Learning How To Say, “No.”

I am usually the worst person at saying, “No.” I like to get involved in different things and I like to help people out. If somebody needs a volunteer, I’m always there. When offered different personal and professional opportunities, I consistently take them. I love opportunities to share. I love opportunities to collaborate with others. I love opportunities to present. These are all parts of teaching that are outside of my time in the classroom, but bring me a lot of joy. 

Recently though, I’ve been thinking a lot about a blog post that I read a few weeks ago by one of our Board’s superintendents, Sue Dunlop. Sue is working hard at meeting her one word “essential” goal, and I applaud her for this. Her recent post about “the art of choosing no” aligns with her one word goal, and in it, she shares about the different ways that she says, “no.” Since reading Sue’s post, I’ve found my own “no” voice. 

It’s the end of the year, and this definitely means some increased stress.

  • Report cards are due in about three weeks.
  • My final project for my course is due at the same time as report cards.
  • I’m packing up a classroom and moving to a new school.

These are just three things, but they’re three important, time-consuming activities, and I’ve realized that I can’t add more to my list right now. I need to be there for my students. I need to be happy, patient, and calm, for while it’s a stressful time of the year for educators, it’s also a stressful time of the year for kids.

  • Some kids are worried about next year.
  • Some kids are sad about school ending and unsure about what the summertime will bring.
  • Some kids are anxious because of the many changes in routine with field trips and special days.
  • Some kids are extremely happy and excited about the start of summertime, and finding it hard to focus on school work.

If we want our students to be calm during this challenging time, we need to be calm too, and for me, that means that I need to recognize my limits. Today, I said, “No, I can’t do that right now, but I will by …,” and I gave another time after the deadline for my report cards and course work. This was really hard for me to do. I had to tell myself not to go back and change my response. I stuck with the “No,” and I’m glad that I did. 

I love my job, and I choose to spend the time that I do on programming for students, planning provocations, and professional development because these are all part of what I love. But lately I’ve realized that I also love, and need, “me time.” 

  • This morning, instead of reading a blog post, I read the last five chapters in a mystery book that I’ve been trying to finish for the last two months. 
  • I’ve met friends for dinner.
  • I’ve gone out for brunch.
  • I went and got a pedicure, and I enjoyed some time reading as I did so.
  • I played with my dogs outside. 
  • After reading Sue‘s post on sleeping, I’ve gone to bed by 10:15 every night, and gotten at least six hours of sleep. That’s a lot for me!

Teaching is still my passion, and I continue to put a lot of time and effort into our students, but I’ve started to realize that in order to be “better” for them, I need to spend a little more time on myself. This goes along with sometimes saying, “No.” I don’t know if this word will ever come easily to me, but I’m going to keep working at it, for sometimes it’s the right word to choose. How do you decide when to say, “No?” At a stressful time of the year, maybe this is a word that would benefit all of us. What do you think?


As part of my final project for Foundations 4, I am blogging about my thoughts, questions, and experiences connected to self-regulation. While this post doesn’t explicitly mention self-regulation, the ability to stay calm and self-select strategies to do so, definitely aligns with this topic. I hope that these blog posts provoke more conversations on self-regulation.

Quieting Down, Getting Louder, And Everything In Between!

A student was upset. He wasn’t my student. He’s not even in the grade that I teach, 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. 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 … 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 if it did at the time. And so as the day came to an end, and the volume in our 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! Overall, the students were calmer, and the environment was calmer. I liked the feel of this!

Fast forward a year, and I think about this experience from last year. I thought that the feeling of calm came from the “quiet” and the “lack of bright lights.” Maybe this helped, but maybe it was about more than this. Maybe the calm came from taking the time to connect with kids. When I sat down on that floor, the child knew that I was there for him. I wasn’t judging him. I wasn’t yelling at him. I was listening to him. I could say the same thing about what happened in our classroom later on that day. As I turned off those lights, lowered my voice, and spoke less, I listened to students as they spoke more. I got down to be with them. I watched them work, and I celebrated with them as they met with success. We didn’t need a big celebration with huge cheers, but just a pat on the back, a high five, or the quiet spoken words of, “Way to go!” Looking back now, I wonder if the “quieting down” was less about the noise and more about the connections.

I ask this because I look at our class from this year. While for me to feel calm, I need less movement and more independent time, this is not true for everyone. Just the other night, my previous vice principal, Kristi, reminded me of this with a comment that she made in response to another post of mine.

Screenshot 2016-05-27 at 20.51.23

I think about our kindergartners. Many students need to be active in order to calm down. Sometimes our class feels the most calm as a large group of students dance to favourite songs or participate in obstacle courses that they create. Watching the many ways that our students calm down makes me question if I was right last year. Does the lack of noise cause problems for some while working for others? Could this also be true about the lack of bright lights? As I mentioned to Kristi in this other post of mine, maybe it’s less about creating one area that works, and more about creating “zones” — from low lights with less noise to bright lights with more noise — to allow all of the children to find the area(s) that work(s) for them. And then, thinking about what happened last year, it’s also about watching children closely, examining their triggers, supporting them in the many ways that allow them to get to “calm,” and being there for them when maybe they can’t “calm down” alone. What do you think? We differentiate when it comes to academic skills. Maybe we need to do this more often for social skills.


An Additional Note

As part of my final project for Foundations 4, I am re-exploring some blog posts that I wrote in the past (before taking the courses through The MEHRIT Centre) where I discussed self-regulation. I am updating these posts based on my new learning. Here is a link to the original post — Quieting Down.

After a discussion that I had with Dr. Mary Howard on this last blog post of mine, I decided to include this note at the end of this blog post instead of at the beginning of it. Even without the use of the terminology, this post looks at self-regulation, co-regulation, and how we can support ALL of our students in the classroom.


Asking “Why?”

I’ve now finished and published four blog posts as part of my look at self-regulation for my Foundations 4 Final Project. When I was initially figuring out the details of this project, I thought about how important it was for me to publicly share these reflections. I learn so much from the interactions I have online and in person after blogging, and I wanted these interactions to be a part of this project. I guess that I saw these posts as provocations for continued conversations.

This is where I’m now struggling because these four blog posts seem to have generated the least amount of interest, comments, and conversations than any blog posts that I’ve published in the past. In the spirit of the course and the reflecting that I’ve done since I starting take the first Foundations Course, I’m now left wondering “why.”

  • Is self-regulation not a topic of interest for others?
  • Does some of the self-regulation terminology used in these posts make the content less accessible and/or less interesting to readers?
  • Are people less interested in re-exploring blog posts that have been previously published and would rather new content?
  • Is it a question of timing? With the wonderful weather this weekend, are people outside more and less interested in reading online content?
  • Is it for another reason altogether?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, for over the next couple of weeks — and maybe longer — I plan on blogging more about self-regulation, and I’m hoping these posts are the starting point for future discussions. What could I do to make this possible?


How I Managed Not To Throw Up

As part of my final project for Foundations 4, I am re-exploring some blog posts that I wrote in the past (before taking the courses through The MEHRIT Centre). I am going to update these posts based on my new learning. Here is a link to the original post — How Not To Throw Up.

Unlike the other posts that I’m re-exploring, this is one that I wrote shortly before reading Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning. That said, when I re-read this post last week, I realized that it’s actually about self-regulation, but just without the terminology. I still remember this T.P.A., and how my principal Paul supported me during it. This makes me think of how much Shanker’s thinking is at play when it comes to an evaluation process. Knowing what I know now, I can’t help but look at this process differently. This post explores my evolving thinking.


Monday is my T.P.A. (Teacher Performance Appraisal a.k.a. teacher evaluation). I’ve known about this for a while, and even picked the date and time that I wanted. I chose the lesson, and I chose the follow-up activity. This is certainly not the first time that my principal has been in the classroom to see me teach. Our principal and vice principal do regular walk throughs, and I see them all the time. After my last blog post on walk throughs, I even invited them in more regularly to make me feel more comfortable when they do visit. And this has helped — a lot — but the truth is that I’m unbelievably nervous about Monday.

I can tell myself that there’s nothing to be nervous about. Paul, my principal, is doing my T.P.A., and he is so welcoming and so far from intimidating. He’s been fantastic throughout this whole process, and I know that it’s silly to be scared … but I am. I’ve been trying to reframe the situation, and see this as a great learning opportunity: as a way to find out about what I do well, and as a way to set next steps together. This isn’t helping though: I really want to be at my best, and my nerves are making me want to throw up.

So here’s my plan to avoid a #pukealert as the #kinderchat Twitter crew would say 🙂 .

1) Write this blog post. This post is really for me. When I blog, I get out all of my feelings and thoughts, and this often makes me feel better. It brings me back to calm. I’m hopeful that this will work in this situation as well.

2) Be well-prepared … I mean really well-preparedI’m the planning type, so to be honest with you, I’m almost always well-prepared, but this time my plan will also involve a detailed lesson plan. I’m going to think carefully about what I want to say. I’m going to have my questions ready. I’m probably going to be more scripted than I usually am, as I know that when I get nervous, I talk more, so a plan will help. 

3) I’m going to keep my instructions meaningful, but short. I don’t want to talk forever. I always attempt not to, but on Monday, I really want to minimize full class teaching time. This is for two reasons: 1) I see far more value in small group instruction than full class instruction, and once the full class lesson is over, the group work can begin. 2) When I’m teaching the full class lesson, Paul’s eyes will be completely on me. I know that. And honestly, I’m mentally preparing myself for that. But this is the part that will make me feel more dysregulated, so I want to reduce this time, and get into a situation where I forget about the gaze and can just focus on the students. Then I will feel calm.

4) Have fun! I love my job! I honestly can’t imagine doing anything other than teaching, and when I work with students, I am totally and completely happy. I love having fun in the classroom. I love what happens when learning and laughter come together, and I want Paul to experience this magical time too. So I’ve planned an activity that will let him experience this, and let me experience this as well. We’ll be building our Organ System DisplaysI can’t wait!

5) I told my students that Paul’s coming in on Monday. I wanted them to know … not because they need to know all of the details, but because if they realize he’s coming, they won’t make a big deal when he arrives. I don’t want his visit to be a distraction to them, and just like I let them know when other visitors are coming, I did the same thing for this “visit.” Thinking back to my comment in this post on routines, I think that the same thing could be true in the case of this T.P.A.. Having Paul in the classroom for an extended period of time, is not a part of the students’ regular routine, so preparing for this change, will hopefully help them feel more at ease. This is good for both of us!

I know that the T.P.A. Process is not a show. There will be no singing, dancing, or comedy routine 🙂 , but have I tried to plan the best activity possible for this? Yes! I want Paul to see as much as he can during his short visit, and I want it to be a success.

All of this said, I still remember how nervous I felt on the morning of my T.P.A.. Paul came up to the classroom to touch base with me before school started, and he asked me how I was feeling. I told him that I felt sick. He got me to talk through my plan for the lesson. He reminded me that he’s seen me teach before and that he knows that I can do this. He was quiet and supportive. He helped me feel better about myself and my ability to make it through the observation. Without realizing it, I think that Paul did the “co-regulation dance” that Stuart Shanker describes so wonderfully in his book. Sometimes we need that other person to help us feel calm again, and I think that it was Paul’s words and actions that helped me calm down.

I thought about our conversation as I was teaching my lesson that Monday. Yes, I was still nervous. When I built my skeletal system and it went crashing to the ground, I wanted to cry … but I didn’t. I reminded myself that I wanted my students to see that they will have problems, and that they can work through solutions together. They eagerly helped me work through my problem, and I think this made a difference for when they had to work through their own. 

While I would like to think that I have the strategies to self-regulate, on some days — like on the date of my T.P.A. — it is often the people around me (such as my principal and my students) that help me calm down. I even had some Twitter friends that sent me “good luck” messages and “words of encouragement” to help me out when I needed it most. So many people in education — from educators to administrators — could empathize with me on that day, and it was their responses that made all of the difference. As I took one more deep breath before starting my T.P.A., I knew that I could make it through successfully, and I did. Many thanks, years later, to all of my co-regulators! When have you helped someone else co-regulate, and when has someone else helped you? What difference did this make for both of you? Sometimes we need to know that we’re not alone.


Ode To Toby: Looking Back With My New Self-Regulation Lens

As part of my final project for Foundations 4, I am re-exploring some blog posts that I wrote in the past (before taking the courses through The MEHRIT Centre). I am going to update these posts based on my new learning. Here is a link to the original post — Ode To Toby.

Unlike the other posts that I’m re-exploring, this one was not initially about self-regulation. Going back and reading it last week though, I realized how much self-regulation came into play with this topic. Toby’s actions really made me think about the key concepts that I learnt through the Foundations Courses, and at such a stressful time of the year, it was self-regulation that got me through this experience and many others. Below then, I’ve decided to share my initial post — My Ode To Toby — along with an additional reflection that connects to my new self-regulation learning. Toby continues to give me a lot to think about.


Toby Is Lying On The Blanket

Toby (On The Blanket) And Zoe (Up Above)

Toby had numerous quirks:

  • He’d always check behind the shed for a squirrel as soon as he went outside.
  • He’d always give one extra bark to see if a squirrel might appear. You just never know! 🙂
  • He always slept at the top of the bed on the pillows or the bottom of the bed at your feet. He never liked when you moved … ever! You might get a little warning growl.
  • He always barked — a lot! I think that he was just trying to say, “hi.”
  • Halloween was his least favourite holiday. It was like the Ultimate Barkfest: people walking on the street, people knocking on the door, and people coming near the house — so many problems for one little dog!
  • While the house is shaped in a big circle, he always went up the same set of stairs and down the same set of stairs. He didn’t like change!
  • He never went down in the basement — EVER! Big stairs scared him. He’d go up the stairs, but never down them.
  • He loved barbecued hot dogs. He always knew that barbecue for dinner meant a hot dog for him.
  • He always kept a close eye on the barbecue. The minute that hot dog came off, he flew to the back door, barking and crying, and loudly announcing that dinner was ready.
  • He made a combined barking, whining, crying sound every time you came home. No one was as loyal as Toby!
  • He loved his morning “toast.” The morning routine was get up, feed him bread, let him out, and then on a good day, go back to bed. The perfect life for a dog! 🙂
  • His best friend was Zoe: our other cocker spaniel. He’d curl up with Zoe to sleep, share his food with Zoe, and even let her out the door first.
  • He’d always wait at the door to see if you might offer him a “treat” to come inside. He loved treats! Soft bones were his favourite.
  • He always went to bed at 9:00. He would be in a deep sleep on the sofa, but when 9:00 came, he woke up, walked down the hall to the bedroom, barked, and went to bed.
  • He’d hold onto his medication each day until all of the toast was gone, and then he’d spit his pill back out. He knew this would lead to some peanut butter, and he loved peanut butter!
  • He always sensed when you were sick or upset, and he always stayed a little bit closer on the days when he knew you needed him most.

Toby was a wonderful dog, a loyal friend, and an important part of the family! Today, in the midst of such happy news, we had to make a hard choice to put him down. Before I left for my interview this morning, I hand fed him food, held out a little container of water from which he could drink, and even gave him a few extra bones. At the time, I didn’t know that we’d have to make this decision today, but I had a feeling that things were bad.

Tonight, the house is quieter. Tonight, nobody greeted me at the door with that barking, whining, crying sound. Tonight is a sad night, but tonight, I know that Toby is no longer suffering. Tonight, I said goodbye to one of my beloved pets! I’ll miss you, Toby, and every time I see a squirrel, I’ll think of you!

It Is Thanks To Toby That I Am Thinking About Self-Regulation …

Re-reading the bullet points in this post, I can’t help but think about the connections between Toby’s actions and self-regulation. I’m not sure if a dog can actually self-regulate, but maybe my new lens on the topic just makes me see things differently. Here is what I now know.

  • Routines matter. Routines help people know what to expect, and this provides security. This doesn’t mean that every activity needs to be exactly the same each day, but when the general format of the day is the same, children, adults, and maybe even pets, all seem calmer.
  • We cannot ignore hidden stressors. While I always used to joke about the Halloween Barkfest — I think just because I found the term so amusing — Toby was feeling some real stress. Combine the noise with the strangers, and he could barely handle the night. Now I think about the classroom environment. Even today, as I went to purchase shaving cream for an art provocation, I found myself sniffing hundreds of varieties, just to find one with a low scent. Why? Because for some children, this smell causes stress, and this often seems to lead to various behaviours in the classroom. Toby reminded me that we really need to pay attention to these stressors and do what we can to help eliminate them or help people (children, adults, and maybe even animals) learn how to cope with them. I’m starting to think that a Thunder Shirt might have been a good option for Toby.
  • Relationships matter. Toby did not give out his love freely. You had to make a connection with him first. In the classroom environment, Toby would have probably been considered a “problem child.” He wasn’t quiet. He was often argumentative. He did not always follow the rules. Punishment didn’t work: his behaviour never changed as a result. But if he cared about you, and he knew that you cared about him, he would be both loyal and kind. You just had to dig down deep to find out what made him special … and sometimes our students need us to dig just as deep, and in the end, we’ll be just as happy with what we find.
  • Everyone is different. I keep thinking back to Stuart Shanker‘s tweets last week. CjKdLunUkAEa21oPrograms don’t work. We need to ask ourselves the questions of “why” and “why now” to find out what’s causing the behaviour, and what helps the children get back to calm. It worked just as well when I asked myself these questions about Toby: figuring out why he behaved as he did, helped me figure out how to support him, and what to do, when. And while my actions might support Toby, they rarely supported Zoe: a very different dog with a very different personality. Just like in the classroom, we need to look beyond one solution to maybe many different ones that support many different children.

I am so grateful for what I learnt, and continue to learn, from Stuart Shanker. Not only did he help me view Toby’s actions differently, but at the end of an emotional school year when I had to put Toby down, it was self-regulation that helped me get through it. It was the deep breaths, the additional blog posts, the quiet lunches, the fun connections with staff and students, and the enjoyable books that helped me get through the sadness and past the stress, so that I could celebrate the end to a great year and enjoy my move to a new school. 

Two years later, and I’m about to move schools again. While I’m excited about a great new opportunity, I am also starting to feel the stress.

  • I need to say “goodbye” to children and families that I adore.
  • I need to say “goodbye” to an amazing teaching partner that has taught me a lot and often helps keep me calm throughout the school day. 
  • I need to say “goodbye” to a terrific staff, all of whom I’ve laughed with and learnt with over these past two years. 
  • I need to pack up a classroom.
  • I need to write report cards and finish this wonderful Foundations Courseboth at the same time.

As I look ahead to June, I’m going to think about the lessons I learnt from Toby — which will hopefully help keep the classroom environment calm — while also remembering about how I self-regulated two years ago, and use many of these same strategies again — to help keep me calm. I have what is sure to be an exciting and emotional month ahead, but thanks to Toby, Stuart Shanker, and the wonderful people in the Foundations Course, I know that I can make it through. How do you remain calm at these stressful times of the year? How do your students? I hope that we can all share different ideas that work … and maybe find some new ones that will work for each of us.