Many years ago now, I applied for a 21st Century Fluencies Consultant position with our Board. This position came up in the middle of the school year, and it was my very first system job application and interview. I vacillated on applying for a long time. I kept returning to the students in my class — I was teaching Grade 1/2 thatyear — and the impact that a change of teacher at that point in the school year might have on them. Could I really do this? That’s when I reached out to a fellow educator, who was also in this consultant role: Jared Bennett. Jared said some words that have stuck with me ever since, and words that I return to every time that I look at applying for a new position: “There is never a “good time” to leave.”
You can, and will, always come up with a reason to wait if you want to look for a reason. But, as Jared also reminded me, “Kids are resilient. They will adjust.” And while the pandemic may have made many of us dislike the word, resilient, this sentiment still holds true. It was thanks to Jared and his support that I applied for this consultant position. I didn’t get the job, but I did start to embrace change even more thanks to him.
I moved from teaching primary to junior: first Grade 6 and then Grade 5. I even taught Grade 3/4 health and media literacy as part of one of these positions.
I moved schools. In fact, I moved schools three times since then — and met my amazing teaching partner, Paula, thanks to one of these moves.
And while I never spoke to Jared about this, I also thought about his words of advice when I applied for my latest position as a Reading Specialist with our Board. Just like the consultant position of years ago, this Reading Specialist job came up once school started. I applied on September 2nd and interviewed on the 15th. I had to practice patience while waiting to hear if I was one of the successful candidates — there were two permanent positions posted — but as my cryptic tweet implied, patience worked.
This tweet sums up so many of my feelings right now …
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be starting at a new school — my ninth one in the past 22 years — and I’m incredibly excited about this new opportunity, but also incredibly sad to be leaving a teaching partner who I adore, amazing kids and families, all of whom have brought me so much joy over the years, and a lovely school staff, who always have smiles, kind words, and new ideas to share. Yes, I might very well be a blubbering mess on October 6th, but I’m going to enjoy every minute of the next couple of weeks with Paula, our kids, and our school community. Change might be hard, but as a previous principal and now superintendent, Gerry Smith, used to say, “Change is the only constant.” My hope is that by showing children how we embrace change, we also model for them the importance of doing the same. Lisa Cranston, a retired educator, published a great story on the Co-Reg Community about good stress. This is my recent good stress experience, and with Paula’s support, good friends, fast-paced books, and blogging, I know that I can get through the hard and embrace the great. Self-Reg for the win!What are your stories of change, and what was the value in making these changes? I’m glad that I pushed myself to try something new, and I’m eagerly looking ahead to what might be my biggest learning adventure yet!
It started with a tickle in the back of my throat. Then a stuffy nose. I tried to convince myself that it was nothing. Maybe just allergies. A change in temperature. But by the end of the day, I was feverish, my nose was running, I kept sneezing, and my throat was sore. There was no more denying it: I was sick.
The problem was that I had an important meeting at 4:00. There was no way to reschedule this, and I needed to bring my best self. So somehow, with the support of my teaching partner, Paula, and some extra time to sit, breathe, and just be, I managed to compartmentalize and bring at least a small portion of the best me I could be to this meeting. Then when the meeting was over, I took a deep breath and did a COVID test. Can I tell you how much it tickles when that stick goes up your nose?! Thankfully the test was negative, but I was still sick. Too sick to go to school the next day. So again with Paula’s support and encouragement, I booked a supply teacher.
I really hate being away. Writing supply plans is hard. I want to be able to give an accurate picture of each child in the class, and I don’t know exactly how to capture this in just a few sentences for each child. While I know that Paula is there and I always encourage occasional teachers to “follow her lead,” I still want to give a good overview of what the day will look like and how to best support each of the students. This is also only the second week of school. Friday was Day 8 for our kids. We have 28 three- to five-year-olds. Most of our students have never been to school before. Could I really not be here at this point in the year?! The answer to that is, “Yes, I could.”
For just as I appreciate when students stay home when they’re sick, I need to follow this same advice … for my health and for the health of the 28 students in our care. I also know that I can’t give the best version of myself when I’m feeling so terrible. Especially at the beginning of the school year, when all students — and maybe especially, all kindergarteners — need a little extra patience, love, and support than they might when they become even more independent later on in the year. And just as Paula assured me it would, everything went incredibly well on Friday.
I know that with COVID, many people are tired of hearing that “students are resilient,” but they really can make these adjustments to guest teachers and small changes in routine. Sometimes we need to take care of ourselves so that we can give our best selves to others. And sometimes that means getting a supply teacher in the second week of school. I haven’t been sick since 2019, and I’m hoping that this recent cold is just an unhealthy blip in a healthy year. So why is it still so hard to take a sick day?!
Last week, I went with a one word title for my professional blog post. This week is a follow-up one, and it’s going to be two words. 🙂 I have to give credit to Doug Peterson and Stephen Hurley for inspiring this post. On Wednesday evening, they spoke about my Intention post on their VoicEd Radio Show (beginning around the 42 minute and 19 second mark). During their conversation, Doug pointed out what was missing from this post: a conversation around the outdoors. There was the expected assumption that we set-up our outdoor space in the kindergarten pen area, but as I mentioned in my tweet, we actually choose to use a different area for this outdoor time.
I promised a blog post to explain more, as discussing anything in 240 characters or less is hard, so this is that post.
My teaching partner, Paula, and I have vacillated on using or not using the pen area, both this year and in previous ones … as well as even at another school. Sometimes we set-up the space and begin in this enclosed area. You can see and hear our thinking about using this space in the video below, which we recorded two years ago.
While we were intentional in the playground design and the inclusion of gross motor and sensory options, there are a few limitations with regards to this space.
There’s one blacktop and a sandbox space. There’s no grass in this pen area. This makes it less safe for running, and many children want/need to begin their day with a big run. We considered alternative gross motor options, with the inclusion of the tires, but children were still looking for the run.
There are hidden areas in this pen space. With the shed located where it is, it’s hard to see on the other side of the shed. We want children to have room to move, but there could be safety risks with hidden pockets of space.
The pen is small. For the past couple of years, our Board has reduced class sizes as part of its response to COVID. This meant that we had about 20 students, so the size of the pen was not a concern. This year, we have almost 30 students. Now this pen size matters more, as some students benefit from quiet areas and more places to move.
We could split up, and have some students stay in the pen space with one of us and some students go to the primary playground space with the other person, but we like to be together outside.The same is true in the classroom. Then we can reflect on learning as it happens, share observations and reconsider the space as a team, and support each other and the students together. We really need to restrict spacing in the primary playground area if it’s just one of us taking the students out there, so that’s why we decided to go out to this area together. There are some intentional considerations that helped us make this decision.
We start the day outside, and very few classes are out at this time. This means that we can safely have a bigger area for children to connect and play together. We always look back at some documentation from the day before we go out to help inspire learning outside. We also share a provocation or two, which connects to topics of interest. Taking the time to do this inside first, allows all of the other students in the school to enter safely, and helps provide purpose for the play in the outdoor space.
There’s a large field space. This is perfect for the big runs that so many of our students seek out at the beginning of the day. We know that children can run safely on the grass, and with more space, there are fewer injuries.
The playground is divided into zones, which really helps us restrict areas outside, but also choose the best area(s) for the learningthat day. The world’s smallest forest is perfect for creating animal habitats and fairy houses. Students have already returned to the broken tree from last year, and they are tying vines around it to make a fairy house. One child even made a sign inside for the fairy house. Will the fairies then return this year?
This area is also great for creating habitats. Worms, ants, and spiders love this space, and many children have made various habitats here over the years.
Then there is the picnic table space, which we view as a portable mud kitchen. Students write recipes here, and use combinations of chalk, mud, and water to create everything from cupcakes to soups and salads. This provides a wonderful opportunity to learn new vocabulary, discuss healthy and unhealthy foods, read and write, measure and count, and connect with peers. There’s always a dramatic play element to this play. We also try to reuse plastic water bottles by refilling them for water use in this space. This sensory play is incredibly calming for so many of our kids!
The field space is great for running as well as for garbage collection. In fact, with so many people using this playground space over the course of the day, there’s always litter to consider somewhere outside. This often leads to us discussing the environment and caring for the earth. Children also create signs for “no garbage,” which provides a wonderful reading, writing, and media connection to this play.
We also can’t forget the “mountain space.” While we haven’t made it up to the mountain yet this year, conversations about the Fairies of Dundas might lead us up there soon. There’s the fairy tree on this mountain top, as well as lots of mud, sticks, leaves, grass, and rocks, which are perfect for building fairy houses and creating signs.
As students start to explore the different spaces outside, they can work with us to set limitations for the day.
It’s a blank canvas. There is no playground equipment outside and all kinds of empty areas. We love this, as it’s often when there are less materials available and more time to play that children become the most creative. So much inquiry happens when students have the time and space to think and explore with less. There’s a lot more settled play outside, as there are fewer places and materials to utilize.
The space is close enough for us to bring with us what we need, and for children to return to the classroom as needed. Instead of leaving out the back door of our room to go to the pen, we leave out the front door and exit the door at the end of the hallway. It’s close enough for students to go back in partners to go to the bathroom if needed. Children can also easily help us carry materials outside and back in again. They love to help! While we store all of the outdoor materials in a big Rubbermaid bin, children carry some items outside — from chalk to clipboards to buckets to garbage bags to bottles of water. The big bucket of water also provides some wonderful heavy lifting for a couple of kids that might benefit from this option: a calming one for some.
Whether choosing the pen or the playground, just as we plan for our indoor space, we need to consider our outdoor one. Doug and Stephen reminded us of this on their radio show. What are your intentional considerations for the outdoors? How might this outdoor space provide reading, writing, oral language, and math opportunities, as well as opportunities to connect with others?Yes, the play outside is “free,“ but it’s not without thought, and we think this matters.
Sometimes words continue to surface in your life and conversations. This, for me, is the word, intention. It’s a word that my teaching partner, Paula, and I have uttered in the past week. It’s also a word that we’ve heard during staff meetings and conversations with educators and administrators. Honestly, it’s a word that I love, as I think that it gives me both focus and perspective.
For the past 21 years, the week before school starts has been a week of setting up a classroom. As someone who’s taught at eight schools and seven grades, I’ve moved classrooms a lot and set-up a lot of different spaces. This year, Paula and I also moved. We’re at the same school, but we’ve moved to the last kindergarten room in the hallway. We ended the year packing up a space, and we started this year, organizing a new one.
For years, setting up a classroom always meant covering bulletin boards, finding posters to hang on the wall, putting up a new alphabet, and creating colourful signs and names for the desks, hooks, and individual materials. There was so much name writing to do, and then even more when a child moved or went by a different name than you expected. Now though, for us, setting up a classroom space is not about any of these things: it’s about the intent of the materials, furniture, and spaces in the room. And so, everything that you see in this video is intentional.
There is/are …
The painting/art and sensory areas near the sink space for easy access to soap and water.
A lot of sensory spaces — from painting to sand to Play-Doh or plasticine — as we know that many of our students find sensory play calming, and these choices will support Self-Reg as the school year begins.
A tire table because young students are sometimes more drawn to a floor space than a table space. This allows for smaller group connections as well as larger group ones.
A tablecloth on each table that will be used for painting/art, as this makes it easier to tidy up glue or paint. Then students can still be independent, but also freely explore new materials without worrying too much about a mess.
An empty shelf near the eating table, as then students can put their lunches there for easy access. We can also look at the lunches on the shelf to determine who still needs to eat. Children become more independent at this throughout the year, but rarely, in the first week of school.
A shelf, a table, or a makeshift wall to help divide the spaces, and possibly cushion some of the noise.
A bin of clipboards, pencils, and/or markers at almost every area throughout the room, as this makes it easier to infuse reading and writing into play. We can also support the mark making that is so common is the early days of kindergarten.
Paper over the table in our writing/drawing/mark making space, so that children can write/draw/mark make directly on the table. There are also alphabet books, number books, and word family books on the shelf nearby that students can easily access to even inspire some of this drawing and mark making. We can also offer small group instruction around this table — differentiated based on needs, and with the supplies available.
A big basket of board books near the eating table. Students can then read and discuss text as they eat. This is also a great place for guided or small group instruction, as students are together and eager to connect with an educator in this area.
No carpet. Paula and I vacillated on this, but we really liked the lack of a carpet in the class last year. Usually carpets become rolling areas or running spaces, and we didn’t want either. We can also be more flexible with this space — possibly even moving to some painting on the floor area, but with the addition of a taped down tablecloth or paper (with floor tape of course).
The careful placement of furniture to hopefully reduce the chance of running. We do have a large class this year, so we want room for all of the children to move, but we don’t want a big open area, which becomes a “classroom racetrack.” It’s a fine line of adhering to fire safety rules, while not inspiring a classroom gym. 🙂
Lots of open shelf spaces, which can be used for creating mini-worlds and saving items to return to — and extend — the next day.
A few individual desks to create some more individual spaces around the classroom. Students were used to these personal spaces last year, and many thrived using them. They might not need one all the time, but we want to support these areas and the success that came along with them.
Flexible spaces that can easily be modified as we meet the students. Our hope is that they will show us what they need/want, and can work with us to change these areas. This flexibility also means that we can slowly start modifying the provocations in these spaces throughout the day, and even create additional areas for eating as the day progresses.
Many table spaces where students can begin their play. We wonder if play might be calmer if we have students start with a drawing/writing/mark making option, much as it was last year. Then we can support other choices as we also get to know the children more.
A bucket of supplies to bring outside to support sensory play, measurement, dramatic play, connecting with peers, and writing/drawing/mark making. Having the covered bucket so close to the door, also makes it easy to bring out with us.
Empty walls. We plan on adding documentation to these wall spaces, with students, so that they can also reflect on their learning and be inspired to extend the play. We really want the walls and bulletin boards for sharing various learning stories and artifacts that connect with them.
I’m fortunate to work with a teaching partner, where we can discuss this intention as we make the choices that we do. Together. But I wonder what this might look and sound like in other grades. Is it through respectful dialogue with colleagues, students, and families, that we can vocalize and reflect on intention? What impact might this have on our teaching practices and classroom design? I’m curious to see how the space evolves beginning next week, and the evolution of our intention as well. Students and families started to contribute to the discussion through the blog post comments, but next week, we can begin the in-person conversations. Intention makes us strive less for a Pinterest-worthy classroom and more for a kid-focused one. What about you?