Christmas? Holidays? Is The Name What Matters Most?

It’s December, which means that everyone is talking about the holidays. Whether at school, during my Leadership Course, or at home, I can’t help but get immersed in conversations around celebrations, presents, and upcoming plans. As many people know, I’m Jewish. My step-dad isn’t though, so for most of my life, I’ve celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah.

  • Sometimes this involves lighting the menorah while opening presents around the Christmas tree.
  • Sometimes this involves a family dinner that includes both turkey and potato latkes.
  • And sometimes this involves a whole month of celebrations, when Hanukkah and Christmas dates don’t align.

I love the ability to celebrate a bit of everything, and in many ways, personalize the holidays. I’ve been to a Christmas Eve service at church, and I’ve also been to many Hanukkah parties. Both are special, and I’m thrilled that I’ve had both experiences.

Teaching at seven different schools over the years, I’ve observed and participated in many holiday experiences. I’ve seen,

  • carol sings,
  • hot chocolate parties,
  • Christmas lunches,
  • holiday songs,
  • Christmas songs,
  • Hanukkah songs,
  • and many plays of the same variety.

For me, the name doesn’t matter. Call it a “holiday assembly/song/play/lunch/party,” call it a “Christmas assembly/song/play/lunch/party,” or call it any combination of the two. With whatever we’re calling it though, let’s not forget about some small things that could make a big difference for everyone. For example, a few weeks ago, a teacher that I know (I didn’t ask her to include her name here, so I’ll keep it anonymous) mentioned having a Christmas lunch at her school. How wonderful is that?! It’s great, except for the fact the turkey is not Halal, so most of the kids and some of the staff couldn’t eat it. A small thing, but something that could make a HUGE difference for kids, adults, and their sense of belonging. This example reminded me of a few years ago when we had a hot chocolate party at school. The School Council made hot chocolate for everyone. A mom on the committee mentioned that marshmallows contain gelatin, so some of our families couldn’t have them. I told School Council members that they could purchase Kosher marshmallows (which would also be Halal) down at a nearby Fortino’s. They did this: allowing all students to enjoy marshmallows and hot chocolate. A small, but significant, decision. Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions, which can make the biggest impact. 

Recently, I was out with a good friend, and we were discussing this very topic. She said something which stuck with me. She mentioned how a Christmas tree is almost like a “Canadian tradition. It’s part of our culture.” I think that she might be right. The real story of Christmas doesn’t involve,

  • a tree,
  • reindeers,
  • elves,
  • or Santa Claus.

Have these instead become non-denominational symbols which tie us all together? As big a Grinch as I can be — and trust me, I’m one of the biggest there’s something about a decorated tree, some great Christmas songs (Step Into Christmas is my very favourite), and special times together, which are hard not to love. 

I know, understand, and support the importance of making sure that everyone feels included at this time of the year. Sometimes I wonder though if maybe this can be easier than we think. Maybe it’s in the little things that matter the most, and maybe there’s a part of all holidays that everyone can enjoy. For all the time that we can spend dissecting the wording of “Christmas” versus “holidays,” little of the same thinking seems to come into play when celebrating Easter in classrooms. Why is that? What if we saw the tree, reindeer, elves, and Santa Claus as just as non-denominational as the bunny, the baskets, and the chocolates? Would this change things? 

At times, I’ve wondered about not celebrating anything, but is this really the answer? Right now, our kids are eagerly discussing their Christmas trees, elves on the shelf, and holiday gatherings. One of our Kindergarten students even wrote a play for us to perform. We’re certainly celebrating Christmas, while also discussing other holidays/celebrations: trying to be responsive to kids, teach some new things, and not forget about the big and little elements, which could make a difference this holiday season. 

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After discussing The Elf on the Shelf this morning, Mya decided to make a little elf book for her elf. She first wrote “I love you,” with this first sound in each word. Then she started to think of more complex sentences, and sounded out each word. Callum was excited to help her with this at the eating table. As she was cleaning up the paint today, she said to me, “Where is my elf book?” Where would the tiniest book be? I was worried, but she found it, and read it to me. She figured out most words, and even did a little sounding out. I want to keep building confidence in this strategy. Best of all though, as she was getting ready for home, Mya reflected on her book last year versus this year. She’s seeing her growth as a learner. ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram

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Assembling this stick Christmas tree was no small feat. Tommy helped figure out where the branches belonged. He kept measuring the branches during the process to determine the size of the one that needed to come next. The wire was hard to use though, and it was frustrating when someone walked nearby and caused it to break. Joshua really persevered with the wire. He learned how to wrap it around and cut it. Then Cohen and Brooke came along to help. Joshua supported them. I love how careful they’re being even as they climb up and down on the chair. Joshua was excited to feel comfortable enough to work from this height this year. Brooke then began to hang the pine needle pieces. Do we need to collect more tomorrow? There was also a big discussion on the star. Could we tape it? Use wire? What would we make it out of? Joshua thought paper, and he merged his idea with Tommy’s. This tree isn’t done yet … SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #cti_celebrationsandtraditions

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How do you address the holidays at school? How do we ensure that everyone belongs? I think it’s the feelings of belonging and love, which may matter most of all.  What do you think?


All Math. All Day. All Wonderful. Here’s Why.

Yesterday was our Board’s Math PA Day. All schools were focusing on math all day long. I will admit that at first, I was skeptical as to how we could make this one topic relevant, meaningful, and engaging for all staff. I know that it’s not just “math teachers” that teach math. Have a look at these incredible art images that Karen Wilkins shared with me. So much math talk and math thinking could come from these pictures: both in creating and in analyzing them.

The list could go on. The Kindergarten Program Document rests on the idea of “noticing and naming” mathematical behaviours through play and everyday experiences. We don’t have to create different math moments, math activities, or math questions for children to explore. We can link this learning to everything that they’re already doing. 

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I was taken by this group of kids down in the sand today. L. wanted to enter the play. We worked on how she could ask, and then she joined. Such interesting math conversations as they negotiate their family play. Rileigh even demonstrates subitizing up to three through this play. I find it interesting how it was really all about what role they wanted to play, and not the playing itself. Is this part of parallel play? Then came the birthday party talk. “Everyone is invited to my birthday party.” I wonder how many people make up “everyone.” Apparently it’s 100. What is 100? A fascination with big numbers perhaps. Michael drew a parallel to Hunter last year. I wonder what part of 100 made him think about Hunter. Something to explore more. ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #mathchat

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Then Brooke and Alba joined in the sand play. They saw the cook book on the little table, and they decided to follow a recipe. What could they use for all of the ingredients? Why, sand of course! Brooke thought of the idea of putting each of the ingredients in a different bowl. She found more on the white shelf to use. Alba found the marbles, which made perfect blueberries. As they told me about the ingredients, I wondered if we should label them to keep track. Brooke even remembered that she wrote “milk” in a recipe before, and checked the spelling. Alba and Brooke both sounded out the words and labelled the containers as they filled them. Yes, this is the mess on the floor, but they cleaned it all up. I wonder if following the recipe will allow for some oral procedural writing. It was totally worth breathing through the messy floor! ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #problemsolving

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There is sorting, subitizing, and measurement evident in the example above.

Everything from physical education to dramatic play are evident in the examples above, which shows that math can play a role in these different subject areas. That said,

  • are these connections always obvious ones?
  • are they the topics that these subject-specific teachers want to discuss?
  • how are we going to ensure that everyone leaves the day with some new ideas (even just one) and inspiration for future work with students?

Our principal, John, was very devoted to making yesterday’s PA Day a positive experience for everyone, and I definitely left feeling happy. Why? I think this comes down to some very intentional decisions throughout the day. 

  • Mixed Grade Groupings – At our school, we have P.L.C.’s (Professional Learning Communities), which include educators from a couple of different grades. I’ll admit that I’m not always a fan of these P.L.C.’s because sometimes I just want time to connect with the other Kindergarten team members, but yesterday, I definitely appreciated these groupings. It was beneficial, first of all, to have the primary music teacher as part of our team, for she then shared how she might reinforce some of our targeted skills through music (e.g., by singing number songs and counting beats). It was also beneficial to see where kids are at and where they’re going next. As a Kindergarten team, we taught many of the Grade 1 students that we discussed yesterday. We knew these kids, and some strategies that worked for them. Discussing these strategies as part of a larger team, gave the Grade 1 teachers some other approaches to consider. We also got to see what our Senior Kindergarten students might be doing next year. Are there additional things that we could do to help bridge the gap between Kindergarten and Grade 1? What are some specific math skills that are being targeted here, and what might these same skills look like in both grades? Which components of the questions are actually reading and writing, and which are math, and are there ways to further address math thinking beyond written responses? We were able to dig into the Achievement Charts, and look at what “communication” can look like in Grade 1, and what it looks like in Kindergarten. What could be the possible benefits to some overlap?
  • Lively Discussions – While John may not have intentionally created these discussions, by making the P.L.C.’s as he did, and by allowing for small group and large group conversations, he was able to help facilitate lots of good questions and respectful debate. I keep thinking about the belief that it’s through discomfort that change happens, and these discussions helped produce some of this good discomfort. A number of years ago, I taught at Ancaster Meadow School, where I had the fortune of having a lot of similar kinds of conversations with Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper (a teacher at the time) and Kristi Keery-Bishop (our vice principal). I love how both Jo-Ann and Kristi ask hard questions that get you thinking, and it was these same kinds of questions that were being discussed yesterday. I keep thinking about a couple of these conversations from yesterday. One was around the topic of graphing. As educators, we can spend a lot of time on children learning how to draw the perfect bar graph. Gosh know that I have done this. But what if we looked at the time spent drawing a bar graph versus analyzing the data. What skill is more important? Are they equal? How do we weigh the time spent on these tasks in class? What is our goal here? Another topic of discussion was around choice. I can’t help but think about this great blog post that I read yesterday morning (with special thanks to Doug Peterson’s post for pointing it out to me), which discussed this very topic. Sometimes we teach students that might want to do what their friends are doing, but would benefit from another option. Could choices be available for everyone? How do we support students in choosing the option that works best for them? How do we get children to start doing this on their own? Some good questions led to some great conversations!
  • The Protocol – In my Teacher Leadership Course, I’m learning a lot about different protocols. I’ll admit that I sometimes struggle with protocols, and yesterday’s one was not easy. It required us to tell our small groups about the context for a specific piece of student work, and then to listen as other people in the group analyzed the work and provided us with some next steps. There were many moments that I wanted to jump in with comments, and a few times where I did not follow the protocol exactly, but it was beneficial to hear what other people had to say. While we had already tried certain approaches, some activities were new for us. Other comments made me think of ideas that we tried last year that we haven’t used this year yet, such as these subitizing photographs for morning math talks. Maybe it’s time to begin these talks again. There were also activity suggestions that we could either use as is, or modify to also align with the pedagogy outlined in the Kindergarten Program Document (e.g., along with counting the number of crackers that a child has in front of him, we could also ask this child to get a specific number of crackers — math that is then taught and reinforced through everyday experiences). The protocol gave everyone a voice in the discussion, and it was the many voices that resulted in new ideas, and modifications to and reminders about, old ones. 
  • Time – In education, we often talk about depth versus breadth. There is always a lot to cover and many things that we could explore. Yesterday, I really appreciated how we had big blocks of time to talk and dig into resources and work samples. We got somewhere, as a small and as a large group, and I think that everyone in the room left with at least one new idea to try. Nobody seemed to leave thinking, I came with a work sample to share, but didn’t get a chance to discuss it, or I had an idea to talk about, and never got a chance to share it. We all shared. We all heard. And we all learned. Just as big blocks of time are beneficial to kids in the classroom, they are also beneficial to adults, and John certainly gave us this time.

I left school yesterday with my brain full and ready for a nap 🙂 , but I also left feeling revitalized about math and excited for the week ahead. This was a great feeling! I know that different schools had different approaches to this Math PA Day, and I wonder how others felt at the end of it. How did your school address math, and more specifically, numeracy, to make it successful for all? What were possible benefits and drawbacks to these approaches? I’m excited to see the impact that this PA Day learning will have on kids.


What If It’s Backwards?

Thanks to a Twitter discussion between Doug Peterson and Jonathan So, I became aware of this recent blog post by Jonathan. This post made me think about the Kindergarten perspective, and how Hattie’s thinking might apply if viewed through the lens of the Kindergarten Program Document. A few years ago when I first read this new Program Document, there were a lot of comments that made me wonder, there were many points that made me nod along, and there were some uncomfortable thinking moments. My biggest shift in thinking came from this comment in the document (which also inspired a further Twitter conversation).

I wonder then about what this means around how we communicate learning expectations. 

While I’ve taught Kindergarten for the most amount of time in my teaching career, I have taught all grades from Kindergarten to Grade 6. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years unpacking expectations, developing Learning Goals, and even co-creating Success Criteria with students. I’m one of those people who enjoys reading curriculum documents, and have spent much time reading and thinking about Growing Success as well as Growing Success — The Kindergarten AddendumWhile both discuss Learning Goals and Success Criteria, what these look like from Kindergarten to Grade 12, vary. It’s the noticing and naming the learning in Kindergarten, which makes the Learning Goals and Success Criteria explicit to the children. 

Thinking then about Jonathan’s post, I then see differences when it comes to “teacher clarity.” 

  • We’re not starting lessons telling kids what they’re learning.
  • We don’t have posted Learning Goals and Success Criteria around the classroom, although we do have posted documentation, which acts as a provocation for discussing and extending the learning. 
  • We don’t outline specific activities at each space in the classroom, although we do provide provocations, which often attribute to and help direct the learning in each of the areas. 
  • We know our kids (and their strengths and needs), we know the expectations, we know the materials provided in each area around the room, and we know the anticipated ways that they will be used, but the teaching and learning happens more organically, so the clarity occurs when observing and conversing with kids. 

If Paula was focused solely on the expectations, she would have pushed the labelling at the time, and really honed in on the reading and writing potential. Instead, she was focused on the children, so her expectations changed based on what the kids communicated. She then used a moment at a later time to focus in on letter-sound combinations, reading, and writing. 

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We bought this structures book thinking that it might inspire some different buildings at the blocks, but Tommy loved it, and was inspired over at the LEGO. He made one of the house types with Filip. Who built the original? What could they find out about it? @paulacrockett read through the information with them, and even encouraged some letter-sound work to read some unfamiliar words. Then it was time to label the structure. Tommy was very independent here, but looked at how to separate some words with @paulacrockett. Loved the literacy, math, and science connections with this building today. At the end of the day, someone accidentally broke the structure. That was okay. Tommy thinks he can rebuild it. How might the book inspire him tomorrow? What will he remember? ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #teachersofinstagram #iteachk

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I know that many find this approach more chaotic, as we have a little less control over how it looks. But by not segmenting learning into blocks of time (e.g., a language period, a math period, a science period, etc.), by giving into the richness of learning that can happen with more open-ended approaches, and by re-exploring concepts over a longer period of time, kids aren’t saying, “But I don’t get it!” 

  • Learning is approached in many ways: cue the 100 Languages of Children.
  • Expectations are addressed when students are ready to learn them.
  • The child is truly at the centre of the learning.

Targeted instruction is still key, and students continue to learn the links between their actions and the expectations. There is still a shift though in when these expectations are communicated to kids, if they’re communicated to all kids or just some, and when this teacher clarity takes place. Is a backwards approach sometimes best? I see the benefits, but what about you?


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.