From the classroom...

Diversity (and Change…)

After what seems like back to back triathlons the school year is over and I am halfway into another teacher summer. Long evenings, slow mornings, time to reflect and time to prepare… it’s a wonderful thing…

Over the last five years, as I have worked school wide as a Learning Resource teacher, I have had the opportunity each spring to collaborate with our kindergarten teacher when she assesses the incoming classes. This year the amazing group of children was as diverse as always, which prompted a lot of discussion about growth and diversity in general. 

“We must all know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their colour.”

(Maya Angelou)

No matter what their colour, length, thickness, texture, flexibility or durability, all threads in the tapestry are essential to the composition. 

Having begun my teaching career in Kindergarten twenty years ago this fall, I was quickly schooled in the diversity of little people.  When I moved into Grade One several years later and developed my skills as a literacy coach I expected and supported diversity without question – every first grade teacher knows the spectrum of learners can run from emergent to advanced readers, and teaching to that diversity is part of the job. 

Something I have discovered over time, however, is that the diversity in learners, skills and understanding is part of the package at every age and grade. Often I have heard teachers say “well, it all evens out by a certain grade…” or “kids need to be at this level…”  How impossible are those statements? Every child is starting from a unique place on the learning continuum, and every child is moving at a unique pace, so expecting a diverse group of learners to be the same in any way at any time is unreasonable and, really, unfair. 

“Fairness doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing. Fairness means everyone gets what they need. “

(Richard D. Lavoie, M.A., M.Ed.)

My conversation about the kindergarten students was eye opening in the way that every day epiphanies can be: we realized in that moment that these diverse students are products of diverse parents in diverse homes from diverse backgrounds in diverse circumstances… and that they will follow their own diverse path to learning and adulthood every step along the way. Will they all “even out”? Of course not. Just look around you at the people you know – some are readers, some are gardeners, some are hopeless with numbers. We are as diverse in our understanding and ability in adulthood as ever. Maybe more so. But most of us have learned some hard lessons along the way: about the “social fake”, about finding relatable peers, about sticking with “our own”, or with what we know. We choose situations, jobs and friendships that support our abilities and interests. We may not do it consciously, but we settle into our diversity. And sometimes we do it at the cost of accepting the diversity of others…

How amazing could it be, how much frustration would be avoided, if teachers and parents and students understand and embrace diversity in learners at every age and stage of the learning continuum?  If children are encouraged to discover and develop their own strengths at an early age, if they are supported in understanding and working with their unique challenges at every level, if they are taught to accept the strengths and challenges of others with empathy and acceptance, what would it look like? 

Time for a change. After twenty years of working with young children and most recently in special education I am moving back into a classroom: Grade 5!  I am excited about the opportunity now, more than ever, because the chance to use my experience in literacy development and differentiated learning aligns so well with the redesigned curriculum here in BC – teaching to diversity is at the very heart of it.  

I will still be around here with personal posts now and then but, if you are interested in sharing the teaching journey with me, I invite you to join me on Mrs. Martini’s Grade 5 Jive for classroom learning adventures – I hope you do! If you have thoughts about teaching to diverse children, please share. The only way to move forward is to have all our voices, talents and abilities add to that rich tapestry…

(Amazing art by Grade 6 students…)

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From the library...

How To Behave and Why…

It’s been awhile since I wrote about a book, not for lack of books in our world but for overwhelming abundance. The collecting, reading and sharing of books is as essential to life in our house as breathing most days, and sharing all the ones we love would be a full time job!  Sometimes a book comes along, however, that is so important and good and valuable that it must be shared and celebrated. I found this amazing gem during a visit to Citylights bookstore in San Francisco. 

How to Behave and Why” was written by Munro Leaf (most famous for writing “The Story of Ferdinand” – the mild-mannered bull) and published in 1946. 

It’s a deceptively simple looking “children’s book” with a universal message…

Focusing on four essential character traits it explains what the values mean and why they are important in a simple but not pedantic way, so that they are accessible to the very young, the very old and all other ages in between. 

I love that the writing manages to be idealistic and realistic at the same time. If I could buy this book for every child or teacher I know, I would!

We are living in strange and unsettling times, but it is reassuring to know that there are still many good people living fair, honest and kind lives. We need to remind ourselves and each other that these qualities are timeless, and that they can be universal if we keep recognizing their value in ourselves and others. 

A note from the editor of the newly published re-issue:

I hope you read and share it – and tell me what you think! Have you come across any gems at the bookstore lately? 

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From the classroom...

Pop! Bang! (Back to School…)

It may be hard to believe but we are back to school already. Summers seem to come and go faster and faster every year, possibly in direct proportion to my excitement and anticipation, or maybe in relation to the lengthy list of chores I hope to accomplish…

This summer was a particularly fast one, with a dismal start (cold, cold rainy days at the outdoor pool) a disorganized middle (were we coming? going? camping? renovating? moving?!) and a then fast finish so frantic that here we are again, in September.  Boom. 

  

Back to school is a time that creates mixed feelings in many people. It’s exciting to reconnect with the friends and colleagues we haven’t seen all summer, and it’s fun to get all new school things (crisp unbroken crayons, shiny sharp pencils, clean white erasers and piles of notebooks – Miss G. is a connoisseur…) but the older I get and the longer I teach the more I become aware of the challenges involved too. 

  

For many children (teachers, parents…) the adrenaline and anxiety wrapped up in anticipation of a new school year add a lot of pressure onto what can already be an emotional time. Sleep schedules are shifting – some people can’t get enough sleep to get through the day, and some can’t stop sleeping in time to adjust to new schedules.  Eating habits are hard to get back into (only eating at the breaks?!) and that’s all before thinking about homework or practice schedules… Full stop to full blast in what feels like an instant
  

Emotions are close to the surface, which makes new routines and responsibilities even more challenging.  Many who normally have no problems with the expectations of daily life are stretched by new environments, new colleagues, new classmates, new programs… What might have been manageable in ideal circumstances now seems just a little bit scary. 

 

Sometimes the adrenaline and anticipation that get us through those first few days vanishes under a pile of books and assignments, draining the reserves of summer quicker than we thought possible, leaving us feeling more than a little bit flat…

 

In these opening moments give yourself creative license to get through the stops and starts of a new season.  Notice the people around you – especially the outliers and the quiet ones – who need just a little more empathy than usual…

“Empathy is strength, and an asset towards surviving and thriving in any environment. It promotes genuine curiosity about others, which facilitates a desire to teach and learn.” (Ugo Uche)

(Art by Gr.5 students…)

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From the classroom...

Mixed Colours (Mixed Emotions…)

September can be complicated.

The changing of seasons from summer to the earliest days of fall is exciting for all the colours, flavours and adventures there are in store for us, but some changes are less exciting and more worrisome… During all of our “back to school” preparations this year I was more and more aware of  the challenges the season brings.

My oldest child made a big leap into the “intermediate” grades this year – teachers often say that it is the transition from the “learning to read” years into the “reading to learn” years – she will now begin to build the bank of information and knowledge that she needs to develop her own understanding of the world around her.  As a teacher, I am excited for her growth and learning.  As a parent I am terrified at the anxiety and emotion she is carrying with her into her new classroom.  The last weeks of summer vacation were marked by regular moments of reassurance as she worked to prepare herself for the unknown…  How many other little people are carrying that same mix of apprehension and excitement into the school year?

This is her self-portrait on the eve of back to school:

 I see how beautiful she is in this picture, but I see the reservations she has as well – she has captured the feeling of cautious optimism perfectly…  She is worried that she isn’t smart enough or fast enough for the demands of fourth grade… Her amazing talents are overshadowed by her own self-doubt.

My youngest child will be attending “real school” this year too – another milestone moment.  He is excited about playing with his friends and seeing his big sister on the playground, but less thrilled about getting out of his warm bed every single day and getting into his school uniform again

Instead of drawing himself he drew a picture of his mama and dada to keep with him.  I think it’s a good likeness:

He has captured my mixed emotions about the “back to school” season…

I am looking forward to seeing my friends, colleagues and students, but at the same time I am feeling overwhelmed by the challenges that lay ahead.  I am excited to take on new projects, but sad to leave the long days of summer behind…  Mixed emotions. Double dip feelings.

  How many children and families are feeling the same way?  In our hurry to get back to school and work, how many children are feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of production, performance, perfection that school creates?   In this whirlwind of mixed emotions I am making an extra effort to see the colours of the season.  I am making the effort to see the great promise in the children who are showing up at school every day in spite of the anxiety and adversity in they might feel.  I am trying to let go of the apprehension I have about sending my own children off to school on their own to learn and grow without my constant supervision and support…  In a month or two we will hardly remember these early days of fragile confidence and nervousness.  I know that my little people are in good hands, just as I know that I will do my best for the students who come for help at my own classroom door.  But this season of mixed emotions reminds me, more than ever, to have empathy for the families who are struggling to get all the “pieces in their places” as the “new year” takes its’ shape with all the colours of the season…

“I have always had school sickness, as others have seasickness. I cried when it was time to go back to school long after I was old enough to be ashamed of such behavior.” (Jacques Derrida)

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