Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Adding "s" to Intelligence

     Dr. Debra Pickering talks about one of the most important occurrences in recent educational history being when Howard Gardner added an "s" to the word intelligence. Although I enveloped children having many varied learning styles long ago, I didn't have any research to back my belief. When Gardner published his works on multiple intelligences, I felt a sense of relief and immediate affirmation by my practise of using a variety of instructional strategies in order to reach more students, from the one young fellow who was so physical, to the environmental learner that needed to delve into nature to make sense of his world.

     The strong physical learner was so active that every time he and I conversed about his learnings, he was in constant motion. He was five years old and when the KinderKids recessed, he would be that immersed in his physical play that he would go out of his way to save a ball from entering the soccer net by diving towards it, often getting cuts and bruises and breaking his glasses - yet again.He  was such a unique physical learner and if he would have been asked to "sit and git" he would have struggled to be successful.

     The environmental learner, also a unique youngster, as all are, came to school immaculately dressed and went home with dirt caked to his knees, sand under his fingernails and may have had a conversation with a butterfly that day. He would become so involved in his messy work/play that he would not hear others around him.

     Both of these boys needed to be honoured for the learners that they were, possibly are, in order to feel success.

     One of the strategies that I used was that time outside had to be at least thirty  minutes long. I refused to recess with the rest of the school and ignored bells. The students who needed less physical time, were offered books and clipboards with paper to sit and draw, write or read and I would happily sit in a sunny or shady spot to do this with them, if they needed me to or requested this of me.

     I feel fortunate that I have been able to stand firmly for what I believe to be so and feel that, as a society, "we worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today." (S. Tauscher)


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Being in the Zone

I have been reflecting on my teaching journey asking myself whether I provided opportunities for children to be in their element or not. The first entry, I wrote on the day that I was preparing to meet Sir Ken Robinson, can be found here. This one surrounds a young fellow named Brent.
I had the unique opportunity to have taught Brent’s older brother and sister and was acquainted with Brent before he ever entered our school. He was a wild and free spirit and although I was in awe of him, I was also terrified to have him come in to a classroom situation, which might stifle him and ask him to comply with rules that did not match his learning gifts. My principal shared my anticipated angst and as we collaborated and prepared for the start of a new year, I remember him actually feeling sorry for me.
On the first day of school in Brent’s grade one year, he joyously entered the building desperate to soak up as much information as possible. I was captivated by his curious nature and his ability to shut off the immediate world and focus in on a particular interest. I don’t ever remember teaching Brent to read. It seemed as if somehow by osmosis, he just absorbed words and fell into stories with ease.
We had a wonderful bank of windows that ran across the east side of the classroom. One particular morning Brent entered and pointed out all of these different shaped and contrasting unshaped clouds. He then stood there peering out of the windows in silence with deep concentration. I gazed at him and finally asked if he would like to study clouds? His eyes grew wide and with astonishment he asked, “Can I?” My response was, “Absolutely!” I began to clear every bit of work that I had prepared for him and enlisted the librarian to find as many resources about clouds that she could. Brent spent every day for two weeks studying clouds. When other students found information about clouds, they promptly offered it to Brent. He told all of us about his findings, drew pictures and diagrams and recorded information and then with a grand and noticeable exhale, he sat back in his desk chair with sheer exhaustion and whispered “Done.”
And he was.
Brent had been fully engaged in personal, purposeful learning. Sir Ken would say that Brent had been in “the zone”.
And what about me?
I see education first and foremost as a relationship-building endeavour. I suspect I always have. By knowing each individual's strengths, loves, passions and desires, as well as their preferred learning style/s and by using many strategies to collaborate with each student, I hope that I assisted them in being fully engaged in the way that Brent was.
Through thorough planning, internalization of curriculum and strong classroom management skills, as well as being secure in my teaching/learning journey and recognizing that Brent was a key component for me in becoming a better educator, I too was engaged in personal, purposeful learning.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reflections Surrounding The Element...

As I prepare to be in the presence of one of my educational mentors, I feel compelled to evaluate the choices that I have made surrounding my teaching practises.
I first came across Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk in 2007, while working on my Masters in Educational Leadership. Although I was grateful to hear his message, I was shocked that I had never been acquainted with the man and immediately popped his twenty-minute video, Do Schools Kill Creativity? on my KinderBlog
And… I visited it often.
In 2009 I put it on my Facebook® wall, sent it out to the masses and sat down to read his book The Element. Presently, as I reread it, I find myself in a healthily reflective mood.
Did I facilitate an environment for children in order that they could be in their element?
During my first year of teaching, I encountered a unique young student. I realized that after the first two weeks of school, she still had not spoken. She was a lovely and cooperative little girl, but I had not heard her voice. I began to ask around and discovered that she had spent her entire first year of school not speaking. She was now in Grade One, and I was required to teach her to read. I was terrified and puzzled. When I met with her mother, she told me that Michelle had been frightened of school but that she had finally wanted to go. I knew then that Michelle was beginning to feel as if she belonged, and I wanted her to know that she belonged not only in this place called school but also with me. I sensed that she had created a role that she was having difficulty breaking free of and that I needed to offer her a supportive way to do so. I turned to my suggested reading list from university and reintroduced myself to Sylvia Ashton Warner. Over the years, her work with Maori children has helped me to polish my own work with young children.

   I decided to accept Michelle for exactly who she was. Her mother invited me for dinners, and I skied and skated with her periodically on weekends. Still, Michelle would not speak when I was present. When she laughed, she covered her face and laughed silently. By first reporting period, I struggled with how to document her reading ability as well as her knowledge in social studies and French. Because her mother and I were in close communication, she told me that Michelle could read well. I decided to give her every appraisal in writing. She had to read everything and answer questions. I thought that I was placing this six-year old child in a dreadful predicament; however, Michelle was an extraordinary reader, and she excelled at all of the assessments I presented her.

   The school year was continuing, but Michelle still was not vocal. Although I struggled inside, I chose not to demonstrate this outwardly. Instead, I consulted with speech pathologists and psychologists, and I asked them to assist me without their meeting with the child. I did not want her perceiving, nor anyone else viewing the notion, that I thought she needed fixing. The other professionals supported my handling of the situation, and they offered me suggestions, which was affirming, because my administration did not.

   The Christmas concert came and went, and I still had not heard Michelle’s voice. I consulted many people during my vacation, and I again turned to my suggested reading list from university. I discovered a wealth of knowledge through a series of books by Vivian Gussin Paley. After the Christmas break, all of the primary students were invited to a pep rally that the high school basketball team was holding at our school. Older students joined with my little ones and led them to the gym. I followed. When I arrived, I noticed the mayhem that surrounded us, and I immediately panicked because I could not see where my wee ones all were. Just then, I felt this smooth little hand in mine and a soft, sweet voice that said, “I don’t know where I’m supposed to go.” I looked down and held tighter, and I asked Michelle if she would like to just stay with me. She said, “Yes.”
The preceding entry is the beginning of a narrative about my teaching life and about one wee girly that I had the privilege of spending a year with. Although I was in my element, did I provide her with an environment that supported her gifts and talents?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Coyotes and the Balance of Work and Play...

Coyotes play a role in my life and as I sit here amongst the frozen landscape that surrounds me in every direction, listening to them yip, from the warmth and safety of my home, I wonder…
I am an urbanite transplanted in this rural paradise. I say paradise because I have been enraptured by my surroundings since the moment we moved here and I never tire of the view through the clear and uncluttered windows that expose me to life outside these walls.
When we first moved here, fourteen years ago, I was terrified to be left alone in the silence of my own being, with only the coyotes to be heard. They began yipping everyday at dusk, and I had no idea how far away they were or if they too, were alone. When they showed up in my dreams, I paid close attention wondering what it all meant, if indeed it meant anything at all.
The first coyote dream I remember having, occurred during a time when I was working the equivalent of one and half full-time jobs and my husband was working what might be considered - three. We had two young children and I felt as if I wasn’t doing anything well and that Brent was not only absent physically, but also emotionally. I was making lots of decisions and seemed unable to rely on my Intuition. I dreamt that a coyote came into our front yard while the kids and I were on the verandah. It stood still and stared at us. My son clung to me for safety, my youngest, my girly, stepped off of the verandah walked calmly toward the coyote, with utmost trust. My son and I did nothing to stop her.  We just stood there and watched. My heart raced and yet I was silent. The coyote, with a sly grin, slowly turned and walked beside Jillian, both of them moving away from us. Jillian never did look back. This dream has haunted me.
A couple of years later, when I had left all of my teaching and was gratefully working from home and Brent had dropped two of his jobs, and we were – connecting… I reevaluated my life, wondering if I had made the “right” decisions over the past two years. Once again a coyote appeared in a dream. It seemed to be the same coyote that had taken my daughter, only this time she and Max remained with me on the verandah and Brent ran around in front of us to protect us and shot the coyote. As the animal collapsed, dying, it looked up at me as if to say goodbye and I sobbed grateful tears that were also filled with remorse. 
Presently, the coyotes in our area seem to be plentiful. Our two dogs bark throughout the night just to keep them at bay. However, with there being so many of them, we see them close by often. The other evening Jillian and I were returning from town when down the road about 2 km away, a young coyote danced and frolicked right in the middle of the road. It seemed to be chasing its tail and with no care that our vehicle was massive compared to him, refused to get out of our way. As I slowed the vehicle down, I was captivated by the animal’s playfulness or was it playfulness? Was it possible that the coyote had mange? I voiced these expressions but stopped quickly when I realized that Jillian was terrified.
The very next day, I was traveling the opposite direction but also about 2 km away, when a coyote appeared in the ditch beside my vehicle and began to run. It traveled alongside of me at the same speed and I felt like we were one…
This morning I turned to a book that I love to peruse, Animal Speak by Ted Andrews. What he states is this: Coyotes “remind us not to become too serious [but also] that anything is possible.”
And so I wonder, am I complicating life? Am I balancing play with work? I invite you to join me in this discussion surrounding the mysteries of an awakened and enraptured life…

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Thank You…

As the tripartite discussions between the Alberta Government, the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the Alberta School Boards Association, have come to an end, I reflect on what an amazing and innovative process this has been. Although I have existed on the sidelines learning from reading, writing, and conversations, I am grateful to live in a place where discussions such as this can occur.
The Honourable Dave Hancock, minister of education, and his officials have been admirably working at honouring an amazing Initiative, Inspiring Education, with the hope of transforming the way that we “do” formal learning in this province. Even though a new way could not unfold at this time, I offer out my sincere thanks to all of the people who passionately spent countless hours working together, as it is through integrity of word and action that we bring about transformation justly.  By treating our teachers with dignity and standing by their original contract agreement, that was provincially bargained for, my government has once again replenished my hope and trust in the powers that be.
Thank you.