Could it be “about the comments?”

This morning, I started my day as I always do, reading Doug Peterson‘s recent blog post. Doug has started writing a Whatever Happened To … post every Sunday, and I quite enjoy looking back at some things that I remember and others that I can start to learn about. Today, Doug took on handwritten report cards, and his questions and comments —as well as a comment from another educator — gave me a lot to think about. Doug and I discussed different points about this post through the comment section on his blog as well as through numerous tweetsIt was the comment by Mr. Mepham though that made me realize I needed to write a post of my own. 

One thing that I didn’t include in any of my comments is that Doug’s blog post surprised me. When I saw that his topic for this week was “handwritten report cards,” I expected to hear about the personalized report cards of days gone by. When I started teaching, we were already into using electronic report cards, but I remember receiving the handwritten ones when I was a child. I even remember some of the comments. While there were some generic ones such as, “good job,” or “Aviva works hard,” there were also specific ones connected to skills I demonstrated and projects I submitted. I often thought about the teachers that spent so much time crafting these comments and writing them out with their perfect blue or black pens (I don’t think my trusty Sharpie marker would do 🙂 ) versus typing them on a computer. I heard colleagues talk about how there were “no comment banks back then,” so I guess that I took this to mean that the comments were more personal than they are today. But were they?

All of this takes me back to my first commentand big question — on Doug’s post: do the format of the report cards need to impact on how personalized we make our comments? Just because we have a comment bank doesn’t mean that we need to use it. Even if we do use it, this doesn’t mean that we can’t change examples or modify words (something that I know is quite common for educators to do). Yes, we have space restrictions on our electronic report cards, and these restrictions also existed for the handwritten ones. As Mr. Mepham mentions in his comment, the look of our current report card is somewhat “sterile or uninviting.” This doesn’t mean that the content in it needs to be. In fact, Growing Success suggests quite the opposite. I also know though that a big part of the challenge comes from balancing personalized statements with limited room for sharing. This is something that causes me much stress during report card writing time, and sometimes leads me to settle on a comment that I don’t think tells the full story. This is never an easy decision to make.

As I read Doug’s post though and all of the comments that followed, I couldn’t help but think about this blog post by Kristi Keery-Bishop. While Kristi’s post discusses why we shouldn’t avoid inquiry just because we have to mark it, I think that some of the same logic holds true when it comes to personalized comments. Yes, we often need to get creative with our word choice, and we may not be able to include all examples in our finite number of lines, but we can still paint a picture of each child in each report card. I think about many generic comments that I’ve written in the not-so-distant past, and I wonder if we’ve all become accustomed to them (parents included). Is this why parents might stop reading the comments (as Mr. Mepham mentions)? If each report card was a learning story starring the child, would parents view the comments differently? Would we? We may not be able to get rid of the marks. We may always have space restrictions. The comment bank might always exist. But I would like to think that we can work past these problems to make a report card more than just a couple of pieces of paper that go home so many times a year. Maybe this is my Utopian ideal, but I’m hoping that it could happen — and I think that it already is happening in some cases. What do you think?


My Evolving #OneWord Goal

Last week, I read Kristi Keery-Bishop‘s blog post, where she reflected on her one word goal for this year. With just over half of the year done, and with summer vacation now here, it’s a great time to look back, think about what worked and what didn’t, and set some new/updated/modified goals for the next school year. Among other things, Kristi’s post got me re-reading my one word blog post from the end of December, and drawing some conclusions.

Looking back now, I realize that while my goal was to focus on hearing, I think that I made the assumption that the only people that I really needed to hear were colleagues. I did spend a lot of time this past school year focusing on this list of points when interacting with adults.

Screenshot 2016-07-17 at 19.19.46

As a Kindergarten teacher in Ontario, I share the classroom with another adult — something that I’ve done before, but under very different circumstances — and it’s been great learning for me to not be the only one making the decisions. In fact, many times during the school year, my partner had more experience with our current problem/issue, and she took the lead in developing a solution, proposing a plan of action, and exploring implementation options. Yes, we still brainstormed ideas together. And yes, I still asked questions that sometimes changed the plan, but I learnt that I needed to listen more, and I got better at doing so. I am not (and was not) perfect! 

  • Sometimes I interrupted.
  • Sometimes I made assumptions before hearing the whole plan.
  • And sometimes I tried to modify ideas before we tried them out, when really there was value in trying them out first. (With many thanks to my wonderful partner, she was great at reminding me of this, and we did start to do this more as the year went on.)

As I start teaching at a new school with a new teaching partner, these are all areas that I will continue to work on in the new school year. I think it takes time and practice to hear more and talk less. 

This past school year though, I realized that it’s not just adults that I need to make sure that I hear, it’s also the students. I know that it seems almost obvious to draw this conclusion, but it’s unbelievable how easy it is to forget about this. I actually thought about this idea more when I recently read Stuart Shanker‘s Self-Reg: How To Help Your Child (And You) Break The Stress Cycle And Successfully Engage With LifeThis book reminded me that children don’t always tell us what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, and what they need in the best of ways. In fact, sometimes we observe them and see “misbehaviour,” when really it’s a case of “stress behaviour.” The four Foundations Courses that I just finished, really helped me view behaviour differently, but even so, it wasn’t until I looked critically at my one word goal that I realized the tremendous importance in hearing kids: both in what they say and in what they do

  • If they cry … why?
  • If they get physical (hitting, kicking, punching, etc.) … why?
  • If they scream … why?
  • If they struggle with sitting and listening … why?
  • If they can’t join a big group … why?
  • If they can’t engage in a small group … why?
  • If they float from one activity to another one … why?
  • If they call people names … why?
  • If their behaviour changes throughout the school day … why?

It really is about asking, “Why this child and why now?,” on a regular basis, so that we can help problem solve for greater success. While I think that I’ve improved at asking this question after the fact, I really want to focus on asking myself this question in the midst of the problem so that I respond differently. Maybe my different, calmer response will also lead to a different outcome.

I’m excited to start a new year at a new school with a new class and a new terrific partner. In the midst of all of this new, it will be good to still focus on my old one word goal, but with the addition of actively listening to students as well as staff. How have you done with your one word goal? What changes will you make for the 2016/2017 school year? I would love to hear your reflections!


I Failed. Have You?

This afternoon, I received an email telling me that Kristi Keery-Bishop published a new blog post. The title of the post, #Fail, had me quickly clicking to read it, even though I only had a few minutes to do so. There are many things that I appreciate about Kristi as a blogger, an educator, and an administrator, and one thing is her honesty … even when it may be a challenge to share. Kristi’s post has inspired me to be honest too.

This post of mine is not about failure connected to my “one word goal” (reflections on that goal are for another post), but it is about failure. My confession: I’ve failed a lot, both in my child and adult life. These are just some of my failures …

  • There was my failure in Visual Arts when my work products — no matter how hard I worked — never met expectations.
  • There was my failure in instrumental music, when I decided to choose the tuba to play because nobody else picked it, and doesn’t tuba sound like a wonderful word?! Little did I know that the tuba is a massive instrument and that walking it home to our family condo each week was way beyond my capabilities. Nobody that lives in a condo complex wanted to hear me play the tuba either. After a year of struggles, the music teacher gave me the bells the next year. When I say “bells,” I mean that I got “a bell” that I rang when she pointed at me. That was failure.
  • There was the failure in geography, when I couldn’t even find Ontario on a map. It took nights of tears and hours of time with my step-dad to just memorize the map locations to pass the test. Even today, I struggle with finding Ontario on a map (more #ConfessionsOfAviva).
  • There was my grown-up failure in winter parking. Every time the snow fell, and I couldn’t find the lines in the parking lot, I managed to park in multiple spots and mess up the entire parking lot. Eventually the whole staff at one of my previous schools needed to meet the expectations in my Parking I.E.P., and shift assigned spots on those days when we couldn’t see the lines. Parking failures is one of my favourite blogging topics. 🙂 
  • Then there was a failure where I didn’t meet a classroom goal that I wanted to meet. When someone pointed out to me what I could have done to meet this goal, and what I really should consider for another year, I felt like a failure. While she offered her help, and her ideas might very well work, the fact that I didn’t come close to meeting this goal, made me feel even worse about myself. 

While some of these failures may cause a chuckle from me now, the truth is — at the time at least — I agree with Kristi that “failing sucks.” And although I do believe that we can learn a lot from many of our failures, maybe one thing that we can also learn — and should learn — is that sometimes we will failBlog posts and Twitter conversations have almost turned every failure into something great. As Kristi mentions, terms like grit, perseverance, and even cute acronyms like F.A.I.L. (First Attempt In Learning), make us see the positive side of failure. Yes, we should learn from our mistakes. Yes, there is value in trying again. And yes, not every initial mistake is going to lead to a life-long failure … but maybe, sometimes, it will. Maybe we do need to teach children how to also deal with the upset that comes from this kind of failure, so that they can also move past it to a success.

I think about the failures that I shared above. No matter how hard I may work, how many times I try again, and how many different strategies I use,

  • My art work will never be used as a model for others — except for maybe what not to do.
  • My tuba playing will cause many children and adults to plug their ears.
  • My map reading skills will either lead you into the ocean or onto the wrong road.
  • I will never be hired as a parking valet.
  • And I cannot go back and meet the classroom goal that I didn’t meet … at least not for that particular class.

Some may see this as a pessimistic outlook. I see it instead as reality, but with the knowledge, that there are many more things that I can do — and have done — well. If we make students and ourselves believe that “failure is not an option,” do we only increase the anxiety (and feelings of upset) of those people that have tried and have failed? I think we’ve all experienced failure, and I wonder how much we could learn from each other (and teach our children) if we all shared these experiences. (As an aside, yes, these thoughts are uncomfortable ones to write because it seems strange to talk about failure in this way.) What do you think?


Left Wondering, “Am I Getting Better?”

This morning, I read a recent blog post by Sue Dunlop called Two Essential Questions For Reflection. In this post, Sue talks about her reflection process. She shares two questions that Steven Katz, a psychologist, teacher, and researcher, uses to measure improvements.

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I attended EdCamp Mississauga with Sue and some other educators and administrators in our Board, and I remember her speaking about these two questions during one of our conversations there. For weeks, I’ve been mulling them over. My problem is that I’m very conflicted on the answers.

I think that I’m struggling the most because for 14 years, I judged my improvement/growth/success almost solely on a child’s attainment of academic skills. I focused on school and Board benchmark goals. I knew them, and I worked hard to get children to meet them. Some years, I was more successful than others, but almost always, I saw tremendous growth in the students. Almost always, the scores made me happy

Then in my fifteenth year of teaching, something changed. After conversations with my teaching partner, curriculum consultants, and school support staff, we realized that academics couldn’t come first. Our students needed to develop social skills (including self-regulation) and problem solving skills, so that they were ready and able to learn. This didn’t mean that we ignored the academics, but we reinforced a lot of these literacy and math skills through play, while also modelling and reinforcing the other skills that are essential for children to become learners and leaders in school and in life. 

By the end of the year, overall the students made great gains in our areas of focus.

  • The classroom was calmer.
  • Students engaged in tasks for longer periods of time.
  • Children started to share materials and interact with each other.
  • Students began to problem solve independently, instead of just with adult support.
  • Many children learned how to SELF-regulate (e.g., noticing that they needed to calm down and choosing a book to look at in a quiet area, a song to dance to on the SMART Board, or the Theraband to pull on the door).

Observing this growth in the students, helped me believe that I was “improving as a teacher,” as it was due to many of our changes and supports in the classroom environment that impacted on this student success. Or, at least, student success in social skills and problem solving …

Then comes the part that makes me uncomfortable: what about academic growth? Overall, the students improved in their understanding of phonemic awareness skills and the alphabetic principle. Some made very significant gains. A few students even exceeded expectations. But what about those students that didn’t meet the benchmark? Is there more that I could have done? I sit back now and think about what we did throughout the year.

  • I think about our small group instruction.
  • I think about how we developed phonemic awareness skills during transitional times.
  • I think about the resources we accessed: print resources and people resources.
  • I think about our focus on oral language skills and developing these skills so that students were ready to read and write.
  • I think about the feedback that we asked for and got all year long, and the changes we made as a result. 

While I think about what we did, I also wonder, is there something I missed that would have improved results? 

This past week, I attended a two-day inservice on emergent and early reading. I heard many ideas for developing oral language, reading, and writing skills in the classroom. Some ideas are new ones and some ideas reinforce what I’ve heard before. This September, I will be teaching Kindergarten at a different school in a very different area of our Board. While I’m hoping that my interactions with the new Kindergarten team, various educators online, and my new professional learning (through reading and inservices) will help me continue to improve, I wonder how to judge this growth. Do different results in a different environment truly equate to an improvement in skills? Even as you examine your growth, how do you know that you’ve achieved “your best?” How do you determine what else you could have done and/or what to do next? Our students all deserve our very best, and as the summertime starts, I keep thinking about what this looks like and what my next best move could be.


Self-Reg: Here Are My Biggest Takeaways. What Are Yours?

Summertime has started, and so has my summertime reading. My first professional read of the summer was Stuart Shanker‘s Self-Reg: How To Help Your Child (And You) Break The Stress Cycle And Successfully Engage With Life. I was really eager to read Shanker’s new book, as his first one influenced my teaching practices more than any other professional resource. I liked Shanker’s latest book just as much, and I think that thanks to my learning from the Foundations Courses and my numerous conversations online and in-person on self-regulation, I could make even more connections to this recent read. While I highlighted and made notes about many topics discussed in the book, I left with four big takeaways.

1. Quiet does not equal calm. I couldn’t help but think about various school experiences from the past. In each of these events, a child was “misbehaving,” and after trying different approaches, an adult raised his/her voice. Sometimes the adult was me. Sometimes the adult was somebody else. Regardless of the person though, the child almost always quieted down at this point. I remember talking to others about this. It really bothered me that somebody needed to raise his/her voice for a child to “calm down,” but now I realize that this child was likely not calm at all. The child may be “quiet,” but what about his/her stress level? Have we only made a situation worse instead of making it better?

2. There is both misbehaviour and stress behaviour, and there are key ways to tell the difference. In the last year (or so), as I’ve read and learned more about self-regulation from different sources, I’ve struggled with identifying misbehaviour versus stress behaviour. Some examples are obvious, but some are less so, and I’ve gone home many times doubting myself. I’ve often wondered, is all behaviour stress behaviour? How do you know? Shanker provides some great examples in his book, and I found myself reading his ideas, comparing them to my experiences, and really starting to view things with a clearer lens. 

3. Nobody is perfect, and we have to forgive ourselves as well as our children. Shanker shares many great anecdotes in the book, including some personal experiences. I love how — on multiple occasions  he admits that he made a mistake (when he responded in a way that he wish he hadn’t), and what he did afterwards. No matter how much we may know about self-regulation, we’re still human. We need to be kind to ourselves as well as to others. It’s what we learn from these mistakes, and hopefully how they influence our future responses, that matter the most!

4. Parents and educators are on the same team. Shanker’s recent book was really written for parents. It speaks to parents. While I’m not a mom, I can’t tell you the number of times that I thought that “educator” could be replaced with “parent,” and “home examples” could apply just as much to the “school.” I think this book is a great reminder …

  • about how much we can learn from each other.
  • about how much we struggle with some of the same problems.
  • and about the importance of strong home/school connections.

This is some of my learning from a teacher perspective. I would be curious to hear people’s learning from different perspectives. What are your key takeaways from Shanker’s book? How might this impact on your practices at home and/or at school (or work)? 


Taking The Time To Reflect

This morning, I started off my day as I always do, by reading Doug Peterson‘s most recent blog post. His post today talks about reflections, and taking some time, as educators, to reflect on what we did to make things better for students. At an emotional time of the year, when students are getting both excited and/or anxious for summer break, and both my teaching partner and I are working on packing up our classroom and moving to new schools, it’s nice to focus on the positive. As suggested by Doug, here is my list of 10 things that I did to make things better for kids.

  1. I listened to the students. When I say that I listened to them, I didn’t just listen to what they said, but I listened to what they did. I realized that their actions were telling us what they needed, but also what they didn’t need. It was due to the students that my teaching partner and I re-examined our classroom schedule and re-looked at the need for full group instruction and what that would look like. Carpet time no long exists as it used to, and we’re all better for it!
  2. I listened to my teaching partner, and I relied on her expertise. For years, I’ve been used to teaching on my own. While I’ve been part of large grade teams, I’ve never shared the classroom with somebody else before. It was a learning curve for me to move from making my own decisions to collaborating with somebody else to make decisions. My teaching partner, Nayer, comes with incredible experiences and a wealth of knowledge, and listening to her helped me see many things differently. I think that the students and I both benefited from Nayer’s suggestions, as her ideas helped us meet children where they’re at.
  3. I admitted when I needed help. This is my fifteenth year teaching. It’s my ninth year teaching Kindergarten. I’ve taught at six different schools during this time, and I’ve had a number of different experiences that made me think that I knew what I needed to know in order to be successful in the classroom. This year though, I realized what I didn’t know, and when I needed to ask for help — whether from my teaching partner, from administrators, from our instructional coach, from our Learning Resource teacher, from parents, from fellow educators, and from consultants — in order to help with planning and program delivery. This was a good reminder for me that we can always learn more, that we don’t need to work in isolation, and that when we ask for help (and really listen and respond to it), our children benefit!
  4. I learned to “let it go!” As I’ve mentioned in blog posts before, sometimes we need to decide what really matters. I have learned, and continue to learn, not to sweat the small stuff … and maybe a lot more is small stuff than we think. By giving students more control and not intervening on everything right away, our children have not only learned how to solve more of their own problems, but some richer, deeper learning has happened as a result. Maybe we just need to give kids more opportunities to be creative!
  5. I took the Foundations Courses through The MEHRIT CentreThese Foundations courses gave me a better understanding of self-regulation, and as a result, I now view students and behaviour differently. My final project allowed me to reflect more on Self-Reg in a classroom context — both in terms of my own needs and student needs — and I think about these reflections a lot as I contemplate how to respond to children and why they might be making the choices that they’re making. 
  6. I stopped worrying about benchmarks. This was a hard one for me. I’m a numbers person, I know curriculum, and I enjoy analyzing data. My goal has always been to have my students meet or exceed benchmarks. I still care about student growth and success, but I realized that when I became focused on benchmarks, I sometimes stopped focusing on students. Now I spend the time really getting to know our students. What interests them? What motivates them? What scares them? What do they need to move forward? Connecting with kids, matters, and this year, I’ve spent more time making these connections.
  7. I took the time to focus on social skills, including self-regulation, before academics. This was a challenge for me, for many of the same reasons that I mentioned in point #6 above. I realized though that for children to meet academic expectations, they need to be calm and ready to learn. I went public with my scary plan, and with the help of my teaching partner, I’ve stuck to this plan. We’ve definitely noticed that many children have become ready to learn because they’ve developed these other skills. 
  8. I laugh lots! Laughter’s contagious, and there’s something so wonderful about being in an environment full of laughter. I love that our students make us laugh, that we make each other laugh, and that you can almost always hear laughter — including fits of giggles — in the classroom. On even the most challenging of days, I think it’s good for all of us — educators and students included — to be able to share a big smile and a good laugh!
  9. I (We) created big blocks of learning time. This is not a decision that I made alone, but instead, with my teaching partner. We realized how difficult transitions are for our students, and that learning becomes richer and deeper, when children have longer blocks of time to learn. We re-looked at our schedule, and figured out ways to reduce transitions and create a more fluid movement between indoor and outdoor learning … and learning in our classroom and in other areas of the school. The children are so much calmer as a result.
  10. I connected with parents. I’m a big believer in the benefits of parent engagement. I also think that all parents want to help their children — sometimes it’s just a matter of showing what’s possible and creating those positive home/school connectionsFrom phone conversations, to face-to-face discussions, to classroom visits, to a nightly blog post and email, my teaching partner and I have come up with different ways to connect with parents, and we see that the learning that’s happening at school is being extended at home. Relationships matter!

As I look back over this list, I realize that it’s been a great year of learning — for me and for our students. I hope that I’m not alone in taking Doug’s challengeWhat’s your Top 10 list? Hopefully educators, administrators, and parents will take the time to reflect, for all of us really do try to make things better for kids!


What If Every Space Was A Maker Space?

I just finished watching Yumi Lee’s amazing TED Talk on “being a maker.” Unlike many other TED Talks, this one is done by an elementary school student, that shared the stage on that same day with educators, administrators, and numerous other professionals. She has a powerful voice with an important message. 

This weekend, I’m organizing our full school Maker Day for June 28th. While I stand behind the Maker Movement, I have to wonder if we really need Maker Spaces, or instead, classrooms that embrace the Maker philosophy. 

Last month, I attended EdCamp Mississauga (#edcamp905), and I participated in a session on Maker Spaces. I listened to and saw examples of many incredible things that are happening in classrooms across the 905 area code, but I believe in the words that I shared on that day: a play-based Kindergarten program is a classroom Maker Space. 

  • We don’t need a separate Maker Space area.
  • We don’t necessarily need technology. (In fact, on our Maker Day on Tuesday, all classroom iPads will have been returned for the summer, and all of our Maker stations are low-tech ones.)
  • We don’t need “making” to exist outside of the curriculum.

Instead, I think that we need to develop a Maker culture in classrooms. We need to encourage thinking, problem solving, creating, and a real world application of learning. I think about the examples that Yumi shared in her TED Talk: from the baking she did as a three-year-old to her drawing blog to the songs and drama created in the shows with her parents and siblings to the creation of her current business — Yumi’s DozenThen I think about what happens in our Kindergarten classroom every day thanks to the benefits of play.

  • We have baking and cooking.
  • We have building and creating.
  • We have drawing, painting, cutting, and gluing: creative work that all looks different and is driven by student interests and desires.
  • We have dancing and song writing.
  • We have puppet plays and dance shows. 
  • And we have students that ensure that all of this work is captured — in photographs and videos — and shared on our class blog, so that they have a real audience for their work.

During these regular, every day making times, we teach. 

  • We work with individuals and small groups.
  • We run mini-lessons.
  • We provide direct instruction. 

Thinking about what Yumi said as she discusses the creation of her business and her various Maker experiences, I realize how many curriculum connections there are to making.

  • Math – Number Sense, Measurement, and Data Management
  • Language – Reading, Writing, Oral Language, and Media Literacy
  • Science – The Safe Use Of Tools, Matter and Materials, and Scientific Inquiry
  • The Arts: Music, Drama, Dance, and Visual Arts
  • Social Skills and Learning Skills

Maybe it’s the Maker Days that get this movement started in schools, but I have to wonder if “making” should be confined to a space or a day. If we see the value in this learning — at making curriculum expectations so much more meaningful than a checklist of what we’ve accomplished — then maybe all grades (at least to some extent) can become these Maker Spaces that are so prevalent in play-based Kindergarten classrooms across our province. Yumi has amazing parents that encouraged this creativity at home. What if we could provide it at school? Would all students have the confidence to live by Yumi’s mantra: “Be weird. Be different. Be awesome like me.”? Imagine what this could mean for content delivery and application of learning. So many incredible possibilities …


Grateful For Dr. Davey School

Today was my last assembly at Dr. Davey School. As I sat there watching our students and listening to our principal address the group, it really hit me that I’m leaving. While I’m excited about another new learning opportunity, I’m also sad to go. I will forever be grateful for …

an energetic, thoughtful, and caring staff that always finds ways to enjoy their time with each other and with the students.

incredible children that constantly make me think and laugh, while also challenging me to take risks and become a better “me.”

an amazing teaching partner that is always there to support me and the students, while also taking risks, having fun, and showing the value in sometimes channelling our inner child. 

a terrific principal and vice principal that support me in countless ways: always making the time no matter how busy they may be.

awesome parents that trust us with their children every day, work with us to meet their needs, and connect with us in so many ways: from face-to-face discussions to classroom experiences to online conversations.

A special “thank you” to this parent that let me share this tweet with you.

I was once told that “Dr. Davey is a special place.” It’s true. It is. I can’t find the words to describe the love, the support, and the energy that makes its way through the building, but I’m glad that I had the chance to experience it. 

As the school year comes to an end, what are you thinking? What have you learnt from this year? Here’s to savouring the memories while also making new ones in our remaining days together!


Are there times when it’s okay to “give in?”

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about the idea of “giving in.” For almost all of my teaching career, I thought that we shouldn’t give in.

  • “Ignore the tears.”
  • “Walk away from the tantrum.”
  • Don’t let the yelling work.”

It was always my thinking that if we “gave in,” we were giving children permission to act in these ways. We were saying to them that these options were the preferred ways to respond. While I can see how this thinking could make sense, I’m now finishing the Foundations Courses through The MEHRIT Centre, and I’m starting to view things differently.

  • What if the tears, tantrums, and yelling, are the results of extreme stress?
  • What if these reactions are a “fight” response?

Should we be asking ourselves “why this child” and “why now,” when the tears, tantrums, and yelling happen, so that we can figure out the underlying causes? Is this when our children need us the most? Is this when they need the hug or the listening ear instead of the walking away? 

As the school year comes to an end, and the stress increases — for adults and for children — I think about the behaviour that we might see in our classrooms and around the school. I think about how I’ve responded for years — from walking away to being firm — and I now I wonder if the children’s actions are not “cries for attention,” but “cries of stress” and “cries for help.” How could we support our students when they might need us the most? Are there times when it’s okay to “give in?” I would love to hear your thoughts about this, as I continue to reconsider “giving in.”


My Sister Is Gifted

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post after being inspired by Royan Lee‘s recent TED Talk.

Royan commented on my last post, and it’s his comment that’s actually inspired what I’m writing today.

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I’ve blogged about some of my story before, but I’ve never shared the whole story. This is the whole story.

When I was in Grade 2, I was identified with a non-verbal learning disability in the area of visual spatial skills. Geography, geometry (especially transformational geometry), and mapping skills continue to be areas of great weakness for me. Then there is also my parking abilities, which have taken up many blog posts of their own. 🙂 At the time when I was identified as learning disabled, the psychologist told my parents that the gap was “too big,” and I would “never make it to university.” I always wanted to be a teacher, and this identification had the potential to crush my dreams (as extreme as this may sound).

There was another side to this story though: my sister. She is 13 months younger than me, but after being identified as gifted, she skipped Grade 1. We were in the same class. Here I was as a struggling student with a younger sister that was almost always at the top of the class. Thankfully I had parents that attempted to get us into separate classes, whenever possible, so that nobody would compare our skills: myself included. I also had teachers that saw beyond my learning disability and looked for my areas of strength. While I struggled in certain areas, I also excelled in others, and these teachers nurtured these other areas. 

  • They inspired me to write. As you can see from my multiple blogs, I still love writing.
  • They encouraged me to read. I’m still an avid reader that always enjoys a good book. 
  • They listened to my parents and worked with me to determine strategies that work. As I learnt from a young age, students need to be of “average to above average intelligence” to be identified as learning disabled. Yes, I had gaps in my skills (I still do), but I also had the ability to learn.

My parents also spent countless hours working with me. I still remember sitting at the dining room table as my step-dad helped me memorize the locations of provinces on a map. I still remember “flipping” more triangles than you can imagine, and still not being able to determine where they should end up on a grid. I remember crying in frustration, and I remember my parents, patiently, working with me again until we figured out a way that I could see what I seemed blind to at the time. They fought for modifications for me, and they gave me a voice to speak up and advocate for myself. 

  • I attended my IPRCs.
  • I asked for the extra time because I needed it.
  • I got the labelled diagrams on the math exams because then I could do the math that I couldn’t do without them.
  • I got the use of a computer because of my difficulties with fine motor skills.

During all of this time, I also listened as my sister vocalized some of the same concerns as my peers. “Why does she get extra time? Why does she get a computer? Maybe it’s better to be learning disabled.” I guess that this was my first experience with equity, and it was often the discussions with my sister that I thought back to, years later, as I tried to explain to my students why some students needed certain accommodations that others didn’t. I was grateful to those teachers and my parents that gave me what I needed to succeed, and now, I try to do the same thing for my students.

When I was in high school, my marks improved tremendously, and while I worked non-stop to keep them up, I was proud to see what I was able to do. I had proven the psychologist wrong, and I was going to go to university. I would get to be a teacher! I knew that this was what I wanted to do, so I only applied to concurrent education programs, and I ended up accepting the offer to the Introduction To Teaching Program at Nipissing University. I had never been away from home before, and I was terrified to leave my support system — predominantly my parents — to go to school. I’m so glad that I did though! I didn’t travel anywhere near as far as Royan did, but I did “find myself” in North Bay.

  • I found some of my closest friends.
  • I found my ability to “lead”: in residence and at the university.
  • I found my “social self”: I joined committees, I played cards, and I went out with friends for the very first time. 

People at university didn’t know my sister. They only knew me. For once, I felt as though I wasn’t comparing myself to her. I also felt as though others weren’t comparing me to her either. 

When I came back home to Hamilton after four years, my sister was accepted into Brown University on a scholarship, and she was moving to the States. Little did I know that she would find the love of her life in Rhode Island, get married, have a beautiful son, and now make the United States her home. Maybe we both needed to move away to find ourselves.

We’re older now, and while I’m still amazed at what my sister can do and has accomplished, I realize that our goals were different ones. My parents love both of us and support both of us in different ways. Nobody compares us anymore … including me. I’ve learnt over the years that,

  • there’s a place in this world for everyone.
  • an identification does not mean the end of a dream.
  • we all need support systems. Parents, educators, and friends can all be these systems.
  • siblings are not the same … no matter how close they may be in age. Everybody deserves to be treated as an individual.
  • we need to believe in ourselves and we need to believe in others. Everyone needs a champion
  • our own insecurities can sometimes cloud our perceptions. Sometimes we need to get away from our problems to really face them. Moving away to university allowed me to see what I could do, and not what I could do compared to my sister.

Thank you, Royan, for encouraging me to share my story. I hope that others share theirs. What’s your story?