What Can You Learn From “My Brother Is Autistic?”

I just finished listening to Royan Lee‘s amazing TED Talk on My Brother Is Autistic. Royan is an educator that has inspired me since I joined Twitter almost seven years ago. It was through his blog that I learnt about his brother, and the impact that this relationship had on him and his teaching career. I would encourage all educators, administrators, and parents to watch this TED Talk, as I think that it speaks to more than just having a brother with autism. 

  • It speaks to acceptance.
  • It speaks to the importance of diversity.
  • It speaks to the value in advocacy.
  • It speaks to the power of relationships.
  • It speaks to the importance of positivity.
  • It speaks to the greatness of all students, and what we can learn from even our most challenging experiences and challenging students.
  • It speaks to the importance of seeing beyond a “label.”
  • It speaks about love: from a personal and a professional standpoint.

My experiences may vary from Royan’s, but these messages are ones that I can connect with, and are great reminders of some things that I think matter most in education and in life. What do you think? What did you learn from this TED Talk, and what impact do you think that it will have on your personal and/or professional practices? I would love to hear! 


Changing “Perspectives”

Perspective. This is a word that I’ve thought about a lot this week. Last night, I was lucky enough to be involved in the Kindergarten Orientation at my new school for September. As I was asked to introduce myself and share about my teaching experiences, I realized that next year will be my tenth year teaching Kindergarten. While it’s only my second year teaching it as part of the Full-Day Kindergarten Program — and while I’ve taught it at many schools with many different grades in between — it’s still my tenth year. And 10 is a big number. Or, at least it seems like a big number until I hear from people that have taught it longer — like 15 or 20 years. Perspective.

I have to share a look at our classroom, which was so very exciting to see on Monday night!

It’s as I think back over those 10 years that I gain more perspective. I think back to my most challenging students when I started teaching. 

  • One child wouldn’t sit on the carpet. He never came. I sang. I called him over. I demanded that he come. And now I’d probably ask why does it matter? Is carpet time really the best option anyway (or the best option for all students)? When he wouldn’t come, what was he doing? What was he telling me that he needed? What could I have done differently?
  • Another child threw toys. They were usually small toys — often plastic cars. Sometimes he threw them at his friend. Sometimes he threw them at me. I never tried to find out “why” he did this. I only knew that the rule was “don’t throw,” so he was expected not to throw. I wish that I took the time to find out “why.”
  • One child refused to colour the pumpkin the right colour. It was supposed to be orange … not green and blue and red combined. And the whole pumpkin was supposed to be coloured properly. I could not understand why she just drew lines of colour throughout. I remember meeting with her mom and talking about my concerns. I remember figuring out next steps for “following rules” and developing the “fine motor skills necessary for this type of colouring.” Now I’d question why I even did these worksheets in the first place, and if they met the needs of any of the students. What could I have done instead?

Problems change. How we interpret them also varies. And with each new experience that we have, some of our problems from before, don’t seem so big anymore. Perspective.

In 15 years, I’ve taught at six different schools: from inner-city Hamilton to the west-end mountain area, and everything in between.

  • I’ve taught students with autism.
  • I’ve taught students with Down Syndrome.
  • I’ve taught students with developmental disabilities.
  • I’ve taught students with learning disabilities.
  • I’ve taught students that are gifted.
  • I’ve taught students that are English Language Learners … including students that have learnt their first words of English in our classroom (an incredible experience).
  • I’ve taught students that come from wealthy backgrounds.
  • I’ve taught students that live in extreme poverty.

For a while, I taught different grades at the same school and I had many of the experiences in these grades that I listed above. I thought that these different grades gave me perspective, and then I had some new experiences and my perspective changed again. 

  • I realize now that I had to move schools to see things differently.
  • I realize now that each new experience that I have changes how I view future ones.
  • I realize now that “kids are kids,” but they are not the same kids, and maybe we need the varied experiences to continue to have some important “perspective.”

What do you think? How do you gain perspective, and how does this perspective impact on your teaching practices? I know that while in a couple of weeks, I will be leaving Dr. Davey, my “Dr. Davey perspective” will continue to stay with me — along with the many other “school perspectives” that I’ve acquired over the years — and I’m interested in seeing the impact that this has on my Rousseau teaching experience. Rousseau will give me a new perspective too, and for that, I’m also very grateful! 


Reconsidering Procrastination: Could There Be Other Reasons?

I am not a procrastinator. I usually try to start my work early so that it’s finished before the deadline and I can even get feedback prior to the due date. But in the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that I’ve been procrastinating in two key areas:

  • Finishing report cards.
  • Packing up my belongings to move to my new school.

The Foundations Courses through The MEHRIT Centre are making me look at things differently, and I couldn’t help but think about The Shanker Method when exploring “why” I’ve procrastinated in both of these areas. 

Reading And Reframing The Behaviour – You could interpret this behaviour as misbehaviour. I’ve known the report card deadline for months now, and I’ve known that I’m going to be moving schools for over a month now. Some may argue that there is no excuse in not being prepared in either case. But what if we interpret this behaviour as stress behaviour instead? What might be causing me stress, and as such, leading to this procrastination?

Recognize The Stressors – If I think about it, there are a number of different stressors connected to both the report cards and the packing. When both of these things are done, then the change in school (and environment) will seem real. Then I start to think about emotional goodbyes, changing teams (and leaving those people that I’ve connected with so well at Dr. Davey), and making new connections and friendships (which I always find challenging). Moving items also means noticeable changes in the physical space and the feel of the classroom, which causes me some stress. The messiness that comes with cleaning and packing — especially additional “visual noise” — is also a stressor for me. I get easily overwhelmed when there are things everywhere, and packing usually means a lot of items everywhere.

Reduce The Stressors – Meeting with my new team before the end of the year really helped me feel better about these changes. I had an amazing afternoon planning with the entire Kindergarten team, and I loved making new connections, noticing similarities in beliefs and practices, and laughing and bonding with this new group of people. When I went to the meeting today, I felt queasy and choked up, but I left the new school, feeling relaxed and excited. Seeing the new classroom also helped, as now I have a better feel for the physical space (indoors and outdoors (of which there’s a forest, which is especially thrilling)).

As for our current classroom, I did a lot of cleaning and organizing this morning, and I tried to only pack up and move items that we have in our cupboard. The children won’t realize that these items are gone, and they don’t change the actually feel or look of the classroom. I’ve arranged to move the bigger items at the end of the second last week of school, so the impact on the students (and I think on us) will be minimal. I also sorted and cleaned areas in small chunks today, so that I could contain the messes, and the room still looked great — and organized — when I left the school.

Reflect (Develop Stress Awareness) – I know now what’s causing me stress, so I can also make plans on how to respond to it. Even taking the time to blog about some of my thinking makes me feel better. Instead of avoiding the work, I can instead look at when to take a break, when some deep breathing might help, and when even talking to a friend will make me feel better. I think that the connections with new colleagues and the packing/organizing that I did today helped a lot too, and now I’m actually eager to do some report card writing tonight. 

Respond (Develop Personalized Strategies To Restore Energy) – I’m so glad that the Kindergarten team at my new school suggested meeting today to plan for our upcoming Kindergarten Orientation and to connect with each other. While I’ve met the other Kindergarten teacher before, we haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk for long, so having that opportunity today was great. I also got to meet the rest of the team, and sharing ideas and listening to each other, made me feel so much more at ease. Now the idea of writing report cards and approaching the end of the school year, while still sad, seems a lot less stressful than it did before.

As for the packing, I wonder if sometimes the hardest part is getting started. The job seemed overwhelming at first, as there are so many cupboards and shelves to go through, but once I started today, the process went a lot quicker than expected. I also realized that many of the items that are out in the classroom, belong to the school, so the look and feel of the room for the children doesn’t need to change, as these items can stay in place until the end of the year. I think that this might make all of us feel better! 

Before these courses, I don’t think that I would have spent so much time digging deeper into the reasons behind my actions. Now I don’t just look at the behaviour of our students differently, but I look at mine differently too. Being aware, not only helps me reconsider what I do, but figure out ways to remain calm during challenging times. The calmer I am, the calmer our students are as well.

For months now, I’ve had a self-regulation dialogue running constantly through my mind — I see things, think about things, and reflect on things through this lens — and even as this course ends, I think that this dialogue will continue. I’m a different person now thanks to Stuart Shanker, Susan Hopkins, and the amazing people in our Foundations cohort. Even unknowingly, you’re helping me through this year-end stress, and I’m sure that you’ll also be helping me in the future too. How do you remain calm during stressful times? Who are some people that support you during this process? I hope that we can all give thanks to those people who help us the most!


When What Goes Up, Doesn’t Come Down!

During the nutrition breaks, our students go outside with another Kindergarten class. Many of the students from both classes love to climb on the play structure. They don’t just climb up the stairs. They climb on top of the slide, they climb on the wooden structure next to the slide, and they even climb on top of the railings and slide down the side of the play structure. The students are incredibly careful, and at least one of the educators out there, is supervising the playground area so that we can watch this climbing and support the students when necessary. The children also support each other.

This Is Just An Example Of Some Of The Climbing That Happens Outside

This morning, one of the children in the other Kindergarten class decided to climb on top of the play structure. Another student told him how to do so and how to get off safely. He really wanted to do this, and he carefully lifted himself up. Once he was up though, he froze. While he knew how to get down, he was scared to do so, and he shouted down for help. I was at the bottom of the play structure, and I initially spoke to him about how he could get off. Another child tried to take him through the steps as well. He wasn’t moving though.

One of the Kindergarten educators from the other class, came up and asked him if he could get down. He said that he was really scared and wasn’t sure. She was so soothing with him. She spoke to him calmly. She reminded him to breathe slowly and hold on, and she said that she was coming up. She then climbed up onto the play structure and helped him get down. 

I thought that we were finished then, but five minutes later, he was back on the play structure and shouted down to me that he wanted to climb back up on top. What?! I reminded him that he found it hard to get down the last time. I asked him if he was really ready to try again. I was actually about to stop the climbing, when the person that helped him get down moments before, said to him, “Do you remember how to get down now?” He nodded, “Yes.” She then talked him through the process, and he did it!

Not only did he do it then, but in the afternoon, he talked me through the process as he showed me what he could do now. He was so proud of himself! I think now about what would have happened if I stopped him from climbing again. 

  • Would I make him doubt himself and his abilities?
  • Would I make him question the value in taking risks in other areas?
  • Would I further perpetuate his fears?

I can’t help but think about what the other educator did. Not only did she initially empathize with the child when he was scared, and use her tone, words, and actions to calm him down, but she also shared in his excitement and supported him enough to work past his fears. She believed in him, and he ended up believing in himself. Has something like this happened to you before? What did you end up learning from this experience? I would love to hear your stories!


As part of my final project for Foundations 4, I am blogging about topics related to the four Foundations courses. While this post doesn’t use the terminology, there are links to the Pro-Social Domain (and empathy) and co-regulation. I hope that these blog posts provoke more conversations around these important topics.

What If Words Do Hurt You?

You’re not my friend.” There’s something about these words that takes me back to when I was a child: I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. As someone with a non-verbal learning disability, negotiating social situations was a challenge — at times, it still is — and I think that I was often viewed as awkward.

  • I didn’t know how to step into conversations.
  • I didn’t know how to initiate discussions.
  • Standing around waiting for the perfect time was often viewed as a strange approach, and people either walked away or responded to me curtly. 

I became a lot more comfortable being happy with “me time.” I’ve always loved reading, but I think that I started to read even more because this was something that I could do alone. As others were having fun with friends, I could get lost in a good book … and maybe convince myself that I was okay with this. The truth is though, I wasn’t okay with this

  • I wanted to be invited to birthday parties.
  • I wanted people to call me on the phone.
  • I wanted somebody to ask me to play at recess.
  • I wanted to feel as though I wasn’t alone.

Over the years, my social skills have improved immensely (despite still having some awkward moments). I feel very fortunate to have amazing friends that not only support me, but accept me for who I am. 

But then I hear the words that plagued me as a child: “You’re not my friend.” 

  • I know that kids say this to each other.
  • I know that often children will be “best friends” moments later.
  • I know that you can’t force people to be friends.

And while I can know this, these words cause a lump to form in my throat. They cause a tightness to form in my stomach. They cause an ache. Because I was this child that wanted a “friend” — a best friend, a true friend, a friend like no other — more than anything else in the world, and it was these very words that tormented me every single day. I may not be able to “force friendship,” but imagine if we all just “chose kindness.” If we included people instead of excluding them with the words, “you’re not my friend,” would new and different friendships form? Would relationships change? Would the school environment itself start to change?

In retrospect, I wish that someone — maybe another student or maybe a trusted adult — understood how much these words hurt, and sat down with the group of us to help try to build empathy and see different perspectives. Maybe nobody realized that these words would stick with me. I’m not sure that I realized either, until I started to hear them again from students, and they triggered hurtful memories. I know that I try to have these talks with children now, and with modelling and support, show different ways that we can respond to our peers and words that we can choose other than “you’re not my friend.” The talks don’t always make an impact right away, but over time, I start to hear more kind words, see more inclusion, and view less tears and hurt feelings over a lack of friendship.

While sometimes I wonder if I need to move on from how hurtful “you’re not my friend” was to me as a child, then I think of another child hearing these same words, and I wonder, does he/she feel as I did? What can we do to prevent these hurt feelings? Maybe it’s too much of a Utopian ideal, but how I would love to more often hear the words, “You can be my friend!”


As part of my final project for Foundations 4, I am blogging about topics related to the four Foundations courses. While this post doesn’t use the terminology, there are links to self-regulation, stressors, the Social Domain, the Pro-Social Domain, the Emotional Domain, and the value in positive relationships. I hope that these blog posts provoke more conversations around these important topics.