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.

How do we define Behaviour?

This blog post has been a culmination of many thoughts that I have had for some time. But this week in my new role as a Learning Environment Itinerant Teacher I have been spending my week learning about Systemic AntiBlack Racism and it brought up a lot of my thoughts in regard to behaviour. In fact, this whole week has me thinking so there may be some more posts coming your way. Yesterday’s topic was on behaviour and discipline a topic that I hold dear and near to my heart as I have really had to adjust my own parenting and discipline for my daughter (want to read more about this check out soft eyes).

For those educators in Ontario I don’t think it isn’t a secret that Peel had an independent report on Racism done by the Ministry of Education. I want to add some excerpts from this report on what they found around suspensions.

Pages 9 and 10 of the document

When reading this portion a couple of things stuck out to me. One is the huge disproportion of black students compared to white students who are being suspended and the other is the reasons behind those suspensions. Now I know for some of my readers these stats will not be shocking, they are their lived realities. It is shocking for me as a half white half asian male who has had privileges and an upbringing to not be part of this but what is worrisome for me is reflecting on what I have learned about behaviour and what I may have or may not have been complacent to. This I recognize and hope to change. But I was shocked and at the same time as I reflect hard on my experiences I cringed at being surprised at why I am shocked. I will admit that I have had these thoughts inadvertently and innocently but doesn’t excuse it. I have looked at groups of people based on the ways I have grown up and the ways in which my values have created this lens. That in itself isn’t wrong because that is all we know but where the wrong is, is when we don’t reflect and listen and learn. We all have bias and privileges but time to change.

For me what this brings into the conversations is the topic of behaviour and more importantly discipline. I will be the first to acknowledge that when I first started teaching it was my way or the highway (heck even now I will admit this is still true to some regard). My classroom was ruled by me the teacher and even though I had voice and choice and tried to engage students I still had a high degree of compliance. I don’t think a lot of my teaching changed till Izzy went to school and I realized the trauma I was inadvertently putting on our students.

So how does this relate to the section that I just posted above. Often as teachers we establish rules for compliance sake. The rules we establish are what we think are best but they are often more about what we think is to establish control and compliance. Now I am not saying rules and punishment don’t need to be established. There are society norms and culture that is there in the world but the question we need to ask is whose society? whose norms? whose culture is being represented?

Daniel Siegle (author of no drama discipline) and many others suggest what is the point of punishment? Why do we need to punish? The reasons are often to stop the behaviour that we don’t want to see but they furthermore suggest that if students don’t understand or our in control of their rational thinking then is the punishment worth it. If we look at the above data we also see that a huge proportion of suspensions is in a undefined “other” category. It makes me question, why are we sending kids to the office? How do we see behaviour? Whose definition of behaviour are we looking at? what behaviours are we looking at? Does race have anything to do with it? These are hard questions to answer but questions we need to think about.

I will be the first to admit that I still have questions about behaviour. I still struggle with the idea of compliance. Much of this is because of my background and how I was raised. For much of my childhood it was spare the rod spoil the child. I was scared into submission and early told why or what I did was wrong. But when I honestly reflect on this I don’t know how much of that hard punishment made me learn what I did was wrong. In fact, I probably did it many many times until it hurt too much. What really worked was my mother’s explanations later on. The conversations that I had with her, about what I did was wrong and what I could do better next time was what helped. Now did this stop me totally, no but I did learn. So the question comes what do we need to do?

How we see behaviour needs to be changed? We as educators need to understand how to reframe behaviour and look at our students in a different light. We need to question what the behaviour is for or why the behaviour is happening instead of responding to the actually behaviour. Understanding that our children are expressing themselves (maybe not in the right way that we perceive) but they are expressing themselves. Are we listening to them?

This also brings up the ideas of self and students seeing themselves in our spaces. When reading these documents and listening to the voices of our students the overwhelming thoughts have been about not seeing them and when they do try to talk it is seen as loud, confrontational and wrong.

Through working with Izzy’s behaviour I have seen that most of her outburst happen when she is Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired (H.A.L.T). When you listen to the videos of our radicalized students you can hear the anger, you can see the loneliness and you can feel how tired they are from having to explain what is happening.

All children want to behave and will behave if they knew how. As ADULTS (yes I capitalized this) we need to be the rational ones. We need to check our own self-reg and how our own feelings and anger rises when dealing with behaviour. We will make mistakes but having the relationships with our students and apologizing for those mistakes goes a long way.

I don’t have all the answers, I just know that things need to change. Our students are asking for this change and I think as educators we need to reflect hard on our practices and our behaviour models to address these voices. If you have thoughts and questions I would love to hear your voice. I know I am still learning and trying to be better.

Some articles that may find useful: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/02/20/trauma-informed-practice-is-a-powerful-tool-but.html

https://www.vox.com/first-person/2020/6/8/21283764/black-children-protests-george-floyd-teach

https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/summer-2019/when-schools-cause-trauma

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5302858/

Dear Future Teachers

Dear future teacher of Izzy (insert any student name),

I know that this year you have a lot going on. I just want to write this letter to tell you a little bit about my daughter.

This is my daughter Izzy and me:

But this is also my daughter:

I just wanted to write this letter to you to tell you a little bit about her. Izzy has had many struggles in school. These struggles have built a lot of anxieties and problems as her journey has unfolded. Many of these anxieties have been rebuilt and she has learned some great strategies but there are still some anxieties that will manifest. You will find that Izzy is quite outgoing at times and also quite reclusive. You will find that Izzy is one of the most creative, helpful and caring student but then make these impulsive decisions that make you question her caring and helpfulness.

Some things that you may not know about Izzy is that she has ADHD, and general LD (learning disability) and expressive language is delay but is highly receptive. She is a visual learner and even though she has poor memory recall actually has a high visual recall. With ADHD, comes impulsivity but it is also a lot different than boys with ADHD. Some days she will be on and others maybe not so. Most of these days on will be subjects she loves and receives a lot of joy with. When she struggles with subjects her ADHD becomes harder to control. With her ADHD comes a lot of anxieties but we are working on this. However, both her struggles and her pros make Izzy who she is. She is one of the most creative students you will ever see.

This is her room (I call it a controlled Chaos). She is also one of the most caring students you will ever meet. She wants to be helpful, loved and cared for and yes at times she makes it hard to do so.

She responds well to relationships. When she knows you care her behaviour goes dramatically down. When it does come up, she often needs a break (I know this will be hard this year but breaks will be an asset for her to help her calm back down and discuss what has happened.

I am writing this letter to let you know that my daughter is more then what she shows. I am writing this letter because I want you to see her and not her behaviours. I know you will do your best and will always do your best. I know this because I believe that all teachers do their best. I am also writing this to let you know that as parents we are always here for you and her. Whatever you need we will get this for you and thank you for taking the time to see our daughter.

Sincerely,

Jennifer and Jonathan

My thoughts to my readers:

I write this letter every year and to be honest my sentiments are not any different then any parent who sends their kids to school. I know that this year there will be a lot of new changes and anxieties for us as educators. I understand that it is hard to self regulate students when we ourselves cannot regulate. But overall of this we have to always think of our students. Our students are more than the sums that they show. They have lived experiences, trauma and quirks that we all have to see but I know that sometimes it is hard when behaviour manifests. Throughout Izzy’s school career I have heard many things about my daughter. Luckily we have had amazing experiences with teachers who have learned to see her for who she is. As a parent I cannot thank those teachers enough for taking the time to know my daughter. As a parent we send the best part of ourselves to schools.

I write a lot about Izzy because she single handily changed who I was as an educator. She made me rethink how I talk and interact with my students. Self-reg has been huge in listening to my students and forming true relationships with them.

This year will be different but the one thing that will not is how we make our students feel. Relationships will be the most important thing we will ever have. How we greet them, make them feel welcomed and loved will greatly impact their behaviours and experiences. As a parting thought: “ALL students want to behave if they new how” is a statement that sticks with me. Our students are still young, even if they are in high school. They have factors that we have to know first before we can deal with behaviour. So as we go about this year. Get to know your students first and you will find your year to be more joyful and fun.

Online/ Distance Learning

Being in a balance calendar does have its perks but unfortunately during a pandemic it has a draw back in that we had to start our year fully online with our students. I wanted to start this year with a total different approach then how I worked with our emergency learning. Don’t get me wrong I feel like my team and I rocked that part but there was something missing. I felt like though we were providing learning opportunities we just weren’t getting to the kids.

During Distance learning for the most part we had some really good engagement. Near the end of June this engagement wained but I also think that some of this had to do with the overall message of emergency distance learning and that it was exhausting and draining the way in which it was set-up. A lot of the ownership fell on the parents and even now a lot still does. Students had to be self directed and if not fell through the gaps. Motivation was a huge problem as well.

Now yes, I understand there is also a lot of other things to consider when teaching remotely, things that I have never had to really think about. Privacy is huge. I now have the ability to see into our children’s homes. Equity is another. Do all my students have devices? Do all my colleagues have devices? I am lucky, I have the privilege to provide and buy the tech I have. I have a secure and reliable network. When you read this there are things that I will acknowledge that I do have because of my privilege and abilities but I will also try to address how we can modify for those moments when we don’t.

Taking this all in I started to do a lot of reflection. During this round I wanted to address 4 main areas:

1. Engagement and attendance

Though at the beginning of emergency learning about 75% engagement. There were some students who signed off and that was okay. This was a pandemic after all and we really didn’t know what we were doing. That being said I was still happy. However, as the year went on we lost more and more kids. This got me discouraged because there was and still is potential for us to connect and teach even remotely. The whole point of teaching is for students to learn but without learning there is no teaching. So I pondered how do I create expectations about engagement and learning? What would that look like? How can I make sure it is equitable for all learners and accessibility to technology

2. Synchronous and Asynchronous learning opportunities

In July my own kids had the privilege of being in a summer online school program. The program was broken into 2h segments each day. My son (K/1) had 30mins of language, 10min break and then 30 more mins of math. Izzy (4/5) had 45mins each block. This got me seeing the potential of small group instruction and working both synchronous and asynchronous. I also started reading a book by Emma Pass and her preview of her book called the Hybrid teacher. This book had some really great advice from different apps to use, various structures to just simple reassurance that online teaching can be done right. For the most part it confirmed what I wanted to do. For my plan this year I decided to break the week up into whole group days and small group days (Please note that during August we didn’t have a mandatory time online). Monday and Fridays I decided would be my whole group instruction days and Tues to Thursday would be the smaller group days. For my whole group lessons, I used them set the stage for the week and consolidate the learning. On Monday’s we would do some fun games around digital citizenship, go over the asynchronous learning and if time permitted do a mini-lesson for language or math. On Friday’s I would do a Kahoot or gameshow to consolidate the learning of the week. My small group instruction was a lot more guided. I would have the students follow a long in a slide deck where I would use peardeck or other interactive tools to get the students to participate. We would have small group discussions and then I would give them work to do on their own. During the independent time I would often have another meet where I would read with the students one on one or have discussions about the learning.

Here is a presentation that I used for Getting started with https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1i8BrzMSbW8AoQJn_wSXmtmXqcM38-5Rz8iEqHvNwc2I/edit?usp=sharing

2. Building Lasting relationships

I firmly believe that this has always been the secret to a successful year but it is also the hardest. That being said more than ever our students are in need of seeing you and you seeing them. They are craving interaction with other people. No matter if you are online or in person getting to know your students will be the single most important thing that you can do. Now I know this will be hard in distance learning. Some things that I have done:

  1. Dressed up in a dino costume just for fun. I know it is weird that I put this first but my students loved it and it just makes learning fun. It doesn’t have to be a costume but the idea is show your personality and make sure that the students see you having fun.
  2. Used flip grid to ask students about their names, pronunciations, fun facts or even some would your rather. I often put those flip grids into a Kahoot at the end of the day.
  3. Make sure you create one on one time for the students so they know you are there. I did this through office hours in the morning and small moments in our group sessions.

3. Assessment and work

This is probably going to be the hardest thing to think about but one you can get creative with. We all know that there are three ways to assess students observation, conversations and products. Being online products become a little harder to see because we don’t know who is doing it. Conversations and Observations become your main ways of assessing. I use the chat a lot. Because I don’t have the cameras on the chat becomes my way of engagement with students but this has to be established as a routine. Students need to see this is the expectation of the classroom being online. I will copy the chat into a document and use this for assessment purposes. There are many extensions that will do this but the easiest way is just to highlight and copy all then paste to a document. Pear deck has also been great as I have seen students interact with the slides and I can assess the learning that is happening. As for conversations, not all students will want to talk in the larger settings so creating those small moments where you can have one on one conversations will be the best. I also have them use flip grid, screencastify or online-audiorecorder.com as tools to add their voice to the conversations.

I know these are going to be hard and difficult times but I also think this is a time to rethink, reevaluate and reflect on our practices. Always question why do we do what we do and how can I make it better for my students. This is also just some ideas that I have been using. I have tried a lot