Let Them Believe It, And They Will Achieve It!

Yesterday, I had that aha moment that occurred in the most unlikely of places: music class. Since we have our music prep at the end of the day, I usually end up staying in the classroom, organizing materials for the next day, and uploading documentation during music. Often as I work, I enjoy watching and listening to the kids. Yesterday was no exception, but it was one of the conversations, which truly made my teacher heart proud.

Our music teacher, Mrs. Crocker, was introducing the class to a new song. To get them to think about the words, she said them aloud, and had the kids count how many words were in the song. There were a few different guesses. As Mrs. Crocker went back to repeat the words and had the children think again about the number of them in the song, one of our students piped up with, “I could just count them.” Then she looked over at the text for the song — which she saw next to Mrs. Crocker’s chair — and counted the words. What?! Mrs. Crocker had not even introduced the text yet, but this child found it on her own. How? When Mrs. Crocker asked her how she knew that these were the words for the song, she said, “Because I read them!” Then she went through and read the entire song on her own: pointing to the words as she did so. Mrs. Crocker was flabbergasted, and said to Mrs. Crockett and me, “She’s such a great reader! Is she the only one in the class that could read this?” No. Mrs. Crocker then invited up about eight more students to read the text. These were a combination of JK and SK students, who confidently approached this more challenging text. Some read it with ease. Others problem solved some challenging words and read the majority correctly. Every single child that went up there, did so with the belief that he/she is a reader, and showed us just how true this is. Many more children would have eagerly done the same. When I saw Mrs. Crocker in the staff room after music, she continued to speak to me about what “great readers” we have in our class.

This conversation and the experience in music really has me thinking. While I was very impressed with the actual reading — considering that only two of these students would have started the year being able to read a text as challenging as this one — I was even more impressed with the children’s attitude towards reading. Nobody suggested reading this song. In fact, the idea hadn’t even crossed Mrs. Crocker’s mind. But when the child saw printed words, she knew they had meaning, and she knew that she had the skills to figure out the puzzle. This is key! As we instruct and support new readers, I think that we sometimes forget about the value in instilling why reading matters. We have to show kids that they can use their decoding skills to access text anywhere: from the name on their yogurt drink to the song sitting beside the music teacher’s chair. Kids need to view themselves as readers. They need to believe that they can do it, for if they do, they will work their way through future reading challenges. It’s this willingness to try, plus the foundational skills, which allow for success.

I think about my many years of teaching reading though. How often did I forget to ensure that children know why reading matters? It seems simple, and yet, how easy is it to forget this lesson? In my 17 years of teaching, yesterday was the first day I ever saw a child LOOK to read an adult text, without somebody asking him/her to do so. She looks to read everything. And she’s not the only one. Today, I had a supply teacher in for me when I was at a meeting. This supply teacher’s been in our class before, but not for many months. She couldn’t believe the growth in our students, and commented on the willingness, confidence, and skills as readers and writers. This was a #ProudTeacherMoment for sure, but Paula and I are even more proud of our kids!

Talking with Paula at the end of the day today, I realized that it’s actually something that she does — even unbeknownst to her — that I think makes such a big difference for kids: she gives every child diverse opportunities to read. 

  • When she wants somebody to read something on the SMART Board, she picks a child.
  • When people have included text in their VIP presentations, she has children read it. 
  • When a child is wearing a shirt with a slogan or a hat with a logo, she gets students to read it.
  • When a child shows her a snack or lunch item with words on it, she has the child read the words.

Sometimes the children can read the words independently. Sometimes they need more support. But Paula always finds something that they can do on their own, and with her words of encouragement — and any degree of success — kids start to believe that they can “really read.”  

It’s taken me over half of my career to have an experience like I did yesterday, but now I hope for many more of these experiences. Yes, our kids often blow me away with their reading skills. Paula and I are thrilled with their growth in reading, and their attitude towards reading. We’re just as thrilled that our students could achieve this tremendous growth in a play-based learning environment. It really can happen! But I think this shift starts with helping children see why we read, what we read, and that we are all readers. Let them believe it, and they will achieve it! What do you think? How do you develop “reading attitude,” as well as “reading skills?” Both matter.


The Good And Bad Of Labels

Today is Autism Awareness Day. For years now, I’ve blogged on this day, and shared some of my own stories around autism. One of the stories that I’ve shared is about Andrea Haefele and her daughter Bella. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Andrea and her family, but I feel as though I know them based on what she shares online. Every year, on World Autism Day, Andrea guest posts on a friend’s blog about her story. Her posts are always different and they always make me think. Sometimes they bring me to tears, as this one from a couple of years ago, did.

This year, Andrea did something different. She started her own blog. Parents, educators, administrators … you NEED to read this blog. This is real. Andrea shares her life, her thoughts, her fears, her struggles, and her successes with us through these posts, and she’s only added a few posts so far. 

  • I am not a wife.
  • I am not a mom.
  • I do not have a child with special needs of my own.

But Andrea’s first post on labels still inspired me to blog. Here’s why.

I’ve often struggled with labels. In education, we use labels a lot. Normally to get additional support for students, a label is necessary.

  • Kids can’t be identified without a label.
  • Special class placements require a label.
  • It’s easier to argue for modifications with the use of a label.
  • Labels often help get E.A. (Educational Assistant) support … or at least more often than without labels.

I’ve had my own mixed experiences with labels. As I’ve blogged about before, when I was in Grade 2, I was identified with a non-verbal learning disability in the area of visual spatial skills. This “learning disabled” label could have changed a trajectory for me. The gap in my test results was wide enough that, 

  • my academics could have suffered.
  • I might not have made it into university.
  • I might never have gotten the marks for the Faculty of Education.
  • even if I made it to university, I might have struggled with the social interactions, organization, and time management required to live away from home and to pass my classes. 
  • I might never have become a teacher. 

I find it hard to even think about this now, but it’s true. Thankfully a label didn’t stop me, and in fact, I actually needed this label to make it through university and the Faculty of Education.

My initial identification of “learning disabled,” lasted me a while, and before I went to high school, I was tested again. The same label held. But between Grade 2 and Grade 13 (yes, I went to high school when we still had OAC 🙂 ), I learned a lot of strategies to meet with success. I also benefitted from more choice in the high school program. I didn’t have to take subjects such as visual arts, where I struggled year after year, because of both fine motor difficulties as well as visual spatial needs. Geography also started to look differently in high school, and while I’m still unable to read a map, I could use my memorization skills to meet with success on tests. When I was in elementary school, most teachers would recognize that I had a learning disability because I struggled with the content, I was never organized (picture pages of paper flying out of binders in every which way and often going through the middle of the desk and right out onto the floor), and my marks suffered. I barely had a 65% average when I went from Grade 8 to Grade 9. In high school though, my strong reading, writing, and oral language skills, my ability to self-select more courses, and the move from paper onto a computer in most subject areas, had me going from a 65% average to a 92% average. Teachers still knew that I was “learning disabled” because I told them, but the label was less obvious. Most peers thought I was “lucky” to get extra time on tests, and I had to fight to continue to get this accommodation, as my marks were high. I quickly learned the mistaken belief — whether articulated or not — that learning disabled students are not smart kids. I was determined to change this thinking around my label.

Maybe, in some way, this is why I was so excited when I found out that I was one of the recipients of a Presidential Scholarship to Nipissing University. My label didn’t have to define me. But then, I found out that I needed this label. I hadn’t had an updated Psych Assessment in years, and without a more recent one, I couldn’t receive the support in university that I received in high school. Yes, I was successful, but this support played a big part in that. Due to my current marks though, I wasn’t a candidate for an updated Psych Assessment. What could I do? I tried to self-advocate. I wrote letters explaining why I needed this assessment, and why my marks were not necessarily indicative of the lack of a learning disability. In the end though, my parents paid for a private assessment, and that label went with me to university. This label continued to give me the supports that I needed, largely the use of a computer for tests and exams, and additional time for both. It also gave me the diagrams for some of my math exams, as I could not visualize what I needed to draw, but I could perform the calculations. But this label also gave me something else …

It gave me a connection to Student Services and to other students that needed support, just like me. I met some of my new friends through here. I also ended up connecting with some of their friends, and their roommates, which allowed me to further expand my social interactions at university. And through Student Services, I also connected with some Faculty Members that were there to support me, or offer advice, when I needed it. At a time with lots of new — from living away from home for the first time to meeting new friends and taking new courses — there was comfort in knowing that somebody was there if required. Without a label, this support wouldn’t have existed. 

Now, numerous years past university, I don’t think about this label much anymore. But would it “able” me, as Andrea wondered in her blog postMaybe, at times, it would.

  • Maybe somebody would give me those verbal instructions on how to find a room in a school instead of a copy of a map that I can’t read.
  • Maybe I could have my own special parking spot in the winter months, since the ability to spatially figure out where the spot is without the use of lines, is something that I continually struggle to visualize.
  • Maybe people would understand why I stand back during Ice Breakers in Staff Meetings and PA Days, since the very thought of these unstructured social interactions is overwhelming. 
  • Maybe I would always have options to submit data, receive articles, and fill out forms online, as organizing paper continues to be a stressor for me. 
  • Maybe people would know why I never want to share sketches that we need to complete during PD sessions, as the laughter which I know that they’ll produce, will bother me despite being unintentional. 

But I wonder though, do we see this label first? Maybe it’s all a matter of when this label is added. People know so much about me now — and have formed so many opinions of what I say and do — that maybe adding this label now won’t change things. What if the label, though, was the first thing that you knew about me? And is this what happens the most when it comes to autism? While we can learn a lot from labels, we cannot let any label be our only vision of an individual. We’re all more than our many labels. And on Autism Awareness Day — and every day after that — I hope that we can get to know the people behind these labels. For one of my favourite parts of Andrea’s post is the four bullet points near the top of it: through these points she tells us about her daughter, going much deeper than any label will ever do. I think it’s this that matters. What about you?


The Day I Wish That I Had Super Powers!

Teachers aren’t superheroes. Some days, it might seem as though we are, or we may wish that we had super powers. I’d love a super power that made tidying up happen with the snap of a finger and noise levels to quickly readjust with just the clap of a hand 🙂 , but I haven’t quite made either of these things happen yet. On most days, I’m good with not having any super powers. I can adjust to the varying volumes and problems that might happen during the day, and can find different places to sit, engage, and listen in on conversations with kids. Thursday wasn’t one of those days.

Even the make-up of the day wasn’t ideal. It was the last day of school before a four-day weekend. While we haven’t been discussing Easter in the classroom, and kids have just made a few off-hand comments about it, many of them have been all about Easter in the Before Care Program. They’ve been making Easter crafts, hiding Easter eggs, and decorating Easter bunnies. The excitement is definitely palpable in the Before Care Program, and this excitement tends to spill over into the classroom program. Just to make Easter a little more exciting, our school had Wacky Hair Day on Thursday. We were collecting donations for Interval House, and coupled this with an exciting day at school. While not everyone in our class participated, a little extra crazy definitely brought up the volume and changed the feel of the room. 

I’d like to say that the dysregulation ended here, but it didn’t. When I got to school on Thursday morning, I received an email that I wasn’t expecting, and ended up with a problem that I had to solve. While everything worked out well, solving the problem took the better part of my before school time, where I would usually get things organized in the classroom. This meant that I was rushing to get everything finished before the bell rang, despite arriving at school with two-hours to spare. How does this happen?!

I was also very aware that this was my no prep, duty day, so I would be limited on extra time to get things done during the school day. I think this is when my headache started. The weather outside wasn’t helping my head, but the stress definitely made it worse. I’m also starting to come down with that cough and cold that everybody seems to have right now, and without a doubt, everything compounded and hit me all at once. I’m not sure that I realized the impact of this at the time, but I did a few hours later.

Our outdoor learning time actually went very well. My heart was exploding with the examples of empathy that Paula and I saw out in the forest. Our kids are truly remarkable! We also got to witness some incredible new friendships, and it was great to see the joy in this play. I think that I was almost convinced that today was turning around. Maybe we should have just stayed outside … 🙂 

While it wasn’t quite raining outside, it was definitely cold and damp, and after almost 1 1/2 hours outside, I was certainly feeling the chill. (I might not have made the best clothing choices for the weather.) I made it inside in just enough time to head back outside for duty. This might have been too much. I couldn’t stop shaking I was so cold, and this is when the coughing started in earnest. I was definitely getting sick! Between the Wacky Hair Day and Easter, duty time was even louder than usual, and I was eager to get back to our classroom, which often feels quieter and calmer. Today it didn’t though.

Play was just starting, and it was Pizza Day, which means that most children wanted to eat right away. Our open eating table — with seats for six to eat throughout the day — usually helps quiet the room a bit and spread children out in different places around the room. Today though, there was a HUGE number of kids eagerly waiting to eat, and some more eating at the back table. This means that the play takes even longer to settle. 

Sometimes I can help things out by sitting down at a space on the opposite side of the room, or beginning to play in an area that has fewer people, and quietly drawing more people my way. I wasn’t feeling it today though. I was having my own difficulties settling. Noise dysregulates me on most days, but when I’m not feeling well, it does so even more. I know this, but I was having problems addressing it. I tried sitting down at the creative table, with the hope that some sensory play might calm me (and the kids) for a bit, and it did, but maybe not for long enough. I should have gotten into the building space, where there seemed to be the most noise at the time, but I didn’t have it in me to quiet it. This is when I started to wander — sweeping the room — which might seem like a good idea in theory, but isn’t in practice. When I wander, kids wander. But I couldn’t settle, so neither could they. Once again, I’m reminder of Stuart Shanker‘s words about the impact that an adult has on a child’s ability to self-regulate. 

This was an all-day struggle. I continued to feel yucky throughout the day, and my headache that went away in the morning, came back in the afternoon. This didn’t help. It was then time to get ready for home. We share a coat room with the Kindergarten class next door to us. Usually they get ready first and head outside, and then we go second. This gives both of us more room in this confined space. Due to the weather though, we were both getting ready at the same time. This meant more kids and more noise …

I finally thought of my teaching partner, Paula, and what she does to make dressing time a calmer experience: she sings. So I sang. Probably nobody would recognize the songs that I made up. I probably couldn’t even reproduce them again. But every time I felt triggered, I sang some more. 

  • I sang to look for splash pants.
  • I sang to put on coats.
  • I sang to collect lunch boxes.
  • I even sang to go sit down.

I will never win a Grammy Award for my singing, but it was definitely singing that kept me regulated. Maybe I should have done some more singing throughout the day. 

I would usually tell you that all of our days are “great,” and they really almost all are! And if you look at our story of Thursday on our class blog, there is a lot to celebrate about the day. But Thursday didn’t feel quite as wonderful to me, and maybe my own dysregulation is to blame. I definitely didn’t help turn things around. I’m sorry! I’m human. On Thursday, I definitely didn’t have the super powers I may have needed to make it through. But I did have a wonderful teaching partner that came back from her lunch with a lovely, calming peach tea for me, and ensured that I got out of the classroom for a good half-hour for my lunch. Both were what I needed. And while the noise still triggered me when I returned, at least I resisted the urge to wander. Instead, I chose to stand back and observe. I’m glad that I could see the good around the room.

Tuesday is another day. I’m using some great restorative ideas from here (maybe not the dancing 🙂 ) to take care of me this weekend, so that Tuesday starts and ends on a much better note.

No matter how much we may know about Self-Reg, as children AND as adults, we’re all human. Mistakes happen. Life takes hold. Susan Hopkins often reminds us to be kind to ourselves. Thursday was not a total loss, but it wasn’t my best. Next week will be better. We can always change a trajectory. How do you help start fresh?


What Are Your Magical Moments With Kids?

Here’s a comment that many people have made to me in the past: “Do you re-watch all of the videos that you take? You post so many of them. How can you watch them all?” I’ll be honest: I don’t watch everything in its entirety. I usually watch snippets of all of them. That said, in the past year, my teaching partner, Paula, and I have started to watch some of these videos together at the end of the day, as we plan for the next day. It was some of Friday’s videos that have inspired this post.

I started to think about this topic when Paula showed me a few videos that she took of a couple of children out in the forest. They found some sticks that resembled “dinosaur bones” and “letters,” and they began to discuss their theories with her. You can hear and see other children in the background, but for this period of time, Paula’s completely focused on these two students. Even without explicitly saying so, imagine what message she’s giving these kids about her appreciation of their thoughts and her belief in their theories. The Kindergarten Program Document highlights the view of the child as “competent and capable of complex thought.” As Paula respects and responds to their words, she’s showing these children how much she embraces this view of the child.

Fast forward to Second Nutrition Break time, and Paula working with the class on tidying up the room. I’m on duty in the primary hallway, and one of Paula’s previous students is eager to go and see her. He asks me if he can, and I say, “Yes.” I know that Paula will be getting the children organized for Phys-Ed and a visit from our reading specialist, Sandy Batenburg, after the Break, but I also know that she always makes time for kids. This very thought is reflected in the video that she recorded in the midst of tidy-up time, when this Grade 2 student noticed our paper mache ball in the sensory bin. He had some ideas to share, and really wanted Paula to record his thoughts so that I could also hear them afterwards. As children are buzzing around her, and some even stop to listen and to share their ideas, Paula remains focused on this past student. She knows that he wants and needs to get out his ideas before he goes back to class. Even after she stops the recording, she encourages him to make her a list of the other planets we would need to make, and any additional information he would like to communicate. She’s trying to inspire him to write about something that matters to him. And then once he leaves and the room is clean-ish 🙂 , she has the other children share the ideas that she didn’t respond to at the time. Now she can also remain focused on them, and what they think and believe.

Then we move onto the last period of the day: music in our classroom. Our music teacher has planned some exciting songs and dances for the kids to participate in. The sitting, the noise, and the action is initially a little too exciting for a child, who’s eager to sit down and read with Paula at the eating table instead. As he explores an alphabet book with her, he’s looking at letters and sounds, as well as the missing numbers that he noticed as he reads. The Bunny Hop is happening right around the two of them, and while I’m finding it hard to ignore, he’s focused on the book, so Paula is focused on him. I love their quiet conversation, even in the midst of so much noise. Again, it’s the relationship that makes this work. The most important person in the room at this time is him, and he knows that! Plus, a calming option at the start of music, helped him later choose to go back and enjoy the rest of the music games with the class: a win/win.

A Kindergarten classroom is a busy place. Most classrooms are. With big numbers and diverse needs, it’s easy to want to focus on everyone … and in the end, we need to. But as I look back over these snippets from Friday, I’m reminded about the value in slowing down, listening to, and forming relationships with kids. 

  • Make them the focus of attention.
  • Connect deeply with each one of them.
  • Value their ideas, questions, and experiences. Value them!
  • Love them … as Paula so clearly does each of these kids and so many more!

As I’m about to start another week at school, the many lessons I learn from Paula are on my mind. There’s something incredibly special and heart-warming about each of these videos, and it’s these kind of wonderful moments that I want to have this week. What about you? I wonder how we can all make these magical connections with kids!






Scared Scripted

As our Board continues to focus on “all children reading by Grade 1,” we’ve been reminded to look back at some resources that came our way a number of years ago. These resources — particularly around modelled reading — have some great lessons to teach children about comprehension strategies, such as inferring and making connections. I’ve used these lessons in the past. I’ve even pulled pieces of them since then. The other day, my teaching partner, Paula, and I spoke about some of these lessons. How might we be able to use them, and how might we adapt them to still support our learners in a play-based Kindergarten Program?

The more that we spoke, the more that I realized that my biggest struggle is the program nature of these resources. I’ve never been great at following a program. Please don’t get me wrong. I definitely believe in the value of planning, and based on discussions that Paula and I have each night, I even do a detailed daybook plan for each day: explaining how our play spaces might align with the Four Frames of the Kindergarten Program Document. That said though, the most important note in our daybook and to any of my supply teachers is that, “We always try to be receptive to kids. Watch them. See what they do and how they respond to the materials in the classroom. Listen to what they say and what they ask, and then make changes accordingly.” Yes, expectations matter. I might even go as far as to say that benchmarks matter too, if only as the reminder about the need to support ALL students in meeting with success. But kids matter first! 

I still remember a conversation that I had with a previous principal of mine, Paul Clemens, after my last Teacher Performance Appraisal (T.P.A.). Evaluations are stressful, and as supportive as Paul always was, the weekend before my T.P.A., I was trying really hard not to throw up. In an effort to feel more relaxed, I came up with a very detailed script for my T.P.A. lesson. I didn’t hold the script in front of me, but I did memorize it. And in typical Aviva fashion 🙂 , I also asked one of my Grade 5 students to record the lesson, as I wanted the opportunity to look back on it later.

It was as I re-watched the lesson that I thought of a comment, which I made to Paul during our debriefing. While I was really pleased with the questions I asked and my wait time — I actually counted in my head to ensure I gave enough time I found myself so focused on the script that I was not as receptive to students. If I wasn’t so focused on what I was going to say next …

  • I might have gone over and supported that student, whom the E.A. brought out of the room half-way through the lesson.
  • I might have tried to engage a couple of the students that didn’t have their hands up, but that I knew could contribute to the conversation. What might they have to say?
  • I would have picked an even more diverse group of students to answer some of my questions. I knew what some students were going to say, and I realized that they would help move the lesson along, so I chose them first. But what about some others? Would hearing from them have supported these students in being even more successful in the follow-up activity, as I would have been able to hear their thinking and ideas?
  • I would have asked more questions and said less. I wanted to keep the lesson to less than 15 minutes, and I was afraid that if I got students more involved in the building of my sample system and the creation of the steps to follow for theirs, I would have gone over time. What might the students say? What might they do? The need for control had me sticking to a script.

Probably the best thing that happened was when I knocked over the Lego skeletal system. I might have wanted to cry at the time, but the need to go off script, actually had me engaging with students more after this point. Maybe that was the crash I needed to bring me back to focusing on kids instead of on the words in my head. 

This makes me wonder then about program scripts. 

  • When do you use them?
  • How do you use them?
  • How do you ensure that you still keep focused on the children, even when paying attention to the script?

From textbooks to teacher’s guides to read aloud or guided reading scripts, we’ve all followed a lesson at some point. There’s likely even research behind the decisions made in these scripted lessons. But as I watch and listen to myself following a scripted lesson, I like the sound of myself even better when I watch and listen to myself following kids. Maybe there’s a way to do both well, and there might even be advantages to both approaches. I think that many programs bring me back to those T.P.A. jitters, and maybe that’s why I have such reservations. Convince me! As Paula and I examined and debated the reading comprehension programs to the learning that comes from them, we saw some benefits for kidsCould this be where our focus needs to remain … even if we may go off script?