Letting Go … Again!

It was a conversation with my teaching partner, Paula, the other day that inspired this blog post. 

Our discussion and some of the comments on this Instagram post made me think about the other ways that children demonstrate their independence in the classroom.

    • It’s in the reminders that the milk hasn’t arrived, and then the collection of the chocolate and white milks that we need for our class.

    • It’s in the children in the library figuring out how many students need straws for their milk, and then walking back to the classroom, collecting the right number of straws, and bringing them back to the library.
    • It’s in the children accessing the milk list on their own to figure out who gets milk and what kind they get.
    • It’s in the children helping to hand out pizza each week.
    • It’s in the child using the list on my iPad to collect the students that are in the afternoon library group.
    • It’s in children looking at the library books that Paula holds up each week, determining which one belongs to them, and joining the line to head to the library. 

    • It’s in the children lining up the wet boots so that they dry and others can find them easily on the way home.

    • It’s in the children organizing the cubby room, so that all children can find their belongings at home time. 
    • It’s in the children switching and recording the home reading books when our parent volunteer is away. 

  • It’s in the children determining their own times to eat, and packing up their backpacks when they’re done. It’s in them knowing if they haven’t finished eating yet when Paula provides the final reminder that “it’s time to eat.” It’s in children listening to their bodies and being aware of what they need when they need it. 

I can’t help but look back at this list and think about the number of times that I would have tried to do every job that’s listed here. I would have spent my lunch hour and prep time checking lists, collecting items, and organizing materials. At the time, I thought that I was doing what was best for kids. But now I wonder … 

  • Was I trusting them to make good decisions on their own?
  • Was I allowing them to become independent? 

This year has been a great reminder for me that when we believe in children and give them opportunities to be responsible, they consistently amaze us with what they can do. Yes, some children need more support than others, but they don’t always need our support. When students realize that we need them, they will also regularly help each other (and us) more. 

We currently have 32 children in our class, and that is a lot of four- and five-year-olds. There are all kinds of reasons that smaller numbers would be beneficial, but one thing that bigger numbers taught me is that sometimes we need to let certain things go, and rely on our students in addition to them relying on us. For me, this was a lesson worth learning, and I thank my teaching partner for this important reframe. As our students continue to move up in the grades, I think that this independence will serve them well. Whether an educator, a parent, or both, how do you develop this independence in children? What value have you noticed in doing so? I would love to hear your stories!



The Snowman That Never Was: My Struggle With Nutrition Breaks

For many years now, I’ve been at schools that have two nutrition breaks instead of a recess/lunch model. In the nutrition break system, we have two 40-minute breaks during the day: with 20 minutes outside playing and 20 minutes inside eating. I remember when I first learned about nutrition breaks. It seemed strange to have staff and students that may be eating their lunch at 10:30 in the morning or 1:30 in the afternoon, instead of the more typical noon hour. That said, I understood the thinking behind a system that sees the value that outdoor play and full bellies can have to student achievement. Today though, I started to think about outdoor learning, mental health and well-being, and what we can do differently.

Maybe it’s my move to Kindergarten and being in an environment where outdoor learning is such an essential component of the Program Document that has me thinking differently. We start our day outside, and we’re usually out for close to an hour in the morning and some additional time in the afternoon: depending on the weather, student needs, and program interests. While we have a beautiful outdoor classroom in addition to a forest nearby, we primarily let the students take the lead in this outdoor time. And if we really watch and listen to the children, there are so many connections to math skills, language learning, social skills, and problem solving. Rain or shine, this outdoor learning time is usually my favourite time of the day, and I continue to be amazed with what happens in these special outdoor spaces. For the first time ever in my 15 years of teaching, our class does not follow the nutrition break schedule. We have a snack table (where children rotate and eat throughout the day when they’re hungry — they need to eat twice), and we go outside at our own time and primarily dictated by what the children need. Bells no longer run our lives … and I love this!

Twice a week though, I have two, 40-minute nutrition break duties, and I leave our classroom to go and supervise the primary students. Today was one of those days. About three minutes before the bell rang today, a Grade 1 student came up to me. She said, “Miss Dunsiger, can you help us with our snowman? We can’t stack the balls.” She indicated that she even worked with another student and “the ball is so heavy that even the two of us can’t do it.” Another child was walking with me at this point, so the three of us walked over to this snowman. She was right: this was a huge, heavy ball! I explained that I couldn’t pick it up either, but maybe a few more students could help her out. The child that was walking with me offered to help, and another child that was walking by, came over to assist. They struggled. They persevered. They tried different ways to surround the snowball so that they could pick it up safely. And just as the two balls were about to meet, the recess bell rang. I wanted to cry! 

I said that maybe they could come out tomorrow and finish it. One child reminded me that the weather is supposed to warm up and the snow will likely melt. I said maybe they could finish it after. This is when the child that first approached me for help commented, “But it’s already the second break. We just about had it, and now we have no more time.” She was right! To think that all of this problem solving, team work, and perseverance ended with an incomplete snowman, breaks my heart.

Just as I’m struggling with these thoughts, I head over to the lines to let the children go in and get ready for eating time. The students are so loud. They’re still trying to play in the snow. Some children are running around and chasing each other. There are problems with peers, and my only desire at this point is to get everybody inside. The problems spill into the hallways though, and I spend the rest of the nutrition break helping solve them. As I help calm tempers and resolve disputes, I can’t help but think about Stuart Shanker and self-regulation: Why this child? Why now? My thinking led to these questions that I feel could all be at play here. 

  • Outdoor play can help children self-regulate, but does 20 minutes provide enough time for them to truly calm down?
  • The new Kindergarten Program Document talks a lot about the “flow of the day,” and the importance of “minimizing transitions.” These are great considerations for all grades. How many additional transitions happen during the day though because of these two, 20 minute breaks? 
  • Getting dressed and undressed in crowded hallways with additional outdoor clothing (i.e., boots, snowpants, etc.) can be stressful, and does this stress cause the kinds of problems that happened today?

With the different duty requirements, I know that nutrition breaks are hard to change, but I just can’t get past my experience today. My head is full of questions.

  • Outdoor learning time is valuable beyond Kindergarten, so how do we increase these times for all grades?
  • How might we minimize transitions, and what value might this have for all learners?
  • What does your school do? What are the benefits for kids?

It would be great if we could share our stories. Looking ahead, I’d just love for an option where all children could “finish their snowmen.”


Can Relationships Truly Come First?

This morning, a fellow educator and friend of mine, Jonathan So, tweeted me this link to his recent blog post. There’s a lot to consider in this post, and contrary to what I usually do, I didn’t comment right away. I thought. This afternoon, I posted this comment, which may almost be as long as the post itself.

Jonathan’s reply made me realize that I needed to do more than reply again, but instead, write this post of my own.

I totally understand what Jonathan is saying here, and in so many ways, I agree with his sentiments. Here’s the problem though: when I read this line, “As a teacher I have had to give up control, and let go of that “Oh I could have used that 40 minutes to cover curriculum” feeling.,” my heart started to beat faster. Am I okay with these sentiments? That’s when I thought back to this post that I wrote on The MEHRIT Centre blog, and my question of, what constitutes curriculum? 

I think that my biggest struggle is that as much as I may know that …

  • relationships matter the most,
  • students need to feel safe and loved in order to learn,
  • school is about more than just academics,
  • mental health and well-being matters both for adults and for children, and we can impact each other: positively and negatively,
  • our new Board vision has “positive culture and well-being” as its first priority,

how do we put academics second? I’m a Kindergarten teacher, and with our new program document, we have more open-ended expectations than probably any other grade. I’m lucky to work at a school with children that have supportive parents, diverse life experiences, strong oral language skills, a solid understanding of texts and how they communicate messages to others, an interest in writing, many opportunities to play with numbers, and a genuine interest in math and its connection to the real world. These students amaze me every day with what they say and do. I know that I don’t need to be worried about school or Board benchmarks in reading, writing, or math, and yet …

  • do I always try to push a connection to reading, writing, or math, even if one does not naturally exist?
  • do I capture more “academic” moments because I think that they may be more well-received than the self-regulation ones?
  • do I question if colleagues, administrators, or parents wonder if I read enough with students, write enough with them, and provide enough direct instruction?
  • do I try to always make parallels to expectations because I worry if others will see and think as I do?

We can believe that relationships matter the most. We say say that relationships matter the most. But how do we consistently put this as our top priority in our classrooms, and how do we keep it there even if our test scores slip? I know that scores aren’t everything, and like Jonathan, I wonder how successful we’d be at meeting the scores if we didn’t work on some of these relationships first. I’m lucky to work with an amazing teaching partner that believes strongly in the power of these connections, and continues to support, encourage, and inspire me along the way. I’m not going to let go of …

and our many classroom times talking with, listening to, and playing with students. I know they make a difference. Maybe though, in the coming months, as I work on my new one word goal (“perspective”), I’ll get better at readily capturing and sharing these times, and not always being concerned about those academic linksWhat do you think: in a world of “benchmarks,” can relationships in the classroom truly come first, and if so, what do we need in place for this to happen? 


How Do We All Find Our Creative Niche?

I recently finished reading John Spencer and A.J. Juliani‘s book, Launch: Using Design Thinking To Boost Creativity And Bring Out The Maker In Every StudentI believe strongly in the fact that every classroom can (and should) be a Makerspace, and that there’s value in providing real world problems and authentic audiences for student work. These ideas are further supported in our finalized Kindergarten Program Document, and as I read Launch, I made numerous connections to Spencer and Juliani’s ideas and our Kindergarten expectations. It’s clear that Spencer and Juliani have the same view of the child that’s highlighted in our Kindergarten document: as “competent and capable of complex thinking.” There’s so much “wonderful” in Launch that it’s hard to just blog about a single idea, but it was this point on “defining creativity,” that really had me stop and think the most.

Until reading this book, I think I had a narrow view of creativity. I think of the children I’ve taught in the past that I saw as the most creative.

  • They were the artists.
  • They were the musicians.
  • They were the dramatists.
  • They were the builders.
  • They were the book writers.

They were not often …

  • the math thinkers.
  • the problem solvers.
  • the collaborators.
  • the organizers.
  • the readers.

But were they? Spencer and Juliani are helping me realize that we’re all creative, and “creativity” does not always mean making something new, but sometimes, “mashing up ideas” to solve problems or view things differently. 

I can’t help but think of our Board’s new vision: Curiosity. Creativity. Possibility. When I first heard of this vision, I wondered about a student that might be like me. I struggle to express myself through The Arts. More well-known forms of “making” and “tinkering” are not my thing. Am I — and others like me — “creative?” And then I read the book, and I realized that this blog is my creative outlet. It’s how I put together ideas, question continuously, and bring my thinking to an audience. I may not create with my hands, but I do with my mind. Our students can too.

With this new thinking, I’m left wondering, how do we allow all students to develop their creative niche? I can’t help but think about more opportunities to inquire and problem solve in all subject areas and represent thinking in various ways: recognizing the value in all of these waysIs this how we help all children recognize their creativity? What might this actually look like in a classroom environment? I would love to know what you do.



Social Media: Is Avoidance Really The Answer?

Over the holidays, I had a very interesting conversation with a relative. She shared some thoughts about “why educators should not be using social media to communicate.”  These are some of the questions that she raised during our discussion. 

  • What if messages are misinterpreted?
  • What if our tone is misinterpreted? 
  • What if parents, administrators, or students get angry or upset based on something that we’ve shared?
  • What if parents compare their child’s work to another student’s work because of what’s shared? 

These questions highlight for me another reason that some educators choose not to blog: the fear of making our thoughts public and the possible repercussions for doing so. But is this fear a good reason to choose not to share or just a good reminder to be careful and think more before choosing what and how we share?

I use social media (particularly Twitter, Instagram, and blogs) to share student thinking and learning with parents, and I guess ultimately, with the world. I try to be careful about how I capture this work. 

  • I take many headless photographs and videos, and only use student names when agreed to by the students and the parents. I use initials a lot.
  • I try to keep the focus on the work and the learning. By not just taking a photograph or video of each child doing each activity, there are fewer opportunities for comparisons.
  • I consider my captions carefully. Again, I try to highlight the work and the learning, and also, celebrate student growth.
  • I use Storify to not just collect the individual snippets of learning, but provide a context for this learning that helps highlight growth and connections to program expectations.

While much of this documentation makes its way into our daily post on our class blog, I sometimes reflect on this work in other ways on my professional blog. It’s when writing these blog posts that I find myself proofreading more, considering word choice even more carefully, and sometimes, getting an opinion or two before publishing. While it’s largely parents that read our class blog, a more diverse audience reads my professional blog, including parents, administrators, colleagues, and various educators. My professional blog is a way for me to reflect, but also start, and hopefully continue, conversations.

I’m a self-proclaimed “educational troublemaker,” and I’m proud to be one. I appreciate when people comment with their diverse views, so that we can continue the conversations online. Sometimes words do cause strong emotions, and maybe, that’s okay. If we’re professional and open to dialogue, these emotions can be a good thing. Even if people don’t always choose to comment or talk directly to us, our words might get people thinking, and with thinking, often comes change.

I understand why people focus in on the social media horror stories (and cautionary tales) because there are lots of them. It’s these same stories that made me question joining Twitter over seven years ago. Maybe though, instead of focusing on the problems, we need to focus on the positives. (Again, could “perspective” play an important role here?) 

  • The “thank you’s” from parents and students for capturing the school day online, and knowing how to extend learning at home thanks to what’s shared.
  • The parents that years later, still send the occasional tweet with updates on student success.
  • My new learning thanks to the conversations I’ve had through Twitter, Instagram, and blog post comments.
  • Connections I’ve made thanks to social media that I never would have made without it. Just as one example, over three years ago, I tweeted Stuart Shanker some of my blog post links connected to the Calm, Alert, and Learning Book Club I was involved in. That started a connection that eventually led to my work with The MEHRIT Centre.

I don’t think we should ignore the cautionary tales, but could we reduce future problems, by sharing more examples of how to use social media “for good?” Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blogs are not going away. Is attempting to put a stop to their use, really the answer? I don’t think so, but what about you?