Standing On The Hill Alone …

My teaching partner, Paula, and I definitely believe in the importance of connecting with kids. We spend a lot of time doing so. That said, we try not to make students so dependent on us that they neglect to notice the children around them that can support them or that they neglect to develop their own independence. We have 29 students. While we want to engage daily with all of these learners, we also see the problem with having students that are only intent on following us around or looking to us for solutions to problems. Sometimes when living in the day-to-day running of the classroom, it’s easy to overlook the environment that’s been created over time. Then you stand back, and you begin to see what you might have missed. Paula and I reflected a lot on this environment over this past week. 

The reflections started on a recent trip to the forest. We always begin our day outside, and we spend about 1 1/2 hours each day in the forest that borders our property. We know this environment, and some of the different learning opportunities that will arise as children climb trees, negotiate over the terrain, create in the mud pits, and search for creatures throughout the forest grounds. That said, we don’t plan this forest time. This doesn’t mean that we don’t plan the possible ways that we can extend the learning in this space, but it does mean that we don’t have activities set-up throughout the environment or groups of kids divided into the different areas. The students engage in truly free play in this space, and it’s incredible to see and hear their thinking and learning around math concepts, language concepts, scientific problem solving, and perseverance. This time outside is usually some of my favourite time each day! While Paula and I will often separate and observe different groups of children in this forest space — also engaging, conversing, and wondering with them — we usually start this time outside just standing back and watching. Paula pointed out something wonderful to me that other day, as we were doing just this. Our kids never hang off of us. 

This doesn’t mean that we don’t have groups of children that spend time with us. When Paula said that she was going to the “nesty space” one day, many children followed her there. But once they got there, they dispersed and played, interacted, and problem solved together. 

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This nesty space was a popular one for climbing today. With smaller trees and more protection with additional sticks and vines, this is a great space for beginning climbers. Cohen had to do a little problem solving when his jacket was stuck on part of the tree, but with the help of a friend and being so close to the ground, he could safely work this problem through. Joshua even reflected on his growth in climbing since last year. And he did manage to swing with his feet off the ground. Mya enjoyed some swinging too, but on a lower branch. Great that this space can allow for such varied entry points as kids develop their #grossmotorskills. ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry

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Even when there are problems outside — from children that are sad to those that may have tripped and fallen down — many of the kids look to each other for support. They soothe their friends and worth through issues with peers.

Inside the classroom is often the same. The other day, I recorded a video of the flow of the room just as some kids came back from Phys-Ed. While one child wondered if I was “talking to myself,” most students were so immersed with each other that they didn’t even notice me. I was the one that initiated the conversations with them.

We love that students will seek us out with their notes to go and get the milk or call us over to see some of their special work, but we also love how they’ve become independent enough to solve many of their own problems or to know which classmates can assist them. 

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Leah and Mya wrote me this milk note today. I really wanted Mya to work on reading my reply. She read the first sentence on her own with just help with one word. Love this increased confidence. Then Leah chimed in more in sentence number two. Leah showed Mya how the word for the answer was in my response. I wonder if with a little more time, she would have found it on her own. Then Olivia wrote me a note. Carly chimed in with reading it. She figured out “could” and “return,” and I almost gave her both. So glad I didn’t! ❤️ this growth in reading skills and confidence. The note writing is really helping. ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #iteachk

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While it’s nice to feel needed, it’s also wonderful to know that the students have developed the skills and confidence to operate without constant adult support and validation. Imagine the impact of this kind of independence as they continue to move up in the grades. How might this align with risk-taking, problem solving, collaboration, and the creative exploration of ideas? I often hear educators talk about their students being “unable to do anything without them.” Is the first step in changing this, giving students enough time, skills, and tools to function alone? Is it also helping them see that others can assist them? One of the best things that Paula taught me was answering a non-urgent request for help with a question. If a child says, “I need help opening this container,” I now try to respond with, “Who might be able to help you with this?,” or “What could you do to solve this problem?” Then children begin to own the solutions, and this is when wonderful happens. How do you support this wonderful in your classroom? Our classroom numbers might be large, but with 29 little supporters and teachers, life at school is pretty amazing!


When The Tumbling Starts, Do You Stop It?

Usually my teaching partner, Paula, and I spread out around the classroom and outside working with groups of kids. Sometimes though we stand back, watch, and talk together. Our conversations are always about kids and pedagogy. These discussions that take place in the midst of students — with children all around us, but immersed in their own play — are sometimes some of our best ones. They are often the discussions where we pose questions and become engaged in those uncomfortable conversations that have us thinking. We had one of these conversations this week as we stood on top of the hill outside, and watched almost our entire class involved in rough and tumble play. It was this discussion that has me wondering, even days later. 

The play outside seemed very different today than it usually does. Maybe it was because the weather changed, and it was wet and cold. The kids couldn’t climb trees out in the forest, and they were looking for gross motor options to explore and to keep them warm. We watched a group of boys roll down a hill again and again, and pile on top of each other. While we tried to interrupt this play with a Rock, Paper, Scissors Tag Game that we taught them the day before, they still wanted to tackle each other as they played.

As this group of boys engaged in this way, we watched and wondered, should we stop the tumbling? Is this what they need? While we decided to stand back and observe, it wasn’t long before more and more children joined in. This play no longer involved tag, but was all about the “dog piling.” Initially, Paula and I were ready to go down and break up the play, but then we looked more closely. It wasn’t just the boys involved in this play. It was boys AND girls. This made us pause. 

  • All of the children were smiling.
  • They were laughing and squealing with joy.
  • Children were respectful of each other, and taking safe risks as they played.
  • Students that usually engage in parallel play were starting to socialize with each other. 
  • Different students interacted with each other through this play.
  • Kids moved freely in and out of this play: feeling as though they were welcome, but knowing that they were also respected if they chose to leave.

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It was really interesting to watch this today. @paulacrockett and I noticed a large group of kids interested in this rough and tumble play. It was both boys and girls: different than usual. Usually students settle in the forest, but some of these rough and tumble players would usually be climbing trees. @paulacrockett told them to watch their height in trees today because of the recent snow and ice, and slippery branches. Mrs. Crockett wondered if their play was disrupted because of the cold. Did this different play option meet their same need in a different way? Brooke did mention to Mrs. Crockett that she did this “because I was cold.” This warmed her up! While they were involved in more rough and tumble play, it was in a safer way. They were careful how hard they pushed, and even how they fell on each other. It was done mindfully. @paulacrockett and I struggled with this. How long do we let this happen? If/when do we interfere? Just getting closer to the play actually broke it up. But we think of this “Day of the Girl” Ted Talk that addresses this kind of play. The fact that it involved boys and girls, and equally and respectfully, changed this play for us. What do you do? How do you respond? Even the fact that this got some different kids involved in social play weighed on our decision. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to do. SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #iteachk

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Paula and I stood on the top of the hill completely taken by this respectful rough and tumble play experience. We’ve stopped similar experiences in the past, but it was the diversity of students involved that had us reconsidering this time. We couldn’t help but think about this TED Talk by Caroline Paul.

Outside on this chilly day, were girls excited to engage in the play that we usually see the most in boys. We have a lot of girls that love to climb trees, but this is often where the adventure ends. Jumping in on something that may lead to some scraped knees, falling down, and getting back up again, is so wonderful to see, and it’s not something that we want to stop. Maybe this even gave us a little more appreciation for this same type of play that many of our boys are eager to engage in.

I can’t help but think about this great blog post by Lisa Cranston. Out in the forest on Thursday, we saw our girls participating in this type of risky, physical play, that they often do through their tree climbing (or even some snowball climbing), but were now doing so in another space and way. 

When, how, and why do girls disengage in this type of play? Should we be stopping all risky and/or rough and tumble play or responding differently? A few days ago, Paula and I stood on top of a hill contemplating this last question. Eventually Paula started walking down the hill, and this was all that it took to have the kids spread out. I know — and understand — why schools have “no fighting” rules, but is this play actually “fighting?” By stopping it, are we putting an end to something that benefits kids? We continue to wonder if this rough and tumble play can have a place in schools, and what this place might be. What do you think?


Is this a sign of progress?

I vacillated on if I should publish this post, but I think it’s an important one, so I’m going to press the “publish” button. The post was inspired by a conversation I had with a student on Friday. My teaching partner, Paula, just went on her lunch break, and I noticed a group of children sitting down at the eating table. I decided to join them. With our open eating time, I love that we can sit and eat with the kids. Some of the most interesting conversations happen in this space.

As I was sitting down with them, a few children went off to play, and another child went to the bathroom. When he came back, he sat down beside me, and quietly asked, “What do girls have for their private parts?” I thought that I heard the question wrong, so I said, “Pardon. What did you say?” He replied, “What do girls have for their private parts? Not penises.” Okay, I was not hearing the question wrong. Now what should I say? I looked at him, and I realized how serious he was being. He was talking in a quiet voice, with sincere interest, and no thought of a laugh. That’s when I replied, “Vaginas.” He then said, “My uncle lives there, or somewhere like there.” I said, “Regina,” and he commented, “Yep! That’s the place.” With that, the conversation was over, but it really had me thinking.

I couldn’t help but reflect back on some discussions from last year. Our class was involved in the Roots of Empathy Program. In preparation for our first visit, Paula spoke about the first lesson, which included, “what makes a baby cry.”

Hunger came up. Many of our students had younger brothers and sisters, so it didn’t take long for someone to mention “breastfeeding” (not recorded in the video above). Just like with the conversation around the eating table the other day, the students spoke with Paula about breastfeeding in such a grown up and responsible way. They know the value of the mother’s milk, and that this is just another way that a mom feeds a baby. I think that I’ll forever remember a few sessions into the program, when a child asked a question about breastfeeding. Not one child laughed. There was not one suppressed giggle. This is in a class of three-, four-, and five-year-olds, where bathroom talk is just about the funniest thing around, and yet, when we teach children terms and the need to respect this language, they do. 

I’m left wondering now though, for I have not always taught primary. I spent a couple of years teaching junior grades. I still remember introducing my Grade 5’s to the human body. I had the most wonderful plaques to share with them, and was so excited to get them talking, but all I got were squeals of “that’s gross!” It took a lot of time to move beyond the grossness to the point in which we could discuss bodily functions without guffaws and embarrassment.

The Music Connection 

I think about some of the topics that our kindergarteners have already brought up, and I wonder if this will later lead to less embarrassment, fewer laughs, and more mutual respect, as challenging topics are discussed in later years. What impact might this have on how these students communicate about different topics (from bodily functions to puberty)My recent experiences have me thinking that the conversations could sound different, but will the comfort with these topics naturally change to discomfort as students get older? Is there a way to prevent these changes? What do you think?


When Level 4 Effort Doesn’t Equate To Level 4 Results …

I think this post should begin with a story. Readers of my tweets and blog posts know that I have lots to say about parking … particularly my parking. I would argue that I work incredibly hard when it comes to parking. Sometimes I will spend upwards of 20 minutes in our school parking lot just attempting to get into a space. My back-up camera has definitely helped, but I still experience parking woes.

I experienced one such woe this past week. For some reason, I couldn’t get in between the lines. I lined up my car as I always do, and reversed, but my back-up camera had some moisture on it due to a recent rainfall. I started too far over to the left. Then I was too far over to the right. I finally got my vehicle between two lines, when I realized that despite the image in the back-up camera, it looked like I was way too close to the fence. I pulled up then and exited the car. I guess that I should trust my camera instead of my eyes, as I was too far up. Into the car I went again to reverse. I did it! This may have been the 17 minute parking experience, but I still celebrated to finally be in a spot. My spot. 

At least I thought it was my spot until I went into the classroom and started to do some work. As I was setting up, I looked out the window and saw another teacher arriving. She was pulling into the first spot, where I always park. Where was my car? Did something happen to it? Just as I began to panic, I looked again, and realized that I actually parked in the second spot. Not the first one. So basically I spent 17 minutes getting into the wrong parking spot. 🙂 As I doubled over in laughter, I also made an interesting connection. 

I’ve had some good conversations over the past couple of months around assessment and evaluation … particularly marks. Does hard work equate to a good mark? Marks may not be my favourite things, and I’m grateful that in Kindergarten, I don’t need to assign them. That said, I’ve taught other grades and had other experiences where I’ve had to give marks. I want students and adults to see the value in hard work, and that hard work pays off. It really does! But thinking back to my parking experiences, it doesn’t always pay off with a good mark — or even the best mark! I may never be a Level 4 parker. On the best of days, I’m probably a Level 3 parker, assuming that the Success Criteria involves making it into a spot. If straightness is part of this criteria, I’m likely a 2+ parker. I have a real knack for being able to park on a diagonal line in a straight spot. 

There are probably few people out there that put more time or effort into parking than I do. Time and effort though, does not always equate to the best mark, the most positive feedback, or the greatest successes. What it does equate to — in my mind — is the willingness to keep at it, knowing that improvement is possible! On most days, I’m a much improved parker: making it between the lines at a faster rate with a straighter car and less wintertime woes. Success! Even if this may be a Level 2 success.

As an adult learner, I’m thinking about a T.P.A. (Teacher Performance Appraisal) that I had MANY years ago, when there were three levels of achievement. (Now it’s just a pass or a fail.) I knew that I was being evaluated that year, and I worked so hard to get an outstanding evaluation.

  • I tried different forms of assessment and evaluation.
  • I looked at ways to differentiate for my students, and I made sure that I could explain these ways.
  • I took courses.
  • I became part of in-school committees.
  • I worked on wait time, questioning skills, and classroom management. 

I passed this T.P.A., but I did not get an “outstanding” evaluation. While I wanted to celebrate the positive comments and growth noted, I also felt defeated. I worked so hard … but I wasn’t there, yet. My skills improved since then, but there are still areas where I’m not “outstanding.” There are still places that I can improve. I know this, and I make goals with my teaching partner based on some of these areas. We work together to support each other in improving. 

As an educator, I will always encourage and support hard work for myself and for others. It’s this hard work that will be reflected in the learning skills, and even in some of the subject area comments. Hard work may not always be equated with success, but it’s that drive that we all need to make it through the challenging times and to persevere when others stop. I may never be an A+ parker, but I will always put forth an A+ effort, knowing that I will never get better without it. How do you support this drive, even when the drive does not always lead to the Level 4 results? Looking ahead to the weekly weather, my parking may be getting worse instead of better in the near future, but even a little snow won’t stop me! What about you?


I’ll Definitely Miss You, #BIT18!

This week is the B.I.T. Conference in Niagara Falls, and this year, I’m not going. I think that it’s bothering me even more than I thought that it might. B.I.T. was the first educational computing conference that I attended (under a different name at the time), and it’s one that I’ve attended for many years since then.

This is the conference where I meet many of the educators that I converse with online throughout the year. It’s where I meet my P.L.N.! This is a conference that’s as much about the face-to-face connections (if not more) than about the sessions. It was the incredibly memorable dinner at The Keg last year that helped me re-think my views on media literacy and what “reading” can look like today. These are moments that will stick with me, but they’re also moments that I can’t get from following a conference hashtag — even though I will be doing so. It’s these kinds of conferences that take the 140 (or 280) character conversations and turn them into a rich dialogue that has you thinking and questioning in new ways. Maybe you can capture some of this thinking in a blog post, but it’s beyond what a tweet can contain.

I really did try to think of a way to go. There were just too many things working against making this conference a reality for me this year.

  • My teaching partner, Paula, is off for dental surgery at the beginning of the week, and having both of us out of the classroom, just doesn’t seem to be an option that’s best for kids.
  • It’s the last week of placement for our student teacher, Kate, and I’ve committed myself to being an associate teacher.  This means being at school and in the classroom with her.
  • My Teacher Leadership Course is this week, and I can’t miss it. Trying to make it back from Niagara Falls in time for the course, would be a struggle. (To think that this week we’ll be discussing P.L.N.’s, and I will definitely be missing mine.)
  • We have some visiting consultants from the Board this week, and their visit corresponds to one of the dates of the conference. I want — and need — to be there for this. We’ve already rescheduled this visit once. It’s not fair to do so again.

I tried to think of ways around these problems.

  • Maybe I could go for one day.
  • Maybe I could leave early.

But the truth is that if I go, I want it all. I don’t just want the sessions, but I want the connections that come outside of these sessions. It means staying late. It means the dinner times and the coffee breaks, and it means that this is not the year for me.

BIT18, I will miss you this year, but because you’re about more than just a conference. You’re about the people behind the conference, which again speaks to the importance of relationships — not just for kids, but also for adults! I will definitely follow Twitter throughout the conference, but I hope people blog as well. I’ll be eager to read the big learning that I know happens year-after-year at B.I.T.. How do you connect with others at conferences when you can’t be there? Is this a case of face-to-face connections ultimately being the most valuable ones? I’m left wondering about this as I see the many #BIT18 tweets, and wish that I was also anticipating these three days of learning, sharing, and maybe most of allpeople.