From Marriage To Birth: How Would You Respond?

When I started teaching 19 years ago, many people told me, “Kids say the darnedest things.” It’s true. Unlike with adults, young children do not always filter their comments. Nor do they think of issues in the same way that grown ups do. I was reminded of this recently.

This is a post of two stories. The first one happened a couple of weeks ago, when a child came up to me while she was eating and said, “[Name] told me that boys can marry boys, but they can’t. Can they?” Now comes the question of, how do I respond? This can be a great teachable moment, but I also want to consider my audience, and in some ways, let the child lead the conversation. I replied with, “Actually they can. Some do.” She thought about this for a minute and said, “Well, I don’t want to marry a girl, and I certainly can’t marry a blueberry. I’m going to marry [Name].” She then tells me about a friend of hers that she likes to play with at the park. They always go on the swings together. She thinks he would make the perfect husband. So for her, at this moment in her young life, it’s no to marrying a girl, no to marrying fruit, and yes to marrying her childhood friend. Strangely enough, I didn’t need to say much for her to make sense of this information on her own and react to it in a way that worked for her.

Fast forward to almost a week later. A little storytelling did not go where I expected it to when I overheard some children making dolls for our dollhouse space, and they decided that one doll was going to have a baby. When I suggested making clothes for this doll, the child told me, “She needs to have her baby first. She can’t wear clothes to have a baby.” What do I say to that? I decided not to say anything. I watched her design a little wooden doll baby and soon wrap it in the mother’s arms. Then the focus was on clothes for the baby and clothes for the mother. While I know that this child has some understanding about where babies come from, even if she doesn’t necessarily know the full story, by just watching and listening from the sidelines, the play moved past birthing without a need for me to become involved. With a few photograph provocations and some discussion, we’ve managed to go from a maternity ward interest …

… to broken bones/orthopaedics and hospital furniture.

I was recently chatting with my teaching partner, Paula, about this, and I explained my conundrum to her. I don’t want to extend conversations that are beyond the developmental level of our children. It’s not up to me to discuss marriage and birthing with four-, five-, and six-year-olds. That said, I think we also need to remember that children interpret information based on their schema. I could have panicked about the marriage or baby discussions, but both turned into small, almost insignificant, conversation points. Especially in the case of the baby situation, our students did what kids of this age so regularly do: they made sense of what they know through their representational play. I keep thinking about a story I heard back in my early days of teaching. A colleague had a child in her class whose mom just had a baby. The birth was at home. In the dramatic play centre, this little girl was laying down on her back, knees up, people surrounding her, and screaming, “Get it out! Get it out! Get it out!” Then out popped the baby doll. Trust me, our dollhouse play was much more tame than that.

Thinking about all of this though, my other bigger reflection is that I also don’t want to react in a way where children feel embarrassed or in trouble for sharing their stories. I keep thinking about my days of teaching junior grades, especially when students started to learn about Growth and Development. Their bodies scared them, and asking questions, sharing information, and talking to teachers or peers about their growing bodies often caused tears, red cheeks, and running from the room. Sometimes even fainting. If we tell our young students, who are so very open to questioning and sharing with us, that these are taboo subjects not to be discussed at school, what kind of message are we inadvertantly giving them about themselves, their choices, and their bodies? I will always air on the side of sharing less versus more, but I want children to feel comfortable to come to us, express themselves, and ask questions. At this young age, when bathroom words are the ultimate topic of discussion, nothing is of greater interest than the human body. This will change — naturally, developmentally, and surely in time — but for now, I’ll continue to be there to listen. How would you respond in similar situations? These four-, five-, and six-year-olds will grow up, and when they do, I hope that they’re as open to share and wonder as they are now.


Am I Still An EdTech Gal?

I read this post by Dean Shareski a while ago now, and I’ve read other posts in response to it. Dean’s post stuck with me because in many ways, I could connect to it. I’ve sat on blogging my response, but it was a few recent experiences on the picket line that inspired me to write.

For our picket duty, we are with four other schools. On the first day out, I met a kindergarten educator whom I’ve met before. I couldn’t remember where we met until she mentioned attending some PD sessions of mine about the use of technology in the classroom. Wow! When was the last time that I did that?! 

Then on Friday, I met a high school educator, who recognized me from Twitter. Again, she connected me to my technology use. This was also what happened when I moved to a new school in September, and met a teacher there who knew me from some past technology PD. She asked for help with her classroom blog, but also offered to help me with the SMART Board if I ever needed it. “Remember all of the SMART Board activities that you used to do, Aviva,” she said. How do I tell her that we now just use the SMART Board as a screen to share documentation and video clips during our meeting time with the hope of inspiring new learning for the day ahead?

I cannot tell you the number of teachers I meet that have referred me to as the “technology teacher.” They still do. They talk about the tools I used in my classroom, and how I even taught Grade 1 students to blog and use GoogleDocs. I did. But would I still?

Our kindergarten students use very little technology. They will occasionally use an iPad to capture learning or research a topic of interest (often with support). A child’s asked to use Siri before for help with his snail habitat. This was one of the few times that one of our students indicated a need for a tool.

We’ve used ExplainEverything a few times outside with kids to record learning, but usually with us being there to partake in the discussion. Last year, ExplainEverything along with texting allowed for a few girls to connect with my teaching partner, Paula, when she was away sick: getting some feedback from her on their ideas for a Pet Salon.

Right now, the iPad is used by a couple of children to take photographs of their dolls modelling the clothes that they made. Determining how to style the dolls and feature the clothing is part of this learning: media literacy in our kindergarten world.

Occasionally our students use different forms of technology in the classroom, from a light table to a data projector (often linked to building or art). It’s interesting to see though how they quickly move away from the tech tool and to different surfaces or experiences. Is this due to the materials that we have in these spaces, or their interest being more than the tool?

Considering more common forms of technology, it would be fair to say that our young learners can go weeks (or even months) without using computers and iPads in the classroom. We have access to them, and the kids know where they are, but our provocations and learning environment does not rest on the use of these tools. Often an iPad is used more by us to document learning and the process of learning, so that we can further reflect on it with our students. I think that this photograph sums up what you see the most often in our classroom: a device in the middle of a table (or sometimes on the floor) surrounded by artistic tools.

I’m good with this change in my teaching practice. I love that our young students are learning how to connect and problem solve with each other, and experiencing the sensory play and multiple tools (from blocks to art supplies) that meet their developing needs. I worry about too much screen time, and while we do use devices to capture learning, both Paula and I try to stay focused on the child and not on the device. This is likely the reason for so many shaky videos! 🙂

All of this being said, I’m still seen and known because of my technology work … or so it seems! But I actually spend far much more time now blogging and talking about kindergarten, play, and Self-Reg.

  • Is it my previous experiences that have gained the most traction?
  • Is there less interest in these other topics?
  • Is it hard to step away from the EdTech connection?

Every time somebody mentions my technology experiences, I want to say, “Our students actually rarely use technology,” but I wonder how these thoughts will be perceived. If I was teaching a different grade or in a different assignment, would my technology experiences from the past still be my current reality? I think that my learning around play and Self-Reg would have me re-exploring the use of devices in the classroom (regardless of age), but maybe this is easier to say than do. There was nothing wrong with being an EdTech Gal, but now I see myself as so much more than that. What about you?



Dear Diana: When Research And Reality Don’t Always Align

I always find Diana Maliszewski‘s blog posts interesting, but I’ve been even more drawn to them as she reflects on her experiences taking a Kindergarten AQ course. As a teacher librarian, it’s wonderful to hear about her thoughts on the Kindergarten Program Document, and how she implements components of it in the Learning Commons. Diana’s posts are always complex, and usually involve a few different topics connected together in the most wonderful of ways, and this is certainly true of her recent post. I mentioned in a tweet that I had plans to blog a response, and this is that post.

I have to say that I love how Diana’s questioning what she’s reading. There are numerous Reggio-inspired posts on Pinterest and Instagram, and recreating these own experiences in our classroom almost becomes the thing to do. Most of my Instagram posts highlight the messiness of learning in action. When I compare my “likes” to those of other educators, they’re usually quite low. And yes, I compare at times, as it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of getting some positive attention for what we share. When my teaching partner, Paula, and I take photographs, we can predict, with a high-degree of accuracy, the ones that will get the most positive responses. This, for instance, was one of my most well-liked educational posts of 2019.

Yes, the sparkly gems and glitter look beautiful, but do you want to know something interesting? Kids were not drawn by the Pinterest-worthy display. The first child came to play here because I knew that she needed a sensory experience, and I pointed out our new sensory bin arrangement to her. It took seconds for the items to get mixed together, and for kids to start filling baking pans and adding loose parts. What drew people over to this space was the sound of the sparkly items as they landed in the different containers, and the excitement of the kids as they counted, sorted, and used the gems.

Voices drew them. Noise drew them. Friends drew them. A pretty display did not.

Paula and I find this again and again. If kids are taken by gorgeous arrangements, they only seem to be when they’re involved in making them. For example, a small group of our students have been creating doll clothes for months now. We’ve moved the location of the dollhouse, looked at different clothing items, provided a few different materials, and even added in some boxes for creating individual houses for the dolls, but the neatly sorted materials quickly morphed to a bin of scrap items that kids continue to add to each day.

It’s not the arrangement of materials that draws kids to this space, but instead, the ownership over the area that draws them back. We saw this on Thursday, when Paula and I thought about extending this dollhouse play with a fashion photoshoot. Kids started to create a backdrop for this on Wednesday …

and then they worked with Paula to set-up the area for photographs on Thursday.

What these children created was incredible, but they also owned the learning.

It’s re-looking at this work together on Monday, through our meeting time, that will invite the continuation of creating and learning here throughout the week.

  • Maybe kids can explore photography more.
  • Maybe kids can look at different fonts, and explore different ways of writing the descriptions for the outfits and “titling” their work.
  • Maybe kids can start to discuss prices, and we can connect this space with an authentic exploration of number and numeral printing.
  • Maybe kids can move from magazine/newspaper advertisements to television. How does the advertising change?
  • Maybe kids can look at creating a runway and oral descriptions for the different outfits. Could they create music to go with the doll runway walks? Could this link with some dramatic play? 

Maybe Paula and I are less good at making the eye-catching displays that invite learning just by their arrangement, or maybe what attracts adults to spaces does not attract kids. If we want kids to get involved in the messiness of exploring and creating, is it their arrangement of these spaces that’s key? 

It’s through my work with Paula that I’ve learned that less is certainly more, and what kids can create with little is quite remarkable. If they want other things, have them write a note and ask. It’s a great literacy opportunity, and again, it has them owning the room. 

Paula also regularly reminds me that we can always add to areas. Sometimes the addition of just a single item can change a space.

Now are we doing this Kindergarten Program right? We certainly seem to have a few different approaches, and with no signs and no specific activities per area in the room, maybe this is why invitations don’t work as well for us. We like to provoke thinking, but also not restrict learning based on just one idea or one outcome. Since we have about 3 1/2-4 hours of free play each day, we’ve noticed that more open areas and the fluid movement of materials between spaces, seem to lead to deeper learning. But maybe each approach and each interpretation of the Document, also brings with it different things that work. 

I always think it’s good for all of us …

  • to question,
  • to think about what works for us and our students,
  • to make small moves, observe, and then decide what to do next,
  • and to get kids involved in the planning process.

Sometimes reality doesn’t always align with research, and sometimes the bigger picture — from our spaces to our timetables — help us best decide what to do next. With a new space and some recent purging, maybe Diana, you can now figure out what you want kindergarten to look like next in the Learning Commons. Could connecting with the educator teams be a possible place to start? I do love when one person’s wonders inspire another person’s blog post. Reflecting is always valuable and figuring out the fine line between research and reality can certainly help with the messy planning that is kindergarten. Now as for your organizational woes, Diana, remember that we all have our messes … even if at times, they might be hidden! 🙂

Less might be more for what students can touch, manipulate, and view, but do we all still need our spaces to hold onto the pockets of “less” that we will add to our rooms throughout the year? I’m going with yes, at least until our next opportunity to tackle the dreaded cupboard. What about you?


When We Are Positive, Do We Mean It?

This is a post that I’ve been thinking about writing for a very long time. Recently, I heard the This Week In Ontario Edublogs VoicEd Radio Show, which led me to Paul McGuire‘s post on feedback. Paul inadvertantly gave me the gentle nudge to figure out how to write the post that maybe I was too sad/worried/mad (you decide) to write before.

Unlike with Paul’s experiences, my focus here is not on digital feedback. And it’s also not about negative feedback. It’s about those positive comments that seem a little less positive, the more that you dig into them.

As many of my blog readers know, I’m a strong advocate for play and a positive voice behind Ontario’s Full-Day Kindergarten Program. I’m also a proud “curriculum nerd,” and as someone who’s taught every grade from Kindergarten to Grade 6 in some capacity, I’ve had many opportunities to read many different documents. So while I speak strongly about the importance of play and what play can look like in a kindergarten classroom, I do so through the lens of our Program Document.

I share all of this because in my past five years of teaching Full-Day Kindergarten, I’ve heard variations of the following statements more times than I can count:

  • “You do things differently.
  • “Some people might like to see that ‘play thing’ you do.”
  • “Our kids are different, and we need to respond to them.”

On the surface, these comments might not seem negative. Thinking about the Norms of Collaboration that I learned in my Teacher Leadership Course last year, maybe I need to presume positive intentions. I will admit that I’m trying to do so. And yet, sometimes I want to reply with these questions:

  • “Is different a bad thing?”
  • “Considering the Kindergarten Program Document’s message, isn’t play something that we should all be doing? What does play look like in your room?”
  • “If we’re choosing a play-based approach, does this mean that we’re not being responsive to kids? What makes your kids different?”

I’m not going to pretend here that I’m perfect and don’t question other approaches just as others question ours. I will admit that most of my questions though stay in my head, but does this make them better? Maybe by giving a voice to the questions, there’s also  an opportunity to start the conversation and find out more.

  • What might be the stumbling block(s) for trying a different approach?
  • Is it the students or is it us that’s holding us back?
  • What could be a possible starting point for change?
  • What can we learn from each other?

Here’s the reality though: words can hurt. Negative words in positive clothing can hurt too. As educators, we’re trained on making judgements. When these judgements are directed at us though, we realize how hard they can be to take. Is there a way to change this educational feedback reality? In 19 years of teaching, my skin hasn’t quite grown thick enough. Maybe it will at some point. Maybe I’ll get better at speaking up. Or maybe I’ll take to my blog and hope for some advice on what to do when even good words might not be that good after all.


Teacher Performance Appraisal: Hearing From First Year Voices

On Friday, I started off my day as I always do, reading Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. One of the posts included that caught my attention was Laura Bottrell‘s blog post on the Teacher Performance Appraisal process. Reading her post took me back to my first year of teaching.

My first teaching experience was an interesting one. I was initially hired part-time to teach Grade 1 math, science, social studies, art, music, and health. While I taught every afternoon, I often went in early each morning to prepare. I was sharing a classroom with another teacher, who taught the class language. I tried to be cognizant of my mess — or do we call that, “my planning?!” 🙂 — so I normally kept my things in a big box or a giant bag that I could cart between home and school. Basically the pile just got bigger until I needed to start a new one. 🙂 Then, at the end of September, I was lucky enough to receive another part-time position at a different school. I was now going to teach half-day kindergarten every morning. I had my own room, but only 30 minutes to travel between the two schools, so no real way of organizing either space. I still remember the piles of paper work on the shelves in my kindergarten classroom: everything I wanted to put up, but never seemed to have time to do so. A week before Open House, the principal at my morning school gently suggested that I consider hanging up some of the work and cleaning up some of the mess. Oy! I quickly rushed back from my afternoon school to my morning one to turn my classroom into a room that parents would want to see. This experience encapsulates my first year of teaching: treading water and barely keeping my head above it! 

With two schools, two principals, and two very different teaching assignments, somehow I made it through the first year without getting evaluated. This wasn’t intentional. I did try to make the evaluation happen. But life happened too, and the year got away from all of us. Maybe that was a good thing. I wonder now if I would have passed that evaluation 19 years ago … and if I did, it would likely not have been by much. But then things got better. I got one full-time position teaching kindergarten at the school where I taught just in the morning. Now I was at one school, with one staff, and one grade. Far more doable. The job wasn’t easy. This was an inner-city school, and that year, our elementary school was merging with the middle school beside it. There was construction, the combination of teaching staff, and a two principal situation instead of one principal and one vice principal. With a very high needs school, the principals were always beyond busy, and again, my evaluation never happened. Admin came into the classroom all the time. They saw me teach. Maybe with our recent TPA process, an evaluation could have happened, but things were different back then. Without NTIP (New Teacher Induction Program), I became a permanent teacher, and then my evaluations started to happen more regularly.

I share these stories because I know that in those two years, I couldn’t highlight the kind of teaching that I do now.

  • I didn’t have as many experiences.
  • I was not as aware of curriculum expectations.
  • I needed more support in modifying and accommodating programs for kids with different learning needs. 
  • I didn’t know about Self-Reg, nor consider it when planning or programming. Self-Reg was not talked about back then. “Classroom management” was always key. 
  • I didn’t know my learners more than some marks and a few anecdotal comments that I recorded on a class list. 
  • Building relationships was always secondary to teaching, and teaching meant me at the front of the classroom delivering content to everyone.

Learn more, do better. I live by these words. I also know that being a first year teacher is different than being a 19th year teacher. There’s a reason that the TPA Process for beginning teachers only focuses on some of the competencies. Yet, here I am involved in NTIP in a different capacity: as a mentor. When the group of kindergarten mentors first met with the new teachers, many wanted to see what I did for my evaluation last year. I shared my document of experiences with the group of new teachers, as I knew that I would be grateful many years ago if somebody shared these experiences with me. But now I’m left wondering: in an attempt to support these educators, did I end up overwhelming them? My experiences are different now than they would have been in my first year. In retrospect, I would have shared Laura’s blog post with them instead. 

Laura reminds me that as wonderful as it is to pair experienced teachers with new ones, do mentees also need to hear the voices of these new teachers to know that they’re not alone and doing okay? Maybe they also need to hear our first year stories to know that the teachers we are today are very different than the ones that we were many years ago. Reflection. Improvement. Growth. It takes time. Reading Laura’s post though reminds us of the learning that comes from the TPA process, and the value that comes from this learning. A good reminder for experienced educators too, I think. What about you?