How Do You Become The “Guide On The Side” When Everything Is A “Stage?”

Today was our first day of Online Camp Power. While I’ve been one of the site leads for this camp for four years now, this is the first year that the camp is online, and that definitely changes some things. Although I anticipated a few differences, one observation from today is really causing me to reflect tonight.

As a site lead, I have numerous responsibilities, one of which is to support instructors with programming, planning, and delivery. When camp took place in a school, I found a way to fulfill these responsibilities that aligns with how I teach: I worked beside instructors. I used to quietly go into the classrooms, observe kids, get down, talk to them, and then begin to extend learning based on my observations and conversations. Often what happened is that as I worked with a few kids, the instructor in the classroom began to watch me.

  • I observed children. Instructors observed me.
  • I questioned children. Instructors questioned me.
  • I extended learning based on my observations and conversations. Instructors extended learning based on their observations and conversations around my interactions.
  • Slowly we both made changes to our practices based on our dialogue, our shared teaching, student responses to our approaches, and our new learning.

As my teaching partner, Paula, knows, I am not a fan of long full group meeting times, and I would way rather support kids and provide mini-lessons in small groups. The same holds true when working with adults.

Imagine my surprise then today when I realized the struggle with this kind of approach online.

  • I can no longer just speak quietly off in the corner with a small group of children. Everyone in the meeting room sees and hears everything.
  • I can no longer observe from a distance first. I can watch, but the camera is always in the front of the room. There is no more side or back view. When kids and instructors are hyper-aware of your presence, it changes the sound and feel of the conversation.
  • I can no longer join without making an entrance. When I started working with Paula, she taught me the value of a quiet entrance. If you call kids together, you interrupt the flow of their play, and it’s hard for them to resettle again with this same deep focus. In the classroom, I became good at sneaking in quietly. I would watch from the doorway for a little while before I entered. I would pick a space, go in from behind, sit down, and just observe for a bit. Now if I turn my camera on, I’m making an appearance. A big one! I went into many groups today with my camera off, but then I stayed hidden. Revealing my face would also draw attention to me and away from the learning in the room.

Now what? Staying quiet and invisible today helped me observe, BUT …

  • what about forming relationships with children and adults (instructors and parents)?
  • interacting with kids, instructors, and families?
  • modelling different intervention and instructional possibilities?
  • teaching alongside instructors?
  • engaging in pedagogical conversations with staff?

I truly believe that adults and children benefit from a “guide on the side,” but I wonder how we make this happen when an online platform turns the whole meeting room into a “stage.” I wonder if any support staff, consultants, or administrators experienced a similar dilemma over the last three months of school. As I try to figure out an undercover back entrance to a front-facing camera, I would welcome any tips, tricks, and advice from those that might have already worked through a similar struggle.


Scared, But Certain

I am not going to pretend this is easy.

I am not going to pretend that I have any solution to the hundreds of questions and thousands of problems that educators and parents have shared recently on social media.

I am not going to pretend that I’m not scared about going back.

There’s the uncertainty.

There are the horror stories.

We’ve all read them. We’ve all seen them.

But there are also successes. There are also daycares that opened without cases. Schools that went back that didn’t close. Teachers, students, and families that stayed safe.

This doesn’t happen by accident.

I know that September will look different for all of us no matter what the school year plan brings.

More handwashing for both educators and kids.

A greater awareness of social distancing.

Maybe individual bins of play items where shared items used to work before.

Board books. They are washable, and they are the reason that my teaching partner, Paula, and I spent so much time organizing books. Now these books are together in a big basket for easy access come September.

A consideration (and possibly, reconsideration) of space, environment, and materials. The outdoors — in all weather — was an important classroom space of ours before, and it will be again.

A look at how technology can enter into play. Will children play with their friends from a distance over Microsoft Teams? Connect with children at home while some are in the classroom? How might this change our teaching and learning?

“But Aviva, your kids are young. How will they follow the rules?”

I keep thinking of this hugging story that Doug Peterson included in his Friday blog post. This is not the only story. Paula met a family to pick up something for us. Without a prompt from mom, her four-year-old son knew to stand way back. He spoke and connected, but from a distance.

What was Paula’s text to me afterwards? “Our kids are going to be great at physical distancing.” And they will. Surprisingly maybe, I bet you that they are not the only ones. They’ve lived with this reality. Just look at this story that one of our kindergarten students wrote in June.

Remember, this is their reality too.

I know that the next couple of months will bring more information and more changes. I know that flexibility might need to be my word of the year.

But I also know that as careful as I plan on being, I also can’t live this next year constantly scared. It’s not good for me. It’s not good for our kids. How do you plan on addressing, and reducing, your fears in the coming school year?

I keep thinking about these wise words by Stuart Shanker.

Kids need us. We need each other. Maybe more than ever before, this holds true.

I don’t know how to live without fear, but I’m not sure that I can continue to live in fear. What about you?


A Missing “Meet Now” Button = A New Learning Experience

As I’ve mentioned on my blog before, this summer I’m one of two site leads for an online summer camp. On Friday night at around 10:30, I was on Microsoft Teams checking out some of the posts in the instructor channels and I started to panic:Β where was the “Meet Now” button on the iPad?Β When the other site lead and I were working through the logistics of Camp Power this summer, our plan was to have the instructors facilitate their synchronous sessions through their private channels. No need for calendar invites. No need to email links to parents and students. This was going to be easy.Β Now though, we had a big problem. Many of our families will be using iPads to connect each day, and if there’s no “Meet Now” button on an iPad, what will this mean for our families?

It was now time to do some problem solving. I guess that I could have taken a number of different approaches. Here’s what I did.

  • I emailed my co-lead, Carrie, with the problem.
  • I turned to Google, and I began to search for solutions.Β Is there a way to make the “Meet Now” button appear? This is when I found this article, which caused me to panic even more, and send off another email to Carrie.

This then led to some texts back and forth.Β A special shout-out to Carrie, who helped me find some calm and reassured me that there must be a solution. She met with students in channels during the school year, and it never seemed so complicated.

  • I told Carrie that I was going to send off a tweet, and see if anyone knew a solution. She was going to do some research.
  • I began to think about calendar invitation options, but then I remembered our phys-ed, music, and art instructors (the last ones being guests from the Art Gallery of Hamilton), and how confusing this new option would be for everyone.
  • I decided to take Carrie’s advice, sleep on it, and re-explore the problem the next day.

When I went to bed, Carrie researched and found some videos that might prove useful. She sent them off to me, and I used these videos as a jumping off point for my own investigations yesterday morning. I realized something: if I join a meeting in a channel, I can copy the “Join Info,” and I can post that for others to view. This could be a work around. Children could click on this join information and join the channel discussions.Β Bingo!Β I was excited to send off this tweet yesterday morning knowing that this was a problem that we could solve.

Yesterday afternoon, I went onto Microsoft Teams, entered all 18 instructor channels, copied the different meeting information, and posted a note to parents and children about how to join. Then I began to wonder:Β if people can see the “Meet Now” button, could they click on it in the channel, and would it take them to the same place as the meeting information that I copied, or does this meeting link change each day?Β Oh no! Could this be another problem?

Before emailing staff with our workaround solution, I thought, “I can test this out.” I decided to start a meeting on my computer, and then go to join the meeting on my iPad. I would start the meeting through the “Meet Now” button and join it through my post. This is where things got interesting. Do you know what you see in a private channel when a meeting is in progress?

This is what you see!

Teams provides a great big post with a “Join” button, so that even those on tablets can join a meeting with ease. Knowing that all of our instructors will be facilitating their meetings on computers, this big issue turned into a non-issue. Of course this deserved another tweet! πŸ™‚

What’s the learning here then?

  • When using technology, explore options for different devices if at all possible.Β How do things work the same? How might they be different? What are some possible workarounds?
  • Test things out multiple times. Then test them out again.Β If I hadn’t decided to try out a meeting on two devices at the same time, I wouldn’t have realized that my big problem was actually no problem at all. This is kind of like theΒ measure twice, cut onceΒ philosophy of technology. There are never too many times to try.
  • Approach problems with an inquiry mindset.Β I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t ask for help, but I also tried to do some problem solving of my own. I thought of different options (including the calendar invitation one that I didn’t love, but would have worked), I kept questioning (even when I thought that I had a solution), and I did some research on my own and with Carrie’s help. Then I applied what I learned, and in the end, there was a solution, even if there wasn’t actually a problem.Β 
  • Take a risk.Β We ask our kids to take risks all the time. The question of, “What have you tried already?,” is one that I’ve asked and heard asked more times than I can count. If we want students to be risk-takers though, do we first have to model this behaviour in ourselves? What is it about technology that makes many individuals more fearful of risk-taking? If any of you saw me on Friday night, I might have heightened your stress level. After my emails to Carrie, my research, and my tweet, I got on Microsoft Teams on my iPad, and I started clicking. I first explored all of the “…” options, as I know that this tends to lead to more options, and I was hoping that one was “Meet Now.” Then I looked at the gears. I also tried every “Manage” possibility, thinking that there might be a way to turn on this “Meet Now” option. I’m pretty sure that in the end, I clicked just about everything in our Microsoft Teams channels. You know what though? Nothing was lost or ruined. This didn’t solve the problem, but it did let me know that the option that I wanted wasn’t available. Maybe this pushed me to seek out another solution even more.
  • Find a person that helps you focus. I love working with my teaching partner, Paula, during the school year, but with the exception of her, I’m usually a lone wolf when it comes to working. I like tinkering and problem solving on my own. I will reach out for help, but I’m not a person that looks for a big team. For the past couple of summers, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Carrie. She’s far more social than I am. She definitely knows more about technology than I do. And her organizational systems are ones that I aspire to, but might be unlikely to attain. On Friday night, she also calmed me. She talked me down from, “Oh no! We’re going to have to re-think our whole approach,” to “There must be a solution.” When I went to bed, she did some research, and when I woke up, I applied her findings to help solve our problem. It was a team approach, and it worked because seeking out a solution can only happen when you’re in the frame of mind to do so. Thanks Carrie for putting me in that frame of mind.Β 

Sometimes it’s interesting to dissect a problem after you’ve experienced one.Β How did you approach the problem? What did you learn from this experience? On Friday night, I wasn’t seeing all of the positives in the missing “Meet Now” button, but now, I can see a lot more.Β Have you gone through a similar process before?Β There might be something to be said for finding those nuggets of positivity, learning, and growth in the most unexpected of places.


Is Passion Where It’s At?

In my last blog post, I shared some of my learning after reading John Spencer and A.J. Juliani‘s book, Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning.Β The book explores a couple of different topics, but just like the book,Β Launch: Using Design Thinking To Boost Creativity and Bring Out The Maker In Every Student, there is a lot of discussion around design thinking. I recently reflected more on design thinking and possibilities for the upcoming school year after receiving an unexpected email from a parent.

As many of my blog readers know, my teaching partner, Paula, and I are passionate about play-based learning.Β Free play. Child-directed play. Personalized learning around interests formed, expressed, and experienced through play.Β This year, thanks to some feedback from a visiting educator and a closer look from us at our classroom experiences, we realized the impact that “making” has on our play environment. This is where a mom’s email coupled by a couple of posts that I was tagged in on Twitter really pushed my thinking.

Before we left our school classroom in March, a group of our students got involved in a clothing project. This started when we co-created a dollhouse with them out of cardboard. We thought that the children might make some furniture for the dolls, but instead, they began to make clothes. The clothing creations evolved to a look at advertising and even connections to different community jobs (e.g., hospital staff). Our YMCA After Care Program saw this interest in clothing, and extended this interest with one of our children. This child began to make her own clothes.

It was great to see the long-term commitment to this project, but then March 13th came, COVID-19 increased, and schools closed for the rest of the school year.Β Is this where the design thinking process ends?Β 

It doesn’t have to be! Recently, Lori St. Amand, a fellow teacher in our Board, shared this great video recording from the Marilyn Denis Show, where a leading educational expert weighs in on what schools might look like in the fall. His thoughts? Design thinking and personalized learning. Now I know that there might be a lot of questions around how to facilitate this approach across the grades, but I have to go back to our clothing project. Not all kids were drawn to this space. In fact, usually it was only between two and four students who really got involved in creating and advertising for these clothes. But for this handful of children, they found their passion.

Earlier this week, I received an email from a mom of one of these students. She gave me permission to share in this blog post some of what she shared in her email. Her daughter was very involved in creating clothes and considering stylistic options for different dolls as well as for herself. In May, while we were teaching and playing from home, another child shared a doll’s dress that she created and sewed with her mom. She showed this dress during one of our online meetings, and this sparked a further discussion around clothing and design.

Dress Making

Fast forward just over a month, and the child that was so passionate about clothing design in the classroom received an amazing opportunity at home. Another parent in the class, who knows that this child loves fashion design, emailed this child’s mom a link to an online art school. There is an online fashion design course for kids 6-10. The sessions were 1 1/2 hours on a weekend, and mom was initially unsure if this would be too long for her daughter, but she decided to give it a try. Here’s what she wrote me.

We ended up doing a trial this past Saturday, and all I can say is, “Wow! I’ve never seen such focus from her in my life!” She was in her element. In this first class, she learned about vertical, horizontal and diagonal stripes and when you would use one or another or a combination depending on the look you were trying to achieve (i.e. to lengthen or widen a look, etc). Since then, J. has been commenting on her own outfit choices. Yesterday, she said β€œLook! I chose horizontal stripes today.”

Here’s a six-year-old, who’s found her passion, learned something new, and applied her learning through her designs as well as through her own outfit choices.

Now I realize that there might be the question of, “Okay, but what about the expectations?” Let’s look at these expectations for a moment.

  • We have the math expectations around measurement, patterning, and even geometry (with the use of vocabulary, such as “horizontal”).
  • We have the language connection possibilities, through oral language (describing the outfit, using the topic-connected vocabulary, and listening and interpreting instructions online), as well as reading and writing possibilities, as she labels her pictures and/or creates a book of designs. There’s also the media literacy link in analyzing and creating designs, as well as any advertisements for the designs.
  • We have the problem solving involved in the creation of the outfits, or the application from transferring her designs on paper to designs using material.
  • We have the Self-Reg components, from the inclusion of items in her workspace that help her concentrate and create (notice the snacks and water). Also under theΒ Self-Regulation and Well-Being FrameΒ in our Kindergarten Program Document, there’s discussion around fine motor skills. Imagine the fine motor skills demonstrated through her drawing of the designs, her writing of the labels, and her creation of the clothing items.
  • We have the belonging expectations, as she contributes as part of a group and solves problems with peers while maybe connecting with them in this online forum.Β 

All Four Frames of the Kindergarten Program Document are addressed through this design thinking experience, while this child is able to follow her passion. Having taught Kindergarten-Grade 6, I realize that the complexity of expectations increase each year,Β but what might be possible?

  • If the process expectations still exist in the new math curriculum, they could be well-used here as a child problem solves and communicates learning around clothing design.
  • Reading, writing, and oral language possibilitiesΒ extend into the grades, as well as theΒ media literacy connectionΒ with creating and analyzing various clothing advertisements.Β 
  • TheΒ learning skillsΒ might also be showcased here, as a child works independently, collaborates with others in the classroom or online, takes initiative in selecting a topic of interest, demonstrates responsibility through the work that he/she does, and organizes his/her materials and sketches during the creation process.Β 
  • In the case of this clothing design project,Β visual artsΒ is certainly evident, especially when looking more closely at theΒ elements of art.

I wonder if knowing the curriculum expectations well — and the connections between them –may be key as educators explore design thinking and personalized learning possibilities for all kids. I keep coming back to this comment on playΒ in this Manitoba Kindergarten Resource that Lori St. Amand and Roy Norris shared recently.

Without a doubt, theΒ playΒ discussed here aligns with design thinking. The same is true in Dr. Jean Clinton‘s comment around “playful learning.”

There are so many negative aspects to the Coronavirus and the impact on education,Β but could there be a little positive hidden in here as well?Β Might our new reality, inspire and support even more design thinking and personalized learning opportunities across the grades? What impact might this have on children as thinkers and learners? Reflecting now on this student of ours, I have to believe that some wonderful things are possible.Β What about you?


Our Class Story … What’s Yours?

Summer’s begun, and for me, that means the beginning of summer reading. While I tend to read primarily mystery and suspense novels, I also decided to read a professional book:Β Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning.

There are many elements of this book that I could blog about, but one part that really had me thinking, focused on storytelling.

John Spencer and A.J. Juliani shared this graphic that they feel provides a framework for all stories.

Let me use it to tell our story.Β Not a story of the entire year. Not even a story of the entire time that the world came to a standstill. But part of our story over the last three months of school.Β 

Growing up, I loved reading fairy tales, and I feel this push to start our story with “once upon a time.” But it’s not a fairy tale, nor is it make believe, but if you told me before the start of COVID-19 that …

  • I’d be living in the time of a pandemic,
  • teaching kindergarten at home,Β online,
  • “school” — back in the building of schoolΒ — would end on March 13th,
  • and this would be happening just about everywhere around the world,

I would have told you that this would make a great plotline for a book. This isn’t fictional though.Β And so instead, I will choose to begin my story —Β our class storyΒ — like this:

Once upon a real time,Β not that long ago, when the Coronavirus travelled around the world and we were all living in the midst of a pandemic, our classroom changed.Β I still remember the day when our principal, Gerry Smith, told us that distance learning was our new reality.Β How long would it last? What might it look like? Would we be going back to school again?Β Nobody knew.Β 

There are so many characters that could be part of this story. Every educator, administrator, parent, and child has his/her own story to tell. This story though starts with two characters: me and my teaching partner, Paula. We faced the problem of figuring out how to teach kindergarten online using a play-based learning approach that is at the heart of all that we do.

As in the classroom, we looked to our students and their families as our guides. We tried to connect with them online using a synchronous learning approach. This started with some sharing.Β A thumbs up and thumbs down check-in.Β While kids came, parents looked in, and siblings participated, we noticed that bodies might be there but engagement was low.Β Now what?Β 

Many kids were drawing and writing as they sat with us online, and so we wondered what might happen if we began creating together.Β An interactive lesson of sorts.Β Still open-ended. Let children do what works for them, but see if a starting point might lead to more discussion and a way to provoke learning after the call.

This was a good start.Β It was better.Β But there was still something bothering us. In the classroom, we would never all be doing the same thing at the same time. Free, child-led play is at the heart of our instruction, and the thinking, learning, and creating that stems from this play is magical for us.Β How might we play online?

We decided to provide some choices of materials, various provocations, and the playing alongside kids that works so well in our classroom space.

Did it work?

You would think that this might be the end of our story, but it wasn’t. For you see, as we continued this approach, here’s what we noticed.

This called us to action, and we reached out to parents with a survey.Β What’s working well for them? What isn’t? What else might they want to see through these synchronous learning sessions? We provided choices and allowed comments. While a few parents wanted time to play, many wanted a mini-lesson and follow-up sharing time.

We tried to facilitate both. We let kids bring what worked for them, provided a daily provocation, supported what various kids were doing, and allowed for sharing during the process. In addition, we created a virtual playdate, for a little small group playing time for those interested.

So did this story end as a comedy or as a tragedy? I think it depends on the child. There were many remarkable moments and great stories …

but there were also those kids who never really found their niche.

  • Was it too hard to see their friends online but not in person?
  • Did asynchronous options then still not provide the same immediate feedback that they might get in the classroom?
  • Or were there additional considerations (including the stress of the time, parent work schedules, and the sharing of devices) that came into play?

We tried to reach out in different ways (e.g., phone calls), connect through our blog, and provide other alternatives (e.g., meeting online at a different time or with a smaller group), but nothing seemed to work perfectly for everyone. And so our story ends in the middle somewhere, between comedy and tragedy.

If the world was back to normal, maybe you would say that next year’s story will be totally different. But the Fall brings with it many unknowns, and we hope that we might be able to use our learning from the last three months of school to help us with our new story. We look ahead thinking about …

  • the different ways to build relationships online,
  • the value of small group connections,
  • the need for interaction,
  • the importance of involving parents and families in the learning process,
  • the value of stories (both our stories and the ones shared by our kids),
  • and the need to evolve. Just like we’re constantly reconsidering our provocations, environment, and approaches in the classroom, the same holds true online.

Our story is one that isn’t over yet. New kids, new families, new requirements, and a new year will likely shift to a new story. I’m sharing our story here as a way to reflect, and I hope that you share yours.Β What is your story?Β I wonder where the comedy/tragedy line falls for you.