How Do You Do Holidays “Right?”

Another Halloween is over! It’s funny how Halloween is a single day, but it almost seems like a week-long (or more) event. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Halloween this week. 

Halloween has never been my favourite day. I’m a creature of habit, and there are many new (and different) routines when it comes to this celebration. (Another teacher in the school always jokes with me that I’m the teacher that arrives 2 1/2 hours before school begins to only have 20 minutes in our classroom because of the Before Care Program. I basically arrive 2 1/2 hours early to work in the staff room. Yes, this is me.) With this very thinking in mind, I’m sure that you can appreciate how dysregulating an upside down day can be for me. I think this tweet kind of sums up my stress on Wednesday.

I will admit then that despite many deep breaths and thankfully my located coffee, I was certainly still feeling the stress of the holiday. Everything about Wednesday seemed different to me.

  • We started our day with a parade instead of outside in the forest. This meant lots of parents lining the hallways and tons of noise, crowds, tears (not from me), and bright lights. With the timing of the parade, we didn’t have time to get outside before nutrition break. I definitely missed the fresh air and exercise to begin our day, and I think that many of our students also did!

  • Our play started earlier. With the excitement of Halloween, we had a shorter group time that began before nutrition break (when usually it begins during the break). This meant that kids got settled into play even earlier in the day. Did this make our long block of play seem even longer?
  • With Pizza Day, many kids ate their lunch earlier, which meant that the quiet transitions to the eating table never really happened. Even when kids went over there, they tended to eat all at once, which varied from the norm of going to graze or at least stopping to eat a few times during the day. 
  • The mess was epic … even by our standards! Play is messy, and as the day goes on, it often looks as though a tornado hit the room. You have to watch out for the Lego pieces, blocks, logs, paper, markers, water spills, etc., that often grace our floor for at least a short period of time. Thus is life in Kindergarten! 🙂 On Halloween, the mess was getting to me more though. Maybe it seemed just a bit bigger. As the day wore on and the students started to enjoy their candy treats in their lunches, the sugar took effect. Sugar rarely helps produce good cleaners, so with big messes everywhere and a lack of interest in tidying anything up, I was feeling more dysregulated. It could have been sensory overload: I seemed hyper-focused on the mess! 

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Sometimes I like to see how kids use a classroom space. Here are some photographs and short videos around the classroom in a 20 minute block of time. How are kids using the space? What are they doing? Do kids stay in one space for a longer period of time or move quickly between multiple spaces? What might help them stay for longer? We use these questions to guide our plans for the next school day. Please note that we do have a few mandala colouring pages for today. @paulacrockett and I both struggle with colouring sheets, but they can be calming for some kids. Today, we thought that this @self_reg might be even more important. Rileigh was also really proud of her “little R.” I thought of this today, as @paulacrockett and I both noticed how J. writes with smaller font size in smaller spaces. Sometimes these different sized spaces are good as kids learn to print and mark make. ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #teachersofinstagram #iteachk

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  • I knew that I needed to leave school earlier today. With getting ready for trick-or-treaters at home, I couldn’t arrive back when I usually do. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m a creature of habit. Trying to leave school earlier on a day with a special celebration, Pizza Day, Popcorn Day (which was thankfully postponed until next week), and no prep day, made leaving earlier that much more challenging. I wanted to be able to reflect with our student teacher, plan for the next day, and upload some documentation, and all that I could envision was getting nothing done. 

No doubt about it: when the day came to an end — despite some highlights — this photograph really resonated with me. 

I really just wanted to celebrate “surviving Halloween!” 🙂 This is when I started to look at some of the photographs and videos shared by fellow educators on Twitter and Instagram throughout the day. There was tons laughter, smiles, and fun! Looking back at our day, the excitement was also palpable as the kids arrived in their costumes. 

I started to wonder: am I doing this wrong? Maybe it’s my own stress over the day that’s making me perceive things differently than they appear and/or inadvertently increasing the stress of others. I started to think about one of my favourite Stuart Shanker quotes.

No matter how much I may have learned about Shanker’s Self-Reg, on certain days the stress seems that much more and the Self-Reg options never seem like quite enough. Am I the only one that struggles on holidays such as this one? How do others deal with the changes in routines and the increased stress? All I know is that on November 1st — which should have been a more challenging dayeverything seemed that much better. I wonder if the ability to get outside (even in the pouring rain) and to settle back into a regular routine, was equally beneficial to us and to the kids. With more holidays on the way, I wonder if there’s a way to reframe the holiday crazy into something more settled. If nothing else, I can definitely relate to that child (or adult) that might struggle. You are not alone!


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?


How Might You See Beyond The Stick?

Sticks. They cause adults stress. I know: I’ve been, and sometimes still am, the stressed out person when I see kids with sticks. The longer stick, the pointier the stick, the closer the stick is to others, the bigger the concern. Then there are the sticks that look like guns, and those cause even more stress. I cannot tell you the amount of stick play that I’ve stopped in the past because of the very nature that the play involves a stick. Yesterday though, I was challenged to think differently.

As always, we started our day out in the forest. Shortly after we got out there, Paula and I noticed two children that were coming towards us with a stick, and oh no, it certainly looked like one of those gun sticks. What were they going to do? I’ll admit that I was tempted to just tell them to put the stick down, but instead, I wondered aloud about it. Thank goodness I did! They saw the stick as a letter. But which one? This one stick then turned into a great conversation about letters, sounds, words, and even, syllables. I’ve been spending some time lately exploring the norms of collaboration. We speak about the importance of “presuming positive intentions.” Should this apply as much to our interactions with children as it does with adults?

Paula and I had to have a similar mindset when we saw two JK students coming towards us with the tallest stick that I’ve seen in a long time. Just to make the stick better, of course it had a great, big point at the top. I’m sorry to say that I’ve told MANY children before to put sticks like this “down on the ground” before even inquiring about why they might have these sticks or how they planned to use them. My teaching partner, Paula, had a different approach. She spoke to these two children about the stick. They discussed how “strong” they were, and that’s why they could carry it so well. Then they transitioned to measuring with the stick. I love that this measurement decision happened organically. We didn’t discuss it. The kids led it.

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The measurement then continued when Duncan and Grayson stood up with the stick. They started to compare it to the height of the tree. How did the height of the stick vary depending on how they stood and who stood? Then Owen came by and the stick was even “taller.” Why? Cannot tell you how much I loved this math talk! ❤️❤️❤️ Then to think that both Michael and Mya found sticks. Michael thought his was “heavier.” Mya thought hers was “taller.” How could they find out for sure. Watch the problem solving at play from these young students before they go to “plant the stick.” Tonight, go out and spend a little time with sticks. You’ll be amazed how much thinking, learning, and math talk there can be! SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry #engagemath #cti_imageofchild

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This truly ended up being one of the best math talks of my entire teaching career. Each question and answer gave me a little more insight into the children’s mathematical thought processes. 

As incredible as these stick experiences were, I can’t help but think about the number of times that I would have stopped them from ever happening. What if we started more of our conversations with kids with a question or wonder instead of a closed statement? Would the open opportunity to at least hear student thinking and plans, lead to the possibility of some rich, new learning? I’m not always sure it’s easy to see beyond the stick, but I wonder if it’s necessary.


Saying Goodbye To “Be Careful!”

Yesterday, I was browsing Instagram over breakfast, and I saw the image below included in Carmelina Di Grigoli’s Instagram story.

This message really resonated with me because this is the message that my teaching partner, Paula, lives by. I remember her teaching me this very lesson when I came to the school just over three years ago.

It was the very first day that we took kids out to the forest. I was so excited to have a space where kids could explore nature, climb trees, and make discoveries. Imagine the oral language possibilities. As a Board, one of our strategic directions is to have “all kids reading by Grade 1,” and I really believe that the risk-taking, new vocabulary, and perseverance developed in this incredible outdoor space will help us reach our goals. But then, here I was watching children climb down the fallen tree, and I was terrified. What if they fall? How will they get around that hump? Should I be supporting them? As much as I wanted to explore other areas of the forest, I was stuck at the side of this tree, sure that the children needed me. I was also forever uttering the words that now I try to avoid: “Be careful!”

After school on that same day, Paula and I spoke about this forest experience. I shared my worries with her. She pushed back. She wondered if the concerns were about the kids or about me. “Did they have a plan for how to get down? Were they being mindful in their decisions? Were they being patient with each other?” All great questions, and a good opportunity for me to realize that I was the one that was scared. Not them. But by expressing my fears, was I increasing their panic and maybe even impacting on the success of the climb?

That day, I decided to spend more time watching and listening to Paula. How did she handle these scary moments? She never makes her voice portray fear. She also chooses her words carefully. Instead of saying, “Oh my gosh! You’re too high,” or “Be careful! You’re going to fall,” she asks, “Do you have a plan for getting down?” And do you know what? Kids do have plans. They’ll talk us through their plans. They’ll show us how careful and responsible they can be, and how they can support their friends in being the same. Climbing is never a competition, and we never put kids up on trees, nor do we get them off. Both are key! Kids climb when they’re ready, and some may never climb, and that’s okay.

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Ms. Pagliaro went into the forest today where @paulacrockett was with some children that were climbing trees. This is such a great example of both safe risks as well as knowing your students and what works for them. I know that this high tree climbing will scare some people, and Ms. Pagliaro even voiced some of her concerns. But @paulacrockett knows these climbers. She knows and trusts that they have a plan for coming down, and that they can do so confidently, carefully, and safely. Would this height work for every child? ABSOLUTELY NOT!! This is also why @paulacrockett is there to oversee things and ensure everyone’s safety. But the interesting thing is that it was only these two children who even considered this height. As others shouted, “Look what I can do!,” they went a much shorter distance up the tree. They wouldn’t have even thought about going higher. Watching @paulacrockett interact with these children and even listening to her calm question of, “What is your plan to get down?,” shows just how “competent and capable” she views these children. This makes my ❤️ happy! ❤️❤️❤️SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #grossmotorskills

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We don’t have to utter the words, “Be careful!,” as children are, for they’ve also reflected on the decisions that they’re making. This reflection is so important. Just as we wants kids to reflect on academic areas (e.g., reading), we want them to reflect on their gross motor skill development. What’s the right choice for them, and when do these choices begin to change? Think about the potential here for classroom carryover. Assessment AS Learning is all about self-reflection. As kids consider their strengths and needs, realize their limits, learn to take safe risks (and realize what’s safe for them), they also become far more reflective, independent learners, thinkers, and problem-solvers. Isn’t this one of our biggest goals as educators? I wonder if a regular forage out to the forest might be the key to this kind of success.

I know that this forest space might not be the reality for everyone (or for many), but if it’s not, how else might we develop these same skills in a different environment? I think of the other times we say, “Be careful!” One of these moments presented itself this week.

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I remember the first time last year that I saw Carly do this. She ran out of glue, so she found the brand new big bottle, and filled up the container. Not all the way up. Just enough. It was actually amazing! She spilled less than I usually do. And yet, the teacher in me was so close to stopping her. I might have even done so, but I stared at @paulacrockett, and she gave me that look that said, “Let her do it!” She was so right! Thinking about this experience reminds me that as much as at times Kindergarten numbers may seem large, and needs may seem bigger than supports (at least in some of my previous experiences), maybe I had it wrong. Not everything has to fall on us. Kids can support each other — especially in some of these smaller tasks that so often consume our time. They learn independence, and we start to feel less overwhelmed. It’s better for all! I think about some comments I’ve heard — and even made — before. “Kids can’t solve problems any more. They struggle with making their own decisions.” Do they? Or is it our fear of independence, or the time and mess that goes with this independence, that stops us? How do you let your kids be independent? #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry #cti_imageofchild

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In our classroom, we use real knives, graters, screwdrivers, and hammers. We have real glasses, mugs, and dishes in dramatic play. We’ve used a step ladder with kids.

There are many times that I’ve had to bite back the words, “Be careful,” and a few times that I’ve let them slip through. But then I think about the “competent and capable” line in the Kindergarten Program Document, and the many times kids show us just how competent and capable they are. If we want them to demonstrate these skills, do we also need to trust them with the tools and experiences that allow them to do so? What impact might doing so have on the kinds of kids that are going through our educational system? I’m thrilled that Paula helped me reframe my worries, and I hope that others have done the same. Kids will continually amaze us with just what they can do.


A Need To “Pause,” But Wait …

This year, I decided to get involved with our Board’s N.T.I.P. Mentorship Program. It’s been many years since I’ve been involved, and I thought that this would be an exciting new leadership opportunity for me. On Thursday, we met for our first session as mentors. I was really excited when I heard that Kristin Roy would be joining us to give us some training around the Seven Norms of Collaboration. While I’ve heard of these norms before and discussed them at some staff meetings in the past, my learning around these norms is still new. I was eager to dig into them more. We focused on two norms: paraphrasing and pausing. As I tweeted during the session, I had some initial thoughts on both of these norms, and I’ve contemplated them even more since Thursday. 

Since returning to school at the end of the day on Thursday, I’ve found Kristin’s voice running through my head. At the end of her presentation, all of the mentors thought of ways that we could practice these norms before meeting with the new teachers in the next couple of weeks. I had a few different thoughts on how I could practice, but one was definitely in the classroom.

My teaching partner, Paula, and I have had many recent conversations around “wait time,” and I definitely see the connection between this and “pausing.” Since we record so many videos in the classroom, listening back to the recordings after school each day, gives us an opportunity to reflect on wait time. I happened to think even more about this on Thursday, as Paula also shared with me some videos that she took while I was away. Since I wasn’t there to hear the discussions at the time, I listened even more carefully to them, and even reflected on them in my Instagram posts. 

When I returned to the school Thursday afternoon, I took a few minutes to talk to Paula before our staff meeting. Most of our talk was around “wait time.” We both struggle with the same thing: we know that wait time is valuable for kids, but how do we give students the additional time that they need in a busy Kindergarten classroom where time can be at a premium? 

I wondered about the idea of walking away. If we gave the student a prompt such as, “What sounds do you hear?,” and then moved away to work with another child, would that first student start to problem solve independently? I don’t know. I think of a couple of children that keep coming up again to ask for help, or want to know that each sound is correct before moving on. I wonder about that child who waits until you’re there to even attempt the task, and then waits for reassurance before moving on. How much wait time do you give the child? How do you know when a student actually needs more help versus needs more time? Sometimes I’ve seen success with working through a problem together first, building confidence, and then being able to provide the wait time for independence. But is one problem enough? If the child looks for support do you give it or do you wait? I want to be kind and empathetic, but I also don’t want to solve problems for children that they can solve on their own. 

On Friday, I really pushed myself to wait when working with a child on some reading and writing. In many ways, it worked, although at times I wonder if I still gave her more support than she needed. Did I say sounds again when she could have been prompted to repeat them? 

As I mentioned after school to Paula, there was a lot that I put off as I sat here to work with this child. Was my time spent with her valuable? Yes. Did it help her build some confidence in her skills? Yes. But is it always possible to put some other things off, and what might be some possible drawbacks in doing so? I’m trying to weigh the pros and cons here, while figuring out what’s necessary, what’s reasonable, and how reality might compare to the research. How do you make “wait time” a feasible reality in your classroom or home, and how might children respond to having this extra time? I can’t help but think of a conversation that I had yesterday with my principal minutes before the nutrition break bell rang for returning to class. He ended up pausing when I most definitely should have, but the pressure of the bell, changed things for me. I certainly have work left to do on “pausing,” but if nothing else, Thursday’s training has made me far more aware of this. Thanks for taking up an important spot in my head, Kristin Roy!