It’s the Little Things

Over the past couple of years, I have often questioned my abilities as a teacher. I have had a lot of rough days and a few occasions where I wondered if I could ever do enough. I think we all end up in this place once in awhile because it is truly a job that never ends and could always be done better. However, I have also been trying to focus more on the little things that bring us joy as educators. There are, of course, many moments related to academic learning that are super special, but it’s not these moments that I find most meaningful and it’s not these moments that keep me in this profession. It’s those little things that are about relationships that really get to me…

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  1. That smile from that kid who just needed someone to talk to at recess.
  2. “Can I give you a hug, Ms. B?”
  3. The moment a child finally opens up to you.
  4. An email from a parent thanking you for your understanding.
  5. That kid who comes to ask you about anxiety after a lesson on mental health.
  6. The student who feels safe enough to share that their grandfather passed away during morning meeting.
  7. “I know you get it, Ms. B. You understand.”
  8. Watching a child develop a new friendship.
  9. Parents who let you know that their child is happy to come to school.
  10. Returning after an absence to: “We missed you!”

There are a million moments that we could reflect upon because we truly do make a difference in the lives of kids. They matter. We matter. Relationships matter.

When we’re feeling down, we need to remember that it’s the little things that matter the most.

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2017: A Year of Intention

Last year, I couldn’t choose just one word for the year, so I chose 3 words that would guide me to be my best self: Balance, Strength, and Relationships. I cannot say that it went smoothly… In fact, with some long awaited consistency in my vie quotidienne, it seems I finally had time to delve deep into my personal struggles. Rather than a year full of balance, it felt like a year full of self doubt, overwhelm, and frustration. Side note: I’m sure this is only in part due to my inability to choose a single word…

However, these words also led me to make a few decisions in 2016 for which I am grateful. They were changes that were not sudden, but had a positive impact over time.

  1. Starting a gratitude journal. For real this time. I have successfully expressed gratitude for something daily, in writing, for the past 8 months. This allows me at least one moment of release from my anxiety at the end of each day.
  2. Spending time in nature. I didn’t strictly adhere to my #photoaday2016 aspirations, but the project did allow me to become more mindful of the world around me. Allowing myself permission to take a trip to Maui over Spring Break helped renew my energy and positive attitude in ways I wasn’t expecting. More time exploring this beautiful province reminded how grateful I am to live here.
  3. Devoting more time to friendships. Some people just make your soul feel good. Time outside of our own head can be a good thing. Enough said.
  4. Renewing my love of physical activity. I took rowing lessons, signed up for a barre membership, and even attended a couple of yoga workshops. All of these things have helped me focus on staying healthy outside of the classroom so I can hopefully be healthier in the classroom.
  5. Being vulnerable. This one was much less conscious, but powerful nontheless. Sharing my struggles with colleagues, friends, students, and strangers has given me a sense of freedom I wasn’t expecting. It has allowed others to see me as a whole person rather than the shiny version that I have typically tried to present to the outside world. I am now in a place of heathy contemplation about what really matters in life.

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@beverley.bunker #photoaday2016

As we head into another new year, I’ve been inspired by the idea of an intention for the year. The idea is that an intention guides us in our daily lives but is more fluid and organic than a specific goal. It can change with us as needed. So in 2017, my intention is to simplify.

I’m not sure what exactly that means yet… but I think that’s ok. I know it speaks to my heart. I believe it will help me be more intentional in my actions, my words, and my decisions. What more can we really ask of ourselves than that?  Intentionalilty is what makes a good teacher a great one.

Wishing you love and joy in 2017.

The Importance of Modeling

When I was explicitly teaching language every day in French Immersion, modeling was a no brainer. It’s how we developed oral and aural language skills as well as conceptual understanding in various curricular areas. I still use explicit modeling when teaching Core French because it has become second nature to me in a language context. However, lately I’ve been reminded of the importance of modeling in all areas of learning.

Kids – heck, all people – need to see others lead by example. This means modeling how to problem solve, how to make healthy choices, and how to be kind and compassionate. It means taking risks ourselves in order to show our kids that mistakes are not a bad thing. It also means being authentic… because kids know when we don’t mean it.

Social emotional learning is complicated; there are so many factors that influence our lives and those of our kids. It can sometimes be difficult to model compassion, patience, and empathy when we aren’t feeling particularly compassionate, patient, or empathetic. However, these are qualities that will help our kids grow up happy and healthy; help them build strong relationships. Society needs to stop assuming that kids “should know” how to be respectful or kind. If we don’t show them ourselves, how will they know what it looks like?

So be brave, make big mistakes, and model the reactions and strategies you want to see in our kids. We tend to fall back on behaviours that are most familiar… so let’s make kind, compassionate, and empathetic more familiar. And when we mess up, let’s admit it. Model honesty and resilience.

Searching for Truth & Reconciliation

For too long, Canadian history books have painted a euro-centric picture of colonization. For too long, we have ignored our collective history in favour of a charming perception of Canada as a kind, respectful, inclusive country where we protect human rights and freedoms. We have glossed over darkness and ignored the needs of those who have suffered. I feel fortunate to live now in this time of transition where we can all play a part in truth and reconciliation. BC’s redesigned curriculum is founded on the First People’s Principles of Learning, and yet there are so many questions for teachers to navigate…

What are the principles? Where can I learn more? How do I teach perspectives authentically and respectfully? Is it about tackling the tragic history of residential schools? Helping students see the value in not just tolerance, but acceptance and respect for diverse points of view? How do we address sensitive topics like religion and abuse (especially at the elementary level) while still being truthful?

The only thing of which I am convinced is that it is now about so much more than content.

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This year, I have made an attempt to learn more. I’ve attended workshops, read stories, and most recently, heard Wab Kinew speak about how the residential school system has impacted his family. First hand accounts of the inter-generational effects of disconnection and abuse have made me reflect on everything from anger to compassion and forgiveness.

Recognizing my own ignorance, I have a pile of books waiting to be read, including Wab’s The Reason You Walk, and I have made an attempt to involve my students in my learning journey this year. We have explored picture books and kid-friendly biographies about attending residential school, which were a beautiful way to introduce the topic.

We’ve also increased our emphasis on place-based learning. Through weekly nature walks, we try to learn from nature rather than simply bringing learning outdoors. So far, we’ve explored geometry, patterns, human impact, and physical education.

While I do believe these are steps in the right direction – my students are genuinely engaged in the history of residential schools and wanting to learn more –  I don’t feel they are anywhere near enough. I know that I will never understand enough.

We can never make things right, but we can continue listening and seeking people’s truth. I only hope we can find the courage to admit our ignorance, acknowledge the tragedy of our collective past, and open our hearts to those who need to be heard. I am no expert, but I will continue seeking people’s truth, as I believe this is what will lead us to reconciliation.

Ignite

On February 9, I presented my first Ignite at our district’s Engaging the Digital Learner series. I have to say that I personally advertised this fact to only 4 adults: the person who asked me, my husband, one friend, and my principal. I was secretly afraid that I wouldn’t be able to go through with it, as I had experienced extreme anxiety in a similar situation a couple of years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, those who know me well know that I don’t usually have an issue speaking up. While I have many introverted tendencies, I have learned to love giving workshops and talking about education – especially inquiry and assessment – because I am passionate about these things. But this time, I wasn’t speaking with a small group or close friends. This time felt different for a few reasons:

a) 250 people is a lot!

b) Ignite format is challenging. It requires practice and is much more formal than a workshop.

c) 250 people is a lot! (seriously, looking out towards the crowd made me feel ill…)

Somehow I made it through the days filled with anxiety beforehand. On some level, I may have even enjoyed sharing in this way. The constraints of an Ignite – 5 minutes, 20 slides on a timer – make it a great creative challenge. In hindsight, I’m even grateful that I presented first, followed by Zale Darnel, Gr. 8 Veronica Nguyen, and @jessgonsales (who were all awesome!) and the Keynote Speaker William Rankin.

I truly feel that the whole process was valuable and that it helped to solidify my thinking about Communicating Student Learning.

Even if public speaking is not your thing, I highly recommend occasionally taking yourself outside of your comfort zone. It’s a great way to grow as an individual, practice humility, and inspire others.

For those who are interested, here are my slides: Ignite – Beverley Bunker

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cc Photo Credit: BK via Flickr

Talking Openly About Mental Health

My struggle is anxiety. I didn’t know it until I was an adult, but I’ve actually been anxious my entire life. For as long as I can remember, I have experienced chronic daily headaches and I was a classic worrier growing up. However, it wasn’t until my physical health began to fail me about 3 years ago that I realized something was really wrong. I was highly motivated and inspired by my work, yet I was horribly sick and began fainting. I was often dizzy, unable to eat, and angry. Doctors couldn’t tell me what was wrong, so I began to think it was all in my head. It wasn’t until I found an outlet through fitness and support through counselling that I realized my physical symptoms were all a result of anxiety. I was relieved; at least I wasn’t suffering from some horrible physical illness! Little did I know how difficult this journey would be – digging deep to understand the root of our emotions is not a task easily checked off our weekend “To Do” list. I know now that it is challenging lifelong work.

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Photo via Pixabay

Since my own journey of self discovery began, I have developed so much compassion for students who suffer from anxiety. I often share my own daily experiences with them, like how it’s hard to sleep at night and how sometimes it feels like there’s an earthquake when there’s not. Or how sometimes my anxiety is triggered by events, like flying or large crowds, but most of the time it is completely unpredictable and difficult to explain. I also share self-regulation strategies that work for me like nature walks, yoga, and mindfulness.

For some reason, I have been sharing more openly in my classroom this year than before. I think being in a new school has provided me with an opportunity to share my true self – the one who I’ve been peeling away layers to get to know over the past 3 years – the one who has come so far and yet still feels like a child sometimes – and it feels good.

However, the reason I share all of this with you is because it’s easy to forget that many of our students are suffering from physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety every day. It’s becoming an epidemic in our fast-paced, modern society. These kids need to know that we know why words like “calm down” or “don’t worry about it” are unhelpful… and that negative behaviour is often an indication that we’re struggling with something inside. Other students have family members who are struggling with depression, addiction, eating disorders, or mood disorders – as do many of us. Simple conversation can go a long way toward developing a sense of acceptance and compassion for those struggling with mental health issues. It shows students that positive mental health is something we are all working on, not something you either have or you don’t.

Through sharing, we may be putting ourselves out there, but we may also end up modeling a growth mindset for our students. I personally think that being vulnerable is worth the risk of healthier, happier, and more empathetic kids.

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Photo via Pixabay

Cross-Curricular Connections

Whenever I’m asked to share about our redesigned BC curriculum with other teachers, the first question I’m often asked is: “Can you show us examples of planning?” I struggle to answer this question for a few different reasons. First of all, planning is personal. I don’t think there is a one size fits all approach to planning, regardless of what your curriculum looks like. Secondly, if I truly shared my mind’s journey as I plan, I think I would frighten people. Finally, finding cross-curricular connections is something that I feel is crucial to planning with this redesigned curriculum. This takes some effort and thoughtfulness on the part of the teacher who will, in fact, be teaching whatever is being planned.

I’m lucky to have the opportunity this year to be working with teacher candidates one day per week at UBC. This means I get to play with different ways to think about this redesigned curriculum in addition to what I am trying in my own Grade 6/7 classroom. Last week, we explored how mind maps might help us visualize connections between Core French and other disciplines. Through facilitating this exercise, I realized that this simple method of brainstorming could be a powerful tool for helping all teachers beginning to think about cross-curricular connections that could eventually lead to large scale inquiry.

Learning Intention:

I can create a mind map that highlights opportunities for cross-curricular connections between Core French and other content areas.

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By simply identifying curricular competencies and content that work together from a couple of different disciplines, we can begin to understand how this way of approaching teaching and learning is more efficient and more effective for our learners. For example, teacher candidates quickly realized that francophone culture – a big idea in most Core French curriculum – is a great entry point for inquiry. This can be combined easily with competencies in Social Studies or Language Arts to create a deeper, more meaningful understanding of cultural stereotypes, traditions, or historical events. Cross-curricular connections are also what free up time to allow for other creative experiments such as Maker Spaces and Genius Hour, so it’s a win/win situation.

The key to finding solid cross-curricular connections is being intentional. How can we scaffold student learning to ensure we’re targeting all disciplines involved? How can competencies be combined to allow for a single learning intention? With Core French, it’s about connecting communication with context. For example, using language structures such as les verbes à l’impératif with directional vocabulary in French can help us teach communication through P.E. skills. Students practice giving and responding to instructions while focusing on movement. Other disciplines and other classes may look different and that’s ok. Ultimately, it’s about exploring these connections so we can create the most powerful learning experiences for our students. So pull out some art supplies and start envisioning the possibilities! Exploration leads to innovation.

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Photo Credit: Questions to consider when planning @beverleybunker