Where Does The Line Between “Toxic Positivity” And “Toxic Negativity” Lie?

As always, I started my Friday morning reading the blog posts highlighted in Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. One post that I returned to a few times since yesterday morning was Michelle Fenn‘s one on toxic positivity. I could really relate to the line when she says, “teachers excel at wearing stress and being busy as a badge of honour.” Many years ago, I read a blog post by Dean Shareski on “being busy,” and since then, I’ve tried hard to eliminate this phrase from my vocabulary. I’m far from perfect with doing so, but I am getting better thanks to Dean. I know that the Coronavirus has changed how schools operate and classrooms run — among many other things — and at times, this can increase an educator’s workload. I understand why educators might feel overwhelmed and frustrated. I’ve read numerous tweets where teachers share these feelings, and thinking about these tweets from a Self-Reg perspective, I can see and hear the stress. I keep returning to this favourite cartoon of mine.

Just as Michelle indicates in her post, we all need empathy right now. I’d argue that educators, administrators, parents, and kids need people to feel what they’re feeling. If ever there was a time to improve at paraphrasing, now might be it. I think it’s okay to experience all kinds of emotions, and even admit when things are not all sunshine and roses in our classrooms, our schools, and our homes. BUT I also think that we need to ensure that we don’t get bogged down with the negativity, so that we never manage to figure out what might work and what could be better.

If you read our class blog posts, we often speak about our “great days.” Our days are great.

1. Kids are learning.

2. They’re excited to be at school.

3. We’re figuring out ways to work within the protocols, keep kids safe, and still hold true to the essence of the Kindergarten Program Document.

4. We’re reflecting, making changes to the environment and the learning materials with the help of the kids, and finding ways to build on interests, even if at times they’re individual interests.

While my teaching partner, Paula, and I attempt to stay focused on these positive moments, we also talk about what might not be working as well as we hoped. Our biggest struggle is figuring out collective interests — classroom inquiries, for example — and how we can support this learning in small, distanced groups. This tends to work better outside, where there’s a little more flexibility with the space and the groupings, but it’s harder to do inside. We’re embracing the 1:1 time with kids, but wondering if we could go deeper if we could find more links between interests. We constantly question,

  1. Have we interpreted our observations correctly?
  2. What could we do to better support [Name]? (The name filled in here is always changing.)
  3. Would more movement for some kids be better? How can we support this safely?
  4. Would this movement help better support provocations and interests, or would it just lead to more wandering?

I’m sharing these struggles because Michelle’s post made me realize that I don’t do this enough. It’s not because I’m negating the value in being open and honest — for good and for bad experiences — but because I’m not sure that social media is the place to do this. At least not 240-character social media. Every time that I read a negative tweet, I see a stream of other negative experiences. I understand why during times of struggle, others need to hear that things aren’t perfect, but I also worry about the impact of “toxic negativity.” Without expanding on our experiences, sharing our reflections, and exploring problem solving together, does sharing large amounts of negativity simply breed more negativity?

Yesterday, I went to publish this Instagram post about our day, and I wondered, will this be viewed as “toxic positivity?”

I’d like to think that our positive outlook is a way to find joy in what we’re doing and get the best out of the situation right now. Replacing too much positivity with too much negativity is not necessarily making things better. Is it? Maybe I need to blog more about what’s not working as well as what is, while also remembering that genuine voice no matter what the message might be. I’m always here to listen to those that might be struggling, and I appreciate everyone that’s been there for me too, but well before COVID, I was a believer in the words, “What IS possible?” I still believe there’s a lot to be said for venting, for crying, for being yourself, and for moving forward. What about you?


The Coronavirus: Bringing Out The Inner Crafters And Problem Solvers In All Of Us

On Wednesday evening, I listened to the VoicEd Radio This Week In Ontario Edublogs show. One of the posts that Stephen and Doug discussed was Lisa Corbett‘s one reflecting on the first month of school. Their conversation around math manipulatives and Lisa’s creative approach with colanders had me sharing a tweet.

Doug’s reply inspired me to move from a tweet to a post … this one being it.

Upon further reflection this week, I think that COVID has not only brought out the inner crafters, but also the inner problem solvers, in educators. Board protocols for safety have understandably restricted some practices of the past, and as my teaching partner, Paula, and I have discussed a lot in the last month, every decision that we make now requires additional thought. Even distributing papers and materials to students have us thinking about how to do so with limited contact and sanitized surfaces. We all knew the value of thinking before, and now our skills are tested on a regular basis.

As a fellow primary educator, and one who teaches kindergarten, we are not all tech-based with our supplies. Not only do we not have the 1:1 technology to make this possible, but we also believe that for our younger learners, manipulating the actual materials and choosing the ones that might work best for what the kids are doing, are also important. This is what resulted in a little bit of crafting/creative thinking to work within the restrictions and still give kids what they need. Here are the things that we’ve done.

Mesh Laundry Bags – A special “thank you” to Tessa Heffernan and her colleague, Heather, for sharing this idea. Kristi Keery-Bishop, a principal in our Board, drew our attention to this post, and it’s been a game changer for us.

We are always looking for ways to reduce cleaning time while also providing safe materials for kids. Our Board has provided us with a 1 minute sanitization spray, and these mesh laundry bags allow for an easy hanging and drying option.

Individual Containers Of Supplies – We tried to create as many individual containers of materials as we could. We knew that for sensory materials, kids would not be able to share items, and that sensory play seems to be incredibly calming for many of our young learners. This meant purchasing personal containers of play dough, creating individual buckets of plasticine and Perler beads, and making up small containers of kinetic sand (way less messier than the other variety, with no water required). We also knew from previous years that most kids love creating with LEGO. We found a fabulous deal on small bags of LEGO with base plates, and we got enough for every child. Now if children are unsure of what to do, or are looking for another option, they can always choose their bucket of LEGO. As I realized on Friday, LEGO also works as a great math manipulative!

Board Books – Thankfully we have many board books from collecting over the years. Knowing what we did about our kids, we tried to find some board book options that we thought would interest each of them. We continue to work with the kids to add more book choices to their individual bins. The board books are easy to sanitize with the spray and some wiping, and the other books can be quarantined for three (plus) days, and then shared again.

An All-Encompassing Clipboard – In the past, we used to make up alphabet charts on whiteboards for children to use to support their reading and writing. Many children also used books on our bookshelf and in our lunch bin of books to find numbers that they needed for different notes, signs, and labels. Now we can’t use these shared resources. We decided to get a clipboard for each child, and add the alphabet and a number charts on each one. Kids have what they need when they need it, and can easily access these anchor charts as they’re writing, reading, and playing.

A Canvas Bag Just For Them – Paula and I quickly realized that sharing materials would also be problematic outside. While we got creative with some outdoor space options …

… we also thought that it would be beneficial for kids to be able to easily transport their individual materials to different spaces. The canvas bags allowed for this. Now they can bring items outside with them that they want (e.g., a clipboard, pencil case, LEGO, etc.), and we know that they are only using items that have been used by them. Keeping everything in the canvas bag also reduces the chance of other kids touching the same items or students losing materials outside or in the classroom.

Natural Materials – We learned that natural materials do not need to be disinfected, so we try to use them as much as possible, especially in our outdoor space. Rocks, wood cookies, and sticks are popular options for building and creating, and there’s nothing like a little snail math! We’ll also take some worm literacy and problem solving, even if at times it involves a dead worm.

Dividing Supplies – Every child doesn’t need or want every item — at least not at the same time — but since kids cannot just self-select materials now as they used to, having easy access to containers and Ziploc bags of divided materials helps a lot. Below are just some of the items that we’ve divided for students. Sometimes children request these materials from us, and sometimes we suggest them based on what students are doing and/or what interests them. Having these items stored somewhere that’s safe from touching hands, but readily accessible, is also key.

Reconsidering The Sink – While we’ve created individual containers of many sensory materials, water bins are harder to create. They spill easily, and for kids to scoop and squeeze water, they need to have a decent amount of it. We’re fortunate to have an extra sink in our classroom, and we use this sink as a water centre. It’s not the right fit for everyone, but for those children that need that wet sensory play, it provides a great option for them. Outside, mud and water combine in our mud kitchen! With some individual buckets, shovels, and baking items that can also be easily sanitized with our spray sanitizer, as well as a few big tires for an additional pop-up kitchen space, the sink idea does not just need to be restricted to inside.

Reaching Out To Home – Our wonderful parents have been thrilled to help us in any way that they can. Collecting nature items for art projects, bringing in examples of environmental print (e.g., magazines and flyers), and sharing their recyclable items with us, have all been valuable. Now children can have their own collections of items for their individual projects, and Paula and I can collect and sort additional items for those kids that need them. We used to look for these donations for the full class, and now families are happy to support us with some single use donations.

Yoga Mats – While we no longer have a carpet for use as a full group gathering space, these individually cut yoga mats have been a perfect alternative. Not only does it draw kids to the floor space, but it becomes a visual reminder of one person’s area versus another person’s one. Children can turn and talk to their friends while still staying physically distant … our hope all along!

While this post is far from a short one, and has moved well past the math manipulative discussion in Lisa’s post, it does share our evolving thinking and problem solving as we try to provide access to what we know kids need in ways that are safe for students and adults alike. We know that we’re not the only ones working through a COVID-19 reality, so imagine the value in all of us sharing what we’re doing. What worked? What didn’t work? What else might we be able to try? For us, reorganization is happening at the beginning of November, and this could mean many educators beginning new positions. I wonder if discussing crafty and creative solutions might allow us to support each other. The school year is far from over, and new ideas are always welcome!


Is The Loss Of Halloween Really A Loss?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Halloween lately. As readers of my professional blog know, I tend to have some Grinch-like views when it comes to special days, and Halloween is right up there as one of my least favourite days of the year.

  1. The disruption to a regular routine,
  2. the numerous sugary treats,
  3. the scary costumes (I scare easily when I see horror in person),
  4. the loud parties,
  5. and the light effects (which tend to include a lot of brightness),

are just some of the things that dysregulate me on October 31st … and every Halloween-like event prior to that. As an Early Years educator, I’m also stressed about keeping costumes clean and together, for the last thing I want to do is be the one responsible for ruining trick-or-treating.

With all of this in mind, and upon further reflection by both me and my teaching partner, Paula, we sent out this email to parents last weekend.

I’m thinking about these words in light of a comment that Doug Peterson made at the beginning of his Friday blog post.

While I realize that Doug’s comment is related more specifically to Halloween festivities on October 31st, as a classroom educator, I could extrapolate to the current reality of classroom parties and parades. I began to wonder, are we ruining Halloween for kids?

I don’t think that we are. In fact, I strongly believe that every day at school can be, and should be, enjoyable. Kids regularly engage in learning opportunities that are meaningful to them.

  1. Their interests are always considered.
  2. Their voices are heard.
  3. They have the time that they need to really play with the materials and the content.
  4. Even from a distance, they have the opportunities to connect with both us and their friends.

I’m not going to go as far as to argue that every day is like one giant party, but I will say that socializing, playing, and connecting does not only happen a couple of times a year. I have to wonder if there’s something to be said for this.

If the cancellation and/or reconsideration of Halloween make us upset, why is that? What’s being lost here, and is there a way to gain this feeling of community, this excitement, and these connections on days that are not just special days? I realize that it might not be exactly the same as previous Halloween festivities used to be, but I’d like to hope/believe that joy in schools is not limited to only a few, select calendar days. What about you? Maybe the Grinch in me is only too happy to downplay a holiday or maybe there’s something worth saying in doing just that.

Aviva: A Proud Halloween Humbug, But Still A Believer In Fun πŸ™‚

Parent Engagement In The Time Of COVID: What Does It Look Like For You?

As we all know, the Coronavirus changed lots of things in education. One thing that changed as a result of it was parent engagement. Some ways that we used to connect with parents, and they used to connect with us, can no longer happen. For now …

  1. gone are the days where you could invite families into the classroom. At least live and in person.
  2. gone are the long discussions as the fence in the morning. Or even the chats during pick up time.
  3. gone are the impromptu meetings. At least the ones that involve having families come into the room to sit down and talk,
  4. gone are the volunteers. Or at least any volunteer opportunities that include coming into the school space and connecting with kids.

While we miss what’s gone, we’re also excited by what can still happen, even if it is in different ways.

As I started to think about writing this post, I couldn’t help but reflect on some wise words by Aaron Puley, a vice principal in our Board. I’ve learned from and with Aaron about parent engagement for the past 10 years. It’s a topic that we’re both very passionate about. One thing that Aaron’s taught me about parent engagement is that we always need to explore it with an equity lens. What works for one family might not work for all, which is why we’ve tried to consider different ways to connect.

A few experiences from last weekend made me think about what is still possible, instead of what’s not.

The first experience was when one of our parents shared this post in her child’s Private Channel in MS Teams. (Thanks to the mom for giving us permission to share this comment here.)

While my teaching partner, Paula, and I extend learning based on our observations and conversations with kids, sometimes it’s these moments at night, at home, while chatting with parents, that children share insights that they might not in the classroom. This mom’s use of Teams allowed us to glean information from these insights. Knowing this child’s thoughts around Kandinsky’s artwork, also helped us look at how we can still address these interests while also introducing some new artists. We love how this space gave both the mom and the child a voice, while allowing us to connect with them and further explore our planning for the week ahead.

Then came this second experience. I shared a shortened version of this moment through a couple of tweets.

I’ll admit that after reading mom’s email, I really wished that I had asked the child why he didn’t want the plastic water bottle. I will definitely start asking “why” from now on. While so many of our children talk about the environment in class, especially thanks to PLASTIC PLANET, we never really know what gets shared beyond the classroom.

Having these email connections is another way that parents can share with us.

The third experience happened on the weekend, as I was talking with a parent on the phone. For almost twenty years now, I’ve arranged opportunities to talk with families on the telephone.

I used to call every parent, every weekend. Chatting with Aaron many years ago, he made me think differently about this. He mentioned that some parents might prefer an email and others might only like occasional check-ins. Again, it comes down to equity. Thanks to this discussion, I changed my approach, and have stuck with a similar one for the past few years.

As I was talking with mom, she spoke about going to the park with her daughter. Her daughter saw plastic on the ground, and asked to pick it up. Mom mentioned that she tries to always pick up garbage when she sees it, but she missed this garbage. Her daughter was very concerned about animals eating it, and she could see how her child connected back to our classroom learning around the environment. Just as the other parent provided us with insights about her son’s learning through email, this mom provided us with insights about her daughter’s through a phone call.

Paula and I often speak about the important connection between relationships and learning. I think this also extends to relationships with families. How are we welcoming parent voices in the classroom and in the school, even from afar? I have to wonder if this distance dialogue is equally as valuable to the in-person connections that we used to have before. Our hope is that others will share what they’re doing to facilitate these important family relationships, so that we can all inspire each other with a little something new.


Why “Time” Matters …

I’ve blogged before on the importance of giving kids time.

  1. Time to settle into play.
  2. Time to socialize.
  3. Time to problem solve.
  4. Time to make decisions.
  5. Time to be bored.
  6. Time to get creative.

Before I started working with my teaching partner, Paula, I might have stated that I believed in the value of time, but I know that I often responded too quickly and made changes too fast. Now we both remind each other to slow down. This week, we really got to see the benefits of uninterrupted time to play.

While our classroom looks differently now than it did before COVID, we still attempt to reduce transitions and provide large blocks of open, child-directed playtime.

Most days, this consists of 1 1/2 straight hours of play outside and 4 straight hours of play inside. During this time, Paula and I,

  1. observe students,
  2. ask questions,
  3. provide extension possibilities,
  4. lead mini-lessons,
  5. document learning,
  6. reflect on learning with kids and with each other,
  7. and facilitate social interactions from afar.

With kids in their own areas, this can be more challenging at times than it has been in the past — especially when it comes to getting a big picture view of the kids, the learning, and the spaces — but the lack of transitions and the predictability of a consistent routine have also helped settle the play and support the students.

On Thursday, we saw something quite wonderful happen! This story is told through a series of six Instagram posts. It actually starts at the end, and moves to the beginning.

When I look at the Four Frames in our Kindergarten Program Document, this story of learning includes all of them.

  1. Belonging and Contributing – There’s the socializing from a distance. Both children decided to write each other’s names on the floor, and create a learning space that could support both of their play, but from afar. Even dividing the window ledge and part of the floor area in half helped create this distanced togetherness. They also figured out how to divide the jobs of creating the different water falls/lava falls/grass falls. Both boys co-created the space while working with their own materials.
  2. Problem Solving and Innovating – This play started with a problem. The two boys wanted to play together, and while they are part of a cohort, they really needed to figure out how to keep some distance. Tape was a way to divide the space, but soon the tape itself became part of their innovative and imaginative play. Even figuring out how to create letters out of tape required some problem solving. Some problems were solved alone, and some were solved together, but sticking with more challenging problems, was something that both of them did here.
  3. Self-Regulation and Well-Being – There is something about taping that can be incredibly calming for some children. This was certainly true here. The taping though is also great for developing fine motor skills. It was interesting to observe how a child that might find printing more challenging — especially writing with smaller letters in a smaller space — could create tiny letters with the use of tape.
  4. Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours – This play involved both literacy and math. There was the oral storytelling with the use of the LEGO people and the various taped “falls.” There was the reading and writing involved in creating signs and writing and responding to notes for additional supplies. There was a look at voice, and how we might be able to persuade someone through written text: definitely done here through their note to the caretakers. There were the spatial skills required for some of the more intricate taping requirements. There was also a look at some numerals and number amounts. Finally, there was the sorting by colour that the two of them created in their play space, and the discussions involved in determining what should be sorted where.

Other than a quick break to eat (probably less than 20 minutes total), these two spent four hours creating, playing, socializing, thinking, and problem solving in this space. I have to wonder if this kind of project would have ever happened if not for the gift of time. How do you consider time in your planning, instruction, and play? What have you noticed as a result? Yesterday, this space evolved to parallel restaurants, with plasticine food provided within the taped LEGO fall areas. I wonder what might be added and/or changed come Monday.

With time also come the opportunities to modify, extend, and change play and space, which I think are harder to do in quick, individual blocks of time. Having taught other grades before, I know that not all grades can easily have the same flexibility as kindergarten, but I wonder if learning has to change every 40 minutes. What might be the benefits if it doesn’t? How do you make this happen? Thinking about Thursday has me seeing what’s possible even when holding to many different protocols. And what’s possible could still be quite wonderful. What do you think?