should be loud. It should be chaotic. Most educators — me included — would probably question the sanity of this decision. And yet, it works! Not only does it work, but it actually seems to be an area that many children go to self-regulate. What?! Again, it’s questionable how anyone could be so productive in such a confined area, and also, see it as a calming space. This past week, Paula and I spent a lot of time discussing why this might be true.

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After school today, @paulacrockett and I spent a lot of time talking about this space. There is so many reasons for it not to work well. It’s a really small building area, made recently smaller with the addition of the table. There are always lots of kids in it building, and yet, it’s way quieter and calmer than when we had a bigger space. Why? It’s almost as though the kids provide a little cocoon — like a human tent — which increases the feeling of safety and allows this group of children to self-regulate. Does this even make sense? Have others noticed something like this before? Kind of strange and wonderful! ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #selfreg

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We’ve tried a block area with more space, but it’s always loud, busy, and often, dysregulating. While the research might question our decision to have so much happening in such a small area, it’s hard to argue with our observations. The photographs in the post above do not even do the area justice. At one point, there was another child weaving in and out of the block building, and even with the action at the table, the creations in the shelves, and the structure on the floor, this space was like a breath of fresh air. 

We’re wondering if some of what we know about Self-Reg might support our observations. Many children seem to search out small, covered areas. It’s why they like sitting under a table, working in a tent, or even learning in a shelf. 

We’re wondering if all of the people in this block space almost act like a human cover for the area. Does the closeness help create a feeling of calm? While research on classroom set-up may be contrary to the success of this space, we wonder if research on Self-Reg might support it. It’s hard to know for sure, but there’s so much value in having these conversations to try to make sense of our observations, for when we do, we can also plan with these theories in mind. When has research been contrary to your observations, and how do you then make sense of what you’re seeing? Why might this process be beneficial? And then again, different kids with different needs might make the success of this current block area much less successful. I wonder if this then speaks to just how personal Self-Reg can be.


What If We Reframed “Disturbing The Learning Of Others?”

At the beginning of August, I listened to the VoicEd Radio Program where Heather Swail and Paul McGuire were chatting with Doug Peterson and Stephen Hurley about various posts from Ontario Edubloggers. They discussed one of my blog posts at the time. At around the 17 minute and 53 second mark, Paul made a comment that really got me thinking: “A child does not have the right to disturb the learning of others.” I was going to blog a response at the time, but I chose to wait. After various experiences in this first month of school, Paul’s comment and my thinking at the time (and now) inspired a post. 

I understand what Paul’s saying, and I would be lying if I said that I haven’t uttered these words — or similar ones — to administrators in the past. Even with my growing understanding of Self-Reg, I’ve reached different points of frustration. I’ve wondered if it really is possible to do it all. What impact are the behaviours of some children having on the entire classroom environment? Is this affecting my own mental health and well-being? What about the mental health and well-being of kids? But then, in the past couple of years, my thinking has started to change.

I’ve started to wonder, what message are we communicating (even unintentionally) to students, to parents, to administrators, and to colleagues, when we talk about “disturbing the learning of others?” To me, this statement implies that the behaviour is intentional. What if it’s not? I’m not going to pretend that it’s not still challenging when we’re dealing with these behaviours: from hitting and grabbing to throwing and screaming. I’ve dealt with my fair share of these problems over the years, and it’s hard. For kids. For educators. For parents. And for administrators. But at the beginning of last year, I started to think about just how much we can learn from THAT child, and how at times, all kids can be THAT kid

In the past couple of years, my teaching partner, Paula, and I have done a lot of thinking about THAT child. I think that this thinking has also changed our responses. 

  • We ask each other Stuart Shanker‘s questions of, “Why this child? Why now?,” more often, and we look at how to reduce the stressors that might be causing the behaviour. 
  • We try to model calm responses in our actions and in our toneThis isn’t always easy, and we’re not always perfect, but we try. 
  • We elicit the help of students if possible. Kids connect with kids on a different level, and children respond to their peers differently. When students are also involved in this problem solving, they often learn about the benefits of empathy, and see how much they can do to support each other. 

All week long, I watched what our kids — these young learners — did to support their peers.

Then yesterday, as children were coming in and joining our meeting time on the carpet, one child let out a scream. Another child accidentally touched him, and he was upset. Without prompting, one of our SK children that was sitting up front, turned to him, offered his hand, and said, “Why don’t you come up and sit next to me? That will make you feel better.” And with that, my heart melts. 

  • When we model not to be scared, kids aren’t scared.
  • When we show that the tears, the screams, and the hitting are unintentional and caused by stress, and that we can support a different response, kids do the same.

They see behaviour differently, just as we do. And in many of my experiences, with this additional child support, we also see a reduction in a lot of behaviours. I know that there are exceptions to every rule, and for some kids, maybe a different environment or additional support is necessary. But sometimes I wonder if our actions, our tone, our own fears, and our concerns about everyone else, inadvertently increases behaviour, even as we try to decrease it.  

This past week, I’ve watched what kids learn as they support peers that are struggling. This may not be academic learning, but it’s incredibly valuable learning! I think about one of our parents, who, when she drops off her child each morning, reminds her to “be kind.” This is her goal for the day, and what a wonderful goal it is. And every day, she goes out of her way to do exactly that. If, as a school system, we support children in developing kindness, empathy, and love, I think that then we’ve done a pretty marvellous job. Imagine how we could then change trajectories for kids. How do you support your children in doing just that? As a new week begins, we have another perfect opportunity to make a difference. Let’s also be there to show our children that they can do the same!


Learning From #daveBstrong

While I teach for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, through social media I follow educators from many other Boards, both inside and outside of Canada. I probably communicate the most with people from the Peel Board. It’s for this reason that a few months ago, I started to notice many of the Peel people who I follow using the #daveBstrong hashtag. 

I was intrigued. I happen to follow Dave Badovinac on Twitter, but was unaware of his health problems until I started reading the tweets. It was earlier this month that I shared this tweet.

Now, I wish that I could share with you a great end to this story. This morning though, I woke up to find an Instagram post by Dave’s sister, Laura. Dave passed away yesterday.

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Today I lost my brother and my best friend. I am broken in a million pieces. I am angry, sad and hurt. I want to know why, how does this make sense? Dave never asked that, he said why not me? He never considered himself more important or worthy then anyone else. When he was given devastating news it took him ten minutes to turn to us and say what do you think I can do next? That’s who my brother was, selfless and positive always. I will spend the rest of my days living up to the legacy of being his sister. I wear the title of Dave’s sister as a badge of honour. Our family will step to the plate for his three girls and make sure that they know how much he loved them. I am so grateful for all of the love and support that we have received over the past three months. My mother told me that she long ago accepted that he was not just ours and that he was part of a larger family that she needed to share him with. The amount of people who have shared their affection for Dave has proven her right. The stories and messages have been incredible and have helped us through this challenging time. Thank you for loving Dave. #daveBstrong

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This story hit me hard … maybe even more so, for a year ago yesterday, I unexpectedly lost my dad. After reading Laura’s post, I took to Twitter, and was blown away by the stories of love from previous students, colleagues, and friends. Here are just a few.

If you ever question just how big a difference an educator can make, read these tweets. Dave, I didn’t know you, but today, I am heading to school thinking, how can I care a little more, smile a little more, support a little more, and do a little more? May we all learn a little something from Dave. Kids deserve it!