Category Archives: Building Relationships

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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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.

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

Three Words for 2016

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Happy New Year! Once again, it’s been awhile since I have devoted time to blogging. I’ve written many a post in my head, but unfortunately, they have not often translated into actual posts for people to read. I would like this to change because writing brings me joy and provides me with an outlet for reflection. However, the highlights of my 2015, although not blogging related, were pretty awesome, so I’m going to tell myself I have a long list of very good excuses and forgive myself for the lapse in writing.

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Photo Credits: Patricia Gillespie, Moonrise Photography

I’m not usually one for New Year’s resolutions, but I have been inspired over the past several years by educators who have shared their “one word” for the year. While I like the idea of a guiding word, I never felt that one was enough. So rather than choose just one, I’ve carefully chosen three words that I feel will help guide me through 2016 – not to achieve goals necessarily, but to help me be my best self.

1. Balance

This is a word that I am choosing to remind myself that it is important to rest, rejuvenate, and restore. As someone who struggles with anxiety daily, I am prone to overworking myself in pursuit of approval and perfection. I hope that the word BALANCE will remind me to revisit my passions outside of education and to focus on my social and emotional needs. It represents my desire to act and to reflect, to share and to listen, to care for others and for myself.

2. Strength

This past year, I gave up a passion of mine that keeps me grounded and in good physical health. This year, I am reminding myself to revisit physical activities that make me feel strong – hiking, dance, yoga – because to me, STRENGTH means positive physical and mental health, a sense of self. It also reminds me to look for courage within myself when I am lonely, overwhelmed, or afraid. I hope I will have the STRENGTH to make healthy decisions for myself in 2016.

3. Relationships

This word is to remind me to revisit and strengthen the many meaningful RELATIONSHIPS I already have in my life. I often get wrapped up in my day to day life and forget to connect with those I would consider my closest friends and family. I am hoping to change this. I also feel this word represents the most important aspect of my educational philosophy; I hope it will remind me of my professional values in stressful times so I can choose care and compassion over reaction.

So those are my guiding words for the new year. There is so much right in front of us that we forget to nourish. Rather than planning for drastic changes, I’m hoping my #threewordsfor2016 will help me better understand myself and my role in the lives of those around me.

What words will guide you in 2016?

Possible: Kids Get It

My last post Possible: A Frame of Mind touched on how we as educators need to shift our mind sets to context in order to inspire change in the system. We must understand our “why” and encourage others to find theirs before we ask teachers to change their practice.

Last week, I had an awesome conversation with my students. I asked them what they liked about our class and what they would like to change about school. Here are some of their responses…

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I think teachers should be closer with their students. It makes it so much easier to learn when you are connected with your teacher.

I really like how we have a lot of freedom and choice in our class. I’ve never really had this much freedom in school before.

I really like how we learn in different ways like in Math we use manipulatives and whiteboards and iPads. Math is more fun and easy to understand with manipulatives and it’s so much easier to show my thinking on an iPad than on paper.

Sometimes I think teachers forget what it’s like to be a kid. School is so much more fun when your teacher gets to know you and understand you.

I think more teachers should think about the physical space in their classrooms. How a room is set up makes a big difference in how I feel at school and having different spaces to learn is really helpful.

Honestly, I wish I had recorded the conversation because my kids were SO insightful! Their ideas were extremely well articulated and more powerful than I expected. Everyone was engaged in the discussion and wanted to contribute. We talked about making a video this year to share our experiences and what changes we would like to see in education moving forward. It was a very exciting day for me as an educator and a very powerful group activity. They have since asked if we can have awesome conversations every Thursday.

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We can’t be afraid to have these conversations with our kids. There is so much we can learn from them.

Kids get it. As long as their voices are valued, they will always see what’s possible.

Possible: A Frame of Mind

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Lately, I’ve been having a lot of conversations about the need for transformation in education. There are so many incredible educators out there – people who are building strong relationships with their students and making learning relevant in a variety of ways. My PLN is a wonderful source of support in this respect as they have so many tools, ideas, and stories to share with the education community.

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However, I can’t help but feel lately that we are preaching to the converted.

How can we broaden our circles of conversation to include more and more educators?

I think there are endless possibilities for how we can connect with others. Face to face within our schools has always been a possibility, district initiatives, and obviously connecting online through blogging and social media such as Twitter and Google +… and yet it doesn’t seem like enough. It is still a very small minority of educators that are working towards a new and different model of education.

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend the day with Will Richardson (@willrich45) as part of my district’s IML Innovators group. Although many people made insightful comments that day, one of Will’s has stuck with me. He said that it is not enough to focus on our practice; in fact, we should forget about changing our practice. Until we have dedicated the time to discussing the CONTEXT, the reasons for which we believe education needs to change, there is no point asking educators to change what they are doing in their classrooms. Students are not being harmed by anyone, so let’s spend some time understanding the why before we jump into the what and the how.

This was brilliant! It made me realize why I often feel like people think I’m nuts. Although I shifted my advocacy focus away from specific tools long ago, I still feel that tools are what most educators want to be given. They think it’s about the technology, that there are teachers who use tech and those who don’t, when really it is about improving students’ learning experiences. I want to transform education, not mass distribute new tech tools into our classrooms. But Will made me realize that perhaps it was bigger than I thought; maybe they don’t understand the context or the possibilities that changes could provide to education. Suddenly, the “problem” seems much more manageable. Although it may be time consuming, we must value reading, sharing, and discussing educational issues with our colleagues. We devote a lot of energy to building relationships with our students, but we often forget to do the same with our colleagues. Possible is simply a frame of mind; I want all educators to be able to envision what’s possible.

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So I urge you to ask yourself: Is possible your frame of mind? Because if it’s not, if we continue to look for faults in transformational ideas rather than strengths and possibilities, then I think we have already failed. The choice is up to us; we all have the power to put a little more possible in education.

Learning to Be Grateful

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In this profession, it is way too easy to fall into to the trap of being busy, overwhelmed, and quite frankly, exhausted. We get down on ourselves and sometimes even play the competitive sport entitled “Who’s Busier?!” Instead of stressing out, we all need to sit back, relax, and learn to take some time for ourselves. I have to admit that this is not my strength… I am the antithesis of relaxation and I have chronic headaches to prove it. However, it is something that I am working on.

Here are five things for which I am grateful this Thanksgiving season…

1. My dog. I love him. He’s adorable. No matter what happened at work that day, how late I come home, how sick I feel or how grumpy I am, he is always there. This weekend we took him to Campbell Valley Park and he was the happiest little guy in the world. I was not a dog person until we got him 2 years ago… And now I know the definition of unconditional love and (wo)man’s best friend.

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2. Good food. I don’t think I realized growing up how lucky we were in my house. We didn’t have more than we needed, but we always ate good, healthy food. To this day, I am so grateful that my mother taught us the value of good food and nutrition. I am also thankful that I learned how to cook as a child; I wish every child got to experience the magic of creating a meal. An untapped source of creativity, I think…

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3. Education. We are so incredibly blessed to have access to free public education for all. Every so often, I try to imagine what it would be like to not have this access and it breaks my heart. The ability to read and write and learn is so incredible. I think sometimes we forget about the magic of stories and the wonder of free access to information. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn openly.

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4. Sunshine. There is nothing more amazing than a beautiful sunny day in the fall. Enough said.

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5. Love and laughter. Although it is sometimes difficult to remember in times of chaos… I love my family, my spouse, my friends, my dog, my students… and I know I am loved in return. I am especially grateful for the amazing group of kids I have this year who have already shared so much joy and laughter with me. Everything is better with laughter!

Isaiah Early

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Try to take some time for yourself this year and remember to reflect on the positive.
What are you grateful for?