Rethinking The Principal’s Office

I’m not a principal, and I’ve never had any interest in being one, but this summer, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for administration. Being a coordinator at one of the Camp Power sites has made me the first person that instructors approach when there are problems. Now instead of me being the one calling for support, I’m the one that people call. Over the past 12 days, I’ve worked with various children, and each experience has made me view the office differently. Yesterday, I had an epiphany. I wonder what would happen if each principal’s office was equipped with a variety of sensory materials (i.e., play dough, clay, water beads, kinetic sand, etc.), some building materials (particularly blocks and Lego), beads, a small container of books, drawing materials, and a tent (or a blanket for draping over a table). Couple this with “time” and “building relationships,” and I wonder if the need for punishment would/could be drastically reduced. 

Over the summer, every time that somebody’s approached me with a problem, I’ve tried to think of Stuart Shanker‘s words: “Why this child? Why now?” I’ve attempted to see the problem through a Self-Reg lens, and respond accordingly. I’m not going to say that this is always easy, or that I haven’t made mistakes, but something interesting happens in the “library office.” As children come in, sit down, and play, they slowly start to calm down. As they start to feel calm, they talk. It’s through this discussion that I begin to see the problem from their perspective. We work out solutions together and find a way to make it back to the classroom.

  • Sometimes the child just needs a healthy snack.
  • Sometimes the child needs to bring back an activity from the library to continue in the classroom.
  • Sometimes the child needs a pair of headphones: a way to make any room quiet.
  • Sometimes the child just needs to know that you’ll check in again and make sure everything’s okay.
  • Sometimes the little break is all the child needed and can go back without anything else. 

Punishment was not my goal this summer, and I’m thankful to say that it wasn’t necessary. I realize the camp program is different from a school. We have fewer children. Groups are smaller. Our age range is a lot less. I also don’t have the same additional responsibilities that a principal would have at school. But being on the other side of solving these problems this summer gave me a whole new perspective on what’s possible when time, love, and self-regulation combine. 

While my summer experience made me rethink the principal’s office, it also made me rethink the classroom. What if sensory materials, building items, beads, books, drawing materials, and a safe “hiding space,” were present in all classrooms? Couple all of these with “time” and “relationships,” and I wonder if many problems could be solved in the room and without the need for punishment. In yesterday’s Ontario Edublogs post, Doug Peterson highlighted Sharon Drummond‘s classroom design post. As we get ready to go back to school, I wonder what impact self-regulation will have on classroom design, and how we can design learning spaces that reduce problematic office visits, increase success for all children, and help create a feeling of calm that children and adults both need and deserve. What might you do? 


#Play or #Parking4AllSeasons!

This afternoon, one of my favourite bloggers, Kristi Keery-Bishop, published a new post on “play.” As a Kindergarten educator that runs a play-based program, it’s no surprise that I’m a huge proponent of play … but not just in Kindergarten. I’ve blogged numerous times on “play” before, and could probably write many more posts on this topic, but this blog post is slightly different. As I mentioned in my comment on Kristi’s post, it’s actually Matthew Oldridge‘s tweet that inspired this post. 

This made me think about the “challenging play” that I engage in every morning when I get to campbacking into a parking space. (Now before I go any further, I will say that driving is definitely not “play.” But as one of the first people to camp each day, the parking lot is almost empty, so I can safely “play” a bit, and work on improving my skills.)

It’s no big surprise to many of my blog readers, that “parking” is one of my favourite blogging topics. Usually it’s winter parking that gets me tweeting and blogging, but this summer, I found out that parking is a great topic for all seasons. In the past couple of months, my parking interests have evolved, and I’ve worked on learning how to reverse into a parking spot. While I’ve become fairly successful at home — with a bigger space to reverse into — I’ve yet to have success at school. This has been my summer goal. And to meet this goal, I continue to “play.” 

I’m very thoughtful in how I engage in this play. 

  • First I pull into the parking lot, and I determine a good spot. 
  • Then I check to ensure that the area is clear for reversing.
  • And then the “play” begins.

While I know how to pull into the spot ahead of me and reverse all the way back, I’m really determined to learn the “adult way” of reversing into a spot. This has meant a lot of trying, making mistakes, and trying again. 

      • When I don’t quite make it in, I engage in an internal monologue about where I went wrong, and if I need to move more to the left or more to the right.

    • I try to use some landmarks the next day to get into the spot with fewer attempts. 
    • Initially, I was just happy to make it into the spot. Now I’ve challenged myself to park straighter … and not spill my coffee as I remove everything from the car.

  • One day, I was thrilled to actually reverse into a spot beside another car, and while I was in the lines, getting things in and out of the backseat was a challenge … so the next day, I moved to a spot on my own. 

While this “parking play” may not seem particularly challenging to many people, I can assure you that every morning I’m challenged. When I see one or two other people there, I feel the additional challenge of an audience watching me park. This has been a great reminder for me that what I may find “challenging play,” others may not. We all need our different ways to be challenged. 

It really is the fun that I get from posting a parking tweet and making it into a spot that drives me to engage in this play each day. (I may even let out a little cry of “Yes!!” when I meet with success. 🙂 ) Imagine if we all chose to engage in some challenging play each day. Would this change how we view “play” and the learning that comes from it? I think that I may need to continue to embrace some #parking4allseasons! 🙂


Should we be celebrating this 1950’s example?

A couple of nights ago, my previous principal, Gerry Smith, sent me this tweet.

I replied with,

Here’s my post.

This article left me with many conflicted feelings. On one hand, I love the fact that “learning” is about more than just reading, writing, and math. There are many developmentally appropriate skills included in the 1950’s report card, and in various subject areas. I know that this article is an American one, and the amount of standardized testing that happens in the States — in all subject areas — far outweighs what happens in Canadian provinces. But all of that being said, I don’t know that we want our 2017 report card to closely resemble this 1950’s one.  

Here are my concerns that resulted in a need for some deep breathing. 

  • By listing such a specific set of skills, do we avoid going deeper and encouraging richer thinking by our students?
  • Does this report card take into consideration the range of students that may be in a Kindergarten classroom?
  • If students are ready to do more, should they be encouraged to do so, and with this kind of report card, does that happen? 
  • Are all of the skills listed in this report card ones that students have control over (e.g., coming to school clean)? Who are we really evaluating here?
  • By creating a checklist of skills, how do we really personalize the feedback and provide specific next steps for growth?
  • Does this checklist only highlight/support/encourage low-level learning? 
  • What about the students that “can’t” do what’s on this “can” list? How are we supporting them?

I think that Ontario’s Kindergarten Program Document addresses these concerns by truly creating a document and a Communication of Learning, which put students at the centre of learning. Each child is seen differently and viewed through an asset lens. It’s our Program Document that really supports play-based learning. 

While I may agree with the conclusion in this report card article, I worry about this conclusion being made based on this 1950’s report card example. If we look to this as closer to our new ideal, what does this mean about the type of environment that we’re creating for our students? Is this the best kind of environment that we could give them? I definitely stand behind developmentally appropriate practices and the value of learning through play, but I think that there’s still a ways to go from this 1950’s exampleWhat about you?


A Message Worth Sharing

A few words. Really just a passing comment. But it was the response that has stayed with me for hours today and inspired me to blog tonight. Here’s my story.

As I was welcoming parents into the school at the end of camp today, I connected with one mom, who asked me about her child’s day. I briefly told her how the day went, but then I said, “I really enjoy working with ________. He always makes me think, and we have some great conversations.” That’s when the mom looked at me and said, “I wish everyone felt that way. This is the first time somebody’s said this about my son.” That’s when my heart broke!

I can’t help but think back to the Faculty of Education, and the reminder from professors that it’s important to distinguish between a child’s behaviour and the actual child. We may not like a child’s choices, but we still like the child. My understanding of behaviour has changed a lot since Teacher’s College — and I think that Shanker‘s Self-Reg has helped me view a lot of behaviour differently — but this “language lesson” has remained an important one for me. Even so, this mother’s comment made me wonder if I always remember the power of words when communicating with parents.

Yes, we want to be honest with parents. If there are problems/concerns, we want to be able to work through them together. But in the midst of pointing out the issues, we also need to highlight the positives … and maybe, as this mom reminded me in her comment today, not make the “issue” our view of the child. Every child wants to be loved, and every parent wants to know that their child is loved. 

I’m not a mom, so I can’t speak from a “parent perspective,” but as another mom pointed out to me recently, I’m like a “school mom.” As my teaching partner and I have discussed before, our students are our kids. 

  • We’ve seen them grow: academically, socially, and emotionally.
  • We know what they’re able to do.
  • We believe in them.

And at the end of each year, we create classes for the following year, and we make our little wish that the new teacher will see the “wonderful” that we see and make the connections that we’ve made. Likely, those same teachers are wishing the same thing for their groups of students that are also going off to new classes. That’s what love does. Just as we need to hear these positive affirmations from our colleagues, parents need to hear these words from us. 

I’m not going to pretend that I always remember to share this message, or that I do so as much as I should, but after today’s conversation, I know that I will be doing so more. When parents know we speak with love, the tone of the discussion changes. How do we let kids know “they matter,” and how do we share this same message with the home? This is a message worth sharing. 


Did I Just Require A Change In Perspective?

Back in December, I selected my “one word goal” for this year, and never did I realize that I would be thinking about this word so much during my new position this summer. As part of my position at Camp Power, I’m the person that the teachers contact if they need support with a student or a group of students. During my teaching position from September-June, I’m the one that may contact another teacher, an EA, or the principal for help, and now I’m the one being called. And with this change, comes a change in “perspective.”

I don’t think that I ever really thought much about all of the decisions that a person needs to make when supporting a child in need. When I’ve called for help before, it’s when that help arrived that I’ve often walked away from that problem and went to support other children. I’ve usually followed up later to find out what happened and what I should do the next time, but I never really wondered a lot about what happened at that time of initial contact. Now I was that point of contact, and the only thing that I could do was think about how to turn things around.

  • How might I approach the child?
  • What kind of tone should I use?
  • What caused the problem? (I forever had Stuart Shanker‘s questions of, “Why this child?” and “Why now?” floating through my head.)
  • What might help this child calm down?
  • How can I support this child outside of the classroom, and how can I get this child back into the classroom?
  • How can children support each other?
  • When might I need some more help (there is an administrator on site) and when might I ask for it?
  • What do we need to do to reduce the chance of this problem reoccurring today or on other days?

I worked hard at figuring out when to talk, when to listen, and when to just sit. I tried to make connections with students, while also helping students form important connections with their classroom teachers. Children need to be in their classes, and I want them to feel safe and supported by me, but also have these same feelings in their rooms. 

During our training session on Tuesday, I asked all staff members to share one of their strengths and an area that they wanted to learn more about. I did the same. I said that one of my strengths is my ability to connect with kids. Throughout the week, I got to test this strength of mine, as I connected with children and helped them through more challenging times. And as I did so, I began to view problems differently. I thought about the times that I’ve called for help in the past, and I considered what I might do from now on.

  • When might a child need to leave the classroom?
  • When is a child ready to return?
  • How does my tone impact on the tone and the actions of children?
  • What kind of space can I create in the classroom to support children with various needs, and what needs to be a part of this space?

Over this past week, I’ve seen the benefit of …

  • sensory play (particularly clay and play dough) for children of all ages.
  • independent work spaces.
  • quiet spaces, even in the middle of busy classrooms.
  • technology for some and a break from it for others.
  • predictable, consistent routines.
  • knowing when a lesson (or activity) does not work for one child, and providing something else that might.

I’ve also seen how some children that have struggled — maybe even for years — can meet with success, and just how incredible this success can be. “Success” can be seen in many forms.

  • Maybe it’s a change in attitude towards reading, writing, or math.
  • Maybe it’s a willingness to attempt something that he/she has not attempted before.
  • And maybe it’s a child that starts and ends the day happy … and a parent that hears something different — something positive — about his/her child that he/she has not heard in the past. 

This week, I’ve witnessed all three of these successes, and I’m eager to witness many more in the coming weeks. I can’t help but think about this important message that Stuart Shanker shares so frequently.

I think this new camp experience has helped me see many children differently, and I’m eager to see how this new summer perspective impacts on my perspective in the upcoming school year. What might this mean for me and for kids?