Do we share our educational worries enough?

I remember having a conversation once with a fairly new teacher at a different school. She spoke about some creative things that she was doing in her classroom, and how all of her children seemed really engaged in the learning. She mentioned to me though, “If anyone walked by, I’m sure that they would wonder what was going on. The room was a mess. There were buckets of manipulatives all over the floor. There was a lot of noise as students worked through the math problems together. I kept my eye on the door, worried about what people would think.” That’s when I shared my story.

Our room is always a mess. I usually wear my glasses on the top of my head for most of the day, as the sight of a big mess stresses me out, but the blurry look makes me feel calmer. This made the teacher laugh, but it’s also true. There are a lot of things that I choose to do to feel better about the same experience that she described to me … as this is what we experience in our play-based Kindergarten classroom every single day.

  • I get down low to the floor. Then I can still see and work with the children, but have less of a view of the big mess.
  • I find some quiet areas in the classroom. With 32 Kindergarten students, we don’t have a lot of “quiet,” but there are spaces that have less noise. Right now, that space is at our writing/drawing area. If I’m feeling overwhelmed by the noise, I move myself over there. Just the quiet conversations and the ability to write and draw with some students, makes me feel better. 

Even with a larger group of students, this space is so calm.

  • I go to the sensory bin. Sensory play can be calming for adults as well as children. I love to get my hands in the shaving cream, play with the soapy sponges, and even create with the loose parts, as I explore the different textures and materials. I can actually feel myself calming down as I go to the space, and I love that as soon as an adult appears there, more children follow.

I loved playing here too!

  • I connect with one or two students, or even a small group. If there’s a lot of action happening in the classroom, I try to narrow my focus. By talking or working with just a few students, I acclimate myself to the noisy environment and feel less overwhelmed by it. 
  • I start to tidy up. I don’t put everything away, but I slowly start filling some bins, and getting students to clean up the items that they are not using. This reduces the visual noise in the room and makes me feel better about the space. It also tends to lower the overall noise level, as students can also find messy spaces dysregulating. 

But as I also shared with her, even with everything I do, I still worry. 

These worries are not going to stop me from doing what I do, as I truly believe in the value of this type of learning environment for kids. My teaching partner and I see this value every single day. We know that we’re meeting expectations. We see children learning, and we hear them discussing their learning. We know that a mess can be tidied up, and that the conversations, while sometimes loud, are also purposeful. We also know that we’ve created quiet spaces for the students that need it, and we’ve been able to find these spaces when we also need them. But the worries are there, and when talking to this teacher, I started to wonder if we need to share them more. I thought about myself.

And no matter what, I will probably always worry, wonder, and question … but maybe there’s value in embracing all of these things. These are the things that help us improve. 

  • They cause us to reflect.
  • They force us to dialogue more.
  • They encourage us to change.

If we embrace the “worry,” celebrate these difficult experiences, and support each other in having more of them, will greater changes continue to happen? We encourage students to take risks and make mistakes. How do we do the same for adults? What might this mean for education? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Aviva

Is A Book Nook Always Best?

Late last night, I wrote this blog post. Something has been bothering me since I published it, but also, since we decided to re-arrange our classroom: how can a Book Nook area function well beside dramatic play? As I said in my post last night, “this goes against everything I know about self-regulation and micro-environments” … or at least I thought that it did until I spoke to my teaching partner, Paula, again this morning. Now I wonder if this could be another case of needing to change my perspective

I look at this photograph of our combined house/book area, and I start to feel overwhelmed. 

The space seems so big. How can it not be loud and chaotic? While I still stand by what I wrote last night that the new arrangement of the room is helping children use the space better, which is making it quieter and calmer, I think there’s another important point to consider: a Book Nook area is only beneficial as a calm space if students choose this space to self-regulate. 

No matter how inviting we tried to make the Book Nook space, students did not seek out this area to calm down. Drawing, writing, painting, beading, or sensory play, are all things that help our students feel calmer. A few children may go and read a book in this special space during the day, but many children access books and other texts in different parts of the room instead. So if this space is largely empty, is this micro-environment really working for our kids?

Now our quiet space has a cozy table for creating and a light table that also invites some sensory play.

Since these spaces align with how our children self-regulate, our new room arrangement actually leads to calmer play. Plus, with the books connected to the house, more students are reading these books or sitting down for a story with one of us.

I can’t help but think again about Stuart Shanker and self-regulation: we cannot underestimate the important SELF component of Self-Reg. A quiet Book Nook area may work in some classrooms, but does it work well in yours? If not, what do your students need to self-regulate? In a Kindergarten classroom, where many children are just learning to read, I start to wonder about the potential cognitive stressor of a separate reading area. But by linking reading to a space where students feel more comfortable and less pressure (i.e., dramatic play), is this area used better? Could different options in the “quiet area” actually be more beneficial for kids? I would love to hear about your experiences as we continue to further analyze ours.

Aviva

What’s Stopping You?

There’s always a reason to wait … a reason to not do something. But sometimes when we choose to wait, I wonder if we lose the courage to give things a try. One of the things I love about my teaching partner, Paula, is that even when she’s afraid, she’s still always willing to take a chance. I think that we can all learn something from this.

For a couple of weeks now, we’ve been talking a lot about moving our Book Nook area to beside our dramatic play space. This goes against everything that I think I know about self-regulation and micro-environments, but it seems to be what our students want and need. They continue to expand the house area into the book space, and since these two spaces are so far apart, this often leads to running. We thought that by putting them together, students could connect the play, but minimize the movement. Since dramatic play is always so popular, having the books as part of it, may also increase the reading and bring the reading into the play. When we first looked at this possibility, we figured that to make this work, we would need to move the desktop computer to the other side of the SMART Board. And so, we’ve spoken about this option, inquired about moving the computer, but haven’t actually made the move. 

Then on the weekend, we saw this great Instagram post by Darla Myers.

As we conversed with Darla on her post, we realized that she linked the books, the blocks, and dramatic play. Right now, our blocks are next to dramatic play, and while we hoped that the two areas would merge, they haven’t much at this point. But do we have enough room to create the same set-up that Darla has, and would this work for our students? 

Yesterday, Paula and I discussed giving this set-up a try. While we still have the desktop computer to deal with, Paula wondered if it could be a part of this space. I couldn’t really visualize what she had in mind, but I suggested that maybe one afternoon, we co-create this space with the students and see what happens. Paula thought that would be great! This was where our conversation ended, and then today happened.

During First Nutrition Break, I went to the staffroom for lunch and to do some work, and when I came back to the classroom, I realized that something changed. Oh my goodness! Paula got a group of students to help move the furniture and set-up our new house/Book Nook/block space. The sofa even lost a screw during the moving process, but a student fixed that as well. 🙂 

I will admit that at first the change overwhelmed me. I told Paula that, and she suggested that we give the students a little time to settle in and then see what else we needed to change. Great advice! We gave it some time, and realized that there was too much open space between the house and the Book Nook area. This is when you get running and/or cats crawling around. 🙂 Paula turned the sofa and chair to create a more defined reading area, and that seemed to help.

Since we moved the light table out of the house, there is no table in there, so again, the open floor space leads to more running or crawling. Angela, our additional DECE, helped us solve this problem at the end of the day today. Paula mentioned that she would love a crib for the babies, and Angela said that there’s a small baby bed down in the library. We now have it in our room, and the addition of this in the space, should help with the running and crawling. 

Even with the few design problems we had to solve, this new layout highly reduced the noise in the room today. Students are using our entire space (classroom) better, which does help a lot with the noise. Plus, by moving the Book Nook area over by dramatic play, we now have a space for a lovely writing/drawing table tucked in over by the window. Many children used this quiet space today, and it linked so nicely with our art area, which is now closer to actually being an atelier. We also have the light table set-up to actually use as a light table. Paula has some wonderful sensory light table options, which will not only link with our Art inquiry, but also support some students that need it. 

I share this story here because this change was a positive one, but it’s also one that may never have happened. If it weren’t for Paula making the decision, enlisting some student help, and moving things around today, we would probably still be talking about possibilities tomorrow … but not doing anything. 

  • Not every change is a great one.
  • Things rarely work out perfectly the first time.
  • Tweaking is a part of the process.
  • Time is also necessary. I was once told to give any change at least a week before deciding if it works or doesn’t. A week seems like a long time, but in the end, the time is so often worth it. 

But if we don’t try, how will we ever know what else is possible? What’s holding you back? Maybe we all need a “Paula,” who is willing to “just do it!”

Aviva

Are You An Artist? A Mathematician? A Scientist? An Athlete? Imagine If The Answer Was Always “Yes!”

This year, our students have really embraced The Arts. Many of them, particularly love visual arts, especially painting. Earlier in the year, we introduced them to Van Gogh, and his artwork really inspired them. He was the reason that these kindergartners are discussing technique, and not just creating paintings, but exploring the stories behind them. From Van Gogh, we moved on to introducing Kandinsky and Picasso, and it was through their artwork, that students started to look more closely at lines and shapes in art. We also started talking about “abstract art,” and our children noticed it everywhere … even in their clothing choices.

It was only in replaying this video that I heard her mention “fireworks” before I did.

We’ve also decided to not just discuss The Arts using more traditional media, such as paint, clay, and pastels, but also explore The Arts through nature. We looked at Andy Goldsworthy’s land art, and some students were inspired to create and discuss their own.

We also started to look at artistic choices in building designs, which spread to exploring art through block structures and marble run creations as well as Lego.

By looking at art in many different ways, students started to realize that they are all artists and can all use visual arts in some way to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

We decided to link this art interest to some home learning, and our current VIP project is all about The Arts. The students have shared and discussed some incredible work, looking closely at artists from Van Gogh to Banksy. The presentations are also increasing vocabulary and interest around art. They’re leading to activities and projects such as these.

Picasso inspired this today. #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry #art

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

They are also allowing us to make links to other learning that is happening in the classroom, and how this learning is also another take on visual arts. This was especially true when students started to create a Purse Shop on Thursday.

Our sewing expert was away on Friday, but we expect to extend this visual arts link more on Monday when she’s back in class and teaching others how to sew their purses.

It is as I look back at all of these different artistic choices that I start to understand what role growth mindset/grit might play in the classroom. I have to admit that I’m not a fan of either one of these terms. I absolutely believe in working hard and persevering, even when a task is difficult. That said, I’m afraid that this belief that “with hard work, we will always succeed,” could lead to unrealistic expectations and even stronger feelings of failure if/when we don’t. One of my favourite posts on grit and growth mindset is this one by Andrew Kelly. I look back at it frequently and nod along with the points that are so rarely discussed in other posts. 

It is actually with this post in mind that I think about our class’ evolving interest in visual arts. If we only explored painting and drawing, would all students feel as successful as they do now? If we want students to keep working at something, even if it’s challenging, do we also need to provide these multiple entry points that allow for “success” in some form? I think about my own experiences with The Arts. As someone who has a familial tremor (meaning that my hands always shake to some degree) and a non-verbal learning disability (with significant delays in visual-spatial skills), I have always struggled to some degree in visual arts. This is often why I am so vocal against crafts that result in a similar final product for all, as my final product never looked like the sample one. Despite my own struggles with visual arts, I love using The Arts with students as a way for them to communicate. For some students this is incredibly powerful! But for me, I still have that little fear of will I ever truly be an artist? Then, late on Thursday night, I saw this VIP presentation information from one of our students about Phil Hansen. He “embraced the shake” and has become an incredible artist. I share this here because Phil inspired me. He showed me that we can all be artists, but sometimes, we just have to change our mindset … and maybe our perspective.

Looking at our class now, I’m so glad that we didn’t make visual arts only about traditional media. I’m glad that we have a class of students that truly believe that they’re “artists,” and have found various ways to show this artistic thinking and communicate using the media of their choice. The many artistic experiences this year makes me wonder how I would change my art approach in other grades. While I’m talking about visual arts here, I could be talking about so much more: from math to science to language to phys-ed to all of the other arts. How do we widen our perspective in all subject areas, and what might this mean for student success? It was only in recent years, after discussions with our Arts Consultant, Karen, that I began to view myself as an artist. I don’t want students to have to wait this long. What do we do to stop feelings of inadequacy in adults and in children? We all deserve to feel better about ourselves.

Aviva

The Day I Chose Not To Let A Broken Toilet Stop Me!

On Wednesday, January 25th, our classroom toilet broke. Actually, the toilets in both Kindergarten classrooms broke on that day. I remember this date, as I was not at school on the 25th, and my teaching partner, Paula, wrote me with the news. Fellow Kindergarten educators will definitely understand the gravity of this news. Our students needed to use the primary bathrooms instead, and I kept envisioning a need to return to the “Piglet on a Stick” days from twelve years ago. (When I was teaching Kindergarten twelve years ago, I did not have a bathroom in the classroom. I used to have to do full-class bathroom breaks at the primary bathrooms. Walking Kindergarten students down the hallway is a challenge, as they like to look everywhere but right in front of them. I decided to hot glue a Piglet doll to the top of a really big stick to help with this. I walked with the “Piglet on a Stick” at the front of the line, and the children kept their eyes on the stick. My colleagues loved giggling with me about this, but I have to say, it worked. All students had eyes for Piglet!I started to wonder if I had a Piglet doll to bring out again … and where I might find a really big stick. 🙂 

With these thoughts in my head, I went to school on Thursday morning and saw this. 

This was around the same time that I received a message from my teaching partner that she was home sick. Nobody picked up her job. Thankfully we do have a wonderful additional DECE, Angela, who could be in our class for the day, but our afternoon plans would have to change. 

I was just processing all of this information, when our caretaker came in to talk to me. He wanted me to review with the class about toilet paper usage, no paper towels in the toilet, and flushing the toilet properly. There is nothing that Kindergarten students like to discuss more than the bathroom, but trying to make it through this kind of conversation with them, without Paula, could be an interesting experience. I was trying to work through a plan in my head when I went outside to get the class.

It was then that I was greeted with more not-so-good news: our EA was away sick, and there was no supply for her either. Since our principal, John, was at a Principal’s Conference today, I tried to work out a back-up plan with the principal designate. It was now just 9:05, and I will admit, I was feeling a wee bit stressed. But I told the students, “We’ve got this,” and off we went to start the day.

At the end of First Nutrition Break, I headed into the staff room to do some work during my prep, and I ended up chatting with two supply teachers that were in for the day. One of the supplies was in the other Kindergarten classroom, and she also mentioned the “broken toilet.” I just about found myself falling into the trap that Albert Fong describes so well in this blog post of his about teachers venting (i.e., replying with, “Why yes, we have a broken toilet too. And my teaching partner is away. There’s no supply. All 32 of our students are here. And our EA is also away sick.”), and that’s when I stopped. Instead I said, “Actually things seem to be going quite well so far,” and they were.

  • Students used the primary bathrooms without a problem. They were incredibly responsible, and even mentioned to me if children in other grades were not behaving in there. I didn’t even have to resurrect Piglet on a Stick. 🙂 
  • My “toilet lesson” resulted in many giggles, but led to some meaningful math and writing. While I tried to teach students about the 3-4 square rule, I noticed that our school toilet paper doesn’t have squares. Oops! 🙂 Time for some non-standard measurement and estimation skills. I also spoke about holding down the flushing button to the “count of five,” so this gave us another purposeful reason to count. A few students even made signs for our bathroom door and wrote some “toilet rules” as a good reminder for when our toilet was fixed. 

Nothing will get kids writing more than a broken toilet. 🙂 #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

  • Our students realized that I needed them more than ever on that day, and they supported each other well. It just shows that when we trust kids, believe in them, and tell (and show) them that they’re valued, they will consistently do amazing things!
  • Our principal designate worked some magic and got us some EA support for the afternoon. We did not have as much as usual, but we had enough to support the students that really needed it. Couple that with some great suggestions by Angela and a little teamwork (involving both Angela and the students), and we all ended the day on a great note. 

Our toilet was out of service for just under a week, and while I was incredibly happy to have it working again, and even happier to have my teaching partner back, this broken toilet was the start of something wonderful.

Little things that make a K teacher happy … Our toilet works again! Yay!!! #iteachk

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

Yes, as educators we need to vent, and yes, life is not always sunshine and roses, but could we all have a little more happiness if we also reconsider how we respond to problems? On January 26th, I decided that I didn’t want to fall into the, “Me too, AND I’ve had it worse” trap. I wonder if the day would have turned out as well if I said what I initially thought instead of what I chose to say … and to believe. If I saw the day as a nightmare because of how things started, would it also have become one? On January 26th, I chose to remain calm. I chose to be positive. I chose to believe that we could do this … and we did. I do not always remember to make the same choices as I did then, and there are many times that I wish that I responded differently. I’m hoping that this blog post will act as a reminder for me that even a “broken toilet” doesn’t need to stop us. Attitude matters! How do you remember to stay positive?

Aviva