P.A. Day Tired. Does This Help Us Understand Kids More?

Yesterday was a P.A. Day, and as educators, we were the students. We had a full-day of professional development on bullying. I loved that the day included lots of opportunities to connect with colleagues, brainstorm ideas together, and share as part of a large and small group. When the day was over though, boy was I exhausted! I usually teach 27 kindergarten children, but even on the most challenging of days, I come home less tired than I did yesterday. In fact, I may have been fast asleep on the sofa by 8:30: a rockin’ Friday night, I know. 🙂 Waking up today feeling far more refreshed, I got to thinking about why I was so tired. Strangely enough, our group even discussed part of this during one of the scenario conversations yesterday. I wonder if Self-Reg can explain this exhaustion. 

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about “feeling tired” on The MEHRIT Centre blog. Today’s post is an extension of that, with a closer look at Stuart Shanker‘s Five Domains, but with regards to professional development.

Biological Domain – I teach at a fairly large school, and our P.A. Day was held in the library. With tables close together, lots of people talking at the same time (blocking out the noise was a challenge for me), lights on full power, and no windows, I could feel the biological stressors at play. 

Emotional Domain – Our P.A. Day discussion was all about bullying. In addition to discussing scenarios, we also watched a very powerful video (I found myself choking back tears, and I was not the only one), and had to start thinking about our own experiences with bullying. This is not a topic that I’ve discussed a lot, and while I was tempted to write about an experience today, I’m still not sure how much I’m comfortable with sharing. Needless to say, the emotional impact of the day was certainly draining.


Social Domain – Most of the day was spent socializing with others. As an individual with a non-verbal learning disability, social situations are challenging. I like and need my quiet space. During the year, I rarely go to the staffroom, and when I do, you’ll usually see me on my iPad or off at a table to the side. This is not in an attempt to be anti-social. In many ways, it’s how I self-regulate. This gives me the quiet that I need to cope with the amount of social that happens all day long: from conversations with colleagues to interactions with kids. Yesterday, there was never really an opportunity to escape the social, which meant even more frequent attempts from me to engage.

Pro-Social Domain – Yesterday’s professional development on bullying was about more than theory. We applied theories through the use of examples. In these different situations, I sometimes saw previous students that I taught. Sometimes I saw myself. Empathy is so important, and yet, at times, you can also feel the emotional drain of empathy. I think that I was feeling both yesterday. Then there was our first activity, where we had to write our name in the middle of a piece of paper, and ultimately, create a poster that captured our identity. I don’t know what others were feeling at the time, but as I started to write, I wondered, will we need to share this poster with others? Am I comfortable doing so? How will people react? This had me thinking carefully about what information I included and didn’t include. My concerns (unfounded, I know) on if others could empathize with me, I think further increased my stress.

Cognitive Domain – While sometimes we had to read and respond to texts or video clips, in other cases, we had to share ideas based on our own knowledge and background experiences. Schema. None of the questions were made to be overly complicated. Even for our first activity, we brainstormed some ideas as a group first before going to complete our poster. There were even some topics up on the SMART Board to help us if we got stuck. And yet, I kept wondering, am I doing this right? Am I missing something? Did I get the correct answer (even if there wasn’t one)? What if I totally missed the main point here? At one point, I spoke on behalf of our group by sharing an idea that we generated for one of the questions. Our group stood behind the idea. But as I started talking, I kept watching my principal‘s face: did he understand my point? Did I have to share more? As he kept looking back at the question, I started to wonder, did I get this wrong? In the end, he and others referred back to the idea that I shared, but at the time, I worried that I missed the boat.

Stress is not always a bad thing. In the midst of yesterday’s learning, I think that I was only aware of some of these stressors at play. It was only through reflection, that I figured out the rest. I did become aware though of what I was doing to self-regulate.

  • Picking a chair with my back to most of the group helped me tune out some of the noise and distraction around me.
  • Sitting with people that I know well, including my teaching partner, Paula, gave me some comfort during these group discussions. 
  • Doodling helped me focus, especially when it got louder around our table.
  • Tweeting a few conversation points, also allowed me to escape into a quiet space while staying focused on the bigger conversation.

  • Heading out during our lunch break gave me a chance to reset for the afternoon. I also got some sunshine and fresh air, which made a big difference.

I can’t help but think now though about our students, who are often placed in similar learning situations all day long: in our classrooms or in other classrooms. How are we addressing these stressors? How are we teaching kids to self-regulate in all grades? Are we supporting students who might attempt to self-regulate much as I did, or are we viewing their actions as contrary to expectations? Maybe as adults, we all need these kinds of days and experiences to view children and environments differently. 


“Will You Wipe My Bum?”: An Unexpected Connection To Today’s Professional Development

While this is my 19th year of teaching, it’s my 13th year teaching kindergarten. I’ve taught every model of kindergarten out there: from half-day, everyday programs, to full day, alternate day programs, to full day, everyday programs. I’ve also taught kindergarten at seven different schools, and each of these experiences have varied. One of my kindergarten teaching experiences was also one of the most challenging teaching experiences of my career. It was through this experience that I learned how to program and plan for toddlers. I also taught multiple students that were not toilet-trained at the time, and regular phone calls about coming to change a child became part of my day. Back then, I saw toileting as a clear line in the sand: this is not what I was trained to do.

Then there’s the story that came after this experience. It was a regular teaching day. All of our kids were at school, and my teaching partner, Paula (one of the many times that we worked together), went on her lunch break as she always does. About five minutes after she left, the fire alarm went. Great! For the first time, I took the whole class out on my own. We made it out and back in again together, and I was feeling pretty good about our success. I was just trying to help everyone settle back into play when a child came up to me. He said, “Miss Dunsiger, can I ask you a question?” Sure. “Miss Dunsiger, will you wipe my bum?” What?! I will admit that  at first I thought, Paula definitely picked the right time for lunch. 🙂 But then I decided to find out more information. It turns out that he needed to poop, but wasn’t confident in wiping his bum. This is hard for most young kids (numerous try to avoid pooping at school), and I’ve created many a task analysis on this topic. As much as I wished that he was not asking me this question at the time, I also realized how comfortable he had to feel with me to ask for help. So I said, “I can’t wipe your bum, but I can talk you through it.” I promised to stand at the bathroom door, I unravelled some toilet paper for him before he went inside, and I spoke to him about what to do. He did it. 

I share this story because strangely enough it makes me think about our PA Day today on bullying. There are probably many different blog posts that I could write about today, but what really resonated with me was the decision that our Director made to have all employees — caretakers, secretaries, administrators, teachers, DECEs, and EAs — involved in this full-day of professional development on bullying.

In my opinion, with this decision, comes a very clear message that no matter what our job description, kids come first. We can all make a difference in the lives of kids! And that made me think back to the toileting example, for teaching a child to wipe his bum might not be outlined in any Program Document, but imagine how dysregulated this child would have felt if I had said, “No.” What would this have communicated to him about our connection? Is this the message that I would want to communicate? 

Know more. Do better. Many years ago, I thought that connecting with kids meant a smile and a hello before we read a book together. Academic expectations were always my biggest priority. Please don’t misunderstand me here. I still think that academics matter, and I want all of our students to meet with success. But I’ve learned that with strong relationships, kids will take the risks that they wouldn’t take without these bonds. Watch this video below. It is one of my favourites.

What do you do to priortize, build, and nurture these positive relationships? Kids really do need all of us.


Do We All Need To Find Our Own Mall Stress?

Some people love the mall. I am not one of those people. I usually make it my goal never to go to the mall, especially from the beginning of November until the end of December: holiday season. Nothing makes the mall crazier than the holidays. But yesterday, I broke my cardinal rule, and I went to the mall.

The trip was supposed to be a short one. A friend of mine needed to return some things to Cogeco, and she wanted help carrying everything. How could I say ‘no’ to a friend? After a full day of shopping in the States — thankfully not at any indoor malls — I met my friend for the mall trip. This was going to be a quick in and out. Except it wasn’t. First, we arrived at Cogeco, and we had to get a number. They were serving number 72, and we were 78. Ahh!! It was at this point, I realized that there were no windows, and the mall was excruciatingly hot. So as we sat down to wait, I took off my coat. A little better. Twenty-five minutes later, our number was called, and we could return everything. Perfect: in and out. I could do this!

But my friend had other plans. “Aviva,” she said, “we just need to go to Purdy’s so that I can get some chocolate bars.” What?! Another stop. I only signed up for one stop. Okay. How could I say no?! “Where’s Purdy’s?,” I asked. “Upstairs,” she replied. “We’ll take the escalator. Stop right there! I do not do escalators. There’s something about the vibration under my feet, the movement at an angle, and the height that completely terrifies me. I will climb multiple flights of stairs versus taking an escalator. My friend was determined to take the escalator though, and seeing as though I haven’t set foot in this mall for over five years and have no idea where the stairs are even located, I had to follow. Breathe, Aviva, breathe. Trust me, I was clutching the railing hard on that escalator as I took many deep breaths. We made it to Purdy’s though, and through some kind of miracle, there was no lineup. Yay!! Maybe things were going to turn out okay afterall.

We then come out of Purdy’s, and my friend says, “Okay. So now I just want to go to Ashley’s.” What?! One mall visit. One stop. That was all I signed up for. We were now about to begin stop number three. If you’ve ever seen an adult have a temper tantrum, I was pretty darn close to one.

  • The noise.
  • The heat.
  • The crowds.
  • The smell … that always gives me a migraine.
  • And the second floor with that glass railing that always causes me to feel as though I’m about to plunge to the bottom level. 

While I’m sure she thought I was joking, I definitely expressed my displeasure at another stop. I reminded her this was a “one stop mall visit,” and I was currently “living a waking nightmare.” She smiled — “Oh Aviva” — and I sat down on the bench outside of the store to tweet. 

This stop had to be it. I really thought that it was. She came out of the store, and we started to discuss where we were going for dinner. (Thankfully not at the mall.) This is when she said, “So we just need to stop by Baby Gap so that I can look for something red. I’m not buying. Just looking.” Why?! This last question of mine might not have stayed in my head. I’m still not sure why she needed to look at this moment. And just so you know, at Christmastime, there are A LOT of red things at Baby Gap. I think it was a 15 minute search, and with crowds of people inside and no bench outside for me. Double breaths for me this time. 

Finally, she was done. We could go back to the car. I saw the escalator, and despite it terrifying me, the thought of leaving the mall made this travelling staircase a sign of much joy. Except, “we’re not going to take that escalator. Let’s go through The Bay instead. We’ll go down the one there.” What … why?! Now I know why. So that she could stop one more time to check out the housecoats before heading downstairs. Never have I been so grateful to see the outside world and actually breathe in some fresh air.

The interesting thing about this mall experience is that it had me reflect on the Emotion Coaching that we’re learning about at school.

At our recent staff meeting, we went through the first module of Emotion Coaching, and received a card with some prompts we can use for validation and support. As I read through the card, I thought a lot about Stuart Shanker‘s work, and the Pro-Social Domain. There was definitely a focus here on empathy, and a lot of the ideas align with Shanker’s thinking.

During my mall experience, I began to relate to those children that are having temper tantrums in the middle of stores. As an adult, when was the last time you had a temper tantrum? I might not have had a full blown, fall on the ground, crying, screaming, kicking feet tantrum at the mall, but I had my mini-adult version of one. I wasn’t trying to be difficult, or make my friend’s life miserable, but I needed to get out of this over-crowded, hot, smelly space. If I was a child, I would have looked for a bookstore to escape to, as my mom and sister continued shopping. Now I understand why I used to spend hours on the floor of the bookstore in the mall, as my grandmother went shopping with my sister. This was my attempt to self-regulate. There are no more mall bookstores though, and if there are some, I have no idea where to find them. Instead, I vocalized my concerns, and soon enough we left crazy-ville … also known as the mall.

Last night, I needed someone to empathize with me. Maybe that’s why I tweeted. Reading some of these replies made me feel better, calmed my amygdala, and got me through the final few store visits.

Kids also need this empathy … and I think it needs to be genuine. We need to remember what it was like when we felt as they do, so that they can feel this authentic connection and really open up to us. And if we haven’t had these experiences, maybe we can also pull on what others have felt. This makes me think of the number of times that my teaching partner, Paula, discusses her kids. She can find these connections through the experiences of her own children.

I still wish that I didn’t need to experience the mall last night, but the next time that I see a child having a temper tantrum — or the equivalent of one — at a crowded store, in a noisy gym, or even in the midst of an active classroom at school, I hope that I have a little more empathy. Maybe we all need these stressful experiences to also connect with our kids that might be experiencing this same stress. How might these “mall experiences” benefit you as an educator? Next time, I might choose to let the window down and stay in the car with my book, but not without remembering first about the last time I went inside.


A Broom, A Ball, & The Power Of Connections: How Do We Open Up The World Of “Caring Adults?”

By having an open eating table instead of a fixed lunchtime and snacktime, it means that there are always children eating in our classroom. I’ve blogged before about the incredible social connections and academic possibilities around this table space, but recently, I’ve determined another reason that I love this eating table: Mr. Gomes.

Mr. Gomes is our fabulous head caretaker, and since September, all of us have gotten to know him really well. I think he knows the name of every child in the school. Maybe even every parent. He’s genuinely interested in connecting with kids, and our students absolutely adore him. You can hear their squeals of excitement every time that he comes by. (While my explanation of angles here is one that I would love to take back and try again, I have to share this post, as just listening to these kids shows how much they care about Mr. Gomes.)

With our open eating table, Mr. Gomes soon realized that lunch in our classroom is not just happening between the bells. Why not come and join us on his lunchtime?! And so, this past week, he’s started to take his lunch break in our room. He brings his lunch, pulls up a seat at the table, and talks with the kids. They talk about healthy and unhealthy foods, tell stories, and share about things that matter to them.

As I mentioned in the Instagram post below, our Board is focusing a lot on “caring adults.” There is no doubt that our students — along with others — would see Mr. Gomes as one of these adults.

  • A quick run …
  • A short lunch …
  • A quiet conversation …

I never really thought about this before, but we really are talking minutes out of a day, but with a far bigger impact than that. How do we support our kids in making adult connections outside of our classrooms? What impact might this have on both kids and adults? Thanks Mr. Gomes for bringing a little extra joy into all of our lives!




Do We Need A Scaffolded Approach To Bullying?

Bullying. It’s an important issue. Tomorrow, we’re going to have a full school assembly on bullying prevention, as well as a partner activity with an older class, later in the day, that addresses this topic in more depth. Rosie Kott, our amazing phys-ed teacher, has invested a lot of time coordinating this assembly and the follow-up activity. Recently, our Board has released this comprehensive Bullying Prevention and Intervention manual, full of important information for parents and students.

In my 19 years of teaching, I’ve taught everything from Kindergarten to Grade 6 in some capacity, and I’ve had to address bullying in a few different classes. Kids seem to come to school now knowing the word “bully.” They’ll use this word when there are problems with peers or fights with friends. Every disagreement is not bullying, and I really appreciate the definition in this manual, which highlights the often repetitive, targeted nature of bullying, which also includes a power imbalance. As tomorrow comes closer, I wonder though, how do we get our younger learners to understand how bullying differs from a disagreement?

Maybe it seems obvious, but it’s not. Some of our kindergarten students are still three-years-old. Three. They’re toddlers. While many of our students have been fortunate to have a wide range of experiences, their bullying schema is limited. For them, I think it’s important to differentiate how bullying differs from …

  • some unkind words,
  • not being included in a game,
  • not sharing materials that he/she might want,
  • knocking over a building,
  • taking a block,
  • not being invited to a birthday party,
  • a single push, hit, or kick,
  • or being told, “no?”

I’m not trying to suggest that the items on this list above are not important or that we shouldn’t address them, but are these examples of bullying?

A couple of years ago, my teaching partner, Paula, introduced me to the book, The Recess Queen.

I love how this book reframes bullying. It provides a possible reason that the perceived bully acted as she did, and instead, shows how inviting her to play changed Jean’s tone and actions. I’m not suggesting that this will always work or that bullying doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, I’ve seen bullying in action before, and I’ve had to work with kids, fellow educators, administrators, and parents to respond to it. But with our youngest learners, could inclusion change the dialogue? Could exploring the “why,” change our impression of the bully and our response to the situation? 

Maybe this message is a utopian ideal. Maybe it won’t work in every grade. I wonder though if there needs to be a scaffolded approach to bullying. Would a book like this one be a good start in kindergarten, and what might the impact be as the kids progress along the grades? When tomorrow comes, I want to make sure that our kids understand what bullying is, what it is not, and the possible reasons behind it. How might they not only respond to bullying, but also explore ways to prevent it in the first place? Right now, this seems like a huge, but important, undertaking. Where would you begin?