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.

Monday, 31 December 2018

One Word Challenge 2019

The One Word Challenge is based on a book by motivational expert Jon Gordon called One Word That Will Change Your Life.    The premise of the book is that most people give up on their New Year's Resolutions by the end of January.  By focusing on just one word and remembering WHY you chose that word, you are more likely to stick to your resolution.  Here's a brief video of Jon Gordon explaining the idea behind One Word That Will Change Everything.

In 2017, my One Word was Stretch and, as I wrote in my year end reflection, I thought I did a great job of stretching out of my comfort zone both personally and professionally, For 2018, my word was 'well-being.'  In one of my first blog posts of 2018 I wrote: This year, with each choice I make both personally and professionally, I intend to reflect on whether this choice will contribute to my physical and mental well-being.

As a retiree, there is no reason not to get to the gym or outside for some exercise on a regular basis. When I choose to stay home and lounge on the couch, I need to make sure that I am making a mindful choice. Is this relaxation what I need right now for my well-being or would my well-being be better served by getting up and getting some exercise?

I have to be honest - earlier this week when I looked back at last year's one word challenge I had totally forgotten what my word was for 2018.  And I can't say that I have done a much better job of putting my well-being front and centre in 2018 than I did in 2017.  I'm afraid I didn't have much more luck with One Word than I did with my New Year's resolutions in years past.

So for 2019 I am going to keep my one word from 2018, and vow to do a better job of remembering that my well-being - physical, mental, emotional, social - is my goal for the year.  I intend to post reminders in my bullet journal and to look for other ways to remind myself throughout the year.

  • Do you make New Year's Resolutions?
  • Do you participate in the One Word Challenge?
  • What strategies do you use to 'stick to it' with your goal?
  • Have you ever realized that you completely forgot your goal (like I did?)

This poster is going on my bulletin board, where I will see it every day.
My plan is to find a new inspiration well-being quote to post each month as one strategy
to remember my commitment to my own well-being. 

Why do people come to work when they're sick? - A reflection

December is a time for looking back at the year past, and many bloggers post lists of their 'most read' posts for the calendar year.

For me, the most read post on my blog this year had more than double the readers than the next most read post, and it generated a great deal of discussion on social media. That post was my wonderings on 'why do people come to work when they are sick?' 

The responses to my post from those teachers who do show up at school when they are sick fell into three general categories:

1. It is more difficult to prepare for a supply teacher than it is to just 'tough it out' and go to work sick. I get that preparing for a supply teacher is not easy, but if your daybook already contains information on the routines and procedures that don't vary from day to day, then completing supply teacher plans shouldn't be overly daunting. In this day and age when teachers can email their plans to the supply teacher or to their admin, not having a detailed lesson plan already at the school is not an insurmountable obstacle. Years ago my administrator asked each teacher to have an emergency one day and one week day book prepared.  My one week plan was literacy based - a read aloud book with aligned literacy and math activities that weren't necessarily connected to our current unit of study, but in an emergency, they would suffice.

2. A supply teacher won't be able to handle my class/teach my lessons the way I would.
A number of people currently working as supply teachers responded that they found this reason for coming to work sick rather insulting. Maybe it won't be done exactly the way you would teach it, but is that necessarily a bad thing?  Maybe it will just be 'good enough' and that will be okay for a day or two. Most of us in teaching have worked as supply teachers.  In my year of supply teaching, there were times the teacher left lessons that I knew were busy work and practice lessons, saving the key instructional lessons for when he/she returned.  That's fine.

Another strategy suggested by many teachers is to enlist your students to take on leadership in your absence.  Make sure that they know the rules, routines, and procedures and that they have responsibilities in your absence for ensuring the smooth running of the classroom.  Even our youngest learners are capable and competent of assisting a supply teacher. So, if upon your return the literacy centres are a mess, you can follow up with the students who are supposed to be in charge of those centres if and when you are absent.

3. We don't have enough supply teachers and/or occasional ECEs.
This is a tricky balancing act for school boards and unions.  There need to be enough supply teachers/ECEs available to cover absences but not so many teachers/ECEs on the supply list that people aren't getting sufficient work.  What sometimes happens is that an educator calls in their absence and there is no one available to cover the absence.

Educators are then between a rock and a hard place.  If they stay home, too ill to work, they feel guilty because they know their colleagues are going to have to try to cover their absence and their students may have someone different teaching them each period of the day.  If they drag themselves to work anyway, then does that relieve some of the pressure on boards and unions to find a solution to the shortage?  In our board, when I was working in the program department we went through a period where there were not enough supply teachers. We would begin a workshop or meeting, and teachers would get phone calls from their principal saying, "There's no supply teacher here to cover your absence.  You need to come back to the school." After this happened several times, our superintendent met with administrators and told them, "No more phone calls.  Professional learning is important.  The work of our consultants is important. Find another solution."  Had we continued to accept teachers being pulled from professional learning due to a shortage of supply teachers, there would have been less pressure on Human Resources to hire more supply teachers.

It's never easy being away from work.  It's hard to entrust our students and our teaching to someone else. But teaching is hard and it's even harder when you're not feeling well. While our work and our students are important, so is our health.  We owe it to our students, our families and ourselves to take care of ourselves.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

December Reflections

December is a time for reflection on the year past, and even though I'm retired, this has been an amazing year of professional growth and challenges. My OneWord for 2017 was 'stretch' and I vowed to stretch myself, personally and professionally, out of my comfort zone. I've continued to 'stretch' this year as well.

Rather than list all of them, I've selected four instances that pushed me out of my comfort zone professionally this year:

1. Finished my doctorate! I began this journey before I retired, knowing that I would need a continued intellectual challenge in my retirement. Boy, was it challenging!  But I did it - even though it was difficult and there were times when I wanted to quit, I did it!  Walking across the stage at Western's convocation and meeting all of my online classmates and professors in person was a real thrill. My doctoral work explored Enacting Self-regulation Expectations in Kindergarten Programs Using A Distributed Leadership Framework, and I have published a few articles based on this work. I hope to continue publishing in 2019.

2. Speaking of publishing, my book, Lab Class: Professional Learning Through Collaborative Inquiry and Student Observation became available in August 2018 and it was chosen as Learning Forward's Summer Book Club selection. What a thrill to hold a copy of it in my hands!  It is based on work that we did in our board, engaging as co-learners with educators using a collaborative inquiry approach to professional learning. Going through the publication process with the team at Corwin Press was exciting and scary at the same time - lots of revisions, lots of questions - but totally worth it in the end.

3. I was a guest on not one, but two podcasts on  I'd never been on a podcast before, and they are kind of challenging.  You're talking with other people whom you can't see. I've read that over 90% of communication is non-verbal and in a podcast you don't have any of those visual cues - head nods, eye gaze, etc - to support the conversation. Luckily the others with whom I was chatting were very experienced podcasters and the hour flew by.  Thanks to Stephen Hurley & Doug Peterson for inviting me to join them on This Week In Ontario Edublogs, and to Stephen Hurley & Susan Hopkins for allowing me to join them on the Voices of Self-Regulation podcast.

4. I have presented at lots of conferences over the years, both locally and provincially, but this year I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and did something different.  Instead of presenting a workshop, I facilitated a conversation which is much more open and fluid.  And, to make it even more challenging, it wasn't at a Kindergarten conference or a self-reg conference (which are my strengths) but at the Bringing IT Together Conference, which is a technology focused conference with lots of intermediate and secondary teachers. I was worried that no one would attend my session, or that the people who did attend wouldn't have much to say.  I needn't have worried - I had a great group and they engaged in a very fulsome conversation.

Here's hoping that 2019 offers many more opportunities to continue to stretch and grow!

Thanks to Lynn Thomas for inspiring this blog post, and to Doug Peterson who posted the link to her blog in This Week in Ontario Edublogs.  I always get so inspired by the blogs he shares!