Kind #5Days5Words

Posted: 13th August 2018 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I need to get back to blogging, but didn’t want to set too lofty a goal.  So I gave myself a challenge:  blog every day for my last 5 internet-friendly days of summer vacation about 5 little words I have been reflecting on this recharging summer.  Here’s word number five.

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” -Henry James

When I first came to my current K to 5 school, I wanted to set a structure to best support students and staff without making things too complicated.  I held an assembly the first week of school and let them know that there are four “big be’s” that we would work on:  Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be Safe and Be Kind.  If you think about the minutia of rules in a school (or anywhere for that matter), pretty much all of them would fall into one or more of these categories.  Pretty much every student since then who has had to problem solve with me through an issue has had a conversation about whether their choice/action was one of these.  And if the answer was no, then our conversation is about how to turn things around.

While I think it is very important to teach students to be responsible, respectful and safe, the one that probably holds the most impact with me is kindness.  In my opinion, it may be the most important thing we teach any child.

Just look around our world, read comments/posts on social media, or watch the news and see how decisions made by people without kindness have impacted our world negatively.  Or consider how actions of kindness can have long-lasting, positive impact on people.

But how do you teach students to be kind?  At school, we talk about what kindness looks like and doesn’t look like.  We talk about people in the world – including young children – who have acted with kindness and how that has created ripples of effect.  We catch students in acts of kindness and celebrate.  We help students reflect on unkind acts and strategize about how to make them kind ones.  We acknowledge the fierce feelings that can contribute to unkind acts and suggest more appropriate ways to deal with these.  We read books about kindness.  We model acting kindly.  But is it enough?

I’ve written these five posts this week about topics I’ve been mulling this summer.  This topic is the one that I’ve thought about the most because I don’t know where to go next.  How else can we possibly teach students to be kind?

I don’t know the answer.  I’m off now for ten days in sun and sand.  I’ll keep thinking through that, and into the new school year I will try to find new opportunities to make an impact on the children in my care.  I truly believe each one will have the opportunity to change our world in their lifetime.  I hope their impact will be kind.

 

 

Freedom #5Days5Words

Posted: 12th August 2018 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I need to get back to blogging, but didn’t want to set too lofty a goal.  So I gave myself a challenge:  blog every day for my last 5 internet-friendly days of summer vacation about 5 little words I have been reflecting on this recharging summer.  Here’s word number four.

My husband and I got married very young and had three kids pretty quickly after that.  I could frequently hear people muttering behind my back about “teenage moms” when I tried to juggle three kids under four (for the record, I wasn’t a teenage mom).  While all of our friends spent their twenties exploring the world and having fabulous adventures, we struggled to financially support a family, finish five degrees between the two of us, and raise three whirling dervishes.  But when those friends would share their exciting tales, we would smugly explain our “Freedom 45” plan.  Sure, we were knee deep in diapers and macaroni and cheese but we would have three adult children when we were 45, which would free us up when those same friends would be anchored by young family commitments.

This is the summer of our Freedom 45 year:  my three oldest kids are 21, 20 and soon-to-be 18.  They have all successfully graduated from high school and are on their way through post-secondary pursuits with plans for long term employment.  They are contributing members of society and good people.  All according to plan.  Admittedly, the plan hit a bit of a snag when kid #4 arrived six years later, so we are still signing elementary school agendas and driving daily to various after school pursuits.  But we still had hope that by this year, we would be experiencing more freedom than those early years of parenting.

As of right now:

  • I still do as much laundry as I ever did (although no cloth diapers to wash, so that is a win)
  • I still grocery shop every week with a cart mounded with enough food to face a zombie apocalypse
  • I still blindly hand over my credit card for frequent purchases in response to “Mom, I need…”
  • I still plan my life around who needs to be driven where/who needs my car when

I guess what we didn’t take into account in those early, sleep-deprived years is that our kids would be growing up in a changing world.  It isn’t as easy for them to leave home and to live independently of their parents as it was for us.  They each have years and years of expensive schooling ahead of them, in a city where rent is expensive, car insurance can be more than a month’s rent, and  jobs are mostly part-time or for little pay.  So, we get by sharing two vehicles between five drivers plus bus passes.  We help them out by providing free room and board (and laundry!).  We help them out by paying the tuition on their first degree.  We help them plan for the lines of credit they will need to get through their subsequent degrees, and encourage them to save as much as they can from their jobs and scholarships to help them get there.  But it will be a long road ahead for each of them.

Ironically, while we don’t have the Freedom 45 that we anticipated, our kids don’t have the freedom we did when we were their age and just starting out ourselves.  They are not alone in that lack of freedom either.  The media is filled with stories of twenty-somethings still at home trying to scramble together a life of independence and prosperity.

It makes me wonder what we can do as educators to help the students we have now prepare for their futures.  How do you teach young students to be productive, independent members of society years from now?  How do you anticipate the skills they will need then when our world is evolving so quickly?  Can you even prepare them?  Should you?

Since I still have a child in elementary school, I think about this a lot.  As both a parent and an educator, I think maybe we need to keep working on some of those foundational skills that will help them.  Like:

  • Fight your own battles.  I don’t helicopter parent.  If my kid has a disagreement with a friend, a frustration about a teacher or a class, I listen.  I make suggestions.  I coach.  I do not run to that friend/friend’s mom/teacher and demand action on her behalf.  Even last year when Kid #4 had an issue with another student creating a social media account in her name and using it maliciously, I made suggestions about what she could do and let her advocate for herself.  And she did.  This way, if it were to happen again in, say, university or at a job, she wouldn’t need her mom to come fight her battle.
  • Make your own mistakes.  Research says that we learn best by experimenting, trying things out and seeing how it works.  We learn from failure.  But if that is the case, why do we try so hard to protect children from it?  Maybe we need to protect/advise them against making the big mistakes that could seriously hurt them or others – drugs, drinking and driving, etc – but we need to let them make some decisions in their lives so they can figure themselves out.  This goes along with the next point.
  • Develop resiliency.  Kids (and adults) get frustrated, angry, and want to quit in the face of adversity.  Learning how to solve the unsolvable, work through a painful process and come out the other side is an invaluable skill that we, perhaps, don’t allow our children to do enough of.  From the side lines, we can encourage, suggest strategies and then bite our tongues when they need to do it themselves.
  • Resist the urge to be a social media monster.  It is almost a guarantee that a 16 year old, 13 year old, 9 year old is not thinking about how that picture they post or the comment they make on social media will reflect on them as an individual to a university/college/employer or the impact their posts can have on other people.  Here is where our kids probably need more direction, more supervision and more rules than anywhere else in their lives and it is likely where they have the least.  In school, teaching students to use tech tools well is important, but parents at home need to monitor for the non-school applications too.  And we all need to continue to constantly teach respectful rules of on-line engagement.  Our kids have far too many bad influences online to only teach this sporadically.  Somehow we have to teach this in a way that is more meaningful/louder than those other intriguing influences.
  • Be a contributor.  Around the home, the classroom, and the community our kids can help out.  Even the youngest child can support others and contribute in ways that will help others and should do so.  Often.  They should also do so without always expecting something (allowance money, class points, recognition) in exchange.
  • Be financially literate.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will still be getting a new math curriculum in the next few years (dare to dream!) and that this curriculum will feature an even greater emphasis on the financial literacy skills our students need.  If our kids in their twenties are going to struggle with expensive tuition and living expenses while experiencing unstable employment, they need all the help they can get.  Money is more invisible these days too – since I don’t hand over two hundred dollars in cash at the grocery store, the impact of spending that money isn’t as obvious.  With on-line shopping, lines of credit and pay pal, spending is more accessible even if the actual cash available is less than it used to be.  At school we need to use those good financial literacy lessons whenever we can, but at home, families need to be as transparent as possible about what things cost, how we pay for them and how we plan for them.  And we need to say no sometimes when kids say “Mom, I need…”.  I’m still working on this one.  All. the. time.

Back to Freedom 45.  Our lives right now do not look like how I imagined them all those years ago.  But they are still good.  I’m proud of all of our kids for the people they are, and I really don’t mind them being at home still.  Also, my husband and I are going to be like carefree twenty-somethings for ten whole days starting this week and have some adventures of our own, like we imagined when those babies were little and life was tough.  And ten days will be plenty.  Freedom can wait.

 

Create #5Days5Words

Posted: 11th August 2018 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I need to get back to blogging, but didn’t want to set too lofty a goal.  So I gave myself a challenge:  blog every day for my last 5 internet-friendly days of summer vacation about 5 little words I have been reflecting on this recharging summer.  Here’s word number three.

Earlier this week, Sue Dunlop wrote this post about Creativity –

How to Unlock Your Creativity

I found myself nodding along to her thoughts.  I am one of those people that find writing to be a good mode of creative output.  It reminded me that when we teach writing skills in schools, we tell students that the purpose of writing is to communicate ideas to others.  But now I’m wondering, is that the only purpose to write?  I started this blog as a brand new school administrator.  My purpose wasn’t so much about communicating my ideas to others (although I am happy to have others read, push my thinking and perhaps their own, and share ideas).  My purpose was to give me a structured mode of personal reflection; a way to soothe and feed my own self in a time of jarring change and learning.

It also got me thinking about what other ways I nurture creativity in my life and what purposes they hold.  I write other things besides blog posts – I have written plays, songs, a novel, curriculum resources, newspaper articles…  They often have a purpose to communicate with others, but most often that wasn’t the force driving my effort.  Each piece, in some way, fed me.

This summer, I admit that I needed a lot of “feeding”, after a draining school year.  I dabbled with some writing projects, but I also created in other ways.  I painted – walls and pictures (a new one for me.  Attached is a sample).  I cooked, baked and decorated.  I took photos.  I sewed.  And they each fed me.

Students should be creative.  They should dabble in all areas of creativity to find the ones that fit best for them.  They should write for a wide range of purposes, including to communicate with others but also to support their own well being.  We often talk about the importance of fostering a love of reading in our students, but we don’t talk much about encouraging intrinsic motivation for writing.  I wonder if we did encourage that:  writing for writing’s sake, if it would be more of an outlet for more students.

 

Scared – #5Days5Words

Posted: 10th August 2018 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I need to get back to blogging, but didn’t want to set too lofty a goal.  So I gave myself a challenge:  blog every day for my last 5 internet-friendly days of summer vacation about 5 little words I have been reflecting on this recharging summer.  Here’s word number two.

 

I could make you scared, if you want me to
I’m not prepared, but if I have to
He said, I can make you scared, it’s kind of what I do
If you’re prepared, here’s what I propose to do

Okay, you made me scared, you did what you set out to do
And I’m not prepared, you really had me going there for a minute or two
He said, you made me scared too, I wasn’t sure I was getting through
I got to go
It’s been a pleasure doing business with you

Select lyrics from Scared, The Tragically Hip (writers – Gordon Downie, Gordon Sinclair, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, Robert Baker)

 

This Tragically Hip song has always been one of my favourites, although it is, admittedly, most confusing.  The melody is so sweet and light, in sharp contrast to the threatening words.  Who is he making a deal with?  The devil?  The monster under the bed?  His inner demons?

The older I get, the more afraid I seem to become.  Age is supposed to come with wisdom, not fear.  But I think as I age, I realize more and more how lucky I am to have what I do have and I don’t want to lose it.

I’m afraid of a plethora of normal things like dying or disappointing people, plus a few more non-traditional things like falling down the stairs (this one is a legitimate concern – I am wobbly on my feet and work and live in buildings without elevators), and banana slugs (don’t judge until you’ve met one on a walkway while wearing flip flops.  Shudder).

As we approach the first day of school around here, I can feel the associated fears bubbling up for students, families, staff and myself.  What if I don’t like my classmates/teacher?  What if I’m not successful?  How will I know where to go/what to do? How will I ever accomplish ___?  Sometimes these fears are just niggling worries, but at other times these can be debilitating fears that affect well being and productivity.

I think one mistake we make is to always put on a brave face and refuse to outwardly acknowledge our fears.  What are we teaching others if we believe fear is to be hidden?  That the fear they feel is bad and weak and deserves to be hidden too.

Above I quoted the Tragically Hip song “Scared”.  Their live aired final concert was mesmerizing and heartbreaking as all of Canada watched Gordon Downie very publicly mourn and celebrate and share his fears while we mourned and grieved and celebrated and honoured along with him.  It was so human a reaction.  Maybe, as educators, we need to let down our guards and show that we are fighting human fears every day.  Maybe, that kind of modelling is just as important as modelling how to sound out a word or how to add fractions.

 

 

Peace – #5Days5Words

Posted: 9th August 2018 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I need to get back to blogging, but didn’t want to set too lofty a goal.  So I gave myself a challenge:  blog every day for my last 5 internet-friendly days of summer vacation about 5 little words I have been reflecting on this recharging summer.  Here’s word number one.

When I was much younger, I went to a very traditional Baptist church.  My favourite hymn to sing and reflect on was one that repeated the command to “Be still and know that I am God”.  When I moved to a different church, my favourite song was one that promised:  “Peace, I give to you; my peace I give unto you”.

I think I’ve always craved peace.  It soothes my soul.  I seek out quiet and reflection frequently and greedily.  This summer, as I have cocooned into a (relatively) quiet existence, I have sought out peace within my soul in my solitary 6 a.m. walks along the waterfront, curled in a hammock on the deck at the family cottage, and in the putterings around my kitchen baking and preserving.

However, every butterfly has to emerge from the cocoon eventually.  And the truth is that we don’t live in a peaceful world.  Turn on the news and it is one sad story of conflict, strife and ugly confrontation after another.  Peace is hard to find outside a cocoon.

This summer, I’ve been reflecting on my discomfort over conflict.  Not all conflict is a bad thing.  In fact, one of the main things that made me think about this was the response to the Ontario provincial government’s plan to retract the current Growth and Development curriculum from our Health and Physical Education teaching and replace it with one written in another century (literally) that doesn’t honour the learning needs of our students or the lives they live in this century.  Another uproar across the educational world hit when this same government determined that provincial initiatives to better understand, honour and teach indigenous perspectives and teachings would be paused.  In both cases, school boards, federations, individual educators, and other organizations and groups hit the airwaves to voice their displeasure and suggest more appropriate courses of action.  They initiated conflict.  A willingness to pick a fight has a higher purpose, though.  Our students deserve to develop a more multi-faceted and inclusive understanding of their world, including teachings found in the 2015 Growth and Development curriculum and from the work of integrating indigenous teaching into many areas of their learning.  Our students have a much better chance to find peace in their own lives if we fight these battles for them.

In my job, I meet with conflict all of the time.  It is a constant role to mediate opposing perspectives and ideas and make decisions that will not make everyone happy.  But it is important to keep thinking about the students at the heart of my practice and keep a steadfast view on how I can best support them with the resources I have.

I will always crave peace and attempt to avoid conflict.  That’s just me.  But there are times when I need to embrace conflict more fully to serve a bigger goal.  I’ve always done it, but with resistance and that drains me.  I’m curious to see if approaching it from a perspective of pursuing long-term peace for my students will help.

Peace is always a worthy goal, but the complexity of the path it takes us to get there can be riddled with conflict.  And I am working on learning to be ok with that.

 

#5Days5Words

Posted: 8th August 2018 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Why, hello!  How was your summer?  I know, I can’t believe it is almost over.  So what did you do?

 

Summer (or, more correctly, summer vacation) is almost over, at least in the educator’s world.  I know I have five more days to clean out closets, attend to my summer to-do list and read a few more books.  Then, I am off on a whirlwind vacation before coming back to a mound of laundry, happy memories (hopefully), and a full calendar of work.

But I feel like I’ve ignored my professional and personal reflections here for a while.  In the school year, it was due to a number of factors, including stress and lack of available time.  This summer, it was due to a dire need to rest, recharge, reflect.  Excuses, one and all.  I only have five days left.  There isn’t any more time for excuses.

So, I’ve made a commitment.  For the next five days – the last five days I have of summer vacation with internet access – I plan to write 5 mini blogs about 5 little words that I’ve been reflecting on this summer.  Mini…little…single words…nothing too intimidating.

Want to join me?  #5Days5Words

Maybe I’ll see some of you tomorrow.

Total Eclipse of the Arts

Posted: 10th April 2018 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

I was trying to think of some of my earliest, and most memorable, connections to the arts.  The list was quite eclectic.  My first clear memory of dance was that time in Kindergarten I convinced Ms. Cadman to let me perform a tap show for the class.  I had never (and still have never) taken a tap lesson but felt my cute little patent shoes warranted a performance.  I have a strong memory in 1985 of long trips in the car to visit my dad in the hospital singing “Rock Me Amadeus” and “Life in a Northern Town”.  Those two distinct (and really diverse) songs for some reason are forever tied to my memory of coping through a difficult year for my family.  As a teenager, I worked for an Arts Council and got to work with some talented visual artists.  Listening to one artist who explained her thinking behind the pretty pictures I admired gave me so much more depth and appreciation for the art.  I no longer just saw pretty pictures but saw whole stories.

The arts are critical to the memories and connections we each have in our lives.  They are impactful in minor and major ways.  They help us cope, learn, love, laugh.  We use them to relax, to entertain, to express our thoughts and to understand how others feel.  They are so important to us in each stage of life.

I started thinking about all of this as I work on scheduling for my school for next year.  Squeezing in enough minutes for math, sciences, languages, physical literacies and the arts is an impossible puzzle.  There simply is not enough time to do each subject justice in isolation.

The only solution is to not teach them in isolation.  We do need to devote some specific time to instruction in each arts strand – visual arts, music, dance, drama – to develop knowledge and skills (that would have definitely helped my tap performance).  But practice and application of those knowledge and skills can be woven into the learning of other subjects well.  If we use the arts to express ourselves, we should consider ways to encourage students to express their learning using art media often. It is sometimes difficult to figure out how to assess or measure a student’s learning about a subject when the expression isn’t pencil/paper tasks.  It is also difficult for students to find ways to express themselves creatively, but using the arts can build resiliency and problem solving, which are also critical to their development.  Hard work for all?  Yes.  But worth it.

So, while I work to fill in too few boxes on my timetable with arts-specific subject lines, I will also figure out how to encourage the teachers I work with to find ways to bring the arts into the other boxes.  Eclipsing the schedule lines could bring more, not less, light to the learning of our students.

How do you bring the arts into other subjects?

 

A Two Sided Blog Post

Posted: 1st February 2018 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Have you ever wondered what really goes on in a school to support a student who struggles with self-regulation?  Aviva (as classroom educator) @avivaloca and Kristi (as school administrator) @keerybi team up to offer their perspectives on how they would approach a specific situation.  Changing a student’s ability to self-regulate takes a lot of work and time.  Here’s a glimpse at the what it might look like.

Situation:

You are in a busy Kindergarten class with 30 JK/SK students and two educators.  You have a mix of student-chosen activities and school/class-imposed activities throughout the day.  You use an inquiry-based approach to learning; allowing students to dive into play in a variety of settings.  These settings are enhanced by teacher-established provocations and facilitation.  But, despite all of this, you still have some students who frequently have problems engaging in learning safely in a way that enhances their learning.  Marsha, for example, is a student who sometimes has difficulty engaging in play.  Instead, she regularly demonstrates:  yelling and whining, wandering around the room, hitting of students and staff, throwing of toys or classroom items, running from the room.  Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!  What are we going to do with you?

Educator Right Now Supports:

In the short-term, I need to develop some solutions that will keep Marsha and the rest of the students safe first. It’s the hitting of students and staff, throwing of toys and classroom items, and running from the room that are my three biggest concerns. I want to try and give Marsha some space in the room, so that she can throw things without hurting anyone else, and even lash out without injuring a student or a staff member. I want to try to empty some shelves in this space, so that there’s less to throw, but still an area for her to move. I also want to try to position myself near the door, with likely the door closed, so that it’s harder for her to leave the room. Classroom doors are often heavy for Kindergarten students, so it will likely take a little time for her to open it, and in that time, I can always call the office for additional support if needed. I can’t easily leave the classroom because of the other students (even with my teaching partner being there), and if leaving the classroom could also result in leaving the school, then I’m going to need some administrator support.

As for the yelling/whining, I need to really monitor how loud it is. Sometimes a quiet response from me can help with quieting a child. Sometimes directing to a preferred activity, or a more sensory option (e.g., water or playdough) can also make a difference. If Marsha is really loud, I may also need to contact the office, and explore another space for her to go to quiet down. Her volume may also impact on the volume of the rest of the children in the classroom, which then just increases the stress for many other children … and the adults in the room. It’s a vicious cycle!

The wandering would probably be the least of my concerns. I might be able to intercept this wandering with a redirection to a preferred activity or a sensory option (e.g., the water or playdough), which could help. That said, Marsha’s not a safety risk if she’s wandering in the classroom, and sometimes the physical movement can actually calm a child. I would likely be more apt to monitor this wandering, and see if she eventually settles. All of this being said, these “right now supports” are largely band-aid solutions. The might solve the problem at the time, but will they help prevent future problems, or help us better understand what’s causing Marsha to respond in these ways? This is where the long-term supports, and Self-Reg, really make a difference!

 

Principal Right Now Supports:

No matter how many students you have in a school, a good principal gets to know all of his/her Marshas as early as possible.  So, I will have had some conversations with the educators in the room and have done some observation of my own before trying to help Marsha – and the rest of the class – in this moment.

Safety is always my first concern.  So I’m going to see how I can immediately support to increase safety for Marsha, for the other students, and for the educators in the room.  However, barging in and immediately taking charge can backfire and escalate a situation.

First I would scan for any immediate safety threat – if Marsha is throwing something, am I more helpful helping relocate other students, removing possible throwing objects or relieving an educator from shadowing Marsha so that he/she can support other students?  If Marsha is hitting someone, can she be distracted by me (sometimes a new voice and face can deescalate a situation but sometimes not) either with my voice, my presence, or an object I can provide?  Can I prevent hits by moving the person being hit away and giving Marsha some physical space?  If Marsha is making a run for it, can I predict her most likely route from past experience and determine if it is likely a safety risk (i.e. is she running down the hall and stopping to hide under the stairwell or is she running out the door and into traffic?).  If she needs an escape from the room but is likely to pick something relatively safe, like the stairwell, I will follow at a distance and try to alert back up support, in case she changes paths.  If she is heading out the door, I am quickly eliciting help and following her out the door.  If this is the normal course of events, we probably have a fine-tuned plan for how we all react (e.g. I follow on foot with my phone, teacher alerts office to advise whether to contact family and police, resource teacher is alerted to follow as well).  If it is a first time event, I follow on foot with my trusty phone and call the office to relay information and get support put in place.  (Side note:  what did Principals do before cell phones???)

If the behaviour isn’t about safety, I may be in to observe since Marsha is one of the mystery students I want to help support the educators in figuring out.  I may watch to see patterns of wandering, timing of whining or content of whining.  I trust my educators to have some thoughts about why we are seeing these behaviours.  We’ll talk about these later.

 

Educator Long Term Supports:

The more that I’ve read about Self-Reg, the more that I’ve learned that there’s almost always a bigger reason behind the behaviours that we see. Is this misbehaviour or is it stress behaviour? This is when I have to slow down and ask myself the question that Stuart Shanker often asks: “Why this child, and why now?” We see the Marshas of the world that are yelling, wandering, hitting, throwing, and running, but if we stop and look for the reasons behind this behaviour, we often see a lot more.

For me, it often comes down to determining the stressors. What is triggering this child? There’s a very comprehensive list of stressors in this Self-Reg Toolkit, and I’ve found that it’s often a combination of different things that are leading to the behaviour that we’re seeing. If we know the stressors, we can also look at making changes to reduce them. This may be about changing classroom design, lighting, sensory experiences, noise levels, academic demands or expectations, transitions (frequency and time), and social opportunities. I’ve found that while some of our classroom changes may be made with Marsha in mind, Billy, Bob, Sue, and Joe, will all still benefit. When Marsha’s calmer, the whole room feels calmer!

We also need to consider our own Self-Reg. How are we feeling at the time that we’re seeing Marsha’s behaviour? How do we respond to Marsha? If we’re feeling stressed, this often compounds a child’s stress. And sometimes, we think that we’re hiding it well, but kids hear it in our voices and see it in our actions. If I find that the room …

  • Is getting louder,
  • A child is acting out,
  • Somebody’s running,
  • Screaming is about to start,

the very best thing that I can often do at the time is stop … and breathe. I need to make sure that I’m self-regulated, so that I can make those small actions. Get down lower. Be quieter. Speak and move from a distance. Kristi mentioned something similar in her principal supports, and this is equally important for educators. For Marsha to self-regulate, Marsha’s educators need to feel just as calm.

 

Principal Long Term Supports:

 

For a Principal, my long term supports are more about the educators than Marsha, actually.  Educators are at close range, in the moment, all of the time while I can closely experience the situation at times, but I also can step back, view the bigger picture and offer supports that go beyond the moment.

My first job is to encourage.  Educators work tirelessly with very little praise.  Boosting teacher confidence by acknowledging specific things they are doing that are supporting Marsha and the other students is of paramount importance to helping them maintain their calm and self efficacy.

Next, I question and facilitate educator reflection.  Helping educators prioritize concerns and streamline next steps helps decide what supports to try.  If I read Aviva’s account, I get the sense our first priority is the hitting.  I would help educators reflect on any patterns they see to the hitting (is it always at the end of the day? Or just before lunch? Is it in reaction to certain children or certain toys/activities that are not available when Marsha wants?)  This allows us, as a team, to meaningfully make changes to the environment, routine or support.  Changing everything at once rarely turns out well.  Slow and steady is what we aim for to support progress. Reassurance and celebrating those small victories will hopefully help them to see the progress and abate the frustration of not having quick fixes.

The third role I try to fill is as advocate.  I try to access the resources and supports that will promote change, safety and learning in the classroom.  Since some resources, like Educational Assistants, are a very finite resource (and worth their weight in gold!), this usually means getting creative and being an active participant in that change.  If you ever came to my office, you would notice it’s distinct lack of decor.  I have bare, beige walls, two student work tables, a variety of calming manipulatives (kinetic sand, building toys, games, puzzles, a student rocking chair, stuffed animals, books) and my desk shoved in the corner as far back as I could manage.  My office is rarely without students working on regaining self control and developing better self regulation.  I often have to make important phone calls from the supply room or meet parents or staff on hallway walks, but in my school, there isn’t another space that is suitable for use as a calming area. That is how I am creatively making space to support students.  Advocating for, and communicating with, various teams and outreach supports within the school, board and community will also bring in different perspectives and supports for Marsha and her educators.  Multidisciplinary collaboration results in educator/parent/student and most definitely principal, learning.

With Marsha, I would probably bring her down to visit my office at a time when she is well regulated and in good self control so we can start to determine favourite calming resources and to familiarize her with me and the space.  Building rapport with her in the calm times will make things less challenging for her (and me!) in the not so calm times.

I often think of that old photo of JFK working in the oval office with his young son playing under his desk when I think about modern day principals.  We still have a whole lot of business and paperwork and reporting to deal with, but we are also juggling a whole lot more constant student contact to help meet the growing student – and staff – needs of well being.  My hope is that being there to help staff maintain their well being, feel they are not alone, and offer support and encouragement in a variety of ways will ultimately play a small role in helping Marsha develop self regulation skills.

 

Where Does This Lead?

In a school, educators and administrators don’t need to work in isolation. Marsha needs support. We’re there together to support her: with both short-term and long-term solutions. Self-regulation helps us view Marsha’s behaviour differently, and hopefully determine what’s leading to the yelling, wandering, hitting, throwing, and running that we’re noticing in the classroom.

Whose voice is missing here though? How can they support Marsha’s self-regulation? As an educator or administrator, what might you do to support your Marshas? We’re providing two sides to this blog post, but would welcome any additional sides.

One in Five

Posted: 31st January 2018 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

Me about 8 years ago at a board workshop:  “One in five people will be affected in their lifetime by mental illness?  That number can’t be right.  Maybe they mean one in five of us will know someone affected; not that one if five will ACTUALLY face challenges to our mental health.  Yeah, that must be what it means.”

Today is Bell Let’s Talk day.  It is a corporate social media initiative that raises funds and awareness for Canadian mental health support services.  I started to think, as I read the many tweets and posts today about it, how much my understanding of mental health has changed since that board workshop.

Here’s a little of what I know now:

  • mental illness and other challenges to mental health affect many, many men, women and children.
  • we are masters at hiding or masking challenges we are facing, including those that affect our mental well being
  • you can’t always believe those happy face selfies on social media.  No one is immune to mental health challenges
  • in schools, we deal with an inordinate amount of inappropriate behaviour that, when we dig into it, can often be related to issues of mental health and well being
  • challenges to student well being has sobering ripple effects:  caretakers of those students (educators, parents, health practitioners) are having their own well being compromised as they struggle to support everyone
  • there is not enough help, not enough resources, not enough time to adequately support all of the people in our lives who need help with their mental illness or well being

In schools, educators are under incredible pressure to begin with.  We have a challenging curriculum, with a finite amount of time and resources, to teach a wide variety of students with various needs, while facing parent/administrator/board/ministry pressure to deliver certain results.  Now throw in not just one challenging student in the class, but try ten.  And those challenging students aren’t just pulling someone’s pigtails or calling others mean names.  They are:  threatening to cut themselves or commit suicide, threatening to hurt or kill their teacher or parent or classmate, worrying about everyday things to the extent that they can’t function in class or at home, not able to get out of bed or leave their house without paralyzing fear, lashing out with extreme acts of physical aggression towards adults and children without control or remorse.  How are you feeling about getting through that curriculum now?  How is your own mental well being now?

I am all for the Bell tagline “Let’s Talk About It”, but even more, I think we need to figure out “Let’s Do Something About It”.  We need trained health care professionals supporting our students and others when they need it, not when they get to the top of a 3 year waiting list.  We need supports in our schools that will help alleviate the pressures this is putting on educators so that they can help ensure student well being is supported so students can learn and educators can teach.

I appreciate that in Ontario we are mandated to set board and school goals around well being each year.  We will work diligently at educating ourselves more about what we are up against.  We’ll also try out new initiatives that provide supports to those who need it, and other initiatives for everyone to hopefully teach students well being strategies that they can use throughout their lives.  We’ll use kindness, respect, patience, care and compassion to treat these little guys as if they are our own children, even when we are drained and in need of some well being support of our own.  We’ll work together to try to share the difficult load because we are all in the same boat.  But, it seems that each year that boat rides a little lower in the water and our bailing bucket isn’t equipped to keep us from sinking.

Me now:  “One in five people will be affected in our lifetime by mental illness?  That number seems a little low, doesn’t it?”

 

The Two Sides of Resolution #OneWordOnt

Posted: 7th January 2018 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

My first grown-up job was working in PR and event planning for an arts council in the Toronto area.  It was a pretty amazing job for a fresh high school graduate (except for the commute.  Hamilton to Toronto was not fun even in those dark ages).  I learned that I did better writing about the arts and promoting our events if I tried some of them out.  Sometimes I did this as a spectator or audience member but other times I jumped in as an active participant.

One spring, a few of my colleagues and I decided to have one of our artists who specialized in photography teach us her art.  Remember, this was the dark ages, so no iPhones or self focusing point-and-shoot cameras for us.  Nope.  We each had a big, clunky camera with various lenses and buttons.  Over several sessions, we learned how to hold the camera (pro tip:  using an unnatural-feeling tripod hold under the lens instead of above will steady the camera for mid-exposure shots and will keep your fingers out of the shots), use different lenses, aperatures, framing shots, using lighting, and focusing for close, mid and long distance foci.  It was, and still is, one of my favourite “arts” to study because of how much science was involved.  I learned more physics during these workshops than I did in OAC physics.

Each week,  I would diligently put into practice all of the lessons:  frame the perfect shots, judge light, set exposure, focus and click.  Then, I would wait until I could get the photos developed to see how I did (dark ages equals no instant glances at the digital shots.  This was real film that took at least a week on my meager student budget to develop).  More often than not, my photos were far from perfect.

My biggest problem was always mistakes in focus.  I adamantly insist that this is as much a fault of my incredibly bad vision as my actual photography skills.  Yes, that must be it.  My coke-bottle eyeglass lenses MUST be impeding my ability to focus the camera lens, right?

I’m still not great at taking photos; even now the self-focusing, digital variety don’t turn out for me as well as I would like them to.  But the story connects well to my #OneWordOnt goal I wanted to set for this year: resolution.

I don’t actually hold much with official New Year Resolutions, but for the last few years, I have taken some time over the winter holidays to reflect on my professional practice and determine a small course of action I could take to improve my skills.  In 2016, my One Word goal was stretch.  And I did stretch, sometimes uncomfortably so.  In 2017, my goal was relate.  This, too, was a good goal for me and one that I have made some progress on but plan to continue to work on.  This year, the word I have chosen is “resolution”.

Did you know that resolution has quite a number of meanings?  We often relate it this time of year to those goals we set.  But it also has meanings ranging from characterization (e.g. “he went forward, with resolution, into the path of trouble”), conflict (e.g. “they determined a resolution beneficial to both sides”), musical (e.g. when a harmony changes, fixing a discord), medicine (e.g. “the resolution of symptoms indicated an end in infection”), chemistry (e.g. reducing a solution into its separate components), physics (e.g. using two or more forces together in replacement for a single, but equal one), and, of course photography (e.g. the extent of detail seen and focused in an image).

While I appreciate the many meanings, it was the last that I initially thought of when considering my goal.  Just like when I was a photography student, I am frustrated these days professionally by how often things are fuzzy or not quite seen with the the detail I would like them to have.  My work days pass in a dizzying series of experiences, decisions, conversations, and impressions.  I don’t have a moment to breathe, eat or reflect in the course of a day/week/school year.  While I know the pace is just a part of the job, I feel that I sometimes have to make decisions based on only fleeting glimpses of information or impression.  I don’t have time to stop and think before pressing on; there are too many demands on my time and energy.  I don’t like it.

So, my goal this year is to try to find ways to stop and think in order to bring clarity to some areas before making a decision.  Interestingly, I am expecting that focusing on resolution will slow down my efficiency in problem solving.  This isn’t going to make me very popular with people waiting for me to decide.  I think waiting and considering will also have the effect of considering more sides of an issue instead of quickly responding to a single side (often making that person happy, but maybe not others).  This, too, may affect how those around me feel about my treatment of issues.  But, anyone in leadership has to develop a thick skin to criticism and conflict, and I am slowly resolving myself to this as well.

So why do it if it isn’t popular?  I’m in a position where I need to make lots of decisions every day.  That is a big part of my responsibility towards the school, the employees, the students, and the community.  It has been important to me to be efficient but I wonder more and more about the value of effectiveness vs efficiency.  I want to make effective decisions, impactful decisions, right decisions.  To do this, I need to spend more time stopping, thinking and bringing the full issue into focus.

So, let me stop and ask questions.  Let me do more research or observing or considering or consulting before moving forward.  Let me slow down the pace, when possible; to weigh effectiveness over efficiency in an impatient world.

Hopefully it turns out better than my photographs.  I’ll let you know.