Could A “Sneaky Approach” To Professional Development Actually Be Best?

My summer camp position is a really interesting one. You can find me …

  • stuffing hamburgers and hot dogs;
  • signing for food orders;
  • setting up tech equipment in the gym;
  • completing and uploading the daily slideshows;
  • sitting down with a child in the hallway, in the library, or in the classroom, who may just need some extra time or additional support;
  • documenting learning around the school;
  • planning for PD sessions;
  • and/or working with instructors and kids.

In different ways and for different reasons, I love each and every one of these jobs … despite a few texture and scent issues. 🙂

That said, without a doubt, my time spent in the classroom continues to be my favourite! I had a very special — and unexpected — moment today thanks to this time. And surprisingly, this moment didn’t happen in the classroom, but instead, at our after camp PD session. 

We meet twice a week after camp for professional development, and today, we were discussing documentation. As part of this session, I asked every instructor to bring along a piece of documentation to discuss. The goal was to look closely at this documentation, talk about the child, and try to determine some possible next steps together.

As I listened in on these conversations today, a couple of people spoke about things that they’ve tried in the classroom. Here’s what surprised me.

  • One instructor mentioned using an alphabet chart with one of the campers, after she saw me introduce this strategy to him. She said that this child was starting to use it independently, and now she’s using the chart with another camper.
  • Another instructor mentioned that she saw what I did with the alphabet chart — and this would have been through Twitter — and she decided to try it with one of her campers. It worked!

The amazing thing about both of these points is that in neither case did I actually directly talk to the instructors about this strategy. By going into the classroom and working with kids alongside the instructors, they were able to see this strategy in action. They were able to see and hear how children responded, and then figure out, what might work for them. Also, by using social media and sharing what I did in different classrooms, other instructors were able to implement similar approaches that might work for their campers. I think about what Lisa Noble has said before about visual learning, and the value in educators, consultants, and administrators, sharing their thinking and learning visibly. 

I’m not an expert here. For 10 months of the year, I happily get to live and breathe the classroom experience, and it’s this experience that I bring into my Camp Power role. I can’t help but think about the some staff members that I’ve worked with in a school setting over the years, including,

  • curriculum consultants,
  • Early Years consultants,
  • instructional coaches,
  • learning resource teachers,
  • and reading specialist teachers,

and how I’ve often hoped to have these individuals pull out students or provide me with PD in-services. Maybe there was something better — something more — that I could have looked for instead. What if we worked together in the classroom to support students? Could the best professional development happen when we actually work alongside each other? I can’t help but think about how we use documentation in the classroom for kids, and the benefits of observing children closely, and using these observations to plan next steps. Maybe when we work in the same space, together, educators do the same thing, and figure out new approaches and how to use them based on what they see and hear. Might a “sneaky approach” to professional development actually be the most effective one?


Breaking The Rules For The Fifth #5Days5Words Post

Today is officially the fifth (and final) day of the #5days5words blogging challenge, but as the educational troublemaker that I am, I didn’t follow the rules, but instead wrote this post the night before to publish in the morning. I know that I have a full day ahead at camp, and some additional things to do when the day is over, so I won’t have the extra time in the evening to blog. I’m making the time the day before. Rules are meant to be broken — or at least modified — right?! 🙂 I guess it comes as no big surprise then that today’s post is all about rules.

Schools run on rules. If we didn’t have them it would be anarchy. Chaos. Or at least that’s the perception. For people who know me, it’s no big surprise that I can be a bit of a rule breaker (or at least “bender”). It’s not that I don’t believe in the value of rules — or think that we shouldn’t have any — but kids are all different. Adults are different. When our rules are too restrictive, I wonder if we take into consideration these differences, and the possible impact that comes from not doing so.

This summer, I had to break a rule that surprised me. It started on the first day of camp, when one of our campers from last year was eating his lunch in the hallway outside the lunchroom. Why? I went up to ask him, and he said, “Because this was not our lunchroom last year. The music room was our lunchroom last year. I don’t like change. I want things to go back to the way that they were.” Interesting. I did appreciate how much he could articulate exactly what he was thinking and feeling, so I explained the reason for the change: there were no longer enough chairs and tables in the music room for lunch. He went to look. There were enough for him. He asked me if he could eat in the music room. What? The whole thinking behind our camp lunch is that the instructors and the children eat together. It’s about building community around food. Now he was losing out on this community, and he was eating in a room that was not designated for lunch. I tried hard to get him to consider eating in the lunchroom with his group, but he was not willing to try this. He said that he would eat in the hallway instead. I thought that the music room was better than that, so we created a space by the door of the music room, and he ate in there. Alone. So much for community … This did not feel right to me, and it went against the rule of where kids and staff were allowed to eat their lunch.

The next day, this child wanted to eat in the music room again. I just couldn’t have him eating alone, so I asked him, “Can I eat with you?” He replied, “Sure, Miss Dunsiger, but can you close the door for a minute?” I did. He said, “Listen. See how quiet it is. Now open it. Loud. I hate loud.” Eureka! Now I knew why he couldn’t eat in the other lunch room. I asked him if it was too loud in there, and he said, “Yes. It’s much quieter in here because the big door blocks some of the noise from the hallway and the rest of the school.” This was not a child that just wanted to push back on the rules. He knew what he needed, and he needed quiet. I came to realize that we have another lunchroom, which is much quieter. There are fewer kids eating in there, and with more space. I invited him to join me in this lunchroom recently. He actually agreed to sit down and eat. One of the other instructors said to him, “Do you want to come and sit next to me?,” and he replied, “No thank you! I’m more of a lone wolf,” and he pulled a seat up to counter to eat alone. Baby steps. 

I couldn’t help but think about this child in a school setting. The rule is to eat in your classroom. Stay in your spot. Maybe even sit at a group of desks with other children. I understand why many of these rules exist for safety, supervision, the development of social skills, and accountability, but I also wonder in which cases we can bend the rules. I see how calm this child is after eating alone, engaging in some quiet talk with me or with a friend, and then rejoining the group for the afternoon. I wonder if we would see this same child if we had him eat in the noisier classroom with many more kids and adults. Do all children need the same rules, and how do we decide? As we get ready to head back to school, I wonder what rules we might bend or break this year, and the possible value for kids. Maybe at times we all need a few less rules. 


“Play” Comes Next In This #5Days5Words Challenge

It’s another day, and my fourth opportunity for a #5days5words blog postToday’s word is not a new one for me, but it is one that I’ve been thinking about a lot this summer: play.

Last month, I read a fantastic book by Lisa Griffen-Murphy about play. Much of this book aligns with what my teaching partner, Paula, and I believe about the value of play, so even after only reading a single chapter, I was inspired to share an Instagram post about it. 

I may only be on Chapter 2 of this book, but I cannot tell you how much I ❤️❤️❤️ it already! It speaks to all that we do in the classroom to really support children, build relationships, and value play. The thinking behind the K Program Document is so well-captured in this book … at least in the first few chapters. My note in the book so far is, “OMG! I ❤️❤️❤️ this. I need to get @paulacrockett to read this book.” But why just tell her about it?! Others deserve to hear of it’s fabulousness, even at the very start. (When tree climbing, knowing your learners, and long blocks of unstructured play are supported in Chapter 1, how can I not love the rest?!) ❤️❤️❤️ #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram

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My love of this book continued, and surprisingly for an academic text, I actually struggled with putting it down.

#summerread2018 and #avivaandfriendsrecos number 17 may be one of my all-time favourite professional reads. Read THIS book. It truly highlights the value of play and the impact that it can have on later academic success. I found myself nodding along to so much in @ooeygooeylady’s book, thinking about how I could do better in other areas, and remembering so much of what my teaching partner — @paulacrockett — has taught me over the past few years. I will mention that Lisa explores play from a preschool lens, but this does align with how we see play from a #kindergarten lens in a school setting. It is also the perfect accompaniment to our K Program Document, and I hope that all #fdk educator teams in Ontario read it and think about it. Would make a great book study with educators from other grades and even administrators joining in. I wonder how it might get everyone thinking differently about play and talking more about it. I cannot tell you how much I ❤️❤️❤️❤️ this book. Even aligns with a lot of what @stuart_shanker has shared on @self_reg. There is just so much good in this book, and I really could not put it down (which is rare for me when it comes to a professional read). I hope others get this book. You will not be disappointed! ❤️ #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry

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In the end I could not praise this book enough, and there’s so much that I could blog about on it, but Lisa actually provided me with one of my aha moments on play. It was towards the end of Chapter 16 that I read this paragraph and added my note.

For a couple of years now, I’ve struggled with figuring out why there is such a huge disconnect between what “free play” seems to look like in different classrooms, when our document is so explicit about the value of unstructured play. I think this paragraph sums up a possible reason.

  • As adults, how do we interpret “play?” 
  • What kind of structure do we impose on it?
  • How do we become more comfortable with the “free play” from our childhood?

I can’t help but think about this wonderful comment from a Camp Power camper the other day. Every Friday, we invite parents into the camp to join us in our learning, and this child was building with her mom when she made this comment. I’m so grateful to her instructor for tweeting it out. 

Contemplating what both Kristi Keery-Bishop and Sue Dunlop said on creativity, I question if we can get to this deep level of creativity, imagination, thinking, problem solving, and application with the more limiting nature of the structured play that we might provide. I wonder what would happen if more school and Board PD allowed educators to get creative and play in an unstructured way. Would we unlock some of the magic from our childhood? Are we ready to do so? With a new school year approaching, I wonder if we could re-look at what “play” means, and what it could inspire in kids of all ages. Imagine the possible impact on all subject areas if we could get to the deep thinking and problem solving that comes from true play.


#avivaarriva2.0 Becomes A Third Piece Of My #5days5words Challenge

Today is the third day of the #5days5words blogging challenge, and today’s word is not a new one for me, but I’m considering it from a different perspective: change

As many of you know, I love to discuss my parking habits, but there’s another thing about driving that I have not shared here before: I have been driving the same car for the past 17 years. I love my little Honda Civic. I bought it before my first year of teaching, and it’s been my first and only car for my entire teaching career thus far. This car has travelled with me to seven schools, from Ancaster to Stoney Creek, and through countless grade changes: from Kindergarten to Grade 6. When I taught full-day, alternate day Kindergarten at two schools in Stoney Creek, this car was my third classroom. I jokingly had a “tenant in the trunk” with all of the materials that I brought back and forth between the two schools. And even through 17 years of driving — with less than 183,000 km on it — this car is still going strong. But today, I bought a new car: a Honda HRV.

This Is It!

Shopping for a new car has had me thinking a lot about change.

  • Never before have I had a back-up camera. How will this change my parking experiences?
  • I’m used to the size of my little Civic. How will a change in height and size — particularly the front versus rear end — impact on my driving and parking experiences?
  • The radio now exists on a screen. How do I program stations for my listening pleasure? (I love to blast my radio each day.)
  • They make cars now without keys. What?!?! I think the Honda employee enjoyed my reaction to this news. There comes a limit to what everyone is willing to change, and for me, the lack of a key is that limit. I will stick with a model that requires a key. 🙂

I share this story here, for when it comes to my professional life, I’m someone that embraces change. It may scare me, but I still go for it. But this car shopping experience reminds me we may all have areas where change terrifies us enough that we stick with the familiar. We choose safe. I did this with my car, and right now, I’m trying hard not to throw up as I think about this next big change. This year though — starting today — I’m taking a different kind of risk. Yes, it worries me. Yes, I wonder if I will love and feel the same comfort with this new vehicle as I had with my first one. Sometimes though, a change — as hard as it may be — is worth it. In what areas are you more reluctant to change, and how can you make a change in one of these areas this year? I hope that I’m not alone in doing so. Just be prepared that my #avivaarriva tweets are about to take on a whole new level of fun beginning in September. I wonder if I can incorporate my “driving change” into my Annual Learning Plan for this year. 🙂 There’s no doubt that I have a lot of new learning ahead.



While Not Quite A “Word,” It Is My Second One For #5Days5Words

Yesterday, I decided to step out of my comfort zone a bit and try this #5Days5Words blogging challenge by Kristi Keery-Bishop. As a self-proclaimed educational troublemaker, my next word is actually not a word, but instead, an acronym: FNMI.

This summer, I’m one of the site leads for Camp Power: a Ministry-funded Summer Learning Program camp through our Board. We have many components to our camp program, but one part, is that we have specific instructors to run an FNMI (First Nations, Metis, and Inuit) program. In the past, this has been a self-contained class, where parents could choose to have their children as part of this classroom program. Then in the afternoon, the instructors shared some Indigenous education with the rest of the camp. This year, we really wanted to integrate this learning even more, and we wanted all of our campers to gain a better understanding and appreciation of FNMI perspectives. We’ve paired with Niwasa, and we have a few terrific educators that have taken on more of a consultant role, as they work with classroom instructors and children to discuss a variety of topics. 

Something wonderful has happened this summer: our consultants have really built capacity among the camp instructors. On the first day of camp, Laura taught the staff and the campers the Turtle Island Welcome. She thought that the Turtle Island Welcome might be more accessible to campers than the Land Acknowledgement, and I agree. What’s wonderful to see is that Laura went from leading the welcome, to supporting a group in doing so, to now having the classroom instructors taking turns with their groups to lead the Turtle Island Welcome. 

At the Hillcrest location of Camp Power, campers actually modified the Turtle Island Welcome and made it their own.

I love the idea that kids and staff are moving beyond saying words to considering the tone, meaning, and power of this welcome, and exploring ways to personalize it. What a great way to build community in a classroom and a school! 

Watching and listening to Laura, as well as our Board consultant, Lisa King, I was inspired to read and learn more about Indigenous education. My readings and conversations have really got me thinking. 

During the past school year, we shared the Turtle Island story with our Kindergarteners, and later made some links to Indigenous artwork. It was quite amazing to see what our kids did!

After this Camp Power experience though, I’m starting to wonder what more we could do this school year. This week, we’ve explore the story of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker with our campers. This is not an easy text, but it’s quite incredible to see how students of multiple ages approach and express their understanding of this book. They are also making some links with our Turtle Island Welcome. At our Family Friday today, some parents even commented on the value of this Indigenous education for their kids, and how they would love to see this continue throughout the school year. 

I know that we have an updated Social Studies Document, but right now Kindergarten remains a separate entity. I just remember the complexity of curriculum expectations in the Social Studies Document when I taught Grades 5 and 6, and I wonder if building understanding at an early age might result in an even deeper understanding at an older one. How might this impact on the depth of inquiry that these older students engage in? And so, while I freely admit that I still have some fears that I’m going to say or do the wrong thing, I really do want to learn more, and I want our children to as well. Our time spent outside in Kindergarten often evolves into a great understanding, appreciation, and stewardship for the environment, and I wonder if this could be a starting point for our Indigenous learning. I really want to reach out to our Board and community partners, including Lisa King, with the hope of seeing what else we could do. Will I make mistakes? Likely many … but I’m not going to let this stop me. I’m not an expert on Indigenous education, and I know that as kids and adults, we need to hear first-person perspectives for our knowledge and understanding to grow. What have you tried, and where might you begin? As I talk with my teaching partner, Paula, come the fall, I’m hoping that my FNMI learning from this summer can be the starting point for much more learning to come.