Happy. Sad. Scared. Mad. What If Feelings Aren’t That Simple?

I always used to think that feelings were easy. Kids should be able to learn how to identify and recognize their feelings. What does it look like to be happy, sad, scared, or mad? How do you feel inside? When I took the Foundations 1 course a couple of years ago now, Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins shared a video about the complexity of feelings. While I understood their points, I still thought, “We can teach students to notice and name their feelings.” The skill of “noticing and naming” is a key component of the Kindergarten Program Document. If it can work for Language and Math, it should be able to work for Self-Reg. Maybe even to a degree it can, but a recent experience made me realize that I underestimated the complexity of feelings.

Last night, my teaching partner, Paula, and I shared the news with the staff and parent community that we will be leaving Rousseau and going to work at a different school for next year. This school will be the eighth one that I’ve taught at. As I’ve mentioned in blog posts before, I’ve taught every grade from Kindergarten to Grade 6 in some capacity. Change, at least in education, is something that I embrace. I think that it helps us grow as educators, and I know without a doubt, that I’m a better teacher now because of the many changes that I’ve made. That said, change doesn’t get easier.

I don’t work isolated in a corner office. My days are spent with kids, parents, and other educators and administrators, who I truly admire. You get to know things about all of these people. In my recent blog post on partnerships, I wrote about the many things that I’ve learned about my teaching partner, Paula. But I’ve also learned so many things about our families and children.

  • Who likes the quick drop-off, and who’s looking for the conversation?
  • Which kids need the morning check-in the most?
  • Who was playing basketball, soccer, baseball, or hockey last night? How did they do?
  • Who likes the hug, and who wants some quiet time alone?
  • Who needs the suggestion of how to extend their work, and who will do so without any suggestions?
  • Who likes to lie down, who needs to stand up high, and who is drawn to a table to work?
  • Who is all about sensory play, and what sensory play works for them?
  • Who needs a friend? What friend will work?
  • Who needs an item from home? Where is it, and how can we use it?

Each question here makes me think about different children, different parents, and different needs. And each one brings me some happiness as well as that lump in my throat realizing that soon, we will be saying, “goodbye.” 

Kindergarten is complicated. We all have JK/SK splits, and with a two-year program, whenever someone leaves, you will always be leaving someone else behind. Having left so many schools before, I know that children really are resilient. I know that each and every one of the students that we love so very much will be absolutely fine next year with a new educator team, but I’m still going to miss them.

Here we go off to a new school, with some people that we know and many that are new. We’re excited about the new opportunities, but sad to say, “goodbye.” We’re happy to meet our new classes and parents, but unsure if we’ll be together or apart, and how that might feel. Next year, we will likely be challenged to extend our team beyond classroom walls and with many more educators involved. This is both thrilling and terrifying. What’s the name for that emotion? And so, for all those kids over the years, where I got frustrated that they couldn’t understand, couldn’t identify, or couldn’t show specific emotions, I apologize. I now understand. Feelings aren’t packed up in neat little boxes, and in the coming months, I think that we’re going to experience all kinds of complex feelings. How do you support these challenging emotions? As the year comes to an end, there are sure to be many of them — from students, educators, administrators, and parents alike — and maybe these feelings are WAY more than just happy or sad.


What Makes A Partnership Work?

My teaching partner, Paula, and I have worked together for almost three years now. It’s easy to look at where we are at this point, and forget what it took to get to this special place. This year, I had the opportunity to be an NTIP Mentor, and I worked with many new kindergarten teachers, who are trying to establish connections with their teaching partners. Many people have asked me over the years how Paula and I got to the place where we are today. It didn’t happen magically. 🙂 Reflecting back this weekend, here are many things that we did to build our relationship over the years.

  • We connected before we met. When the principal, John, told me the name of my partner, I emailed her. I told her how excited I was to work with her, and I mentioned what I knew about the school and some of the staff there. I happened to know one of her previous teaching partners, so I included her name in the email. This gave us a connection. Paula wrote me back almost right away, and we were able to exchange emails before we arranged a time to meet. 
  • We got to know each other as people first. The first time that I met Paula was on a PA Day. It was our report card writing PA Day in June, and we met for lunch at Jack Astors. I knew the other kindergarten teacher at Rousseau, who also happened to be friends with Paula, so we arranged to all meet together. This was a great way to have some good food, good conversations, and find out a little bit more about each other. We talked about families and summer plans before we started planning for Kindergarten Orientation.
  • We watched and listened. As kindergarten educators, we know the value in observation, but observation is not just for kids. You can also observe adults. It’s through these observations that I learned …
  1. how Paula finds washing items in the sink to be calming,
  2. how she always sits down to connect with kids around the eating table when she returns from her break, so that she can also get a feel for the room,
  3. how she always has extra food to share with kids, and how they chat with her around this food,
  4. how she responds to every problem that she’s told with, “What happened first?,”
  5. how she always listens to kids and hears every side to every story,
  6. how she’s okay with saying, “no,” and asking a child to move if he/she needs a change,
  7. how she shares about her own children, as a way to have students open up about themselves,
  8. how she trusts children — from climbing a tree to delivering something around the school,
  9. and how kids always come first. Be it former students, current students, or even younger siblings. You can be in the middle of a huge tidy up, but if a child needs her, Paula is 100% there for that child. Every. Single. Time. 

Paula also learned things about me. She knows,

  1. that I chew on my lanyard when I’m feeling stressed,
  2. that I tend to stand back and watch first to get a feel of the room,
  3. that sensory play calms me,
  4. that I’ve watched and learned from her, and adopted many of her strategies when interacting with kids,
  5. that I will connect with her to get a different opinion or perspective,
  6. that long group times make me fidgety, and I prefer small group interactions with kids,
  7. that my face goes red when I’m feeling stressed,
  8. and that I will always fight for kids. Like her, they come first for me. Paula’s shown me even more ways to connect with kids and make it clear that they really are my first priority. 

  • We talk. A lot. We talk in person, we talk through text, and we talk through email. Paula and I are in constant contact with each other. This contact is important though, for as we talk, we listen and questionAnd it’s this questioning that has pushed me forward the most as an educator. In many ways, we’ve become each other’s critical friend,” and the ability to be open and honest with each other, are key components of that. 

We have many of the same values, but we are not the same people. We don’t always agree with each other, and this can cause conflict. But the key to this conflict, is that we’ve learned how to respectfully disagree. When we don’t agree, we …

  • ask more questions,
  • try to hear and understand different perspectives,
  • share our viewpoints,
  • try to stay focused on the issue and not the emotions (“keeping it cognitive,” as I was taught in the Teacher Leadership Part 1 course),
  • respond respectfully to what the other person says (a quieter, softer tone helps),
  • consider ways to balance both approaches,
  • and sometimes leave the idea hanging. There’s something to be said for thinking time, so if we can’t agree, sometimes we just air the different ideas and leave things alone. Sleeping on the issue, talking more on another day, or even maybe sharing a text later on that night, can all make a difference. 

When you have a strong connection first, even working through problems becomes easier. As you can see, our relationship did not happen by accident. By investing the time though, we’ve gotten to a point now where we can just look at each other, and we know what the other person is …

  • thinking,
  • feeling,
  • and about to say.

This kind of connection is more special than you can imagine, and makes Paula one of my favourite people. When John hired me many years ago now, I would have never anticipated a partnership like this, but I cannot thank him enough for what he did. How have other educators made their partnerships work? What happens when they don’t? There’s something to be said for reflecting back on what made the wonderful, possible.


Will Your Kids Save A Bumblebee’s Life?

There are some things that are certain in the school world:

  • the first snowfall will cause an excited run to the window to get a closer look,
  • a thunderstorm will lead to an indoor recess,
  • full moons and windy weather cause wild behaviour,
  • and bumblebees result in running, tears, and absolute terror.

Well it turns out that I need to modify my list. For the past couple of years, my teaching partner, Paula, and I have taught groups of students that love bumblebees.

  • They observe them.
  • They take care of them.
  • And one of them even became a class pet.

It was this last point that I really wasn’t expecting. This week was all about bumblebees though. It started during Before Care when the kids were heading outside. Nobody noticed a giant, fuzzy bumblebee that got stuck in the door. Oh no! What could they do? I’ll admit that I was tempted to squish it. I guess that my experiences from childhood provided that voice in my head that said, “Bumblebees are bad. They sting. If you can kill them safely, do so.” I’m not saying that these are good things to think, but painful stings from years ago make it hard to befriend bees. And have you see the giant ones? They’re terrifying! Or, at least, they are to me. But our students would not even entertain the idea of killing the bee. They had to save it. It couldn’t fly, and it didn’t seem to have a stinger. How could it take care of itself?

With the help of a wood chip and the Before Care instructor, they got the bumblebee safely into a container. Now to create a habitat for the bee. What does it need to survive? Children started to collect flowers for the bumblebee, so that it could “suck pollen.” One child found a “beautiful flower,” which forged a new friendship between her and the other children, as they loved her flower and wanted her to show them where they could also get some. She now played an important role in the bee’s survival. The bumblebee connections extended from the outdoor classroom to the forest. One student even came inside to get a little container of water, so that the bee would have something to drink. Another child helped divide the habitat, so that they could have “water and land animals.” I wondered, how many creatures were we going to collect, and could they all fit inside a Tupperware container?

I know that the students who usually spend our outdoor time predominantly running around, climbing, and playing soccer, were now focused on living things and how they could keep them alive. This totally changed their play, and in a wonderful way. It even inspired some sign making in the classroom. One child was so thrilled about the bumblebee that he brought in some insects from home. This led to a lot of reading, writing, and thinking together before the day even started.

I never thought this would happen, but a group of children became so enthralled with the bumblebee that they figured out a way to take it inside. We didn’t want it to escape in the classroom or the school, so we needed to cover the container, but still create some air holes for the bee. Kids worked with Paula to do this. One SK student measured the top of the container with paper, and taped it down securely before letting Paula help him poke holes for air. Children were writing and talking about bees, and so very respectful of the handmade signs not to touch the “bee habitat.”

While I continued to question why we now have a bee as a pet 🙂 , we did keep the bee habitat in the classroom overnight. (I didn’t mention this to our caretaker, who may have liked our worm habitats from months ago much more. 🙂 ) Surprisingly enough though, the bee survived the night inside, and students in Before Care took their parents over to see the bee right away and check on its health. Kids were so in love with this bee, that it should come as no surprise that a child was devastated when the block playroom (in the bee habitat) accidentally broke, and a block landed on the bee’s head. Oh no! Was the bee alive? It looked like it was moving, but not much.

Paula and I were sure that the children would need to bury the bee out in the forest, but instead, one of the child bee keepers suggested that Paula Google to find out how to help save a dying bee. He gave her the search terms to use, and they found out that you could create a mixture of sugar and water. So I went inside with a student, and we got some sugar from the staffroom and some water from the classroom to bring out to the forest. Paula and I were skeptical, but amazingly enough, the mixture seemed to work. The bee was drinking the sugary water. It was quite a wonderful feeling of bee survival and love, as we all sat together and watched the recovering bee on the grassy hill.

Unfortunately, the bee’s health went downhill during the day. The next day, students came in to check on the bumblebee, and it was dead. It was so interesting to hear their reflections. We even thought about returning the bee to the earth, much as we did for the baby birds the week before. Some rainy weather made grave digging harder to do, so maybe we’ll need some closure for the bee next week.

I can’t help but look at this experience through the lens of Self-Reg. I keep on thinking about Stuart Shanker‘s work, and the Pro-Social Domain. There were so many opportunities here for empathy, as children and adults,

  • took care of the bumblebee,
  • reframed their thoughts around bumblebees: from fear to love,
  • tried to save the bumblebee’s life,
  • and then worked through the acceptance of its death.

I’m not necessarily a fan of traditional class pets, particularly ones that require numerous forms and permission to keep. But there’s something to be said for the connections and learning that can happen from some untraditional pets: from worms to bumblebees. How do you help support your students in developing empathy? What’s the value in doing so for kids and for you? Maybe the next time I see a bee, my heart might not beat quite as fast with fear. Will yours?


I Forgot About Technology … Why?

A couple of weeks ago, I finished the Reading Part 2 AQ Course through our Board. As one of the final assignments, I had to go through our marker students, highlight areas of strengths and needs, and look at some specific next steps and groupings that could help them with their reading development. In the class before we completed this assignment, we had the pleasure of listening to a Special Eduction Consultant, psychologist, and Centre For Success teacher, who provided us with many accommodations and modifications that might work for our kids. My head was full of ideas, and while it took me a few hours to write everything down, the suggestions just seemed to flow. Then came the opportunity to read other people’s work, and that’s when I was in for a surprise.

How did I not even consider the use of technology? We saw all kinds of apps and online resources shared by our visitors, but when it came time to plan for these young learners, my focus was not on the use of tech. This really caused me to stop and think. Why?

  • Is it because these are younger learners, and I see an even bigger need to focus on building oral language skills (and vocabulary) first? Can this be done without the use of technology?
  • Is it because I know that these students may not be where they need to be, but they are learning to read? Do I want to try and develop these skills first before possibly accommodating for a lack of reading skills?
  • Is it because, as wonderful as technology is, I’m not ready to see these four- and five-year-old dependent on a screen?
  • Is it because I’m still figuring out — with the help of my incredible teaching partner, Paula — what role technology can play in a play-based kindergarten program? How might this role vary for different kids?

Yes, I might always be the teacher with multiple devices and no pen, but do I want our kids to be the same right now? This is a question that I might have answered differently five years ago, but now, Paula and I are more deliberate in our use of these tools. And often kids use these high-tech tools in conjunction with the low-tech work that they’ve done. 

The iPad was there because of this research in the morning … 🙂

The iPads are plugged in, and children know how to access them when they need them, but they spend way more time immersed in paint and mud than they do on a device. I keep on thinking about these words of wisdom by @happycampergirl:

I don’t know if I would have always embraced this statement, but it’s one that’s running through my head a lot when I consider tech usage in kindergarten. Could the same be said beyond that? Technology made a huge difference for me when I was in high school, and the ability to type essays and write exams on a computer, changed my educational experience right into university. I’ve taught students in junior grades that also benefitted tremendously from the use of an iPad or computer, and I would not want to negatively impact on their opportunity for academic success. But how much technology is needed for every child, and how do we decide? When it comes to reading instruction, when should we be considering tech options, and when do we need to wait? I know that the answers to these questions might not be the same for each student, but I wonder if the conversation is still worth having. I’m about to open a new can of worms: in an age of technology, do we sometimes consider high-tech options before they’re needed? Should kindergarteners be on devices, and if so, when and why? I may not be a hard “no” on technology usage for our youngest learners, but when I see experiences like the one below, I wonder, will an iPad ever allow students to experience something like this? I think that every child needs an experience like this one. What about you?


A Full Brain, A Happy Heart, And Lots Of Wonders … What Are Yours?

THESE words: “You’re not going to learn anything new.” Is it ever okay to say that to someone? An educator? An administrator? A parent? A child? If I’m in a session, I want to leave with something new. Sometimes that something is …

  • a question,
  • a wonder,
  • a resource,
  • an activity, 
  • or an idea,

but I want to leave with my one takeaway. Now I’ve become better over the years at pushing myself to look for that takeaway. Sometimes it’s hidden, and sometimes I need to dig for it, but I can usually find something. If at all possible, I really want this takeaway as something to do rather than as something not to do. 

I’ve been teaching for a long time now, and over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of presenting at different workshops, inservices, and conferences. When planning a session, I try to think about the range of individuals that might attend, and I try to anticipate what their one takeaway might be. I’ve started to include slides much like the one that I did recently for my OAME presentation on Playing With Math.

Not all participants added a comment, and I will admit that I left wondering, did they leave without a takeaway or just leave in a rush to get to the next session (that being lunch)? I hope that they left with something, as I also left with a few things that I wish I did:

  • Talking less at the beginning, so that there would be more time to play at the end.
  • Considering if I could merge both play/small group elements, so that I would have to regroup less and participants could settle more into this play. 

Reflecting on these takeaways are also making me think of some of my other key ones from the conference. Instead of lists of resources and activities, many of my takeaways are questions/wonders for me to consider … hopefully with the help of my teaching partner, Paula. Being the social conference goer that I am, I tweeted out most of these key takeaways, and I want to share them here as a way to remind myself of them and possibly start conversations around them. There are lots, and I know that I won’t be able to address all of them at once, but with them listed here, at least I can come back to them.

Does this comment help us see how children might perceive documentation? How do we continue to make documentation joyful for kids of all ages?

This next one I didn’t tweet, but I wonder, why are kids not extending coding beyond when we do it with them? Are creating the conditions enough? Does there need to be more? Does the age impact on the amount of independent extensions? What have you seen is possible in your class? 

It’s Lisa’s tweet that has me wondering, how do we perceive ourselves based on what others share? Why do we see ourselves in this way? Will this blogging news impact on what/how I share? 

What might other educators and administrators think of this image?

@Roosloan made me wonder, how do spatial sense and number sense connect? Are we helping children see these connections? Should we be approaching some of our math talks differently? What do you do?

How do we get people (kids and adults) to stretch their thinking and see things differently?

How can we also lift each other up more, and what value might there be in doing so? 

This one is not a question, but a reminder to explore these resources more.

I wonder how we can expose our kindergarteners to different numbers — big ones and super small ones — as a way to further explore numbers and gain an even bigger appreciation and understanding of math. 

A conference that leaves me with this many takeaways — even unknown ones to consider more — is a pretty wonderful one indeed. What are some of your takeaways — from questions to resources — from the OAME ConferenceI wonder if what others think will also trigger some more thoughts in the rest of us. OAME participants might be coming to a single conference with many different backgrounds, but I’m glad that I left with so much to consider. I hope that other brains feel just as full.