Celebrating Kindness

I still remember when I was in grade school, and I felt as though I was the only person in my class that was not celebrating Christmas. My closest friends had Christmas trees, sparkly lights, and lots of presents covering their floors. I remember asking my mom for a Hanukkah bush. This didn’t happen. ūüôā I knew that it was okay to be different. I knew that Hanukkah was still special, but I missed celebrating Christmas. There was a feeling of shared excitement —¬†both at school and¬†around the community¬†— that seemed to come with celebrating Christmas. Maybe I felt left out.

When my parents got divorced and my mom and step-dad got together, I celebrated my first Christmas. It was awesome! There were Christmas Eve traditions. We put up a tree. We strung popcorn, while my dog at the time, Princess, tried to eat as many pieces as we strung. We even had the big family dinner, and the turkey fiasco with the dog jumping on the table at the end of the meal, and sticking her head inside the turkey cavity. What fun! 

We still have many of these traditions —¬†usually without a tree, as the dogs make this impossible. (They love to jump and eat anything on the bottom 3/4 of the tree, and decorating 1/4 of a Christmas tree looks kind of ridiculous. ūüôā ) I share these stories because in addition to these Christmas traditions, we also have Hanukkah ones. We still light the menorah for the 8 days of Hanukkah, and often, have had Hanukkah songs and candle lighting at our Christmas Eve dinners. Over the years, I’ve been to Christmas Eve services at the church and I’ve been to Hanukkah parties at the synagogue.¬†There’s something special about both of these experiences!

So now, almost 25 years since my very first Christmas, I get to teach students that celebrate a multitude of holidays. As the snow started to fall and holiday decorations went up around the community and in the school, the students all started to experience this holiday joy. I want to recognize all holiday celebrations. I want students to be excited about what they do, and not —¬†like when I was younger¬†— only wishing as though they were celebrating something different.¬†But how do I do this?

  • I can give students opportunities to share with others about what they do.
  • I can look for books, songs, and artefacts that align with the different holiday celebrations.
  • I can listen to what students are interested in learning about, and respond to their interests.
  • I can focus on overlapping themes.

It’s this last idea that made me think of one of Angie Harrison‘s¬†recent tweets. Angie is a Kindergarten teacher in York Region, and she is one of two teachers behind this What Can You See, How Can You Help global project. Early this afternoon, I saw this tweet:


I checked out the link, and totally loved the idea. I even went on Amazon and ordered a couple of elves to be shipped out tomorrow.¬†Yes, I know that elves make us think about Christmas, but acts of kindness can align with any holiday. (And maybe I can even think about putting an elf, some snowmen, and some stuffed people together to perform these acts of kindness ‚Ķ) When I introduced my class to Angie and Jocelyn‘s global project on Monday, they were so excited to do something to help others. As Angie mentioned in a tweet today, you can actually hear the engagement in their voices.

I love that students see the fun in doing something for someone else. At this time of the year when it’s so easy to get caught up in our own wishes, I love that we can make other wishes come true. Maybe a theme of kindness will help us recognize, celebrate, and enjoy¬†all of the holidays and in a meaningful way.¬†What do you think? In the classroom, how do you recognize and celebrate different holidays? How do you help children¬†see the meaning behind these holidays?¬†I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, as we all gear up for the month of celebrations!


Quieting Down

A student was upset.¬†He wasn’t my student. He’s not even in Grade 1, but he’s still somebody’s student. And this student happened to be coming out of a classroom near the one where I was delivering my students for my prep. I noticed because he ran past me. I noticed because I heard a supply teacher at the time call his name, and I knew there was a problem. That was when I started walking back to class, and I heard his name on the announcements. I also saw him sitting in an alcove not far from my classroom. So I stopped. I sat down next to him. I thought back to Stuart Shanker‘s¬†Calm, Alert, and Learning book that I read last year, and I forced myself —¬†really¬†forced myself¬†— to keep my voice very low. And in that whisper voice, I asked him, “What’s wrong?” He told me. I listened. I let him calm down, and then I convinced him to walk with me to where he was asked to go. We spoke about staying calm. We spoke about what he could do if he was feeling upset. We spoke about the fact that it’s okay to ask for a break, but it’s not okay to scream and run. In those few minutes, on a difficult day, I felt like what I did mattered.

That’s when I started to think about what I did.¬†I kept calm and stayed quiet.¬†This is hard for me.

  • I’m a loud person.
  • I speak loudly.
  • My actions are big.
  • I get easily excited, and the more excited I get, the louder I get.
  • I’m passionate, and passion can be loud.

I think it’s a good thing to be wrapped up in the true joy of learning, and it’s one of the reasons that I’m thrilled to go and teach every day ‚Ķ¬†because I truly love what I do! For so many of us, this excitement shows, and for me in the classroom, it can often be in my louder words and bigger actions. But that afternoon, I couldn’t help but think of this student. I wonder if “the quiet” helped him, or at least it did at the time. And so as the day came to an end, and the volume in the classroom got louder, I tried hard to quiet down.

  • I turned off the overhead lights.
  • I talked less.
  • I whispered more.¬†

In my head, I had to talk myself through this process, but it worked! The students were calmer, and the environment was calmer. I liked the feel of this!

I’m not perfect!¬†I know that many times, I’m loud and excited, and most of the time and for the majority of my students, this isn’t a problem.¬†But what about my students that would do better¬†with this “quieter” tone? How do I give them what they need? How do you create this calm classroom environment?¬†I wonder what impact this would have on all students, and I wonder how I can do it more.¬†


My Big Mistake

Tonight, I realized that I made a¬†big mistake. I was driving home this evening and thinking about my Math/Music¬†activity¬†from today.¬†I kept replaying the comment that I made about 4 beats in a bar. I had this nagging feeling that something that I said or did related to this music activity wasn’t right. I tried reasoning with myself that I was correct. But I just couldn’t be convinced, so when I got home, I sent out this tweet:


It wasn’t long before an English teacher from Kitchener, Callie, replied to my tweet (and then our conversation unfolded).


I can’t believe what I did! How could I have made such a huge mistake?

Now I felt stuck. It was during our Math/Music activity today that I realized that many students did not understand the connection between a half¬†and a whole. I was speaking to my amazing EA, Melissa, after school today, and she had a great idea involving Lego and fractions. I then started to look at different block and shape options that would help students see that two halves make a whole. I left school totally prepared to have students create different combinations of four beats using half notes and whole notes:¬†using visuals to “see” what fractions really mean in a meaningful context.

I kept trying to convince myself that despite the fact that¬†half notes are actually two beats, whole notes are actually four, and there are only really four beats in a bar (and not 16), that I could still make my activity work.¬†But it wasn’t long before my discussion continued with our terrific Arts Consultant, Karen, and I knew that as much as I wanted this plan to work, it wouldn’t. Based on this realization then, I need to go to school tomorrow and tell my Grade 1 students that,

  • I made a big mistake.
  • I was right that there are four beats in a bar, but completely wrong about the value of each note.
  • I will be correcting my mistake, and we will learn the right way, but first, I need some help. (I’m meeting with Karen next week, and I¬†will be getting this help.)

I know that we learn a lot from failing. I know that we learn a lot from trying again, and I know that I will learn a lot from this experience.¬†But you know what?¬†Failing isn’t fun, and thinking that I may have caused confusion for my students, definitely upsets me. I’ve made many mistakes in my teaching career, and I’m sure that I’ll make many more, but hopefully I won’t make this same one again. I hope that my Grade 1’s will understand when I tell them about my mistake tomorrow. Today was a good reminder that we can all make mistakes ‚Ķ even when we think that we may be doing the right thing!¬†

How do you admit to students about your mistakes? How do you learn from these mistakes?¬†I’d love if we could share our stories, and share the learning that comes from them!


Hearing All Voices

Twitter is often perceived as an echo chamber. I get that. Depending on whom you follow and what conversations you participate in, it’s easy to just do a lot of head nodding as people share the same thoughts. That’s why I appreciate following educators like Andrew Campbell. While Andrew and I live fairly close to each other, we teach for different Boards, and the majority of our conversations happen online. Andrew’s always causing me to think. He thinks about topics differently than I do. I’m more of a “small picture” person, and Andrew gets the “big picture.” Lately, he’s been blogging regularly about his thoughts —¬†something that I truly appreciate¬†— and while I don’t always agree with what he says, he forces me to think more deeply about what I do believe.

I share my thoughts on Andrew here because I think it’s important to have people like “Andrew” in our lives:¬†people that don’t echo our ideas, but give us new ones to consider.¬†Based on my online and offline interactions, I feel lucky to have many of these people around that cause me to think, question, reflect, and see things differently. Some of them are fellow teachers. Some of them are administrators. Some of them are superintendents. Some of them are educational assistants. Some of them are consultants. Some of them are parents. Some of them are students.¬†In various ways, each of these people push my thinking.¬†

I feel fortunate to have colleagues and friends that openly offer these opposing viewpoints, and challenge me (in a good way) to reconsider what I think. But the problem is, I don’t think that the only echo chamber is online. I think we have our own echo chambers in schools.¬†How often do we hear one view expressed and see others nodding along? Do they do so because they agree, or do they do so because they don’t know how else to respond? Is there maybe another reason altogether?¬†I happen to think that we all learn a lot from each other. Teaching differently and thinking differently is good. We need to hear various voices.¬†How do we “hear” more voices in schools and online? How do we encourage hard conversations about¬†challenging topics?¬†I’d love to know what you do, or what you think would be worth trying. I can’t help but wonder what voices are missing from the conversation, and what these people would contribute!


When Do We Discuss What?

I was in a PD session last week. We were talking about¬†Class Act¬†and how to develop phonemic awareness skills in our students. It wasn’t long before we started talking about teaching printing, as printing the letters is part of these skills we’re trying to develop in our students. I’ll admit that in my head I was asking, “Why do we always get hung up on printing? Why does it matter how the students form the letters? Is this really key to their success?” And that’s when the Speech Pathologist that was delivering the training, said some words that made me think differently (paraphrased here):¬†Students need to be able to form these letters automatically without spending so long thinking about the actual letter-formation. Then the focus can be on the writing (i.e., the ideas) and not the printing.¬†Excellent point!

I share this story because it connects with a great conversation I had online last night with Andrew Campbell: a wonderful teacher from a neighbouring Board. He wished that I hadn’t written a post yesterday on printing vs. cursive writing vs. typing, and his reasoning is shared below.

2014-11-23_12-12-28 2014-11-23_12-12-36

I understand what he’s saying, and in fact, share many of his thoughts, but¬†with a couple of¬†exceptions:¬†How do students have real choices in their learning if they haven’t been exposed to these choices? How do we only focus on “what we’re doing,” if students can’t get the ideas down to work with them in the first place?¬†Overall, tools seem “easy” and pedagogy’s “hard,” but when you’re teaching students that are just beginning to read and write, both can be challenging.

  • How do you introduce the tool choices?
  • How do you keep the students focused on the learning and not on the tool?
  • How do you keep your professional dialogue focused on the pedagogy? Is it important that you do so, or are “tool discussions” also valuable? When might this be so?
  • How much direct instruction do you give, and how much do you let students explore on their own?
  • How do you decide on the best options for different students?
  • How do you help students later choose the “best option” for themselves? When do you encourage students to start making these choices on their own?

I would definitely rather keep our discussions focused on the students and on the learning, but I can understand how the tool also becomes a focus. I think that the problem starts when all we discuss is the tool without the pedagogy.¬†How do you stay focused on the learning? What role does the “tool” play in your discussions? What role do you think it should play?¬†Thank you, Andrew, for getting me to think more about¬†this important topic!