“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
― Albert Einstein

Friday, 19 September 2014

A New Year!

I am very excited to be going back to work tomorrow after a long labour dispute. I will be teaching 40% Grade 1 this year with a bit of TOCing, but not too much. I hope to blog more often this year because I really have missed it. I did a class blog last year for the parents, so it didn't leave much time for my own professional blogging. The blog was great but time consuming. This year my partner teacher and I are going to set up a class Facebook page for parents in order to keep them updated on a daily basis and post pictures, etc.

This year I would like to have a little more balance in my life...especially just being more fully present with my kids when I'm at home. It sounds like it would be easy to balance this when you are just working part-time, however for me it is not. I still feel like I'm making up for lost time after my extended leave of being an at-home mom for years. I'm also new to primary, I have a new partner teacher, and I'm at a new school. I know that I will be spending a ton of time on my own professional development as well as all of my prep. I plan to have two days off for just being a mom and keeping up with everything including my work.

The good thing about all of my hard work in the last few years, is that I'm starting to get my confidence and experience back. Last year I started feeling more like I never left the classroom and I'm hoping I get that feeling back even faster this year. I am starting to calm down a bit and not worry so much about everything being perfect all the time. Because there is no way it's ever going to be in this job!

As I begin the year, I have in the forefront of my mind that relationships are THE most important thing, that for learning to occur kids need to feel safe and cared for, and that kids need to feel THEY MATTER in this world.

I am so excited and I can't wait to meet my students and get started! I think this year is going to be fantastic!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Learning in Depth

Today we had our Learning in Depth ceremony. Keiran Egan from SFU was there to present each student with their LID topic. It is a brand new program at our school and I am so excited to be a part of it. The kids are SO excited! It was so neat to see how eager they are to get started! I can't wait to see how this goes. I even have my own Lid topic. My topic is healing. I started with "medicine and healing" but I am going to shorten it to just "healing". We are going to be doing Lid once a week for 45 minutes.

Friday, 25 October 2013

New Job

It's been such a long time since I've blogged, and I felt like I wasn't sure how to get started again...so today I decided I'd just jump right back in...

This year a job came up that I thought would work well for me (and for my family). So I applied...and I got it! :) I have a 30% position in a grade 3/4 class at an awesome little school. So far I love it even more than I thought I would.

I teach science, technology, and health and career. I also teach a guided reading group and cover some kindergarten prep time. It is quite a variety. Our school will soon be starting the Learning in Depth program as well, and I get to be the one who does it for our class. I can't wait to facilitate this!

I work Mon-Wed and I start at 10:30, which means I try to leave by 9:30 at the latest (to get there 30 min before I start teaching). It's been great, because on those days I have time with my kids in the morning to get them ready and out the door, and my husband knows that he has 3 days that he can leave as early as he wants. I still need his help on Thurs-Fri mornings, but it's been so much easier for him this year. He has always gone into work early. When I was an at-home Mom he could go in as early as he wanted and stay as late as he wanted, never had to take a day off for a sick kid or anything, so the last couple of years with me working so much and commuting (sometimes all the way to Boston Bar), has been....ummm....an adjustment.

As for me - even though it's only a 30% position, I've been surprisingly busy, busier than I thought. Between doing lots of planning (trying to make my lessons meaningful and hopefully enjoyable too), a lot of my own learning, and then TOCing on the other two days, I've been busier than I've been in a long time. Good thing I enjoy it!

The staff is wonderful, my partner teacher is amazing, and my principal is very laid-back as well as very supportive. The students are great and it's a really nice class! I am learning so much.

Now I just need to relax a little and find my own confidence to trust my judgement and stop worrying that I'm not doing a good enough job. I need to stop worrying about being judged by others, stop trying to please everyone else, and just focus on teaching my students the best way I know how and trust that it's good enough. 

To be continued....

Sunday, 3 March 2013

15 Ways to Make a School Safe AND Welcoming

This is a sign on the front door of one of the schools I work at.
That extra word, "welcome" is very important.

In these unfortunate times of lockdowns, locked doors, and massacres, there is no question that safety has to be the first priority for kids. But does it have to be to the detriment of schools feeling warm and welcoming to students and their families?

Some quotes:
  • Promoting the efficacy of every family begins with understanding that all families, regardless of their station in life, are the first and most influential teachers of children. Dr. Steve Constantino @smconstantino 
  • The most accurate predictor of student achievement is the extent to which the family is involved in his or her educationAnne Henderson and Nancy Berla
  • Parents’ perceptions that their child and school want them to be involved is a major factor in parent involvementKathleen Hoover-Dempsey and Howard Sandler
  • Research on the effects of parental involvement has shown a consistent, positive relationship between parents' engagement in their children's education and student outcomes. Studies have also shown that parental involvement is associated with student outcomes such as lower dropout and truancy rates. Whether or not parental involvement can improve student outcomes is no longer in question. from Parent Involvement in Education

I have been in many schools (both as a teacher and a parent) that feel warm and welcoming. I have also been in some that don't. I can really feel the difference. I've been thinking about this a lot lately and here are some things (in no particular order) that I think are important in connecting parents and making a school feel welcoming:

  1. Make sure that any signs posted around the school are welcoming. Signs posted like the one above make it clear that students are safe, but also that parents are welcome and valued.
  2. Make it a priority that the entire staff is polite, friendly, and welcoming to families, including the secretary, custodians, educational assistants, teachers, administrators, and even the TOCs (subs). Families coming into the school should be made to feel comfortable and welcome and greeted in a friendly way by all staff members! 
  3. Be polite! If a parent does something that bothers you, like chatting too loudly in the hallway or interrupting you when you're busy, just tell them politely and calmly, and with a smile. If you snap at them chances are they will not feel welcome coming to the school again.
  4. Smile! Be visible. Stand near the school entrance or classroom door and be warm and friendly. Say hi if a parent is walking their child in or picking them up. Ask them how they are or tell them about something going on at the school. Tell them about something fun the class will be doing that day, or something great their child did recently, or that they had a great day or a great week. 
  5. Listen if a parent wants to tell you that their child was up late the night before, or has a headache, or that there is something stressful going on at home. Listen if a parent tells you that their child is finding something going on at school to be stressful. Just showing them that you hear them and that you care makes a huge difference.
  6. Be open to hearing a parent even if you don't like what they have to say. Some teachers and even some principals don't want parents to be allowed in the school, or they avoid parents because they are worried about being criticised. But even if it's not what we want to hear, isn't that a good way to learn and grow as educators (and as people)? We are trained professionals, but can't we still be open to others' opinions? Especially if we have nothing to hide? Don't we sometimes criticise mechanics, chefs, doctors, hairdressers, accountants, lawyers, etc, even though we aren't trained in their field? If we are their customer, don't we have the right to ask about something or even to complain about something? Why are people more likely to speak up about a problem with their meal at a restaurant than about a problem with their child's school?
  7. Send home positive newsletters. Newsletters that celebrate students' strengths will be much better received than newsletters with rules and regulations or advice for parents. A principal I work with sends home newsletters every couple of weeks called "10 Good Things to Talk About." It lists 10 recent, good things happening at the school. 
  8. Two-way communication through social media, a website, an email list, a blog, etc. are great ways for parents to be connected. In my district there is a district app (parents can download it from the app store) in which the schools post information, events, pictures, and great things happening at each school. Some of the classes (and schools) in my district also have their own Facebook pages. I was in a kindergarten classroom the other morning at work; the teacher showed me her Facebook page in which she had already posted a picture of one of her students losing a tooth that morning (and the mom had already responded with a comment). Every single parent is on her Facebook page (it is set to private so that only parents of students in her class can see it). She (the teacher) posts comments and pictures on a daily basis. It doesn't take her much in the way of extra time, but it sure makes parents feel connected. This teacher has gained parents' trust and they know that their child is cared for. Even if they don't get a chance to come into the classroom very often or make it to parent-teacher conferences, they feel welcome and involved in their child's education.
  9. Be available and easy to contact. Have after hours meeting times available. Check your email regularly.
  10. Be flexible. If a parent wants to walk their child to the classroom for an extra hug, help them with their jacket, or help them gather their homework, what difference does that really make? Is that going to be the defining thing that prevents that child from being independent? Does it truly matter? Why make it an issue? 
  11. Invite parents to assemblies, sports days, school barbecues, and any other school events. This helps connect parents to the school and some parents don't know if they're allowed to attend or not. Make it clear.
  12. Don't be afraid of dealing with an angry or emotional parent. We are trained professionals and we can handle it. We chose a profession in which we deal with people on a daily basis, and people sometimes get upset or angry. Most parents are just looking to be heard. Sometimes if we just stop and listen, without getting defensive, we can instantly diffuse a situation. Most parents are not a threat.
  13. Write a little note or smiley face in students' agendas or send a note home once in awhile. If a parent writes a note in a child's agenda, take the time to respond. It doesn't take very long but that small thing can make a difference in connecting that parent.
  14. Integrate family engagement practices into School Growth Plans.
  15. Relax. Although it is very important to keep school safety a priority, do not let it become a focal point that creates unwelcoming schools. Remaining relaxed and welcoming helps set the tone for a less stressful school in which healthy relationships are the foundation.
Let's not forget about the importance of parent engagement and making schools warm and welcoming as we tighten up our safety procedures!

Thank you for reading! Sorry for the length, this is something I am passionate about:)

March 14th, 2013: Just wanted to add: This blog post is about the countless positive acts of family engagement I've seen over the years in many of the different schools I've worked at (or been a parent at). I feel lucky to be able to say that I've seen every single one of these 15 things in schools! As well, my children have had some wonderful teachers over the years and I took some of these ideas directly from them:)

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A Fun Day in Kindergarten

Well....so much for my last blog post on transitions....I did not expect this, but my daughter ended up having a really tough transition this year. All of her neighbourhood friends were put in one class, and she was put in another class. Her friends are very important to her so it made for a difficult start to the year. She also absolutely loved her teacher last year, so I think that made it even harder to get used to a new teacher this year. My husband's September at work is always crazy busy so he was unable to be around, and I ended up booking the first 2&1/2 weeks of school off so that I could be there to drop her off, pick her up, and generally just spend more time with her. I am grateful that I had that flexibility because it helped her out a lot.

But things always seem to work out, she seems ok now and I have been busy TOCing for the last couple of weeks, and so happy to be back at it! I missed out on some work opportunities, but after being a stay-at-home mom for so many years and not having any other family living nearby, my kids are very close to me, and are used to having a parent around when they need one, and well, they have to come first.

The last couple of weeks have been great, I've so enjoyed being back to work. So far I have been at 5 different schools in the district, and I've taught: Kindergarten, grade 5/6, grade 7, high school, and senior alternate school. At the high school I taught grades 8-12, including a couple of days of Foods, which I always enjoy. Next week so far I will be teaching grade 2, grade 9, and grade 12.

But I had such a funny day in the kindergarten class the other day that I thought I would write about some of the highlights...

The day started with centre time and all of the kids busily playing. Their teacher had warned them that I was coming in so that helped, and I was able to greet them all at the door and chat with them individually as they settled into their playtime. A nice way to start. There were a few tattles about calling each other poopy-heads and that sort of thing, but I can tell the teacher had been working hard with them on resolving conflict, they were great at using their cute little "I messages" and they were so quick to say sorry and move on. Adorable. But the highlight for me was when one of them told me that they had to go to the bathroom but they couldn't because there was a dolphin in the toilet. So I went to look, and sure enough there was a small plastic dolphin toy floating in the toilet. So I had no choice but to grab some paper towel and stick my hand right in there to take it out. Fun stuff! Unfortunately whoever dropped/put the toy in the toilet had forgotten to flush. Ugh. Thank goodness for hand sanitizer.

And then it was time to ring the tidy up bell. Well I had forgotten that tidying up takes a lot longer at the beginning of the year than it does later on, wow! So we went overtime a little. Then their first "job" after a story-time of Dr. Seuss's ABC book (which generated lots of giggles), was to cut out train cars with alphabet letters and glue them on construction paper in order. Well, I could not get around fast enough to help. Some of them had trouble cutting and writing their names on their papers, and most of them had trouble with putting the letters in order. Some of them simply did not want to do it. By the end of that activity, boy was I sweating.

The next activity was outside playtime. There were 17 of them and I just kept counting! They knew if I blew my whistle they were to come over to me, so that was helpful. It was a beautiful day and they burned off lots of energy. They still had a lot leftover though! Lol!

After I got them all back inside and they had a snack we did a Thanksgiving story and a colour by number turkey. And then it was playfirst lunch and eating period. The ladies on duty came in and I got to have a break. Then the principal came in to tell me there would be a fire drill this afternoon during their naptime. Great!

After lunch was show and tell, and then "quiet time" in which they have pillows and blankets that they bring to the gym along with a book of their choosing. Before we went I warned them about the fire drill, told them what to do, not to worry, etc, answered questions like "What is a fire drill?" since this would be their first one! I asked them to use the washroom if they needed to and got them all organized with their things and lined up. Then we walked to the gym and they all ran in screaming and pulled the mats off the wall and placed them around the gym. Now it was time to turn the lights low and get them quieted down for their mandatory rest time.

Amongst the giggles and whispering there were a few more that said had to use the washroom now, a few that took their shoes off, a few that looked like they might actually be asleep! And meanwhile I am looking at the clock waiting for the fire drill to happen, hoping that I will get them all out without any problems.

The fire drill went well, it turned out that everyone was back from the washroom (thank goodness), only one child had not put his shoes back on, only one was standing at the wrong door, and everyone else was walking towards me! Yay! We got out in plenty of time and I even had compliments from two other teachers about how smoothly I got them out. Whew!

We went back to the gym and it took me about 10 minutes to get the kids to gather their pillows, blankets and books, get the mats back up on the walls (no easy task!) and get them lined up to walk back to class. But we did it, and the rest of the day was pretty uneventful with another fun story, some math games, some music and movement (so cute!), and then I gave them a Thanksgiving colouring sheet and got them ready to go home. Overall a really fun and busy day. I was happy to see my couch when I got home that day, and I figured it was the perfect night to use a Groupon for pizza that I had been saving, instead of cooking dinner:)

Monday, 27 August 2012


As summer is wrapping up I am wondering what this next school year has in store for me. I can't believe how excited I am to get back at it! (Unlike my husband who had a few days of grumbling before he went back!) I look forward to spending the first week helping my own two kids get transitioned into their new school year, and since I work for such an awesome, flexible district, I've been able to book it off for that purpose. From the second week on I'll be all set to work as much as I can! I was very lucky last year in getting so many TOC days, and I'm hoping for the same this year.

Thinking about this reminded me that for anyone involved in education as a student or a teacher, this time of year is all about transitions. My transition this year should be painless, and my husband's too, as he is going back to the same school; my children should both have a fairly easy transition as well, they are both going back to the same school they've been at since grade 1, they're going back to the same school as each other, and they know they will have friends in their class. Neither of them are worried about which teacher they'll get this year either, which has not been the case for every year!

However, transition is tough, for some more than others. As educators we need to remind ourselves that many kids are at home feeling very nervous and uneasy at this time of year. Some kids even feel scared, terrified, sick to their stomachs. As teachers we really need to make an extra effort at this time of year to make students feel comfortable, safe, and cared for during this time of transition. That extra smile, reassuring words, or pat on the shoulder can make a huge difference for a child in making them feel more calm and safe.

As a TOC, when I get called in to teach the younger grades especially I know that I'm walking into a situation in which some kids will feel nervous or afraid. I am not their regular teacher and this can throw their whole day off. I make an extra effort to make them feel comfortable at least until I've gotten to know them a little. As I've mentioned before, one huge perk to TOCing in a small district is that you get to know so many of the students, so you are not walking in as a stranger very often. This is a perk for the students as well, they often already know me a little, which usually makes things calmer and happier, and wastes less time.

A good reminder for me to be patient with students is that my own daughter is somewhat afraid of having a TOC because she has had a few bad experiences with different TOCs that have gotten very frustrated with the class at times and yelled or punished, and even gotten upset with her and told her she wasn't listening because she didn't understand instructions. This type of situation is upsetting in itself, but can be even scarier for young children when it comes from a stranger as opposed to someone students trust and have a relationship with (ie their regular teacher).

Many of us as teachers will feel that nervous stomach as we head into our first day back. I think it's important to remember that many of our students will have a nervous stomach as well, and some will have been dreading this day, and that it is our job to make them feel as calm and happy as possible:)

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Dot

I love to teach art lessons based on children's books. I had two art lessons to plan and teach a couple of weeks ago, one for a grade 5/6 class, and one for a grade 3 class. The lesson for the grade 5/6 class was more of a last minute emergency lesson when plans changed, so I needed something simple with materials that were easily accessible. During lunchtime I used my computer to look for ideas, and I decided on a fun and simple lesson based on the book The Dot by Peter Reynolds. I was able to find it in the school library and I did not need any other materials other than the students' own pencil crayons and some large square pieces of paper that I took a few minutes to cut from 11x17 sheets. The Dot is a wonderful book about believing in yourself and believing in your artwork. Here is a good synopsis. Peter Reynolds is passionate about inspiring kids to be creative and take risks and to feel proud of and confident in their artwork

I began the lesson by reading The Dot to the students, who started off by rolling their eyes (no surprise there lol), but I knew I could pull it off because I had TOCed in the class a few times before, so they trusted me because I had a relationship with them. As I predicted, once I started reading a couple of pages the room was silent and they were all engaged. I find that most kids this age don't like to admit they like to be read to, but they really do still love it. After I read the story I explained the assignment, which I found at this website: http://mrsbrownart.com/5th.htm. It was very simple and I like that it gave the students a lot of choice and little pressure. They were to create an image starting with only one dot on their paper. They could create their dot into whatever they wanted, just let their intuition guide them. I asked them to use the space (not too much blank space left) and to work neatly (not scribbling). This criteria was my own addition, and maybe I didn't need to say it, but it made things a little clearer for a couple of students who wanted to scribble something out quickly just to get it done. Then they were to sign their picture (as Vashti did in the book). Peter Reynolds believes that it's very important for kids to sign their work, as I saw here

For the assignment I asked students to use pencil crayons, crayons, or markers. Some started with pencil and others started right away with colour. While they were working on their creation, I used a projector to show them a short, animated youtube video of the story that I had also found when I looked up the lesson. The students enjoyed the animated version, enjoyed their freedom to draw whatever they wanted, and their dot pictures turned out wonderfully! I wish I had remembered to take pictures. The students had turned their dot into everything from a flower, to a face, to a dolphin, to a giraffe, to a skyscraper, to a nature scene...and some had turned their dot into a design with more dots, lines, and shapes, as shown in the example above that I showed them. They enjoyed the creative process, and almost all of the students were very proud of their end result. It was a great lesson and a wonderful book. When I got home I ordered it for my own collection and will keep it on hand in my TOC bag for an emergency art lesson. It's a great idea for a TOC lesson because the only materials needed are the book, paper, and crayons or pencil crayons, which the students usually have in their desks. 

When my book arrived in the mail I decided to adapt the same lesson for the grade 3 class I was planning an art lesson for. I had TOCed in this particular grade 3 class many times; the teacher sometimes asks me to plan a lesson or two because she knows that I don't mind and that I have fun with it. This time I found a frame to use here (on the last page) and I blew it up on the photocopier to make larger copies. The lesson and instuctions were exactly the same other than the grade 3's were to colour the frame (anyway they wanted) and cut it out. They enjoyed the story even more than the grade 5/6's and they loved the animated version as well. Their pictures turned out great too, but some students had trouble getting started. I actually think it's a better lesson to use with intermediate grades. The older students came up with some really amazing pictures starting with just a dot.

As you can tell, I think The Dot is a great book, I also read it to my own children and they loved it too. I found it listed in this list of 100 best children's books. I ordered the sequel, Ish and will be looking for some activites to use with Ish in the future... I say one can never own too many good books. :-)