When Parking And Driving Is Like Lining Up And Getting Dressed …

Let me tell you a story. I learned to drive when I was 22 years old. I was about to begin my first placement in the Faculty of Education. I needed a car to get from my house to the placement, and so out of necessity, I figured out how to make this car work (safely). 

  • I took lots of classes. I even paid for some additional ones.
  • I practised regularly with my step-dad: a very patient man, who helped me learn how to feel comfortable enough to move from driving in an empty parking lot to out on the road. 

I could have learned to drive six years before I did, and if it wasn’t for this placement, I probably would have waited even longer to learn.

This wasn’t because I was lazy or scared. This was because many people with my kind of visual spatial needs never learn how to drive a car. I needed to figure out strategies to determine where I am on the road and where I need to be. This is why I started driving in an empty parking lot, and moved closer and closer to real cars before moving onto the road. 

  • This is also why I drive predominantly on city streets that I know.
  • This is why I never drive on the highway, where I need to balance speed with multiple lanes of traffic and numerous cars.
  • This is why I always park far, far away from other vehicles, and almost always in a pull-through spot, where I can drive out easily instead of estimating distance when backing out.

I share this story with you, not just because I love another reason to blog about parking (which I do 🙂 ), but because, when I see the world through a driving/parking lens, I see things differently. It’s then that I understand the thinking which for years I didn’t: if we know that a child can’t do something then why are we asking them to do so?

I realize that there are certain things that we expect kids to be able to do when they get to school.

  • Sit and listen.
  • Line up.
  • Wait their turn.
  • Use the washroom independently.
  • Get dressed on their own.
  • Pack their backpack.
  • Feed themselves.

This is definitely not an exhaustive list, but it does highlight many things that are expected of school-age children. As Kindergarten educators, we realize that we might need to support some of this learning, especially in the early days.

  • There are always those children that might benefit from sitting up close to the teacher, or even sitting on a chair, and require a prompt or two to listen quietly.
  • There are always those children that might need a bathroom schedule or reminders to go.
  • There are always those children that might need to learn the “coat flip” or require some help with zippers or buttons.

  • There are always those children that might need help opening or closing containers, even as the year goes on.

And while some students might need more help than others, the assumption is that children will quickly learn how school works and what the expectations are, and they will conform. Conformity is not necessarily a bad thing. There are reasons that we have all of these expectations: from independence to ease in instruction to student safety. But as I’ve learned over the years, the reality is that not all children are at the same developmental level, and for a variety of reasons, what we expect may need to vary. 

  • Pushing harder isn’t going to work.
  • Yelling and demanding isn’t going to make things better.
  • Punishing isn’t going to help increase the speed at which these skills are developed.
  • And accepting this reality, while truly seeing the individual needs of children, doesn’t mean that we’re being “soft” … and even if it does, being kind, caring, understanding, and compassionate are not bad things.

I think that I also needed this final reminder, and at times, have needed to stop and tell myself the importance of this again. For in its own way, it’s just like me with the driving/parking.

  • Would someone have forced me to get my license at 16?
  • Would yelling at me make me a better driver?
  • Would rewards and punishments help me develop these driving/parking skills at a quicker rate?
  • Would comparing me to every other driver out there, help somebody support me better?

When framed in this way, I think that it seems outrageous to have the same expectations for every individual, so why should this be true in any other case? I know why we have our school rules, and I know the benefits of having students follow them. But what if they really can’t? Is it okay to expect something different, while slowly and kindly supporting students in developing these lagging skills? I think back to a post that I wrote a while ago now, where I wondered if our goal is to punish or to understand. In my opinion, it’s the latter, even when at times this can be challenging. For if I didn’t have some people who understood me 18 years ago, and worked to support me, I wonder if I’d ever conquer the challenges of driving and parking. Now think about our kids, and imagine if something like the challenge of lining up, was just as hard and as frustrating as that. 


Is It Time To Change The Social Construct Of “School?”

Earlier this week, I saw a tweet from Matthew Oldridge, which inspired a response of my own. This tweet and my reply has been on my mind ever since.

On Friday, we decided to change our dramatic play/block space into a school. Students created a school in here earlier in the year, and looking at the different ways that they’ve been teaching each other lately, this seemed like a logical extension. Kids got involved in moving the furniture, packing away some blocks, and brainstorming ideas for the school. Yesterday they began to play.

My teaching partner, Paula, and I were really interested in seeing how they used this new space and what they did, so we spent a lot of time watching the play in this area. Here’s what we noticed.

We both found it so interesting that the traditional view of school is so strong, that even though our classroom doesn’t run in this way, their creative one did.

1. All kids were doing the same thing at the same time. (It took some questions from us to have this slowly change.)
2. A lot of time was spent in rows watching and listening to the teacher instruct at the front of the classroom.
3. Even when children eventually started to play, they made each other a lot of worksheets to trace letters and print numbers.

Paula and I spent a long time discussing these observations. At the end of the day, we even spoke together with the kids on the flow of our day, and what they do throughout the day at school. We wonder if this might change what their school looks like on Monday.

In the meantime, watching this dramatic play evolve has me thinking about what we’re communicating to kids about “school.”

  • How is school portrayed in our classrooms?
  • How is it portrayed at home?
  • How is it portrayed in books, movies, and television shows?
  • Are there messages that need to change, and how might we change them?

I keep thinking about a wonderful Ministry Document, How Does Learning Happen? Our Kindergarten Program Document supports the thinking in here. Yet, even considering all that we know about how children learn best, our youngest learners are still creating “schools” and “classrooms” that support the practices our Document discourages.

I know that there are many schools and classrooms out there that support a learning model that is …

  • student-based.
  • play-based.
  • inquiry-based.
  • parent supported and solidify strong home/school bonds.
  • rich in experiences and allow for diversity so that all children can succeed.

But does this view of school only exist within the walls of these classrooms, and is a contrary view so strong, that even the children in these environments view school more traditionally? If our kids continue to see “school” in a more stereotypical view of full class instruction only, rich in worksheets, with the teacher being the holder of all knowledge, I wonder what it will take for our changes to really make an impact. Changes in our individual classrooms are important, but is it time that we now look at how to change a system and a social construct? These are much harder changes to make!


How Do We Get A Little “Mary” Into Our School Days?

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of seeing our school‘s last performance of Mary Poppins. Thanks to the terrific direction by Michelle Fawcett and Janet Raymond, not to mention various other educators throughout the years, Rousseau has been putting on musicals every other year for the past 10 years. Before I even started teaching at Rousseau, I used to go and see these performances. I still remember The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, and how blown away I was by the talent of the students and the support of the community.

Now though, I get the pleasure of seeing these musicals through the eyes of an educator that knows many of the student performers. And it’s this different perspective, which has caused me to do a lot of thinking since the curtain went down last night.

I’ll admit that I continue to be amazed by the singing, dancing, and acting skills of these students, but I also realized that for some of these students, Mary Poppins changed their view of school … and for the better! 

  • Imagine seeing the child that struggles with reading and writing, but beautifully expresses herself through song.
  • Imagine listening to a parent share how her daughter is too shy to talk in public (including at school), but is a shining star on stage.
  • Imagine seeing even the youngest of performers capture the audience through their words and actions, and wondering, do their in-class contributions capture others in the same positive way?

This Mary Poppins performance had me thinking about the Kindergarten Program Document, and how The Arts (i.e., visual arts, music, drama, and dance) are viewed as languages: different ways that children can express themselves. This makes me think about the 100 Languages of Children. 

I wonder how we could support these languages even more across the grades. How might we view those struggling children differently if they were able to express themselves in different ways? Would they still be seen “struggling” after all? I can’t help but reflect back on a recent blog post by Kristi Keery-Bishop, where she discusses some of her scheduling woes. Might a more integrated approach provide even more of the wonderful that I had the pleasure of seeing last night? My tuba playing days of years ago and my singing voice of today will guarantee that I will never be able to do what Michelle, Janet, Laura, and others did last night, but I’d still like to support kids in expressing themselves as our student performers did.

For some kids, these kinds of opportunities, give them a different, more positive view of themselves, and even change how others view them. Don’t all of our children deserve that? Our Board tagline emphasizes curiosity, creativity, and possibilityThis kind of Arts integration definitely supports the latter two, if not all three, goals. How do we provide these rich, Arts opportunities in a school setting, and what impact might this have on kids and their learning? I think that all children deserve to feel as proud, confident, and accomplished as the Mary Poppins actors and actresses felt every night that the curtain went up.


Bouncing Back — Aviva Style! :)

On Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s ReWired Conference. I’ve been thinking a lot about the conference and my learning from the day. One component of this year’s conference that I loved was the Bounce Back addition. The thinking is that we reflect on one piece of new learning from the day, set a goal, and commit to making a change in the next couple of weeks. Interested participants are invited back in two week’s time to share what they tried, what worked and what didn’t, and make some future plans with the support of the other people there. What a great way to jump start a change and provide a support network for future learning. Here’s my problem: I want a redo.

I had to work through some issues of my own at the end of the ReWired Conference.

  1. The change in weather gave me a major headache. I was trying hard to concentrate, but my head was pounding and I was starting to feel nauseous. I don’t want this to become an excuse, but I do find it harder to think at a time when I’m not feeling my best.
  2. The room was crowded and noisy. This is the reality of a large group, but I know that I don’t do my best reflecting in this kind of environment. I need quiet. I need space. And I need time. I tried to reflect too quickly, and this definitely impacted on the quality of the reflection.

I think that my goal was very vague. I wanted my next step to be about more than using a new tool, but by honing in on pedagogy instead, I’m not sure that I really set an achievable goal. Now, I’ll admit that I could just let this problem go. The surveys were anonymous, and I didn’t ask to be invited back for the Bounce Back session. I’d love to connect with other colleagues, but I’ve been out of the classroom a lot lately, and I don’t want to leave my kids and partner again. That said, I’m a huge believer in the value of regular reflection, and so I need to find some way to make a change, reflect, and tweak this change.

This is when I thought of a comment that Shawn McKillop made during his presentation. I was so excited to see Shawn present. Not only was he talking about one of my favourite topics — social media — but he was also somebody that I’d never met in person yet, but love sharing with online. Shawn was just as warm, positive, inspiring, and funny in real life, as he is on Twitter and Instagram. His message also really resonated with me, especially his comment about storytelling.

We do tell our stories through these social media platforms, but how do we include multiple voices in these stories? How do we also move from classroom stories to school and Board stories? When we tweet, Instagram, and blog about components of our days, we’re sharing successes that go beyond the walls of our room. I’m not sure that I always make these links to our school and Board. What could I choose to share beyond my class Twitter account with our school one?

I thought of this more yesterday evening, when I went back to the school after ReWired. I sat and chatted for hours with my teaching partner, Paula, and she shared some photographs and videos from the day. These pictures and videos told a story, but she also told one through her dialogue about them. As I posted some of these photographs and videos last night, I thought about what Shawn said in his session, and I made a change: I mentioned our school name, and I tagged our Board. I didn’t do this for everything I posted, but I began to reflect more on which of these pieces of documentation might help tell our school and Board stories, and how we could celebrate the successes of them as well.

As many of you know, I do post a lot each day, and I’m not planning on tagging our school and Board in all of my posts (this would be the day that Aviva broke the Internet 🙂 ), but I am planning on thinking more about the bigger story. When do our classroom happenings help tell the Rousseau and HWDSB stories, and how do I help connect them? This is not the call to action that I shared on the Google Form yesterday, but it is the one that I’m going to be focusing on for the next couple of weeks. Thanks Shawn for the inspiration!

I wonder if there are other people out there that may have opted out of the in-person Bounce Back session, but would like to join me in a digital version. Share some tweets, write some blog posts, or even share some Instagram photographs or videos that highlight what you changed. Did it work? Did it not? What might you try next? Being the educational troublemaker that I am 🙂 , I might give myself a little more time and check in again in a month (instead of in two weeks). I’m interested in seeing if linking our classroom story to our school and Board stories results in a stronger connection between all three, and even a different perspective on some of the learning that’s happening in the room. Is anybody else willing to join me in a different sharing platform? Bouncing back and reflecting on new learning is always valuable, even if we can’t always make it out of our rooms to do so.