Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Independent Writing

We have been working in several classrooms and while everything is not perfect (I know, small baby steps!), progress has been made.  This young lady was so proud of her independent writing and pleased to show us her whole writing book.

There are little pockets of work being done, but I am not sure how to get this going in its entirety. I am not sure how to impress upon staff that this is a moral imperative and these students won't have a second chance.  As a team, we recognize it is hard work to get everything going, but this work is so necessary. The gal making the work happen in the classroom in the picture is an Educational Assistant. She gets the big picture and wants to give these students a means of communication.  However, she can only go so far if the teacher is the barrier and administrators don't support the program (mostly because they don't understand the need).

With that in mind, our team has thought about providing administrators an opportunity to learn the basics.  I know they are not going to be teaching the students, but it is important for them to know what SHOULD be happening in their classrooms.  To that end, we are thinking about an Emergent Literacy 101 for administrators in the fall.  You know, everything you needed to know in three afternoons.  Our hope is that with this information, support for moving forward will be more obvious and teachers can rely on administrators to help them move it forward.

As well, our final PD for the year is coming up next week and part of that PD will be discussing the barriers that exist, whether they are created by ourselves or for other reasons.  We will share an accountability tool that we learned about at our "day 6 of the our emerging literacy training" last week.  Just by marking down the times we work with each student on an area will give the classroom an idea of what is or is not happening.  I believe teachers want the best and think about how they will do the work.  Then the day gets away with them and another day is gone without any literacy instruction.  For example, my sister teaches grade 2 is an is a first year teacher.  She said she knew the students needed guided reading but it wasn't her best skill (she was just learning about it) so she "wanted to have it daily" but then the day would end and guess what?  No guided reading.  So she was determined to do better and decided every day after recess would be guided reading.  Simply by being intentional, the guided reading has been happening.  We need intentionality in our classrooms for students with significant needs ALSO.  We just can't let the day float by with NO learning happening.

As Shanker stated in his book, "Calm, Alert and Learning," we have to remember to always presume that the "upward trajectory in learning will continue, no matter how elongated it may be" (p 133).  We must presume competence and pursue an intentional learning program for all students, including those with complex needs!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Prosocial Domain

image via PicturesNew

We continued our book study of Stuart Shanker's book, Calm, Alert and Learning in February.  The key points made included (p. 93):
-Students will have the ability to regulate others and co-regulate with others.
-Students will have a sense of honesty with themselves and others.
-Students will have empathy (really the big key in this chapter!) and care about the feelings of others and help them deal with their emotions.
-Students will learn to put the needs and interests of others ahead of their own when needed.
-Students will desire to do the "right thing" at the right time.

Discussion produced the following thoughts for the group:
1. This would be the hardest domain for students to learn because you have to think about the others rather than yourself.
2. There was wonder about how a teacher could teach about empathy if they were not empathetic themselves.  Teachers likely weren't taught empathy as a student and if they do not have empathy, how will they see this as a need?  What would the principal do in this case?  How do you "make" a grownup feel empathy?
3. What about cultural differences in the meaning of empathy?  Is empathy viewed the same in every culture?
4. Social emotional learning must be a part of a school culture.  It would difficult to teach it as an add-on.
5. It would take a very creative teacher to infuse this concept throughout the curriculum.  Teachers have a tough job!
6. Are our students desensitized to wrong doing and harmful behaviour because of television, video games and perhaps even modeling at home?
7. Students would need a very intact sense of self-identity and would need to learn that everything is "not all about me."
8.  We liked the idea of caring for pets (p. 110) but there are very few pets in schools anymore due to the fear of disease and allergies.  One of our social workers has a service dog and sees the value of "pet therapy" with students.  This has been very positive.  Here are a couple of articles about her work: here and on p. 24 of this publication.
9. Shanker lists the Roots of Empathy program that has had success in classrooms. Students interact with a baby and watch as it grows in their weekly visits.
10. Shanker also brings up the point that we can't focus on anti-bullying as this has limited success but instead should focus on belongingness (p. 96).  Schools should concentrate on what you should do instead of bringing focus to what you shouldn't do.
Finally, it was noted that students need to understand the true meaning of feeling words.  What does it really mean to be sad, happy, angry, etc.

Throughout this chapter, a great example of the positive work of a teacher was detailed with great ideas to use in the classroom, using literature and movies that the students are familiar with and could identify with. Rather than always looking to a canned program, there are so many ways to work within your classroom with tools readily at hand.  Without making this an infused part of the school culture, it is unlikely to make impact, however.  Every teacher and administrator needs to be a part of a culture of empathy and caring.

By the way, Stuart Shanker is making an Edmonton appearance again at the end of May.  Register here if you are interested!