Are You Willing To Bring Out The Adult Scissors?

I remember last year when my teaching partner, Paula, and I discussed putting out some grown-up scissors. Our dramatic play space was evolving into the Build-A-Baby Clothing Store, and we added some felt to this area for children to use to make clothing. Felt is hard to cut with children’s scissors. Try it. We did, and we couldn’t do it. Our fear was that as students attempted to cut the felt, they would end up cutting their fingers. It’s just like trying to chop ingredients with a dull knife. Sometimes a sharp one is better. But could we really add giant adult scissors into a play space in a Kindergarten classroom?

Somehow this became one of the most difficult decisions that we made last year. We had no problem …

  • using screwdrivers with the class,
  • putting out hammers,
  • and letting the kids use knives (butter knives, that is, but they still had teeth),

but we spent days discussing if we could take the plunge and add some adult scissors to dramatic play. Eventually, we decided to try this, but demonstrated how to use these scissors responsibly. Since we couldn’t find an instructional video for using adult scissors, we made our own. I realized later that this child actually had the scissors upside down (oops!), but the key points were still highlighted (even if I did talk a lot).

From January onwards, all of our students used adult scissors … and they did so responsibly. There was not one injury from these scissors. 

This year, the adult scissors came out a lot earlier. This wasn’t intentional. We had them in a bin on the art shelf, and some SK students found them when they were looking for additional scissors to use. They used them last year, so they knew how to do so. And so they did. We kept putting these scissors back into the art shelf bin, but they kept coming out again. Somehow, a pair ended up at the eating table, another in the cutting bin on the carpet, and a third over in the block space. Paula and I wondered again, was it too early in the year to have these scissors out? Something wonderful though happens when you trust students with grown-up materials. They use them even more responsibly.

By adding these items to the environment, you’re saying to them (explicitly or not): “I trust you. I believe in you. I know that you can do this.” The funny thing is that in Kindergarten, there will always be a child (or two or three) that are learning how to cut for the first time, and decide to do a little hairdressing. Usually it’s just a small snip of hair. This is almost a right of passage. You remind the child that, “we just cut paper or tape … but not hair.” This can be upsetting, and even frustrating at times, but it happens. The amazing thing is, this doesn’t happen with the adult scissors. Kids treat these items differently. They know that they’re sharp, and they look more intimidating, so they seem to use them with greater care. The noticeable safety of the children’s scissors make them that much more apt for the kind of cutting that you may not want. 

I can’t help but love these cutting experiences from the past couple of weeks.

They make me think of a tweet that I sent yesterday as I was reading this wonderful Instructional Core article for the Teacher Leadership Course

If we view the child as “competent and capable,” then how are we setting up our classroom to align with these views? Maybe this begins with something as simple as putting out some adult scissors. What do you think?


Giving Life To Emails

I’ve recently been doing a lot of thinking around electronic communication. I’m taking the Teacher Leadership Course through our Board, and one of the modules deals with communication. Through this module, we looked at how much we can communicate through our tone and actions, as well as our words. The Mehrabian Communication Study was an eye-opening one, and made me think about this older post by Sue Dunlop on the value of communicating in person or through a phone call. I totally understand what Sue’s saying, and what others expressed during this module on the importance of reducing or highly eliminating electronic communication, but I wonder if we can still find some reasons for emails to exist.

For most of October and some of November, we had a student teacher in our classroom. While my teaching partner, Paula, and I communicate a lot in person — taking multiple moments to reflect together before school, during the school day, and after school — we also share a lot electronically. It’s common for both of us to text or email each other with new ideas, interesting articles, and questions to consider, in the evenings or on the weekends. We’ve actually increased and deepened our communication with each other through these blended digital and non-digital options. Topics of greater debate are ones that we will definitely discuss in person, but other topics are often discussed online. With the use of emojis, word choice, and tone, there is almost a non-verbal component to this written “verbal” communication.

When our student teacher was in our classroom, we included her in many written conversations. I remember having a great discussion with her at one point about her preference to converse in person. I understand. And I wanted to give her what she wanted, so we tried to arrange additional times to sit and talk about lessons, upcoming plans, and feedback. That said, I remember mentioning something to her that I think is worth considering in this electronic communication discussion: as much as we can discuss in person with our administrators or colleagues, different schedules and meetings, often make emails and texts a reality of our day. I think that there’s an important skill in learning how to communicate clearly, effectively, and at times, even passionately, through an email. I still wouldn’t recommend discussing controversial issues online, but I have used email as a way to set-up a meeting to discuss some of these topics. 

A number of years ago, I remember emailing a principal of mine to set-up one such meeting. I had a few important topics to chat about, and I felt that these topics required more than an email exchange. That said, I knew how busy this principal often was during the day, and I didn’t want a rushed exchange — for either one of us. My hope was that by arranging a time, we could really take an opportunity to converse and problem solve. This is exactly what happened, and my principal quickly got back to me with a time to meet the next day. I remember this meeting though, for as soon as I came into the room, he jokingly mentioned “looking on my blog” to see if he could “determine what I might like to discuss.” 🙂 He knows me well, and in fact, I did blog generally about the issue, just a little later than he looked. This exchange though reminded me of something important: I often take to electronic communication tools — particularly my professional blog — to flush out my thoughts on a variety of topics. This time organizing my thinking, deciding on my word choice, and even getting feedback from others, often helps me see different perspectives and remain calmer (and less emotional) during face-to-face conversations. 

If given the option — assuming that the topic of conversation is not a contentious one — I would far prefer an email exchange. Why? This is where I can choose my words best, format my remarks, and keep the conversation cognitive, instead of with the emotions that often happen in person. Even when engaging in face-to-face or phone conversations, I often make a list of my main points and pre-plan how I want to communicate my thoughts. This keeps me focused on the topic at hand, and helps reduce the possibility of tears (something that is always a struggle for me, especially around more sensitive topics). So while I know and understand the value of these in person conversations, I don’t want to get rid of electronic communication tools. For people like me, who require the thinking, planning, organization, and reflection time around discussions, there’s something to be said for a tool that lets me do this without the need for an immediate response. 

  • I can proofread.
  • I can wait on pressing “send.”
  • I can get input from others first.
  • I can even read the words aloud to see how they might sound, and invite a trusted friend to do the same.
  • I can have a record of my words and theirs, which can sometimes be beneficial if issues do arise. 
  • I can quickly and easily invite other people into the conversation if needed by adding them to the chain of emails. This is far harder to do when trying to work around yet another person’s schedule for a face-to-face meeting.

Am I alone here? Even with the benefits of a human connection, are there times when an electronic option may be preferable? I think there’s a skill to composing a well-written and well-read email that showcases the feelings, actions, and person behind the words. I like undertaking the challenge of mastering — or at least improving — this skill. 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.


What Will You Do With This Course?

This morning, I was having coffee with my parents, and my mom asked me a great question. I was chatting with my mom and step-dad about this Leadership Course that I’m taking. My mom said, “So what will you do with this course when you’re done?” I’ll admit that at first my response was, “Nothing.” Am I looking to go into a leadership role right now? No. Am I looking for this possibility in the future? Not necessarily. Even so, I can still do some different things with what I gain from this course.

First of all, I think that this course will help me in my role as Site Lead for Camp Power. This is a position that I would like to maintain, and it was due to this position that I decided to take this course in the first place. As part of this course, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at the Ontario Leadership Framework. While there are elements of each of the six domains that I think would hold true for the Camp Power program, I wonder if I have to rely on the Personal Learning Resources (PLR’s) the most in my interactions with staff. This course also allowed me to take the 4Di Quiz, which allows me to not only find out about my leadership style, but about my areas of need. I can now purposely plan for how to address these areas of weakness through my Camp Power position, and my weaknesses really do connect so well to the Social Resources of the PLRs. The planning that I did today based on my 4Di results, will help me as I continue to lead this summer.

I also think that this course will help me in my daily interactions with colleagues. Today, I met a fellow educator for brunch. She teaches at a different school than me, and we often end up talking teaching when we’re together. I kind of think this is what teachers do best. 🙂 This morning, this acquaintance of mine was talking about some challenges that she was having in her classroom. I’ll admit that I’m usually quick to jump in with possible solutions or share my thinking around her comments. Today though, I thought about the norms of collaboration, and I responded differently. I know that “pausing” is hard for me, so I purposely worked on pausing. I didn’t jump in with ideas, as I often tend to do, and I even left some moments of silence after she spoke. These moments allowed me to reflect before responding. Instead of jumping in with my ideas, I tried to “pose questions.” I do like to ask questions — especially in blog posts 🙂 — but when somebody is sharing a problem, I tend to pipe in with solutions instead of questions. Today, I did a lot of wondering aloud. I tried to purposely speak quietly, wonder honestly, and ask more questions as time allowed. I just asked one question at a time, and depending on how she responded, I asked another one. In the end, I just left a question hanging there. She never really replied, and I never followed up with a statement of what I would do. I keep thinking back to the definition of leadership that my group compiled on Saturday at the course. Maybe, in its own way, this was my opportunity to “respectfully push” someone else to “get to that uncomfortable space where learning happens.”

Finally, I’m hoping that this course will help me re-think who can be a leader. I so often see a leader as only an administrator, but as I was reminded yesterday, even students can be leaders. I even think of some of the Kindergarten leaders that we have in our classroom. In the clip below, one leader is supporting other children as they collect their belongings and get ready for home. Even the way in which they communicate — singing vs. talking — makes a difference. 

Leadership may not always look the same, when you’re dealing with kids versus adults or administrators versus parents or teachers, but we’re still all engaged in leadership.

Reflecting even more now about my mom’s question, I now have a different answer. I may not use this course for seeking out a new position, but I think I will use it to gain new knowledge, a new skill set, and improve on my current practices. Sometimes, thinking and learning is just as valuable as doing, and in this case, the Leadership Course is giving me a lot to think and learn about. Considering some of your professional development opportunities, what do you do with courses when they’re over, or even throughout taking them? I think there’s always value in considering, what might come next, and how will this make a difference for me?


Am I The Lone Wolf In A Sea Of Wannabe Principals?

Yes, I believe in doing things that scare you. It’s for this very reason that I signed up for the Teacher Leadership Course through our Board. I struggled with this decision. I don’t really see myself as a leader — at least not in the more formalized way that I often see “leadership.” I have no dreams of being a principal. At one time, I had dreams of becoming a consultant, but those dreams have at least currently been replaced with my love for the classroom. I truly do love being around and working with kids. I have an incredible teaching partner, Paula, who teaches me something new every day, and I could not be more fortunate than to share a classroom space with her and our 29 amazing kindergarteners. Why then am I taking this course?

It’s a really good question. Last year, on my Annual Learning Plan, I indicated an interest in developing my leadership skills. I just finished my first year as the Curriculum and Site Support Teacher for Camp Power, and I wondered if some more formal leadership training would make me better at this position. I was no longer in charge of only my classroom, but instead the programming and implementation of this programming, for an entire camp. I needed to work closely with instructors. I needed to support instructors, children, and parents, while also collaborating with an on-site administrator. I was definitely moving out of the teacher realm. My plan was to take Leadership Part 1 through our Board last year, but I missed the sign-up deadline, and was then taking Reading Part 1. So I waited for the next school year, and now Leadership Part 1 has become a Teacher Leadership Additional Qualification Course. 

When I initially saw this news, I waited. I kept re-reading Kristin‘s tweet and the information posted online. And then, as a few spots remained, I took the plunge and signed up. October 17th was our first class, and in the first five minutes, I wondered if I made a mistake. As I looked around the room, thought about the people there that want to become administrators, and looked at the Ontario Leadership Framework on the table in front of me, I feared that this course was not meant for a teacher like me. Am I really this kind of leader?

I shared some of my fears with the table group. I even shared some with the course instructor that was part of our group … but I didn’t leave the room. I didn’t walk away. I’ll admit that I considered it, but the truth is, this course is really interesting. It’s giving me a better understanding of the leaders that I know in our school and Board settings …

  • from principals,
  • to consultants,
  • to reading specialists,
  • to teacher leaders … maybe even those people like me.

This course is forcing me to think about how I act, what I do, and what I believe, and it’s causing me to reflect on myself in a leadership role.

  • How am I as a listener?
  • How do I view colleagues?
  • How do I make decisions?
  • What changes could I make to my practices?
  • How might these changes impact on me and those around me?

It’s forcing me to slowly expand my definition of “leadership,” and maybe see a school leader as more than just a principal. And this is just after the first class. While I still wonder if I might be one of the few people here that does not have dreams of becoming a principal, maybe that’s okay. I wonder if this course gets at the heart of any professional development: what you get out of it may vary depending on your background knowledge, starting point, and goals. My leadership dreams may be different from those of some other educators, but there’s still value in learning how to be a better leader. Have others taken a leadership course and felt similarly apprehensive? Did your course change these feelings, and if so, how? I wonder if I might shortly learn that I am not a lone wolf in a sea of wannabe principals, but if not, I’d like to believe that all of us can still happily co-exist.