Dear Students: I STILL Understand!

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 going to update these posts based on my new learning. Here is a link to the original post — Dear Students: I Understand.


Dear Students,

Today, I get it! Today I understand why sometimes it’s hard to focus. It’s not your fault. You are trying to listen. You are trying to pay attention. You are trying to take it all in … but maybe that’s more difficult than I once thought.

Today you shared your Passion Projects with four classes of students. The Grade 6’s were writing EQAO at the time, and you wanted to stay quiet for them. None of you shared your work in the pod. We kept the doors closed to keep the noise in … but boy was there a lot of noise!

Between those of you speaking as you shared your work, the visiting students that asked questions, and the numerous students wandering around, the noise never stopped. Two groups were playing music: one student was playing a recorder song and one student was playing the guitar. Then there were the three videos people showed, the chairs that were constantly moving around, and the sound of lots of little feet as students walked from display to display. I didn’t realize that feet could be so loud.

Let’s not forget about all of the visuals in the room too. There were the display boards, the art pieces, the PowerPoints, and the movies. There were the baked goods, the hamster (in the maze), the volcano, and even the tsunami in a fish tank. Walls were covered in posters, and desks were full of objects. There were lots of bright colours and large visuals.


Students Sharing Their Passion Projects

There were also all of the lights on, the windows (and blinds/bulletin boards) open, the computer screens a-glow, and many iPods and iPads bright with colour as you showed your various media texts. I can actually feel my pulse racing as I write this letter … let alone remember what it was like to experience everything.

I couldn’t take the noise. I couldn’t focus enough to ask questions. I actually found myself standing at the door, watching the clock, and waiting until the visits were over. For the first time ever, I raced downstairs at the bell, sat alone on the sofas in the staffroom, took a deep breath (or many deep breaths), and gave myself the self-regulation lunch that I needed.

Years later, I think about how I responded to you on that day. You were talking to me and I kept looking around the room. My responses were curt. I got frustrated when so many of you wanted to go and get a drink or go to the bathroom. Looking back, maybe I wished that I could leave too. Maybe I didn’t realize something that I now wish that I did: maybe you also needed a break. Maybe the classroom was just as overwhelming for you as it was for me. Maybe your requests to leave were not about “going to the bathroom” or “heading to the water fountain,” but just finding that quiet moment that you needed to get back to calm. 

I can’t help but wonder how my stress may have impacted on you. Did you sense that the day was too much for me? Could you tell that I was feeling overwhelmed, and did your actions change because of mine? I remember being upset that some of you were chatting with each other when you should have been answering questions posed by visiting students. I remember being disappointed when some of you chose to stare at iPad screens instead of engage with visiting classes. I wonder if you behaved differently because I was also acting differently. I wonder if you used the iPad to “escape,” just as I used the area by the door and some lunchtime refuge in the staffroom. This apology is two years late, but I’m very sorry if I was at fault for any of your actions on that day!

I understand Stuart Shanker‘s book even more now. I see the value in some empty walls and some quiet areas in the classroom.

  • I think about the many anchor charts that I hang around the room — and yes, you use them — but do I hang too many?
  • How can I balance the need for visuals without creating an additional stressor? 
  • How do I support those of you that felt just as overwhelmed as I felt today?
  • What self-regulation strategies could we use if faced with a similar situation again?

Yes, I know that you had fun today. I know that you enjoyed sharing your work with others, and I know that you had a lot to say. From our conversations this afternoon, I know that many of you learnt new things. But for those of you that found it hard to focus, for those of you that found it hard to listen, and for those of you that found it hard to learn, I apologize. Next time, we’ll spread out the displays. Next time, we’ll try to control the noise. Next time, we’ll take into account all learning needs and all learning styles. Next time, I will try to be calmer and more aware of my tone: not letting my words and actions negatively impact on you. Next time, we’ll make things better!

Yours sincerely,

Miss Dunsiger

P.S. I often like to add a postscript to my letters, and after reading a comment from Kristi Keery-Bishop …

Screenshot 2016-05-27 at 20.51.23

I had to include this additional note. Kristi makes a very important point here, which I think highlights the essence of self-regulation. We cannot forget about the SELF part of self-regulation. While there were students in the class — as well as me — that struggled with the environment on this day, there were also others that were motivated by it. I think of our classroom environment now in Kindergarten. Some students crave the movement and the noise, and others seek out the quiet areas … and this can even change at different times of the day or on different days. Maybe we need to consider “zones” in the room: from the noisier areas with brighter lights to the quieter areas with softer lights. In our Grade 5 class, we had a sofa, which could have been used as a barrier to block out some noise and make a quieter area, while those that benefited from the noise, might have displayed their projects closer to the door. Even items like noise-cancelling headphones might have blocked out some noise for those that needed it, while others could keep listening to the chatting. Turning tables and chairs around may have also helped block visuals and/or made them more visible, depending on the students and their needs. The pod area would have helped out too, with students choosing between a quieter pod area versus a noisier classroom area. Letting students also select between sharing in all blocks or just some blocks of time, would have been great, and maybe those that didn’t share in all blocks could reflect on their sharing or make updates to their projects (based on feedback) during the additional time. Possibly students could have even used technology to share their projects virtually and engage in a “chat conversation” online instead of a face-to-face one in the classroom. This could be a good option if too many visitors overwhelmed them. This ultimately comes down to creating choices — hopefully through conversations with the students so that they are involved in the process — and letting students select the choice(s) that works best for them.

As a teacher, I could have also wandered between the different areas and/or chosen the area that I needed at the time — be it quiet or loud, or with small group, large group, or one-on-one conversations — to have been at my optimal level for learning, and ultimately, my optimal level for supporting students. While these are all of the things that I would do, I’m curious to hear your thoughts. How might you answer Kristi’s question? Thanks Kristi for continually making me think!


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