EDTV and Parent Engagement: Possibilities For The Upcoming School Year

Over 11 years ago, Aaron Puley and I started conversing, sharing, and reflecting on parent engagement together. At the time, he was the Parent and Student Engagement Consultant for our Board, and now, he’s a vice principal. I’m reminded of these discussions a lot this summer in my role as the Coordinator for Camp Power and Camp CLIMB. Parent engagement is an important component of these camps, and just like all of those years ago with Aaron, we’ve definitely been talking a lot about viewing engagement through an equity lens.

This summer, we’ve been thinking about a few different ways that we can engage parents, while also being responsive to their requests and insights. For the first time ever, we started a camp Instagram account, as we know that many families are on Instagram, but not necessarily Twitter. That said, some families and educators engage with us through Twitter, so we did not want to remove this option. We decided though to use Instagram in a slightly different — more focused — way. We’re creating EDTV videos, where instructors, site leads, and maybe even administrators, share a daily 1-2 minute video about learning at the camp and a home extension opportunity. Either through the video or through the description, we’re asking questions and inviting conversations with families about learning at home. Knowing that some families like to interact with us more on Twitter, we’re also tweeting out these videos each day. I really appreciated this tweeted reply to our first video.

As I started to post more of these videos, I had an epiphany, which a few days later, has inspired this blog post.

What about taking this idea back to the school? I realize that a social media way of sharing is not going to work for every family, but I wonder if these short video recordings could be a good way to share school learning and extension opportunities for home. Maybe by cross-posting to Twitter, Instagram, and even a blog (I’ve just requested a new one πŸ™‚ ), we can engage more families and inspire more sharing.

In September, I’m starting as a Reading Specialist at a different school. As I build relationships with the staff there, it would be great if they could also share their recordings on this platform. These videos would align with the learning shared through our monthly Reading Specialist Meetings and the experiences taking place at school. I would love if families could also start to request topics for videos — maybe both through an online survey and a home paper option. I’m still thinking about exactly what this will look like, but I’m hoping that this blog post will make me accountable to jump in and try something new. Will it work for everyone? Probably not. But could this be an effective way to engage families and share school experiences? I think that it could, and seeing the number of families that are following along with these videos this summer, I’m seeing a lot of potential. Have you ever tried something similar before, and how did families respond? I’d love to hear your insights as I continue to think aloud — and think publicly — about this new engagement opportunity. Every year, when we reflect at camp with those from the Ontario Summer Literacy Program, we’re asked what learning from the summer might make its way back into the classroom during the school year. After only one week of camp, this is one way that I would share. I can’t wait to see what the next couple of weeks bring!


Please note that I realize that there are many different kinds of families, and when I speak about “parent engagement,” I’m including engaging all of the caring adults in our lives.

Two Months Off?

I’ve been seeing this article shared widely recently, as I also engage on Twitter with many of the educators included in it.

Like these teachers, I’m not taking two full months of vacation.

All of this being said, I’ve been contemplating the common complaint that teachers “get two months off.” While I think it’s wonderful that we share our learning, classroom preparation, and professional experiences over those two months, what if we did take the two months off? In education, we talk a lot about mental health and well-being. Sometimes taking a step away from the classroom, and truly taking the opportunity to recharge, to spend time with family and friends, and to find some quiet time alone, are all great things. Maybe this is what some, many, or even all of us need in order to bring our best selves back to the classroom in September!

While I will likely tweet or share on Instagram about my professional learning, you’ll also see me post about my many non-educational reads this summer. I think this has value as well. An educational leader who I truly admire, told me many years ago, the importance of learning how to both “work hard” and “vacation hard.” Breaks are not bad things. They often give us the patience, the reflection time, and the stamina to do better when school starts again. Please educators, administrators, and educational leaders, share all of your amazing learning in the next couple of months, but also, share your time to unwind. You deserve it. We all do. Teachers may get “two months off,” and maybe that is a perk of the position, but I don’t know one educator who stays in education for that reason alone. Do you?


9 Months

Nine months seems like such a short period of time, and yet, it’s long enough to grow a baby. It’s almost long enough for an entire school year — you need 10 months for that, but at 40 weeks, maybe that’s also true for the baby. πŸ™‚ It was also the exact amount of time that I was at Bellmoore. On Wednesday morning, I found out that this would be my last day at Bellmoore. Starting on Thursday, I would begin as a Reading Specialist at another school.

I’m not against change: Hillcrest will be the tenth school that I’ve taught at in 22+ years. I knew in this Reading Specialist role that change is always a possibility, and I welcome the new learning that comes from a new location, new connections, and new colleagues. A variety of uncontrollable, but understandable factors, made my knowledge of this switch a little later than it might usually be, but this past year has taught me a lot about flexibility. Why not end on a flexible note?!

Saying “goodbye” is never easy, and Wednesday definitely came with a lot of hugs, a lot of tears, and a lot of special moments. Just like when I started my time at Bellmoore, I ended my time there without taking a single photograph or video of student learning. The only classroom image I shared on that day was one captured by a Grade 1/2 teacher at the school.

I think that this stream of tweets sums up my day best.

On Wednesday, I made memories of my time at Bellmoore, and while it might have been one of the most emotionally-draining days of my career, it was also a special end to a special nine months. Everyone at the school made me feel so very loved, even to the very last tweet from the principal on Wednesday night.

Nine months does not always seem like long enough, but in those nine months …

  • a significant number of Grade 1 students learned how to read.
  • small group instruction became a priority in classroom practice.
  • educators reflected on student growth as a team, and we made changes together based on these reflections.
  • attitudes towards reading changed for the better — more students saw themselves as “readers” and took risks that they weren’t taking before.
  • we started a systematic and structured approach to phonics instruction, which helped support decoding skills and writing skills.
  • we explored the connection between reading and writing, and created an Epic Play Project, which addressed both.
  • we looked at how to ensure that ALL students were meeting with success, which sometimes meant modifying practices and consulting different educator teams.
  • we saw what was possible when we worked together as a team.

I have so much love for my Bellmoore family, while I am also so excited about the new year ahead.

As I’ve learned from The MEHRIT Centre, emotions can be complicated, and I experienced that for myself this week. What are your notable experiences and learning from the past nine months? There’s no time like the present to make a difference, as we never know what the future holds. A lot can happen in nine months.


Resurrecting Twitter For PD: Will Others Join Me In #ONLang2023?

As I was vacillating on a few different blog posts to write today, I read Doug Peterson‘s morning post on cursive writing and the new Language Curriculum Document. I left one comment at the time, but soon, some replies from him and Andrew Forgrave, led to me leaving a couple of more. This experience, and the sharing on both Twitter and on Doug’s post, made me think again about a tweet that I sent a few days ago.

On Tuesday afternoon, I saw a tweet from Kate Winn announcing the release of the new, highly-anticipated Language Document. This took me back to June of 2016, when the government release The Kindergarten Program Document. Many Kindergarten educators chose to read and discuss the Program Document that summer, and the #framingFDK Twitter hashtag was born. It’s always great to read socially, and the ability to share thinking and wondering while engaging in meaningful dialogue around pedagogy, I believe helped me love The Kindergarten Program Document as much as I do. Never have I read and thought about a Ministry document more. I started to make connections to the new Language Document and the social learning potential.

Jodie Howcroft suggested #ONLang2023 as a good hashtag, and for now, I’ve tried to retweet and share any Language Document thinking and learning using this hashtag. This includes Doug Peterson’s post.

Twitter changes have had many people moving to other social media platforms or engaging less than they have in the past. I’ll admit that my use of Twitter has also largely changed. I have to wonder though if some Language Document discussion could have us resurrecting Twitter for professional development. I have a few incredibly memorable Twitter conversations over the years, including …

I would now like to add #ONLang2023 to the list. Is anyone else with me? Maybe I can find some Twitter PD love once again.


What Have You Learned This Year?

School is over in less than two weeks, and what an incredible school year it’s been! I started the year as a kindergarten educator and ended it as a Reading Specialist. While I haven’t had a full year in this role, I’ve still been reflecting a lot on my learning this year. Here are some of my biggest takeaways.

  • Building relationships is as important for adults as it is for kids. In my current role, I spend almost as much time working with educators as I do with students. While I knew some teachers at this school before I arrived, many were unknown to me or just people with which I might have shared a couple of tweets or Instagram posts. If we’re going to be planning and teaching together and reflecting on learning as a team, we need a connection first. We need to trust each other. For me, this meant taking the time to chat before and after school, offering help with anything, bringing in a few snacks, especially at stressful times as people enjoy a few treats, and joining grade team meetings.
  • Differentiation matters for adults too. Just like our students, we are not all the same. When I was in the classroom with Paula, we always appreciated when Reading Specialists varied their approach with each educator team. This might mean supporting reading instruction in our classroom and pulling a small group in another classroom. It’s not about a right/wrong approach, but about knowing the educators and kids, understanding pedagogy, and being flexible. I think about this a lot, and often wear many hats in the school day: from doing small group, targeted instruction alongside classroom educators to facilitating a full class lesson to entering play and extending literacy learning to supporting literacy instruction outdoors to co-planning and co-problem solving with educator teams to doing just about anything else to get in the classrooms, to support reading instruction, and to connect with kids and staff. My time doesn’t need to look the same in every room. Often though, as educators talk and people see and hear about what I might be doing elsewhere, an option in one room is modified to become an option in another.
  • Always remember what it was like back in your own classroom. For me, this has been an easy takeaway this year, as I just came from a classroom. I remember those stressful and those exciting times, and I can also remember what I needed from others during both of these times. I try to be cognizant of more stressful times, and offer different support to educators during these times (e.g., leading a full class lesson so that educators can pull individual students for assessment or chatting about grades as a team). Report card times are not the times to send out additional emails or provide additional PD. I might not be able to write reports for educators, but I know how much I appreciated others acknowledging the challenge and the time commitment, and sometimes, just being heard is enough.
  • It’s okay not be everywhere all the time. When I started this position, I quickly realized that I had 11 classes to support and I tried to develop a schedule where I could be in every class, every day. Basically I was running between classrooms in 15-20 minute blocks of time, and not really getting to know anybody well. I recognized that educators wanted a consistent schedule of support, but was this really working for anyone? This led to me changing my schedule, filling in some required times, and allowing educator teams to sign-up for additional times. Since I get to set my own preps, I could be flexible with this time, and adjust the periods each day depending on staff requests and teacher timetables. Along with this sign-up system, I always send an email offering educators to reach out if they have questions and to email me if they want support but can’t find an available period. Then I can look at how to break periods in half or switch some times to accommodate others. I had to let go of being in every class every day, but I keep a close enough look at my schedule to ensure that I’m in every class at least once a week. This has allowed me to get to know staff and students so much more.
  • Mentorship is not just for new teachers. I love that this Reading Specialist position includes mentorship. My mentor is actually a teacher that I taught with many years ago. We got to connect each month for half-a-day on a topic of our choice. We spoke about everything from the reading/writing connection to targeted, small group instruction to literacy and play. Hearing different perspectives, engaging in meaningful conversations, and making plans for classroom practice was so incredibly valuable. New learning opportunities for myself, for classroom educators, and for kids, came out of this mentorship!

I know not every new position includes formal mentorship, but my learning these past nine months makes me wonder as well about informal mentorship. What might be possible and what might the benefits be?

  • Find that child — or many children — and be their champion! Rita Pierson’s TED Talk remains one of my favourite ones of all time, and I constantly hear her message run through my head at the strangest of times. In the classroom, Paula and I often spoke about Pierson’s TED Talk, and all of the kids that need a champion. I now support 11 classes of kids and a school of over 1000 students, many of whom might need someone. This position has made me even more aware of the Board’s Annual Plan, and the importance of planning, programming, and success for those who have been “currently and historically underserved.” I can’t help but think about the connection between these students and those that might also require a champion. We know that learning starts with relationships, and maybe it’s that most challenging child that might need this positive relationship most of all.
  • Take the risk, even when it’s a hard risk to take. This Reading Specialist position has intrigued me for years, but I always came up with a reason not to apply. This year, I took the plunge and sent in my application. As excited as I was about getting the job, I was also terrified. It was so hard to leave my fabulous teaching partner and amazing kids and families, especially as the year just started. I left with a lot of unknowns: what if I don’t like the position? What if I’m not good at it? What if the position does not get renewed again past this year? As much as I embrace change, I was scared. But with the support of my previous teaching partner, Paula, and amazing friends and family members, I said, “yes,” and accepted the job. I couldn’t be happier! This year, I’ve learned so much about reading instruction, the importance of flexibility, the value in strong teams and how to support these teams, the importance of listening more and talking less, and the value of some thought-provoking questions … even if they might cause a bit of discomfort. I’ve met wonderful people, found reasons to laugh every single day, and been pushed to re-think some of what I thought that I knew and some things that I might do very differently than before. The risk was well worth it!

While I’m not sure exactly what next year brings yet, I really appreciate my learning and growth from this year. What are your biggest takeaways from this past school year? There’s so much joy that comes when we remember what each year has taught us!