Is it possible that I actually love the Communication of Learning?

There’s no doubt about it … I should definitely be going to bed right now. And if I’m not, I should be writing Communications of Learning. But I’m not doing either. I’m blogging … because I’ve been inspired to blog and I know that I won’t be able to sleep until I do.

The inspiration came from Lisa Noble: an absolutely incredible educator, who often causes me to think and reflect. Tonight she made a few comments on an Instagram post that I shared a little earlier today. 

This is me trying hard to remain calm, as I wait for our Communication of Learning program to save my comments and move onto the next child. We’re working through some growing pains with the program that we’re using, and at the peak of my frustration today, I was waiting 5 minutes to save a comment and 3 minutes to move to the next child. Aargh! Trust me: this was the best picture that I could share. 

While I was definitely frustrated with the program this afternoon, and while writing reports can be stressful, I have to say that I’ve actually come to love the Communications of LearningThese are not report cards! And even though “Communication of Learning” is so many more characters than “reports,” you will not once see me interchange the two terms — even on Twitter where characters count. It’s the differences between the two that make Communications of Learning beautiful.

  • They’re personalised.
  • They focus on a child’s growth.
  • They’re asset-based.

They capture each child’s learning journey and make me realize just how far our children have come. Yes, these Communications of Learning take time, and yes, I’ve spent many weekends staring at a computer screen, and I will likely spend many more. But when I can go back and can read a beautiful story of growth, the hours somehow seem worth it.

This Communication of Learning is not full of marks, edujargon, or qualifiers. It’s different. It’s special. And if my comments would just save, I’d be posting a great big smiling selfie instead. How do others feel? Does the difference in the Communication of Learning make you like it more than a report card? I never thought that I’d feel this way about it, but this year I’ve realized how much I do.


What Would Make Recess Duty Better?

There’s no doubt about it: I absolutely love what I do, and cannot imagine doing anything else in my life. Teaching is my passion, and I’m grateful that I get to go to work every single day doing what makes me so very happy. While I stand behind the words in our nightly blog posts, highlighting that we’ve had another “great day,” I think that often one of the biggest highlights of our day is our time out in the forest. There’s something special about this outside time, and the learning that happens in this space: whether it’s on a bright, sunny day, a freezing cold day, or a rainy, muddy day. So much of what Laura Bottrell captured in her article is true of our time spent outside, and I’m grateful that she wrote what she did. But as I say all of this, these positive experiences give me pause, especially when I compare our outdoor time to recess time.

I’m very grateful that our kindergarteners don’t go out for recess. We’ve scheduled our outdoor time differently, so that we can better meet the needs of our students and have less transitions during the school day. While my teaching partner, Paula, stays in the classroom and extends the learning time during our nutrition breaks, I often leave the room during these times. A couple of days a week, this is also when I’m on duty. I have absolutely no problem going outside no matter how cold it is, and will happily bundle up for duty time, but I definitely do not have the same happy thoughts around recess as I have around our time outside. Recently, I started to wonder, “why.” 

It’s interesting, for if you ask most educators, it’s during recess time that many students with social, emotional, and/or behavioural needs, struggle the most. You often hear the comment that, “[Name] does not behave like that in the classroom.” I’ve even made similar comments before, but I’ve started to question, Why is this happening? Is there something we can do to change this trajectory for kids?

Certain elements of recess may be outside of our control.

  • The child’s homeroom teacher is not always on duty. 
  • It’s different having just a couple of classes outside versus multiple grades and/or multiple divisions.

That said, in my current teaching situation, I’m at a small school, and even though I’m not every child’s homeroom teacher, I know the names of just about every student in the school. I’ve only taught here for a few years. Most teachers at the school have taught in this same building for many more years than me, and at one time or another, have taught either most of the children or siblings of these children. These teachers have connections with the kids and the families. And while our outdoor time in Kindergarten is different, we still have three large classes outside in the same space versus 5-6 smaller classes. The numbers are not actually significantly different. So what is?

  • Maybe it’s the space. We do not go to the primary playground area when we play. We’re in between the junior field and the forest area. There are no big plastic structures and lots of space to run, climb, and play. Space matters. It’s in a more open area, where all children can find things that work for them: if it’s climbing on a fallen tree, running in an open field, or sitting quietly under a little bush.

  • Maybe it’s the push for creativity. Every once in a while, when students ask, we take out a ball for them to use, but usually, we don’t bring anything outside with us. Students use sticks, pinecones, mud, and trees in creative ways. They talk about letters and sounds, they explore math concepts (especially counting and measurement), and they engage in The Arts (from creating their own bands in the trees to making nature art). We don’t come outside with an agenda. We know the Program expectations, and we watch and listen to what the students do, and then make links to these expectations. We create mini-lessons on the spot, and try to extend reading, writing, and math opportunities among the trees. The kids support each other in similar ways. It’s amazing to watch: but it’s often when you provide less that kids do more!

  • Maybe it’s the time. The primary and junior students are outside for two, 20-minute nutrition breaks a day, but we’re outside for about 1 1/2 hours every morning. We adjust the time depending on the weather and how the students respond to the space. Whenever possible, we try to be responsive to kids. This makes a huge difference! With the additional time outside, kids can evolve in their play: from that initial need to run to quieter, more focused, deeper, and richer learning experiences.
  • Maybe it’s the role that we can play in the space. When we’re outside each morning, I never feel as though I’m policing kids. I hate that feeling! Instead, I’m interacting with kids, observing them, documenting learning, and extending it based on what children say and do. This is a very different feel to recess, and it’s the feeling that I wish could be a part of duty experiences!

I’m beginning to wonder then if there’s a way to change the “recess feeling,” and make this time a more positive experience for all educators, administrators, and students. For when I stand back and really look and think about my experiences, it’s often the kids that have the most challenging time outside that really need this time the most. What can we do then? 

  • Could we reconsider the space? I’m actually lucky to teach at a school that has a lot of room for children to play. Our school numbers are small, so the numbers outside are actually quite low. It was interesting to watch the play a couple of weeks ago when we had a lot of great packing snow. Almost nobody was on the playground equipment, and everybody was working together to make snowmen and forts. There was so much incredible teamwork, problem solving, math thinking, and perseverance, that I struggled with not documenting this wonderfulness for homeroom teachers to see. If snow highly reduces the amount of children on the playground equipment and results in more focused, richer, deeper play, then I wonder what else would do the same. What happens at your school?
  • Could the recess games change? On most days, the biggest problems revolve around the organized soccer games. Students struggle with team formations, rules, and scores … especially if certain kids end up losing the game. I’ve tried to help reduce the stress of these games by having everybody run around the perimeter of the field three times before playing. This is my co-regulation strategy for decreasing the problems in these games, and it usually works. We also have a bench near the field, and I call it the “bench of breathing.” If kids are getting really worked up, I suggest that they take a few minutes and go and breathe. Many classrooms in our school use the MindUp Program, and you can see kids trying to have their own Brain Break on the bench. While I’d rather have no problems at all, I do like seeing the benefits of a little breathing for the kids that need it the most. Sometimes I wonder though what would happen if no balls came out. Would kids create their own games as our Kindergarten students do, and would less competitive games, reduce the number of issues for many kids? I wonder …
  • Could the number of minutes outside change? I’ve thought a lot about this question, as I know that there are limits on duty minutes. I just struggle, as it takes kids longer than 20 minutes to settle into play. This means, that we’re usually sending children back inside very up-regulated (or even dysregulated), and I worry about the impact that this has on learning. I wonder what would happen if we used both nutrition breaks for just outdoor learning time. What if kids ate while they worked, or if the eating table that we have in our Kindergarten classroom made its way into other grades? There’s something to be said for the rich dialogue that happens around food, and the additional time outside, may allow kids to better settle into play and come inside calmer. Have any schools tried this option before, and what was the impact on student learning and mental health and well-being?

  • Could our role change from “supervisor” to “facilitator?” I wonder if the answer to this question rests in the decision around the number of minutes outside. Even when we’re outside with our kindergarteners, we usually have to rotate more at the beginning of play, and then once the play settles, we can engage in more discussions and observations. I’m not saying that the duty teacher should be bringing out an iPad to take photographs, record videos, and write learning stories, but if we talked more with kids, what kinds of questions might we ask? What kinds of conversations might we have? What impact might both of these things have on student thinking and learning? The Kindergarten Program Document highlights the importance of “noticing and naming” math behaviours. This is something that could happen outside for any grade. 

All of this may be my Utopian ideal, and maybe considering these changes isn’t even possible. But it makes me sad to know that there’s a recess problem — to some degree — in just about every school out there, and not try think about some possible ways to solve it. Imagine if we could all love duty time as much as I love our outdoor learning time. How do we make this happen?


Do Kids See With Their Hands?

I can’t remember the first person that said these words to me, but as a primary educator, they’re words that I’ve often contemplated and repeated: “Look with your eyes, not with your hands!” Parents and teachers of young students are sure to be able to relate to this saying. How often do we ask kids to look at something and they go up to touch it? How often do we ask for them to talk about something, and again, they go up to touch it? This may be one of my biggest pet peeves. I’m not sure why it bothers me so much, but I constantly find myself breathing deeply through the many times that this happens, and I then having to ask a child to go and sit down. Quite unexpectedly yesterday though, I gained a new perspective. 

This week, we’ve been working on a collaborative art project. After a couple of days of painting together, my teaching partner, Paula, pulled the class together to have a look at what we made, and reflect on some possible next steps. 

I was on duty during this reflection time, so I didn’t get to hear the conversation live, but I listened back to it later that day. And it was as I was watching the video recordings that I began to wonder …

  • Do some kids need the sensory experience that comes from touching an item in order to communicate about it?
  • Could the physical touch stimulate something in their brain that helps with the formulation of ideas?

While the “touching” has always bothered me, I started to wonder, is it really possible to avoid this? Maybe, as much as I want the control that comes from a quick exchange of ideas with no movement in between, some kids need more than that. So when it comes to this large group sharing, is it about what works for me, or what works for them? I think that I’m going to need to get comfortable with taking some more deep breaths. Maybe kids really do see with their hands.


Working Through My Feelings On Blogging Less

I recently realized that while I still blog a lot professionally, I’m not writing as much as I did in previous years. In the past, I sometimes found that this happened to me during report card times or holiday times, but often blogging less, really bothered me. Now it’s not. In fact, I’m not even sure what else I would write about. And it was then, that I realized why.

For the past couple of years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a fantastic teaching partner, Paula. Between our conversations in the morning and after school, and usually some text messages and emails in the evening, we are constantly talking, thinking, and reflecting together. While we have many similar values, we often think differently when it comes to many topics. Paula’s questions and insights have resulted in many changes in my approaches, and vice versa.

Probably, for the first time in my life, I’ve consistently talked through my blog posts with somebody else before I write them. Paula’s also inspired many of these posts. But after some of our conversations, my desire to write is slowly fading. I got the ideas out there, even if only to a small audience, and I got that different perspective. Paula’s my real life commenter, and sometimes that is enough. Other times, I still feel motivated to write, or I think there might be other perspectives on the topic, so I blog with the desire to hopefully hear some feedback.

Now though, my 5-7 professional posts a week have dwindled down to 2-3. I’ve always found my blogging topics through my teaching and life experiences, but maybe I need to find new inspirations. Doug Peterson, a prolific blogger, often looks to articles to inspire his posts. Is it time that I start doing the same? Maybe, since I’m not missing these extra opportunities to blog, a little less writing is okay. Sometimes I feel as though I’m living my blog posts now instead of just writing them. What inspires you to blog? Have relationships also changed some of your blogging patterns? I never thought I’d feel comfortable with writing less, but maybe in the ebb and flow of blogging, I’m on the way down right now before going up again.


How Do You Decide When To Move The Bucket?

Yesterday was a fantastic day! We’ve actually had two great days since we’ve been back at school after the holidays, and it’s hard not to enjoy the calmness and feel the excitement over the learning that’s happening in the classroom. In the past, when I’ve had a great day, I’ve really wanted to “freeze time.” My thinking has always been, let’s keep with what we’re doing, as we must be doing something right. I think there’s something to be said for this thinking, but I also think there’s something be said for making some changes. 

At the end of the day yesterday, my teaching partner, Paula, and I reflected on our day as we always do. It was during this reflection time that Paula suggested a slight change in room design. Over the winter holidays, I bought a big bucket at Walmart to use on the LEGO table. The thought was that we could add some sticky notes, thick popsicle sticks, tape, and plasticine, along with our sign books, to inspire students to create signs and possibly even a LEGO City in the bucket. Before the Break, we saw a lot of similar play at the LEGO table, and we wanted to intentionally interrupt this play, extend the reading and writing possibilities for some students, and see what happened.

Yay for @amazoncan! This year, instead of buying each child a gift for the holidays, we bought some gifts that we can all enjoy together after the holidays. 🎁🎁🎁 Love this Kinetic Sand that has all kinds of art and math (patterning, etc.) potential. Plus the LEGO people can hopefully combine with the sign provocation and this great new bin (see second photograph) for a possible LEGO world. Maybe, as @paulacrockett suggested, we can even have kids creating speech bubbles for the LEGO figures to talk to each other. So many reading, writing, and oral language possibilities! ❤️ Love my holidays, but am now super excited to go back! #ctinquiry #teachersofinstagram #iteachk (SWIPE ⬅️ TO SEE THE BIN … & IT’S ON WHEELS. If it doesn’t work for a LEGO mini-world (our attempt to intentionally interrupt the LEGO play), it may work as a “floor sensory bin,” as @paulacrockett suggested.)

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When we added this bucket on Monday, it didn’t take long for children to move it from the table to the floor. Then it just sat there. Speaking to Paula, she thought that it was too deep for the students to use well, and they really wanted paper to draw the roads and places in the city. They even measured and cut out their own piece of brown paper to add to the LEGO table, which they used to start creating their city. The problem was that some students didn’t want to make a city, and one child got really frustrated when his landscape was being used for something different. We chatted at the end of the day on Monday, and thought that maybe we could put the brown paper inside the large bucket, move the bucket onto the ground, add a separate container of LEGO along with the plasticine, sticky notes, popsicle sticks, and tape, and encourage students to create in this new space. We even added a few big pillows around the bucket to attract children to it.

Yesterday, we stood back and watched. A couple of students used this bucket for their LEGO creations, but largely just because they were waiting for an open spot at the eating table. We put this bucket near the table, and it drew them there. After they ate though, they didn’t go back to play more. Maybe they would have today, but maybe not …

Meanwhile, we have a couple of boys that are finding it harder to settle into play. It’s not that they are causing problems or failing to learn, but they tend to wander a little more than other students, and when they do settle somewhere, we’re wondering if their choices are really providing them with the best challenges for more thinking and learning. On my way to duty yesterday, I said to Paula, “I wonder if they need a project, but what might interest them? What could we do?” I went off to duty, and Paula watched, listened, and thought. This is when she suggested to me, “What if we move the eating table over a bit, and put the big bucket over by the unused shelves? We could then bring over the recyclable materials, email parents asking for some more empty rolls, and inspire students to create between the bucket and the shelves. They could make ramps or marble runs or maybe even a structure to use with the rice in the sensory bin.” I loved her idea!

The same students that we wondered about are the ones that continue to use the piece of wood near the LEGO table to create a ramp. However, their ramp is always the same size and used in the same way. Maybe the use of found items along with the various levels made possible due to the shelves and the bucket could result in some more thinking and learning. This might draw these students from other places around the room, and even hold their interest for a longer period of time. There are all kinds of opportunities here connected with math, science, and language learning … not to mention the connections to inquiry.

So even on a wonderful day, we shifted the learning environment to make room for something new. Our chat yesterday made us remember about the need for constant reflection. As educators, are we always looking at how to improve? Are we taking a close look at the needs of each of our students, and sometimes making changes to better support those couple of students that need it most? How do we avoid just being happy with the status quo? Even on the best of days, there can be little changes to make things that much better … maybe even for just one or two students. Reflection is necessary. Any educator or administrator will tell you that it matters. How do you give yourself enough time for this reflection? How do you include various viewpoints to help you see (or consider) something that you might not have on your own? Once again, I’m reminded that “a little Paula can go a long way.” 🙂