For the second post in a row, I'm here to share some thoughts after having a challenging week. I guess I've realized that I often put thoughts to paper more often in times of difficulty, because it helps me organize the chaos in my own mind and take a step back and reflect on the situation, once it's written in print on paper, so to speak.
The emotional labour of teaching has been on my mind a lot lately. By nature of who I am, I am emotional and an internalizer. I always have been. An elementary school teacher of mine once told my mom (paraphrased) that I want to fix all the problems of the whole world. I carry the burdens of others as though they are my own in the quest to help them feel listened to, understood and supported. It can be very draining; all the more, I notice, now that I have my own family and children, who I love and adore, who also occupy a significant amount of my emotional labour and time.
Having been in this profession for over a decade, I feel as though I've learned a lot of lessons and grown as a professional. I have made many changes to my practice over the years and continually seek to improve myself. In my opinion, something that I have really grown to appreciate over the past 5 or so years is the power and importance of building relationships with students - namely, building/earning trust and respect. If you have a student's trust and respect, everything else falls into place. Even with the "toughest" kids.
The more I teach, the more I believe the above is true. In the case of teaching, I'd suggest more apt wording would be "the kids who need the most care/support will ask for it in the most uncaring ways", but the general idea is still the same.
Every few years, I find myself in a situation like this. There's a kid who is tough to crack. A kid who is completely resistant to attempts to make a connection... for not days but weeks upon weeks. But usually, with enough time and patience, you can make a dent in that exterior and start to build that relationship - the respect and trust. I work with teenagers so sometimes it requires breaking down years of walls they have built around themselves.
A few weeks back, I felt like I finally had a breakthrough with a student who was doing everything he could to try to present himself as unredeemable. Didn't seem to matter what I did or said, he would shrug me off. But the weeks of persistence and patience, eventually paid off.
For the following weeks, I really made headway. I helped this student get back on track with several courses, including mine, which he had fallen behind on and risked failing at midterm report card.
The problem is, it's never really that straightforward and there always seems to be setbacks in this journey. One step forward, two steps back.
This past week, his commitment to his own academic success took a massive step back. Skipping multiple classes (including mine), not completing work that was due - that had already been extended - (in time for assessment for the teacher report card deadline) and just generally a downturn in attitude.
We had multiple conversations this week about his own role in his success. He literally shook my hand and promised to show up to a work session with me to catch up. Then didn't.
Today, I held him back at lunch and told him we needed to discuss what was going on. When I asked him if he wanted to tell me anything that was going on, he didn't have anything to say. So, I told him that I'm doing everything in my power to help him - to get him back on track - and to reach his own potential and he is not even meeting me anywhere near half way. I showed him the copy of his test in my class (he skipped the review periods) which he had failed and told him I knew he was capable of better results because I had seen his potential. I told him I was disappointed that he wasn't giving his best - or anywhere near his best and that I was out of ideas about how to make him understand that I was doing everything I could to help him succeed and that I can't make him successful - that he needs to want it also. Then I told him that was all I had to say and told him that I really wanted him to take time to think about what I said, and dismissed him for lunch.
I felt ready to break down into tears in my room, overwhelmed with it all, feeling like a failure for not being able to make a difference with him.
Evidently, our conversation struck a chord because, clearly frustrated, he pounded a locker on his way out of the building. *sigh* (His hand is okay).
I decided it was best to give him some time to cool down, but he found himself called down to see the VP because of issues in another class, and knowing that I was trying to mentor him, she called me in to sit in on the discussion.
As I brought him back to his class, I asked him what made him frustrated enough to pound a locker and he said: "myself". I told him that was a very mature realization and that we are ALL in his corner and just want him to succeed. I explained that he would have a chance to work on the test review he skipped this weekend, see me for any clarification on Monday and retake the test he failed next week. I hope that this is a positive step forward, after our steps backward.
So here I sit, again on a Friday night, reflecting on the week, feeling emotionally drained. Running through the possibilities... what I could have done better or differently... feeling, again, the emotional labour of this profession and all the heartbreak that goes along with seeing our kids struggle and knowing that if this was MY kid, that I'd just want his teacher to do everything in his/her power to connect with my kid - while also holding him accountable for his decisions and behaviour, while being patient and showing grace.... to not give up.
So I push forward... optimistic with hope that next week, there are more steps forward than back.
I was not having a great evening on Friday night. I had been bogged down all week with work that I fell behind on while sick, I was feeling stressed and down about some classroom struggles we are experiencing, trying to help a student with ASD who is struggling right now, and feeling heart sick about a workshop I attended on Thursday about refugees and mental health. I think it's probably a bit of compassion fatigue, coupled with normal work-life balance struggles. Either way, I've been really feeling like there's not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to be doing to support students, and there's certainly not enough resources readily available to help to provide everyone with everything they need and deserve - healthy, adequate food, adequate, affordable housing, access to technology for home use, etc. (We are very lucky at our school that we have a breakfast program and our school board has a charitable foundation that donates thousands to help families in our community with their needs).
On Friday night, I was headed to the mall to pick up some things and my final stop was at the Walmart there, as it has the grocery section, which my local store doesn't. I was grabbing a few things for our household, but the primary purpose of my Walmart shop was to stock up on stuff for my students; I usually do this once every 2 months or so. I had just been on the phone with a very close friend, a fellow teacher, chatting about the emotional hardships of knowing how some of our students are struggling and the things that she and I both do to try to help.
As I was walking up and down the last set of aisles at Walmart, this young man, about 17-19 perhaps (?), turns around from facing one of the coolers (he later told me his mom had sent him to get a freezer lasagna and he couldn't find one!) and looks at my shopping cart - which was quite full.
"WOW!" He blurts out... clearly just spontaneous. "That's a lot of food". (For context, the demographic of this part of the city is mixed, but there's a significant community housing development nearby.)
I awkwardly laugh.
He says "Sorry! I didn't mean to be rude. That's just a lot of food for one shopping trip. You must have a big family".
At this point, due to the nature of his surprise, we'd attracted a bit of attention from surrounding customers.
So at that moment, I wasn't really thinking much and said, "Oh, actually, I'm a teacher and I like to stock up to have food and basic supplies for my students, in case they need food for lunches. Oh and all the cans are for our school's canned food drive!"
And he looks at me right in the face and says .... "Wow. Teachers do that? God bless you ma'am. God Bless. That's amazing... that's just amazing".
And so I thanked him and wished him well and went off to pay for my purchases.
And when I got to my car, I thought.... serendipity.
I had driven there that night, feeling pretty down... feeling like I wasn't doing enough, helping enough, changing lives enough... and then, along comes this situation... this young man... who gave me the opportunity to realize that maybe I'm not solving all of the world's problems, but I'm doing my own little part, and THAT'S worth something. He was there to deliver a message to me that night and I heard it loud and clear.
And so, the drive home was a little better than the drive there had been.
So to any of the teachers out there who might be reading this and might be feeling down, like I was.... inadequate, ill-equipped, over-extended, overwhelmed - you are doing a great job and the kids who you work with are so lucky to have you.
Throughout this journey of life we meet many people along the way. Each one has a purpose in our life. No one we meet is ever a coincidence.
- Mimi Novic
Here's a look at something from a parenting perspective, as opposed to my usual "educator" hat.
Someone said to me the other day: "It's a miracle your kids are alive". This was in response to a story I was telling about my son playing at the park and getting levelled by a swing! He also took a serious tumble off of his bike going downhill (he is 3 years old and rides a two wheeler with no training wheels) this summer at a provincial park while camping and bashed himself up pretty badly. He also took a major tumble from this awesome climbing rope I put up in my backyard for his outdoor play space.
See, here's the thing ... in a world of "helicopter moms and bubble wrap parents", that's just not what is right for our family. And it seems to me that being overly cautious and protective has become so "normal" in our society that people like me, who don't panic when my kids gets some bumps and bruises, are seen as out of the ordinary, at best and at worst, negligent, irresponsible or uncaring (and so on).
In my observations from being at parks and playgrounds, I am the "odd mom out". Many of the parents micromanage their children's play or I see them go rushing over, whisk their child off the ground and proceed to make a huge deal out of a little tumble. And all of a sudden, the child starts crying louder or harder. (And I don't think that's a coincidence). To each their own! But that is just NOT my style. And it's not because I don't love my kids and I don't feel badly when they fall and hurt themselves; it's because I know there's a very big importance in letting kids take risks, have little hurts and not blowing things out of proportion. In fact, sometimes, even when I'm watching my son take healthy risks, other parents try to "helicopter" him for me!
A friend and I took our sons to our local park this weekend; her son was sliding down the slide feet first on his stomach and mine was going face first on his stomach. My friend and I were not sitting idly by on the benches or playing on our phones - we were standing right below the slide watching our kids have fun and chatting. Another mom, whose son was also playing on the structure, had been micro-managing her child's play since we got there. No matter what he was doing she was telling him to stop or slow down or don't do this or stop doing that. She's the parent; that's her prerogative. However, then, she decided to tell our kids to "slide on their bums". My friend and I were not impressed. If she was a camp counsellor or a teacher at a school and we were not there, I would understand; there's liability involved. But our children were being supervised by us and she decided to intervene and helicopter them. This is not being a village or helping out a parent. Please do not discourage my child from taking risks - which research tells us is important for development - and then helicopter and manage his play - which research tells us is detrimental to development!
When my kid falls off his bike, I say "you're okay - let's get back on". If he scrapes his knee, I say: "Scrapes happen; if it's bleeding, we'll grab a bandaid when we get home" and off we continue. I let him climb UP the slide. I let him balance walk on wobbly trees. He does the monkey bars and the fire pole and I'm not standing there to catch him.
The research is clear; kids today LACK resilience. They crumble under pressure. They give up when something isn't easy. They are meeting developmental milestones later and later in life because we are not pushing them to try things that make them uncomfortable.
The fact is... kids NEED to take risks. All you need to do is Google the term "risky play" and you'll find hundreds of websites with research on this topic!
In his Psychology Today article, Peter Gray, Ph.D explains why a decrease in risky play is a serious problem: “Over the past 60 years we have witnessed, in our culture, a continuous, gradual, but ultimately dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play freely, without adult control, and especially in their opportunities to play in risky ways. Over the same 60 years we have also witnessed a continuous, gradual, but ultimately dramatic increase in all sorts of childhood mental disorders, especially emotional disorders.”
There is a fascinating Ph.D thesis written by Ellen Sandseter that you can find here. Her abstract explains:
"Risky play is a set of motivated behaviors that both provide the child with an exhilarating positive emotion and expose the child to the stimuli they previously have feared. As the child's coping skills improve, these situations and stimuli may be mastered and no longer be feared. Thus fear caused by maturational and age relevant natural inhibition is reduced as the child experiences a motivating thrilling activation, while learning to master age adequate challenges. It is concluded that risky play may have evolved due to this anti-phobic effect in normal child development, and it is suggested that we may observe an increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are hindered from partaking in age adequate risky play."
I feel like I've found a parenting soulmate in Kristi Pahr, and her blog post: The Importance of Risky Play. Kristi tells the story of her 4 year climbing up a huge rock face all by himself and reaching the top, elated at his achievement. She then explains:
"Other parents looks on, barely containing their instinct to hover, hands in the air, ready to catch him; their urge to climb the rock to save him from imminent peril is palpable, while I stand at the bottom, silently watching him, my heart in my throat. When he safely reaches the top, the tension (almost) leaves my body, and I’m able to cheer and encourage him, mirroring his smile with my own, celebrating his accomplishment with him."
This is my 3 year old son climbing slippery rocks in the woods this summer, on his own!
Balanced and Barefoot is one of my favourite books about the importance of outdoor play. If you are interested in this, I really do recommend you pick up the book. On their website, they also have a great blog. There are many great posts to choose from but one of my favourites is about this very topic, by Timbernook.com.
The following is taken directly from them via this website.
Here are five ways reasonable risk-taking benefits kids:
1) Practice of Independent Thinking and Self-Reflection: When a child considers a risky decision, she practices the process of decision-making in a matter of moments. “Should I jump from this log to the ground?” Once she makes a decision to take a leap, she must evaluate the decision. Taking time to reflect on the outcome of an action taken is incredibly important. Did the risk lead to success? Or, was it not the best plan to take? Thinking about what to do differently next time leads to more strategic, thoughtful risk-taking in the future. Each time she goes through this process, she strengthens her independent thinking skills.
2) Improving Strength and Safety Awareness: In order to stimulate the senses and develop healthy motor skills, children need the opportunity to take reasonable risks. A child’s neurological system was designed to seek out the sensory input it needs on its own in order to reach the next developmental level. By taking daily risks, children start to develop age-appropriate strength, coordination, and good body awareness. On the other hand, when we consistently keep children from taking risks, we start to see some delays in sensory and motor development that may not have been an issue if they had been given daily exposure to these experiences. This can lead to poor spatial awareness and in essence, without an efficient amount of exposure to risk-taking, children can become more accident-prone and unsafe in the long run.
3) Development of Social Skills: Although some risk-taking is done independently, children often take risks while interacting with others. Reasonable risk-taking allows kids to find and utilize their voice among peers. The risk itself might be to share an idea with friends. Reasonable risk-taking allows kids to develop the assertiveness and self-confidence they need to participate positively in social settings. Practice and more practice help the young risk-taker learn to balance assertiveness with respect and compassion. And, while voicing an opinion or thought is important in social circles, over time, children recognize that peers may have alternative ideas to consider.
4) Cultivation of Confidence: A good dose of reasonable risk-taking in play results in a comfortable willingness to make mistakes and learn from failure. For instance, let’s say a boy skins his knee climbing a rock wall, but in the process -- learns that he can still reach the top. This assurance that a child can overcome obstacles quickly translates to other risky-life decisions presented in childhood. Choosing to step onto the school bus for the first time or signing up for the school play are decisions that kids confront with confidence if they’ve practiced reasonable risk-taking. This confidence is key in childhood psychological development. It’s important that kids learn the excitement of success, the coping skills needed to move through failure and frustration, and the perseverance to try and try again, even if it is uncomfortable and hard.
5) Avoidance of Other Risky Behaviors: Reasonable risk-taking keeps kids from participating in another kind of risky behavior—the unhealthy kind. Parents may think they can protect their children by keeping a close eye on them in the house, but too much sedentary time at home may be spent inactive in front of a screen. Playing outdoors requires a good amount of reasonable risk-taking, but staying indoors puts our children at an even greater risk for health issues and motor and sensory delays.
It's instinct as parents to want to protect our kids. We love our kids and want them to be okay. And everyone is allowed to parent as they see fit and do what they think it best. But if this post and research has maybe given you some pause for thought, then the next time you think about uttering the words "careful", "wait", "stop" or "don't", take a second to think about which benefits outweigh the risks and whether or not this might be a worthwhile risk to take!
My son is a bit of a wild child; he is high energy, spirited, always on the go. Some people view this as a bad thing but I happen think it makes life more exciting. He’s always on the go and so are we! Last summer, when I was home for 2 months with him, we spent a lot of time outdoors. Exploring different parks (we made it our mission to find a new park every week!), going to farms, doing forest walks, going swimming, playing with sidewalk chalk/paints, going to county fairs, playing soccer, and so on.
A year before, I was starting to do a lot more reading about outdoor play and being in nature and wanted to find more opportunities for him to be outside so I started to look into opportunities for outdoor learning and fun. I had discovered “forest school”.
The Child and Nature Alliance explains the premise of forest/nature school:
“It can happen on a part-time or full-time basis, with all different age groups, in all seasons. It can take place in any kind of natural space – a stand of just a few trees or a majestic forest, a playground or an endless prairie field, a creek in a ditch or a vast ocean shoreline, tundra, desert, mountain. Children can find magic in the most ordinary of spaces. What matters is that they build a relationship to a place, through regular and repeated access to it, in the way that is most fitting to them: through play. Children at play in nature – that’s at the heart of Forest and Nature School, whatever you call it.
Skilled educators support that play and the learning that inevitably emerges from it through close observation. They follow the child’s interests, probe their theories, ask good questions, offer tools and resources, and get out of their way! They view children as innately competent, curious, and capable, and see themselves as facilitator, guide, and co-conspirator, not expert. Forest and Nature School educators are committed to place and play-based, emergent, and inquiry-driven teaching and learning.”
Forest school is a concept which has been popular in the United Kingdom for some time but is only now gaining popularity in North America.
One study of the impact of forest schools on young learners, found that forest school experience manages the positive elements needed for risk taking. Furthermore, another piece of research discovered that “children who play in natural environments undertake more creative, diverse and imaginative play; which is seen as an important element in children’s development (Sobel, 1993; Grahn, 1996; Taylor et al., 1998; Derr, 2001; Kellert, 2002; Fjortoft, 2004).”
O’Brien and Murray continue:
Forest School provides an opportunity for regular and critical observation of the ways that children take advantage of given freedoms (within a controlled setting) to express themselves physically and verbally. Long-term contact with Forest School involving regular and frequent sessions is important in allowing children the time and opportunity to learn and develop confidence at their own pace. The more relaxed and freer atmosphere provides a contrast to the classroom environment that suits some children who learn more easily from practical hands on involvement, such as kinaesthetic learners.
Having done a chunk of reading about unstructured, outdoor play, I decided that forest/nature school is something that would be a great fit for our family. The problem? The preschool session (2.5-4 year olds) was on Tuesdays and that was one of the two days my son was enrolled in preschool while I was on maternity leave.
Not to be discouraged, I decided to do the next best thing…
START MY OWN VERSION!
I continued to do research – reading books and articles and searching Pinterest for ideas. Then I made a post in a local moms group to see if anyone would be interested in joining me! The principle would be simple: each week we would meet for 1.5 hours at the forest near my house. I’d have one planned activity (craft or other activity) and the rest of the time would be free play in nature. It would be completely non-profit; a fee of $10 per child to cover the cost of a weekly snack and some basic craft supplies.
I wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested and it would flop but I put it out there!
As it turns out, over 20 moms expressed interest and in the end, 20 kids were registered with, approximately, 12-14 attending weekly.
Together, we did nature walks and scavenger hunts, built rock towers and made stick men; we made bird feeders, sun-catchers, and garden decorations. We climbed rocks, did balance walking on logs, and jumped in puddles! We threw rocks in water and examined worms and bugs! We got muddy and soaking wet and most importantly, had fun!
If you’d like to take a peek at our forest school fun, take a look at this little video I put together!
I appreciate the irony of this post right out of the gate; a blog post about no technology by an educator whose biography states that she is passionate about the use of educational technology! Just follow along with me here.
In my Grade 11 University English class, we study George Orwell's classic 1984. Obviously, we go very in depth as a result, about the meaning and implications, both from a literature perspective but also in a more modern context and what implications his novel has for current society. I have them explore the principles of 'doublethink' and censorship, government surveillance and whether, despite the fact we live in a democratic society, we can see elements of Orwell's prophesy in our world.
So how does it lead to a day without technology?
In order to have them really critically about both the positive and negative effects of technology, we also study the work of Neil Postman and his contemporaries who explore whether we are actually living in a "Huxleyan" (read: Brave New World) reality, rather than an Orwellian one.
For a quick synopsis of the two visions, check out this amazing graphic by Stuart McMillen: biblioklept.org/2013/06/08/huxley-vs-orwell-the-webcomic-2/.
Essentially, Postman (in 1985) argues that Huxley’s prophecy of a world that adores their technologies that upon their capacity to think has come true, in large part due to the advent of the television. (And thus, in 2017, one can infer that he would also group technology such as mobile devices in this same category).
Armed with our knowledge of Huxley and Orwell, I offered my students the opportunity to surrender their devices to me for an entire school day to see how they fared without access to technology. I wanted them to think about both the advantages and disadvantages of being 'disconnected'.
Less than half of the class chose to surrender their phones to me for the experiment but of those who did, all of them made it the entire school day without their phones.
In order to assess their experience, I asked them to fill out a Google form and share with me some of their perspectives about this experiment. Namely, I wanted to know what was the most valuable part of this experience and what was the most difficult.
Here's a snapshot of the answers from a variety of different students who participated.
"From doing this social experiment I learned more about my peers than I did about myself. The constant need to have a device in ones hand, and the immense reliance on technology these days is astounding to me. I often saw that conversations between some people had to involve a phone. The story of people texting each other, while sitting right beside each other is true."
"By doing this experiment, I realize that it is more fun to get in touch with other people personally than just talking to them online. Another valuable part of this experiment is that I can do more things without my phone. During lunch time at school, I am always with my phone; chatting my friends and checking my online accounts. But since I am performing this 'No Tech Day', I just did my homework and study for my other courses."
"Having my phone taken away completely eliminated that whole habit of constantly checking my phone because I didn't have it, and to be quite honest, I enjoyed that feeling. Not having the feeling of wanting to check my phone was liberating."
"Some of the biggest challenges of this experiment was not so much the feeling of needing my phone, but more so that I had that constant anxiety feeling when I would feel my empty pocket and have that terrified feeling that I lost my phone."
"Being so used to having access to anything you can gain information about in my back pocket and suddenly being deprived from it was pretty difficult and lead to feeling a bit anxious."
"The biggest challenge of this experiment for me is the fact that I do not have a device that will keep myself busy. I would say that the hardest part is when you have that awkward silence within your friends because they are all looking at their devices, and that I have nothing to look at."
From a teaching perspective, I think this was a worthwhile and interesting exercise! It would have been even more interesting if all students had been obliged to participate (but I don't think I would do that) because I suspect it is the kids who are most dependent on their phones and would have been most challenged by this who were also the ones who chose not to participate; I think this would have been most valuable for the ones who chose not to partake.
Have any of you done "no tech" challenges with your students? How did it go? What did they have to say about it?
In light of the fact that this week is Spring Break in Ontario (my Canadian friends like to hassle for me for this one, since in Canada, we typically call it "March Break"), I thought it would be as good of time as any to tackle my thoughts surrounding work-life balance and taking time for yourself.
It seems in our current world, there is a lot of mixed messaging about these topics. On one hand, you have people talking about the importance of self care, mental health and balance, and on the other, you have people advocating the importance of always giving your best, "rise and grind", "sleep when you're dead", "if you love your job, it's not work" and so on, so forth.
Sometimes, it feels like a tug of war, being pulled in both directions.
We live in a society that is more connected than ever. And with that, comes so many advantages. But it is also makes it a lot more difficult to take a step back, unplug, detach, and relax. There's an expectation that because we can be connected, that we are always connected. This puts a lot of pressure on people to be always "on" and always available, which can be emotionally and physically draining.
Being "busy" is worn like a badge of honour; if you have no time for yourself, it's because you're such an all-star at whatever it is you are doing. Only got 4 hours of sleep? Awesome! You're pursuing your passion and hard work works. Burning the candle at both ends is a new status symbol in some circles. The more you do, with the less time off, and the more you show for it, the more respected you are.
Furthermore, the idea that if you need a break from work, you're clearly doing something wrong because "do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life". I disagree completely. I AM doing what I LOVE. Teaching is my second greatest passion (after being a Mom). I live and breathe it. I think about it almost constantly. I sometimes even dream about it. I go out for dinner with friends who are teachers and we talk about it - new books, new lessons, great ideas, bad days, fun activities, PD opportunities. There's no time off from it. I love my kids and I worry about them. I do work during my evenings and days off, including weekends, holidays and summer. And that can be exhausting. It can be draining to have something consume you so entirely. If I was describing a relationship, instead of a job, it would be called "unhealthy", for sure. So, why then, do we view jobs/careers differently?
"Good people are like candles; they burn themselves up to give light to others".
I struggle with work-life balance because I know how important my job is. I know that every single school day, the lives of other people's children are entrusted to me; to teach them, to care about them, to look out for them, to support them. That is a lot of responsibility. And because of that, I often find myself spending every spare second of the day trying to do things for them. It is important to be the best we can be. But it is also important to take care of ourselves.
If we push ourselves to the point of burnout, we will have nothing left to give and at that point, doesn't everyone suffer?
It is important to take a step back every once and a while... to take some time for ourselves to be refreshed and recharged. That is when we do our best work. When we are at our best.
"You can be a good person, a giving person, with a kind heart and still say no".
So this break, I will take some time for both my family and for me. I am even contemplating a FULL day tech free!!! (GASP!) Will I still be thinking about my kids (students) constantly? Of course. I always do. Will I still be doing prep and marking? Obviously. But I won't let myself get stressed out and feel guilty when I take some down for me also.
You can't do a good job, if your job is all you do.
This post was inspired, in part, by a future colleague whom I follow on Twitter: Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca). Spencer is a teacher candidate in the Education program at the University of Ottawa and he inspires me on a regular basis. He is so advanced in terms of his sense of purpose, his understanding of the role of education and the teacher, and his philosophies of learning. I am truly inspired by the fact that people like Spencer are the future of teaching.
Spencer shared a wonderful quote by Lori Bard on his Twitter page the other day which speaks to the true role and impact of a teacher:
The reality is, that for some kids, they will remember what was taught in the classroom and the skills that relate to their learning of a subject; that said, the majority of students will look back and remember that teacher who they 'connected' with. The teacher who went out of his/her way to really help, inspire, guide, support him/her.
Knowing this, I make it my goal to not only try to make connections and build relationships with my students but also to be their cheerleader. I want them to know that I am in their corner - not just in terms of school work, but in terms of their lives and passions. I know that the term "champion" is often used, but for me, the term 'cheerleader' is more apt. To me, my students are the champions - I am just there to cheer them on - to teach, encourage, inspire, motivate, enable, push them towards their goals.
I love sharing good news stories about my students and shouting their successes from the roof tops! I use my social media presence (including Twitter and Instagram) to promote them and brag about them!
I love meeting my students AT their successes and passions. Maybe their passion isn't English or History (mine wasn't and never will be Math!). But just because I don't teach their favourite subject, doesn't mean that I can't build those connections with them! I can take an active interest in their life passions, interests and goals and show them support in those areas. It's about building RELATIONSHIPS.
My schedule is no where near as flexible as it was before I became a mom. Before my son, I could stay late any day or come back to school for any event. Now I don't have that flexibility because I have responsibilities to him and my husband's job with the military means travelling so I am often flying solo. That said, I still make it a priority to try to attend as many important events to my students as I can. Be it the school play, arts showcase, an award ceremony, a big game... all the more if they ASK me to be there. If they ask me to, I will do whatever I can to be there.
(Important note: Posted with permission). Josh is a grade 10 student who I taught last year in Grade 9. This kid has the best personality. He is almost always smiling and you can't help but smile when you talk to him. Josh asked me to be there at his quarter final basketball game the day of the game and I couldn't be with such short notice. I told him that he just HAD to win because if they made it to semi-finals, I WOULD be there. They won the quarters and he asked me if I was still going to go to the semis. I told him I made a promise and I was going to keep it even though it meant getting my Mom to pick up my son from daycare because my husband is out of town.
Two days before the semis, I made him another promise. Friday (today) is Jean Day at work. I promised him that if the team won, I would PROUDLY wear HIS JERSEY with my jeans on jean day (inspired by something amazing that I have seen one of my favourite educators, Nicholas Ferroni, do). He was absolutely ecstatic and made me pinky swear that I would!
He made eye contact and greeted me almost as soon as he stepped onto the gym floor. I said I would be there and I was! After an incredibly intense and emotional game, which went to double overtime (!!), the boys lost by a SINGLE point. It was absolutely heartbreaking. I won't soon forget the looks on the faces of those boys, especially Josh. They were devastated. I'm sure the last thing he wanted to do after that game was talk to anyone, especially me, but I needed to right a wrong.
My intention was GOOD but it wasn't RIGHT. It's not about WINNING or LOSING. That shouldn't ever be the message. It is about the heart that you put into something. Josh gave that game his heart and soul.
I went over and asked Josh for his jersey. His soaking wet, drenched in sweat jersey!! I told him I was so proud of him for giving it every ounce of what he had (he played the entire 4 quarters and 2 OT's with no break) and that I was going to wear that jersey tomorrow with the utmost PRIDE.
So here I am... wearing his jersey today because there is NOTHING I would rather be wearing all day long (except maybe sweatpants... I like sweatpants!) ;)
Teachers.... if I can offer you one piece of advice, be the cheerleader. Be there in their corners, cheering them on. Literally and figuratively.
"Kids don't care what you know until they know you care".
I have once again been humbled and honoured by the opportunity to discuss my life and my thoughts about education and teaching with another amazing educator, Rolland Chidiac.
When Rolland asked me to participate in his podcast, I was taken aback (as you'll hear in our discussion about this in the podcast). I felt really inadequate as a participant compared to the other amazing people he had previously had as guests on his podcast. I couldn't imagine what I could possibly have to share that other people would want to listen to!
Rolland convinced me (I think he uses the word - strong armed?!) to join him for a chat about inspiration and I'm really glad I did. We had an amazing conversation and I got to share some thoughts on things that I love and am passionate about, especially in the realm of education.
Thank you again so much for this opportunity Rolland.
If you'd like to take a listen, you find find the Podcast - Rolland Chidiac Connects - Episode 35 here.
Here is what Rolland had to say about our episode:
This episode features Megan Valois, a High School Teacher at St. Pius X in Ottawa, Ontario. She is also a Mom, an Army wife, and a fitness enthusiast. With respect to teaching and learning, Megan is passionate about 21st Century Learning and the use of technology in the classroom (Edtech), Differentiated Instruction, Assessment for Learning, and a variety of other topics that make her an effective educator and an asset to any Professional Learning Network.
Listen in to hear what Megan has to say about how we connected, her current work as a High School teacher, working with English Language Learners, how it came to be that she became a teacher, past students who connect with/visit her, what she might be doing if she were not a teacher, what motivates her day to day, finding the time to eat well and work out, being married to a soldier and what it is like to deal with deployments, resources/support for military spouses and her volunteer work, the experience of parenting her 3 month old on her own for a period of time, what she would tell someone seeking motivation/inspiration, and fear of failure and the power of taking a step in a different direction.
This semester, in my Grade 11 English class, I decided to try something new. I decided to incorporate a new non-fiction writing assignment in my course, in place of a traditional "reading journal". This non fiction writing was optional but I was very pleased when I logged into my Teacher Dashboard in Hapara to see that over 90% of the students to chose to do the personal writing assignment.
I was inspired by a few posts I had seen on the Humans of New York instagram page - in particular, ones of students talking about struggles in their lives. I started to wonder how much I know about my students. I also started to reflect on what I would share if I was stopped by a "HONY" type of project.
I knew that in order to get my students to buy in, I would have to open myself up also. I would have to model not only what I was looking for, but also some vulnerability in what I was sharing if I wanted them to share true feelings and emotions with me.
So last week I walked into class ready to present my brand new lesson.
I polled the class to see who had heard of HONY. Not many. But many had heard of something similar, our school's own "Humans Of" page. I used that as my kick off to introduce their task.
"When people find out that I'm a teacher, they always want to know what it is like to be on the “other” side of the classroom… people always want to know what the hardest part about teaching is. It's not all the prep or the marking... although those are the most time consuming. And, most days, it's not even the behaviour issues or the disrespect, as frustrating as those are. Usually it's the battle to make a difference. To reach every kid. When kids are little, they are usually so excited about school and so open about their feelings and their struggles. They want to share their goals and dreams with you and they will tell you about their defeats and disappointments. By the time they get to me, in high school, that has often changed. They all have their own unique past life and school experiences which influence them, who they are and ultimately, how they are in my class. I have 75 minutes a day for 18 weeks to try to make an impact on them. To teach them not only curriculum - fundamentals of English or History or Civics, but to hopefully make a positive difference in their lives… one that they will carry with them further than their memory of metaphors and conscription and electoral reform. And it's not easy to reach them all. There are so many other factors at play - stress, depression, anxiety, poverty, hunger, gender and sexuality issues, self esteem, negative school experiences, bullying… to name a few - that shape who they are and what they are feeling. But I only know what I observe or what they choose to share with me. Usually there is so much more beneath the surface. And sometimes those stories are the saddest of all. The stories that I’ll never know. So that's the hardest part of teaching: the helplessness you feel and the tears you shed when you so desperately want to reach every single student but know that sometimes you just can't because it's not always about you... it's about them... and you need to respect that too."
That was a big share. A big vulnerability for me to lay that one out to them.
I then shared their assignment:
Imagine you were stopped by a “Humans Of” photographer. You can choose anything to share with him/her. It should be something that you think ‘defines’ you as a person - a life experience (positive or negative), a passion/goal, a memorable moment. It should be about 450-500 words. Use the Humans of New York social media pages (http://www.humansofnewyork.com) (and my example) as a guide.
Next, answer the question: Who am I? The first part should be background information about you (who you are, where you are from, where you have lived, your family, your hobbies, etc). Choose any quote that “speaks” to you. It can be from song lyrics or a poem or a famous “saying”. The second well developed paragraph of this assignment should about how this quote represents you or your life (or what you want to be or want from life).
And I waited patiently for the week to pass until they submitted the assignments to me.
I had no idea whether this was going to be a huge success or a huge failure.
The night that the assignments were due, I sat at my computer and watched the clock click to 7:30pm then I went into their folders and started reading. I stayed up until well after 1:00am reading all of these amazing reflections. Some were hilarious, some were so sad that they made me cry, and some inspired me.
But most importantly, they gave me insight into the students I was teaching. I got to know something about each and every one of them that I might not have known otherwise. I can't control how much they choose to share - perhaps some of the students who shared the funny ones have some deep pain that they chose not to share with me.... and that is okay. What is important that I gave my students the opportunity to share with me whatever they felt comfortable sharing and in turn, it offered me a chance to understand them better.
I am also glad that I chose to wait until a few months into the semester; while I understand that there is merit to knowing information about your students "right out of the gate", I think that my choice to wait a few months gave my students a chance to get to know me and hopefully feel comfortable sharing some things that they might not have otherwise shared, back in early September.
"No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship."
Yesterday was my birthday. Not that birthdays are really a big deal when you get to be my age... but it was my birthday nonetheless. Usually there are some minor celebrations - maybe a dinner and a few gifts and definitely some "Happy Birthdays" in passing. Yesterday was not a "happy" birthday. Yesterday I was sad. I was mad. I was distressed over the results of the American Presidential Election. I have spent many months following the coverage. I watched the primaries and those respective debates, when the candidates were battling within their own parties for the nomination. I spoke at length with my classes, namely my Grade 11 English classes, about what was happening in US politics, linking it to our studies of George Orwell's classic, 1984.
I watched and listened as Donald Trump used racist, sexist, homophobic remarks throughout his campaign, in shock and disgust. But I was always sure that he would never win. I didn't think it would be a landslide for Hillary Clinton, but I had faith that hate would not triumph.
Yesterday, when it was announced that Donald Trump was the President-Elect, I was upset. I was mad. I was sad. I was shocked.... truly shocked. I didn't see this coming.
This has nothing to do with political ideology; Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Socialist... I don't really care. I do not espouse my political views in the classroom because I do not feel that is my place.... nor really within the realm of my personal life with friends. This is not about Republicans winning. I have been very vocal in explaining that within any political ideology, there are people who make good leaders. Marco Rubio and John Kasich were both vying for the Republican nomination; both of these men I consider intelligent, well spoken, experienced politicians who were strong options for the leadership position. Does this mean I agree with their politics? No, it doesn't mean I agree with them on all issues or any issues... but I can respect and accept them because they carry themselves with a certain level of humility and class.
My problem with this election result is that Donald Trump stands for hate. I have a serious problem with someone who makes inflammatory remarks without even a second thought of the impact of these words. Someone who refuses to ever apologize and admit that he is wrong. I take issue with the fact he publicly declared that Mexicans in America are "rapists and criminals". I condemn anyone who suggests that someone taking part in his/her democratic and constiutional right to protest and peaceful assembly should be beaten up: “Maybe [the protester] should have been roughed up,” he mused. “It was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.” I abhor the fact that a Presidential candidate can be excused for remarks that are not only sexist, but actually promote sexual assault, by saying to "grab her by the p*****" is just "locker room talk". I reject the notion that you can promise to deport "Muslim immigrants" and "build a wall" to keep Mexicans "out" and yet, still be considered "not racist"... that you can be endorsed by the KKK and not decry their support and reject any affiliation with them.
That is my problem with this election. That every single day I come to work and try to teach my students to be loving, kind, fair, understanding, respectful, caring and positive people and that the man who has just succeeded in attaining the highest political office has openly and proudly acted in a way that is bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, hateful and divisive.
So yesterday, I was angry. And I was sad.
But today, I am hopeful.
I listened to Hillary Clinton deliver a powerful, eloquent and gracious concession speech. It was so painful to watch. Not because she lost, but because he won. But in those moments, watching her speak, I felt hope. Because her speech was not a rally cry for protest, for revolution, for anger... but because it was devoid of bitterness... it was a call for all people to come together. She told her supporters "Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead". She thanked all those for supporting her and continued to reiterate the importance of doing the right thing: "You will have successes and setbacks, too. This loss hurts, but please, never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it. Nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion."
President Barack Obama also shared his thoughts, and true to what we have seen over the last 8 years, he did so with dignity and grace, telling the American people that he respects the democratic process and will "work as hard as we can to make sure that this is a successful transition for the President-elect -- because we are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country."
And that, is what is the key here. Because what is done is done. And hoping that President Elect Trump falls flat on his face and ruins America so that people can say "I told you so" is not only ignorant, but it's ridiculous and it's wrong. Everyone now has to hope that President Elect Trump is successful, because his success is America's success and it's the world's success.
So when, in his victory speech, he declared: "It is time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I'm reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.", I choose to believe in hope and possibility and believe that he will choose to be true to his word to be President for ALL Americans; even those who have been marginalized and hurt by his remarks in the past. I choose to believe him when he says that he "will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict."
I choose HOPE because in the impassioned and fervent final words of Jack Layton:
Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
So while I am sad, and while it pains me still and while I will continue to champion equality and respect for all, while condemning hate and hurt, today I will look to the future with the optimism that if we all choose love instead of hate and hope instead of fear, our whole world will be a better place.
Who am I?
Hi! I'm Megan. 21st century learner and teacher. I am passionate about DI, assessment, student success and #edtech. My blog is where I share what is happening in my classes, my professional learning and sometimes things that are on the outer circle of education. Comments always welcome!