Why?

As many of know, my daughter has a learning disability.  Now this in itself is not anything special or alert nor really is this what I want to draw your attention too. I mean a lot of kids have learning disabilities and many students struggle in school for various reasons. However, what I am more concerned about is how much, as a parent, I have to fight for what my daughter needs in the classroom. The funny part is that I am not alone in this battle. almost every parent I talk to that has children in a school system comment on the difficulties that they have with teachers following IEPs or even accommodating students with various learning styles. As a parent I am frustrated but as an educator, I ask myself why is this?

Since Izzy (my daughter) has been in school I have really begun to question the role that our education plays for children. What is its purpose? What does it do? Why is it here? Most importantly I wonder why we continue to teach the way we have always taught, just because that is the way we were taught.

I feel like this is what happens with our students with special needs. Not all the time and not with every teacher but it seems like more often than not we continue to teach these particular students like every other student.

Differentiating for our students is just one of those things that makes me wonder and ponder. In today’s world, we know a lot more about the ways we learn and how we learn. We know that everyone is different and more importantly, we know that the world needs these different skills and to be honest they need these skills more now than ever before. So why is it that we continue to teach each child the exact same way?

I know that teaching is hard. Balancing all the learning styles, behaviours and curriculum can be and is overwhelming but the problem is our student’s don’t all learn the same way.

As an educator, I realize that the world looks completely different than when I grew up.  My perfect dream is that each child learns what they want and how they want. I want them to question, inquire and have fun learning. Basically, each child is on their own Individual Education Plan (IEP). None the less we often create IEPs to centre our own practise instead of the learning style, needs and strategies to help our children close the Gaps.

The IEPs that we write need to focus on our students specific learning needs and specific strategies that will help them understand what to do next. For example, thinking mathematics, if a child isnt at grade 5 level we need to think about the why and also the big ideas. The specifics shouldnt be a grade 3 expectation but what we are going to build on for that child to move forward. So that might be, building fact fluency though learning doubles, fives and tens or it maybe learning how repeated addition is connected to multiplication. Thinking about language it should focus on the lagging skills instead of a generic expectation.

Now I know the program in which we write has drop down menus but these can be changed and should be changed. Our students and parents deserve a working document that is fluid and built on child strengths and specific next steps.

This wont happen over night but as you think about next year, question how you will a) know your students and b) be able to think of specific strategies to allow our students to succeed the best way they can.

What do your students see?

I have been contemplating the idea of mathematical Indentities lately and more importantly how do our students see or percieve themselves as mathematicians. I was passing a construction site around our house and it reminded me more about how students see themselves in a math class. Now this particular site just had a chainlink fench up and my kids could see everything. They asked about which digger did what? What that person was doing? And what was this here or there? There was so many questions (as 4 and 7 year olds tend to have) but then I thought about some of the other construction sites that I have seen before with full up fenced in areas or some with just small windows where kids and adults have to peer in.

This got me thinking about the classroom. Do our students have opportunities to see the full construction, from the foundation and up or do we put up complete barriers or small windows into the process. Unfortunately we know that data shows that certain students have full barriers and many only see the small windows into the process. And though we may think as educators we provide a barrier and bias free classroom, it unfortunately isn’t. However, I do believe that there are things we can do.

The first: start with self reflection and personal learning. There is so much power wrapped up in our identities as teachers. We have influence over many things in our classroom and we are clearly not bias free. So sit back and just look at yoir practise through a lens of your students.

Bring culturally relevant, responsive and sustaining pedagogy into our classroom is a must. Students have to be seen and heard in our classrooms. Question the ways in which you groups students, question who talks the most, question if you allow space for students to bring in relevant news and topics for discussion, question who is centred in the curriculum you teach; basically question everything and think who does this serve and why.

Finally, as math classes go, who does the thinking in the classroom? If we are thinking about what do our students see? Do they see themselves as thinkers or is it you as the educator doing the thinking. Do students have opportunities to talk, make conjectures and/or debate mathematics? Do they have the opportunity to bring in other ways of knowing and doing mathematics? All of these questions are important to think about when asking ourselves what do our students see.

The classroom as we know it cannot continue to centre us as teachers. Students need to know they belong and that they are part of the space they occupy. Just as my kids looked through a partial space in a construction fence so do many of our students. Lets open up that space and allow them to fully inquire and build the spaces they occupy together with us.

Thoughts about Motivation

As I was running this morning I was thinking about this word and what this actually means for our students. I have often heard in the hallways and discussions with teachers that students aren’t motivated to learn. I will even admit that I have said this on numerous occasions. But the reality about motivation is, it really isn’t determined by others but by the individual. I love to run (I know I tell everyone I meet) and so that in itself motivates me but when I tell others how easy it is to do, I get yeah I’m not doing that. In fact, running is a great example because I often hear it just isn’t enjoyable to me and I don’t really understand why you love it so much. For me, it is very easy to get motivated about a run. In fact, it is what I use instead of doing things that I know I need to do, like report cards or finishing my book. Running allows me to think, it allows me to process and it controls my ADHD but running isn’t for everyone. So why do we as teachers think that motivation for learning works the same for our students as it does for us?

As most of you know my daughter and myself have ADHD. It has been interesting to read about this and how our brains function and work in comparison to normal brains. Both of us have a hard time staying motivated for long extended times (unless we are hyper-focusing, which is quite a superpower) because of the dopamine production in our brains. I love following this channel if you want to learn more about ADHD.

Basically, what happens is that at times both my daughter and I really want to buy in and do the work but slowly our motivation starts to lag because well we are creating the same dopamine and our attention and motivation strays to something way more engaging. 

The reality is though not every child we teach or person in the world has ADHD motivation sort of works the same way. We as a human race are motivated by the things that we value and often think that others around us should be motivated by the same measures. I am guilty of this. My whole life school has been something that I sort of did, I got by and I did the work (my mother hated my work ethic) but then when teachers college came I was highly motivated because I finally found something that I love and wanted to do, same with my masters and other things. I put tons of effort into being better and getting better because it is something that I am highly interested in learning and doing. But this isn’t true for others around me and the same is true for our students. 

Motivation is about creating experiences for students so that their brains create those dopamine patterns and in the end even create dopamine in anticipation. So how do we do this? 

A couple of days ago I met a student who loved to do cartwheels and constantly move around. In fact, I don’t think I ever once say him sitting or doing work because he was always moving. I asked if he wanted to write a book. At first he said, “meh” but when I told him that I didn’t know how to do a cartwheel and needed help being taught his eyes perked up. In the end, he ended up writing me an ebook about doing a cartwheel and created about 5 sentences to go with this. 

Now I mention this story because for this particular child work is hard and writing even more so. I know for myself it has been a struggle to motivate myself to write. Even this blog takes effort and my brain wants to wander and do other things but because I am writing about something that I love and am interested in I can sustain it a little more. For this child the moment that I added in his interests and made him the expert he was able to buy in and finish. Now we also had breaks but instead of wandering he came back ready to write and finish his book. This is the same for any subject. We know that the more we incorporate student identities and knowledge into a task the more motivating it is. This doesn’t mean we use “real world” problems because often those problems are only real to the person who designed them. This means that we use things that students want to talk about and are interested in, like cartwheels. It also can be something new and flashy, like 3D printing, or video games. Or it can be simply a problem a student wants to solve from ther experience. The point is creating tasks that are motivating depends on the individual and also the situation. 

Now I know this can be hard especially when we have a lot of students and we as adults have a lot of other things to think about but we if we are thinking about reaching all of our students then teaching really isn’t about making life easier for us but more about changing our practice to serve those we have in our classroom. There are some great ways to do this though that can make our life easier. 

  1. Think about the task and what the students can handle and cannot. In some instances breaking it up into smaller tasks and with closer due dates can increase motivation
  2. Ensure that identities and students ideas are always centred in the classroom. This can be done through discussions, surveys, creation of teaching tools, even in our assessments. This helps because even if one or two tasks aren’t as motivating because of interests students know that their voice is heard in other areas and they can talk to you or you will notice them. This also allows you to change your assignments easier because you get to know your students a lot better. 
  3. Remember that planning and reasoning about tasks is not something that naturally happens, even for atypical brains. Learning to organize and plan and sort is a skill that needs to be taught. Yes it is time out of our “curriculum” but it is also time well spent. 
  4. There has to be buy in from the student. One of the most simplest ways is giving students choice and this doesn’t mean the 9 things that I choose for them but true choice in how they best learn and best display their learning. Sure we have curriculum and things that need to be taught but how I show you that learning should be up to the student. 

Here is another of the Brain videos that can help.

I hope that this sparks some thoughts and would love to hear your thoughts as well. Leave a comment below or tag me in a Twitter conversation.

Reflecting

I know that this beginning of 2022 probably isn’t the best start to the year. There has been a growing rise in the hashtag #2020too, along with many educators, health care workers, and parents feeling the weight of this pandemic. But it is also a time to think and a time to reflect on what we have been doing and where we would like things to go. I was recently reading my newest NCTM Magazine (I am behind an issue) but the note from the editors sent me into a writing mode with their reflective questions.

They start the article off with this question: Have you ever heard the phrase, “We’re building the plane as we fly it?” (Altman, Jackson, 2021)

I think we can all relate to this statement. It is basically how we as educators or anyone really in this pandemic has felt for the last two years. As we constantly pivot and shift and change we are basically making things up as we go but with that comes stress and often mistakes. It is something that we as teachers are not a too comfortable feeling. We like to plan, we like structure and we often like direction. But building and reshaping our way of learning has its pros too. It allows us to reflect, rethink and reevaluate systems and structures that weren’t really working. I know that we all wish for a sense of normal but as the editors of the article remind me, “do we really want to return to normal? What does the return to normal look like for the teaching and learning of mathematics (you can insert any subject here) in many classrooms?”(Altman, Jackson, 2021) They further remind us that for many of our students Black and Indigenous especially, the system and structures we had in place weren’t working, and to be honest, even for those that have privilege in our system it wasn’t either. So the question that sits in my mind is what does returning to normal really mean?

As some of you may know that I am in the process of writing a book and in there I talk about the need to honestly reflect and think on the moments in our life that challenge us and make us think. I believe this pandemic is one of those moments. We know that there are things that work with online learning and there are things that don’t. There are things that have worked with even in-person pandemic learning and of course things that don’t.

So the question is and the editors of this article state it best: “What have we learned about ourselves this year? What have we learned about our students? (Altman, Jackson, 2021)

To further our profession and the learning that is happening we must be mindful of constantly reflecting. Now I know in the midst of stress this is one of the hardest things to do. It almost feels impossible to slow down and listen to the voices that are around us. We have been on an amygdala hijack for 2 years and when that happens rational thought is almost impossible but if we can take moments in our day to breathe, think and reevaluate, we will only serve our students and communities better.

I will end this post with the questions from the editors as they are great ones to think about.

  1. What have I learned about myself this year?
  2. How did I provide the necessary support, so that each and every student could engage and participate in rich, challenging (insert subject)?
  3. how did empower each and every student as a capable doer and learning of (insert subject)?
  4. What did I notice or wonder about _____?
  5. What strategies/ activities did you implement in your classroom?
  6. Did the strategies/activities give your students an opportunity to engage in productive struggle? (Altman, Jackson, 2021)

I know for myself I have learned that I am more capable of things that I didn’t think possible. I learned that my family is more resilient than I give them credit for and I learned more about the privilege and power that hold and what I can do to help amplify the voices of those that don’t have the same as me. I have learned that the only true litmus test for my teaching is hearing my students and parents tell me that I am making an impact and that listening to my students is one of the most powerful things we can implement as teachers in our classroom.

I would love to hear what you have learned too.

Article: Altman, Tomika & Jackson, Christa. (2021) “Mathematics + Self-Care = Being the Best You” in Mathematics Teacher: Learning Teaching PK-12. Vol. 114, issue, 12. NCTM.

Dash in the Classroom

One of the greatest joys that I have is working with students and seeing the pure joy they have when authentically learning. There is nothing that can express the sentiment of a smile, a cheer, or even a huge aha moment that students have. I thought I would take some time to showcase a great tool for learning and the fun that we had.

A couple of years ago I got to have the opportunity to bring in a Dash into the classroom. There is something special about bringing robots into a classroom. They are so rich in wonder and offer a really great experience that many do not have access to. For this particular classroom, we used Dash in a couple of ways.

The first lesson centred on drawing shapes with Dash. The first step was having the student design ways to have Dash hold a marker. This allowed the students to dive deep into design thinking and also draw and test different designs. Students started to understand how engineers were given a problem, how they then went around solving the problem, and finally testing and selecting a final design. Once students had the device created they were then able to figure out what shapes to make by coding dash to move. This brought in directional language, angles, as well as properties of shapes.

The next activity that the students did was centred around manipulating and changing code. Students had dice that would have various lines of code. They rolled the dice 3 times and could choose how these codes would work together. This allowed students the freedom to see how different codes can change the outcomes of the robot and also how to manipulate codes to help with the outcomes.

Another Game that we did was called Capture the Kingdom. This is a game in which students practice their subitizing skills. The students had a giant 8 by 8 grid that I made out of 4 chart papers. On the grid, I put various snap cubes or other counters and students had to plan the best way to get to the other side of the grid while collecting the most cubes. The rules are below.

Click on the image to get the link

Here are some more things:
1) Fractions and Dash
2) Other ideas

Dash has so much flexibility in learning and provides a rich opportunity to learn about coding. Students can not only see how to code but also about design thinking. No matter the curriculum expectation or the idea Dash has the ability to work with it. I have used it in Social Studies, Mathematics, Science and Art. Just jump right in and see the possibilities. If you want more information take a look at the presentation I was able to do with Logics Academy.

If you have any other ideas feel free to share them with me in the comments.

Structures and Routines

I just finished a post about learning environments and had to stop writing because I could go on forever on this topic. But I did say that I would write more so here it is.

One of the best ways to establish a healthy learning environment is the various structures and routines that you put into place for students to understand the environment around them. Some of my favourites are:

Community Circles

Communication Circles happen at least once a week, sometimes even more as my students call them or request them. In a way, community circles have nothing to do with mathematics but then again everything to do with mathematics. I was finding that I would be spending a fair amount of time dealing with fights, arguments or general behaviour from my instructional day and so I decided that I would try community circles to help mitigate this. I first heard of this from Dr Ross Green’s book Lost at School. The main premise is that as a community we meet together and discuss how things are going. There are two rules, one person talks at a time and no names are mentioned. I try really hard to keep the conversations about the facts and deal with how events make children feel not so much how a person made them feel or how a person acted. I start the conversation off with a pretty neutral prompt, something like would anyone like to share a sweet moment in their day? or share their favourite superpower. Sometimes I would start with thumb balls.

A thump ball can be a fun thing to discuss or they can be deep. I would recommend that when you first start out it is fun and silly items as a community need to be built first. After this, the next question I ask is, “how is everyone feeling and is there something you would like to talk about?” This allows students to air any grievances that have been going on or even talk about their day and class time. It is also a point that students can tell me if learning is going well, would they like to change things or even if something we have been learning about hasn’t been working. The students absolutely loved this and though it took time by the time March came around students were running their own community circles.

Reflective Fridays

I have quickly learned that reflection is a hard process to learn. We don’t all just figure out how to be reflective but it is something we have to practice and think about. Because of this every Friday I decided to turn one period of the day into a place where we reflected on our learning. The students were given a document that had a simple table.

Task What did Mr. So Say? What does this mean?Proof that I have changed?

This table allowed my students to go back into assignments or oral conversations and reflect on what I was saying to them. It also allowed them to think about what I wrote and why I wrote it. Being reflective was one of the single best teacher moves I started in my classroom. I found that students really thought hard about what was being said and how they could work towards achieving the learning. This also helped them name strategies, learning, and mistakes when they happened. It also help them notice that I had given them feedback worth reading.

Number Talks

One of the best routines for mathematics is the addition of number talks. Number talks allow me to have 10 to 15 minutes of dedicated learning on connecting students to their mental math strategies and modeling their thinking. I have added a quick advertisement on them and if you want to take a look at a presentation click here.

Click the image for the full PDF

Vertical Non-permanent White Boards

At first, I was quite skeptical about these. I use non-permanent spaces and permanent spaces and I didn’t think it made a difference so how would having it vertical change things but boy was I wrong. Having spaces to create and talk about mathematics changes the learning experiences. By being vertical students are standing and looking each other in the eye. They are more open to discussing and because it is non-permanent they record their thinking down as they talk, knowing that they can erase things if it is wrong. It was quite fascinating to watch but I found that this structure allowed for more engagement and talk in the classroom.

Visibly Random Groups

I first heard of this concept from Peter Liljedahl’s article. The premise is that you randomly select students groupings. I do this mainly through a deck of cards. I put two numbers together in piles and then mixed them up. Once I am ready I had them out and whoever has your number ends up being your partner. This allows students to work with a wide variety of students, it stops the streaming of students into ability groupings and it also creates an equitable space for learning. Furthermore, it alleviates the stress of groups picking their own group and people being left out or the fights that can happen when friends don’t pick friends. I have loved the discussions that have come out of it and how it helps students talk to different people in the classroom.

Here are some collected from my PLN (thank you all who offered some help).

Hopefully, there is a structure here that works for you or you would like to try. All of them will improve the learning environment of your classroom and help in your mathematics classrooms. If you have more to write or suggest I would love to see them. Feel free to add them to the comments below.

Learning Enviroments

Being in the role that I am in I have the privledge to do a lot of thinking and reflecting. As September has roled around and re-organization here in Ontario (classes get realigned depending on the numbers for our students) I have been thinking about what a learning environment means and more importantly what we can do to establish it.

I know that in 2021 the ministry of Ontary wrote this article on the Third teacher, discussing how the environment around you creates a third teacher for students but the environment is so much bigger then just another teacher. The Learning environment is everything to safety of a student and also the progression of a students ability to learn.

Now the Learning environment is such a huge topic and I don’t think I can even get to the bottom of this on one post, so maybe there will be more but here is my intial ramblings.

When thinking about the environment it starts with our own beliefs about how we see students. I often start of conversations reflecting on:

1) How do you see students?
2) Do you see all students equally?
3) Do you believe that ALL students are capable, competent and willing to learn?
4) Have I created the right conditions for ALL students to feel welcomed and able to learn in my classroom?

I start with these questions because they were the exact same questions I had to reflect on when I was rethinking my teaching practices. In earlier posts I often comment on how my daughter has changed my whole perspective on learning and before this huge mindshift I don’t think I could answer these questions and say that I did. I mean I may have felt like i did but the more I look back the more that I think about the misses in my teaching.

Seeing students is the first step to having a healthy learning environment. It is how we talk to them, how we create a place of shared authority where, yes we are the teacher, but students are as much a part of the learning and the environment around them as we are. It is also the ways in which we talk to students and honour their voices. How we see students comes into how we plan lessons, how we create a phyiscal space that centres them and not our needs. It means that you can change your space and style because you reconize or your students have said something isn’t working. It comes into the ways we provide feedback, or even think about our assessment practices. How we see students, becomes the centre of all that we do and if we cannot answer I believe that ALL students are capable, competent and willing then we need to honestly reflect on our teaching. Seeing students also brings in reflecting on our social location and privledges that we have had as these form unintentional or intentional biases. These also need to be checked and thought about as we reflect on the question of seeing students?

With my purpose or feelings set or constantly being checked. I can start to think about the space in which my students will enter. This space needs to be a collaboration between you and your students but it is also a space that considers all of the learners that you have. It is also a space that will need to be revisited, as the first day of norms and routines is not enough to establish a safe space for students to question or reflect on their needs. When thinking about the physical space I constantly think about Zoretta Hammond’s work on CRP and the brain and how she talks about 4 cultural archetypes. The first two deal with having people that are individualistic and collectivest. She also mentions the archtypes of oral and written and how these can be combined with the ones above. Being a collectivest and a oral archetype I need to do better to think about how to make my classroom environment one that can support the others. But the biggest question is thinking about how to make the classroom for all of these.

There is much more to think about when it comes to learning enviroments but if we have not set our own purpose towards our students or the thought about the phyiscal space our students will be learning in, then much of what we can discuss afterwards doesn’t matter. But more will follow. If you have some thoughts about learning enviroments or have comments please put them below.

How do we see students?

A couple of weeks ago I was in conversation with a colleague of mine. The conversation was around Math pedagogy and more importantly how we see our students or really not see them. He mentioned to me that his team and our board big learning goals for mathematics was on the need to start problematizing our practice instead of problematizing our students. This caught my attention right away as it has always been something that I have been thinking long and hard about. As educators the ways in which we see students drives our practice and even the best intentioned teachers (heck even myself) often fall into the trap of problematizing our students.

We often say things like: they just don’t get it? or even after review they don’t understand or Man I spent hours making those lessons or we spent weeks on this, most of the class gets it, I guess they need more time or even better yet we if they were more engaged or had more drive to learn they would be better. But all of these things these phrases are problematic and shift the focus away from us as educators and our practice.

It reminds me of the phrase from Cathy Fosnot that I often quote, “The purpose of teaching is to learn but without learning there is no teaching.” At a very early stage in my career I had to honestly think hard about the ways in which I was teaching. I asked questions about if my students aren’t getting it what is really the root cause. Or why do I ask the same questions year after year. I realized that though I had only been teaching for a short time, the only consistant factor year after year was me. So if I was having the same problems with kids then really it was me who was having the problem not the kids.

Statistics show that our most vunrelable (our Black boys, among others) are at a young age (kindergarten) at a loss and behind in academics. Why? because for one (and there are many other reasons but for one) we problemitize the child instead of thinking about our practice. As educators we need to be thinking about our students and how they best learn. Now I know we work hard, I know we are over worked but no matter what or how we teach if we are not reaching our students then we need to change our practice in order to reach that one student.

This means even if our practice follows the most current and up to date research or if it doesn’t, the bottom line is if it doesn’t fit a student’s needs then we need to change our way of delievery to serve that student. Now I know we can all think about “that student” and I know that as you read this we may have comments or thoughts about the students we serve but we became teachers to help and grow our students learning, so if they are not learning we need to reflect on how we are teaching and not on what the students isn’t doing for us as teachers.

I know when I first started to think about this it came down to a lot of listening and understanding what my students wanted, loved to do and how they saw themselves as learners. Dr. Goldy Mohummad said in one of her workshops, we need to think about the Joy more. Students need to see the joy in learning and we need to see them as joyful learners.

This statement is just the surface of many things in education and I know what I may have said can strike a nerve, especially under the stress we are in but I know as a profession this is how we get better. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Being comfortable with being Uncomfortable

This year I have been sitting with this thought for quite some time. There has been a lot of deep reflection in a good way about who I am as an educator and I am thankful for those moments. Now I know you can take this phrase in numerous ways and though it has implications for learning in general I am currently reflecting on the ideas around equity and the shifts that have thankfully taken place because of the pandemic and the most recent Black Lives Matter protests. Because of these two pivotal events there has finally been a shift or a reckoning that has been needed to happen for quite some time. I also want to say that what I am saying is not anything new and has been said by many before me. Many that have fought long and hard for injustices, equity and dismantling. I am forever thankful for the learning that I have done and continue to do because of these individuals, many who may not even know that they have shifted my reflection and affected me so deeply and I am forever in their debt for that learning.

This year I was reminded of Glenn Singleton’s 4 agreements around having Couregous Conversations about race (I have linked a quick PDF for reference).

Four Agreements

  1. Stay engaged: Staying engaged means “remaining morally, emotionally, intellectually, and socially involved in the dialogue” (p.59)
  2. Experience discomfort: This norm acknowledges that discomfort is inevitable, especially, in dialogue about race, and that participants make a commitment to bring issues into the open. It is not talking about these issues that create divisiveness. The divisiveness already exists in the society and in our schools. It is through dialogue, even when uncomfortable, the healing and change begin.
  3. Speak your truth: This means being open about thoughts and feelings and not just saying what you think others want to hear.
  4. Expect and accept non­closure: This agreement asks participants to “hang out in uncertainty” and not rush to quick solutions, especially in relation to racial understanding, which requires ongoing dialogue (pp.58­-65).

Though I love all of them, the two that I have been reflecting on the most is the second and the fourth and it is the second agreement that has caused me to write this post.

There has been a lot of change happenning this year and much of it (we could have done without a global pandemic) has been needed and called upon for a long time. Equity should be the main vechicle in which we support and pursue our lessons and I will admit that I have not always been doing this. Though I often thought I was putting students forward, or even building inclusive places to learn, I also know that I was part of the problems that have been raised this year. This year in particular I have sat with many uncomfortable moments as I reflect back and try to remember my students, the parent communities and how my practices have negated voices from being heard.

Equity work is hard work but important work. It is a lot of wadding through many uncomfortable moments as you listen and reflect on your own bias, privledge and power in this world. It is also a lot of reflecting on unheard voices, wading through the what has been said and how I have been a part of that trauma. Now I could have easily said, “hey that has nothing to do with me” and left it at that but to be honest that just isn’t true. One of my biggest reflective moments is that we as educators have ALL been a part of the system and ALL have a part in its dismantling. We all have our biases and the ways in which we see the world and we ALL as educators have privledge over those that we serve. To often I have seen defenses going up, a lot of “not me” or that is unfair to say. I understand, it is easy to feel like this is an attack, but I ask, why do you feel attacked? I ask that uncomfortable feeling you have when you hear things that question your way of knowing, your being, your history, is it wrong to feel? or is it something we need to sit with for a time and honestly think about before we react. That sitting goes back to number 4. It has been the hardest part for me, especially with ADHD but being quiet is a good thing. Listening and not responding is a good thing. Acknowledging yourself and where you are at is a good thing.

This is why the second agreement has stuck with me. For this work, this important work of dismantling and rebuilding, to work we all need to be ready for uncomfortable moments. We need to think about the ways in which we have caused and possible will cause trauma. We have to sit and listen with voices who have been marginalized and surpressed for what is an eternity. We have to be ready to learn and not question. To listen and not defend where we are but to listen and grow. We have to be comfortable with those uncomfortable moments. The moments that have us question who we are as educators, our why, our purpose and if we have caused harm. We have to be ready to accept that there is growth and learning in everything that is said. We have to be okay with those who question, power, priveldeg and authority. We have to be ready to question the practices, the history, the things that we have been taught as truths for so long. Why? because this is the only ways in which we will dismantle, the only ways in which we will grow and the only way in which we will create a system that is free from racism and predjudice.

Thinking about the power in our classrooms or more importantly time to rethink the power in our classroom

Most recently I know with virtual learning the debate around cameras on or off has been a very hot topic. I understand the enourmous pressure that teachers are under to rethink, reevaluate and reflect on what does school look like in an online environment and I also understand how much effort and stress it is to recreate lessons for this world. Not to mention the stress of a pandemic and your own family and mental health. It is a huge balance and in no way is this post to bash the efforts that are being done but to maybe help us as a profession reflect on what we do.

Many of our efforts in education has been about compliance. Students walk in hallways in a straightline, they line up outside before coming in, certain classes go first and this is all in the name of order and saftey. Though saftey is always a concern and one in which we should be aware of how much of what we do in school is for the actual benefit of the students and how much of it is for our needs as educators for control or our own self regulation. We are all creatures of habit, we all like things a certain way and we all like to have our classrooms and lessons to go the ways in which we planned. Going off script is scary. But I will suggest that the more we let go of the compliance and need for order the happier and more engaged our students will be.

Let us revist the camera off and on issue. Besides understanding the inequity issues that go with internet issues and bandwidth to envading personal spaces (even with virtual backgrounds), the whole notion of asking to see a childs face is about compliance. We want to see if they are doing the work, we want to see a reaction and read emotions on their face, we want to see how our lesson is going because that is what we are use to. When in class our students have to show up in person. They have to show their face, even if they don’t want to but online they are the ones in control of turning on and off that space. For the first time, the students have some control and they in a way want to use it.

So the question comes what do we do as educators? How do I still meet my needs and my own self regulation. Well there is no easy answer but to me it comes down to the relationships that we form and thw culture in which we create. In august I wrote about my learning experiences going online, you can read them here. But the culture we create is the number one thing.

I have always been a fan/ fanboy of Matthew Morris. After hearing him talk at TedX Kitchener I was forever in his corner. In January he tweeted this:

Now I loved this because it showed Matthew reaching out to each child and talking to them as individuals. He spent the time to understand them and my guess also talk to them about his problems. I don’t want to put words in his mouth and Matthew if you are reading this please correct me but what I can guess is that Matthew created a relationship in which his he could communicate his frustrations and they theirs. It was a mutal agreement and not one based on compliance but one based on how can we find ways to meet our needs together. As I was scrolling for this tweet I came across a couple more from Matthew.

I am also reminded about Pamala’s words because I feel this is how we can start to move away from compliance.

School is changing, heck the world is changing and our system needs to move to meet those needs. I understand the struggle and the need to hold on to things that our comfortable or that we have always done. We also don’t have a lot of time to recreate but I will argue that if you don’t spend the time to create that culture of learning you will forever be frustrated in in a power struggle with your students. Students just want to be heard, loved and know that they are valued and understood. When those needs are met they will turn on their cameras, they will speak up and they will do whatever you ask because they know you want what is best for them and not what you need to be done.

So as we go about our day whether inperson or online let us rethink how much of our tasks are compliance based, how many times we ask questions just to make sure they got what we lectured about or what our assessments are truly getting our students to do. It isn’t about reinventing the wheel but rethinking our needs above the students.

As always happy to talk and hear what you have to say. Please comment or tweet me any time.