This is not my ceiling, this is my floor

Another week, another STARS meeting as informal as it was! I’m always left thinking seriously about what I am doing in relation to social justice and how my life experiences are affecting my work in this area after every meeting.

A group of the executive committee members went to see Selma on Monday night, so we started off the meeting debriefing the movie and the moments that really stuck out to us. If there is one thing that this movie taught me, it’s that even though we like to think that we have come a long way in our fight for equal rights for all races in society, we still have a long way to go. Two minutes into this movie and I knew that my perspective on the civil rights movement would be forever changed. While the rest of the world was celebrating Martin Luther King, he was in the southern states getting assaulted by random strangers because there was obviously still work to be done. When most people hear the name Martin Luther King, they think of four words: “I Have A Dream”. What we don’t think of is the obstacles that lay ahead on the journey to equal rights after that speech was made and Martin won the Nobel Peace Prize. This movie really made me see the tremendous struggles that they faced even when the world seemed to think that everything was solved. The government was tracking Martin Luther King’s every move, only accepting him as an activist because he was not as violent as others who were fighting for the same thing.

One scene of the movie that was, rightfully, powerful to everybody within our group was the scene of the first march from Selma to Montgomery. The scene was shot absolutely perfect to show what people were feeling at that exact moment in time. Shots zoomed in on police batons wrapped in barbed wire. The camera was tilted upwards when the people marching were being beaten by police on foot and on horses. There was a slow motion shot of a police officer chasing down a marcher on his horse with a whip, which is a direct reference to treatment of slaves, and striking the man down so that the police on foot could beat him. This entire scene was breathtaking and heartbreaking at the same time. The whole film was an ode to everything that black people had to overcome in order to get the right to vote, but unlike other movies it was from their perspective and they were placed in leading roles.

What really sparked our conversation in the meeting, however, was the response to the march – especially how it was covered by the reporter that was narrating the story of what happened. It was brought up how the media covers social justice events today in comparison to how this reporter covered the events of the march and the differences were something that none of us were proud of. In the movie, the reporter is obviously and rightfully shaken up, almost at the point of tears, but when we look at media coverage of social justice events today, let’s use what happened in Ferguson as an example, there is no emotion and no empathy, just cold hard facts.  unless there is a close and personal tie. What has changed? Why do these news stories no longer affect the media and the people consuming it as much as before? Sure, the events of Ferguson were heartbreaking and the world talked about it for days after Michael Brown was killed, but what happens when it is no longer front page news? People forget about it until it’s in the news once more.

This led us to our new topic of conversation: we can sit and meet each week to talk about social justice issues and speak our minds about these topics, but are our bodies matching our mouths and our minds? Are we physically getting out there and being allies, or do we just talk about it and it never comes to fruition? We’ve decided that this is the next step for our group — for us to go out in the community and show that we are allies to those that face social injustice, not just talk about the issues that they face. At this moment, what does our work cost us? Hardly anything. If people don’t know us well enough for us to talk to them about STARS, they probably have no idea that we’re passionate about social justice. This hides us from the ridicule of those who don’t believe this fight is a worthy one, but it also prevents us from making the connections that we need to move forward as a group and really achieve our goals of getting the whole community involved in social justice.

As a closing thought there’s something that has been on my mind for quite a while, but it took until our STARS meeting tonight for me to speak up and really seek advice on this. Almost on a weekly basis, I have people around me tell me that they couldn’t possibly handle all that I do and remain sane. I’m a full time student, I’m on the executive committee for STARS and Relay for Life, I’ve been on other committees before, I am a strong volunteer around campus with many organizations, I work outside of school, and I still find time for friends and family. I’ve been told that this is remarkable, but I’ve never thought so. You see, I don’t see what I do as inspirational. I don’t see it as me making a huge difference in the world around me, but that is what I am constantly being told, especially with STARS. Once I spoke up about this, Michael Cappello, who is our main faculty supporter, put what I was feeling into words that I feel like a lot more people would connect to. He talked about our group, who meet every week and simply talk about social justice and plan PD events to include others around the community in the conversation. None of us see this as remarkable because we believe so strongly in it. It shouldn’t be remarkable that seven white teachers get together to talk about the issues in society that affect us, our students, our classrooms, and our communities, but we’re told time and time again that it is. The fact that something so small can be seen as remarkable really shows how far we have to go as a society. Our meetings shouldn’t be our ceiling. They shouldn’t be the highest that we think we can achieve. Sitting down to talk about these issues should be our floor. They should be our baseline. Because as far away as some of these issues seem, they do affect our daily lives and the lives of our students, and this translates to them affecting our classrooms. We must constantly work to break through the ceilings that are built by ourselves and others which are meant to limit what we can do. We should always strive to do more and to be better, because the minute we stop striving for more is the minute that we give up on the cause of truly understanding social justice, how it affects us and our students, and how we can create an environment within our classrooms that really values each person as an individual and not a combination of stereotypes.

… And it All Started with Some Shoes

Last night, I had the unbelievable opportunity to help facilitated the first STARS Regina event after our club was formed in the Fall 2014 semester. We decided that not everyone is as comfortable talking about social justice issues as we are, so we held a sharing circle to raise awareness of social justice within the community and help our peers develop the confidence to talk about these issues. Two amazing professors within the education faculty, Mike Cappello and Sean Lessard. The circle was mainly centered around teaching, but we had two guests who weren’t in the education faculty and their input and ideas were more than appreciated because they helped us take these issues outside of the classroom and into the broader community. By now you may be wondering about the title of this blog post, so I’ll explain that to you now.

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Sean opened up the circle with a story about truly listening to one another in order to gain perspective on stories. While preparing for the event, he reached out to one of his mentors and heard a long-winded story about how he met the Dalai Lama and was fixated on what type of shoes this incredibly religious man wore, and the story ended with him finding out that the Dalai Lama wore converse. What was the meaning behind this story? Sean didn’t know, so he asked what this had to do with the sharing circle we held and his mentor clarified for him. It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we do, or even who we know – if we really want to have a conversation with someone, no matter how different their beliefs and values may be from ours, we can always find common ground. We can always find ways to open up conversations about our differences, but we must start with a similarity, even if it is something as trivial as the shoes on our feet.

After we had all introduced ourselves and explained how we got to the sharing circle, we broke off into small groups to brainstorm and answer some questions about social justice in the broader community. The first prompt seemed simple, but inspired some very deep thinking. What does anti-oppression look like in the community environment? I was amazed at some of the conversations that came out of this question. We started off with the obvious (to us): education for all, incorporating indigenous ways of knowing, and including minorities were just a few things that came to mind. Once we dug a little deeper and started sharing stories, however, we got a lot more answers that were interesting to me because they showed each person’s unique perspective. We talked about the word listening. What does it mean to listen to someone? I don’t mean waiting for them to be done speaking so that you can speak your opinion on the matter, but to truly listen to what they have to say, without judgments and biases getting in the way, and respecting their perspective whether you agree or disagree. Once this was brought up in our small group, the conversation shifted. What a difference one word can make to the conversation when it is so important! Before last night, when I thought about social justice I thought about the issues in society today, what we have to face, and the challenges that we have ahead of us to make the world a better place, but the word listening was the major takeaway from this experience for me, because it made me realize that by having these conversations, by really hashing out what social justice and anti-oppression mean with so many different perspectives, we are taking steps forward.

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This leads me to another takeaway from the night, which was one of my own stories from my pre-internship placement that I never thought of as a strong connection to social justice until I heard these different perspectives. One of my main hesitancies in bringing social justice into my future classroom is the age group that I want to teach. I am in the Pre-K to Grade 5 program at the university, so I feel like sometimes it’s not as easy to incorporate social justice because there’s a fear of taking it too far. I really thought about this fear that I had last night before I realized that I’ve seen social justice in the Kindergarten class that I’ve been teaching in, it was just given another name: empathy. Late in November, my co-op teacher told the students about an article that she had read online about a little girl that had cancer. She explained to the students that the little girl’s family thought this may be her last Christmas, not knowing what the students would do with this information but wanting to make them aware about what is going on in the world around them. Being as caring as they are, my Kindergartens decided to do something about it. They decided that each person would make this little girl a card and this turned into a school-wide event. You see, my co-op teacher has a way of really getting on to the students’ level and explained to them that what they are doing is making a difference. The students truly believe that “changing the world starts with you” and that it’s pretty easy to change the world one person at a time. The students became so passionate about this empathy project that they gathered the courage to go to each classroom in the school, from Pre-K to Grade 8, and ask the other students to make cards as well and all together the school ended up sending 323 cards to this little girl and it all started with the word empathy and a small news article.

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Once we had discussed in our small groups, we came back to the big sharing circle to unpack the conversations that we had in our small groups. One of the main takeaways that I had from this conversation was the difference between thinking and doing. I’ve met many people in my experience at the university that will talk about the importance of social justice, because it is an ideal that is widely appreciated in society, but when it comes to taking steps to educate themselves about social justice issues there is a strong hesitance. Whether they are afraid to take that step, take a risk, or put themselves out there, something is holding them back. I am a strong believer that our actions speak louder than our words. How do we make anti-oppressive work everyone’s work? We spoke of many different ideas that we could put in place to bring more people into the spaces that we create, whether by breaking down the hesitations of other student teachers or holding events in the community to reach more people, we realized that we were being privileged with the conversations that were occurring and we needed to expand the conversation to even more people to try to understand as many perspectives as possible.

One of the most powerful aspects of last night was that it opened up room for conversations to occur.After the event was over and some people went home, I stayed with two of my friends to unpack the night and really dig deep into some of the issues that were discussed. How do we engage more people in this work? Yes, we had fifteen people show up to this event and for our first event as a campus club that’s a pretty good turnout, but how do we open up these experiences to others in the university and beyond? One of the major topics that we talked about was the apathy that we see day to day in the university. There are many people that will support what we are trying to do and will donate money, buy baking, and encourage us to keep going, but why did we feel like we needed certificates to offer participants in order to bring people to the event? Why is it that there needs to be some sort of reward, whether it is a certificate, something to put on our resumes, or coffee and cookies, for people to step outside of their comfort zones and discuss social justice with others? These are the questions that I have been asking myself as a result of our first event, and I am sure that more will come up as I continue to unpack the experience with the other executive members.

All in all, I felt so grateful for everyone that made this event possible. So many people offered different perspectives and I can’t wait to see how we all move forward together!

Creating A SAFE Space for All Students

“I don’t know where this journey will take me, but I know where it starts.” – Michael Cappello

On Friday, I was mandated to attend the Social Justice & Anti-Racist Anti-Oppressive Forum on Education (SAFE), which was being held for the first time at the University of Regina as part of my program. If I could, I would relive this day over and over again, going to each and every session and listening to the keynote speakers, Michael Cappello and Shauneen Pete, share their wisdom and conversations with me each and every time.

During the keynote, I was so mesmerized by the conversation and the learning taking place that I completely forgot to take notes, but luckily I have connected with a great group of classmates, who I will mention later on in this post, that reminded me through conversation about the most memorable moments. Michael and Shauneen started the keynote talking about March 2014, when the University of Regina cheerleaders made headlines for dressing up as Cowboys and Indians for their last practice and posted the pictures to Twitter. The result of this media attention was a mandatory ‘sensitivity training’ for the cheer team with Dr. Pete. She spoke of this training during the keynote, talking about how the cheerleaders adamantly stated that they were “good girls” in the session. They were “good girls” who volunteered, kept their grades up, and never meant to hurt anybody. But who is allowed to be good girls? Who is allowed to infantilize themselves in order to shirk responsibility for their actions? By simply saying that they were “good girls” they were displaying an unconscious dominance over Indigenous women who are often sexualized and treated as women throughout their childhood. Who gets the privilege to dress up as ‘Indians’ and play fantasy, and who has to wear the scars that come with that term every day?

After they had asked these critical questions, Mike and Shauneen started to talk about the impact that this anti-racism education, or as the university called it ‘sensitivity training’ affected them. Mike started by saying something that I connected deeply to: “This work does not cost me enough.” As a white woman, if I don’t fight for anti-racist and anti-oppressive education, nobody will really notice, but the moment that I do, I am given an “ally cookie”, as Mike called it. This cookie hails me as some sort of hero, fighting for the rights of others when I could choose to ignore inequality, but this is not a cookie I want. Since when has it become a job worthy of hero status to believe in equality? What kind of society do we live in when fighting to raise others up and let their voices, their stories, and their perspectives be heard is worthy of reward? This should be normative, but it’s not. This doesn’t mean that I will stop fighting for anti-racism and anti-oppression within schools and the broader society, it just means that I now realize that these rewards are a form of dominance in themselves. Shauneen, however, brought it home to all of the people that I spoke with during the day. She talked about the reaction of the cheerleaders to the training, how they discredited her as too emotional and too angry. She brought Mike with her to meet the cheerleaders so that he could offer his perspective on the events as well, and this led the cheerleaders to think that she was ill prepared and they were not the only ones. Shauneen was also made out to be a villain by the media, with one interviewer continually trying to reinforce that the cheerleaders were “good girls”, and why were they being forced to pay for a simple mistake?

The conversation continued to a response to the situation from one of Mike’s friends, who asked him “So if six-year-olds play Cowboys & Indians, is that racist?” The answer was a resounding “Yes!” Racism is often not the result of individual behavior; it is systematic. The fact that six-year-olds know these stereotypes is proof that racism exists within society. Six-year-olds playing Cowboys & Indians should be used as proof that racism and the stereotypes that come with it run rampant within society, not a way to try to fight this thinking. Throughout the day, I kept thoughts of this keynote and the many lessons that it taught me at the forefront of my mind.

For my first session of the day, I attended Teaching Students with Significant Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities: How to Make a Choice presented by Dr. Scott Thompson. Teaching students with special needs is something that is close to my heart because of my past experience with Campus for All students and the Big Sky Center for Learning and Being Astonished, so I wanted to attend a lecture on this subject to become more knowledgeable about how this relates to social justice. Two main lessons came out of this lecture. First, Dr. Thompson spoke about the assumptions that people hold about students with disabilities. He noted that often the expectations for these students are either over or under estimated simply because of the disability that they have. We need to give our students the best educational experience possible, regardless of disability. The way that we can do this is getting to know where each student is at and scaffolding the experiences that we give them to ensure that they feel confident in their learning. The second lesson that Dr. Thompson taught us was to make sure not to talk about students with special needs in front of them as if they cannot hear or understand what we are saying. All that this does is promote aggression and learned helplessness. Every person has the ability to make choices and to learn, but if they are continuously treated like they do not have this ability, they will no longer try.

The second session that I attended was Place-Conscious Teaching for Social and Ecological Justice presented by Karen McIvor. I was interested in this session because place-conscious teaching is something that I see as very valuable and I wanted to know how I could relate this to social justice. Place-conscious education brings together critical pedagogy, which focuses on deconstructing dominant narratives and ways of living, with place-based education, which brings the environment into learning experiences. One important lesson that I learned from Karen in this session is that it is not enough to simply take students to a space; we must deconstruct the places that we take students in some of these experiences. Deconstruction takes place by asking questions like: what has happened here, what is happening here, and what could happen here? Place-conscious teaching doesn’t have to involve big adventures to gain knowledge, it can happen in our own backyards or in our school grounds, but it is important to provide students with these experiences to enhance their school experiences. This work is very important to connecting youth to the community around them, as evidenced in Heartwood’s Circle of Awesomeness, and is used by Karen to help students at risk within her school gain credits for any number of classes while learning through experiences that are meaningful to them.

For my third and last session of the day, I attended Unsettling Treaty Education and Anti-Oppressive Education: Theory into Practice presented by Chauntel Baudu and Tamara Smith. This was one of the sessions that I was looking forward to the most, since treaty education and anti-oppressive education are two aspects of my education that I am very passionate about, but I haven’t gotten much instruction on how they actually work in a classroom. Chauntel started this session off by talking about anti-oppressive education, which she describes as creating togetherness rather than separation in school environments. She started on her path to anti-oppressive education in much the same way that I have. She was taking classes at the university and imagined having the same deep conversations about anti-oppressive education that were occurring in her class with her students and she made it a reality. One key lesson that I learned from Chauntel is that if I want to talk about anti-oppression within my classroom, I need to give students the tools to unpack their ‘invisible knapsacks’ effectively. If students are to talk about oppression, they need to know the forms of oppression that affect them, whether it is a positive or negative affect. It is important to teach critical literacy and have students identify whose voice is heard and whose voice is silenced within texts so that they can identify the oppression that exists. Another key aspect of anti-oppressive teaching is reflection, not only for teachers but for students as well. We need to reflect to figure out where we come from, what we know, why we know it, and what has changed over time to figure out what students need from us as anti-oppressive educators. Chauntel stated that anti-oppressive education doesn’t have to be overwhelming; you don’t have to make dramatic leaps and bounds to make a difference within your classroom. Anti-oppressive education is simply about increasing your knowledge of oppression and working to fight it in ways that you feel you can because when we know better, we can do better.

After Chauntel’s presentation, Tamara took the floor to talk about treaty education. Tamara spoke about the importance of teacher initiative in treaty education. Even though it is mandated in Saskatchewan, many teachers we will meet in schools choose to remain ignorant of treaty education in an attempt to retain innocence when thinking about the past of colonialization in Saskatchewan, but at what point does this ignorance become unacceptable? Often in social studies and history classes, the focus is on the ‘strength of the homesteaders’ while the strength and benevolence of the Indigenous people is ignored. We claim ignorance to avoid the trauma of admitting uncomfortable truths, but we need to ask ourselves who benefits from this ignorance and who is oppressed by it. If you are going to begin teaching treaty education, you must first be open to growth and learning and you must accept that you may feel alone on this journey, but you must not give up. If the support does not exist in the school that you find yourself working in, and even if it does exist, there are supports to help such as the Office of the Treaty Commission, elders, and leaders within the area of treaty education. Many teachers fear treaty education because they do not want to make mistakes, but this is where your own initiative in discovering knowledge and your humility becomes essential. We must learn to admit that we are not perfect, that we are humans that make mistakes, because this is what makes any subject that we teach real to our students.

To close the day, I had a discussion with some of my classmates about what we took away from the many sessions that we sat in during the conference. We took the opportunity to introduce a group that five of my classmates and I have started on campus with the support of Michael Cappello, called STARS Regina, which is dedicated to blogging resources for future and practicing teachers as well as providing professional development sessions revolving around social justice education. Our group met up for supper after these conversations with our classmates and some of the presenters and talked about our main takeaways from the conference and where we will move forward as a group. Throughout our discussion, our main focus was our passion for anti-racism and anti-oppression within our teaching. In one of the sessions that I attended, the presenter continually told us to teach with our passion and even if you feel alone at first, those people that think similar to you will find you and those conversations will be available for support. During the times when the work seems to hard to go on, we need to keep in mind the ripple effect that our efforts have on our students and the community surrounding us.

As we moved forward from the keynote at the beginning of the day, we were asked to consider what we were going to do to start accepting the gifts of knowledge and culture that First Nations and Metis people have been offering for years. By the end of the day, I was asking myself what had held me back from going to ceremonies and having conversations that led me to learn more about First Nations and Metis culture, I realized that more often than not, it was fear of being the only white person at these events and disrespecting their traditions and culture simply because I do not know enough. When I catch myself in these thoughts in the future, I hope that I will have the voice of Sheena Koops, a new friend that I met two weeks ago with my classmates in STARS Regina, in my head telling me “Go forth and be awkward”. Embrace the situations that you feel uncomfortable with, because that is where you find new knowledge that transforms your thinking. More often than not, your willingness to learn about the knowledge and the culture of First Nation and Metis people will not be seen as a sign of respect, and if you do blunder, there will be someone there to teach you how to do better at the next event that you attend. Make those important connections, go to the ceremonies and events around your community, get involved; even if you stumble, there will be someone there to catch you and you will become a better teacher for it.

Dealing with Tragedy in the Classroom

Yesterday, when I heard about the shooting that was happening in Ottawa, I was on my way to hang out with my new Kindergarten friends and take some time to teach them a lesson on kindness. As I sat in my car, I realized that this is one of those moments that nobody can prepare for. Either I would be sitting in the classroom all day, knowing that a tragedy was occurring, but not having any updates on the situation, or I would be talking to the students about what was going on and trying to help them through this tough situation.

I am no stranger to dealing with tragedy in the school environment. I went through the tragic loss of my cousin when I was in high school. In my field experience as part of ECS 100, one of the students who had moved on to a nearby high school but had close ties to the school through relationships with teachers and younger cousins in the school was killed. These two experiences couldn’t have been handled more differently. When I was going through the grieving process, I pushed people away because I felt like I had to deal with it myself, but while I was in my ECS 100 placement, so many people in the school community had ties to this student so it was a community effort to overcome the tragedy.

When I was talking with my cooperating teacher before school, we decided that if the students knew about the shooting when they came to school, we would address it and do what was needed to make sure that they felt safe and secure, but we would play it by ear. The shooting wasn’t mentioned in the morning or the afternoon groups, but something interesting did come up in the carpet discussion with the afternoon group. Since it was Career Day at the school today, my cooperating teacher asked the students what they wanted to be when they grew up and was giving them ideas on how they could dress up. One of the students within the class mentioned that she either wanted to be a teacher or a police officer when she grew up. Without hesitation, one of her classmates advised her that she didn’t want to be a police officer because “people are crazy and will try to shoot you”. He proceeded to explain that three police officers were shot in the summer by a crazy person, obviously referring to the Moncton, New Brunswick shooting. I didn’t know what to do in this situation. How do you explain something so tragic to a group of five-year-olds?

I reflected on this quite a lot since yesterday because it was so unexpected. It wasn’t until my Aesthetics Education class that I realized that these comments should not simply be ignored. My professor put it simply: be honest with your students. If this situation is something that they are upset about, the best thing to do is to explain what is happening and reassure students that they are safe. Obviously, since the students are very young, we should not be graphic in our explanations, but students will know about these tragedies and it is part of our roles as teachers to make sure that students know that it is our job to make sure that they are safe and that we will try our best to protect them from all harm.

The hardest part of these conversations is the initiation. I know that I, personally, would feel like I was taking some of the innocence away from my students by being honest with them about tragedies such as yesterday’s shooting, but if the carpet discussion taught me anything yesterday it’s that my professor is absolutely right. Kids know more than we give them credit for sometimes – whether their parents are being honest with them about what is going on in the world around them or they simply hear news stories on the television or radio – and we need to be sure that when these situations arise, we are prepared to discuss them with students in order to make sure that they feel safe and supported in the school environment.

First Pre-Internship Reflection

Last Wednesday, I had the great opportunity to begin the first part of my pre-internship in a kindergarten classroom located on the east side of Regina. There is both a morning and an afternoon group that my teaching partner and I will be working with. Our cooperating teacher has a high focus on inquiry learning and the use of technology within the classroom, which is something that I am very excited about! Throughout my university career, I have heard about the importance of inquiry and how technology is being integrated more and more into classrooms, but I had never learned real, applicable ways in which I could use this knowledge in a classroom. Even though the students are less than two months into the school year, it is amazing to see how far they have come with embracing technology.

After reflecting on my first week in the classroom, one thing that continues to amaze me is how little the students sit in desks. Students have no assigned seating; the only times students are really sitting at the desks in the room is during center time and in this time they can choose to play in sensory bins, color, or do a number of other activities that the teacher has set out for them that week. Up until last year, I was under the illusion that all ‘real’ learning had to take place in desks with rows, but ever since entering the Elementary Education Program, my mind has changed drastically. I can visually see within this Kindergarten classroom how the teacher is hitting outcomes and how the students show her that they are ready to take their learning one step forward.

My cooperating teacher has a method to how she starts off the school year in the best way that she can think of. Instead of diving into structured lessons on each subject area, she focuses in on social studies and health curriculum to promote respectful friendships between her students. Since she lays this foundation knowledge on how to get along with others first, she is able to hit different outcomes in less formal lessons on the carpet such as incorporating patterns into the calendar, teaching students to count to 100 by counting each day they are at school, and reading stories to students while encouraging deeper learning.

When I returned to the school this week, I was already able to see development within the students when I observed them at center time. My cooperating teacher had switched the learning centers before the students came in the morning and it was amazing to see how excited the kiddoes were. The sand table was Halloween themed, so there were ghosts, bats, spiders, and eyeballs within the sand in the table. With the morning group, I observed different math indicators when many of the students creating their own patterns with the toys in the table and I also witnessed one boy taking initiative to sort out each toy so that they could be found easier. With the afternoon group, I observed more English Language Arts indicators being met when students made the bats superheroes that saved each of the other toys and using some creativity to create pictures in the sand with the toys.

Now that I have started forming relationships with the students, one major aspect that I need to consider is classroom management. Since I am pre-interning in a Kindergarten class, this is one of the most important things to develop since the attention span of the students is shorter. One thing that I have in my arsenal for classroom management is simply the rapport that I have developed with the students already. At first, I was a little self-conscious about the way that I approached teaching the students, since both my cooperating teacher and teaching partner are extremely animated when they are teaching and I am very calm, but after post-conferencing with my cooperating teacher I’ve learned that this is something that she appreciates because my calm demeanor rubs off on the students and their attention span lasts longer than she expects when I am teaching my lessons with the students. I have been learning a lot about classroom management from simply watching my cooperating teacher while she is teaching the students because her management techniques work wonders with the kiddoes.

As I progress through my pre-internship, there are a few goals that I want to work on: 1) Continue to learn more about effective classroom management strategies; 2) step outside of my comfort zone with the curriculum – I am very comfortable with Social Studies, Health, arts education, physical education, and ELA, so I hope that I will be able to find the courage to step outside these subjects and teach math and science lessons; 3) further develop the relationship I’ve started with the students – teacher-student relationships are essentially important to me and my cooperating teacher fully supports this; and 4) focus on digging deeper with my questions to students – these first two weeks, I’ve accepted one word answers to questions when some answers could have easily been expanded on.

I am absolutely thrilled to be teaching Kindergarten for my pre-internship because this is a completely new experience for me. My past experience teaching has centered around Grade 3 and 4, so this age group is much younger than I’m used to, but I have been placed with an absolutely wonderful cooperating teacher who has already taught me so much within two days in the classroom. I am excited to see the students progress to the point where they can start an inquiry project – probably around March when my teaching partner and I return for the second part of pre-internship – and progress through the use of technology because my cooperating teacher has told me that the result at the end of the school year is something that needs to be seen to be believed. I can’t wait for my future visits to this classroom, since I know that I have a lot to learn not only from my cooperating teacher, but also my teaching partner and the students themselves.

A True Inspiration

Today, I received one of the hardest emails that I have read throughout this school year. My Early Childhood Education professor for the last two semesters, Janice Huber, is leaving the University of Regina in two months time and taking a position in the University of Alberta’s Department of Elementary Education. While I am sad that I will not be able to see Janice around the campus community, I know that the University of Alberta has gained an invaluable asset to their program and I know many students will be touched by Janice’s passion for Early Childhood Education.

I would like to continue this blog post by stating some of the most important ways that Janice has shaped me as a future educator and expand on these lessons using my own experiences in the school system. Janice, if you happen to be reading this, this may be an opportune time to pause and grab some tissues before continuing on. The first lesson that Janice taught me was that the lessons that we teach our students go far beyond the mandated curriculum. When I first entered Janice’s class last fall, I was a new transfer into the Faculty of Education and if you had asked me what the most important lessons to our students were I would have referred to the formal curriculum. Working alongside Janice for the past year has changed this view completely. Being in Janice’s class has taught me many values that I will take with me as I further my degree in Elementary Education, such as the importance of inclusion, creating classrooms as communities, representing each student’s identity within the classroom, and following the lead of the students to engage them in the learning process.

When I first entered Janice’s class, I had no idea about the powerful experiences that experiences in school can have on a child. Looking back on this belief, I feel weird because now that I have reflected on my time working alongside Janice, I can see that my views have completely changed. When I look back on my school experience, the moments that created the strongest memories did not revolve around the mandated curriculum outcomes; my memories revolve around teachers and school staff who went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that I had the best school experience possible. Within the top three most memorable experiences that I had in the school system, only one involved mandated curriculum in any way. This is the third most powerful memory of my school experience and it revolves around my Grade 10 and 11 math teacher Mr. B. I will be the first to admit that math is not my strong suit, but Mr.B went above and beyond to offer me individual tutoring for an hour and a half before school every day to help me learn the content of the class. Mr. B believed that I was capable of mastering the content, even when I was ready to give up completely on the subject. It was the way that Mr. B taught me, not the content of the class, that had a huge impact on my school experience and made me confident enough in my math skills to consider teaching it at the elementary level. My second my second most powerful experience was not an isolated event, it was a relationship that I formed with the librarian at my elementary school, Mrs. M. When I think of Mrs. M, I think of all of the cold, Saskatchewan mornings when playing outside before school started was my own special brand of torture. I do not remember how I became close with Mrs. M, maybe it was my love of reading and books or maybe it was her unique sense of humour, but she always made sure to convince the vice-principal of the school that she needed my help turning on computers and straightening out books before the school day started because she knew that I was not interested in playing outside. I formed a unique bond with Mrs. M that lasts to this day – I still feel that a trip home is not complete unless I stop by the library and have a lengthy chat with her to catch up on our lives. The most powerful memory that I have of my school experience involves one of my biggest supporters as I continue through my degree – Ms. S. I was not the most athletic child, so I did not try very hard at lunchtime intramurals because I felt that I could not succeed at sports. One day during intramurals, I got hit in the head by a very hard soccer ball and promptly burst into tears. I can vividly remember Ms. S taking me to the side of the gymnasium, gathering me in to a tight hug, and singing Lean on Me by Bill Withers until I stopped crying and sang along with her. To this day, this song holds powerful emotion for me because Ms. S offered me comfort at just the moment that I needed it. If there is one thing that Janice has taught me, it is that these experiences when teachers go above and beyond to help their students matter a great deal. They help students create connections to the experiences that they go through in school and students will be motivated to succeed because they know that they have support.

Another valuable lesson that I have learned from Janice is the power of telling our stories and allowing our students to tell their own, even when these stories are not happy ones. A staple in my Early Childhood Education classes were community circles where my classmates and I would take turns talking about the lessons that we have taken out of class activities or things that we felt needed to be addressed. This allowed me to take away a deeper understanding of Janice’s lessons, but it also allowed me to get to know my classmates much better. More often than not, nobody would know that one of my stomachs was struggling with something until it came time for them to speak in the circle. As a result of community circles, I got to know not only the positive things happening in the lives of my classmates, I also got to know some of the struggles that they faced. In a previous post, I wrote about one conversation that my classmates and I had in a community circle that brought one major struggle that I have faced in my life to light. The outpouring of support that I received from my classmates after telling my story was simply amazing to me. Janice has the unique ability to turn a classroom into a community of learners who truly wish to support one another and view each other as family. After two semesters with Janice, I feel as though my extended family has grown by at least forty people. After going through this experience with Janice, you cannot help but feel comfortable sharing your stories, successes, failures, and support with your classmates. You become a very tight-knit family that loves to simply be together and support one another throughout your journeys to gaining your degrees because of the classroom environment that Janice sets up.

The very first day I met Janice and attended her class, she stressed the importance of representing each student’s identity within the classroom environment. At first when I started this activity, I felt uncomfortable. I was asked to create a collage that best represents me on a puzzle piece, but what best represented me? What was the most important aspect of me that I wanted my classmates, none of which I knew at this point, to know about me? It was in the community circle that took place after the collages were made that I started to realize the importance of representing identity within the classroom – more specifically, representing the students’ own perspective of their identity within the classroom. Within the first day of classes, I knew that I had chosen the right Early Childhood Education professor, because Janice had already altered my perception of what is important in education within the first two hours.

One very important lesson that Janice taught me which will stay with me for the rest of my life is the true value of inclusion. In my first class with Janice, I had the opportunity to meet Amanda, who I have blogged about previously. While I have had Campus for All students in my classes before, none of these students were embraced, respected, and loved by each of their classmates as Amanda was. From day one, Janice created an inclusive classroom environment for all of the students, including Amanda, without signaling her out. The only time that Amanda was put in the spotlight without consciously putting herself there was at the start of each semester when a call out was placed for students who would like to tutor and support Amanda outside of class. Having Amanda in the class was never about Janice showing how inclusive teaching could be, nor was it about finding adaptations for the class to make it easier on Amanda to succeed; Janice’s classes were all about teaching my classmates and I that every child who enters our classrooms is capable of great things, because this is what Janice believes at the bottom of her heart. Within the class, Janice promoted the idea that we are not only learning from her, but each other as well and everyone, including Amanda, have both things that we can teach and things that we can learn.

Throughout the last semester with Janice, one key lesson that I took away was the importance of student-led inquiry. We were given the opportunity to meet a Grade 1 class from here in Regina, get to know the students over the course of a morning, and incorporate the interests of these students into multiple workshops that we created just for them on their “University Day”. I can honestly say that this was one of the best experiences that I have ever had in my undergraduate career to date. While I chose to put together a professional development workshop for my classmates on a separate day rather than create a workshop for our Grade 1 friends, this gave me a unique perspective because I was able to sit in on some of the planning of these workshops and when the Grade 1 class came to visit, I was able to work with my classmate Jesse to entertain two of the boys within the class and note how they responded to the various stations that were set up. Throughout this experience, I was able to see how truly excited the boys got about school when what they were learning revolved around their interests. Throughout Janice’s class, I have learned that if you view the interests of your students as your top priority as a teacher, you meet more mandated outcomes than you would originally think. One of the most vital lessons that Janice has taught me is that although mandated outcomes must be met, they can be met in the most creative of ways that cater to your students’ interests and needs.

One of the greatest things about Janice’s Early Childhood Education class is that it did not feel like a class. When every other class that I took had a component of stress to it in order to complete everything that must be done, every time that I entered Janice’s classroom, all of this stress just seemed to float away. Even when I felt like I had a million things to do, I could step into my Early Childhood Education class, leave my troubles at the door, and just be with Janice and my classmates, growing together and learning together. One of the reasons I have loved this class, and having Janice as my professor, so much is the environment that is created within the classroom. I have always been the type of person to stress over deadlines and responsibilities, but within Janice’s class I have learned that letting go of that stress, even for as short a period as three hours, does wonderful things for both my physical and mental health. This is a lesson that will be very beneficial to me in my future as an educator.

Throughout my time working alongside Janice, I have learned the type of teacher that I want to be. She cares deeply for each student that enters her classroom, is always available to lend a helping hand to students that are struggling, and not only does she take her students’ interests and needs into account, she makes them a priority. I could go on and on about the amazing qualities that Janice possesses that make her such an inspirational role model to me, but I fear that by this point in my time spent getting to know Janice that the list is infinite. Janice, I hope you realize the inspiration you have been, not only to me, but to many of my classmates as well. Your passion and strength will stay with us well into our teaching careers, and you will forever be in our hearts. I wish only the best for you in your future in the Department of Elementary Education at the University of Alberta. They are incredibly lucky to get the experience to work alongside you and I know that you will enrich the program greatly!

I want to finish this blog post with a quote that has stuck with me throughout my own childhood and has come to mean a lot to me as I say goodbye, for now, to some of the amazing people that I have met over the past year: “If there is a tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember: you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think, but the most important thing is even if we are apart, I’ll always be with you.” – Winnie the Pooh

ECS 210 Digital Story

Hello Everyone!

For my ECS 210 class, our last major assignment was to create a digital story about our journey through curriculum. After testing out many different ways to do this, I settled on using an online animation creator called Moovly. Once I figured out what this website was all about, I had a lot of fun completing this assignment. There were certain bumps that I had to overcome (who likes to hear their voice recorded back to them? Hint: not many of my classmates), but I got through them and overall I am very happy with how it all turned out! I hope you enjoy my digital story as much as I enjoyed all of the experiences that made it what it is!