Wednesday, August 19, 2020

What Have I Been Doing?

This morning, I woke up to a response to my Twitter thread from yesterday. The poster expressed frustration with my position that teachers need a week without students in order to properly prepare (see linked thread for my perspective)

While the tone of their question was quite aggressive (it ended with the single word, "Shame"), the content of the post inspired me to do some more writing. I'm sure there are others out there with similar questions about what teachers have done to be proactive about the return to school. I did quite a bit of barbecuing, but I'm sure that's not what people want to hear... 


I present to you, What I Did This Summer (originally posted as a response thread on Twitter) : 

1/ Hi, _________, thank you for the question regarding how I have been using my time since classes officially ended on June 5th. I would love to be able to address you by name, and to know a bit about your context if you are interested in sharing. 

2/ So much of the work I do is not public-facing, it is reasonable to ask what I've been up to. Thank you for providing me the opportunity to share what the past 10 weeks have looked like for me!

3/ I did not stop interacting with my Ss on June 5th, (the last official day of online classes). Up until June 12th, many teachers (including myself) were providing feedback on assignments, and answering questions from parents and students about the transition to the next grade.

4/ For my part, beyond June 12th, I continued to meet with a small group every day to complete a book we had begun reading together. Those daily meetings concluded on June 26th. We read “Fish in a Tree”, which is an engaging book about a student newly diagnosed with dyslexia. 

5/ After June 30th, the day of our final staff meeting for the school year, I took a break for a week. I read some books, watched @HamiltonMusical, and tried to shut my brain off. It was challenging!

6/ On July 7th I attended a webinar entitled “So you want to do ABAR work?”, put on by four incredible educators @sheathescholar @teachntransform @mochamomma & @MsKass1. I paid for this webinar out of pocket, and was more than happy to compensate these folx for their labour.

7/ Starting on July 6th, I was enrolled in the @AMLE Back to School Camp - an online conference for middle school educators looking to be proactive in planning for a return to classes (in person, online, or a hybrid model) Nine other educators from my school attended as well. 

8/ The first week of “camp” involved getting to know some of my fellow attendees, and planning which sessions I wanted to attend live, and which ones to watch “on demand” later.

9/ July 9th, as part of the online camp experience, I attended a 90 minute Q&A session with @desautels_phd on the neuroscience behind having a trauma-informed lens when interacting with middle school students. 

10/ July 14-16 at camp were jam-packed with sessions from 12pm - 6pm each day, with the opportunity to watch video of sessions that were scheduled concurrently. I attended as many sessions as I could fit in, and have watched many of the ones I missed. 

11/ On July 17th, @rickwormeli2 ran a Q&A as a follow-up to his presentation earlier that week. He covered a wide range of topics surrounding assessment of student learning, bridging gaps in learning & addressing concerns about cheating in online learning environments. 

12/ The team of Ts from my school met to debrief the sessions, and to discuss how to share our learnings with other staff when we returned to work in Sept. The 10 of us represent about a third of the staff (teachers, educational assistants, custodian, library tech) at our school.

13/ The week of July 20th, I began work on an online course which will be part of my MEd in School Counselling. I worked 3 hours per day on reading the provided materials, searching for supplemental articles, writing papers and engaging in a discussion forum with other students.

14/ I finished my final paper for that course this morning. It was a priority for me to finish it before returning to school, so that my attention wouldn't be divided. I'm glad I was able to meet my self-imposed deadline! 

15/ July 23rd, the team of teachers from my school who attended the @amle camp met with @wmspal to discuss ways we could work to improve positive relationships at our school. His insights were very helpful, and we are working on some plans for implementation in our building.

16/ The week of July 27th, I experienced enough symptoms of Covid-19 that I called 811. I was instructed to self-isolate while waiting to be tested, and then for results. Within 4 days, I had a test done and it came back negative, which was a huge relief.

17/ I am grateful to our health care system that the turnaround was only four days, and felt fortunate that I was on vacation and therefore did not need to take time off work in order to comply with NSHA requirements. 

18/ Aug 13, I paid to attend a fantastic webinar with @alexsvenet on a trauma-informed return to school. She outlined 1 major concern for each of the models of instruction (in-person, online, or hybrid) as there were educators from all scenarios attending. Well worth the money!

19/ Next week, I will be attending 3 online sessions offered by the @avrce_ns : Moving Forward in Mathematics; 7-8 PBL/Inquiry; and 7-8 Curriculum Renewal. I will also take part in a follow-up session with @AMLE. The following week, I return to the school building.

20/ When I say I am not fully ready to greet students on Sept 8, it has very little to do with what I have or have not done while on vacation. 

21/21 Are there teachers who did not do the things that I have mentioned? Sure. This is our vacation time, I do not begrudge people taking a break. Are there Ts who did more than me? Absolutely. Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to share what I've been up to this summer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Returning to Physical Classrooms - Some Thoughts

 I wrote a long thread on Twitter today, about my thoughts as we prepare to in-person classrooms three weeks from today. Here is the text of that thread : 


Context : I am a public school teacher in Nova Scotia, Canada. We have 4 active cases of Covid-19 in the province. We are requiring a 14-day self-isolation period for all travellers coming from outside the Atlantic provinces. Masks are required in all indoor public spaces for people 2 years of age and up (grocery stores, restaurants, hair salons, etc.) Masks will be required in the classroom for grades 4 and up where students are not able to be 2m apart (read: the majority of classrooms)

Compliance with the above measures are part of the reason we have so few cases in the province. We did the work to limit opportunities for the virus to spread. We will continue to do what we can to limit the spread when we return to our physical buildings with students in 3 weeks.

There are many valid concerns about class sizes not allowing for physical distancing in classrooms, about where students and staff will eat lunch, about how we will navigate frequent hand washing/sanitizing of surfaces, and about the state of our ventilation systems. 

Teachers, myself included, have indicated that we need more time to prepare to welcome students back into physical classrooms in September. The physical reasons listed above are part of that - we need time as school staff to discuss what those things will look like for our specific sites. In addition, we need time to debrief the past 6 months, in the context of a global pandemic, the science-denial happening in parts of the world, systemic racism, and the fact that we will have staff and students alike who view school as an unsafe place right now.


We need time to reconnect with our colleagues in an authentic, compassionate way. This isn't something that can be done in two days while we are doing all of the other things that need to happen before students walk through the doors of our classrooms. How are we? What do we need? Who is struggling? Who is in a space to provide support to others? What does it feel like to be in physical proximity to so many people outside of our own families again? These questions are so important to discuss/consider before we interact with students.

Having time to collectively consider/discuss those questions is essential. Lori Desautels says we need to secure our own oxygen mask first. There will be a lot coming up for the adults in the building that needs to be addressed before we are ready to help students.

We also need time to plan how we will run our classes with the restrictions in place. My classroom involves small-group collaboration, sharing of art materials, circle discussions, one-on-one conferences, whole-class discussions, and lots of opportunities for movement. I use a wide variety of strategies to practice "brain intervals" or "brain breaks", many of which are self-directed and involve the use of physical objects such as puzzles, games, fidgets, and brain teasers. I need time to rethink these strategies in ways that are safe. My classroom environment is what I call “organized chaos” - students make choices about where to work, and have open access to technology and supplies. I begin the year with a collaborative design challenge inspired by John Spencer. I need time to plan how to do this in a new context. 

Sitting in rows all facing forward doesn't lend itself to the best practices I have developed over my 16 years as a middle school teacher. I need time to collaborate with other teachers in order to find ways of delivering the best possible educational experience for students. We need time, not just to understand new procedures and health guidelines, but to come together and plan a way forward in a very different environment. 

Alex Shevrin Venet says students and staff are likely to be hyper-vigilant when we return to in-person classrooms. Every sniffle and cough may be scrutinized, every improperly worn mask may be pointed out. Staff need time to develop strategies to help mitigate this hyper-vigilance.

I am excited to return to my classroom in person, and I need time to get ready. What could staff do better if we were given the first week to prepare in a meaningful way, before students enter our classrooms?

Thursday, April 9, 2020

A Message to My Parents

I sent this to the parents of my students this afternoon. As much as maintaining connections with students is my top priority, it is also super important to check in with the grownups as well. I try to limit my emails to twice a week, so as not to overwhelm them with information while still ensuring they know I am here for their children. 

Good afternoon "Big People" of 8 Gaudet,

I hope that you are doing well, that your families are safe and healthy, and that you have been able to take some time to get out in the sunshine these past few days. 

To help get a sense of how things are going, I would really appreciate it if you could take 2 or 3 minutes to fill out the Emergency Remote Learning Check-In I have attached (blog readers, you can make a copy of what I created here - feel free to take and adapt, as I did from the AMLE website). I plan to send this out at the end of each week, so that you have a quick and easy way to let me know how things are going for you. 

There have been some assignments posted on the Google Classroom over the past week, and this will continue to be updated as we move forward. I want to underline for you that there will be no judgment, no negative repercussions, and no calls home from the principal if your child does not engage in academic work at this time. I will touch base to check in, but it is far more important to me that children come out of this experience with as little trauma as possible. We don't know how long social distancing measures will be in place, or what will happen in our communities and in our families over the coming weeks. It is very important that we all take care of ourselves - however that needs to look for individuals and families. 

If you have any specific concerns about academics, the transition to grade 9, or your child's mental health, please don't hesitate to reach out. If something comes up for you or your family that you want me to know about, you are always welcome to email me, or to call the school number and leave a message (our principal checks regularly, and will let me know if there is someone I need to call back)

I plan to send out an article each week that you may find interesting / informative / helpful. Today, that article is A Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching Through Coronavirus. I am sharing this article with you so that you know a bit more about the reasons I am doing the things I am doing right now. There are also suggestions that you may find helpful in your own interactions these days. Please do not feel obligated to read this article, I am only passing it along if you are looking for some more information about what I consider to be best practice as a middle school teacher.

Monday, March 30, 2020

8th Grade Worries

Things my grade 8 students expressed worry/concern about during our video chat today :
Student 1 : when will we go back to school? Me: I don't know Student 2 : do you think we will we go back to school before the end of this year? Me: I don't know

Student 3 : will they make us repeat grade 8 if we don't go back to school this year? Me: I don't know Student 4 : will we have to go to school in the summer? Me: I don't know

Student 5: if we do go back to school, will we still do the IDU (our grade 8 version of a business fair - they look forward to it all year)? Me: I don't know Student 6: has anyone from our school been diagnosed with Covid-19? Me: I don't know (and couldn't say if I did)

Student 7: when can we get the things in our lockers? Me: I don't know, but I promise we're not going to keep your gym shorts forever! I was unable to answer any of those. The one I could answer just about broke my heart...

Student 8: when you finish reading us all of the chapters in this book, will we still have these video meetings? Me: (inside)

Me: (aloud) YES. These video meetings are about so much more than reading a book. We will have them for as long as we're apart.

Connections matter. Keep those connections alive.

Plenty of Advice Out There

Something I am finding to be a challenge these days is sifting through the sheer tonnage of advice that is floating around the Internet about how to best make it through this time of uncertainty and upheaval in our lives. I'm not talking about medical advice (please, stay home if you can!). I'm referring to the mass of articles about teaching and learning, caring for our mental health, and generally "making it". 

I've decided to create a bit of a depository for myself of the articles and information I am finding the most helpful right now. While these are not all of a "peer-reviewed" nature, I have found them to resonate with me personally. If you have something else that you think I should add to my list, I am happy to receive suggestions.

You don't have to "make the most" of a global pandemic is an Instagram post I came across, which contains some very excellent information about how we are all going to deal with this situation differently.

Along those same lines, I read an article called "These are not conditions in which to thrive" which really resonated for me:

 "I understand the impulse to reframe this moment as an inspiring opportunity. Wouldn’t it be nice if this pandemic — this period of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders — was a no-strings-attached gift of free time and focus? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could take all that time we spent commuting and attending obligatory social events and instead use it for ourselves? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could prioritize our true purpose: our creative ventures, our unlaunched hustles, writing our King LearThat would be nice. But that’s not where we are. [...] Just get through the day."
- Ella Dawson

20 Questions to Help with Covid-19 Anxiety

25 Mental Health Wellness Tips for Quarantine. This post was published on Facebook by psychologist Wayne McGill, and is attributed to Dr. Eileen Feliciano, clinical psychologist in New York.

A therapist’s advice for helping pre-teens in a coronavirus lockdown This article is based on an interview with therapist and school counsellor Phyllis Fagell  "As a developmental period, early adolescence is marked by a deep need to connect, belong, and fit in, as well as a need to solidify values, assert autonomy, find purpose, and have fun. To be a pre-teen in the time of coronavirus will require creativity and boundaries."

As a teacher, I am striving to help my students navigate these uncertain times as well. I came across these questions to discuss with students, before trying to focus on academics (in whatever form they are going to take for the next little while) :

I know there are many more articles, images, bits of advice, and inspirational messages out there. These are the few that I have been returning to over the past while, and that have had an impact on how I am choosing to approach teaching and relating to others.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Connections Beyond the Classroom

In this time of uncertainty, I have decided to start taking some courses towards a second MEd degree. Part of that process means contacting previous universities for my official transcripts. I sent in my requests earlier this week, and today I got a phone call from the registrar at Université Sainte Anne. She was calling to confirm my birthdate, as she was unable to find me in their system. In my transcript request, I had mistakenly indicated that I was born in 1918, rather than 1981!

In the course of trying to find my transcripts, she mentioned that she was the only one in the office today. I took the opportunity to ask how she is doing, and we ended up having a 20 minute conversation about the struggles we are both facing right now. There are still students living on campus at Ste. Anne, because they are from out of country and have nowhere to go. She's worried about them, and how they are coping being so far from their families. The admissions office staff are taking turns to come in one day per week - they are responsible for wiping down all of the surfaces they touch before they leave for the day. Her husband is a lobster fisherman, and she has had to banish him to the bedroom to watch TV while she works from home the other 4 days of the week - all of the phone lines at Ste Anne have been forwarded to a cellphone with which the university provided her.

If I had just answered her question about my year of birth, and thanked her for finding my transcripts, I would not have made this human connection today. We can all make little connections - everyone is experiencing challenges, everyone has a story. If you have the ability to ask someone how they are, and to really listen and care about their response, do it! The happiness I heard in her voice when I asked her how she is doing being along in the office, when she is used to being surrounded by people, was an uplifting moment in my day.

Not everyone is in a space where they can extend this invitation to share experiences, and that is OK. When you are though, give it a try. We all need some grace and love from one another.