Embracing The Scary: What I Learned On The Day That I Was Without A Partner

Early yesterday morning, I found out that my teaching partner would be away for the day and nobody had picked up her job. This has happened once before, and I’ll admit, that just like the last time, I started to feel anxious. Could I do this all on my own? How could I ensure success? It turns out that yesterday was an amazing day of learning, and I think that I may have learned just as much as the kids. Here is what I learned.

  • Teaching is a balancing act, and sometimes we need to balance more than others. This may not seem like a big a-ha moment, but I think that how this learning evolved, made it one. On top of everything else, Fridays in our room are “Food Fridays,” and we had a special cooking activity planned for the day. Of course, we also planned the more difficult version of the recipe: making our own cake mix in an attempt to make it healthier. Usually for Food Fridays, my partner sits at the table with interested students and helps with the cooking, while I go around the classroom and observe and work with the other children. How could I do both jobs? I decided to start by re-reading the recipe and figuring out how I could break it into smaller chunks. What needed to be modelled? What could the children do on their own? What did I want them to learn? What were my intended mini-lessons? This plan helped a lot. When the children came in, I listened as they discussed the food items on the table, and used this as an opportunity to develop vocabulary and encourage higher level thinking skills (such as inferring and making connections). This was a very informal part of the lesson, so I could move freely from the table to around the room: allowing me to meet different student needs all at the same time. After the announcements finished, I told the students that Mrs. Khan was away, and that I was going to start with the Food Friday activity for the day. I invited anyone over to the table that wanted to help. Having children start by washing their hands, gave me a few more minutes to support the other children that were just coming in and needed help. From reading the recipe, I knew that the first job we needed to do was cut the apples. I thought that if I broke the apples into smaller pieces and modelled how to cut safely with a plastic knife (something that most of the children have done before), they could work on this while I moved away from the table. This is what I did. Some expected and unexpected math talk during the process led to a little documentation as well. My very short mini-lesson was followed up with some independent work time (on cutting the apples — fine motor skills and safe use of tools (Science)), and I went and supported other students during this time. Then I went back to the table to help finish the recipe. At this time, I invited other students over that wanted to join. I also noticed that some students needed a little more support at this time, so I asked them to come and join me as well. I documented more conversations (Oral Language) as well as the math learning (Measurement). We finished in just enough time for me to rotate around the classroom again, look and listen more closely to other students, support those that needed it, and then bring everyone together before heading outside. It was a busy balancing act — my very sore feet last night were proof of that — but it was also a successful one.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and accept the help that comes your way. I think that the partnership in a JK/SK class is an amazing one, and I’m so grateful for my terrific partner, Nayer. It’s why I was so worried yesterday when I found out that she wasn’t going to be there. I wasn’t sure that I could do things well on my own. I thought that I might need help. So before school even started, I asked for it. I went to see our principal and vice principal, explained the situation, and asked what to do if I needed support. Not only did they provide great advice, but they also arranged for some additional support when they ended up having it. Also, our Learning Resource Teacher, Sandy, came by, staying to work with some children, helping with tidying up, and opening up the shed for us to use. A Kindergarten classroom can be a very busy place, and knowing that you’re not alone makes a huge difference. 
  • Be honest with the students. Our children love interaction with adults. If you’ve ever listen to any of our videos, you will probably hear us talking with a couple of students, and having others call our names or appeal to “teacher, teacher, teacher.” Yesterday, instead of having two educators in the room all day, we were down to one. I told students that early in the day, and I asked for their help. Yes, sometimes I had to remind them of this, but it was amazing to see how patient and understanding the children were yesterday, and how they even tried to support each other more. Our class continues to amaze me!
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff (and there’s more small stuff than we may initially realize). In the middle block yesterday, I thought that I would follow our plan for the day and make some new play dough with the students. Usually my partner does this job, but I had a recipe and all of the ingredients organized, so why not try? Just like for the morning cooking activity, I invited students over to join me and even encouraged a few others to do the same. As we were getting started at the big table, a group of children used our two classroom tires to make a house on the carpet area right beside the table. They stacked the tires, surrounded them by hardwood floor pieces and paper blocks, and then pulled over containers of math manipulatives to use as “toys in the house.” It was as a child measured the second cup of flour to add to the play dough that I heard the dumping sound beside me … and then another one. I looked over. Students dumped three large containers of math manipulatives inside the tires. I’ve never seen a bigger mess in my life. I knew that they would have to start cleaning up then in order to get everything sorted before our next outdoor learning time. I took a deep breath, left the large table, and went to talk to the students about sorting the manipulatives. I was only gone a couple of minutes when I looked over and realized that the children at the play dough table continued to add cups of flour. How many did they add? Were they full cups? I asked, but the answer wasn’t really clear, so we continued with the recipe as is. In the end, the play dough didn’t quite work. Maybe there was too much flour. Maybe there was too much water. I’m not really sure. I was tempted to just throw it out and start again, when I realized something important: does it really matter? These children need a sensory experience. They’re going to use the tools around for math learning (likely counting and measurement), visual arts (the elements of design), and fine motor skills, and they could still do so with our not-so-perfect play dough. They divided up the play dough and started exploring. As I then went to circulate around the classroom, I heard the play dough people talking about “sprinkles,” and that’s when I realized that I left the box of salt and the jar of cinnamon on the table. Oy! Needless to say, both were now empty, but the play dough smelled amazing, and it seemed to be sticking less too. Again, does it really matter? I can buy more cinnamon. We can sweep up the spilled salt. The truth is, all of these little mix-ups yesterday led to some great learning. The “tire house people” learned the value in sorting and a real world application (we sort as we tidy up) and the “play dough people” engaged in more creative play and oral language opportunities than some of them ever have before. Our room smelled wonderful too … even if the cinnamon did tickle my nose! 🙂 I think that I’d call this a “win” all around.
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  • When life becomes too much, go outside. As I’ve blogged about a lot recently, I’m taking a Self-Regulation Foundations Course through the MEHRIT Centre. One of the things that I’ve learned is the value in outdoor learning on self-regulation. Getting outside seems to calm our students. It was for this reason that when I noticed many of our students getting up-regulated in the morning, we tidied up early and headed outside. It made a huge difference! This was a good reminder for me that “we teach students first,” and often — even through their actions — they tell us what they need. We just need to listen.
  • Calmness breeds more calmness. In theory, I guess that I already knew this, but in practice, it was quite amazing to watch yesterday. One person that spent quite a lot of time in our room is someone who I had the pleasure of working with last year. She’s incredibly calm. Nothing phases her. Her voice is very low. She has wonderful wait time. She always gets down to the students’ level and kids love being around her. I love observing her in action. I think that her calmness helps reduce other people’s stress, and there’s almost a magical quiet that surrounds her. Even as we were tidying up yesterday, I noticed her sitting down on the carpet with three or four students that already finished. She had out a clipboard and some markers. In the tiniest whisper, she was instructing these students as they printed their names, experimented with different letters, and even drew different lines and figures. They would ask her questions too, but just as she whispered to them, they whispered to her. Some of these children are ones that really struggle with sitting and listening. My partner and I have tried different approaches, but with varying degrees of success. Maybe it’s giving these students markers, paper, and a purpose that helps them listen when others can listen without these tools. Seeing what I saw yesterday is definitely making me wonder.
  • We all need a break. Being without my partner yesterday meant that I was always “on” in the classroom. I was okay with that, but I also knew that in order to stay calm and support the students as the day went on, I needed some “me time” too. I took that. I spent some quiet time alone in the classroom at the beginning of lunch. I went and socialized with colleagues in the staff room over the nutrition breaks. I shared some laughs. I took the moments that I needed to come back to the room ready to be “on” again. Even on my prep, I took a couple of minutes sitting out in the hallway on the floor, filling out paper work, and just enjoying some blissful quiet. This was good for me at the time, but probably in the end, even better for the students later.

We all missed Mrs. Khan on Friday and can’t wait for her to be back next week. If we’re without a supply ever again, I may still feel as anxious as I did yesterday, but maybe I can read this blog post and remember that there is a lot to learn from challenging experiences. What have you learned from a more difficult experience? How might this help you out when this experience happens again? This brings me back to the value in being “uncomfortable.”


2 thoughts on “Embracing The Scary: What I Learned On The Day That I Was Without A Partner

  1. Aviva, I am impressed! Your own self regulation is evolving. You were very ambitious and you accomplished so much. Faced with a day like yours, I would have chopped a bunch of things off my to do list and accepted the day as a write off. Ha! Ha! That you were able to document the day is a cherry on top! I am in awe and inspired. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks for your comment, Donna! I must say that in our class, the students really get to select much of where they learn and what they do over the course of the day. We’re there to support their learning in these different areas. As such, there wasn’t much to eliminate from the day plan. I had considered getting rid of our Food Friday Cooking Activity for the day, but then I realized that Food Fridays is a routine for us, and changing this routine may be dysregulating for some students. Many students also join us in this food preparation, which may make things calmer in all areas of the classroom (which it did). I also considered not making play dough and waiting until my partner returned on Monday (of which, we do need to remake the play dough on Monday because ours didn’t turn out so well), but I thought about the number of students in our class that benefit from sensory experiences. I knew that the play dough would help with this learning, and so I’m glad that we made it. Many students joined me in doing so, and I encouraged a few more students to also join me.

      As for the documentation, I think that I do this documentation as much for me as for the students. At the end of a busy day, I love going back and reflecting on the day. It also helps as we plan ahead. I knew that it would be a busier day, so I decided to record more videos than create Pic Collages, as they’re easier to do “in the moment.” For the Pic Collages, I took the photographs and jotted down some ideas to write later. I then finished the documentation on my prep and over the nutrition breaks. Thankfully I also have a really good memory, so I could remember many of the conversations later too. Since it was a busier day, I decided to upload and post the documentation on my prep and over the nutrition breaks instead of at the time. This allowed me to really focus on what I wanted to say, which I think made things better. In the end, I could look back and see the learning throughout the day, but I could also share this learning at the time that worked best for me.


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