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.

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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:

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.


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

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 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

No title just some thoughts

I don’t really know what I am writing. I don’t even know if what I am writing is worth writing but I feel compelled to put down some thoughts. Even as I write I cannot even think about a title but I feel like maybe it will come to me as I write but maybe it won’t.

I know already this post maybe confusing but this is an interesting time. There is a lot of feelings out there about going back to school and every feeling that we have is totally rational and okay. I am not writing this in anyway to say going back to school is right or wrong. In fact, I don’t even know what to think about it. However, what I do know is that no matter what we as a profession will do our best to be the best.

I know that we are scared about what this new reality is going to be. I know we are scared about how I we are going to help students but I also know that as a profession we are often some of the most innovative and creative thinkers out there. Whether we are in agreement to go back or not isn’t really up for debate. Our employer has told us we are going back. The stress to deal with that environment is out of our control. However, there are many things that we are in control of or at least in my opinion in control of.

1) Positive Out Look
Yes, things do not look rosy and full of sunshine. Yes, I am scared but I have also learned if I continue to focus on the negative I get sucked down a rabbit hole of negativity. The one thing I can control is continue to look for the positive parts to being back in school. I/ we get to see our kids again. We get to make some impacts for students who felt safe and secure in our buildings. For some of our students being at school was the only safe place they had. The only place where they belonged. They are craving that love and that attention. Being a beacon of hope when all may be dim is something that we can be a part of. We can influence our students to see the positive and to be positive.

2) My Emotions
Emotions are still something that is hard to control and yet is still in our very power to control. There are a lot of emotions. As a parent too I question is this right for my family. My kids desperately want to be with people. I see it in their eye when we have play dates outside with other kids. I see it in their eyes when they go to the park and there are other kids. They are craving the human connection. I also am scared of the virus. I know I am healthy and I do my best to stay in fit and healthy but we don’t know enough about this virus yet to see what it does. That being said I also know this virus isn’t going away. We cannot outrun it, we cannot hide from it. This is shown from our isolation and still the spread is happening (true not as fast as it was but it still spreads). But fear, anger, sadness, questioning, etc are all emotions that I can control. I can express them here. I can talk to my close friends and people who I trust. I can do my best to stay in control of those emotions so that I don’t let them affect my every day. I haven’t been writing much, in fact I have been staying away from social media to keep my emotions at bay but my last post was on being scared and that is okay. It isn’t the emotion that is bad but how it changes us and what we do with it. We have a choice to let it affect us or we have the choice to push through and move on in a new reality.

3) The Activities that I choose
As a teacher this is the one thing I know I have control about and yet I have read a lot of I don’t know what I will do cause I won’t be able to…… (fill in the blank). We can still do whatever activity we had plan just in new ways. This part should be the exciting part. This is where we should focus our emotions and energy too. How will we make this work? How will we change education for the better? For every problem there is a solution. I know that collaboration won’t be the same without close contact, but it doesn’t mean it cannot happen. Kids can still talk to each other just a little farther away. I have tables instead of desks. okay so I will have more flexible seating in my opinion. Kids won’t always sit at a desk that day but they will sit somewhere they want to for the day and we will teach them to clean and disinfect their learning spaces. I know for myself I plan to be outside as much as possible. I may invest in some shade spaces or we will go for walks around the spaces we do have. It maybe hot but we will adapt. I plan to have collaboration and talk. To have discussion and debates but in a safe environment. We have control over that and yes it won’t be the same but maybe it will be better. Only time and you can make that happen.

4) Being Innovative
Now is the time to think about what have we always done that makes the difference. Now is the time to control and think outside of the box. Education as a whole needs some redesign, it has failed our students for years but now we can redefine it because we are going to have too. Will it be a lot of work yes but so is posting and researching about what is failing with the opening plan.

Now I know my ideas and thoughts may not be for everyone and that in no way am I trying to diminish anyones feelings and emotions. All emotions are valid and real. We are all in different spots with going back to school. It is fine to feel scared, it is fine to feel angry, it is fine to be not okay. I think what I have been trying to express is how or what do we do next? Where do we try to put our energy? How will I push through and make what I have the best situation? I know for myself I cannot keep sitting here angry or scared. I need to find some normalcy in this chaos. I need to feel that there is a small path to see some light at the end of the tunnel. It may never be what it once was but we have the power to maybe make it better than it ever had been.

The funny thing is I still don’t know what to call this post. In fact, I don’t know if I will publish it. If you are reading it I guess I did but in the end I know that as a profession we will continue to be the best because that is what teachers are. We make our students feel like they can do anything, we make our students dream and learn, we are the ones they turn too when sad, angry and depressed, so continue to be those teachers. Continue to be the ones that the world both hates and yet looks up too and says thank you. Continue to rise up through the stress, chaos and emotions to be the best version of yourself, as I know you can and will.

And no matter what happens, no matter where or what decision you make. Thank you for being a teacher.

It is okay to feel scared

This post is more of an attempt to rationalize and calm my own nerves than make a commentary on anyone else and their feelings. When Izzy (my daughter) was learning to communicate more we were told by her therapist that to help her with her feelings it was important that we expressed ours. We often said, ” I am feeling….because…” and this in turned actually helped her to open up. The theory was that the more we opened up our own feelings the more she felt that it was normal to do so and it gave her permission to as well.

These are scary times. For me it isn’t so much the virus itself but the uncertainty of life. I have never done well with the unknown. I have faith and a believe that things will work out for good but that small 1% of my voice is always the loudest. I love routine, which I know for many of you to hear me say it may make you laugh but I do. I thrive on keeping logical thoughts and things in order. These past view weeks and to be honest the year has thrown all logic and structure out the door for me.

So I am here to write down that I am scared. I am scared for my family. I am scared for my friends who may or may not have jobs or a business once this is all done. I am scared for my students who have lost that structure. I miss them and the connections that I have made. I am an extrovert by nature (I know shocking right?) and those human connections fuel me and make me feel alive. I am scared that those connections will change and the way we interact with each other will. I already see it now. People are afraid of one another. There is a dark cloud over everyones faces and it hurts me to see this. I am scared that I have no control over life right now.

I know that many of you are scared as well and that is okay. What I am trying to do is state my feelings. Stay away from social media that isn’t purposeful (I love those memes but some times the news articles are too much). I am also making sure I maintain my running and exercise as this keeps me from going completely stir crazy. I am also trying hard to reconnect with my family and my kids. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I may not see that reason, it may stress me out and scare me to death while I go through it but there is always something I learn about myself and about my life. This is be no different.

I hope this finds all of you well and safe. I know these are tough times but I am reminded of this….

The sun will rise soon and when it does we will rise to the new day with amazing new skills and learning opportunities. Till then continue to smile, continue to love and continue to be amazing.

Minecraft in the Classroom: Going Beyond Creepers and Zombies

This past month has been a very exciting month for our classroom. We started a deep dive into using Minecraft in the classroom. Now I know you hear the word Minecraft and automatically think two things. 1) What is that? or 2) zombies, creepers and kids playing video games but it is so much more than this. I won’t go into the whole premise of Minecraft but you can check it out here.

Now what did we do with it. In Ontario, one of the subjects that we go into in Grade 4 is Early Societies (or better known as Ancient Civilizations). Here are the overall expectations:

Now in the past I would grab some books, have the students read through them and fill out a graphic organizer. This graphic organizer would then help them to write a report about the civilization of their choice. This is great. It gets at the curriculum, I teach writing conventions and concepts and they learn an important skill in researching information but do the kids enjoy it? Does it really get them into understanding the research? or is it just words on a page. I think about my own daughter, who just happens to be in Grade 4. I personally love Ancient Civilizations, especially Medieval Era. I talk about it with her all the time but it wasn’t until we went to Medieval Times that she was like whoa daddy this is cool. That rich immersion into a society that is gone is very hard to replicate but this is exactly what we got with the use of Minecraft.

So what did we do. The first step was the same. My students started out looking at books and looking for information in regards to the environment they lived in, society (class structure, daily life) and various innovations. When we first started out we felt this was the best way to get students into the various civilizations and allow them to explore. I then introduced them to the world of Minecraft, which many if not all went nuts. I told them that they would be working in their groups to make their civilization come to life. I decided that they would need a small sample so I created my own world to show them. You can see this world in the Minecraft folder below. Here is a screenshot:

I also gave them a set of parameters.

  1. I wanted at least three structures that would represent their civilization
  2. They had to have 2 pieces of innovation
  3. They had to show me the social structure
  4. The environment and the materials they chose had to represent their civilizations time period.
  5. Once that was all done they could go in and add anything else they thought was good to know from their research

The next step was paper prototyping their Minecraft worlds. Students were given a large piece of newsprint and told to map out what they felt like their worlds would look like. In hindsight some more skills on mapping may have been needed. However, students had a plan of what they wanted to design. They then took this plan into the Minecraft world to start their crafting. This was where the interesting discussions started.

At first, the students where just exploring their worlds. For many of them it was new and exciting but as they started to build their discussions became richer and richer. Many students argued about the materials that they were using, some noticed that the vegetation was all off and had to be changed. Some of the students asked about various materials and when it was developed. One group had some of the most interesting conversations:

Me: What are you building?
Group: A doctor’s office
Me: Really? Did they have doctors (this was the medieval era)
Group: I don’t know
Me: Why did you want to build it?
Group: Cause we have them so they must have had them
Me: Go do a quick research on it?
Group: OMG!!! they just cut of their hands and let them bleed
Me: (small chuckle inside)

Another conversation I had was around Libraries.
Me: What are you building?
Group: a Library (they had used the bookshelves in Minecraft and built this elaborate place of learning)
Me: Did they have books?
Group: Why wouldn’t they? How else did they learn?
Me: Um…. (left them for a while)
Group: They wrote on scrolls and only certain people read, that isn’t fair?
Me: so what changed?

I had numerous conversations like this with many groups. I could not believe the rich and engaging conversations that the students where having. These conversations started right away. As children built they talked about materials, dimensions, where certain place had to be built and the scale of buildings. Not only did these conversations happen but more questions and further research had to happen. This is something that I never saw with my older versions of Ancient Civs. Sure the students enjoyed the different civilizations but there was never a real thirst to learn more.

With the buildings complete the next step was to use the black boards, signs and NPC players in Minecraft to share their research. With these components students are able to share their research in small sections at a time. It helped us relearn proper paragraph writing and focusing on main ideas.

Once students developed their worlds they each got a chance to go around to different ones and explore them. Within Minecraft EDU students have a camera, portfolio and Book a Quill option. With these options students can record their thinking down which can later be downloaded as a PDF or kept in the world for others to read.

As we wrapped our project my teaching partner and I reflected on some changes to our process for next year. One I would have started in science with teaching more about habitats. We felt that this would give more students a connection with the environment and biome piece. We also felt that instead of starting with the research we would just jump right into an inquiry and paper planning. The reason for this is that we felt as soon as students started to build they really got into asking deeper questions, which in turn lent itself to higher research and more meaningful connections to the work. The final piece we felt that the students needed more work with basic gameplay. As you look through their worlds you will find that students didn’t lead you through the world. The nice thing is that with Minecraft EDU there are already a lot of pre-made worlds for lessons on all sorts of topics. One that I thought would be great is called the Mindful Knight which teaches students about Mindfulness in a simple game-based play. If combined with a story map students may see how to map their own game and the learning path for the civilizations. I also want to add in a section where they would show the evolution/ inspiration that their civilizations gave to other civilizations. I feel this was an amazing piece that time just didn’t allow. I will have to make this up later on in the year.

There is so many options in Minecraft EDU it isn’t even funny. It is by far more than a simple video game with zombies and creepers but one that allows students to explore and immersive themselves in the learning.

Here is a video link of one of my students worlds:

Would like to check out their worlds here are a few to download:

If you don’t have access to Minecraft check with your board many people don’t know that they already do. If you do have it I highly encourage you to use it in the classroom. Minecraft EDU works on Microsoft devices and apple devices, sorry no Chrome books.

My Daughter has ADHD….

My daughter has ADHD (I don’t know if I have ever said this in print) but this is not how she needs or should be defined. As many of you know my daughter has been one of the greatest inspirations for me and many of my writing. She makes me think and yes all kids make parents think but she makes me question everything I do as a teacher. For my colleagues the reason why I always ask “what are your intentions” is because of Izzy.

Having a child with a learning disability and ADHD has been a struggle. The system we currently have unfortunately is not enough and I work in this system. Now don’t get me wrong she has and does have fabulous teachers but like all great teachers there is only so much that they can do with the resources they have. As I mentioned before this has been one of the hardest things I think I have ever dealt with as a teacher and as a parent. There has been many battles with IEPs, discussion with teachers about what ADHD means about LD and more importantly how Izzy learns. I have spent countless hours researching and learning about Izzy’s disability because I know what it takes for her to be successful. It has been very frustrating at times because of these battles. I know my daughter, I know she is frustrating but I also know that she has one of the most beautifulest minds you will ever see and I felt that many teachers just didn’t see it. I still remember one year I was just told, “I have never had a girl like Izzy.” I have sat in cars crying, I have sat in my house yelling and screaming in frustration but with every battle I have learned more and more about my daughter and also about how to talk and teach children.

As I have mentioned before I have always said having Izzy go through school has been the best thing that has happened to me. I have been trying to write a post like this for quite some time but it often turns to anger instead of my intent. I have many posts that start with “all teachers should have a child with a disability” or “what I wish our education system should know from a parent point of view” but it wasn’t till my good friend Ruthie Sloan wrote her post about empathy that it finally clicked. My daughter is one of the most amazing people that you will ever meet and one of the most frustrating. Here is what she has taught me:

  1. Have empathy towards our students:

This has probably been one of my biggest learning. When I first started teaching I would love to say I had compassion for students but I don’t know if I truly did. I see kids a lot differently now that I have had a child who struggles to be seen, heard and understood. I listen to conversations in staff rooms, or interpret in school review committees differently because I know what its like to be the parent of a child who is not seen, heard or understood. I try to look at children with “soft eyes” because that is what I hope teachers do with my daughter. All children want to be loved. I know at times this is one of the hardest things to see. As teachers we have extremely busy and frustrating days but children don’t come to school to make our lives miserable and just want to be loved.

2. There is always a reason why students misbehave:

This comment goes with the above. I know with my daughter and with most kids that there is always a reason for the misbehaviour. Because Izzy has ADHD the impulsive things or the on point one moment and not the next isn’t her choosing. Yes, she is to be held accountable for behaviour but we as educators need to think about why those behaviours are happening. Stuart Shanker’s work on self reg has been absolutely fundamental in learning about this. Understanding that we as educators need to reframe and redirect behaviour has been a huge change for me.

3. ALL kids need accommodations:

This is everything and yet one of the most frustrating things as a parent and teacher. ALL kids will benefit from accommodations and because we give them doesn’t mean that we are cheating the system or the kids are some how not meeting standard. I am not trying to be preaching here but something that irks me a little. That being said ALL kids need them but for students like Izzy they will not survive without them. As a parent the amount of times that I have had to fight for her accommodations is crazy and I know the system. Our students deserve better and we as a system can learn more about how to accommodate our students. Four questions that I have been focusing my planning on are 1) Do they know what to do? 2) Do they know when to stop? 3) Do they know what to do afterwards 4) Is it developmentally appropriate? If we can answer those questions you will see a lot more happier children.

4. Relationships Matter:

I have written many posts on this that I don’t even know where to begin here. You can see my Tedx talk on it too. Bottom line is the more we make connections the less problems we have. We need those connections between children in order to make sure that when we have to discipline it isn’t seen as an attack but at a place of love and learning. Izzy is no different. She listens more to the ones she knows love her and she doesn’t resist as much when she has a relationship with you versus when she doesn’t. When kids feel threatened their animal brains take over and the with fight or flight; in my daughters case you get the fight 99% of the time. This is protective mode. This is survival for them. But when you have that relationship you can talk her off that ledge and then reason once she is calm.

5. Not all disabilities are visible:

This has probably been my biggest learning. ADHD isn’t a disability that you outwardly see. The other problem is that Izzy has moments where she is on fire and you look at her and go man you get it one day but not the other. Many students with ADHD are also gifted. But then there are moments where it just isn’t there. The video below has a great analogy about a race car with a super engine but with bicycle brakes. I often call ADHD my super power (yes it is hereditary). It has allowed me to do many amazing things but it also has hinder me in many other areas. See disabilities means that you see the child for who they are and accept who they are for all that they have. It means allowing them to express their learning in a variety of ways, to be super energetic or to move. It means that we have to let go of our notion of compliance and question why we do what we do.

6. No this is not an act or done on purpose

This sort of ties with the above but Izzy doesn’t often act out on purpose. Her actions are often impulsive and she has social lagging skills. Many students with LDs have this and even more so with ADHD. There is often anxiety and mental health issues tied to ADHD because they are so misunderstood. Because Izzy can be on one minute and off 10secs later it is perceived that her actions must be intentional. Even as a parent I have to remind myself that this is not the case.

7. Be kind you are still learning

I have to remind myself of this every day. I make mistakes all the time. There is no one that beats them self up more than me as a parent. I blame Izzy’s misfortunes on my failings but I have to have kinder eyes. I have to say it is okay, keep learning and keep growing and I think as educators we have to have that too. We all have busy careers and classrooms. We have many balls we juggle and those balls will fall.

Thank you for listening to me write about this topic. I have been trying to articulate these past two years for quite some time. I want educators to learn more about ADHD but also that we as educators can do more to shift and rethink how we work with those with special needs. Seeing with empathy is a great place to start.

If you want a really great video about ADHD take a look at this: or if you are a podcast person take a look at this: Or learn more from this website:

As always if you have questions or comments please add them below or message me. Or if you have a story to share I am happy to listen.

Perseverance, struggle and a little grit: How running a 53km race relates to Education

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Its done its done and im alive to tell the tale

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So this Saturday I did something I never thought I could possibly do, I ran a 53.9km race. This was and has been one of my biggest accomplishments but also has me thinking about goals, perseverance and having a little grit.

This race was not what I was hopping for. When I first started out on the journey I was feeling the best I have ever felt (when it comes to running) but then well injury came into play and right at the peak of my training. This was devastating, I was devastated. I had to shut it down and started to rebuild. This also made me reevaluate my training and my goals for this race. And then there was the race. For the first 25km of the race it went according to plan. I was keep pace and felt amazing.

But then that is where it went down hill. I hit a wall at 28km and than another at 35km (this was the farthest that I have ever gone due to my training being cut short). But then something came over me and at 45km I just said, “enough!” and pretty much willed myself to the end.

It was a pretty huge feeling crossing the finish line and being able to say that I ran 53km but this blog isn’t really about me running a race it is about education. So how does running a race relate to education.

  1. I recently wrote about if we want our students to _____ than we need to show it. Reaching out of your comfort zone isn’t something we as human beings naturally do. We like our comfort blank and we like keeping the status quo and yet we as educators all want our students to go beyond this. This has something that is still nagging me but I will come out and say it. If we want our students to persevere, to do something that no one has done, to take risks than we as educators must also do this. Now it doesn’t need to be running 53km, it can be as simple as trying a new lesson, learning something new and visibly sharing the learning, writing a blog post even though writing is something you struggle with or whatever pushes you out of that comfort. We as educators must show that risk and that risk taking is important if we truly want our own students to do this. Last year, I ran 21.3km a half marathon. That was the most I have ever run, till now. The same day in which I did this the world record for a marathon was broken. The human limit is endless and only grounded by what we put it too. Show the students they are more by being more.
  2. This race also taught me the importance of grit. Grit isn’t something tangible. It isn’t something that can be truly taught but it is something that can be learned and often learned through hard fought lessons. I wanted to give up. There was one point in my race I went to stretch and fell down because my muscle cramped so hard it wouldn’t even hold me up. But I didn’t. Why? Because I was going to cross no matter what and nothing was going to stop me. That same grit needs to be discussed and show to our students. How often do many of them want to give up? Why? Because they haven’t had the experiences of wanting something or learning how hard it is to learn and grow. Life doesn’t really get better, we just get better at understanding. We understand by making mistakes and we learn by pushing our limits. No one learns when someone does things for them.
  3. No good goal can be done alone! I want to say this again. No good goal can be done alone. I had a huge team behind me all the way from my family, my friends, my physiotherapist (who also ran the race) to my running groups. This accomplishment was a group win and the same goes for our students. Yes, they need to have the goal. They need to realize it is important. They need to put the work in but they also need to realize that they will need help along the way. Helping our students understand to work together, to sacrifice their own goals to help others, to be kind and share joy goes along way. As I was running, the constant voice of “you are done, you aren’t good enough and you should stop” was met by other voices of, “You got this, I am hurt like you” and cheers of you did this. The bad was balanced if not out weighed by the good and we all need that in our lives.
  4. Sorry one more: No matter what always smile

Overall, this was an amazing experience and one that I will always treasure. It has shown me that I am capable of so much more and that I can and will continue to do amazing things. Love to hear what your goals are and if I can help let me know that too. Post in the comments or tweet me.

All photos where from Sue sitki photography.