The first month of the school year has somehow flown by at Eric Harvie School! Perhaps it is because the weather has still felt like summer for most of the past month, however it is more likely part of all that we try to pack into the crucial first month of the school year. Teachers find ways to learn more about each learner and their learning strengths and areas for improvement. They also work to develop the routines and habits that will help lead to more effective learning in the months to come. Ultimately, they are focused on putting the building blocks in place for a community of learners that can work together for effective academic learning and to build social skills and connections.
At Eric Harvie School, we choose to have our grade 1-4 classrooms in multi-age groupings. This has been part of Eric Harvie School since it first opened six years ago, and I wanted to share some of the reasoning behind why we are continuing to use this approach this year. It is important to note that our goal and vision is that these classrooms are true examples of multi-age learning - meaning that it is a pedagogical choice intended to help meet the unique needs of learners at different developmental levels - rather than being a multi-grade or “split” classroom where two grade levels of students are put together primarily as a result of the number of students at each grade level not being compatible to reasonable class sizes, and the two grade levels learn mostly independent from each other.
From my perspective, it is important to gather a wide range of sources of information in looking at a decision about classroom organization, and looking at academic research needs to also be combined with observations, data and evidence of what it is actually looking like at EHS.
As with many debates in education, looking at the differences between “straight grades” and multi-age classes has been happening for many years, and as a result some of the research is now becoming quite dated. My own research into the advantages and drawbacks to multi-age learning environments has found that the academic gains of learners in a straight grade level classroom versus a multi-age classroom are essentially equal. The gains that are identified in multi-age classrooms focus on social and emotional learning, which are directly tied into the community of learners that the teacher actively crafts in their classroom.
I wanted to share with you a few of the different sources of information that led to me wanting to share this information with our families (two more traditional and one a bit off the path!) I will also share why I see these sources being part of the puzzle in our approach to multi-age learning at EHS:
This article gives a glimpse into a grade 1-3 multi-age setting, and provides a great look at how a multi-age classroom can focus on meeting individual needs of where each child is at, while keeping a strong focus on building the thinking skills and competencies that develop strong future learners. In my observations of our classrooms, we look to create the classroom culture of the “family” working together that is also described in this article.
This article presents a balanced, research based look at multi-age classrooms while taking into account the era of high-stakes testing in the US that came with the “No Child Left Behind” legislation. While Alberta is not all the way over on that end of the spectrum of mandated testing at this point, the weighing of the pros and cons is interesting to consider. Here is one key quote that exemplifies our approach at Eric Harvie School:
“The strength of multiage education is its emphasis on the learning styles and progress of each student. When implemented with fidelity and reflective of best practice, multiage classrooms can provide a learning environment where students flourish — but positive outcomes are not guaranteed in the absence of appropriate administrative and instructional support.”
This source may seem a bit off the map, however, it was listening to this podcast, and seeing and hearing about all the sport “tryouts” that so many children are going through this month that made some connections for me. In many ways, the design of a multi-age class is intended to provide more opportunities for re-grouping and targeted teaching to meet learners where they are developmentally at. While we still need to evaluate each child’s learning against the specific grade level outcomes for their grade level, using formative assessment to target the specific skills and areas of learning that each child needs to develop helps ensure we help them move forward from their current learning. In addition, I appreciate that this podcast helps me to understand why my October birthdate was such a critical part of me being unable to make the NHL!!
As a school leadership team, we will continue to take a look at all aspects of how we organize for learning with a critical eye to help ensure that how we set up our learning community meets the growing and changing needs of our learners.
"No one should teach who is not in love with teaching.
- Margaret Elizabeth Sangster
33 years ago, this day did not even seem remotely possible! As I entered my first school in the role of 'teacher', the excitement and anticipation of things to come was so overwhelming I couldn't imagine ever wanting to leave! Becoming a teacher had been a dream since childhood and I was a little late to the party - already 32 years old, already married (twice) and already the mother of four children. Achieving the goal of becoming a teacher was something I had worked hard to accomplish and I was overjoyed at having been finally offered the opportunity to fulfill the dream of my childhood!
Why would I ever want to leave??
Actually, the truth is that I might never want to stop teaching - every time I sit with a child, read to a class, speak with a learner anywhere, anytime, I am immediately intrigued by the possibilities of what might happen for this learner - what we might discover and learn together. Teaching has been the most fulfilling, engaging and amazing experience and I believe I will ALWAYS want to be a teacher! I could, I am convinced, happily occupy a classroom teaching position until I am finished with my days on Earth.
From September 19, 1989 through to today, I have simply loved and enjoyed every minute of being an educator - even the sad hours, the frustrating days, the days I felt like I was spinning both my wheels and the kids as we tried to figure out next steps in learning. I believe in the very centre of my being that EVERY child deserves the best learning experience we can possibly offer - I don't believe budgets, opinions, red tape, shortage of staff or resources or any other barrier should get in the way of offering every child the most accessible, meaningful and engaging learning available. And I have spent virtually all of my 33 years in the profession attempting to make that happen for every child. I am delighted with what I was able to accomplish and frustrated with what I was unable to do for children - because that was a reality I often had to grapple with regardless of my personal convictions.
I have been absolutely blessed with the best teaching experiences, schools, administrators, students, staff, teachers ever possible. In my entire career, I have never felt diminished, dismissed or denied opportunities - I have always felt supported and capable, as unbelievable as that may seem. 'Right place, right time' managed to happen for me even when I worried or wondered about taking a new risk.
As a result of retiring, people begin listing one's accomplishments out loud and I feel a little overwhelmed when I see it on paper:
- 33 years with CBE
- principal for 18 years
- opened two brand new schools (Cranston & Eric Harvie)
- Canada's Music Principal 2012
- Canada' Outstanding Principal 2014
And a whole bunch of other things like Calgary Young Writers Conference for 31 years, Women in Leadership ATA Committee, presenting at numerous conferences, etc. Seems like it must have been someone else doing all those things while we were also raising five children, welcoming 7 grandchildren, building a cottage and maintaining a family home full of children, sports and activities and also completing two additional degrees!
Then, I stop and I realize that I have not walked one step of this teaching journey alone. Every step of the way, I have been accompanied by amazing colleagues who dreamed as big as me - or bigger - and were willing to take risks on behalf of children with as much enthusiasm and energy as I would ever be able to muster!
Every step of the way, I have been accompanied by a patient spouse, equally invested in allowing me to pursue every dream and ambition while keeping our family healthy and together.
Every step of the way, I have been accompanied by children and grandchildren who recognized the value of commitment to learning, to children, to dreams.
I have been so truly blessed and I am so very, very grateful for all these people who have supported, laughed and cried with me throughout the years - colleagues, friends, family. Without their connection and faith and willingness to work hard too, this would be a very different ending to an amazing career.
I have also been blessed to build daily relationships with so many learners, so many families, so many children whose passions, curiosities and energies needed to be fostered rather than diminished. I never expected or planned to be a principal but, when the opportunity presented itself and I jumped in, I realized the pedagogy I had embraced all my life could now be enacted within schools by likeminded, willing and caring teachers. Peace Education, inquiry, borderless schools, moving learning outside to be more experiential - these were just a few ways we could make a difference for learners.
I am retiring from CBE to write a different chapter in my life as a Program Director with the Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth, a non-profit agency supporting immigrant learners and families in Calgary for almost as long as I have been teaching. I will no longer work in schools but I will continue to be connected to them and to children. As I slow my life down just a little to make room for one more grandchild and try to reclaim my evenings and weekends, I am tremendously grateful for all the people, children and relationships that have permeated my life and helped me write such a beautiful story of learning, teaching and growing in life.
It is June 28, 2022 and in two short days I will say a fond farewell to Eric Harvie School, staff, teachers, students and families. This beautiful centre of learning will forever hold a huge piece of my heart and be a filter for learning going forward.
Thank you to all the families, children, staff, teachers, leaders and colleagues that have made these past six years - the last six years of my teaching career - an absolute joy despite the pandemic and every other challenge that came along.
I am proud to have spent 33 years teaching and that I can unequivocally say "I am definitely in love with teaching!"
"I dwell in possibility." - Emily Dickinson
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School (for 2 more days!)
"Adults who have ADHD but do not know it are at much higher risk than the general population for serious problems. Mood disorders, extreme sadness, and anxiety often occur when ADHD goes undiagnosed. Even if these conditions are are treated, the underlying problem, if left untreated, leads to other problems.
Adults with undiagnosed ADHD get fired from their jobs more frequently, or they impulsively quit, or they underachieve, slowly losing self-esteem, confidence, drive, and joy in life. They often resign themselves to a life with less success and luster than it could have were they diagnosed and treated." - Dr. Edward Hallowell, 2021
"Left untreated, learning disabilities often lead to debilitating low self-esteem, drug use, teenage pregnancy, crime and lifelong poverty.
80% of students with serious learning disabilities will not graduate
- 60% of teens being treated for substance abuse have learning disabilities
- 75% of juvenile offenders in NYC have undetected learning disabilities" - Promise Project, 2021
"Anxiety disorders have the potential to affect every part of a young person’s life, including their physical health, emotional well-being and social skill development. The combined impact can lead to kids feeling socially isolated, stigmatized, and incapable of being active members of their community.
Mental health has a direct relationship with a child’s physical health. Both physical and mental health influence how children think, feel, and act on both the inside and out." - Dr. Lisa W. Coyne 2021
It is clear from these three quotes - and I could include data from many, many studies with detailed statistics to corroborate these statements - that not diagnosing and treating concerns that impact learning in schools, or trying to downplay, ignore or inappropriately treat these issues has longterm, potentially devastating effects on children as they grow into adulthood. What we don't manage in our children comes back to haunt them in adulthood - a sad but true statement.
Perhaps an even more distressing fact is that even when we do attend to learning issues, sometimes the impact of the children's experiences as learners prior to interventions being put in place linger well into adulthood anyway, impacting self-esteem, confidence and adult relationships.
It is important to take note of potential concerns early in a child's life - even before preschool - and monitor closely. If, as a parent, I notice a pattern through to grade one of inattention, anxiety or frustration resulting from my child not feeling successful with small tasks, there are things I can do to support my child while also monitoring for either an escalation or diminishment of impact on learning. Although grade one may be too soon to seek a diagnosis, it is important to bring a family doctor or pediatrician into the conversation to explore whether there are any biological issues (such as a vitamin deficiency, sleep concern, etc ) that might be at the root of the issue. Beginning with a biological exploration is essential, in my opinion - there have been many, many incidents over the years where other medical concerns were at the root of learning issues and those are treated much differently. In fact, treatment for ADHD and anxiety differ greatly, and are even more diverse than treatment for learning disabilities.
If the issue is not biological in nature and persists into grades two and three, it may be a good idea to seek further support from a psychologist and/or counselor - perhaps a speech and language therapist or occupational therapist may be appropriate as well. The school can be an essential point of contact at this point because they will be able to offer insights to professionals that sometimes are not as obvious at home. Occasionally - although far less often in 2022 than in previous years - the school will have access to some of these supports and may be in a position to pursue assistance or assessment free of costs.
If a formal diagnosis is made, it will include specific supports and recommendations for your child's learning needs, regardless if the diagnosis comes from a psychologist, a pediatrician, or some other clinician. For the school, this is the most important information - knowing specifically what interventions and supports we are able to offer that will target the issues most directly. Often these are shared supports and recommendations for both the school and home to follow - when we say education is a partnership between school and home, this is a great example of what we mean :)
As mentioned in this blog before, a diagnosis may also lead to the creation of an Individual Program Plan that specifically describes the strategies and supports being put in place at the school for your child. The IPP also means the parents and teachers will meet 2 - 3 times through the school year to share how things are going and if any strategies need to be adjusted. Parents sign off to say they have met with the teacher and may either agree or disagree with the strategies. Usually parents and teachers are able to agree on approaches that support the child both at school and at home. In Alberta, a formal diagnosis can also mean accommodations may be continued to support student success through post-secondary learning as well - a huge benefit for young adults leaving the school system.
Like everything in life, there are no guarantees. Having spent 33 years navigating challenging learning situations and concerns with families, I do know early awareness and appropriate interventions can make a world of difference for a child. Every young learner wants to grow up to be as functional, happy, connected and successful in relationships and work - just like we all did when we were young learners ourselves. It is my hope that these last three blog posts on the 'big conversations' will help parents and families understand the processes involved in ensuring every child has a successful learning experience.
Our kiddos are not all the same and neither are their learning needs. Schools are here to help navigate the journey with children and parents even when it is an uncertain path.
"It takes a village to raise a child" is an old African proverb. At Eric Harvie School, we like to add "Welcome to the village!"
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"Psychologists at the University of Colorado and the University of Denver (found)...self-directed executive functions develop most during childhood...and include any mental processes that help us work towards achieving goals - like planning, decision making, manipulating information, switching between tasks and inhibiting unwanted thoughts and feelings. It is an early indicator of school readiness and academic performance...and even predicts success into adulthood. Children with higher executive function will be healthier, wealthier and more socially stable throughout their lives." - Ellen Wexler (edweek.org)
It is clear to parents and educators that executive functioning is critically important for children of all ages. The indicators mentioned in the quote above translate into skills schools develop learning experiences around - including planning, working memory, attention, flexibility, time management, task initiation, self-control, perseverance and metacognition (knowing what you know and using it to help you learn). These skills are not, of course, fully developed when children enter school - these are skills that continue to develop and are enhanced throughout children's learning careers and into adulthood.
Like all other areas of child development and growth, executive functions develop idiosyncratically, reflecting each child's physical make-up. And there are neurological conditions and interruptions that may present as children continue through school, like attention and focus issues, anxiety, behaviour or communication concerns, as well as specific learning disabilities. When challenges to learning present for any of these reasons - including delays in appropriate executive functioning overall - schools respond with strategies and supports that are specifically aligned with the evident learning challenges and will often create an Individual Program Plan that details both the strategies and the progress of students through each school year.
It is important to understand that young learners will often appear to be struggling with attention, communication, task initiation or perseverance or time management as they enter school. While schools will work with families to mitigate these challenges and support learners, the majority of young learners will have adjusted to school and these challenges will have disappeared or been reduced significantly within the first couple of years of school. Issues that persist through grades 2 and 3 are most likely indicators of ongoing neurological, learning or social/emotional concerns that will require a more focused, diagnostic approach to longterm support for learning in school.
Those of us who went to school in the 20th century may have memories of special needs classes, codes and segregated learning for children exhibiting challenges in school of any nature. Those strategies were appropriate for their time but our understandings of how the brain develops, how to best address various indications that might interrupt learning and how to set learners up for success for longterm learning have changed significantly over the past twenty years. Our students are embraced and surrounded with inclusive learning practices as well as principles of peace education, ensuring best-possible learning experiences in school. Additionally, we work very hard with all our learners to encourage them to be independent thinkers and problem solvers, and to advance positive self-esteem and confidence in all our students.
Perhaps the greatest advance in the past twenty years has been the acknowledgement and understanding that everyone continues to be a learner throughout their whole life time - brains continually grow and change throughout all our lives. Universities, trade schools and colleges are aware of this as well and will accept learners with IPPs in school into their programs willingly as students continually demonstrate their abilities to learn with appropriate supports.
These big conversations between families and schools are sometimes challenging to work through - different perspectives and past experiences always colour the way each of us engages with unanticipated bumps in the road - particularly when those bumps are associated with our children. It is important to approach these conversations with a growth mindset - things will improve and success will be redefined but occur nonetheless. Children's brains continue to grow and change throughout their lives and, as parents and schools work together, new paths and journeys are designed and travelled successfully. Respect, care and confidence in the work we all accomplish in concert together will ensure positive outcomes for learners, families and schools.
I encourage families to contact the school anytime there are questions, concerns or issues that emerge unexpectedly - the stronger our shared bonds of understanding are the greater the opportunities for success will be for learners.
"It takes a village to raise a child. Welcome to the village!" - African Proverb
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"There is no standard child. Every child has talents, passions and abilities unique to them."
- Brad Johnson (author)
Sometimes, despite the best of circumstances, children will struggle with learning when they are in school. Occasionally, the challenges appear soon after a child begins school, while other times challenges emerge as the elementary years progress.
And whenever challenges begin to appear, there are big conversations to be had between parents and the school.
I have been on both sides of the table, so to speak - as the parent of a child experiencing challenges at school - and many, many times as a teacher and/or school administrator attempting to support a family whose child has begun to demonstrate learning complexities.
It is not easy being in either position - these are our children, the humans who embody the greatest emotional investments of our lives. Knowing they are encountering challenging experiences impacts us emotionally - our job is to protect them after all - as well as logically as we try to figure out a cause and the shortest route to a resolution of any problems.
We are their protectors and we are also their life-guides, especially when children are very young. Navigating school-related challenges feels like something we should be able to do quite easily because we were all students ourselves at one time.
Emotional responses from parents are essential because they ensure the family will be there to support their child no matter what happens - ever! Emotional responses require empathy and patience on behalf of the school as we all come to accept and understand whatever challenges a child is encountering, and together we continue to place the emotional safety and physical well-being of each child at the centre of our thinking.
Logical responses from parents are essential as well - the questions, suggestions, approaches offered from a learner's family are the beginning steps towards discovering and implementing the best possible supports for each child. And logical responses from the school should offer a pathway to discovery and implementation of those supports.
It is when the emotional responses and the logical responses become tangled together that the biggest conversations occur. It's been my experience this almost always happens whenever any child is finding school to be a struggle for any reason - it is almost inevitable that families and school staff will spend time working through possibilities, concerns, fears, questions, suggestions together before any learner is able to feel supported with whatever learning challenge they are facing in school.
I am going to try and unpack these processes a bit over the final few blog entries I will be writing as Principal of Eric Harvie School, since my retirement from this position will occur in just a few weeks. Supporting families, learners and school staff through the processes that emerge when a learner begins to struggle in school requires a significant investment of time, focus and opportunities by school administrators. It is my hope to clarify some of what occurs and what parents might expect that will be of greatest benefit to learners who find themselves encountering challenges in their school.
The most important thing to never forget is that successful support for learners encountering difficulties in schools demands a collaborative, team effort on behalf of both the school and families. Success for learners requires collaboration, sharing and open communication between home and school at all times. It will require their entwined emotional and logical responses to successfully implementation of support for learners.
When learners begin to experience school as an overly challenging situation, their challenges will usually be presented in six key ways:
- executive functioning concerns
- issues related to attention and focus
- significant challenges with learning
Sometimes more than one challenge will be represented with one child - this is a fairly common situation and one that schools are well-prepared to respond to with appropriate supports.
Schools always have an organized approach to any issue that becomes a clear indiction a learner is struggling. Often these challenges are best met with suggestions from the teacher - perhaps a checklist to help with organization, or reinforcement at both home and school focused on sharing, asking questions, making requests to go to the bathroom, etc. Simple challenges that are quite quickly resolved are the daily work of classroom teachers and families, working together.
When struggles with learning become too impactful to be handled simply - whether the struggles reflect an actual learning component or an interruption to learning in some way that is prompted by inappropriate behaviour, attention issues, anxieties, communication or self-regulation - then the concern is usually elevated to 'the school learning team' (SLT). This might include any or all Resource or Diversity support teachers, Learning Leaders or school administration. The purpose of the SLT is to acknowledge a child's learning concern and then begin to explore best strategies for meeting that child's learning needs in the school.
The SLT might recommend in-school support with an Educational Assistant, additional teacher support for literacy or math, small group instruction or a school program such as SPARK, Discovery, CALM or another school-developed support approach. Or they might recommend a learner be seen for a speech and language referral, OT/PT assessment, pediatric assessment, social/emotional assessment, psycho-educational assessment, counseling or behaviour support assessment. There are many strategies the SLT might recommend to begin the process of assessing the best ways to mitigate and support a learner who is struggling.
Once the SLT has met, then the parents will be engaged in more formal conversations regarding the recommendations. Communication between school and home becomes more frequent and directed - this might include a 'day book' or frequent messaging communication between home and school, with the intention of tracking successes and misses related to strategy implementation.
An external recommendation for one of these types of assessment may also result in the creation of an IPP (Individual Program Plan) that clearly describes the goals and processes to support each student in achieving their best learning. Not every learning challenge requires an IPP; however, when one is required it is a way to formalize the support and the IPP will also ensure support for a learner through to high school and even college/university.
Whenever a learner is struggling, communication between school and home becomes of paramount importance. Keeping an open mind and honouring the very best interests of the child, the family and the school will be what ultimately supports the best learner success, no matter what the nature of the learning challenges might be.
There will need to be big conversations about the what, the why, next steps and ongoing adjustments. The most important thing to remember - no matter which side of the table one is sitting - is to hold the child at the centre of the discussion, the decisions and the adjustments.
We are a team, collaborating to best meet the child's learning needs at all times.
Next blog entry I will explore the nature and representations of the various challenges children most frequently demonstrate at school, to build understanding and clarity of the processes schools often suggest.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"...to establish and sustain a learning environment that fosters creativity and innovation in a peaceful community of connected, independent thinkers, problem solvers and learners."
- Eric Harvie School Vision Statement 2016-2022
'...navigating what will come to be known as this inter-pandemic space—a time between what our traditional notions of schooling once were and what they have the potential to become." - Allison Rodman, 2022 ASCD
Since we are a Kindergarten through Grade 4 school, over half our school population has never experienced what we would typically consider a full 'school year' experience. Children currently in Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2 have never participated in a spring concert, a year-end celebration of learning at the school with their families present, seen our Magician (Steve Harmer) perform in person, participated in a year-end sports day, been part of a parent-attended Peace Assembly. Even our current Grade 3 students would have experienced these things through the lens of a Kindergarten student with modified participation due to the half-time nature of the program itself. And for our Grade 4 students, participating in all these new experiences only once as Grade 1 learners may seem very much like distant memories.
This is without considering how learning itself has also looked and sounded vastly different over the past 2 years and 2 months than it ever did before.
Should we consider this a loss for our students currently enrolled in our K - 4 school?
Well, it is a loss of what used to be for sure - yet, perhaps not a loss of what is now 0r might be in the future.
Children don't actually have a sense of loss for such experiences as spring concerts and sports days, anymore than they have a sense of loss for field trips or guest speakers or reading clubs in the library they have yet to experience either.
The children and babies I've encountered over the years have a lot to teach us about living each day for the experience and the joys of living in that experience - they do not mourn what they do not know they have lost.
While adults seek to restore some sense of normalcy - or what we remember as normal - the children come to school every day excited to do whatever the day offers to the best of their abilities. They learn, they laugh, they attempt new things, sometimes they get frustrated - or even angry, sometimes they are sad but they are always actively doing something with their brains and bodies active. They are not living regretfully, lamenting lost experiences.
Even when we were enveloped in online learning, the children still were children. Some of them found ways to talk all the time regardless of mute buttons and turned off cameras. Stories continued to be told. They emailed written work and read books digitally, sent photographs and videos of themselves learning. They built relationships with their teachers and peers - differently, for sure - yet they were nonetheless relationships. They still trusted and cared, helped one another and smiled, grateful to see each other without masks without even making note of the difference.
When we look back on these past 2+ years, I have a hunch we are going to notice children who consider school, life and each other a bit differently than what we adults recall.
I believe we will see overall greater resiliency - our youngest learners have grown up needing to adapt quickly to new circumstances - learning at home with parents physically present and their peers absent, going back to school with masks, constraints and lots of adult control for 2020-21, and then returning to school again, in the fall of 2021-22, to an unpredictable school year where masks, constraints and vaccinations were defined and monitored initially. Quickly these constraints gave way to a less-structured approach accompanied by much higher levels of illness for both children and adults, significant school absences, a huge focus on assessment for learning gaps and, finally, the presence of new curriculum waiting to make their next school year yet another one of uncertainty and much-needed adaptability.
And still the children persevere - with smiles!
They put forth effort, seek discoveries, ask questions, wonder aloud at all things unfamiliar. Their spirits are resilient and they do not see themselves as enduring learning losses in any way. They are learners, they are learning at their own pace. They are quicker to notice emotional responses in each other and in adults, and they are more willing to help if they are able.
They also squabble more than they used to, often with the peers they know best. Their patience for each other is less obvious; they are wearying of the specific company of some of their peers. Familiarity, on occasion, will sometimes breed contempt...
Are they reading, writing, counting, printing, etc at grade level? There is a ton of data to sift through and we are trying to make sense of it all. Truthfully, the non-strugglers will forever be the non-strugglers. Other learners will find some tasks to be challenging and other tasks much easier.
All the children will, however, find a way to persevere and try again, to adapt and adjust and find a way to grow, learn and succeed. This is the trajectory of learning, teaching, human existence. Children living through this inter-pandemic space will find ways to thrive, to survive, to adapt and grow. Their ways will not necessarily echo the 'before pandemic' times, yet will define the characters and qualities of this generation.
If we look forward with infinite mindsets, there is a clarity required that is essential for sustaining quality teaching and learning into the future. It is clarity that acknowledges adaptability, resiliency, the capacities to accept a situation as it is temporarily and still make the most of it.
These are qualities humans have exhibited for centuries when confronted with wars, famines, drought, disease, pestilence, poor governance. The human qualities necessary to thrive despite life's challenges have been blanketed by a few decades of prosperity and gentler living requirements - at least in western countries. As learners, as parents, as teachers we became accustomed to every option being readily accessible for as many learners - as well as ourselves - as possible.
And then it seemed like everything stopped, walloped by COVID-19. Everything we wanted was no longer easily accessible - especially to schools and learning as we understood them to be.
We mourned the loss of predictable patterns to the school year, of ritual and sharing and growth, yet the children really did not. They got up and adjusted to a different reality and acquired resiliency and adaptability as a result. It was not a perfect process - not for anyone - for sure. Nonetheless, we have children in schools now who are thriving despite the loss of field trips, football teams spring concerts and big graduation ceremonies. They will become, instead, resilient, thinking, adaptable adults.
Infinite mindsets allow us to imagine a much different future for all of us as a result of a generation of children faced with unpredictable, inexplicable, challenging life experiences. All that is required is staying aware, awake to possibilities, being encouraging, positive and recognizing the potential provoked by two years of interrupted routines and events.
Given what we have endured through the pandemic so far, being hopeful seems like the best possible strategy.
I remain hopeful.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
"Adultification is the failure to see the world from a child’s perspective."
“Being little” is of critical importance because we see the signature of early childhood experience literally in people’s bodies: their life expectancies are longer and their social-emotional capabilities are more robust when they have a chance to learn through play and through deep relationships, and when their developing brains are given the chance to grow in a nurturing, language-rich, and relatively unhurried environment. It’s clearer than ever before that young children are not simply mini-adults." - Emily Kaplan
It is tempting to see the world of children through adult eyes - after all, we are older, wiser, better prepared to protect them from all the known and unknown uncertainties that might invade their young lives - plus, we are the keepers of the keys (for driving), the vaults (for purchasing) and the pantries (for nourishment) so we carry a lot of influence around the smaller versions of humanity.
We think we know what is best for them, what will help them grow and thrive in the long term, what they 'need' to succeed in living and in life.
The truth, however, is far different from what we think as adults. The truth is that we should be trying to see the world through the eyes of the children, not the adults. We have already learned the 'how and why' of the world, already experienced joys and sorrows, rejection and loss, already not counted ourselves 'good enough' at particular games or activities.
We are well-insulated from experiencing the world first hand and with wonder; as adults, we are great anticipators and we pride ourselves on 'knowing' the outcome of a situation even before it happens, based on our previous experiences. Most importantly, we know about 'time' and that it is quickly running out on us so we must ensure our children have all the experiences in life they need before 'time' runs out on them as well.
Except that 'time' as we think of it was envisioned by adults and is managed by adults. For children, time is defined by adults and mostly never passes too quickly or too slowly - unless an adult has noted that particularly unfathomable phenomenon!
"...we’re in danger of losing the child in childhood. The notion that there is something of value in being a little kid—with little kid desires and, above all, needs—seems to have fallen out of favor. We talk about young children, increasingly, as commodities to “invest” in for future payoffs. Parents express enormous anxiety about their children’s futures, and seem to be curating their children’s life experiences in a way that would look quite unnatural and even rather joyless to previous generations." - Emily Kaplan
Especially in schools, we need to remember the world we are a part of has been intentionally developed to acknowledge and meet the learning needs of children. If we continually approach all learning from an adult perspective, our interactions will become adult-focused as well, interrupting the natural paths of learning children are hard-wired to be an integral part of all the time. They need to experience interactions where imagination, collaborative dreaming, pretending and posing questions is considered to be perfectly okay and worthwhile.
We must hold the child at the front of all our decisions, our plans, our ideas for facilitating and supporting learning.
Learning spaces need to be designed with children in mind - how will they move? climb? play? imagine? engage in cooperative play? solve a problem? How will they sit? stand? jump? lie on their tummies? What makes them happy, sad, tired, revived? How do we design multi-functional learning spaces that meet the learning and physical needs of all?
Additionally, the learning engagements and activities the children will be engaged with must be considered as part of the whole educational experiences. If we want children to take risks with their thinking, they need to first take risks with their doing - find their 'brave' and try it on. Children are much more inclined to do something active than listen passively and understand. They hear with their ears but they learn with their whole bodies.
Children learn by doing, building relationships through shared activities and demonstrating their own abilities for finding their way in the world. Whether they are thinkers, jumpers, doers, climbers, assemblers, designers or any other kind of learner, they are constantly processing and assessing their deep understandings of the world as they know it, and how it works.
"Play is the defining feature of mammalian development: the impulse is hardwired into us and can’t be suppressed. However, it’s crucial that we recognize that while the play impulse is one thing, the play know-how—the nuts and bolts of playing—is not always so natural, and requires careful cultivation." - Emily Kaplan
Our current Kindergarten program is a play-based program, with the intention that children will learn to do many things through play - develop social skills, knowledge and awareness of their community and each other, begin to understand concepts of print and basic math, engage with basic science and environmental concepts and become familiar with the routines of school and collegial interactions. As they create and imagine, playing together through much of their school day, the value of play is clearly demonstrated through the language they use with each other, the physical movements they use to accommodate each other in the room and in games, the smiles and encouragement they offer to each other when something is a little tougher than they anticipated. There are always offers to help in Kindergarten - I think of it as the place where the growth and development of the first five years begins to encounter the social structures that will guide them appropriately through the rest of their lives.
"All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" (Robert Fulghum) was a popular book in the 1990's that still holds true today - and we learned all those things - like sharing, playing fairly, say you're sorry when you hit someone, clean up after yourself - through the medium of play. Seeing the world from a child's perspective allows the Kindergarten year in school to offer multiple opportunities to 'try out' new skills and understandings without pressure and overt assessment. I consider it be an indispensable part of our education system and believe we have many lessons to learn, as educators, about the value of play from children's experiences in Kindergarten.
Kindergarten programs offer both structured and unstructured play times - always with the understanding and intention that children will use these times to coalesce their perceptions and appreciations of interacting with others in specific situations. Organized learning times throughout the rest of a child's educational experiences will - ideally - continue to offer structured play-like opportunities infused throughout the learning day.
When learners engage in maker space activities, art, drama, music, science, social studies, reading, writing, math or any other academic pursuit, there are always numerous opportunities for children to learn through playful activities that will both enhance their skills and knowledge as well as their social interactions, creativity, imagination, physical movements and collegial communication. The value of play in school cannot be overstated - most adults prefer to be playful with their work when possible and most of us definitely prefer our hobbies and fun pursuits over going to work. Play is where we find our joy most often - and play can make learning in school more joyful too!
Unstructured play has enormous value, as well, for both children and adults. While organized sports certainly offer significant opportunities for children to learn to play collegially, follow rules, acquire specific skills and strategies and understand the boundaries of structured team sports, unstructured play offers students unlimited opportunities to think creatively, imagine without boundaries and engage in both physical and mental 'stretching' that will carry through into future learning situations. Unstructured play offers children opportunities to pretend without concern about meeting specific requirements and this kind of play is invaluable for promoting unconventional thinking that will serve to stretch the boundaries of conventional thinking in educational settings.
It is at the intersection of unconventional and conventional thinking that the dreamers, inventors, designers, writers, poets, musicians, artists all find their ways to push social considerations and thinking continually forward in our thinking, our doing and our evolving as a society.
"The physical exercise and emotional stretching that children enjoy in unorganized play is more varied and less time-bound than is found in organized sports.
Play-time - especially unstructured, imaginative, exploratory play - is increasingly recognized as an essential component of wholesome child development." - Richard Louv (Author, 'Last Child in the Woods')
There is no doubt that play is something we need to sustain and hold in the front of our minds as we plan for learning in our schools, for it is play that will shape the lives of our children forever.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"Every student is unique, with different learning styles,
strengths, and areas of growth.
Personalized learning encourages and challenges
students to achieve their best.
It is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Instead, personalized learning customizes
activities to align with each student’s strengths,
needs, and interests." - Sandy Sutty, Sanford University (2018)
As we are attempting to either live with various iterations of the COVID-19 virus - or to be hopeful it is fading into oblivion - schools are, of necessity, continuing to consider how to best meet the needs of our learners every day, as we have through the past two years' pandemic constrained living. Regardless of our beliefs, wishes, hopes related to the impact of the virus itself, children show up to learn and, as teachers, we are doing our very best to make professional judgements and decisions that will benefit each child to maximize their possibilities for learning.
There are numerous ways to approach teaching and learning on a daily basis in classrooms. Probably the one I knew best prior to becoming a teacher was the one-instruction-for-all model I experienced as a student myself.
My teachers planned daily lessons and taught them to all of us each class every day - sometimes there were activities to do as well as the more 'academic' pursuits of reading, answering questions, calculating mathematical problems, completing worksheets, writing tests. I do not remember any diversity in teaching, all the students in every class from Kindergarten through to grade 12 were taught the same lessons and we either understood and could represent those understandings on tests and worksheets or answering questions and writing essays - or we did not.
Those who did not ultimately left school early and pursued other interests. Learning came easily to me and I came from an academically-inclined family who introduced me early to the public library, museums, historical and biological institutions so I was able to experience success in school. Approximately 60% of the students I started Kindergarten with in my small Nova Scotia community graduated from high school together, and perhaps 25% pursued opportunities in higher education. I have not gone back and researched whether this was a typical graduating rate for the time; I do know for the three years my sisters and I were in school, this was a typical graduating rate.
One-instruction-for-all clearly did not serve everyone well.
32 years as part of the education profession has offered me numerous opportunities to both implement and observe other approaches to teaching and learning, including using a whole language approach, a balanced approach, a centres approach, self-guided approach, digital approach, hybrid approach, research approach - among several other approaches. Every approach has been implemented with the best of attentions: to improve access for learners to the knowledge, skills and strategies associated with the various subject areas and enhance student success and improve achievement.
A few years ago, we began to hear about personalized learning - or the practice of determining teaching and learning practices that are tailored to reflect individual needs, strengths and interests of each student to maximize their engagement in learning and, therefore improve their opportunities to be successful as a learner in school.
Personalized learning does not require writing a separate lesson plan for every student - many learners are able to engage in a wide variety of activities that are quite similar to each other as long as students are able to approach it from their own area of strength first. For example, if a child is not an auditory learner first, engaging them in a visual or hands-on initial task will help them grasp a new concept before being asked to listen and respond or participate in a conversation about that concept prior to truly understanding the meaning of the new idea.
Personalizing tasks for learners takes a bit of preparation for sure, on the part of teachers. There are multiple strategies for personalizing tasks, including considering visual/auditory/kinesthetic approaches to similar tasks or learnings as well as tasks that are highly adapted using digital tools, specific manipulatives to support specific student challenges. In a somewhat typical classroom, personalizing tasks that require significant adaptations are usually needed for one or two students while personalizing through the three lenses of auditory/visual/kinesthetic will meet different needs of many learners.
"One challenge with schooling is that teachers want students to focus on the curriculum they’ve chosen, and students have other interests and concerns that lead them to daydream or disrupt instruction... about half of our students in grades 5-12 are engaged with their learning. About a quarter are passively disengaged, and another quarter are actively disengaged." - Dennis Shirley (5 Paths of Student Engagement)
Personalizing learning really gets to the heart of student engagement. Knowing how learners best connect with understanding and appreciating new ideas is immensely valuable knowledge for teachers to have about their learners to facilitate active learning all day long - there should not be gaps in the day where students are simply not paying attention or learning anything new because they have lost interest.
Teachers weave learning opportunities carefully for their learners, acknowledging their differentiated learning needs while also embracing student interests, motivating activities such as music or art and empowering learners with active learning tasks that provoke their thinking and energize them to pursue new understandings through the lenses (visual/auditory/kinesthetic) that appeal to them the most effectively.
Differentiating learning through the teaching day so it is personalized to the needs of students is not difficult or unusual. It is what meets the needs of learners' best to advance their opportunities for success. We cannot devolve to one-instruction-for-all when we know so much more about designing engaging and effective learning for our learners.
Personalizing learning elevates the need to know and appreciate our students as individuals with needs we are capable of meeting every day in classrooms. To do less is to deny what we know to be true about children as well as about teaching.
And in 2022, as we are trying to navigate a social climate that is simply impossible to clearly understand, our learners warrant all the individualized attention and support we are able to offer - this is not only a new social climate for them, it is the only one they have ever known or navigated as a learner. They deserve our best opportunities for learning in every situation, all day, every day if we are to generate enthusiasm for learning and promote life-long learning in what is certainly a precarious social circumstance.
Schools are consistently places where kids land and seek affirmations of worth and viability. Personalized learning offers educators the strategies to ensure they are affirmed capable and ready to engage in learning every day.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"If you’re involved in education in any way, then you are acutely aware of how challenging the last few school years have been for our students. This is especially true for our youngest learners. While young children can quickly adapt to new situations and are astoundingly resilient, they are coping with a lot—both in and outside of school. " - Jennifer Orr
We are a Kindergarten - Grade 4 school - learners who register with us for Kindergarten have the opportunity to spend five years in our school if they register for our half-day Kindie program and stay in the community for all five years.
This is the ideal situation for learners because it provides opportunities for them to build expected behaviours, routines and learning practices the school intentionally plans to provide successful, engaging academic and social experiences for every child.
Since the spring of 2020 when the pandemic first impacted our world, educators have not been able to provide the same opportunities for children to learn, socialize, engage and participate in 'school' experiences that we know will provide optimum academic achievement and social growth.
Our routines have orbited around safe health practices, as have our learning opportunities. When routines and learning opportunities are not able to be offered in the intentional ways we know will best meet our young learners' needs, their social/emotional development is impacted as well, since the situations where they would typically learn to interact, solve problems and develop positive communication strategies are interrupted too.
"There have been many difficult moments for many different students and problem solving with them has not been easy. Some students can talk through difficult moments, problem solve together, and advocate for their needs. Many other students cannot. " - Jennifer Orr
As a Peace Education school, we have intentionally developed routines and strategies intended to support our learners' overall academic/social/emotional growth from Kindergarten through to Grade 4. Teaching principles of kindness, joy, harmony and peace through literature, service projects, exploring simple social justice issues, community initiatives, stories, Roots of Empathy and shared experiences, our learners gradually build on early experiences with understanding how to approach the world through lenses of kindness, joy, harmony and peace to support each other and communicate effectively.
As learners progress from Kindergarten through to Grade 4, they begin to see themselves as positive members of a community and acquire communication skills that effectively solve problems, support children to see each other as capable and unique, approach adverse situations from a solutions-focused perspective. This is achieved through developing intentional opportunities for active learning in a wide variety of situations throughout the school year, and offering opportunities for children to engage in whatever learning supports that will help them learn and socialize most successfully (such as SPARK, Calm, Ignite Time, Wonder Time, Discovery, etc).
When we opened EHS, we began this intentional weaving of multiple learning opportunities with social/emotional teachings, knowing this would yield a pattern of student leaders across the school as each year's incoming new learners would be immersed with peers who have already developed communication and learning strategies to support optimum growth. And we were able to celebrate and experience this for the first four years - the sudden pandemic shut down of March, 2020 also slammed the door on this best laid plan.
We now have three years' of learners - those who entered grade 1 in 2020, 2021 and 2022 - whose beginning experiences of school have not included the usual level of interaction, group learning, shared experiences and shared communication we would typically design and offer in our school. While we have worked hard to try and offer as many learning opportunities as possible, with the various constraints and occasional episodes of online learning, most learners have not been able to participate in the more open, spontaneous learning and socialization experiences that best support optimal academic growth and communication development. While I have noted the three years of grade 1 entry as experiencing significant interruptions, there have been impacts on all students - even students in grade 4 this year have only had two years (grades 1 and 2) of expected, intentional school-based experiences.
Simultaneously, social interactions outside of school such as participation with sports teams, birthday parties, play dates, dance, music lessons, family or friend gatherings, etc. have all been interrupted too.
As all of society begins to grapple with 'living with COVID', there is considerable conversation occurring about 'getting back to normal'. The problem with the call to return to normal is that there really isn't any normal to return to in a school setting - for most of our learners, not communicating with anyone outside of a select group (i.e. your classmates) is what they know and, when they do try to interact with someone new outside of their tightly cohorted circle, there are very few problem solving strategies that have been practiced successfully ready to be used immediately. Students do not have previous experiences working in bigger spaces with multiple learners from other classes or grade levels so entering into a new learning opportunity is no longer routine and knowing how to do this successfully is a skill many children have yet to acquire.
"We are social beings - we are not meant to struggle on our own...Our children will have a reservoir of resilience from living through the pandemic, they have learned to cope with levels of isolation. Social situations opening up will present challenges...Learning to work through issues together will become the goal as children adapt to new stressors in their worlds." - Dr. Mona Delahooke
As a school, we are exploring gentle ways of opening back up again to the multiple learning opportunities and experiences that previously defined our school, with the intention to scaffold our learners into situations where they will be able to try out positive communication strategies, problem solve, be supportive of each other, accept, embrace and understand each learner is unique and brings gifts and talents of their own. Appreciate and value each other in a wide variety of learning situations. We will be nudging children away from just one 'best friend' towards developing connections with many friends, in both academic and social situations.
Fortunately, we have not encountered huge learning losses and gaps amongst our youngest students - with some additional support and the help of amazing parents, most of our learners are where we would expect them to be, 3/4 of the way through the school year. However, the social/emotional interactions are proving to be more noticeable and also more challenging to deal with as we begin to explore a world without constraints - even as the virus maintains its presence in our school and in our communities.
While there may not be a 'normal' to return to in a K - 4 school significantly impacted by the virus itself as well as the constraints put in place to protect the health of our learning community as much as possible, there are learners eager to find all possible paths to successful growth academically and socially. And that is why we will be building intentional connections amongst all our students in the coming weeks and months to foster new beginnings relationally across the student population.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"When events in the world are scary and tragic, it's totally understandable to want to protect our children from it. Our instinct is to let them keep believing that the world is safe and that bad things don't happen, for as long as possible.
But kids are incredibly attuned to our emotional states, stressed expressions and any tension at home. They easily sense when something's going on or when things aren't right. Without an adult to explain what is happening, children’s imaginations often create scenarios that are even worse than reality." - Dr. Aliza W. Pressman (Raising Good Humans)****************************There is a war happening in Ukraine. Just typing these words seems surreal in the 21st century - yet again, our histories continue to haunt us into our futures. And the children who are already living through an unprecedented pandemic are now exposed to a war that is highly visible in western societies - especially those whose populations are linked to Ukraine as we are in Alberta and in Canada.
In my 32-year career, I have taught children connected to 9/11, the Bosnian/Serbian war, the Iraq war, the Syrian war and the Afghan war - not to mention numerous other conflicts around the world. I believe it is important to respond appropriately and honestly to children when they ask questions, when they are trying to make sense of incomprehensible events and help them find a way to process strange things in a strange world to carry forward with hope and without fear.
Our learners are very young - ages 5 - 10 years for the most part. Dr. Aliza W. Pressman, clinical psychologist and Director of the Mt. Sinai Parenting Foundation, author and podcast presenter of the 'Raising Good Humans' books and podcasts, specializes in resiliency and supporting parents with guiding healthy childhood development. When considering how to best approach conversations about the Ukraine/Russia war with my grandchildren and our students, it is in Dr. Pressman's words that I find best guidance. I do recommend checking out her podcast, Raising Good Humans on a wide variety of parenting topics as well.************************
"There is a war in Ukraine. This is all over the news, all over social media, all of our hearts and minds. If we don’t get in front of explaining this to our kids, they will explain it to themselves."
- Dr. Aliza W. Pressman
*****************************Dr. Pressman offers 9 key points for discussing the war in Ukraine with our children, included in her bulletin at https://draliza.bulletin.com/talking-about-ukraine-with-our-childrenI am including them here as well:
Take a deep breath, so you are calm and regulated. It can help to physically put your hand on your heart to soothe your nervous system.
See what they know. “You may have heard about what is happening in Ukraine. I’m curious what you know and I’m here to answer questions.”
Be honest and clear. “Russia has invaded Ukraine, and as with any war, people will be hurt and killed. That’s why you’re seeing so many grown-ups who are so sad. You are safe, we are safe, but we care about the experience of people even when they are far away.”
Pause. Let the information land. See what your child has to say.
Listen. Make room for any reaction. Your child does not need to be interested, or sad, we just need to tell them so that they don’t pick up on unspoken cues of our collective distress.
Describe the age-appropriate facts. If your child has questions, look up answers together on child-friendly news sources, like Newsela. If your child is repeating mis-information, help them to think through more reliable sources. Answer only the questions they’ve asked and resist going into longer explanations. This is not one conversation, but unfortunately an ongoing discussion.
When you can’t answer a question, acknowledge it. These are complicated questions that are an opportunity for critical thinking, investigation, and the acceptance of a reality where we don’t always have answers. Get comfortable with the idea that we can’t solve these problems for our children or ourselves, but that we can help make peace with the discomfort and uncertainty.
Stick to routines. Whenever things in the world feel uncertain, even far away, it’s important to lean on routines to keep things as stable as possible for your child. This is also helpful to manage your own emotions and be present for your family.
If you notice your child is having anxiety around current events, after this discussion or at any point, let them know that you are there and strategize ways for them to remain informed while also taking care of their own emotions. Reassure them that it makes sense to feel anxious right now, and that we all feel similarly.
*****************************As a peace education school, we focus on building empathy, care and harmony in every circumstance, and on the ways in which we can help build a peaceful community. Many of Dr. Pressman's suggestions are likely to be included in any conversations with students that occur in the coming days, and possibly weeks, about the war in Ukraine, as well as making deliberate connections to literature, poetry and specific efforts to build peaceful communities together.
We do this by showing our solidarity with Ukrainians in the face of invasion, by answering questions honestly and fairly without alarmist or accusatory language, by reassuring anxieties that might suddenly emerge and by ensuring our conversations with children acknowledge truths while also encouraging critical thinking, questioning and research to make as much sense as possible of specific events and stories that emerge from the conflict.
We will stick to routines as much as possible at school, as always, and develop engaging learning activities for our students to keep their minds actively making sense of new concepts and weaving new understandings. A world where war casts a shadow impacts the experience of childhood but it does not destroy childhood, nor love, nor imagination. Carefully navigated, even making sense of war has the potential to be a positive learning experience where children build resiliency, empathy and care for the world.
And just now, it seems like that might be the most important work we do with children in these first decades of the 21st century. *****************************"Keep in mind that there is really never a reason to expose children to TV news reports and graphic details of scary topics. Large doses of media coverage can be very harmful even to adults. The news is built on keeping an audience engaged and anxious. Turn it off the minute you feel your nervous system become activated. You can keep informed without obsessively watching the news, and are modeling for your family how to keep connected without becoming unhinged." - Dr. Aliza W. Pressman (Raising Good Humans)*****************************
Lorraine Kinsman, PrincipalEric Harvie School