How Do We Celebrate The Holidays?

For those that know me, it’s not a big surprise that I’m not a big fan of Halloween. In fact, the last time I taught Kindergarten, I used to plan a field trip to the pumpkin patch on Halloween Day to avoid the craziness of having a party. Some might argue that I’m a Halloween Humbug (or maybe just a Grinch, with no chance of having her Halloween heart grow). ūüôā I get it! Last night though, I engaged in a marvellous Twitter chat with fellow educators Christie, Laurel, Laurie, and Beth. Our conversation stemmed from a tweet that Kristi Keery-Bishop sent out after school that made all of us reflect.

This morning, Kristi sent me this tweet that I think summed everything up.


Last night’s discussion and Kristi’s tweet makes me wonder, what are we doing about those people that are intent on “just surviving the day?” (These people can be both children and adults.)

On a special celebration day, it’s interesting to have a look at who’s in the office. Usually our neediest students are having a difficult day. The routine is different. Some students enjoy the more relaxed environment, but others find it stressful. How do we help them self-regulate? It’s not that I think that we should cancel all of these special days, as there’s also value in learning how to deal with challenges and unstructured times. But not all students know how to do this on their own … then what?

  • Maybe they need a choice of activities to do.
  • Maybe they need a quiet area where they can re-group.
  • Maybe they need some additional outside time. (I noticed that going outside and engaging in gross motor activities helped many of my students self-regulate yesterday.)
  • Maybe they need some independent activity options.
  • Maybe they need some partner or small group learning options to help if full-class activities become too overwhelming.
  • Maybe they just need us to understand that it is a difficult day, and if they respond as such, a quiet talk and some time to begin again may be what they need most.

Just like with children, while some adults love Halloween, others dread the holiday. Yes, we’re older and we should be able to self-regulate better than children, but when we’re stressed, that can be hard. Even when attempting to remain calm, we might find that we are less patient … and this can be a problem on a day when students need our patience even more. I found this to be true for me yesterday. Maybe the best solution for dealing with this came to me thanks to one of my students. In the afternoon, I was in the middle of dealing with some problems in the classroom, and one of the children came up to me with a playdough cupcake. She asked me if I wanted one. I replied with, “I hope that it’s a self-regulation cupcake. I think that my monsters are coming out.” That’s when she put down her tray of cupcakes, went behind me, put her hands on my stomach and said, “Breathe.” I did. Then she said, “Breathe again.” I did … again. This student finished by saying, “Now doesn’t that feel better, Miss Dunsiger?” She was right … it did. This five-year-old also taught me that on these more challenging days, taking the time to breathe, can help us calm down enough to be there for the students that need us most. 

While Halloween is almost over now, more holidays are approaching soon. Last night’s discussion and today’s reflections made me question, how are we supporting students for success? If students aren’t as interested in the holiday, what impact should this have on our classroom practices (including “parties”)? I’ve heard many times recently that, “we’ve done it this way before” is not a good enough reason for why we continue to do things at school. Does this same reasoning hold true for holidays? Why? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Is there a need for a “special helper?”

Up until this point in the year, we haven’t had a “special helper.”¬†Everybody is a special helper.¬†We tidy up together because we all make a mess. We sweep the floors, wash the tables, and stack the chairs as a group to build that community environment where everybody helps. That doesn’t mean that we run around like crazy all trying to do¬†each job at exactly the same time, but with some adult assistance and student volunteers, we manage to get these tidying up jobs done well.

This also means that we don’t have an assigned line leader. In the past, I’ve¬†worked with some students¬†that always needed to be the line leader. Proximity to the teacher and some quiet reminders (easing¬†anxiety in the hallways) really helped these students out. This didn’t mean that there weren’t other students that wanted to be the line leader, but¬†students¬†learned about the importance of “equity,” and how we all have what we need to be successful.¬†Sometimes that means having the same line leader every day, as for this child, it’s not just about “leading the line,” but having success at school.

It’s with this in mind, that I’ve never been a big fan of a “special helper.” I think of it this way:¬†we sing ourselves into line.¬†It’s like a case of the Pied Piper. The singing starts, and the students just quietly start to walk towards the door. Someone ends up first. It’s rarely the same person. If there’s a need for a certain person to be in front that day, then I may ask that student to move up, but if not, I don’t worry about it.¬†Yes,¬†occasionally there are tears because someone really wanted to be up front. We talk through these tears though, and soon enough, they stop. Students learn that their place in the line isn’t that important, and we really make it to where we’re going¬†in just about the same time.

I share all of this because today we talked about starting a “special helper” for the purpose of being a line leader. And while I have the concerns that I’ve shared here, I wonder if I really need to worry.¬†My real concern is that a “special helper” just draws more attention to the “line leader” than what this position has to be.¬†Maybe I’m over thinking this though.¬†If a “special helper” is primarily going to be a line leader, is there value in this or is there another option that might work better?¬†As we continue to converse about this job, I’m looking for some advice.¬†What would you do?


How Do You Self-Regulate?

The other day, I was reminded about the importance of self-regulation. On this particular day, one small problem seemed to lead to another one, and pretty soon, I could feel my stress level rising. Voices were getting louder. There was a mess everywhere. An attempt to tidy up was just making things noisier and messier.¬†The students were too up-regulated. I was too up-regulated. We all needed an opportunity to calm down.¬†I’d love to say that I did the right thing —¬†whatever that right thing at the moment may have been¬†— but I didn’t. I kept on pushing on to get the room cleaned up. I kept on dealing with one little problem after another one. By the time that we all gathered on the carpet, I think that we all wanted to cry.¬†We were frustrated, excited, stressed, and not at the optimum level for learning.¬†It was as I was sitting in the chair, looking at and listening to the students, that I realized the problem. We then took a moment to listen to some quiet music, move slowly around the room (to slow down our bodies), and head outside to move around, so that we could bring ourselves down.

It was this experience that I thought about a couple of days later, when my partner and I¬†decided to make a few changes to better meet the needs of our students. I knew that these changes would be very uncomfortable ones for me, and I thought that I might need some opportunities to self-regulate. I jokingly said that I might use the hallway as my self-regulation space (which is funny, as this area usually increases my stress level with the bright lights, congestion, and items everywhere), but I knew that I needed something. So on Friday, when I could feel my stress level rising, I took a moment.¬†I stepped back. I took a deep breath. I played through the conversation in my head, and reminded myself to keep that quiet, even voice, that I knew would matter.¬†I also made sure to take breaks during the day (even if they were very short ones): I found a quiet spot to sit and relax when I didn’t have duty, and I made sure to take a few minutes out of the classroom at lunchtime. I found ways to self-regulate so that I could better help my students do the same.

Please don’t get me wrong here:¬†I love my job!¬†There is nothing I would rather do in my life. I care about all of our students, and I really do want to see them succeed.¬†This is why I’m willing to get “uncomfortable,” as I know that the changes are what they need.¬†But I also know that my ability to self-regulate impacts on my students. I need to be calm, so they can be too. And if I’m feeling stressed, I need to be able to address that, so that this stress does not impact on the¬†students’¬†learning environment.¬†Am I always good at doing this?¬†No. I make a lot of mistakes. But as educators, I think that we can’t forget about the tremendous value in making sure that we self-regulate.

  • Maybe it’s about finding a place to take a break:¬†be it the staff room, an empty classroom, a quiet hallway, or even outside.
  • Maybe it’s about going on a walk or doing yoga at lunchtime.
  • Maybe it’s about using more natural lighting and lamps instead of the harsh overhead lights. (I think our students benefit from this one too, but I know that I love the feeling of this calm lighting, and use it even when I’m the only one in the room.)
  • Maybe it’s about doing some deep breathing —¬†even taking a couple of extra, calming breaths¬†—¬†before going and dealing with a problem.
  • Maybe it’s about blogging. Reflecting and sharing helps me calm down.
  • Maybe it’s about having that coffee in the morning before school.¬†Sipping a delicious coffee in a quiet area does a lot to help me self-regulate.

How do you self-regulate? I also think about parents at home. This need to self-regulate is surely just as important for them.¬†Parents, what do you do?¬†When we see behaviour — both our own and our children’s — through the lens of self-regulation, I wonder if we address it differently.¬†I wonder what impact this has on everyone involved.¬†I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Do Others Help Us Know Our Students “Better?”

This has been a really interesting week for me, and one that allowed me to reflect on various topics. As the day came to an end yesterday, I realized something very important (which maybe I already knew, but stuck out because of the events of the week): we truly are better together.

I often hear the words, “As teachers, we know our students best.”¬†I get that.¬†I spend all day observing, listening to, talking to, questioning, and working with the children in our class. I know them well. But we cannot underestimate the power in connecting with others.

  • Maybe it’s the¬†educational assistants that have a new perspective on a child and can provide us with insights for programming and better meeting the child’s¬†needs.
  • Maybe it’s our¬†partners¬†that come with different experiences that we do and can share new approaches.¬†This week, I really had to sit back, listen, and learn from my amazing DECE partner that took the lead in a way that I didn’t know how. I feel fortunate that she can teach me as well as the students.
  • Maybe it’s our¬†colleagues, that no matter how busy they are, will always take the time to listen, help out, or provide that smile when it’s needed the most.

My Tweet From Last Night

  • Maybe it’s the¬†support staff: from Instructional Coaches to Resource Teachers to consultants. They often come with different resources and knowledge than we do, and as I saw this week, when we hear and respond to their ideas, our students often benefit.
  • Maybe it’s the¬†parents: a child’s first teacher, and an important partner in¬†educating¬†the little people in front of us.¬†As I’ve seen over the years, the more we can work together, the greater the chance for student success.
  • Maybe it’s our¬†administrators: having that office support is so important, but especially at more challenging times, when it can mean so very much¬†to know that we’re not alone.¬†I think it’s also important to remember that principals and vice principals were once classroom teachers. They may come with different skill sets than we have, and often¬†times what they can teach us, will then help benefit our students.
  • Maybe it’s the¬†secretaries: often the first connection in the office.¬†I love watching our secretaries at work each day. I teach at a big school, but these two know almost everyone in the school, and their smiling faces, gentle words, and kind gestures (from even remembering to put aside a snack for a student) can regularly set the stage for a good day (or turn a bad one around).
  • Maybe it’s the¬†caretakers, who will always take the time to pause and talk to students.¬†There’s the day shift caretaker, who answers my students’ questions every day about his job, the garbage, and the tools that he uses. I have students that purposely wait for him to come, so that they can talk to him. And then there’s our afternoon caretakers. The other¬†day, a student was upset, but he doesn’t speak English, and we were trying to figure out what was wrong. One of the afternoon caretakers speaks his first language. She saw him crying, got down, and talked to him. Her soothing voice in a familiar language helped this child calm down. Now, every day, he looks for her, gets all excited, and runs over to give her a big hug. For this student, this caring adult means the world to him.
  • Maybe it’s the¬†people from afar that share their practices, respond to our questions, and offer solutions that we may not have considered before. I have only met some¬†people from my Twitter PLN, but the relationships that I’ve made with them online are powerful ones. From¬†various weekly chats to public tweets to direct messages asking for support, these people have positively impacted on our students, even though they don’t know them.

To all of these people, and I’m sure others that I’ve forgotten, I say, “thank you!” While at times we may feel and believe that we know our students best, I think it’s through these connections that we often get to know our students even better.¬†How have other people positively impacted on your practices? How do you seek out these connections?¬†I think they’re worth¬†having and maintaining.¬†What about you?


Because Every “One” Deserves Our Best!

Twice a week, one of the teachers at the school offers prep coverage in our classroom. Instead of planning a separate learning experience for the children, she extends our classroom learning during this time. Sometimes when she comes in, I slowly make my way out of the room, but today, I quickly went to leave. At the door, I stopped myself though. Then I took a look around.

  • I watched as the students talked to each other.
  • I looked at where they were playing.
  • I looked at what they were playing.
  • I witnessed a few disagreements, and I saw what the students did to solve them.
  • I looked at those students that needed support and those that could work alone.¬†

At that point, I quietly closed the door, left the room, and walked into the staffroom. There were two other teachers there on prep and one EA that was finishing up her lunch. As we sat around the table, ate, and worked, we began to talk about students.¬†Our conversation was not about specific students, but students in general.¬†We spoke about meeting the needs of all students. That’s when I began to think about this blog post that I wrote a couple of years ago. It was about meeting all of our “ones”:¬†each individual student — with each individual need — to ensure that he/she succeeds.¬†This is not an easy task. Some might even argue that depending on numbers and needs, it’s impossible. The thing is, this is a goal that I’m determined to meet.¬†

Our conversation and this past blog post, forced me to reflect.¬†What is working? What’s not working? Why isn’t it working? What could we change?¬†That’s when I grabbed a piece of paper and a marker from the supply room (and yes, as surprising as this is, I did choose paper ūüôā ), and started playing around with some ideas. At the end of the 40 minutes, I went back to class, and shared these scribbles with my partner. We made a few more adjustments, and now,¬†for tomorrow, we’re ready to give it a-go again.

This doesn’t mean that everything we’ve done thus far hasn’t worked, but it does mean, that we want¬†to make things better.¬†I think this is all part of the teaching/learning continuum. As challenging as it might¬†be, we’re determined to provide our best for all¬†our¬†“ones”¬†—¬†the students deserve this! I’m so glad that I got an opportunity today to stand back, really watch the class in action, and engage in a meaningful conversation with some educators that probably¬†didn’t realize just how much they helped me out. I also need to thank a friend and colleague from afar, that gave me a pep talk when I needed it most.¬†Sometimes we all need to know that people believe in us.¬†

As I sit back at my computer tonight and reflect on the day, I can’t help¬†but also wonder about your experiences.¬†What do you do to meet the needs of all of the “ones” in your classroom? How often do you take the time to really observe the room? What changes do you make¬†once you do?¬†I’d love to hear more!