A Letter to a First-Year Teacher

Slide1The first few years of teaching can be overwhelming, particularly the first ten months when everything is new. Having been in this role for a minute or two, I can say that I have had a box of Kleenex at the ready more times than I can count for staff members who are having their own moment because of something that has happened in their class or because of a parent. And sometimes these Kleenex were for me! So here is my advice. Don’t sweat it! Don’t lose sleep over a lesson gone bad…an idea that tanked…an irate parent…or a student who is driving you crazy. Will you heed this advice? Probably not. But here’s your reality for the next 25 years. It will happen again, so make the most of these challenges!

The best thing that you can do for yourself is to learn from those mistakes or challenges and get better at it. If you are doing it right, your lessons may still tank from time to time. All this proves is that you are willing to take risks, willing to challenge yourself for the sake of your students. I’d say that’s winning right there! So don’t feel badly about not blowing it out of the park each time you’re up to bat. Get feedback, collaborate with your team, ask questions, and iterate that lesson…or toss it. Being perfect isn’t the end goal here. It’s all about the process and the learning, for yourself, just as much as it is for the students.

Facing difficulties is inevitable. Learning from them is optional.

You will also come across a few parents during your career who are overly anxious or concerned, helicopter Moms and lawnmower Dads, jerks and bullies. Believe me when I say that for the most part, they are sincerely invested in their child’s well-being and only want what’s best. Learn to listen to what they have to say, with the understanding that they are advocating for their children, because you may learn a thing or two along the way. The fact that they are perhaps doing so in a way that will make you want to rip your hair out is another matter. Just go to your happy place to find your inner peace while smoke is blowing out your ears so that you don’t take home all that frustration with you. And if this doesn’t work, find something or someone that will allow you to vent your frustrations and talk you away from the ledge. Tears, cursing, kickboxing or meditative yoga…find your jam and benefit from it. And then use the frustrating interaction with that parent as a constructive stepping stone to either hone your pedagogical practice or develop your skills in dealing with the crazy.

As for your students, they’ll continue to come to you from all walks of life and experiences. Some will definitely be more challenging than others and will make you question your decision to become a teacher. Your words and actions will have an impact on them, some noticeably, and others, not so much. But, an impact you will have. So find it in your deepest recesses to love these ones the most. Find your team in these tough moments…ask more questions, and develop or try new strategies to support that child. It’ll pay off in dividends! And when the going gets tough, find your happy place…or hole up in somebody’s office to vent away your frustrations. It’ll make those challenging moments a little easier to deal with.

Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand. ~ Oprah Winfrey

Trust me when I say that, in all my years of experience, my most difficult students, obsessed parents and bombed lessons were hands down my best teachers. So, use these challenges to get better at what you do and be the best possible version of yourself. And when those challenges are slightly overwhelming hiccups in life…breathe! Tomorrow will be a better day!

Advertisements

On Becoming Ourselves

Slide1

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it. ― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

This quote hit home…in a big way! I am a ‘do-er’ by nature and learning is part and parcel of who I am. Without it, I know that I would be lost. That said, being true to myself is something of a fairly new concept to me, a philosophy that I needed to figure up as a seriously grown-up adult. Coming from a certain background as a child, conforming was the expectation, so there weren’t many opportunities to understand or to learn about who I really was. I tried to emulate my peers with my lack of fashion sense. I refused certain outings because they weren’t ‘cool’ enough. I stayed away from certain peer groups to avoid social suicide. I didn’t share a lot about my personal life so that nobody had an opportunity to mock me. I didn’t put myself out there so that I wouldn’t be judged. I made ridiculously inappropriate choices in life to fit in. This lifestyle followed me throughout my adolescence and most of my adult life, until I decided that this was not who I was, nor whom I chose to be. A rather liberating feeling!

I have learned that making mistakes is a part of growing up…of learning…and of becoming the best version of myself. I have learned that it is okay to head out the door, decked out in a milk costume and a tutu for a great cause…simply because it’s for a great cause. If the neighbors are questioning my fashion sense, so be it. I have learned that I do not have to be liked by everybody…but I do have to like myself. I have learned that pushing myself outside my comfort zone allows me to grow, and if I look ridiculous in the process, that’s okay. I’m getting better every time I do so. I have learned that taking the time to be grateful for all the awesomeness in my life makes the little things all the sweeter, the big moments extraordinary and the painful ones easier to swallow. I know this because I am getting better at being human.

Yet, I also realize that life hasn’t really changed all that much since my childhood. There are still children who will continue to make ridiculous decisions that impact their lives because they want to fit in, even though what they are doing goes against every fiber of their being deep down. There are still children who work so hard to impress everyone around them, forgetting that the first person that they need to answer to is themselves. This misguided perspective leads to crazy levels of anxiety, depression and such deep-seeded sadness in many of our students at such young ages, that it boggles the mind.

How do we help students understand who they really are so that they can continue on a path to becoming their truest version of themselves? There is no magic bullet, or cure-all for students. But as educators, we can make the effort to practice what we preach. And we need to be doing this when they are little people, so that they have a chance to let the message sink in…I mean really sink in…so that they can walk the talk, and allow themselves to be just that…themselves…despite the pressures around them.

What does that mean for the adults in the building? What can we be doing so that our students not only hear what we are saying, but are learning from what we are doing?

Celebrate your failures.

Be okay with making mistakes. Celebrate your failures as stepping stones to your success. Laugh about them. Do not hide behind them or pretend that they didn’t happen. Those errors can bring hilarity to your world, a starter for a great story or an extraordinary memory. They can also make your future successes all the more exhilarating because reaching your goal hasn’t been all that easy.

What does this look like in a classroom? By modeling a writing assignment à la Optimal Learning Model, students see you crossing out your initial ideas to develop something better. The perfectionists in the room learn that there is no shame in striking out words, taking out ideas and adding something new in the editing process… this just makes the writing stronger. When you have a less than fantastic day, own it and admit to your students that you weren’t being your best self. Students will learn that we are human, that we make mistakes, that we recognize them and that we can learn from them to be better at what we are doing. When a lesson tanks, share your learning process with your students and then demonstrate what you will iterate to make it a better learning experience for them. The list of what you can do to celebrate those failures is long, but opportunities exist every day to show them that there is a strength to be had in doing so.

Better an ‘oops’ than a ‘what if’.

 Take risks.

Don’t worry about what your neighbors think or how your peers perceive you. If you want to try something, do it. Try it. Learn from it. I have a bucket list that I started 20 years ago. Much of what is on this list are activities and learning experiences that take me out of my comfort zones. My attempt at cake decorating for a friend’s sister’s wedding was a colossal failure of the Leaning Tower of Pisa variety, but I learned from it (and laughed a whole lot in the process). Rock-climbing lead to many scrapes, bruises, calluses, and backslides, but it also gave me some of the most extraordinary views and amazing friendships. Writing my first blog terrified the hell out of me, but I love writing, so it’s become my thing, despite the fact that very few see what I put out there.

As educators, we need to be sharing these learning experiences with our students, giving them the opportunity to take risks with their learning and being more than okay with the bumps along the way. How do we do this? Genius Hour projects are great opportunities for students to explore their ideas and passions. This process allows them to develop their own self-expression, to learn more about themselves and to iterate when the end product isn’t what they were hoping for. Either way, we are inviting them to take risks with their learning and celebrating the fact that they are doing so.

Educators can also give students multiple opportunities to iterate their ideas, to try something new or to tackle a problem from a different vantage point, whether this is while solving a math problem, finding a solution to a driving question or inventing something. These learning experiences push them to take risks with their learning, and to grow as a result.

Take the time to breathe.

Showing yourself some self-love is a crucial part to your mental health, as is taking time to breathe, but it seems that this is often the last thing that we pay attention to. As adults, we are constantly running to and from activities, obligations and deadlines. This is no different for our students. With multiple activities, a social life, homework and family obligations, there is little to no downtime for children these days. So if we want them to have healthy adult lives, with insight into what makes them tick, and what they need to do to be self-aware and completely in love with themselves, we need to help them develop strategies to do so. These include mindfulness techniques that can be incorporated into daily activities. Doing so a few minutes each day can teach students to remain centered, even when the going gets tough. Giving them some downtime to be still and to do something that doesn’t require assessment also provides an opportunity to breathe. This can be as simple as offering time for reading for pleasure or tackling an element of their Genius Hour project.

Use your words.

At the same time, our self-talk has a way of deciding our fate. Sometimes, the negativity takes precedence over anything else in our minds, and so we don’t push ourselves to take those risks for fear of failure…of being laughed at…of not being perfect. It stands to reason then that the words that we use in a classroom can also go a long way to supporting a child’s image of themselves. In A.J. Juliani’s recent blog, How To Win Friends and Influence Students, he spoke about 19 words that have a tremendous impact on a child’s engagement in class. According to study done by psychologists from Stanford, Yale, Columbia and elsewhere, these words make a difference in whether students will actively participate in revising their work or not, words that support creating a sense of belonging and community, and of believing in them.

‘I am giving you these comments because I have very high expectations                       and I know that you can reach them.’

 At the same time, modeling how we talk about ourselves gives students an opportunity to see it in action. Something along the lines of, ‘I wasn’t satisfied with the way that this lesson went, so this is an opportunity to make it better. This is what I’d like to try…’ goes alot further than, ‘I wasn’t satisfied with this lesson, so I’m getting rid of it.’ One demonstrates an openness to iteration and learning from something that didn’t work. The other emphasizes that we can’t use what doesn’t work. I prefer Option A.

There are many opportunities in a day to help our students develop into their best selves. We just have to be concious of our efforts in doing so. In that way, everybody wins!

Making Room for the What If’s

 Slide1

Last month, Katie Martin came to town to work with educators from nine different schools in the Louis Riel School Division. To say that I was really thrilled to be able to work with her is an understatement. She challenged us to explore our ‘What ifs’ in education and to discover our ‘Whys’, so that what we are creating has purpose.

When you know your ‘why’, your ‘what’ has more impact,

because you are walking into your ‘what’ with purpose.

Following her keynote address, teachers then came together to collaborate, design and explore, and began feeding off of each other as they shared their plans. It was particularly exciting for me as my own team came away with new ideas, wanting more time to work together to explore them. As I circulated through the crowd, I was energized by their conversations, thinking about my own ‘What ifs’ that have lead me on my journey with project-based learning. ‘What if…learning was student-centered? What if…learning was passion-driven? What if…teachers were as excited to be in their classroom as I hoped that our students would be? What if…our opportunities were limitless when it came to planning, collaborating and implementing our ideas? Moving through the room, I kept coming back to my ‘What ifs’ as I focused on what they were sharing with me, and it seemed that this was definitely an opportunity in the right direction for them. So awesome!!!

But with any ‘what ifs’, there also tend to be the ‘Yeah, buts’ in the crowd. And I heard a few, albeit just a few. I get it…there is a need for a reality check from time to time to keep us grounded, or to give us a different perspective when considering potential obstacles that might hinder progress. I just tend to have a general problem with this line of thinking when it becomes all-consuming, so much so that there is no possibility of thinking outside the box…or looking around a different corner…or even peeking out a new window…to shift our thinking and come up with different options. So when a staff members says, ‘Yeah, but…’ to me, my initial reaction is to go on a solution-finding line of attack, to demonstrate to the naysayer that there are other options available. The only problem with this tactic is that I am the one doing the legwork to find the solution, or the answer to a problem. And so, I am also the one doing the learning.

Then, Jimmy Casas tweeted something out this weekend that resonated with me and spoke to this challenge that we sometimes face as educators. He said ‘It’s a disservice to our teachers when we say they don’t like change or they fear change. What they fear is that we don’t give them the support, resources and TIME to change. Provide these things and watch them flourish.’ (Culturize: Every Student, Everey Day. Whatever It Takes.) This is soooooo true!

It’s a disservice to our teachers when we say they don’t like change or they fear change. What they fear is that we don’t give them the support, resources and TIME to change. Provide these things and watch them flourish.

As an administrator, my job is to ensure that this doesn’t become a thing in my world. And that the naysayers are the ones who become more adept at opening themselves up to possibilities. In our case, our team has been putting in alot of effort to move to a project-based learning model with our Grades 5 to 8 students. It has not been easy…this journey involves alot of work, a great deal of trial and error and some intense reflection. And yet, our team is engaged and thriving with the possibilities! That said, there are those who question the feasibility of launching into a project-based, learner-centered model, when so much of the work that they do is geared towards provincial exams. This brought me to my ‘What if…’ while working with Katie last month. ‘What if staff were given the freedom to implement their ideas so that the ‘Yeah, buts’ don’t take up permanent residence? ‘What if…’yeah buts’ wasn’t a thing, and instead, was replaced by ‘How can I’?

If I want this to happen, I need to support them in this shift so that they explore these solutions on their own, in their own way. These are a few things that can help make that transition easier for them.

What’s Your Why?

Support teachers in figuring out their ‘why’! By focussing on professional learning plans that speak to their ‘why’ with actionable goals, teachers can see the progress that they are making. Then, it is much easier to fall into the ‘How can I…?’ mode when you see that the work that you are doing is supporting your purpose. Without a clear sense of where you are headed…your ‘why’…those ‘Yeah, buts’ can become all-consuming, particularly when you see no way out of whatever rut you feel that you are in professionally. Making this happen involves regular check-ins with the administrator, discussions and collaboration with colleagues, and a professional growth plan that makes sense to the teacher.

Find Time To Collaborate

How do you go about providing ample time for your team to collaborate and generate ideas?

Scheduling Common Prep Periods. All of our teams have at least one, if not two common blocks of prep time per cycle scheduled into their timetable so that they can come together to share ideas and move forward with a plan. It is an expectation that they do so on a regular basis, in ways that work for their team.

PD Budget. Use it. If a team member comes forward asking for time for their group to continue planning and developing an idea, sub costs can come out of that budget. In return, you have a happier team who has worked together to develop something that they are really excited about…and they did it together.

Professional Learning Networks. The Louis Riel School Division supports this…and it is an amazing opportunity for staff to come together to grow an idea and learn from each other. Every member of our team is expected to take full advantage of this opportunity and collaborate with their colleagues at school, as well as others divisionally to advance their learning goals. And sub costs are covered by the school division for either two full days or four half-days, which makes it a win-win for everybody.

Create Opportunities.

When a team member mentions that he/she would like to learn more about (insert idea here), and it is outside the scope of what our team is working on at the moment, I send out the all-call to my colleagues to see if there is anybody on their team who might be interested in collaborating/chatting/sharing with one of mine. This has worked beautifully to allow my colleagues to engage in professional conversations outside our school walls that helps them develop different perspectives and ideas.

At the same time, if you want to embark on a new path, make sure that you provide opportunities for your team to see it in action elsewhere and to talk to the educators that are making it work in their world. Before we started our PBL implementation, our team had the opportunity to observe different educators in action with their own versions of PBL, including our experience at Nelson McIntyre Collegiate, a high school in the LRSD who is all in with PBL and passion-based learning! Hello, ‘How can we…?’

Listen! Seriously…just listen!

Sometimes, a colleague just needs to vent…and to be heard. And when that happens, they feel validated and are more apt to make a shift in their thinking. I still need work on this, because I’m more of the ‘Let’s get this done yesterday’ kinda person, but when I am truly engaged in that conversation, keeping my mouth shut when necessary, guiding them when appropriate, often teachers come up with their own solutions to whatever problem is blocking their progress.

Let Them Know That They Are Valued

Above all, let them know that they are valued and that you appreciate the work that they are doing. Asking them to think outside the box, or to push themselves outside their comfort zones can be challenging. But if they feel that they are making a difference, and that their efforts are being noticed, this will go along way to making those ‘How can I…?’ moments become their way of thinking. Goodbye ‘Yeah, buts’!

These strategies don’t guarantee that the naysayers in the crowd will vanish and that everything will be rainbows and sunshine. But by giving them opportunities to experience different perspectives, learn from their colleagues and know that you appreciate their efforts, you make it easier for them to make that shift.

A Lesson Learned

Slide1

I have 425 amazing young souls in my care every day. Their uniqueness and quirkiness is what makes my job as interesting and as entertaining as it is. These students have their own personalities…their own interests…and their own needs. Ours is not a perfect world, but rather a unique blend of awesomeness. That said, there are times when I’m not really feeling the awesomeness, as a student (or two…or three) needs a bit of redirection on that path of « What were you thinking exactly when (insert whatever they happened to be doing that caused them to be sitting in my office)? Now this doesn’t happen every second of every day that I’m at work, nor do I remember every incident that has ever occurred in my tenure as an administrator. To be honest, unless the student had me laughing (albeit as discreetly as possible), the chances are pretty good that I will not remember why I had to ‘discuss different options’ with that student in the first place. In my world, these events were and still are simply life lessons for those students, so that as they mature and learn from those hiccups in life, they will make better choices. And more often than not, these same students have provided me with much needed lessons as well, so that I become better at what I do.

A while back, I ran into a former parent, whose children had been my students back in the day. During our conversation, she brought up a time when her son had been sent to the office…in 1994. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, because let’s face it, it’s been a minute! That said, this episode in her child’s life had been humiliating to her because she prided herself on having raised children who are well-behaved and respectful. I needed to emphasize that she was right on the money…her child was then and I imagine still is respectful. He just happened to take a slight detour one day, one that wasn’t repeated. What surprised me is the realization that these episodes can be somewhat traumatic for these parents, as they tend to remember every little detail that warranted the « call home », even when this incident occurred years ago. For some, a trip to the office insinuates that they have done something wrong as parents, and is a direct reflection on their parenting skills or lack thereof. Leaving her at the cashier’s counter, I walked away having learned two important lessons.

The first is that these calls home can be very upsetting for parents, memories that they carry with them for a long time. I knew then that I needed to be doing something a tad different in my practice. This does not mean that I will never make those calls home. Openness in my communication with families is important, particularly because I believe in a teamwork approach. That said, it is even more important to let these families know when their children are making progress…are having an awesome day…have done something to shine…and are making themselves proud. So, I began doing that. I refer to them as my «Sunshine Calls», and on a regular basis, I either call a parent or write them a note or send a card by mail to thank them for sharing their child with us and allowing us to be involved in their lives because Johnny has (insert whatever makes you smile). The benefits to this are twofold…you make somebody’s day and you continue to build community, because who doesn’t want to be a part of that awesomeness. This also allows you to put a little extra in your bank that you might have to withdraw on when you do need to make ‘the call’ home.

The second lesson came at a more personal level, because I had to remind myself that I, too, have also had issues with mistakes made. Mom to three daughters, I have been a parent for close to 27 years, and have spent years taking countless parenting classes, and reading and listening to my peers so that I could do this parenting thing to the best of my ability. If I’m being truthful, I wanted to blow it out of the park and be awesome at it…to shine in my daughters’ amazing talents and personalities. But here’s a news flash for you…I’m human, which means I’ve made a mistake or two over the years. This also means that I am not perfect, and by extension, neither are my children. As a result, we’ve all made mistakes, and have learned from them.

Now, each of my children is unique…and quirky…and free-spirited…and intelligent, both emotionally and intellectually. They are a mix of part comedic relief, seriousness, thoughtfulness and frustration! As I like to say, they dance to the beat of their own drums (and sometimes orchestras). They are firm in their beliefs and are not afraid to express them, which I marvel at on a fairly consistent basis. Does this mean that I understand where they are coming from each and every time or that I agree with everything that they say? That would be a solid no! There have definitely been moments when I’ve wanted to give my head a shake (or theirs) or find the nearest wall against which I could repeatedly bang mine! I would also be lying if I said that I haven’t wanted to hide a time or two based on their choice of outfit (have I mentioned that they are slightly boho, slightly hippyish, slightly ‘I don’t know what’ in their personal style?), or their decisions about lifestyle choices that are important to them (Really? You’re throwing out the razors?). And at times, it can be an Olympic event trying to decipher their moods (not that this is a regular occurrence, because for the most part, they’re pretty easy going…but when those moods strike, sweet Mother!).

There have also been moments when their choices in life have been downright humiliating, and it was in these moments that I became my most enraged. Why? Because at the time, deep down, just like the mother in the grocery store, I felt that their decisions were a direct reflection on my ability to parent. And I too remember those events like they happened yesterday, although I can guarantee you that, for the most part, my peers do not, just like I didn’t remember what this mother was referring to. A bit of a double standard, I think!

I was lucky to run into that mother that day. My chance encounter with her reminded me that those ‘outlier’ behaviors that pop up from time to time and make us cringe as parents do not define us in our roles, any more than they define our children. This was also a reminder to me that if I don’t seek perfection in my students, a quality that is not only unattainable, but boring beyond words, I should not be secretly craving it in myself, nor my children. These episodes are just simply slight detours on their path, and provide (I hope) guidance and life lessons so that we all get better at being human. To that mother, I say thank you…this was definitely a lesson needed!

My Roadtrip with PBL (Part 2)

Slide1

Since my last post, our team has continued on its journey to prepare for September with our first installation of learner-centered Project-based Learning (PBL). The last couple of months have meant planning with the support of LRSD instructional coordinators, something that has looked different for each group.

Our first team of Grades 5 and 6 teachers met with Robin Plouffe-Hingley in May for Round 1 of their learning. They began the session by grouping curricular outcomes in Science and Social Studies to come up with common themes that they might want to delve into with their students. From here, they developed their ‘Big Ideas’…in other words, specific learning that they wanted to ensure that their students grasped when in PBL-mode. They then came up with project ideas that would meet our students’ multiple levels of intelligence as they pertained to these ‘Big Ideas’. This took a half-day of collaboration.

IMG_3487

IMG_3492

IMG_3508

(An example of completed work by a Grade 2/3 team that was working along with us…easier to read than our copy!)

In the meantime, our Grades 7 and 8 team went at this in a different way. They chose their big themes, based on subjects in the Grade 8 curriculum, with the help of Derek Acorn, our Teacher-Librarian. They then came up with their driving questions that they felt would capture the interest of their students. This was followed by breaking down the curricular objectives into each category to ensure that they would be covering those essential learning outcomes.

Takeaway: Each method was different, but neither method was incorrect, nor was one better than the other. The first tour with the Grades 5/6 teachers involved principles from the Universal Design for Learning model to ensure that curricular outcomes were being met. This did not mean that the Grades 7/8 team was wrong in proceeding the way that they did. What we learned is that each team has to do what works for them in order to fully wrap their brains around the process.

Our next step was to have both our Grades 5/6 and our 7/8 teams working together with Robin and her partners. This time around, they began by sharing their journeys so far with each other. Then, breaking off into their respective teams, our Grades 7/8 teachers went over their curricular outcomes groupings to pick out key words and then develop their Big Ideas to support student learning with each theme. Then, they tweaked their essential driving questions based on these ideas, and came up with possible projects that would support student learning.

IMG_4091

While they were working on this, the Grades 5/6 teachers reviewed their Big Ideas, pulling out key words. They used these words to develop their essential driving questions for each theme. They then came up with other ideas that would work as projects and learning activities for these themes.

Takeaway: The options and learning opportunities are endless, but this is a huge learning curve for teaching staff. Why? Because everybody is at a different stage in their own learning, and that’s okay.

As a collective group, the teams then came together to look at assessment needs and triangulation of evidence. With Robin’s support, they were better able to understand what their assessments could look like so that they could respond to the required report card evaluations. Designing these rubrics will take time, but with a collaborative approach, it will certainly be less daunting. At the same time, formative pieces are equally as important, and need to be planned for to ensure that students have that opportunity to grow.

Takeaway: Have I mentioned that designing quality rubrics to meet the needs of a PBL approach will take time, but once in place, will be game-changers. At the same time, ensuring that teachers are providing ongoing and timely formative assessments is crucial to supporting a student’s growth.

Over the next few months, while the teams move forward with their planning, our teacher-librarian, Derek Acorn, will be developing co-teaching lessons that will focus on different pieces that students will need to learn in order to thrive in a PBL environment. He will support the team in infusing these ideas into the students’ learning within short-lived PBL assignments, as they get their feet wet with this idea in September and October. This will provide some much-needed support to our teachers, as they weren’t sure how to go about presenting this to their students, given that this is new to everybody here.

Takeaway: Collaboration is key to all things here!

Now our team is working to develop their first round of themes for their PBL world. Stay tuned!

MAG Day of Play

Wanting to take part in the Global Day of Play for a few years, we finally decided to go ahead with our own version this week…our first ever MAG Day of Play. Being surrounded by electronic gadgets of all sorts, and dealing with students (and adults) who have great difficulty functioning without their iPhone or iPad by their side, we thought that this would be a great opportunity for our community to be creative in an unstructured way without the luxury of SnapChat, Instagram or Twitter.

Our rules were simple…there were no rules, other than the stipulation that students were not to use any electronics, including cell phones, iPads, computers or any games that were battery-operated. Students could play games, build, draw, create, move and just breathe…and the same went for our adults. To make all this possible, students brought in games from home, or other materials that they wanted to work with during the day. This included a crazy selection of sheets for fort-making, and a variety of board and card games, as well as art supplies.

IMG_3447

To get our students engaged in outdoor activities, we prolonged our recesses so that all students had a full 90-minutes outside (30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes at lunch and 30 minutes in the afternoon). Our Phys. Ed. teacher brought out and set up equipment that both students and staff could access, which allowed all members of our community to stay engaged in play. While students were moving and playing during this time, it was also great to see the adults participating in a number of games, including a ‘friendly’ game of bocce ball. The rest of the day was spent engaging in creative play, collaborative games or ‘building’ in their classrooms, music or art rooms, learning commons or gymnasium. I saw forts of various sizes, makes and models, umpteen different types of board and card games and unique designs made with building materials, Legos and blocks. Others were drawing and developing their artistic talents, while some were climbing, jumping, kicking balls, flipping and cartwheeling. The options were endless and the engagement in these activities very real.

IMG_3444

From my perspective and the feedback that I received from students, staff and parents, our Day of Play was an absolute success. One highlight for me was walking into a Grade 2/3 classroom to see what was happening, only to hear one student exclaim, “Mme, we get to play ALL day and we don’t have to learn anything!” He was sharing this little nugget of information with me while using his math skills to play a card game…and when he couldn’t accurately calculate 52+49, he used a strategy that his teacher had taught him to make sure he was on the right track. I LOVE IT when students aren’t learning anything!

IMG_3446

So why do it? We know that students have less and less time each day to actively engage in play, with their after-school activities, family commitments, sports and homework. And sadly, we are doing a disservice to them by structuring everything that they do throughout the week. By providing students with opportunities to learn through play, we foster their creative thinking, problem solving, independence, and perseverance. We also address their developmental needs for greater independence and ownership in their learning, opportunities for physical activity and creative expression, and the ability to demonstrate competence (Conklin, March 3, 2015). This is what we want for our students, something that was made very obvious by the level of engaged play that we saw in each classroom, and the relatively few behavioral issues that needed attending to throughout the day.

At the same time, we want this for our staff members as well, as opening ourselves up to the possibilities created by play takes a shift in our way of thinking for many of us. A case in point… after hearing that some students were being told that they could play IF they had completed their work, I had to get on my bullhorn to ensure that teachers understood that this wasn’t a golden carrot to push the students to work, nor a reward for having done so. For a few, the idea of play meant that students were either not learning or the teachers were in store for unreal chaos with an unstructured day before them. So it was important to emphasize the need for an open mind, as the opportunities for learning were in abundance, in particular those soft skills that students need to master.

As one of my colleagues stated, the entire concept was exceptional, as students were learning while engaged in play activities and at no time did she have to intervene with students who might otherwise have needed some guidance. Conklin (March 3, 2015) supports this when she says that ‘when classroom activities allow students to make choices relevant to their interests, direct their own learning, engage their imaginations, experiment with adult roles, and play physically, research shows that students become more motivated and interested, and they enjoy more positive school experiences. Based on what we witnessed last week, I’d say she’s right on the money.

Looking forward to our next MAG Day of Play 2.0!

Reference:

Conklin, H.G. (March 3, 2015). Playtime Isn’t Just For Preschoolers-Teenagers Need It, Too. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/3726098/learning-through-play-teenagers-education/

When You Combine Passion With Perseverance

IMG_3115

I am blessed with some extraordinary young people in my life, namely my daughters, my niece and my nephews. This is the story about what happens when one of them combines his passion with motivation, perseverance and grit.

Jordy is a couple of months younger than my youngest daughter, and when he was born, he was basically twice her size, and twice as loud. So while Brooklyn was cooing and smiling away, oblivious to his needs, the first year of Jordy’s life was a whirlwind of screaming, colic, more screaming and the odd nap in between. Most times, we were ready to poke our eyes out. But then, one day, it stopped, and our little man’s personality began to shine through. That, and his passion for the game of hockey, a love for a sport passed on by his father, but even more so by his grandfather Elvin, a man who lived and breathed the game.

DSC_9018

This love for hockey was made painfully obvious when I was asked to babysit both boys one weekend. Having put all 5 kids to bed by 8:00 p.m., I was enjoying a fabulously sound sleep…we’re talking deep REMs…the ‘don’t bother me for days’ kinda sleep. Yet, at around 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday night, I woke up to the sounds of ‘Thwap…thwap…thwap’ somewhere in the house. I went to investigate, a baseball bat in hand just in case, and there was Jordy, practicing his slapshot in the basement. Now, keep in mind that he was 18-months old at the time, and was decked out in his diaper, skates and a soother, with his mini-stick in both hands. Somehow, he climbed out of his crib, turned on the lights in the basement, put on his skates and proceeded to work on his technique. So, Auntie Paula and Jordy had a few rounds of mini-sticks before I convinced him that it was time to get back to bed, so that this trooper could actually sleep before I had to feed the masses at 6:00 a.m. Now, I don’t believe that this was the first time that this happened in their household, and it was certainly not lost on me that even at such a young age, he was devoted to getting better at something he loved.

DSC_9025

As he grew older, Jordy was always the first one out the door to practice on their backyard rink, and the last one in the house, despite those frigid -40C Manitoban winters. In the summer, when he wasn’t playing baseball with his buddies, he was either playing street hockey or working on his slapshot against their poor puck-marked fence with his friends and brother. They got so good at it that one slapshot careened through the net, ripped a hole through it and then took a chunk out of the fence behind it. The looks on their faces when they realized what had just happened made it even more difficult to keep a straight face…but then again, it wasn’t my hockey net, nor my fence, so I could afford to laugh…alot!

Over the years, Jordy kept at it…he trained on the ice with his teammates and his coaches…he worked with trainers…he made the most of dryland training opportunities…he played in whatever tournaments were made available to him and he worked his butt off to be a part of very competitive teams. He wasn’t always lucky, and he didn’t make every team that he tried out for, but it didn’t stop him from continuing to work at improving his craft. What it did do was push him to work harder, so that the next time, he would be successful. He did so by listening to his coaches…reflecting on his practice…and constantly trying things out so that he got better each time he stepped on the ice.

This work ethic lead him to a junior career in the WHL, which saw him play first in Calgary for the Hitmen…and then again for Prince Albert Raiders. Unfortunately, after only 9 games in his first month with this team last year, he was injured and sidelined for the remainder of the season. True to form, however, instead of looking at this as a major setback, he worked his butt off once again following his surgery, and came back stronger than ever for his final season in the WHL. And what a season it was! Sadly, it came to an end last night after a loss to Moose Jaw in their 7th game of this playoff series, and with that a certain level of sadness for us, as we loved cheering him on over the years from his Timbit stage to the Juniors. That said, his team did an exceptional job against the first-place team in the league, and when it was all over, he conducted himself with class.

Now, I could say that hockey was the be-all and end-all for Jordy, but that certainly isn’t the case. Hockey is his passion, without question. But his approach to working hard, taking risks with his learning and giving everything his all is something that he lives by in all areas of his life. He worked hard to maintain his grades in school, because his philosophy was that if you could do really well and be successful with your studies, why settle for mediocre? So, he studied…and reworked his essays…and listened to the advice that we gave him so that he could improve, despite how difficult some subjects may have been for him. And because of his perseverance, his tenacity and his unwavering belief that he could be successful, he has been just that. Every setback has been a learning experience, and every learning experience has taken him one step closer to where he wants to be.

DSC_7406

I do not know what his future holds with this game that he loves so much, but I do know one of two things. He will keep working at it, because that is who he is. And secondly, and most importantly, I am so very proud of this boy…he has brought immense joy to our lives and taught us so much about what it means to keep fighting, to keep working at getting better and to believing that we can. This is what happens when you combine passion with perseverance, and if I could bottle his spirit and spread it around, I’d do it in a heartbeat! Keep on working at what you love doing, buddy, and I guarantee you that it will pay off!