Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Bone Inquiry

Wanted to share some panels I've put together that document a specific inquiry that happened in our classroom throughout September and October. For me, documentation of the process of student learning is crucial in Reggio inspired education. Documentation panels such as the ones I am sharing below help to showcase the critical thinking, growth, and development that occur daily in early learning environments. In Kindergarten, so much of the learning is active - if these fleeting moments aren't documented, they may be just that, fleeting. I believe in using documentation as clear evidence for the learning that occurs through hands on exploration and play. I don't claim to be perfect at documentation (far from it! In fact, I really only started thinking seriously about it halfway through last year), but thought sharing it may inspire some. As always, I am open to suggestions and angles I may not have's all about that life long learning!

Without further ado...

Friday, 10 October 2014

Giving Thanks

Today, in honour of Thanksgiving, the Kindergartens reflected on what it means to be thankful. We started the day with a read aloud (not Thanksgiving specific, but rather the general theme of thankfulness, which we should reflect on year round!) and had an interesting class discussion on what exactly it means to be thankful. The class decided on: “thinking and talking about things in your life that you are happy are there”. Students then had a chance to share what they are thankful for. A sample of answers: my family, our classroom, candy, trees that give us paper, nice ghosts, the day, love, and the food our families cook. All answers were interesting and thoughtful.

In an effort to practice what I preach, I want to take a quick second and communicate some of the many things I feel thankful for, especially those related to teaching.

I am thankful to work at one of the most unique, exciting, and stimulating schools I’ve ever come across. For those who don’t know, our school is located on Toronto Island. Yes, I start each day with a calm boat ride across Lake Ontario, watching the sunrise over the water. When we learn about science and nature, we don’t just read about it in a book – we go out an experience it – blue jays, chickadees, snakes, raccoons, tapping maple trees, collecting rocks and leaves, reading on the beach, you name it! Despite being in downtown Toronto, the Islands truly feel like a magical and lush green world where the outdoor learning is endless. Being on the Island provides me with a great chance to explore the world of Reggio inspired education as much of the Reggio philosophy involves the natural world. I feel so very thankful to get to teach in a place that supports this.

I am thankful to be part of a passionate Kindergarten teaching team who all share similar core beliefs about early childhood education, but also continue to remind each other to look outside of their comfort zone and continue to grow. As a team we continue to discover our strengths and also highlight areas we can support each other. Every team member is respectful, caring, knowledgeable, and best of all, willing to always learn more. Jamie, Shelagh, Ali, Madeleine – I am thankful to get to work alongside you all. You all inspire me daily.

I am thankful to come from a family who loves me, supports me, and has encouraged me to move in to the field of education. My mom and sister are both educators – my mom is a primary school teacher, and my sister is a dance educator. My dad, although not a teacher, loves nothing more than hearing us all “talk shop” and reminds me every time I see him how proud he is. I am thankful too to be with a loving and supportive partner who never tires of my school stories and even has gotten used to my constant piles of items around the house that “I’m going to bring into school tomorrow…or next week…or next month”.

Lastly, I am thankful simply to teach. I say it all the time to anyone who will listen (and sometimes those who won’t!), but I truly believe this is one of the coolest jobs out there. Not a day goes by that I don’t reflect on the massive responsibility that comes with our career. Especially being a Kindergarten teacher, we are often a child’s first experience with the school system. The way I look at it, we can either foster a spark and natural curiosity within them, or on the flipside, be the ones that plant the seed that school is “hard” and “not fun”. I never want to be that last kind of teacher. I try so very hard to create an atmosphere where learning is active, fun, and engaging, and mistakes are nothing more than opportunities to learn more. If students leave my room reading, writing, adding, hey, that’s a bonus. But if students leave my room with a genuine love of learning and a positive self image, that’s what really counts – and that’s what will serve them best in their future years of schooling as more "work" comes down the line.

What an incredible job we have – for that, I am thankful!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

September: Slow and Successful

Our morning always starts the exact same way.

I hold up one finger and say “First…”

“We walk quietly down the hall”, the students reply.


“We hang up our backpacks”.


“We take out our Communication Folders”.

“And fourth…”

“We read on the carpet!!!”, the students cheer.

Yes, cheer. They genuinely seem to love this.

My heart absolutely swells each morning as I observe my students going through our morning routine with absolute certainty, success and increasing independence. Sometimes I just stand back and observe, congratulating each and one of them on what I see and how much growth they’ve already shown in our mere weeks together. September has now come and gone, and no - we don’t run screaming down the hall. We don’t fight over who gets to stand where in line. We don’t enter our community space unsure of our role.

To be clear, I don’t do this with my students because I believe students should walk quietly everywhere in a single file line. I don’t do this with my students because I think young children need to be calm and still. It’s actually quite the opposite. I know that young children are excited, noisy, wiggly little beings, and I love that, value that, and reflect that in my programming. Why do I do this with my students? Because I believe in keeping September slow and successful.

By repeating simple school routines, students witness themselves mastering something, and begin to build a positive self-image as someone who is capable, competent and able to learn. I firmly believe that this feeling is transferable – when students remember how they mastered the morning routine, they feel they can master other goals that arise in their learning – be it learning to read, learning to write, learning to count, etc. The most important thing (in my opinion) to a Kindergartener’s development is building confidence in their ability to grow and learn. By spending a good chunk of September repeating routines (like the aforementioned entry routine) I give each student a task that I know they can handle – and delight in the pride they show when they master it! It’s a great feeling all around.

I’ve never been one of those frantic teachers thinking I need to jump head first into “the academics” first thing in September. I don’t think school is all about the end goal of where they need to be. Rather, I think it’s more important to consider where they’re at currently, and what I can give them as an educator to encourage them towards where they “should be”. It’s a long year, and I know I will have plenty of time to get to the more meaty stuff. In fact, I think that that stuff ends up being much more successful when students come to it with a solid foundation of how to function in our classroom space. Without setting that foundation up in September, I believe the learning can suffer.

Another big reason behind the routine repetition in September links to what have been the big ideas so far in our classroom – how our room functions as a community, and the ways communities show respect. When I talk about respect, I mean it all: respecting each other, respecting the teachers, respecting the space, and most importantly, respecting themselves. By entering our classroom with the four steps that we do, we start our day by showing all these kinds of respect.

If I did have any doubts about approaching the year the way I do, they all would have been erased last Friday. After a community discussion about using quiet voices around the animals we see on Toronto Island as to not scare them, a brand new JK students raised her hand and chimed in without any prompting: “That’s respect!”

Yes, yes it is. Kindergartens just get it.