My List of Wishes

Yesterday, I started my day as I always do by reading Doug Peterson‘s blog post. This past week, Doug took a break from blogging to go on a mini-vacation, and I was eager to read his new post on Saturday morning. This post was one that varied slightly from Doug’s more common positive tone with a list of things that he “hates” in the time of COVID. Many people weighed in on this post — myself included — and when he later tweeted about the comments, I headed back to his blog to read what others wrote. It was his tweet that made me think about writing this post of my own.

It was largely due to comments from Sue Bruyns and Beth Lyons that I began to think more about COVID and schools. While I initially intended to write a list of things that “I hate,” I decided to focus on things that “I wish for” instead.

  • I wish that we wouldn’t have to remind children to “pull up their masks,” and fearful about what one “under the nose mask” might mean for student and educator health.
  • I wish that we could support children in playing with each other without the additional concern/consideration of how much distance is between them.
  • I wish that kids could move freely around the room, without first having to think about spacing, gathering, and safety.
  • I wish that we could offer that hug to the child that’s feeling sad or frustrated.
  • I wish that when we do sometimes have to reconsider distancing for any number of reasons (e.g., helping a child with a coat zipper or offering support to a child that’s inconsolable), we wouldn’t first have to question, “What will it mean if this child has COVID?”
  • I wish that every cough didn’t make us jump, and that our query of, “Are you okay?,” wouldn’t really be a wonder of, “Do we need to call home? Could this be it?”
  • I wish that an email of, “My child didn’t pass the screener,” wasn’t a worry of, “Will this be our first positive case?”
  • I wish that screener checks wouldn’t be the first thing that we have to do each day, and following up on missing ones, wouldn’t be the second.
  • I wish that the words “cohort” and “physical distancing” wouldn’t need to be a part of a child’s vocabulary, and that separation wouldn’t be the only way that we could be together.
  • I wish that the presence of “big kids” when we’re outside wouldn’t cause students to run to another space, but instead, provide an opportunity to connect with others. I guess this follows up well to my cohort and physical distancing wish.
  • I wish that we could have some tight gathering spaces — from creating around the tire table to obliterating a cardboard room — that are hard to replicate with social distancing rules.
  • I wish that our eating table could exist again, and that the community atmosphere that it brings with it, could re-emerge as well.
  • I wish that I never had to say, “Look up front,” particularly when it comes to eating or drinking without a mask.
  • I wish we could invite families into the classroom in-person again and not just through a screen.
  • I wish that previous students could visit the room and that new connections could emerge from these kinds of visits.

These wishes might largely remain as wishes, and yet, somehow it feels cathartic to write them down and put them out in the world. What wishes might you add to this list? I wonder if framing them as wishes helps me believe in future possibilities. What about you?


How Do You Maintain That “Calm” Classroom Feeling?

Yesterday, a teacher came into our classroom as I left on my prep. She took a deep breath and said to me, “Wow! It feels calm in here.” These words stuck with me as I left. She had me wondering, “Why? What made it feel so calm?” I don’t think that many things happen by accident. While my teaching partner, Paula, and I might not know exactly what resulted in this feeling of calm, we know that this feeling lasted throughout the day, which had us inferring a list of things that might be to thank. Here are the possible reasons that we came up with together as we chatted and planed at the end of the day yesterday.

Moments Before I Left For My Prep

Start the day outside. The opportunity for kids to connect with each other, to engage in sensory play (a mud puddle is like nature’s sensory bin πŸ™‚ ), and to run and spin seem to make big, positive differences. Self-Reg is a key consideration for our outdoor time, and we have to wonder about the impact this has long-term.

Have a consistent routine. Our day rarely changes. Once a week, we end the day in the gym with Mrs. Kott, so tidying up is slightly earlier than usual. Other than that, our schedule is exactly the same every other day. We have as few full-class transitions as possible: going from a short connecting time inside, to outdoors, to our meeting time back in the classroom, to play, to tidying up and getting ready for home. Children create their own transitions throughout the day — sometimes with our support — when they decide to wash their hands and eat, choose a different material in the classroom, and/or connect with another friend around their space. Since students know this routine, and the predictable nature of it we think increases comfort, the play itself seems calmer.

Reduce stressors. We love, and often refer to, this chart of Stressors In The Five Domains (on The MEHRIT Centre Website). When we are noticing behaviours in kids, we try to use our knowledge of this chart to help determine what stressor might be at play and how we can change the environment for the child and/or our choices to reduce this stress. It’s not easy to anticipate everything, and we’re constantly reflecting and changing in this area, but this chart does have us thinking regularly about kids, their environment, our responses, and their routine. Below are just some ideas that come to mind.

Biological Domain – The ability for kids to eat and drink when they’re hungry and thirsty (not on a nutrition break schedule), the ability to go to the bathroom as needed, the use of different lighting (from reduced lighting to partial lighting to full lighting), the adjustment of temperature within the classroom, a reduction of visual distractions (e.g., less bright, colourful bulletin board displays)

Emotion Domain – A consistent schedule and preparation prior to a change (if possible), provocations that show entry points for students at different levels (so that comparisons are reduced), discussions with kids around feelings and Self-Reg to help acknowledge and support different feelings

Cognitive Domain – Open-ended provocations that allow for entry points for all students, giving students control over the choices they make (e.g., how they express themselves — from writing using letter-sounds and familiar words to writing using pictures and random letters), reducing full class transitions and giving children as much time as needed for their projects, supporting cleaning up one option before choosing another one to reduce multi-tasking

Social Domain – We assign seating spaces to allow kids to connect with some of their friends while also supporting new friendships, play happens now in smaller groups, classroom set-up allows for social interactions as well as independent play, we engage in play with kids to also help facilitate these social interactions as needed and support them even more outside where there are fewer restrictions

Pro-Social Domain – We try to acknowledge different feelings and choices through our interactions with kids, and this empathy has trickled down to how students acknowledge each other, larger blocks of play tend to reduce some of this stress, as children feel as though they have time to support others and themselves

From meeting different needs to connecting with new friends to supporting each other, these reduced stressors are captured in different ways in the posts above.

Reduce the number of materials. Paula and I have taught together for a long time (we’re in our fifth year now), and while we’ve never had a lot of materials out in the classroom, we’ve probably reduced them even more with COVID. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have cabinets full of options, but what we offer kids is limited. We have paper, paint, glue, markers/crayons, scissors, recyclable materials, blocks with loose parts, LEGO, cubes, popsicle sticks, and plasticine. Our choices of materials don’t vary much day by day, but maybe that also helps with the predictability that kids crave. It also allows them to be more creative with the supplies they do have, and return to and extend the play each day. We know that some people question, “How do kids not get bored?,” but a little bit of boredom, coupled with time, often results in creativity. More materials can also lead to more dumping and less focused play, which can sometimes also be louder. Kids know that they can always write us notes for additional items if interested (from full sentences to pictures and random letters), which also might help with them slowing down and thinking about the use of these items instead of just having them as something else to add to the pile.

Connect with kids. We keep on thinking about what Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins taught us: Self-Reg starts with relationships. While we try to support kids in different ways that they can connect with each other, even from a distance, we also spend our day connecting with kids. We sit down and talk with them, play with them, and find out about things that matter to them: from a love for Halloween to a new kitten. Do longer blocks of uninterrupted play allow for more of these connections?

Try to be aware of our own feelings. We know from Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins that our responses and actions impact on kids. This doesn’t mean that we never feel dysregulated. We’re human. But we also try to reflect the tone of our voice and the content of our conversations to see if we might be impacting — positively or negatively — on how students are responding to us and to each other. A quiet voice, a gentle touch, and sometimes saying or doing nothing at all, can go a long way.

Try to react in small ways. I’ll admit that Paula is much better at this than me. Very little phases her. I continue to try to breathe deep and not let every epic spill, overflowing sink, flower explosion, and paint mess cause a big reaction. Everything can be cleaned up! By not reacting with a loud response, fewer kids are drawn to these problems, and less children lose their focus in play. This is enough of a reason for me to want to improve with quieter responses.

Wander less. Paula has also taught me that the more that educators wander, the more that kids follow. The wandering always seems to create a less settled classroom feel, so as hard as it can be to sit and observe, we both try to do this more often. When we do move, we attempt to plan first where we’re going, so that the move is deliberate and not just a case of walking around.

Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things that lead to this calm classroom feeling or maybe we’ve missed the reason altogether. What do you think? How do you create and maintain a sense of calm in your classroom? I’m not going to pretend that it always feels exactly like this — we all have our days — but knowing what is possible and why it might be this way could help us with recapturing that feeling again. When it’s time to clean up on a Friday afternoon and nobody is quite ready to go home — kids and educators alike — you realize that this is something worth figuring out.


What Did Your Kids Teach You This Week?

We just finished the first full week of school. While our kindergarteners were in for two days last week, that doesn’t quite compare to a full five this week. I’m #FirstWeekInKindergartenTired today, but I’m also really happy. Looking back at the documentation that we shared this week, I realized that there are many different things that our students taught me. Some are funny. Some are deep. And some are just important reminders that I really needed.

As hard as it is to do, sometimes I have to watch more and talk way less. I keep on thinking about what I would have missed if I told these children to keep their lids on their new markers. Markers can be replaced, but what about this learning opportunity?

All learning was not lost with the pandemic. I know that the pivots between in-person and online for the past couple of years have been a challenge, and yes, we’re fortunate that so many of our students could join us in both environments with the support of their parents. It was amazing to see throughout the week what stuck with kids. While many demonstrated the same, or stronger, reading, writing, and math skills than they did in June, they also remembered, discussed, and extended learning around The Arts, diversity, equity, and the environment. What might this mean for how our learning progresses throughout the year?

Sometimes you need a new perspective. This can include sitting on the floor, but occasionally, lying on it is better. I see my teaching partner, Paula, getting down low all the time, and it’s interesting how much you can blend into the background when you do so. I wonder if kids pay attention to you less down here, which can help with observing a lot more.

Take the time for independence. It’s often so much easier for me to do things myself, but what are kids learning if I always do things for them?

Documentation at eye level makes all the difference. How can we do this more when wall space is not always accessible and bulletin boards are high?

It’s possible to meet a range of needs all at the same time. I’m not going to say that it’s easy, and at times, it might be really challenging, but reconsidering space can sometimes help. Paula and I found that this past week when we looked more closely at the additional sink area. Is sensory play what some children need most of all? Could this be true beyond kindergarten, and what might that look like?

If we want kids to wander less, do we also need to stay still more? Paula speaks about this all the time, and models it often, but I was struggling with figuring out what this looks like when children all need to be in their own spaces. I wonder if moving a chair to a couple of different areas around the room might be key. There was an amazing settled feeling to the room when I moved around a whole lot less.

Sometimes a new area is all it takes. Yes, kindergarten in the time of COVID involves desks. We have limited control over the environment. It was amazing to see though how moving some students around made all the difference. This will surely not be the only time that we do this. Do we need to consider this option more often that we usually do?

Wait things out, even when that waiting can sometimes be uncomfortable. As I’ve spoken with Paula about before, I find it so hard to watch kids seemingly doing nothing. Just sitting there. I want to intervene. I want to engage them in some way. I want to problem solve for them. I know that this sitting and watching happened pre-COVID, but with all students in their own spaces now, it’s so much easier to see. I’m glad that I resisted the urge to intervene quite as much this week. Sometimes letting the watching happen can lead to something wonderful if we just provide enough time. Now how to continue to resist this urge?

Take the time to look closely and wonder lots. I’m sure that I’ve found many bugs on the floor before and thought nothing of them, but watching our kids examine and discuss them had me paying more attention when I found one on the floor yesterday. It even inspired a question of my own. How do we model for children that we’re inquiring along with them?

Don’t underestimate what kids can do, just based on their age. Yes, kindergarten is not new to me, so this shouldn’t be new learning, and yet, sometimes I need the reminder. Be it solving my muddy situation, figuring out why our mirrors were so blurry, or demonstrating that believing in kids (and kids believing in themselves) is sometimes all it takes, this week reminded me that age is just a number as much in K as it is when we get older.

Children do remember more than just lunch and recess. At the end of the day, Paula has started to ask the students about their highlights. I know that many educators and parents joke about the answer to the question, “What did you do today?,” and the popular response of, “Nothing.” It was interesting to hear what moments did stick with students though. So many of them were from our time together outside, which is actually how we begin our day, but what resonated even at the end of it. Is this because students can interact more closely with each other in the outdoors? If the outdoors are so special for kids, how can we bring even more of this learning inside and connect the two spaces more seamlessly?

So much happens over the course of a week, that it’s easy to lose perspective. At times, I find myself getting caught up in what’s not working well or what changes we’re going to make next without necessarily reflecting on what is working and what I have learned. Doug Peterson is one of my favourite bloggers, and I always start the day with his posts. He’s often reflected before on why blog, and this week I thought of another reason: to think more about what children have taught me and the impact that this might have going forward. What have you learned from kids this week? I wonder if sharing this learning might even have us watching and listening more for the multiple nuggets of goodness from even our youngest of learners.


September Time

Inspired by Beth Lyons, this year I’ve also committed to a #onewordX12 goal. Last month, I spoke about embracing uncertainty. Fluctuating numbers in COVID cases and awaiting word from Hamilton Public Health about restrictions, meant that we entered the last week of August uncertain about specific protocols. Sometimes protocols varied even within hours based on statistics and safety considerations. I get it, but I’ll also admit that this made planning hard for my teaching partner, Paula, and I. Even though we’re comfortable with not having everything figured out, there was still discomfort when it felt as though we had nothing ready. Terry Whitmell left a comment on this post that helped us reframe uncertainty and reminded us of what makes the unknown better: the kids.

She was absolutely right, and we even reflected on this as we got ready for our first couple of days with kids.

While we had a great couple of days with our kindergarteners, we know that next week is our first full week with everyone.

  • There might be tears.
  • There might be difficult goodbyes.
  • There might be additional student stress, which could present itself in any number of ways: from unexpected comments to outbursts.
  • There might be additional parent stress, especially depending on how students respond to returning to school. No family member wants to leave a child in distress.

And so, for the next few weeks, I’m going to try to embrace one of Paula’s favourite words: time.

  • The time to get to better know our students: new children and returning children.
  • The time to allow all of us to adjust to the classroom, to each other, and to the current protocols.
  • The time to breathe, the time to move, the time to play, and the time to observe and listen closely to figure out what might come next.

As Paula and I were reflecting after school the other day, we remembered what September is like … be it in the time of COVID or not. It’s easy to remember what our JK students were like at the end of the year, but what about at the beginning? What about when a number of them are still only three-years old? Our youngest learners are even younger right now, and they need our time, support, care, and patience, maybe even more than at any other point in the school year.

And so for now, I’m going to look back and remember these highlights and others from this past week: reminding myself that with consistency, routine, and time, our little kindergarten community will continue to grow.

What helps you provide the time for adjustment at the beginning of a new school year? While I might have a goal, I could use some words of advice about how to best slow down.


What’s Your #VisibleThinking And #VisibleLearning Around Classroom Set-Up?

For years, Lisa Noble has tweeted about #visiblelearning, and she’s made Paula and I think more about contemplating and articulating the reasons for each choice that we make. This year was no different. But this year, some unexpected changes in restrictions had us thinking even more about our why.

A look at our classroom space.

As we were working through COVID realities last year, Paula and I learned that some of the COVID restrictions actually helped support Self-Reg. The need for individual, front-facing seats, determined most of our room arrangement. You can only space that many desks out so much, and still have extra room for additional areas for kids. That said, we could make some choices, such as creating shelf spaces for a few students. Knowing our SK children from last year, helped us determine which kids might benefit the most from these small world spaces. Using these shelves, also gave us additional space for the desks to be better spread out, which we appreciate during the time of COVID and with the hope of giving children more room to create.

A reminder to ourselves that “playing together from a distance” is possible.

This year, we learned that kids can “share materials.” This has caused us to question our approach more. How do kids share materials and remain distanced? Paula and I also worried that with constantly evolving Public Health protocols, these rules might change. As educators that run a play-based kindergarten program in alignment with The Kindergarten Program Document, we know that success happens with routine. If we support children in using their own materials, but playing together from a distance, we can always add in sharing items if/when needed. But if we actively support sharing right away, what happens if we have to take it away? Will we then become more stringent COVID police, and what will that mean for kids and their success?

Throughout the week, we’ve been sharing our set-up process, but also our thoughts behind our decisions. What’s the thinking behind the choices that you made? Maybe if we each share our thinking, we’ll learn new options to consider. COVID might restrict some of our in-the-same-room conversations, but it doesn’t need to restrict our virtual ones. Imagine if we could all become a stronger virtual team, even in the midst of another unusual year. What might this mean for kids, for learning, and for our own professional growth and well-being?