My Experience With Invisible Stressors

Friday was our PD Day, and we started the day with an activity where we used Yammer to share our thinking on some questions about inquiry. As the activity ended, some people were still finishing their final contributions to post to the Yammer group. Our principal, Gerry, has notifications on his phone and others have them enabled on their iPad. Each time that a post came through, a beep sounded. Then people around me had their phones set to vibrate, so each text message and/or call led to a buzz. The library was like a cacophony of beeps and buzzes, and coupled with the bright overhead lights and crowded tables, I was going crazy. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t hear anything besides cell phones and iPads. I was about to present to the staff, and I had no idea how I was going to do so. On Friday, I thought of our Self-Regulation Foundations Course, and what invisible stressors could be. I was experiencing some (i.e. these noises, lights, and crowded places) in the midst of this PD Day session.

Thank goodness for self-regulation. I took a few deep breaths because they help me calm down. I even closed by eyes for a moment and focused back on our learning for the day. And then I saw that my principal had pulled up my presentation and turned down the lights around the room. He asked if that was okay. Okay?! I told him that I loved the calmer lighting, and if he could eliminate the cell phone and iPad beeps and buzzes, that would be even better. ūüôā

I made it through my presentation on Friday and through the PD Day sessions, which I loved. Many people may not have known that I was dysregulated. I’m an adult, and one with a growing understanding of self-regulation, so I handled the problem relatively quietly. But what if this was a student in your class or a child in your home? How would he/she respond? Would we see his/her response as behaviour or would we look for the possible stressors?

It wasn’t until I was looking around the library on Friday that I realized that what was bothering me had almost no impact on anyone else. Maybe I’m like that one child that acts out in the classroom, and maybe it’s not to get attention or cause problems, but because of a stressor that is oh so prevalent to me … and only me. Friday reminded me again of the “self” in self-regulation and just how different we can all¬†be. How are we addressing these differences in our homes and schools? How are we creating environments where everyone can feel “calm?”


When Going Public Isn’t An Option — Then What?

Yesterday, we had a PD¬†Day, and I must say that I enjoyed all of the learning throughout the day.¬†It felt really personalized. I spoke with¬†numerous¬†people —¬†not all of them Kindergarten teachers¬†— and we had great conversations about …

We ended the day, talking about professional inquiries and starting to develop our own. I think that this slide that my principal, Gerry, shares sums things up nicely.

Screenshot 2016-02-27 at 14.24.43

We were told that with a professional inquiry, we’re really thinking about ourselves.

  • Where are we stuck?
  • What do we need to move forward?
  • Where might we begin?
  • After reflecting, where might we go next?

I think that this process is about looking critically at ourselves and our practices. I think it’s about the value in regular reflection, and what we can learn from doing so. I think that it’s about connecting with others in meaningful ways to learn more together. And while I think that this process is about taking the time to focus on “us,” it’s about doing so in order to better meet the needs of our students.¬†

In theory, a professional inquiry sounds like a perfect focus for some professional blog posts. I know that I blog in order to share where I’m stuck, what I’ve tried, my reflections, and often my next steps, but in this case, my topic is a specific one, and I don’t think¬†that it’s for public discussion.¬†But I’m stuck. I need some help to know where to go next, and I’ve connected with various professionals, educators, consultants, administrators, and parents, but I need more.¬†What should I do in this case?¬†I could pick a new topic that’s maybe even more general and would be easier to share here. Blogging would allow me to¬†verbalize¬†my reflections and hear more specific feedback/ideas from others, but I’m reluctant to give up on this other area of focus.¬†I really feel as though it’s what’s stopping me from moving forward, and if I could solve this problem, all students would benefit.¬†So what would you do? My problem of practice is becoming a bigger problem than I thought, but one that I definitely want to solve. I’m hoping that some comments on a¬†general blog post might help me figure out my next best step.


Sometimes It’s Good To Sit In The “Trouble” Chair

Today, we were supposed to have a winter storm. Due to the temperature though, in our area, the winter weather actually turned into just a lot of rain …¬†which meant two indoor recesses. At the first break, I was in the classroom facilitating our Coding Club, and at the start of the second break, I had Kindergarten duty. I knew that for my own self-regulation needs, I had to get out of the classroom and find some¬†quiet and calm. I initially went into the staff room, but with indoor recess, the place was full and noisy, and I knew this wasn’t the environment that I needed at the time. I took my lunch and iPad and ended up in the office. It was actually really quiet, and just one student was sitting on the chairs at the front of the room. I asked him if I could sit down too, and he said, “Sure.” At first, I just looked through some emails on my iPad and happily ate my orange, but then I heard the secretary ask the student a question about why he was sent to the office. As he started to explain, he began to cry. I looked up. When he was done talking, I waited a minute and then looked over at him. I asked if he wanted a Kleenex, and he said, “Yes.” I went to grab one for him. I handed it over, and we started to talk.

  • He told me that he’s in Grade 3.
  • There are three children in his family, and he’s a really good big brother.
  • His favourite subjects are music and gym.
  • He runs around a lot in the gym. He just did some running today — 40 laps around and around the gym¬†— which is why he was all sweaty.¬†Running makes him feel calm.
  • He said that music makes him feel calm too.
  • He loves rock-and-roll music. He even has a karaoke machine at home, and he sings some of his own rock-and-roll music.
  • Sometimes he gets to listen to rock-and-roll music at school. He loves listening to music.
  • I told him that I like rock-and-roll music too, but I also like country. He said that he doesn’t like country so much.

We had a lovely conversation. It was quiet. It was calm. He was even smiling when the vice principal came out of his office to speak to him. The vice principal was smiling as well, and it was nice. 

I don’t know what happened after I left. He went into the office and I went back to class. But I do think that no matter what the outcome, this child was ready to calmly discuss the problem, and that made me happy. Our conversation also reminded me of something very important:¬†we all make mistakes, but there’s good inside of all of us.¬†I think sometimes this is¬†hard to remember, especially when there are problems. Maybe though, it’s¬†conversations like the one that I had today that remind us of the power in connecting with children.¬†What’s happening in their lives? What matters to them? What makes them smile?¬†

A Good Reminder About The Power Of Connections From One Of Our #TMCTalks Twitter Chats This Year

A Good Reminder About The Power Of Connections From One Of Our #TMCTalks Twitter Chats Last Year

When did you last have a conversation like the one that I had today? How did it make you feel? How did it make the child feel?¬†The second nutrition break today didn’t turn out exactly as I planned it, but I couldn’t have felt better (or calmer) when I headed back to class. There’s something to be said about the power of connections. I’m glad that a Grade 3 student reminded me of this.¬†


Drops of Glue and Scribbles Too: How Do We Start To See Things Differently?

Last week, a previous vice principal, Kristi, commented on one of my blog posts.

Screenshot 2016-02-23 at 20.16.06

While the entire comment got me thinking, today I was reminded again of this important line:

“That shouldn’t negate the experiences they had previously dumping them; that, too, is developmental engagement.”

Developmental engagement. When we think of our classroom environments, it’s easy to think of the age of the students that we teach. I teach four- and five-year-olds. There are certain expectations that we have of students of this age.¬†But what if the children aren’t there yet?

  • We may see “dumping the blocks.” The students though may be learning about cause and effect.
  • We may see “wasting the glue.” The students though may be creating their own sensory experiences.
  • We may see “an overflowing sink.” The students though may see sensory play, measurement, and¬†dramatic play.
  • We may see “scribbles on a page.” The students though may be experimenting with lines … and sometimes even, lines with meaning.
  • We may see “a mess of paint on the paper.” The students though may see sensory play and colour investigations.

The list could go on. You may even have your own examples to add. The point is that we may all have these students that are at different developmental stages, and that’s okay. Children need to move through all of these developmental stages, and they do so at their own rate, given both time and our support.

Today, my partner, Nayer, and I had the incredible opportunity to present to Exec Council on the Optimal Learning Environment In A Kindergarten Classroom.

As we prepared this presentation, we spent a lot of time looking at and discussing our environment and why we made the choices that we did. In each case, we came back to this point:¬†what’s best for kids. And maybe the part that had Nayer and me thinking the most this year is that it’s not just what’s best for¬†some¬†kids or¬†most¬†kids, but¬†all¬†kids.¬†

  • How do¬†we reach everyone?
  • How do¬†we support all¬†developmental levels, no matter what those levels may be?
  • How do these questions impact on your planning and classroom design?¬†

I would love to know more about your thoughts and experiences.¬†Could “transforming learning everywhere” actually begin with creating environments that also honour¬†that “messy glue play” and those “tumbling block towers?”


How Do You Create A “Yes, You Can” Mentality?

Last night, I saw a blog post that Sue Dunlop¬†shared about the deficit mindset. In this post, Tony Sinanis speaks about his own experiences with this mindset¬†by¬†sharing a very personal story about¬†a discussion that he had with his son. This post really resonated with me because a couple of years ago, I was determined to tackle this “deficit mindset.”¬†

After nine years teaching at one school in our Board, I decided to apply to and move to a different school.¬†This was a really big change.¬†I came from teaching in a very high socioeconomic area to¬†going to teach in a very low socioeconomic area. I really believe though that income is not the sole measure of a student’s success. I knew that I was going to a school with an amazing¬†staff that support and challenge each other and the¬†students. I figured that with high expectations and an inquiry approach, the students would amaze me¬†with what they could do. Before starting at my new school, I followed various Grade 1 teachers on Twitter that are doing incredible things with their students, and I got inspired about classroom set-up, timetabling, and teaching approaches.

Then reality hit. Despite my attempts, students weren’t extending learning in the way that I hoped. Many children were still behind in reading and writing skills, and the majority of students lacked schema (background knowledge). This schema is so important, for if we want students to question and think deeply, they have to have something to question and think about.¬†

I had to take a step back.¬†I didn’t give up. I didn’t say, “These students will never …,” but I did ask a trusted friend and educator for some advice. I shared my concerns, I shared what I tried, and I asked what I might be able to do next. She gave me many¬†ideas, and with the use of targeted mini-lessons, lots of oral language opportunities, open-ended activities that allowed for multiple entry points, and large blocks of time to explore, talk, question, and investigate, I started to see results.

Did every child reach benchmark?¬†No.¬†But every child made gains, and about 70% of my students met benchmark, compared to about 20% that were meeting it when they started in Grade 1.¬†Please note that I’m not solely responsible for this change — not even close.¬†As a primary division, our focus on developing phonemic awareness skills made a huge difference. Also, daily support from the Learning Resource teacher, the ESL teacher, and the Reading Intervention teacher (the teacher delivering LLI), helped tremendously.

Near the end of Tony’s post, he makes this call to action.

Screenshot 2016-02-20 at 15.19.12

I can’t help but wonder if there are a couple of different keys to this changed mindset.

  • We can’t be in this alone.¬†We benefit so much from a support system that can help us explore other options and provide more intensive support for those students that need it.
  • This change isn’t easy and it doesn’t always work the first time.¬†From my own experience, I’ll tell you that it can be upsetting, frustrating, and discouraging when we do¬†believe but we don’t see results. Sometimes we have to keep on changing. Sometimes we just need to give our new approaches some more time to work. And sometimes we need to look more closely at those students that aren’t succeeding, and figure out some changes for them that may vary from the rest of the class.

What do you think? How do you create a “yes, you can” mentality, and how can the rest of us do the same?¬†