Month: January 2017

A Vision Worth Living

At a recent meeting, I was asked to consolidate my thoughts in a one page document on what my vision would be for my ideal school. This original piece is written in French and the English version follows.  Please note, writing in English is not my strong suit.

Ma vision pour l’école idéale

L’école idéale, selon moi, est fondée sur l’intégrité et basée sur le principe qu’il faut avant tout, construire et nourrir des relations riches et positives avec la communauté scolaire entière. Le climat et la culture d’école s’enracinent chez les apprenants, de sorte que les élèves, leurs familles et le personnel ont un sentiment d’appartenance élevé envers leur école et ressentent envers elle, une fierté sans pareille.

Dans mon école idéale, la collaboration est mise au profit de tous les apprenants, tant chez les élèves que les adultes. L’action, la réflexion et la communication ouverte sont également privilégiées. Le personnel est ouvert d’esprit, transparent et valorise le développement professionnel. Les membres du personnel partagent leurs connaissances et leurs compétences avec leurs collègues ainsi que la communauté scolaire, de sorte que les élèves tirent profit des meilleures pratiques pédagogiques possibles telles que l’apprentissage par projets, la conception universelle, les Makerspaces, les flipped-classrooms et les student-led classrooms, pour n’en nommer que quelques-unes. Subséquemment, les élèves acquièrent les compétences du 21e siècle en vivant des expériences riches et réfléchies et en recevant de la rétroaction sur mesure. Puisque les relations sont inspirées de confiance, les élèves se permettent de prendre des risques sans se soucier de vivre des échecs, car toute la communauté perçoit ces derniers comme des occasions d’apprendre, d’ajuster et de grandir. Dans cet environnement sécurisant, le personnel aussi se sent à l’aise de prendre des risques, d’essayer de nouveaux outils technologiques et mettent en pratique de nouvelles approches, car le bien-être des élèves est ce qui est au cœur de l’apprentissage. Le personnel est engagé à mieux faire parce qu’il sait mieux faire. Dans mon école idéale, tous les joueurs contribuent chacun à leur façon, afin de former une équipe gagnante, car celle-ci est consciente du fait qu’on est plus fort ensemble qu’individuellement. Dans cet esprit d’équipe, on célèbre les succès et on partage nos défis dans le but de trouver des solutions ensemble.

L’école idéale, selon moi, se distingue des autres écoles en voulant éveiller et cultiver la curiosité des apprenants et d’exploiter le potentiel qui est caché au creux d’eux. Pour se faire, les enseignants sont à l’écoute de leurs élèves et intègrent leurs intérêts et leurs passions au sein de projets valorisants pour que les élèves soient des actionnaires motivés. Dans mon école idéale, les élèves et le personnel vivent des expériences émouvantes. Le transfert n’est pas seulement souhaité lors des expériences vécues à l’extérieur de la salle de classe, mais également effectué dans le cadre de la salle de classe, par l’entremise de projets authentiques qui ont un impact significatif et qui se vivent à l’échelle locale et globale dans le moment présent. Dans mon école idéale, le pouvoir est partagé, mais un leadership  engagé et convaincu sait mobiliser son personnel. La qualité règne et les personnes ne se sous-estiment pas. On se fixe des objectifs, on les atteints et on vise toujours plus haut afin de se dépasser.

Dans mon école idéale, chaque personne qui y est a une voix qui porte, mais ensemble, on chante la plus belle des harmonies. Quand la musique et la mélodie se font entendre, les autres ne peuvent s’empêcher de se mettre, eux aussi, à chanter.

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A Vision Worth Living

The ideal school, in my opinion, is based on integrity and on the principle that we must first build and nourish positive relationships with the entire school community to create a school climate and culture that is rooted so deep within the learners that students, their families and staff develop a strong sense of belonging and feel an unparalleled sense of pride towards their school.

In my ideal school, collaboration is put to the benefit of all learners, both students and adults alike. Action, reflection and open communication are a way of being. The staff is open-minded, transparent and values growth and professional development. They share their knowledge openly with their colleagues and the entire school community so that students benefit from the best pedagogy possible such as project-based learning, universal design, Makerspaces, flipped-classrooms, student-led classrooms, or a combination of these, to name a few. Subsequently, students acquire 21st century skills by experiencing deeper learning and by self-reflecting daily. They become problem solvers, critical thinkers and life-long learners. Since relationships are built on trust, students allow themselves to take risks without worrying about failure because the whole community sees failure as an opportunity to learn, adjust and grow. In this safe environment, the staff also feels comfortable taking risks, trying new tools and putting new approaches into practice, because the students’ well-being is at the heart of it all. In my ideal school, the staff is committed to do better because they know better. All players contribute in their own way to form a winning team. They are aware that they are better together than apart. In the spirit of teamwork, success is celebrated and challenges are shared to find solutions together.

The ideal school, in my opinion, leads by example, fosters growth and challenges conventional thinking. Students’ potential is reached by giving them their voice and allowing them to incorporate their passions and interests into what they are learning. Students are empowered, valued and motivated. Schools are networked and students make a difference at both local and global levels. In my ideal school, power is shared and the leadership knows how to mobilize its staff. Quality reigns and individuals do not underestimate their competencies. They set goals, reach them and aim higher to better themselves.

In my ideal school, every person has a voice that carries, but together, they sing in perfect harmony.  When the music and the melody are heard, others cannot help but sing themselves.

Empathy: Beyond One’s Self

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In my classroom of five and six year olds, my students have the ability to understand and express how they are feeling once they learn the vocabulary associated to their states of well being and emotions. Developmentally, students of this age group are also becoming more aware of  other’s emotions, but just like every other aspect of child development, everyone learns and develops at their own pace.

Every year, I have a few students who are just not there yet for a variety of reasons. At first, they are self-centered and care only about how they are feeling. But as the school year progresses, one of my main objectives is to help them see that they are part of a bigger picture and that their actions and reactions have a direct impact on themselves and on those around them.

Understanding that everyone in the class is equal but different is essential as the year begins. It is critical for them to learn. With my students this year, I used Paul Solarz’s Marble Theory (#LearnLAP) to turn this abstract concept into a concrete activity as he does with his group of 5th graders. Although some of my students may not get it right away, the earlier I introduce it and the more I refer to it, the quicker they develop their empathetic ability. I started the year out with this activity so all studimg_0708ents knew that in this space, everyone is equal, important and that our individual talents are diverse, which in turn, makes us an incredible group of learners. It also allows us to learn many things from one another and enables the students to see that although they may not be the best (add noun here – reader, author, friend, listener..), that they can develop any trait to be the best that they can be. They’re just not there yet* (key word in my classroom!).

How do I do this with my group of five and six year olds? It all starts with them being able use appropriate vocabulary in regards to one’s emotions. Once they can express how they feel, they’ll be better equipped to explain how others  may feel in a given situation, or at the very least identify how they are feeling. This is why throughout the year, I engage the students in a variety of activities to develop empathy in our classroom and strengthen our relationships. One way is through books. Every character has feelings and we discuss, using the vocabulary, how these characters are feeling and acting. Some books have amazing illustrations and story lines that help teach empathy to young ones.TVBD3706[1].jpg

Empathy is developed through socialization which is why in my classroom, those hard to reach and hard to teach students stay in my classroom and don’t get referred to the school counselor right away. To be able to understand what another may be feeling or experiencing, one must interact with others and listen attentively. Here are a few other activities I’ve done with my students this year:

  1. How Full is Your Bucket?, by Carol McCloud. We learn how to be bucket fillers. xrfr12671
  2. My heart is in your hands. I give a piece of paper to my students. They can do whatever they want to this piece of paper. Some fold it, some crumple it and throw it across the room, others tear it or stomp on it. I img_08451wait long enough until they all have marks on their paper. I then ask them to put it in the original crisp condition it was when I gave it to them. As much as they try, they cannot remove the many creases they’ve created. I then tell them that their piece of paper represents their heart. They then understand that every time they hurt someone’s feelings, they mark that person’s heart permanently. Even apologizing doesn’t take the wrinkles out. I put my heart on the whiteboard as a reminder to all students to be kind with their words, bodies and actions.
  3. It’s all about perspective- put yourself in my place. On a poster, I wrote the number 6 (you could use the letters M, b, d, n or bigger numbers for older students).  I have two students stand on either side of the poster so their perspective is different than the person standing across them. I then ask them what number or letter they see. They argue for a while, until they physically walk around to meet the student and look at the poster from their perspective. They then agree that both students are entitled to their opinions and that there is truth to both sides of the poster board depending on what side they are on. I then make them see that it is important in a disagreement to try and understand the other person’s perspective.
    fatp32891Thinking about it now, next year, I would set up a mini debate and separate the class in two teams. One team would be 16 and the other team would be 91. They would come up with points to explain why their number is best. For example, our number is the largest, it represents more, or 16 is easier to count up to and takes less time etc. I could also use the letters u and n and they could come up with words that start with these letters to make an argument. Once they present their points to the other team, I would stop and make them realize, by just turning their card up-side-down that they actually have the same number/letter. It just depends which way you look it. Sometimes, we need to nuance our thinking, because there are more than just black and white answers. There are many shades of grey.
  4. Choose your words (and actions) wisely. When I saw Rosie Dutton’s powerful lesson on bullying that went viral last summer on social media, I knew I had to do this with my students. Check out her video:
    http://globalnews.ca/news/2781692/gone-viral-teacher-uses-two-apples-to-explain-bullying-to-kids/ rwum28251With my students, I did this activity and tweaked it a little. We talked about what a bully is and what it isn’t. I explained to them that we were to do an experiment to see how we feel inside when we are bullied and how we make others feel when we mistreat them. We then passed one of the apples around and called it a whole bunch of names. I actually felt bad for the apple. At first, some students had a difficult time being mean to this apple, because they  know name calling is hurtful. After I told them it was just an experiment, they followed through. One student said a comment that made everyone laugh, and I took the time to tell them that even if they weren’t the one who called the apple that specific name, the fact that they all laughed  contributed to the apple’s bruising. To this lesson, after passing around the apple and calling it names, I replaced the apples in their hands with a mirror. Would you ever call yourself these names? No, so what makes it okay to call someone else these names? It doesn’t. This was powerful. I also made a reference to the students negative self-talk. When they say I can’t (spell this word, draw with detail, find this answer…etc.), they are hurting themselves and not valuing their worth. I go back to the Marble Theory and tell them that with practice and passion, they’ll soon be able to do what they can’t yet* and that we would figure it out and learn together. It is so important students love themselves. We end the activity with a compliment share. They say one thing they love about themselves and give one compliment to the person on their left. I will definitely be doing this activity next year. What was most powerful, was when a student of mine went to the washroom and overheard the “older girls” talking badly about another girl in their class. She came back to me and said “Even though they weren’t calling me names, my heart was hurt because I felt bad for the girl who wasn’t there” (même s’ils ne parlaient pas de moi, mon coeur était blessé pour l’autre fille!!). Empathy in grade 1. I was amazed and my heart was full. Imagine if she had the courage to tell those “older girls” how inappropriate it was to be speaking of someone else that way. This just might be my next lesson…standing up for the greater good.
  5. In my flex classroom, students get to choose where they sit and learn. However in our learning centers each day, I make up the groups to make sure students are building relationships with everyone and to ensure students are problem solving with all students – even those hard to reach and hard to teach students.

It is so important students develop empathy and even more important teachers have empathy – to build on relationships and connect with every student in our classrooms. To truly help our students, we must first know how it feels to be in their shoes. That’s why it is so critical to self reflect on our day, and imagine how our students feel inside and outside of their classroom. When we begin to imagine how it feels to be a student in our classroom, we’ll be able to have much more of an impact and the students in turn will develop empathy because they are living it and seeing it daily in their classroom from a teacher who cares. It comes down to the golden rule: Treat others they way you want to be treated. Be kind. To yourself. To others. Always.

 

Mental health maintenance

I am fortunate enough to be spending the last week of my winter break in Phoenix, Arizona with my family and great friends. The husbands work together, the wives are both teachers and our children are similar in ages. When we get together, conversation is easy, outings are relatively stress-free and we naturally just get along. On Sunday, we boarded our flight and went through the motions of airplane safety and security. When the overhead recording came on, we listened attentively and watched the flight attendants in action while I was reminded, in case of an emergency, to put my oxygen mask on first before those of my children. It’s an analogy I’ve referred to countless times to my dad when he had his heart attack and wanted to shovel the snow, to my mom who has been overworked and to my dearest friends when they needed the affirmation that their needs matter.

On that flight, I was reminded of the importance of taking time for me and want to remind you of doing the same for you as the new year begins. It’s far too easy to get caught up in work, meetings, emails and apps and tell yourself you’ll set time aside for you in your already over-scheduled agenda, knowing far too well that you will probably put it off because there’s one more detail to take care of for your next learning experience, collaborative assignment or project.

Before having a family, my husband and I had all the time in the world to follow our passions and interests. We often laugh at the thought of sleeping in well into the afternoon like we used to do before having kids. The mere thought of being able to do anything you choose at any given moment is hysterical because being part of a family, you know you’re not the only puzzle piece that counts. Although I have always been able to make time to nurture my relationship as a couple, once I had children, my self time sat on the sidelines. Being a teacher is much of the same. You have 20 something students and their families to respond to, which you do with great pleasure, because as a parent you would want the same in return. Not only do you have this group of students who you are directly responsible for, but you may have past students come in your classroom at lunch to share with you their latest news, clubs to supervise, emails to send or meetings to attend. You have deadlines and expectations to meet and in order to do so you sacrifice your “me” time before and after school because you wouldn’t ever allow yourself to not meet the needs of your students/children.

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To be able to have it all and do it all, you have to be on top of your game. To me, that means you are a team player who not only makes goals but sets goals. You step in when a teammate needs help. It’s being able to realize when you need a break yourself and returning to the field after taking a moment to hydrate and catch your breath. It takes an understanding family, supportive friends and a work environment that thrives on collaboration. I work and have worked with excellent teachers who put forth their lives and all of their personal time for their students, who never put themselves first and forget to take the time to nourish and replenish themselves. It’s no surprise that almost half of teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching.

Mental health plays a big part in education. We are constantly tuned into the social and emotional well being of our students and make sure every need is met to the very best of our ability. We ensure that they feel important, valued and know they matter. We make sure they are comfortable in their learning environment to take risks and confident to try again when their first attempt failed. We work tirelessly into building significant relationships with our students that we (sometimes or too often) neglect taking care of ourselves.

With that said, set a goal. One that allows you to pencil yourself in and stick to it. No matter what life throws at you, where you live or what you do there will be some great days to fall back on and others that will challenge you beyond belief. When I feel I’m running on empty, I breathe. I know that perfection doesn’t exist and that the small details are just that, details. I surround myself with people who lift me up. Even on the most difficult days, I always take time to reflect on the positive points and the highlights of my day. They are there, you just have to open your mind to see them. What went well? How did my students contribute to their learning? How did I pay it forward?  When we take care of ourselves as teachers, we are better fit to take care of our students. We can better support them, guide them, inspire them and ignite those sparks of curiosity and compassion to foster learning and i.d.e.a.s.

So regardless of the field you are in, when you’re running on empty and your fuel light is on – fill yourself up. The distance you’ll travel will be far greater, and the time it took to do so will be insignificant in comparison to the amount of time you’ve spent running around in circles, stressed, and unfocused. You’ll be able to move forward efficiently and accomplish much more on your never-ending to do lists. Running on overdrive is too hard for your soul. As I sit here in my pyjamas in the crisp cool desert night with my feet up and a steaming cup of tea at my side, I remember… You can’t pour from an empty cup. My puzzle piece matters to making the big picture come together and so does yours. You’ll be able to return the favor and your team will thank you for it.

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