Creating School Community in Time of COVID-19

Black Shirt Day

There has been a concerted effort in Canada to keep school open from Kindergarten to Grade 12 largely to address social-emotional needs for stability and predictability for students in their world. Other natural disasters have kept students from school with surprisingly little impact on their academic achievement. “When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita decimated Louisiana in 2005, student achievement did not plummet” (1). “Researchers who followed elementary students displaced from schooling after the Enschede fireworks disaster in the Netherlands in 2000 reported that short-term achievement increased” (2). What has remained constant is the need for responsive parents stepping in to establish a caring context and a sense of normalcy.

Classroom teachers have welcomed students back to school during the pandemic and gone about integrating rigorous handwashing procedures, staying in cohorts, sanitizing equipment, creating a safe and secure classroom environment, and assigning weekly outdoor play zones.  Kids were delighted to return to school full time in September and are going about the business of learning.  I have dealt with fewer office referrals for poor choices than ever before in my career as a vice-principal, or principal.  Students have a common language around self-regulation and restorative practices which necessitate empathy.  Teachers have developed a strong sense of personal efficacy in their ability to keep their students safe and learning in their classrooms.

Creating community across groups presents a greater challenge.  Building community on staff usually involves eating lunch together, discussions at Staff Meetings, participation in professional development and chatting while waiting for the photocopier or signing in at the office each morning.  The landscape for creating and solidifying relationships has shifted significantly.  This has made the development of collective efficacy a big challenge.  Yet, Hattie’s finding that collective efficacy yields an impact size on student learning of 1.39 (3) makes it a goal worth aspiring to. 

Teachers experienced the first pivot to the virtual world when all classroom instruction went online after Spring Break in 2020.  Our connection point was the TEAMS Meeting.  There were varying degrees of understanding and use of this Office 365 Platform.  The platform had been set up by the previous principal.  Thanks, Mr. Peeters.  I had attended training with a team of teachers and set up the channels like chapters of a book, for ease of access.  There was a steep learning curve on how to host a meeting and required Microsoft changes to make this process more transparent, like it’s ZOOM competition.  However due to the integration of options to set up instruction for students online and create portfolios of work, the district decided that the Office 365 platform was closest to hitting the target of meeting our needs in the Vancouver School Board.

The weakness of early meetings was on me.  I had already mastered creating a PowerPoint to engage staff in discussion during staff meetings with stopping points for discussion.  When I created the PowerPoint slides to share on a screen with my staff, I lost the ability to keep my finger on the pulse of the room.    My years of training as a facilitator fell by the wayside, as I invited people to a meeting, talked through the PowerPoint presentation, then asked for questions, comments, and input to icons with video off and muted microphones.  Minimal response.  No interaction between staff.  No community building.  Really bad meetings. 

As my background knowledge has increased, the meetings have gotten better.  Information items on shared on the appropriate channel of The LivingstoneStaff TEAM.  At staff request, a weekly SWAAG (Staff Week At A Glance) was published on the weekend.  I started to plan staff meetings with greater opportunity for staff to talk to each other.  I put people into break out rooms during TEAMS meetings with a question for discussion.  I facilitated a course for administrators through the British Columbia Principals Vice Principals Association in early July 2020 via ZOOM.  We were magically put into rooms with our group of 6 people first thing in the morning, at the end of the day, and for discussion throughout the day.  By the end of the four-day course, we had established a sense of rapport and we easily engaged in discussion.  Retirements, shifts to other jobs in the district and leaves have resulted in a significant number of new staff.  I have been assigning staff to random groups to help them get to know each other.  It has also provided more focused discussion around school goals. 

I have also now learned to visit each room during breakout sessions.  I’m going to date myself now – I feel exactly like Jeannie, from the 70’s sit com, I Dream of Jeannie.  I have an impulse to cross my arms and nod my head while I appear in a room.  I was concerned that I would stifle conversation, but that doesn’t seem to be the case when I miraculously appear in the room.  I have felt in some sessions that participants assume performance mode when a facilitator enters the break-out room.  However, the conversation has fluidly carried on.  I believe it is because we have already established a rapport.  I also don’t stay long in each group.

The International Literacy Association has offered professional development online and there are a number of excellent sessions focused on asynchronous and synchronous learning.  They suggest that the break-out session should have a time limit of about 10 minutes with a specific response task.  I have tried the reporting back to the group from each group but I have not had favourable feedback about this process.  This week, I provided an Office 364 form to complete with feedback about future directions and requests for additional support.  Looking forward, I intend to make better use of tools such as Padlet.   I’m looking for other suggestions if you have any. 

Student community is usually developed through shared activities that bring students together for a common activity, crossing paths on the playground, and work with buddy classes.   The only face to face community building is during outdoor play where each cohort is assigned a time and a play zone.  Two recess times and two lunch times.  Again, the landscape for creating and solidifying relationships has shifted significantly.

My first effort to build student community online in March was met with marginal success.  I would video-tweet out a message to students from various places to connect with students via the Twitter feed on the school website.  I was given good marks for risk taking, but I was fairly wooden and never happy with the end product. 

In September, I requested that an All-Students TEAM be set up for communication with the entire student body and staff.  There is a channel for online performances and the capability for me to do online school assemblies.  Again, I have been given high marks for risk taking as the students have witnessed my learning curve.  I have done a particularly nice job of modeling resilience in the face of failure.  I am fortunate to have a BFF from high school who is a digital media specialist.  I’ve learned to follow his direction and to understand what I did wrong when I opt for a short cut.  Thanks, Armando!    

As a school principal, I cross all cohorts and wear a mask when I am outside of my office.  After a school wide assembly in fall, a number of primary students mentioned that they really liked seeing my whole face.  Apparently, my eyes tell that I’m smiling but it’s nice when my mouth does some of the work.  I decided that I needed to engage with the students in a way other than being out on the playground in mornings, after school, and at breaks. 

My new tech challenge was inspired by Sol Kay, a parent in my school community when I was principal at University Hill Elementary School.  She invited me to participate in a documentary she was doing on mindfulness and posted as part of her series on Instagram – InnerLight Journey by Sol.  Along with scaffolding from Sol, Steve Dotto @DottoTech, and the iMovie Made Easy course by Shelly Saves the Day on YouTube @shellysavesthe, I stuck my toe into the water.

In my capacity as president of the British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association, I have been working on a project with our provincial council.  We have put out an invite for people to participate in creating an annotated bibliography of books to share with students to support social emotional learning by representing the diverse cultures within our B.C. schools, as well as providing stories or resilience, and social justice.  Our goal is not to create a strictly didactic list but recommend high quality literature which share authentic voices and stories to nurture empathy and understanding.  Special thanks to Mr. Muress, our librarian at Livingstone, for the many selections he has added to the list. 

I wanted to create a YouTube channel with me reading these highly recommended books to support the development of shared understandings at our school.  I chose to read picture books that were accessible to primary students to read, but also provided models for the writing of students in the intermediate grades.  With Armando on speed dial, my product is getting better.  I wasn’t certain it was reaching my intended audience or worth the time and effort I was putting into the project.  Then last week, I was teaching in a Grade 6/7 class when we were short a guest teacher.  One of the students in the class told me that his brother listens to me read every night when he is going to sleep.  The highlight of the month for me.  I’m inspired to carry on and improve.  The power of positive reinforcement. 

I have since learned that I need better sound for it to be projected to the class.  I now have the appropriate adapter and a microphone to improve the sound.  Armando has provided more scaffolding for me to master green screen.  Ms. Lirenman and her class are providing Keynote support.  Speakers who are part of the International Literacy Association speakers via ILA Next have also provided a number of follow-up ideas to develop reading and writing skills.

Shirt days have also been a positive way of facilitating group activity and stimulating conversation, largely about social justice issues that are so closely tied to social studies curriculum, and social emotional learning.  Terry Fox shirts came out en mass for the annual Terry Fox Run.  Our favourite Canadian hero had lots to teach us, even if we participated at different times of the day in cohorts.  On Orange Shirt day, students learned about residential schools, and the learning shared with us by our Indigenous people.  Black Shirt Day refocused our attention on the purpose and meaning of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms.  February 24th, Anti-Bullying Day is on the horizon.  Teachers, SSA’s, the supervision aids, the custodians, the Office Assistants, the Spare Time Coordinator, our Director of Instruction, and I will all be wearing the CKNW shirts with “Lift Each Other Up” for Pink Shirt Day and throughout the rest of the year.  Proceeds support local anti-bullying programs that teach empathy, compassion, and kindness.  We want kids to understand our shared role in supporting each other across cohorts and our collective responsibility.

Ms. Ferreira, our Kindergarten teacher, kicked off the first Wild Hair theme day.  It was followed up with Hockey Jersey day to celebrate the return of hockey to break the monotony of Netflix.  Mr. Bring, our Grade 7 teacher, is working with student leadership on other ways we can create school spirit. 

Student voice in our online school assemblies has been a great way to focus student attention.  Our Division 13 Kindergarten students and our Division 1 Grade 7’s have both done a great job at the Indigenous acknowledgment at the beginning of assemblies.  We have now scheduled regular, monthly assemblies, and plan to incorporate more student voice. 

We continue to look for ways to include parents more in our online school community.  PAC Meetings have all been online since March.  Access to the school has been limited.  Parents do have online access to the All-Students TEAM through their child.  This was most widely accessed during the Winter Show N’Share.  Some parents continue to enjoy the regular tweets about school activities and resources that are available to parents.  I am also trying to write more blog posts to provide parents with specifics around instruction and reporting.  My recent post, Reporting Student Achievement in British Columbia, provides parents with an overview of recent changes in reporting in British Columbia and what they can expect in the formal written reports being issued in January.  I’m looking for more ideas, if you have suggestions. 

Footnotes:

1 and 2 – “Lessons From Pandemic Teaching For Content Area Learning” in The Reading Teacher, November/December 2020, Volume 74, Number 3, page 341.

3 – Hattie, J. & Smith, R., (2021).  10 Mindframes for Leaders.  The Visible Learning Approach to School Success.  Corwin.  Thousand Oaks. 

Terry Fox in Times of Covid-19

I paused when I considered the annual Terry Fox School Run this year. This surprised me. I have both a personal and professional connection to the run. I am old enough to have the memory of the kid dipping his toe in the Atlantic, starting on his lonely run, then capturing the imagination of a country. I no longer have enough fingers and toes to count the number of community and school runs that I have participated in. Terry Fox defined my identity as a Canadian. Yet, I faltered. My job as a school principal is to ensure safety.

Inspired by Terry Fox

I am a big fan of a party.  That is what Terry Fox Runs have become.  The crowds flocking to runs do not capitalize on the gut-wrenching sadness of cancer, they ride high on the belief that every person has the capacity to take risks and do great things.  They are fun.  We do make a difference. The Terry Fox Foundation has raised over $800 million dollars towards cancer research. There is a cure for the type of cancer that Terry had. The Terry Fox Run was my first of many 10 K runs.  Someone told me towards the end of the run that I had good form.  In every run since, when I’m sure I have to stop, I straighten up and am buoyed up to finish. 

I have well developed organizational skills and the desire to engage the whole school community during Annual Terry Fox School Runs.  Last year, the music was pumping, the kids were energized, the gigantic Terry Fox flag flying, and families and neighbours flocked to the school to cheer us on.  Kids were proud of the distance they ran and the money they were able to fundraise for cancer research.  Terry Fox inspired them.  COVID-19 caused me to balk.  How could this be done following the required COVID-19 guidelines? 

I am very grateful to my staff for providing the impetus for the run this year.  Matt Carruthers brought it up at a staff meeting and the date was set. He provided the schedule for running in learning groups/ cohorts, and the crew to distribute and collect cones.  Staff led the charge in their classrooms with lessons and inspiration about Terry Fox.   I set up the online donations site and sent the letter home explaining how the Terry Fox Run would look different at Livingstone Elementary in times of COVID.  My heart held more trepidation than enthusiasm. 

I started run day with a talk about Terry Fox.  My heart fills with pride when I talk about who we have self-selected as a Canadian hero.  Who had a more valid reason to feel sorry for himself and to feel really angry?  The kid had lost his leg to cancer.  Yet, that was not what defined him.  He set a goal to raise $1.00 from every Canadian to go towards cancer research.   Done by February 1st of 1981.  Yet that was not what defined him.  He is defined by perseverance.   He was not always the best at things that he loved, like basketball.  It didn’t stop him from loving the game and trying to improve.  He is defined by empathy and sympathy.  He experienced the ravages of cancer and its impact on other kids in the hospital with him.  He didn’t let adversity immobilize him.  He was able to think of how he could make the lives of other people better.  He was willing to do something really hard.  And in the process, he captured our imaginations and gave us hope.  He defined heroism in a very Canadian way.

On the Livingstone run day, the gigantic flag and the cones were in place. Most families respected my request to participate via our Twitter feed @LivingstoneVSB on the school website. The Spare Time Treehouse Preschoolers led off the run on the gravel field first thing in the morning. The final learning group / cohort was still running according to schedule at 2:30 pm. Ms. Janze’s class had inspirational chalk messages of encouragement on the sidewalk. Kids were laughing and having fun. They were setting personal goals of how many laps they would do. As we progressed through the day, the donations to the Livingstone School Run continued to roll in. At last check, we were at $2,814.95. Precious dollars we are able to contribute to cancer research when donations to charities are down due to the global pandemic.

In times of COVID-19, there are many disappointments and challenges to maintaining a positive outlook.  Terry Fox is perhaps our very best example in Canada, of how adversity does not have to conquer.  The #beliketerry and #tryliketerry capture how it is possible to move beyond sadness and anger to strengthen community and make a positive impact in a world that needs it.  And my heart soars 🙂

Seeking Out Joy

Bhangra Joy with Gurdeep Pandher

The first tweet @GurdeepPandher that I saw was from his little cabin in the Yukon.  His bhangra dancing with abandon filled my heart with joy.  For those of you that know me well, this will not surprise you.  Dancing with abandon always fills my heart with joy.  And so, I retweeted.  And I have continued to retweet as he has danced his way around Canada through the COVID-19 pandemic.  He’s danced in Nova Scotia, in Ottawa, with the Canadian Armed Forces, and to bagpipe music. The list goes on. And every time he dances, he makes me smile.

I am on the Board of Directors for Wild About Vancouver.  Gurdeep has inspired the dream of people dancing their favourite dances outdoors throughout the Lower Mainland of Vancouver and tweeting it out @WildAboutVan.   It would be brilliant.  I am also back at school as principal of David Livingstone Elementary School. He has inspired the notion of teaching kids dances that they can do outside at recess and lunch. Socially distanced joy. Not a bad plan!

I went to Gurdeep’s website and was able to purchase and download music for bhangra dancing and sign up for an online dance class.  AND I was able to do my first class this morning and talk to Gurdeep.  He is just as lovely in person (which means on ZOOM in the COVID-19 world) as he is in his tweets.  His direction:

Stand up straight and engage your core.

Shoulders back.

Chin up.

Express joy in your face, and happiness in your heart and soul, with a smile.

This is certainly one pathway to mental health and physical fitness. I certainly need more practice to coordinate moving my arms and legs in sync with the hops but then … joy on the playground and around the Lower Mainland. Thanks, Gurdeep!

Check out his site ( gurdeep.ca) and join the celebration and opportunity to, as Gurdeep puts it – “Have some fun in the chaos.”

The Best or Worst Versions of Ourselves?

With the advent of the COVID-19 global pandemic, we are witnessing extreme versions of people. Some people take Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice to “Be Kind” to heart. We see examples of people choosing to be the best version of themselves and acting with generosity and kindness. Then there are the other people who unleash a nastiness and vitriol that we only saw hints of in past interactions. The ongoing conversation has become, do difficult times reveal the actual predisposition of a person or does it reveal of lack of coping skills?

What do people see when they look at you?

Since the beginning of civilization, there are examples of people who seek out those opportunities to dominate others.  The motivations have ranged from selfishness, jealousy, insecurity, entitlement, sadism or fear of losing power.   We have historical relics such as the pyramids, the Great Wall of China, concentration camps and the documentation of slavery, as glaring examples of this.  With COVID-19, there are increased reports of family breakdown, abuse, separation, divorce, racism, and volatility in the community.   Last week, a Kitsilano resident assumed the responsibility for aggressively questioning people on the beach, where they were from and ordering them home to their own neighbourhood.  There is no shortage of examples of outrageous, opportunistic, and perhaps Machiavellian behaviour to warrant responses of anger, depression and dismay. 

Yet, the friendliness and kindness is palpable on a daily basis.  There are so many examples of generosity and kindness in person and online that have the capacity to fill our heart with gratitude.  The smiles, the friendly conversation, inspirational stories, and the commiserating over lines at stores are daily occurrences.  The 7 o’clock salute to thank health care workers has expanded from pots and pans to include percussion instruments, car and boat horns, sirens, and in some cases full bands.  In their lives, did these people receive good character education with an emphasis on moral justice, integrity, and kindness from friends, families, or teachers? 

In my heart of heart, I don’t believe in truly bad people who go out into the world with a mission to make other people miserable.  And yes, good people have bad days.  However, all of us are called on to make choices and are responsible for those choices.  The COVID-19 global pandemic will be one of those times when the measuring stick comes out to judge where we were as a civilization in 2020.  History will hold out the examples of the human capacity for greatness, or like Margaret Wheatley points out, the very clear indicators of the fall of yet another civilization.  We will be held responsible for how we raised up the voices of those in need of help and encouragement, and how we responded on a societal or individual level.   

“Fenced In” during COVID-19 Lockdown

Lockdown in the city.  Although social distancing could have been the answer to the dramatic effort to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, stronger government measures have been required to enforce common sense measures like social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.  As a result, most of us are in our homes for most of the day in Vancouver and many other places throughout the world.  Only Taiwan used the SARS experience to prepare adequately to manage this recent global pandemic.  For people in Taiwan, life includes travel restrictions, regular temperature checks, masks, and strictly enforced isolation for people who have travelled or feel sick.  It also includes going to work, restaurants, and the gym.  For the rest of us, we’re inside.  No socializing.  No yoga.  No gym. No eating out at restaurants.  No visits to the local coffee shop to sit, work or socialize.  Even the logs at the popular Vancouver beaches have been gathered and fenced in to prevent people from gathering and socializing in groups.  The quest to cope is daunting for many who feel like they have exchanged control of their lives for abject boredom.  However we continue to have control of how we perceive our situation and how we spend our time.

I am grateful that we our two week Spring break that pushed the card on self isolating and government enforcement of Health and Safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while my family, friends and my school community are still healthy.  Prior to the break, our school did a good job of reminding kids to wash hands properly, cough into their elbows, and maintain clean spaces and surfaces.  We are now in a better position to teach and reinforce the importance of social distancing.

My Grandma Derksen kept four young kids together and alive through-out World War II in Germany.  She lived to be 100 years old,  Her stories of rats nibbling on toes in emergency shelters and other horrific conditions framed her later life.  She demonstrated a fastidious attention to cleanliness.  For her joy came with a clean and organized household.  When I was newly married, I’d take a toothbrush to crevices when she came to visit and shove piles of stuff into closets.  The family joke has always been that the clean gene skipped my genetic make-up.  I prefer to go out and do something.  If I’m at home, I’d prefer to read or write rather than clean the house.

I was gifted with the collector gene of my Grandma Keenan.  Books, rocks, shells, tea cups, photos, letters and other treasures carry stories and possibilities.  My recent obsession with clean surfaces have brought the realization that the clutter also brings dust and presents a cleaning challenge.  I will require more than a two week lock-down to meet the Grandma Derksen standard, but I am well on my way.

My recent painting, organizing, and cleaning obsession has been made enjoyable with audio-books and the Netflix binge watch.  I have discovered that weekly featured audiobooks are available for under $10.00 and some great classics are even cheaper.  Nothing like a hard boiled detective with Tourettes to entertain you while you paint a bedroom.  Multiple seasons of a series on Netflix with well developed characters has kept me shuffling papers and sorting “stuff” well into the night.

Social media has the merits of checking in on people and statistics, but like binge watching television or the news can become a black hole.  It has the same capacity as empty grocery store shelves to fill me with anxiety and apprehension.  My mother was the ultimate worry wart.  The worst things that happened in her life were the things she never saw coming.  The worry just made her more nervous and less able to experience joy.  I have found the need to just turn it off.   Daily technology and television breaks are mandatory.

Reading is how I cope with life.  It allows me to shift gears.  It provides the front-end loading that feeds my curiosity and helps me process life.  It allows me to do big picture thinking and make sense of things in the past and yet to come.  It’s not an “add on” to a busy schedule but part of my life.  The additional time at home has diversified my reading.  I am even listening to a grisly book called Still Lives that would make my older sister proud – the ultimate consumer of scary books and movies.  I just finished a book called Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang that has reframed my thinking around work/ life balance.

Daily outdoor exercise is part of the mix.  It provides a welcome addition to the day.  There is something to be said for the positive addition of having time with nature to calm our nervous system and experience joy in its beauty.  There is time for long walks and bike rides.  My preference is for long bike rides because it gives me a better way to work out.  Spring is a great time of year.  As new growth emerges, so do the possibilities for learning, considering things in a new light and creativity.  With this new learning and inspiration comes the desire to write and to cook.  Olive’s bran muffins from when my cousin and I worked on 4th Avenue at The Computer Tax Service, Nanny Keenan’s oatcakes, along with homemade croutons have become staples.

By the end of the day, I still find I have more to do.   Today I will venture out into the rain.  Then the promise of a pot of tea and a good book.  Tonight I have decided that it will be date night.  I will put on nice clothes and perhaps even make-up and make a fancy dinner.   Something to change things up.  I may even let my husband teach me a new card game.  My husband will be delighted not to be co-opted into another organizational venture!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winning at Life

 

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High School Graduation from Magee Secondary – One Win

Simon Sinek could define school as a finite game that you choose to play.  It has an agreed set of rules that must be followed to win.  Do the work.  Pass the test.  Win with good grades.  Graduate.  Gordon, Renee and I were taking the win as we traipsed across the stag.  However, Life is an infinite game.  There is not an agreed upon set of rules.  How do you know if you’re winning?

Teachers have a special role in helping students to meet with success at school.  Teachers hone a skill set that takes their own personal interests and desire to teach children while focusing on ways to develop the skills for students to win at life.  This includes engaging in learning, developing healthy relationships, demonstrating resilience in the face of loss, and the flexibility and thinking skills to cope with change.   If the teacher is from British Columbia, they are challenged to consider how content can be used to develop core competencies (thinking, communicating, personal/ social)  to succeed in the requirements of daily personal and social life, currently defined jobs and those jobs that will emerge as possibilities in the future.

The most basic premise of self-regulation is the ability to manage your own emotions.  Accomplishing this task is the very basis of success in every aspect of life.  The flight or fight response is a basic instinct in animals in response to perceived danger.  This response is helpful to human beings when faced by a predator.  However, this response is not at all helpful in resolving conflicts with peers or persevering to solve a difficult math equation.  Teaching children to regulate their emotions, allows them to take control of the response of the reptilian brain to fight or run, and use strategies to calm down.  Only when students are calm, are they able to problem solve and learn effectively.  Dr Stuart Shanker isolates five domains of self-regulation:

  • biological
  • emotion
  • cognitive
  • social
  • pro-social

Considering the strengths and areas for development in all of these five domains requires a different approach to writing curriculum, teaching and reporting student learning to parents.  The old rules of playing the game included defining a specific body of information to memorize, testing to demonstrate mastery and grades to rank performance.  The playing field has broadened and so have the rules and the complexity of the game.  The intention of reporting student learning is to provide a teacher perspective about learning at a specific point in time that incorporates student voice.

Areas of strength are presented and often reflect student enthusiasm and focused attention.   Areas for further growth may reflect a need for repetition and practice, persistence, or use of strategies to focus attention.  Including the ways to support the student in developing the weaker areas or nurture burgeoning talents, keeps us responsible to attending to the specific needs of each child.  The ultimate goal is for the teacher, child and families to engage in celebration and goal setting in response to this information.

The British Columbia Ministry of Education mandates a minimum or five reports to parents.  The intention is to take into consideration the diverse ways that teachers engage parents in participating in the learning of their child.  It capitalizes on the research by John Hattie et al. that emphasizes improved student learning when parents are involved.  Conferences, formal report cards, celebrations of learning, phone calls, interim reports, notes home, and student agendas are all possible ways that teachers structure communication to involve parents in the learning of their child.  If you still have questions, call the teacher.  They undoubtedly will have more to say.

What’s the Deal with Self-Regulation? Part 1 – Social Emotional Learning

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Self-regulation is a term at risk of getting lost in the world of educational buzz words. I believe clarity about this concept is mandatory because it is so foundational to how we function in our homes, our schools, and the world we move in.  Simply stated self-regulation is how we manage our emotions, behaviour and thoughts in order to achieve our goals.  How we learn and teach self-regulation is an extremely complex endeavour.

The most well-developed conversation around self-regulation is in the arena of social-emotional development.  We are seeing too much stress compromising the brain/body regulatory systems that support thinking, emotion regulation, and social engagement in communities of people.   Dr. Gabor Mate tells us this is coming from an increasing sense of alienation being experienced in society as a whole.  Dr. Stuart Shanker (on Twitter @StuartShanker ) states it is due to the overt stressors causing dysregulation in the behaviour, mood, attention and physical well-being of a child, teen or adult.

One key focus in the school is helping students to manage emotions so that students are able to learn, develop relationships and maintain friendships.  If students are going to be included in the social fabric of the school, they need to be able to make good choices around identifying their feelings, developing a bank of calm down strategies to use as needed,  to problem solve, repair relationships and come up with a plan for next time.

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I particularly like The Zones of Regulation program developed by Leah Kuypers.  It provides the materials to instruct our kids how to identify and understand our emotions.  Many children over the years have told me that anger is a “bad” emotion.  It often takes reteaching that emotions and thoughts do not make you a bad person.  Hitting or swearing in the midst of being angry represent poor choices not a statement on your character.  It is very liberating for children to learn they have to power to make good choices even if they are tired or sad or angry.  I also love the Zone of Regulation chart available at Odin Books on Broadway in Vancouver, that facilitates the development of  class banks of possible strategies to cope with being in the four identified colour “zones” that reflect basic emotions commonly experienced.  This allows kids to learn in a very tangible way that different people experience a range of emotions throughout any given day and have different ways of coping with the emotions they feel.  It also provides a diverse range of options that can be tried to self manage emotions.

The most powerful strategy to teach kids to self-calm is to slow down their breathing.   It is an accessible strategy that can be used in any context.   When students are having a biological fight or flight response to stress in their environment, slow breathing actually triggers the brain to calm down the body. This is why yoga has been popularized as a relaxation exercise.  Kids can also be prompted with the good ole’ count to 10 backwards.  A tool like opening and closing an expandable sphere from the dollar store or a chime are also frequently used with success.

It is our responsibility to support students with a range of spaces and places to support their ability to self-calm.  Classroom teachers have a range of tools and spaces within the classroom to support students.  At our school, we have open library times where students can get the support required to self calm if they are struggling with transitioning into the classroom at the beginning or the day or after lunch time.  It is a natural addition into the student’s schedule.  Students go to the library for a variety of purposes, to self calm, to engage in lifeskills programs, fulfill monitoring duties or check out books.  There is no stigma around leaving the classroom and going to another program.

Currently we have an Active Learning Room with mats and tools as a possible option to support students requiring a physical outlet.  This space is also a place to develop sensory integration skills and motor skills, as well as kineathetic awareness.  We are fortunate to have trained staff in The Ready Bodies Learning Minds program and are hoping to expand this program ,as it is a universal program recommended by physiotherapists.

Students are encouraged to explore physical outlets that may be successful in helping them to manage their emotions in a variety of contexts.  It may be as simple as walking to the water fountain or changing activities.   Going outdoors invites physical activity.  A great playground with swings, sports equipment that can go outside, and a field to run or walk around are all possible ways to self-calm that are accessible to the students at our school.  Big deciduous trees with falling leaves and a school garden is another avenue for students to re-direct their attention to assist in self-calming and outdoor learning.  We are fortunate to have a school garden with several garden beds, a perimeter of established plants, a little orchard, a Mud Kitchen for digging, and a bench for sitting and watching the garden, bugs and the visiting birds.  It is also overlooks the two mountain peaks know as The Lions or The Two Sisters for thousands of years.  The legend is of two twin sisters who are immortalized in the mountains as a reward for creating lasting peace between two nations who were traditionally enemies.  Not a bad place to learn, self-calm, problem solve and repair relationships.

Coming Soon –

What’s the Deal with Self-Regulation?

Part 2 – Managing Learning in School

City Life in a Temperate Rainforest

This blog post is intended for families in the school community to help get students prepared for the rainy season.

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I understand that in the far north, the Inuit people have many words for snow and ice.  Each word indicates an overt or sometimes subtle difference in the snow and ice.  It could reflect the conditions or qualities within the ice and snow.  As a Vancouverite, we see snow as fluffy which translates into not good for snowballs but very pretty.  There is “perfect snowball” weather which translates into good for building snow people, forts and snowballs.  Then there is wet snow which is horrific for driving in and is generally a wet, soggy mess.  There is slippy ice we can see and black ice that forms a slick surface and is hazardous on foot and in the car.  Our vocabulary around ice and snow is pretty basic.

Vancouver is an amazing place to live and is a popular tourist destination because of the oceans, the rivers, the lakes, the mountains and the green.   Basically it is amazing because of the water.  It provides an astounding range of things to do and a diversity of plants and animals in our own backyards.  It is a place that beckons us to “Get Outside”.  The reality is this amazing city exists because we live in a temperate rainforest.  The temperature remains mild throughout most of the year.  We don’t have snow and ice very often so we don’t really see the nuanced differences.  What we know is rain.  Throughout the year, it sprinkles, floats down water, drizzles, mists, showers, rains, rains cats and dogs, pours, and sleets.  I challenge you to add to the list of words and expressions to describe our plentiful precipitation.

The question that always comes up is what to do when it rains.  One option is to just stay inside.  I must admit, I love a rainy day when I can curl up with a good book and a pot of tea.  However this is just not a feasible everyday option.  Life goes on, even on a rainy day.  We have places to go and a body that requires activity to be healthy.  I believe there are three understandings to be ready for the rain.

Number 1:  Wardrobe Matters  If you are warm and dry, you are ready for anything.

The standards include:

A waterproof coat, preferably with a hood.  This allows maximum flexibility to do stuff.

Boots.  There will be puddles.

An umbrella.  I have purchased many and have left them all over the city.   I worked at Lost Property for Metro Transit when I was in university and there were hundreds of umbrellas of every size and colour left on busses.  Guess what the most common colour was abandoned in the Lost Property Department?

 Number 2:  Attitude Matters  Regardless of how miserably you complain, it will rain.

 If you choose to be miserable because it is raining, you are committing yourself to a lot of bad days.  When you frown at the world, it frowns back.  Smile and make a rainy day plan.

 Number 3:  Observe Rainy Day Life  Life in the rain is different.  Not better or worse, just different.

 Just after my daughter’s 6th birthday, we went traveling in Italy.  A torrential downpour hit one evening in Venice.  People ran for cover.  Our family was the only one strolling down the street and delighted with the break from the perpetual heat.  My daughter looked up at me and said “Oh, Mommy.  It smells like home.”

It did.  And it was glorious!

Perspective is everything.  Expect rain.  When it comes, dress appropriately and venture outdoors.  Adapt your activities to accommodate the changes.  Running on wet concrete can be a problem.  Find another option.  Going for a walk under a big umbrella is a good option.  Open your eyes and look for changes.  One of the first songs I learned in kindergarten at Queen Mary Elementary School from Mrs. Hicks was “Robin in the Rain.”  There is a reason there is a song about it.  Look how the plants and animals respond with joy to the rain.  Close your eyes and take a big breath and try to describe it.  Look up and notice how the clouds change.

Expect that almost every day will be an outdoor day.  And smile about it 🙂

Long Weekend Power Relax

Yes, I realize it sounds like the ultimate oxymoron BUT in the quest to cope with job stress, time is limited so strategizing is required.  This plan played out quite well for me on this Victoria Day long weekend. The weather cooperated and I am feeling grateful.

This may be the recipe… at least for me!

  1. Starting the weekend in a noisy, hip hop and happening hot spot like Local Bar and Grill.
  2. Finishing an entire book that I WANTED to read, as opposed to one I SHOULD read.  This requires reading in bed.  Curled up in a favourite chair.  In a great coffee shop (like 49th Parallel) with a sunny deck.
  3. Biking around the Stanley Park Seawall before the tourists have set out for the day.
  4. Breakfast at the perfect hole in the wall spot, yes called The Spot.
  5. Halsa Spa float in an ocean room.  Thanks for the introduction to this, Celia!
  6. Golfing.  Working out the angst on little white or fluorescent balls.  Soaking up the beautiful sounds and sights.
  7. Self designed Semperviva One day Yoga Retreat – Hatha in the am at the Sea Studio.  Restorative in the afternoon at the Kits Beach Studio.  Yin before bed at the Sun Studio.
  8. The promise of a good sleep 🙂
  9. Reaffirmation that there is life beyond work!

 

#NYR2019 – Do Less

One of my favorite reads of 2018 was Andrew Sean Greer’s hilarious book called LESS.  It is a laugh out loud book that has left me thinking about it for a long time.  What matters in life?  A work-life balance is elusive if work comprises a good chunk of what is in fact LIFE.  This year I have one all encompassing New Year’s Resolution.  A resolution that that I’m not even certain is achievable by me.

  1. Do Less.

I have finally come to the conclusion that more is not better.   More is exhausting and never allows for completion, no matter how hard I am running.   It also has a capacity to suck the joy out of life.  I am a writer and consumer of lists.  Things to do to get in shape.  People to call.  Books to read.  Places to go before I die.  Errands to complete.   Things to do before I finish the school year.  The month. The week. The day. Before I get up from my desk.  Goals, tasks and projects.

It all sounds very exhausting.  It is.  I have loved early mornings and delighted in late nights for most of my life.  As a child, my biggest challenge on long summer visits to see my father and step-mother, was staying in bed long enough to not get in trouble in the morning.  As I got older, I loved to read and dance and socialize late into the night.  However, as my Nanny Keenan reported, time moves faster as you get older.  And the lists move beyond fun to include many things that need to be done but do not fill my heart with joy.  I arrive home exhausted and can barely get up from the couch after dinner and an episode of Modern Family.

Ultimately the things I end up doing are not even on my list.  They are the things that jump up in front of me and require my immediate attention.  The time left over does not allow me to derive a sense of accomplishment from list completion.  I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the multitude of things not yet done.  Before I know it, I become a slave to my “Things To Do” list, and people are commenting on why I’m sending emails at 2:30 am.  Weekends are easily consumed trying to catch up.

This year, I aspire to change all of that.  The goal is not just DO LESS but to be JOYFUL DOING LESS.  To prioritize the things that matter most.  What are the things that require my undivided attention?  How is my attention to the task at hand going to make the biggest difference?  To my health?  To my well-being?  To my relationships?  To my integrity?  To the functioning of my school?  To my learning?  To my experience of joy in daily life?

The quest is to NOT to get lost in the minutia.  To engage in the things that matter over the long haul.  Yes, I still have a goal to read 100 books this year.  I didn’t make the target last year. Not because I couldn’t, but because I limited my reading to way too many books that I figured I SHOULD read.  This year, I’m blowing that open.  I still have a plan to get in better shape and relieve stress through exercise.  I will take the time to do the ENTIRE circuit around Stanley Park on my bike.  I’ll take the weekend to go skiing.  When I check off those items on the list, I will feel PURE JOY and NO GUILT.  I still aspire to actively participate in the BC Principal Vice Principal Association Committees, Book Clubs, the Wild About Vancouver Steering Committee, write more and embrace other sources of new learning as well.  Learners and learning energize me.  I also aspire to spend more time with students, teachers, parents and colleagues and acknowledge it as time well spent.  Emails, paperwork, and other tasks will not garner my immediate attention.  Everyday, the number one thing on my list will be to do some things that bring me joy.  I will invest in the people and things that I enjoy.  I will accept that I can’t do everything today.  I will do less.