Bonding Over Basketball

My teaching partner, Paula, has a real knack for connecting with kids. She taught me a lot over the years when we worked together. Paula regularly reminded me that we have to find authentic ways to develop relationships with students, and oftentimes, it’s those children who are the hardest to connect with that might need these connections most of all. I thought about this on Friday.

Bonding over milk and with a selfie.

I was on duty of Friday afternoon, and with all of the Grade 1’s and some Grade 2’s on a field trip, the primary blacktop duty was a lot quieter than usual. This gave me an opportunity to really look around at everyone playing together and notice those students that might be playing alone. Now don’t get me wrong: some children want and need independent play or some quiet time at recess. As an adult, I’m like those kids. But not every child who’s playing alone is making the choice to do so, and these are the kids that I was taking special notice of at recess time.

One of these students was holding a basketball. He started to dribble. There were groups of children playing basketball together, but this child was dribbling alone. It’s important to mention here that I know almost nothing about basketball and have questionable skills related to the sport, but I do kind of know how to dribble. I have a Phys-Ed teacher to thank for this. Many years ago, this teacher was teaching me how to dribble so that I could teach my Grade 1 and Grade 2 students. She suggested that it’s like “walking a dog.” Make the ball bounce around waist height and move with it as you would when you’re walking a dog. Now dog walking is something that I know, so I could connect to these instructions, and I actually learned how to dribble a ball and teach others how to do so. I decided to move a little closer to this student. I watched as he dribbled some more, and then I went in and got the ball. He beamed! He couldn’t believe that I was dribbling his ball, and that I managed to keep it going. (I was pleasantly surprised myself. πŸ™‚ ) He asked me, “Do you know how to play basketball?” I truthfully admitted that dribbling was about all that I could do, but that didn’t seem to bother him. For the rest of the recess, this student found me around the blacktop space, and started dribbling around me in a circle, so that I would take the ball and continue dribbling myself. He was so excited!

Fast forward to the end of the day, and I was dropping a few kindergarten students off at one of the bus lines. This student found me again. Not only did we dribble a bit more, but another child took notice. He also had a ball and started dribbling, and I managed to perform my same little bit of “basketball magic” with him (getting and dribbling a ball might not be magical for many, but doing so consistently is like a little bit of magic for me). I realized as the bus lines were filling up that bouncing basketballs could be problematic, so instead I said, “Maybe we can continue this the next time that I’m on duty.” Both boys agreed, and I even got a couple of fist bumps.

Here’s what I didn’t share with you yet. Both of these students often exhibit behavioural outbursts. A teacher even spoke to me about one of the children a few weeks ago, mentioning how unlikely he is to talk or work with known, or unknown, adults. Neither of these students are in the grades that I currently service, and I’m not going to pretend that just because they dribbled a couple of basketballs with me, that I could get them excited about reading or sharing more learning in class. I do know though that learning starts with relationships, and possibly for these two students, those could be formed over basketball.

This is my 22nd year of teaching, and I’ve taught all grades from Kindergarten to Grade 6 (in some capacity) at nine different schools. I know that some children are easier to form these bonds with than others. As an avid reader, I can always connect with those students sitting with a book in their hand or discussing books with friends. But there are other students that are much harder to connect with, and sometimes I need to find different entry points for bonding. Maybe I needed Friday to remind me to look for these more challenging students when in classrooms and on duty. How might I find my way in? How do you? I hope that we can all have some of our own basketball moments in the week ahead.


Where Do You Start?

The other day, I tweeted and shared on Instagram a big wonder of mine.

This is something that I continue to think about a lot.

Here are some of my inferences about why the focus might be on where we want kids to be versus where they’re at.

  • Curriculum documents for Grades 1-12 focus on a list of overall and specific expectations that drive both our instruction and evaluation. A desire to meet these expectations, could lead to starting with the expectation versus starting with the child.
  • As educators, we’re often always thinking about what comes next. I recently blogged about this topic, and while I like to stay focused on the present, it’s not always easy to do. It’s easy to be thinking about preparing students for the next grade or the next big experience, no matter when that might be.
  • It could be about following directions. These directions might include following along with a team approach or thinking about a specific focus in the Board or at a school. I’m actually a really big believer in knowing and understanding a Board’s strategic directions, but I wonder if there’s a link between following them and following the child. Can both be attained simultaneously?
  • It could be because we think that this will actually push kids further. I keep returning to all of the negative posts and articles I’ve read about play in kindergarten. As a kindergarten educator for years, I often heard that it was “because of this play-based approach that kids didn’t learn to read.” I disagree. When play is intentional, relationships are built first so students feel safe taking risks, deeper and richer thinking is prioritized, and targeted mini-lessons are infused into play, you CAN and WILL see results. Paula and I saw this last year. But for all of the positive stories about play, there are an equal or greater number of negative ones, so often reading and writing instruction is approached in a more formal, full class manner in the hope of seeing better results. All educators want kids to be successful. I do believe that these choices come with the best of intentions, but do they yield the best results?

This is the start of my 22nd year of teaching. I’ve been in education for a long time, and I plan on being in it for many more years to come. A lot of my thinking and approaches have changed over the years based on observations of students, conversations with fellow educators, and professional reading. Know more, do better. Very little in my practice is the same as when I started teaching so many years ago. Strangely though, it’s learning from back when I was in the Faculty of Education that I’m thinking about now. I wonder if we need to return to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. By figuring out that zone for each child and teaching within that zone, are we then able to see the most amount of growth?

I’m reflecting now on one of my more challenging years in education. I was teaching kindergarten at the time, and almost all of the students were at a toddler level of development: both socially and academically. Initially, my teaching partner and I tried to start where we might have in previous years with other kindergarten students, but this was just leading to frustration, behaviour, and a lack of growth. Looking at the ELECT Document together, we were able to figure out where students were and what they needed to move forward. At first, it was challenging to run a largely toddler program. Would our kids ever meet kindergarten expectations? But my tailoring the program to the children, they actually all made the most remarkable growth. This doesn’t mean forgetting about reading, writing, and oral language development, but it does mean thinking about developmentally appropriate practice. I will admit that this was a real struggle for me. The only reason that I comfortably took this approach was because …

  • I was not doing so alone. I had a teaching partner, support staff, a fellow educator (with a daycare background) who had wonderful ideas to share, and the administration right there with me.
  • I saw the value in making this change. Both my teaching partner and I did. Even on the first day, when we started to minimize transitions, sing more, increase sensory play, and cover up some areas to limit materials, we met with more success than on any previous days. This gave us the drive to keep at it.

In my Reading Specialist position, I can hopefully be this person that offers the support as we explore resources, instructional approaches, and classroom design together. Monday is a PA Day in our Board, and we will be digging into Universal Design For Learning (UDL) as part of this PA Day. Could looking at UDL inspire conversations around kids, starting points, and where to go next? I believe it’s these discussions that allow for these changes to happen and help us see what might be stopping the change. Even on Friday, I had a great conversation with multiple Grade 1 teachers that I think/hope will inspire more in the future.

  • On-the-fly PD.
  • Building capacity.
  • Critical thinking about practices.
  • Considering new approaches.
  • Knowing that changes do not need to happen alone. I’m right here as part of the process.

My wonderings that inspired this post might still be wonderings, but they are also leading to talking — both virtually and in-person — and thinking and conversing seem like great places to start. What do you think? If you’re open to sharing your thoughts and additional wonders around reading instruction, child-focused learning, and curriculum outcomes, I would love to hear them. Maybe we can all learn and support each other (and our kids) together.


MOORE Thinking And Learning To Do

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to tune in virtually to a little of Shelley Moore‘s presentation that she gave to some educators in our Board and in a neighbouring Board. This is the first time that I’ve listened to Shelley outside of her amazing YouTube channel videos and book club posts on Instagram, and I’ve decided that I could hear her talk a million times over and I would still learn something new. She’s engaging and funny and truly makes you think. This Instagram post sums up my thinking on a Friday afternoon.

It’s actually the top quote in this post that I’ve returned to frequently in less than 24 hours.

As many of my blog readers know, when I was in Grade 2, I was identified with a non-verbal learning disability in visual spatial skills. Even at that young age, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. It was my dream, my goal, my everything. I will forever remember that psychologist, who told my parents that I would never make it to university, as my needs were too great. Thanks to the support of my parents — both in education — and some wonderful teachers, who helped me capitalize on my strengths and accommodate for my needs, I did reach my university and teaching goals. Now I realize that my learning needs might not be as challenging as some, but they are needs that could have stopped learning and restricted growth without the right programming and accommodations.

This takes me back to Shelley’s comment that, “There’s no curriculum expectation that says you have to write a test, write an essay, or make a diorama.” When I was in elementary school, there was no talk of differentiated instruction (DI) or Universal Design for Learning (UDL), but I thankfully benefitted from educators who were considering both approaches. I still remember one of my favourite teachers: Miss B. She saw my potential in writing, and she nurtured it. As others completed art projects to show thinking and learning, I wrote books. This doesn’t mean that I never drew pictures or made dioramas — I feel as though these were even a thing back then — but this educator knew that I could explain more in a different way, and she let me do so. She helped me succeed. Just as she let other students draw, paint, or build instead: we all needed something different to do our best. Miss B’s focus here was on the curriculum expectations and the students, and not just on the task.

I share this story, for in my current role as a Reading Specialist, I’ve been asked to join one of the Grade 1 classes on Tuesday afternoon. I’m going to be planning and facilitating a literacy lesson with the support of the classroom teacher. This past week, I got to work with this educator to help with some initial assessments, so that we could reflect on the data together.

Knowing the learners will definitely help me when planning this literacy opportunity. I had some ideas that have been spinning around in my head since this teacher approached me, but then I returned to Shelley’s words. Do all students need to do the same thing? What is the “potato” component (something they all need), and how might the toppings vary?

As a kindergarten teacher, this is something that my teaching partner, Paula, and I reflected on regularly. Now it’s time to bring this same thinking into my new role with grades beyond just kindergarten, while engaging in conversations with educators that come from this approach. Thank you, Shelley, for inadvertently having me re-think my plan for Tuesday. Your target audience for Friday’s talk might have been Learning Resource Teachers, but your presentation was a good reminder for me that all of us really need to be thinking about programming, learning, and success for ALL. I wouldn’t be a teacher today if it wasn’t for an educator who did just that.


What’s Now?

On Friday, I started my new position as a Reading Specialist with our Board.

As I tweeted on Friday evening, this was probably my first time in 15+ years that I spent a whole day at school and didn’t record one video or take one photograph. (Okay, thanks to the help of Jennifer Angle, I did take one photograph of a staff list, as with almost 100 staff members, I needed to start putting faces to names.)

As hard as it was at times to not bring out a device to record and reflect on interactions with students and educators, I thought that it was more important on Friday to be present.

  • To start connecting with the incredible staff at the school.
  • To form relationships with students and educators and to reconnect with colleagues from the past.
  • To listen to what people want and need from me.
  • To start understanding the climate and culture of the school, and to become a part of that.
  • To help out with what I could, where I could, and without the need to always request the support (if possible).
  • To maybe bring a little joy to a stressful day after a large reorganization and prior to a long weekend.
Sometimes we all need a treat.

My previous teaching partner, Paula, has taught me many things over the years. We used to talk a lot about the focus that so many kids have on, “What’s next?” It’s the reason that we tried to limit the number of materials in our classroom, for with fewer options and longer blocks of time to explore them, the focus changed from, “What’s next?,” to “What’s now?”

When I shared the news with colleagues of my new position, I fielded many “What’s next?” queries. I’ve taught kindergarten for so long — and with Paula as a teaching partner — that many educators assumed that my move to this new position was the starting point of something bigger.

  • Was I looking to become a principal?
  • Did I want to become a consultant?
  • Would I ever go back to the classroom?
  • Did I want a change of grades?

The truth is, I don’t know. For now, I’m just going to slow down and embrace this current opportunity. See where it leads me … And this slow down might include many more days without a device in hand, but just immersing myself in the present.

  • The documentation will come.
  • The sharing will come.
  • The reflecting will come — and I think that’s already starting.

But as a tribute to Paula, I’m going to remain focused on, “What’s now?,” and not look too far ahead to “What’s next?” What about you? How do you stay focused on the present? Maybe we can all learn some different approaches from each other.


Kids Say The Darnedest Things: What Are Your Gems?

Kids are the best! No matter what might be going on in your life or in your day, somehow children have the ability to make everything better. I don’t always remember to write down the great statements and insights that our students share, but I’ve published a few recently. Here are three of my favourites.

Sometimes we all need to laugh. Big, belly-shaking, tears-running-down-your-face laughs. Next week is sure to be an emotional one for me. While I am excited about my newest teaching and learning adventure, I’m also sad to be leaving.

In the middle of the week, I had a virtual meeting with the administrators at my new school. As the meeting ended, the principal shared some words that really stuck with me. She reminded me to enjoy these final days with my teaching partner and our class, who she knows that I care about so much, and that I can focus on my Reading Specialist position after that. Following through on her advice means really working on being present, and that includes taking the time to hear, appreciate, and enjoy these moments of laughter. What made you laugh this week? This is my reminder to smile in a week that I know will include many tears.


P.S. As one additional laugh, my newest position has me travelling to one of the farthest schools in the Board from where I live. I also don’t drive on the highway, so this commute could involve a little extra time and a few additional adventures. #AvivaArriva is about to become so much better this year, with likely a driving as well as a parking component in store for you. πŸ™‚ Some all-season laughs on the way thanks to my latest commute!