What Is Our Responsibility?

On Thursday, my teaching partner, Paula, and I decided to show the students a clip from Box City to get students thinking about different items to build and signs to create as they play with blocks. We had no intention of making a cardboard city. We just noticed some of the block building during the week, and thought that we could try to extend it.

When Paula showed part of the clip on Thursday morning, one of our kids got really excited. She remembered our Box City project from last year, and wanted to create one again. What might be possible? Paula heard her out and began to think aloud with the rest of the class, as well as with me, about possibilities. We might not be able to play with a collaborative Box City due to COVID protocols, but if students made their buildings at their individual spaces, we could set one up as a class. This child was so excited, and started to use paint and cardboard to begin the Box City process. She even wrote me a note asking for shoeboxes.

Her excitement got others creating in different ways, and had Paula and I thinking about what else we could do.

In between interviews and training yesterday, we started to make a safe space in the classroom for Box City. Getting the area organized also had us considering provocations for this upcoming week.

As we were planning, we wondered if Box City could be one way that we explore inclusion and equity with our kids. After school on Thursday, we had our November Staff Meeting. Near the end of the staff meeting, our principal spoke to us about inclusion and equity, and had us start to think about how students might see themselves in the classroom. In a Twitter conversation last night, I had an opportunity to further reflect on some of the points that Gerry mentioned during our Staff Meeting.

Paula and I wondered if as we build this city, we can also look more closely at the housing complexes in our community and in surrounding ones.

  1. What might you see in downtown Hamilton? In Toronto?
  2. Could this then extend to people within our cities? How are we alike? How are we different?
  3. How can we become more knowledgeable and accepting of differences?

Just as I blogged about back in June, we want to take the cues from our students. We want to be aware of their age and their developmental level. But I still stand behind my goals from Doug Peterson‘s challenge back in June.

All of these goals could be addressed as we create Box City together, and even create many different people for Box City. I’m not sure where this project will go this year, but I remember how our city was transformed last year.

Christmas seemed to become the key discussion point. Is this because it’s what almost all of our children celebrate? Is this because it’s what they see most often? Maybe this year, we could look more closely at multiple celebrations. How are they viewed and celebrated in our community? How might kids share their learning through this city space? What new learning and additional ideas might parents and families share, even from afar?

Not every conversation is easy, and it’s the unknown component here that makes this a little bit scarier. (How do we prepare for questions that might be asked and ideas that might be shared?) But I continue to return to things that our children have talked to us about this year:

  1. Gender,
  2. Racism,
  3. Bullying,
  4. #BlackLivesMatter.

Each of these discussion points have rarely been full class discussions, but they are ones that kids have opened up to us about. We’ve listened. We’ve wondered. And we’ve realized that our children are looking to talk and seeking to understand. Even if their world might be well-represented within school walls, is it our responsibility to expose them to a world beyond this? I think it is. What about you?


When Is It Time To Put The iPad Down?

For anyone who follows our class on Instagram or through our Documentation Blog, it’s clear that my teaching partner, Paula, and I record and share a lot. The iPad is almost always in my hands, and from snapping photographs to recording video snippets, it’s usually down to less than 10% battery by the end of the school day. Not only do we love that families can see their child in action and the class immersed in play, but the two of us love re-looking and re-listening to the video footage to see what we missed (or misinterpreted) in the moment. With both masks and a shield on each day, sounds are often muffled, and we learn a lot from our numerous video recordings. But this week, I chose to put my iPad down for a significant period of time, and I really liked what happened.

On Wednesday, I did some painting with one of our students. While I had my iPad with me, and certainly recorded numerous moments together, it wasn’t long before my hands, the back bench, and the wall were completely covered in paint.

Paint on an iPad screen is not a new experience for me …

… but I became so immersed in the painting process with this child that I decided to put my iPad down. And I became aware of something wonderful. With the technology down …

  1. I played more.
  2. I painted more.
  3. I watched and listened more.
  4. I lived in the moment more.

There’s nothing shared here that will be new for many other individuals who have worked through the problems of living life through a screen. I get it. Paula and I also try hard to connect with kids, even when we might be recording learning, which explains our shaky view on our classroom world. But on Wednesday, I realized that eye contact even behind a screen is different than eye contact without one.

I definitely don’t want to stop recording and sharing as we do, for our learning by rewatching the video footage each day and reflecting on comments shared by others, is huge! But I’m going to try to have a little time — even just for a couple of hours each week — where I put the iPad down. Where I get lost in the play. Maybe my reflections from these moments will make it into our nightly blog posts in a different way or maybe they’ll make it into our daily reflective conversations, but Wednesday showed me that they’re valuable. I don’t want to miss these kinds of valuable moments either. How do you decide when to record, when to observe, and when to get involved? As someone who almost always has a device in hand, letting one go is hard, but there’s something to be said for messy hands and a full heart.


How Do You Collaborate From A Distance, In-Person?

While there are many things that my teaching partner, Paula, and I have grown to love about our classroom this year, we’ve noticed one particular problem that we’ve been trying to work around for a while now: collaborating face-to-face, but from a distance. For kindergarten students, especially at the beginning of the year, it’s not surprising to see them only wanting to create artwork, write stories, and make items to bring home with them. Children of this age are very “me-centred,” and while they love talking about what they’ve done and showing it to others in the classroom, they also want everything just for them. Over the past five years, Paula and I have often tried to begin collaborative projects early on, and with limited success. As soon as kids find out that this artwork is not going home with them, the interest wanes. By this point in the year though, most students have started to contribute to a collaborative piece or two, and they start to feel the joy that comes from making something for someone else. For being part of something that’s bigger than just us. This year though, with the understandably numerous COVID restrictions, even starting these projects has been a challenge. When children need to be at least a metre apart with their own materials, how do you work on something together?

I know that leveraging technology would be an obvious answer, but we actually don’t have a lot of tech in our classroom, and considering the age of our kids, we’re not looking to get more. Even if we did have multiple devices in the classroom, with most of our students still learning to read, there would be limited options for collaboration online. There’s also the issue of feedback with some video conferencing tools. We could get full classes to connect with other full classes using a tool such as MS Teams, but we want to be responsive to individual students and individual needs. We didn’t do a lot of full group instruction and collaboration even pre-COVID, so why would we start now? While we realize that in-person collaboration is limited at best, we wondered if there was a way to create something together, but with individual supplies. This is when our Tree of Life Project was born.

Since the beginning of September, we’ve been studying numerous artists in the classroom including Kandinsky, Picasso, Paul Klee, Yayoi Kusama, and Van Gogh. Kandinsky is one of the artists that children return to regularly. His concentric circles are popular with our kids, and with a focus on shapes and lines, all children have an entry point to his art. Paula and I found a beautiful picture of a Kandinsky-inspired tree, and we wondered if we could create something similar. This week was Bullying Awareness Week in our Board, so the tree could be a way to focus on kindness while also having an environmental focus, which connects to another area of passion for our kids.

On Thursday, we decided to get started. The idea was there, but things did not go exactly as planned.

When reflecting after school, Paula and I wondered if creating the tree would help. Then students could start to add their pictures and messages, and could envision the project coming together. We thought about one child that made a lot of detailed concentric circles on Thursday, and Paula invited her to make the tree on Friday morning.

This was key. Not only did the class see the tree, but Paula increased the excitement and interest the kids had in adding to it. Before long, we had almost everyone in the class eager to make a picture, add a saying, or talk about the growing Tree of Life.

We added this home extension with the hope that families might also contribute to this tree.

The tree might not be perfect. Children attached their artwork using both glue and tape. Some images are not completely cut out. A few might even be overlapping. But as you can see in the photographs and videos above, there was a ton of thought that went into each contribution, and the children owned the learning and the space. For the first time since September, a large number of kids contributed to something that wasn’t just for them. There’s something to be said for this.

The Tree Of Life as it looked before Paula and I left school on Friday evening.

Seeing the interest and the success in this “distance collaboration,” Paula and I have thought of another project for this upcoming week. It connects more with the environment and will also be used for some holiday messages. The Coronavirus has brought many changes to our classroom and school communities. Right now, I need to savour moments of “normal,” even if they might appear a little bit different than before.

What about you? How do your support distance, face-to-face collaboration? By sharing together, we could all learn something new.


My “Count To 10” Goal: Is Anyone Else With Me?

As I’ve shared before, there are many reasons why my teaching partner, Paula, and I choose to use social media as part of our workflow. While we take numerous photographs and short video clips as part of documenting learning and reflecting for future learning, sometimes these recordings capture the unexpected. This happened to me this week. I was then reminded of another reason that we videotape conversations with kids: to recognize when we’re wrong.

This blog post is a story, and in an effort to protect the privacy of the child involved, I’m not going to indicate if it was a boy or a girl. It doesn’t matter. What matters is my response. For the purpose of this story, I’m going to call the child, Sam. Here’s the story.

Earlier this week, Paula and I thought about extending the tire weaving with the addition of some natural items. We picked up a few bunches of flowers to use for an art provocation in class, and it didn’t take long for them to begin to wither. What if we brought them outside for some mud kitchen and weaving use? As anticipated, a small group of children began to weave with the flowers. When a child then found a lone snail — even in the midst of the freezing cold temperatures — some children thought that this weaving space could become a natural home for the snail. A few students came and went from this space, especially when they saw the brightly coloured flowers sticking out of the weaving net.

Just the start of this beautiful woven snail habitat.

As the habitat continued to evolve, another child (*Sam) came by. Sam couldn’t help but touch the flowers. Just look at them. They’re almost begging to be touched. Touching soon morphed into picking up the flowers and holding onto them. As the habitat creators continued to work at arranging the flowers, Sam worked just as hard at removing them. Soon, one of the children at the tire asked Sam for a flower back. The request was kind: “Can I please have the flower?” Sam’s response: “No.” Now I happened to be standing by this space documenting the evolution of the tire art/habitat creation, and when I heard the request for the flower and the reply, I jumped in. I also kept the video going.

I’m going to admit that I kept recording because I thought that I would be able to coach Sam into giving back the flower. My hope — at the time — was to capture the sharing that could take place with support. But this is not what happened. Sam was insistent on not giving back the flower, and I was invested in the dispute. When Sam screamed, “No,” I bent down and took the flower. Sam wasn’t expecting this, so the removal of the flower was an easy one, but the decision to do so, escalated the behaviour. Soon we were dealing with a full blown temper tantrum.

Paula and I let Sam cry, scream, and kick. We just made sure to give Sam the space to do so safely. We moved the tire over a bit on the pavement, but Sam was still focused on it and the flower. After about 10 minutes of this, with no reduction in upset, Paula ended up taking a group of children to the field space (as we often do each day), and I moved the tire into the shed. Out of sight, out of mind. Sam still cried for a bit, but when Sam ended up dumping over a container of blocks, this provided enough of a distraction to calm down. Then Sam cleaned up the blocks and re-joined the play.

There are elements of what happened here that I believe Paula and I handled well.

  1. We were consistent.
  2. We gave Sam the time and space to calm down independently.
  3. We removed the item of focus to also help reduce the stress.
  4. We moved past the problem. It happened. Sam cleaned up. The day went on as normal.

There was one big problem though. (Without capturing it on video, I’m not sure that I would have ever figured it out.) This experience escalated as it did because I chose to intervene in the first place. Did I need to say or do anything at all? Looking back on this story and listening back to the video even days later, I wonder if I had to get involved. One of the weavers asked for the flower back. If I didn’t say anything, but just observed, what might have happened?

  1. Would the child have requested the flower again?
  2. Would the child have taken it?
  3. Would the child have waited for Sam to drop the flower and then added it to the snail habitat design?
  4. Would the child have found something else to use instead?

At the point when I intervened, nobody was hurt and nobody was particularly upset. I felt as though the child’s kind request for the flower back should be granted, and I thought that Sam should know that ruining work is not okay. But seeing the situation through this lens has me making two big assumptions:

  1. That the child was not competent enough to solve the problem independently … especially if given the time to do so.
  2. That Sam’s intention was to “ruin the work,” when maybe it was just to touch the beautiful flower.

When I chose to get involved and everything unravelled as it did, I also chose to stay the course. Next time though, I hope that when I review our recordings, I see myself stopping and observing instead of jumping in and problem solving. I wonder how things might work out differently. This week, I’m going to attempt to “count to 10” before saying or doing anything (unless there is an immediate safety concern). I wonder what the impact of this decision might be. I’m definitely going to do some videotaping, re-watching, and reflecting. What might I view differently? How might problems resolve themselves differently? I’d love any interested educators, administrators, and/or parents to join me in this challenge. I know that time is always of the essence, and I’m not sure how I’m always going to get this additional wait time to work, but I’m curious to see what might be possible.


From A “D” To An “A”: Finding My Love Of Art Again

Growing up, school did not always come easily for me, but I worked hard, found strategies that made a difference, and had the support of amazing parents, who helped me through my map woes and geometry nightmares. I still remember though how devastated I was in elementary school when I got my report card, and I received a D+ in art. A D+. All of my other grades were A’s and B’s, and while I knew that my art skills were far from fantastic — my visual spatial difficulties make art a real challenge — I still spent hours working on school art projects. The D made me feel like a failure, and it destroyed any love that I had for the subject. My childhood art experience put me on edge for many years when I found out that I needed to teach art. How would I do that well? Would the kids get the experiences that they needed? Connections with our then Arts Consultant, Karen Wilkins, helped me understand the value in the process of art. She helped me see how kids can use art to communicate their thinking and learning, and she pushed me to think about what art might look like across the curriculum. I then had the opportunity to teach with Paula Crockett, and for our fifth year now, we’ve been supporting our growing artists. Kids are not only using art as a communication tool (which our fantastic Kindergarten Program Document supports), but they’ve been applying their art learning in different contexts. This was made more clear to me this past week.

Last weekend, Kristi Keery-Bishop, a principal in our Board, commented on one of my Instagram posts. She saw the taped web that one of our children made, and she wondered about tire weaving. This led to us picking up some nets and materials for tire weaving.

Over the years, Paula and I have tried weaving projects with limited success, but this didn’t stop us from trying again. Our hope though was low. The kids surprised us though in the most wonderful of ways. While we thought that the new outside option might attract a few students, we figured that the challenge of weaving would deter them from sticking with it. We were so wrong! Not only did they stick with it, but listen to their conversations around concentric circles and abstract art. Even without us inspiring these discussions, children were applying their classroom learning in a new way, and using sophisticated vocabulary to talk about their artwork. All kids saw themselves as artists here!

Our focus on art has also made me think and look at things differently. When I walked past the tire to sanitize a few items, I noticed the Picasso face. Do you see it too? I just had to point it out to one of our students, as heard in the recording above. Never before would I have believed that I would know enough about art to even think about Picasso, let alone see his artwork in a kindergarten weaving experience.

Tilt your head. Can you see the face as I did?

Thanks to our closer look at famous artists, our daily conversations around artistic terms, and our regular artistic provocations, artwork in our kindergarten class now looks and sounds way different than it ever did for me before.

Children use terms like “concentric circle” with ease.

Children make deliberate artistic choices in their work.

Children know about artists such as Kandinsky and Picasso, and are choosing to explore their artwork more.

Children experiment with new vocabulary, such as “cubism,” and start the theorizing that eventually leads to a greater understanding of new terms.

Children consider the overlap between math and art, and this often leads to greater discussions around math concepts.

While I realize that all students might be at a different point in their art learning, I do agree with this comment of Nadine‘s on one of our recent Instagram posts.

Our kids inspire me daily with what they can do, and the belief that they have in themselves about their abilities as artists. They take risks, experiment, and communicate freely through their artwork. I hope that these kindergarten experiences stick with them as they move on in school, and that grades don’t change their love of art. I’ve learned more about artists in the past five years than I have in all of my years at school, and I learn even more by watching our kindergarten artists at work.

We all need joy in our lives, and art can bring us this joy. How do you help children view themselves as artists? How might art be used as ways to communicate thinking, feeling, and learning well beyond kindergarten? That D only temporarily suspended my love of art, and thanks to Karen and Paula, I’m thrilled to have found this love again!