Resurrecting Twitter For PD: Will Others Join Me In #ONLang2023?

As I was vacillating on a few different blog posts to write today, I read Doug Peterson‘s morning post on cursive writing and the new Language Curriculum Document. I left one comment at the time, but soon, some replies from him and Andrew Forgrave, led to me leaving a couple of more. This experience, and the sharing on both Twitter and on Doug’s post, made me think again about a tweet that I sent a few days ago.

On Tuesday afternoon, I saw a tweet from Kate Winn announcing the release of the new, highly-anticipated Language Document. This took me back to June of 2016, when the government release The Kindergarten Program Document. Many Kindergarten educators chose to read and discuss the Program Document that summer, and the #framingFDK Twitter hashtag was born. It’s always great to read socially, and the ability to share thinking and wondering while engaging in meaningful dialogue around pedagogy, I believe helped me love The Kindergarten Program Document as much as I do. Never have I read and thought about a Ministry document more. I started to make connections to the new Language Document and the social learning potential.

Jodie Howcroft suggested #ONLang2023 as a good hashtag, and for now, I’ve tried to retweet and share any Language Document thinking and learning using this hashtag. This includes Doug Peterson’s post.

Twitter changes have had many people moving to other social media platforms or engaging less than they have in the past. I’ll admit that my use of Twitter has also largely changed. I have to wonder though if some Language Document discussion could have us resurrecting Twitter for professional development. I have a few incredibly memorable Twitter conversations over the years, including …

I would now like to add #ONLang2023 to the list. Is anyone else with me? Maybe I can find some Twitter PD love once again.


What Have You Learned This Year?

School is over in less than two weeks, and what an incredible school year it’s been! I started the year as a kindergarten educator and ended it as a Reading Specialist. While I haven’t had a full year in this role, I’ve still been reflecting a lot on my learning this year. Here are some of my biggest takeaways.

  • Building relationships is as important for adults as it is for kids. In my current role, I spend almost as much time working with educators as I do with students. While I knew some teachers at this school before I arrived, many were unknown to me or just people with which I might have shared a couple of tweets or Instagram posts. If we’re going to be planning and teaching together and reflecting on learning as a team, we need a connection first. We need to trust each other. For me, this meant taking the time to chat before and after school, offering help with anything, bringing in a few snacks, especially at stressful times as people enjoy a few treats, and joining grade team meetings.
  • Differentiation matters for adults too. Just like our students, we are not all the same. When I was in the classroom with Paula, we always appreciated when Reading Specialists varied their approach with each educator team. This might mean supporting reading instruction in our classroom and pulling a small group in another classroom. It’s not about a right/wrong approach, but about knowing the educators and kids, understanding pedagogy, and being flexible. I think about this a lot, and often wear many hats in the school day: from doing small group, targeted instruction alongside classroom educators to facilitating a full class lesson to entering play and extending literacy learning to supporting literacy instruction outdoors to co-planning and co-problem solving with educator teams to doing just about anything else to get in the classrooms, to support reading instruction, and to connect with kids and staff. My time doesn’t need to look the same in every room. Often though, as educators talk and people see and hear about what I might be doing elsewhere, an option in one room is modified to become an option in another.
  • Always remember what it was like back in your own classroom. For me, this has been an easy takeaway this year, as I just came from a classroom. I remember those stressful and those exciting times, and I can also remember what I needed from others during both of these times. I try to be cognizant of more stressful times, and offer different support to educators during these times (e.g., leading a full class lesson so that educators can pull individual students for assessment or chatting about grades as a team). Report card times are not the times to send out additional emails or provide additional PD. I might not be able to write reports for educators, but I know how much I appreciated others acknowledging the challenge and the time commitment, and sometimes, just being heard is enough.
  • It’s okay not be everywhere all the time. When I started this position, I quickly realized that I had 11 classes to support and I tried to develop a schedule where I could be in every class, every day. Basically I was running between classrooms in 15-20 minute blocks of time, and not really getting to know anybody well. I recognized that educators wanted a consistent schedule of support, but was this really working for anyone? This led to me changing my schedule, filling in some required times, and allowing educator teams to sign-up for additional times. Since I get to set my own preps, I could be flexible with this time, and adjust the periods each day depending on staff requests and teacher timetables. Along with this sign-up system, I always send an email offering educators to reach out if they have questions and to email me if they want support but can’t find an available period. Then I can look at how to break periods in half or switch some times to accommodate others. I had to let go of being in every class every day, but I keep a close enough look at my schedule to ensure that I’m in every class at least once a week. This has allowed me to get to know staff and students so much more.
  • Mentorship is not just for new teachers. I love that this Reading Specialist position includes mentorship. My mentor is actually a teacher that I taught with many years ago. We got to connect each month for half-a-day on a topic of our choice. We spoke about everything from the reading/writing connection to targeted, small group instruction to literacy and play. Hearing different perspectives, engaging in meaningful conversations, and making plans for classroom practice was so incredibly valuable. New learning opportunities for myself, for classroom educators, and for kids, came out of this mentorship!

I know not every new position includes formal mentorship, but my learning these past nine months makes me wonder as well about informal mentorship. What might be possible and what might the benefits be?

  • Find that child — or many children — and be their champion! Rita Pierson’s TED Talk remains one of my favourite ones of all time, and I constantly hear her message run through my head at the strangest of times. In the classroom, Paula and I often spoke about Pierson’s TED Talk, and all of the kids that need a champion. I now support 11 classes of kids and a school of over 1000 students, many of whom might need someone. This position has made me even more aware of the Board’s Annual Plan, and the importance of planning, programming, and success for those who have been “currently and historically underserved.” I can’t help but think about the connection between these students and those that might also require a champion. We know that learning starts with relationships, and maybe it’s that most challenging child that might need this positive relationship most of all.
  • Take the risk, even when it’s a hard risk to take. This Reading Specialist position has intrigued me for years, but I always came up with a reason not to apply. This year, I took the plunge and sent in my application. As excited as I was about getting the job, I was also terrified. It was so hard to leave my fabulous teaching partner and amazing kids and families, especially as the year just started. I left with a lot of unknowns: what if I don’t like the position? What if I’m not good at it? What if the position does not get renewed again past this year? As much as I embrace change, I was scared. But with the support of my previous teaching partner, Paula, and amazing friends and family members, I said, “yes,” and accepted the job. I couldn’t be happier! This year, I’ve learned so much about reading instruction, the importance of flexibility, the value in strong teams and how to support these teams, the importance of listening more and talking less, and the value of some thought-provoking questions … even if they might cause a bit of discomfort. I’ve met wonderful people, found reasons to laugh every single day, and been pushed to re-think some of what I thought that I knew and some things that I might do very differently than before. The risk was well worth it!

While I’m not sure exactly what next year brings yet, I really appreciate my learning and growth from this year. What are your biggest takeaways from this past school year? There’s so much joy that comes when we remember what each year has taught us!


A Story of “Sorry” … Many Years Later!

Last night, I met a friend for dinner. As I was leaving the restaurant, I heard someone call, “Aviva.” I turned, and I saw a man who looked slightly familiar. He then introduced himself. We went to high school together.

We spent a few minutes catching up over by his table. He explained that he actually lives out of town, but he was in town for a fundraiser run. Unfortunately, another person that we went to high school with, passed away from cancer. The two of them remained quite close, and he was heavily involved in the run. This was such incredibly sad news, but I appreciate that he shared it with me.

Just as I was about to go, he said to me, “Aviva, I just want to take a minute to say, ‘I’m sorry!’ I wasn’t always kind to you in high school. I know that it was a long time ago. At the time, I thought that I was just joking, but as I think back on those times, I know that some things that I said were not okay. You were always so nice and friendly to everyone, and I wasn’t. Thinking about what happened to my friend, James, I told myself that if I ever saw you and some other people from high school, I was going to apologize before it was too late. I’m glad that I saw you today, and I hope that you accept this sincere apology.” The words were so heartfelt, so unexpected, and so wonderful, that I’ve been replaying them in my mind since yesterday. I also absolutely accepted his apology. Honestly, I don’t remember what this individual said to me all of those years ago.

This did make me think though about a recent conversation with a friend. Students, of varying ages, do not always make the best of choices. When we were kids, we probably didn’t either. Think about the words of this person that I ran into last night. We can always teach children how to do the right thing, how to avoid problems, and how to solve them, but sometimes life is hard. Sometimes peers influence our choices. Sometimes stress impacts on the decisions that we make. And sometimes, what we think might be a “joke,” is not all that funny. As educators, we can ask kids to apologize, and maybe they will, but so many times, these “I’m sorry’s,” just seem like empty words. It’s kind of like, “Okay, I did what you said. Can I now go back to playing?” What this individual did yesterday though was different. He dug down deep to apologize, and at a time, that I didn’t expect it. I will probably never see him again, but I will remember his words.

As we enter into the final weeks of school before the summer, maybe there’s something to be said for remembering that …

  • Kids and adults might make mistakes.
  • Student behaviour might not always be the best.
  • Educators might feel tired, frustrated, angry, or upset … or maybe all of the above.
  • Students, parents, and administrators might feel the same.

Susan Hopkins from The MEHRIT Centre regularly speaks about the value of “soft eyes.” Thinking about my experience from yesterday, I wonder if “soft eyes” of years ago, time to reflect, maturity, and a lack of pressure (or stress) that can come from a forced apology, resulted in one of the most sincere sorry’s that I’ve ever heard. How will you fill kids up with love and kindness in the next few weeks — even for those where this might be an incredibly challenging feat? The students who push us away the most, might be the ones who need us most of all. Maybe years later, more will do as this adult did yesterday. It’s never too late to change a trajectory — right?!


Epic Play. Epic Learning. Epically Wonderful.

I don’t usually use my professional blog as a space to share a learning story, but it was the evolution of this one that makes me want to share it here. Also, with my current position as a Reading Specialist, I don’t have a classroom blog, so this becomes the area where I share and reflect on my learning.

The Spark …

About two months ago, I was perusing my Instagram feed, and I saw a post from a Grade 1 teacher, Kristina. Kristina taught Kindergarten for years, and while we’ve connected a few times online, we’ve never met in person. She now teaches Grade 1, and I love how she’s bringing her play-based philosophy from Kindergarten up to Grade 1. On this particular day, she shared some store play that was happening in her Grade 1 classroom. Students set-up a variety of stores, and they were selling her items. I really appreciated the menu making and reading in the restaurant, and the authentic reasons to read and write. Kristina’s post brought me such joy!

I didn’t think much about it until a couple of days later when I was connecting with one of the Grade 1 teachers. She was cutting out items for a money activity, and I mentioned about the store that I saw a few days previously. As I showed her the Instagram post, we realized that not only did these two teachers know each other, but they actually used to work together. The Grade 1 teacher at my school could feel my excitement about this store idea and she got a little excited as well. We didn’t really go further than a discussion at this point until

A Request To Look More Closely At Writing …

a couple of days later, when we were chatting about student writing. We noticed that students could use some additional support in writing and applying their reading knowledge to their writing. I offered to lead a mini-lesson based on my new learning around writing instruction, which came out of a recent Reading Specialist Meeting.

We didn’t get into too much discussion because I was about to go and set-up for some outdoor literacy play with a kindergarten class. The success for this play led to me mentioning how amazing it would be to give Grade 1’s these kinds of learning moments. What if we took Kristina’s store idea and connected it with our upcoming writing experience? We could slow the process down, and provide lots of reading and writing opportunities prior to the creation of the actual store. I shared the idea with this teacher, and she was in. Yay!

Growing Beyond One Class

A couple of other Grade 1 classes also had me booked to model and support a writing lesson, so I shared this idea with them as well. They were also in. As a previous kindergarten teacher, I was overjoyed to bring more play to Grade 1.

Leading To The Epic Play Store Project

It was thanks to this excitement and this interest around writing and reading instruction that this Epic Play Store Project was born.

Reflecting Together

While I might have been the original driving force behind this project coming to our school, the responses from the students and the interest from the educators has propelled the learning forward week after week. Below is some documentation from these weekly literacy play experiences, often supported with additional learning led by the classroom educator.

This project is not done yet, but it’s been the reflections together each week, which has led to us working together to plan where to go next. Classroom educators and students are as excited about this project as I am — I get stopped in the hall by kids asking when I’ll be coming in next — and they are even reflecting on the play experience as part of this process.

What’s the impact?

At our Reading Specialist Meeting yesterday, we got to share our Impact Stories in our Professional Learning Teams. This Epic Play Store Project was part of my story.

Sometimes our impact is in the actual work that we do, and sometimes, it’s in the inspiration to try a different approach or to view learning in a different way.

What Next?

I love that these Grade 1 educators are seeing the potential in play and inquiry, and experimenting with both in their classrooms. June can be a great time to dabble in something new as maybe both kids and educators need a bit of a change under an umbrella of routine. What might your “dabbling” be? How might play-based and inquiry-based learning be used in all grades to also support opportunities for authentic literacy learning? Thanks to Kristina for the one Instagram post that resulted in this epic learning adventure that is not done yet. Thank you, as well, to these awesome Grade 1 educators, who were open to trying something new and embracing some messy learning with me. I love working with all of you, and from now on, I’ve decided that every play project needs to be at least a little bit epic! πŸ™‚