Sunday 9 June 2019

Resources for Pride Month

As educators we strive to ensure that resources in our classrooms are inclusive and represent the diversity found in our community and beyond.  June is Pride month, which is an opportunity for us to reflect on our practice and our resources - are they inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community?

The importance of inclusion was captured eloquently in this tweet from a former colleague:

In addition to resources provided by your own school board or district, and your local community organizations, you may want to explore these resources:

17 LGBTQ Friendly Books to Read to Your Child

Books that Challenge Gender Stereotypes

Books About Transgender Kids

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O'Leary  Interactive Read Aloud 

Why I Took My Son To the Pride Parade

What Not To Say To Your Kids When They See A Genderqueer Person on the Street

What Pride Means to this Retiring Kindergarten Teacher

Parent blogger Lori Duron writes about her journey raising a gender-creative child at Raising My Rainbow

Blogger Marlo Mack writes about her experience as a single mom of a transgender daughter at  Gendermom

Sunday 5 May 2019

Self-Care for Writers

My teaching background is the elementary panel so I found this article, Self Care for Graduate Students when Time and Energy are Tight, by dissertation coach Kathryn Peterson about stress in the graduate program fascinating.

I recently completed my doctorate and published a book, and could relate to some of the points in her article. Although our doctorate program didn't have the 'publish or perish' pressures, I agree with the author that working on a long-term writing project is like running a marathon. Writing can be stressful. It can take a physical and mental toll on your body and your energy.

Stressors can include:
  • biological stressors: so much sitting - aching shoulders, creaky joints
  • cognitive stressors: researching, reading, synthesizing so many articles and so much data; putting it all together in a coherent fashion
  • emotional stressors: the review process.  You submit something you think is pretty darn good and it comes back with so many suggestions for revisions, and questions. It can feel a bit like a personal attack when someone 'attacks' your writing.
  • prosocial and social stressors: the enormous amount of time and energy spent on a long-term writing project means less time for family and community. 

One of her suggestions is to write down five easy, low cost, short-term ideas for self-care on an index card and keep them in your bag or post them on a whiteboard in your workspace.  Then use them to restore balance and recharge energy when your tension is high and your energy is low.

Some suggestions for low cost, short term self-care include: a hot cup of tea, a walk outdoors, playing with a pet, holding hands with a loved one, reading a chapter in a non-work related book. 

I like the idea of having those strategies for refilling your energy tank posted on a whiteboard or written on an index card and carried in your bag.  When energy is low, it is so easy to revert to old habits like junk food, energy drinks, and mindless screen time. Having a strategy card readily at hand may help me to choose healthy strategies for restoring energy when my tank is low!

Empty fuel tank gauge image from:

Sunday 28 April 2019

We teach students not just content

Over the past few weeks these two posts have popped up several times in my social media feeds:

And I'm reminded once again that we don't just teach subjects, we don't just teach content, we teach students.

I can have the best lesson plans, and the newest resources, and the fanciest technology but if I can't connect with kids, then it's all for naught.

So as the pressure builds to 'cover all the curriculum' before the end of the school year, take a moment to remember what's really important - the relationships that you are building with your students. Years from now, they may not remember every lesson you taught, but they will remember that you cared.

Sunday 3 March 2019

Beyond Behaviour Charts

In my work as a consultant, I wish I had thought of using a behaviour chart like this with educators.  What better way for them to see and feel the impact that this approach can have on student engagement and motivation. Imagine if at your next staff meeting your administrator called you out in front of all of your colleagues and made you move your clip for scrolling through email on your cell phone, digging through your purse, or talking to the educator seated next to you.  And imagine how much more upset you'd be if your transgressions were actually work related - checking email for a field trip confirmation, looking for a pen to write notes during the meeting, talking to your colleague about the meeting content!

Behaviour charts do not help educators to determine the underlying causes of behaviour.  Instead of dealing with the problem, we are only reacting to the symptom.  If we don't address the cause, the 'problem behaviour' is most likely going to continue to happen.  So the child who is rummaging through their desk when the teacher is teaching a lesson - maybe they are looking for a pencil because it helps them to remember instructions if they write them down, maybe they need a fidget toy in their hands to help them listen - we'll never know if we don't ask.

And while behaviour charts may shame students into compliance, they do not help students to develop skills they need to be successful in school and life, like self-regulation.  Often, instead of focusing on the behaviour, the use of behaviour charts focuses on the child. The child who is frequently moving their stick into yellow or red is seen by their classmates and, often in their own mind, as 'the bad kid.'  
See Aviva Dunsiger's great blog post on this idea: When and How Do Perceptions Matter?
For the child who is seldom asked to move their clip, having to do so can impact their learning for the rest of the day.

So what can educators do instead of using behaviour charts?
  • when thinking about student behaviour, ask 'why and why now?'  All behaviour is communication, so what is the student telling us with this behaviour? 
  • reframe behaviour: Is this stress behaviour or misbehaviour?
  • keep conversations about behaviours private, when possible
  • build community in the classroom rather than compliance. A great resource for this is Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community by Alfie Kohn or the articles listed below
  • help students to develop skills of self-regulation in age appropriate ways. What does calm feel like? How does being calm help them learn? What helps them to feel calm? What are classroom appropriate ways that they can use to manage their energy states, emotions, behaviour and attention in ways that are socially acceptable in the school and classroom context?
  • read and reflect on our own practice.  

Here are some articles that discuss why to remove behaviour charts as well some alternatives to use instead. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments or to send them to me in a DM. 

Tear Down Your Behaviour Chart by L. Jung and D. Smith, Educational Leadership, September 2018

Step Away From The Stickers - a previous blog post I wrote for the MEHRIT Centre

NOTE: Jon's original tweet generated a lot of discussion on Twitter and, if you follow him, you can see the responses he posted to clarify his Tweet.  His post, and my blog, are not meant to blame and shame teachers but to prompt educators to reflect on what we do, why we do it, and the impact our actions may have on our students. 

Tuesday 26 February 2019

Defining Terms

In a recent Twitter conversation around this article on school violence, Lisa Corbett responded that she wished that everyone knew more about self-regulation, and Paul McGuire responded that he wasn't interested in the definition of self-reg as part of the discussion. This response surprised me.

I think that developing a common understanding of the vocabulary being used in a discussion is critical. Whether we are talking about self-regulation, technology, play-based learning, inquiry or any other topic, we need to ensure that we are all talking about the same thing.

The 2016 Ontario Kindergarten Program document contains six overall self-regulation expectations and eighteen specific self-regulation expectations which educators must understand, teach, document, assess, and evaluate. These expectations are based on Stuart Shanker's definition of self-regulation: “the ability to manage your own energy states, emotions, behaviour and attention in ways that are socially acceptable.”
 A recent study found over 600 definitions of self-regulation. In conversations with educators and administrators, it seems that people are using a variety of definitions of self-regulation instead of or in addition to the one in the curriculum document. Some of these definitions focus more on mindfulness, or are grounded in a self-control paradigm, or are part of a commercial program such as Zones of Regulation or MindsUp.

Will Rogers reportedly said: “You can’t teach what you don’t know any more than you can come back from where you ain’t been” 

Since self-regulation is central to a child’s capacity to learn and provides the underpinnings for essential skills needed throughout life, we need to ensure that all educators and the educational leaders who support them have a common, clearly articulated understanding of what is self-regulation and why it is important.

Educators with knowledge and training in self-reg, will be able to reframe their own behaviour and that of students as stress behaviour or misbehaviour. In cases of stress behaviour, they will follow the steps of self-regulation to recognize and reduce stressors, as well as reflect and restore themselves to a state where they are calm, alert and ready to learn/teach. 

As educators develop their self-regulation skills and note the impact self-regulation has on their ability to deal with stress, they gain a deeper understanding of why self-regulation is important, not only for their students but for the adults in the school as well. 

I agree with Paul - self-regulation will not solve all the problems that exist in our school system. But it can provide educators and students with a powerful tool to not just cope with the stressors in their lives, but to thrive.

One of the challenges of Twitter conversations, is the limit on the number of characters, so we aren't always able to clearly express our thoughts. Luckily Paul McGuire and Aviva Dunsigner have explored this topic of self-regulation and school violence in greater depth in their blog posts. I feel so fortunate to be able to engage in these great online discussions with educators who I may never meet in real life!

Wednesday 13 February 2019


In 2009, the Ontario provincial government announced the implementation of Full Day Kindergarten in all publicly funded Ontario schools, to be carried out over a five year period from 2010 - 2014. Each kindergarten classroom would be staffed by a kindergarten teacher and an Early Childhood Educator, except classes of less that 16 students which would be staffed by a teacher only.

The Draft Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten Program document, which was released in 2010 detailed the program expectations and pedagogy which was a play-based, student inquiry driven model which supported student learning in language, mathematics, science, physical education and health, the arts, and social-emotion domains.

Research conducted by the Ministry's own staff in partnership with Queen's and McMaster University  as well as research by others has shown that the FDK program has had a positive impact on student learning and achievement"

Yet, in spite of all of this evidence, Premier Doug Ford recently announced that his government will not guarantee the future of FDK beyond the 2019-2020 school year. In mid-February, my former school district will begin kindergarten registration for children beginning school in September 2019, welcoming parents to Open House and Registration events.  Yet parents who are registering their child to begin a two year kindergarten program in September have no idea what the program may look like by the time their child reaches senior kindergarten in September 2020.  Educators who are welcoming these parents to their programs have no idea what the kindergarten program will look like in another year, or if they will still be the ones staffing the program.

Immediately following the initial announcement there was a huge response from media, parents and educators denouncing the government's plan to cut FDK and outlining the importance of the program to children, to families, and to society. We know that the earlier we can intervene in a child's learning, the greater the chance of changing their trajectory.

A few days later, the government issued a clarification and stated that they are "committed to full day learning."  What does that mean for the future of the program, for the educators, the families, and the children? No one knows.

What can you do?

  • contact your MPP and tell them Hands Off FDK
  • share your stories on social media using the hashtag #HandsOffFDK
Share your ideas for action in the comment box.

Experts call Ontario's full-day kindergarten visionary
With Our Best Future in Mind - the Pascal Report and additional research and resources
FDK: Why it works (ETFO)
FDK: How it works (ETFO)

Ontario considers removing kindergarten, primary class size caps

Sunday 6 January 2019

Most read posts of 2018

The three most read blogs from Opening Doors for Learning in 2018 were:

Why Do People Come To Work When They Are Sick?: my own wonderings about why people who wouldn't send their child to school when they are sick come to work when they are so sick that they should be home.  Why????  This post generated lots of discussion on social media and I posted a reflection on some of the responses in a later blog post.

Class Lists - Reframing That Child:  a reflection the discussions that often ensue in June as class lists are being created for the coming school year, and a reminder to view all children with 'soft eyes', even the child who hits, or kicks, or misses so much school that their learning is fragmented.  

Resources for World Down Syndrome Day: a list of resources for educators for World Down Syndrome Day which is held each year on March 21. 

I think it's very positive that two of the three most read posts were about creating schools and classrooms that are inclusive for all students, while the other challenges us to rethink our beliefs about ourselves and our role in the classroom.