Engaging families by Confronting Stereotypes

by Michelle Sanderson -First Nations Me’tis Achievement Consultant

STARS Student Teachers Against Racism

What is it that engages families? Especially, in regards to my position, for First Nation families?  I think about this question as I prepare for a PD drop-in for the early learning consultant’s workshop. She’s working with 21 new teachers and EA’s and has asked me to speak on one of the four pillars of early learning, engaging FNM families. There’s no easy answer, as the causes of disengagement are complex and multi-faceted. (She’s alloted me 15 minutes)

Through my research and experience as an anti-racist educator, I realize that because there has been a lack of deep and meaningful education regarding First Nations people, that, many teachers and school staff are coming into the position not having a critical analysis of some of the symptoms of colonialism that we see in some of our families. This is a critical problem of course, but can be minimized by stating that we teach to all children. Whether the achievement gap, or as some call it the education dept, agrees, is quite different. Of course, there are the exceptions, and no group of people have homogeneous qualities. But, what I do know, is that at some point, someone deliberately made a decision to not cover First Nation history in Canada’s education. I’ve heard stories of history majors working in our school division, who knew nothing of the Indian Act or residential school! -(until they took our treaty catalyst teacher training).  On a more upbeat path, I’m not the only one to notice this, and actions have been taken provincially to address this problem.  Amid the changes recently, is the inclusion of First Nation and Me’tis specific outcomes and indicators Saskatchewan has made mandatory to teach, in all grades from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. As well, the province has made teaching treaty outcomes and indicators mandatory. Since the mid 1990’s, recent graduates from teacher’s colleges, have been compelled by the University of Saskatchewan’s college of education to take anti-racist or Native Studies classes. I’m not sure if these classes are mandatory across Canada, or Saskatchewan for that matter. However I do applaud the University of Saskatchewan’s efforts to treat the roots of this problem and hopefully, we will continue to see growth in this area. On a side note,The University of Manitoba, has made Indigenous Studies classes mandatory in every college. Locally, within our own school division, we have had many events, including, but not all are listed, such as treaty catalyst teacher training and anti-racist/anti-oppressive education to address this education void. These are small efforts, but that’s how change happens.  I applaud those teachers for taking the time to get this training in our school division.  Along with the many benefits to having this training, is that it can only serve to create more skilled teachers in meeting the province’s outcomes and indicators and to create good relations amongst all people. (ie. interrupt racism) Another initiative from the province in pilot project form, is the “Following their Voices” project. In short, it’s a project, which starts with research by asking teachers and community members, students, parents what they think about education, and where they are, and where they wish it would go. Problems are identified, and actions are taken to address the problems. Again, small pockets of change to address the First Nations Metis achievement gap, or the First Nations Metis education debt, whatever you want to call it. Basically, these trainings are giving educators a much needed critical analysis that is needed to connect in meaningful and humanizing ways with First Nations and Metis students and families.

At one point, I myself, lacked the analysis that was needed to understand the effects of colonialism. A lot of the racism, and stereotypes that were out there, floating in space without a deeper analysis, caused me to internalize the racism at a very young age. One need only turn on the news, or drive down the street to see the effects of colonialism. Sadly,and it’s the negative images that makes the news more often than naught. Stories of strength and resilience, plentiful though they are, are often left to more spectacular negative news items. That in itself is a future project to address. Back to the subject at hand. Because of these internalized racial images I had been exposed to,  I had to have my eyes focused another way, from someone else.  I had to be shown that I was not a bad person, or that I wasn’t worthy, or that something wasn’t wrong with me, or that my genes weren’t faulty. It’s a process, that as a racialized being, I must continually visit and interrupt within myself each and every day. Being someone who has experienced much trauma due to my race and racism, due to being a child raised in a community of first and second generation residential school survivors, who were themselves, victims of abuse and trauma, guilt and shame, I had to analyze why I had these negative thoughts about myself and my people, the way I did. My healing journey is ongoing.

One of the tools which helped me to understand the effects of colonialism, racism and stereotyping, was passed to me by an anti-racist friend and colleague of mine, by the name of Sheelah Mclean. She shared an illustration with me, to help me to understand within minutes of why there were such negative perceptions of First Nations people, and impressed upon me the importance to teach the First Nation Me’tis history education void. This illustration helped me to depersonalize racial stereotypes about myself and my people and to make sense of them.  This illustration can also be used to understand multiple types of oppression. The illustration is quite simple. It is in the shape of a triangle. Starting from bottom right, we move clockwise. The first point in the bottom right corner of the triangle represents the policies, procedures and strategies which were put in place to oppress Indian people. The second point of the triangle, bottom left, includes the material consequences of the oppression. We can use this illustration to take apart the stereotypes and the myths and to challenge ourselves as to how we came to conclusions, based on the partial picture we are presented when we process a large group of First Nations people through our education system without knowing our own shared history. At the top of the triangle is the thoughts, inferences, or the conclusions that people come to without understanding that these are the results of the policies and procedures.   We can clearly see that the direct result of oppression when we look at this triangle, travelling clockwise. So, if we just see the bottom left, (3.) the results of policy directed at First Nation people,  is obscured (2), then we can see how stereotypes are made, and generalizations like, (1.)“Indians are inferior” are created. (Of course, this is just a brief snapshot of some of the strategies/policies unleashed upon Indian people.) Which, is what makes treaty catalyst teacher training and teaching our shared history about residential school, treaties that much more effective in interrupting racism and the creation of stereotypes.

Triangle of Misunderstanding


As an educator, I feel that there is an urgency to breaking the stereotypes and myths around First Nations people. It is these negative ideas, about First Nations people which are interrupting good relations across the spectrum. If First Nations are to fully participate in the economy, we need to confront the stereotypes.The full participation of First Nation people in the economy was the intention and was embedded in the spirit of our treaties.  It’s important to understand that the First Nations experience as Canadians, as “Indians” as defined by Canada has been disastrous to First Nations people. I think the future will brighten, and the possibilities will expand, when we as Canadians can together come to an understanding, of our shared history. When that happens, we can begin to humanize each other in meaningful ways and engage families and communities who have long been divorced from trusting education.  As First Nation families realize that teachers and schools are beginning to come in as allies, engagement will rise. But as well, it will begin a process where non-Native teachers will also be questioning and redefining within themselves, what it means to be white.

Further Reading:
Non Native teachers in Native Communities by John Taylor



September 15, 2015Permalink

Emulating Good Bye

Emulating great writing is a scaffold for all writers. So says pretty well everyone.  I recently read Rick Reilly’s, a well-known sportswriter for ESPN Magazine, final article, and for obvious reasons, connected with it.  So I am going to practice what I preach and use his powerful writing to support mine.
My father was a great influence on my life. He was a great storyteller.  I grew up hearing stories of the family homestead, his horse Fanny, major moments that shaped his life.  He was a minister and embedded storytelling into his sermons and stories.  Our dog Charlie was inspiration for devotions. He instilled a love of learning, reading, and writing in me.

He also loved people and accepted them for who they were. I have many memories of him laughing with people, challenging them to reflect, and making them feel good about themselves.

So when I started teaching, his influence helped me find my way. I also know there were many moments and events that shaped my career.

I remember stepping in to take over an elementary class where trauma had occurred. Students felt betrayed by authority and parents were on the attack.  I learned that I had to listen.  I wanted to fix things, but it was out of my control.  I listened and learned that sometimes life is not fair and that the answers are sometimes unclear.  But listening shows care and concern, and that goes a long way.

I remember moving to a school where students had many challenges. The principal told me that even though I had taught for 15 years, I was now going to learn how to really teach.  He was right.  I learned not to judge.  I learned not to blame.  I learned that parents love their kids, even if they are unsure how to show that love. I learned how to be firm and believe that all kids will learn.  I learned how to try to maintain dignity for all in the midst of a struggle.  I learned to really teach.

Young students write the cutest things in cards and notes to their teacher. A Grade Two student once wrote to me in his farewell card at the end of the year, “You’re funny even when you don’t mean to be.”  It made me smile, but also made me realize that we never know what students see in us, so I learned to laugh freely.

And I noticed. I noticed teachers who work hard, who give of themselves, who spend their own money buying students school supplies.  I heard teaches express care for students, wishing they could make their world a better place.  I noticed teachers celebrate a student’s success as they run into a staff room to show their colleagues.  I saw teachers support each other.  I learned to give.

I watched as students lived in the classroom. I remember after I gave a mini-lecture about the kind of movies they should never watch, a bright young boy asked me “Mrs. Kasper, have you watched any of them?”  I hadn’t, but I sure had judged, sight unseen.

Willy was a 7 year old conundrum. He was always in trouble, full of emotion, but wonderfully likeable.  He taught me that there is good in everyone.  While working with kids throughout the room, loud noise erupted in a corner.  I raised my voice and called out a student’s name.  Willy ran across the room and decreed that I should not blame that child.  Willy was the cause of the trouble, and he would not let another child take the blame.

I discovered students really do know who you are. One young girl very perceptively told me she knew my favourite colour was black.  When I asked her how, she said that it was what I wore most of the time.  I know there is some deep psychological meaning to that, so I’ve now added navy and brown to my choices.  She also told me my favourite word was ‘calm’.  I think that speaks for itself.

I noticed joy. In Grade Two, silent reading is not really silent. Students are transitioning between oral reading and silent reading.  When reading, one sweet thing would sing the words.  I will never forget hearing Green Eggs and Ham being sung with joy.

Never let anyone tell you that teaching doesn’t make a difference. Never let anyone tell you there is one important thing to teaching – covering the curriculum, a reading level, caring about the kids.  It’s so much more.  It’s about working with colleagues who think like you, but also engaging with those who challenge your thinking. It’s about laughing with children as they find something funny.  It’s about perseverance and creativity.  It’s about drying a student’s tears and holding their hand so they can be in a space to explore new thoughts and ideas.

Why leave a job I have loved for 32 years? The world is a very large classroom, and I’m ready to step into a new world.  A world where I will have time to renew and discover relationships.  A world to uncover deeply hidden hobbies and interests.

And now it is time to leave….with great sadness. As I leave I start to realize what and who I am really leaving.  I’m leaving friends and colleagues who I will miss seeing on a daily basis.  I’m leaving projects and initiatives that I care about.  My input is done and hopefully lives on as things continue to move forward.  My relationships will continue, albeit in a different shape.

So I go back to my father’s influence. I can hardly wait to share stories to my granddaughter.


JoAnne Kasper

June 28, 2015Permalink

What is Tinkering?

shadow rapunzel noun

  1. The definition of a tinker is a person who can make minor repairs, an unskilled worker or a clumsy worker.
    1. A gypsy is an example of a tinker.
    2. A repairman is an example of a tinker.


  1. To tinker is defined as to play around with something, or to try to change or fix it.

    When you play around with the controls on the dishwasher to try to make the dishwasher work better and you end up messing it up, this is an example of a situation where you tinker with the dishwasher.

* from http://www.yourdictionary.com/


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What does this have to do with education and innovation? There is a movement gaining recent attention, that sets up learning as a place to make (construct), hack (deconstruct), design, experiment, question, explore, discover through hands on experiences. You have likely heard of the International STEM conference coming to Saskatoon in the fall 2015 – science, technology, engineering and math integrated into innovative projects. There are many activities for students and some free events – check it out. There is a parallel movement to add the arts to the equation and make it STEAM.

steam vs stem


What are the habits of thinking we see in both the arts studio and the science lab?

  • ability to envision or imagine that which was not there before
  • connecting unlike ideas/concepts or qualities into new combinations with surprising results
  • see problems as an opportunity to discover
  • persist through failure, re/vision and redirect focus
  • curiosity about the world and asking “what if …?”
  • following notions down the rabbit hole into new territory
  • playing

To tinker implies a sense of non-urgency. Freedom to see what happens. Or what does not happen. Do we value the time to play with an idea? Can we justify this approach within a faced paced classroom, in the pursuit of meeting outcomes (not to mention assessing the outcome? Is it possible to do both?

child desk bike
Community Health article 

In an attempt to let children exercise and move while learning, this class has given them pedals under the desk. It helps them self regulate. (Hmmm. Looks like hamster wheels to me.)

We have become so disconnected from our bodies that “learning by doing and moving” is confused with “moving as I learn”. They are not the same thing at all. I am firm supporter of the self-regulation movement as it help children become self aware and to take control of the behaviour, often providing much needed relief throughout the day and they are able to become more successful. However, allowing all children (not just those with identified needs) to get on the floor, or move outside, with tools in their hands, to learn by doing with purpose, impacts the neurological development and learning for everyone.

I think it’s time to tinker with learning.

Why Kids Need to Tinker to Learn

STEM + Art: A Brilliant Combination

How will this make music?
How will this make music?
Where do shadows come from?
Where do shadows come from?
May 7, 2015Permalink

Walking The Talk

footprintsDo our beliefs align with our practice or are we just window dressing our teaching practices with the appropriate jargon and “showpieces”?

I recently read the article doing Reggio? by Margie Carter  which challenged me to think about the  values, perceptions and beliefs about young children that guide my practice.

In my position as Early Learning Consultant I have the privilege of supporting early learning teachers across the division.  As I work with these teachers I often emphasize several key principles of early learning, including; viewing children as competent and capable, carefully designing learning environments to inspire and support children, teaching/supporting all domains of development, using documentation to guide future planning, and the importance of supportive relationships for children and their families.

Keeping these principles in mind, I then need to reflective on my practices, even if they possibly lead to an uncomfortable realization of misalignment.

Consider asking yourself the following:

  • Do I primarily provide activities for children that require them to complete things as instructed, with little room for deviation OR do I provide them with open-ended activities that encourage problem-solving and creativity?
  • Do I thoughtfully and intentionally set up learning activities and materials within my environment based on my observation of what my students need and are interested in OR am I providing the latest “cool” material I found at a recent workshop?
  • Do I provided balance in the opportunities I provide children to ensure that all areas of their development are supported OR are certain skills and understands highlighted as being more important?
  • Do I go through the motions of documenting children’s learning to create a pleasing display for my bulletin board OR am I carefully observing and listening to children in their play to glean what it is they are interested in and what they are demonstrating as current understandings?
  • Am I truly supporting children and families where they are at OR do I view children and families through my own biases or agenda?

It is often too easy to use the jargon of the day without adding the necessary layer of reflecting on how research-based best practice relates to one’s practices within the classroom.

In other words, am I doing what I’m doing because I know that is what others want to see OR because I truly believe in the practice and understand the research base supporting its effectiveness?

March 20, 2015Permalink

Professional Judgement?

It’s a term that often makes me cringe when I hear it: professional judgement. This is not to say that I disagree with it. To the contrary, I believe that it is at the core of what we do as teachers, as professionals. My issue with the term is that it tends to be misused and overused, misunderstood and underappreciated.

First, to pin it down. Damian Cooper in his 2011 book Redefining Fair describes professional judgement as “decisions made by educators, in light of experience, and with reference to shared public standards and established policies and guidelines.” I like this definition, but I also have two problems with it. Firstly, professional judgement in this sense has the potential to be a catch-all for any decision a teacher makes, especially since public standards and established guidelines are often as broad as a barn door.   At times, I’ve seen colleagues invoke professional judgement as a defense for a decision or policy that has been challenged by students, parents, or other teachers.

Professional judgement cannot be any decision by a teacher, lest they become decrees from on high. We cannot as professionals, expect our decisions to be automatically correct ‘because I said so!’ What happens when two colleagues disagree? Is one more professional, so their judgement stands?  Is neither wrong, meaning that every teacher is right but only in their own classrooms?  No, to accept such a broad definition undermines the very nature of a profession.

My second issue with Cooper’s definition is that it frames professional judgement as an event, a moment in time. One could say, “I made a professional judgement,” in this context. I don’t like this because it feels again like professional judgement is invoked, or like it’s a tool brought out of storage to be used and then returned when you’re done making the decision. Should there be times when we aren’t making professional judgments? What kind of judgments are they?  Unprofessional judgments just isn’t that appealing. No, we as teachers ought to always be professionals, meaning that professional judgement must be more than simply a decision.

Quebec’s Ministry of Education in 2006 produced a document on assessment, Value Assigned to the Professional Judgement of Teachers, that I feels better points to professional judgment.  It states: “Judgement consists of analyzing and summarizing information that has been collected about student learning…. Making a judgment is not the result of compiling data. It cannot be reduced to adding up the different marks a student has obtained…”

By the way, this is a great document, and I recommend others read it. It’s in a Q&A format and really speaks to the sometimes uncomfortably subjective aspect of our profession. I also like this definition because it better embraces professional judgment as a process and not an event.  Between formative and summative assessments in the classroom, professional judgement is always taking place.  But I don’t like the focus on assessment only, which is where most writers on professional judgement like to sit. Teachers don’t only professionally judge when they grade. What are we doing when supervising the playground?

The Ontario Ministry of Education’s Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools (2010) has a more detailed definition that I prefer. Professional judgement is:

 informed by professional knowledge of curriculum expectations, context, evidence of learning, methods of instruction and assessment, and the criteria and standards that indicate success in student learning. In professional practice, judgement involves a purposeful and systematic thinking process that evolves in terms of accuracy and insight with ongoing reflection and self-correction.

I really like this definition because it encompasses the breadth of judgments we make in a day and places it as a process rather than an event. It also point towards the early days of the term ‘professional judgement’ in the 1980s and 1990s when standard thinking of instruction was questioned by critical thinking proponents, and the validity of psychometrically based assessment tools were being challenged in favour of performance tasks.

At the time, many professions struggled to define the concept. In 1990, Peter Facione offered a definition in his highly influential report to the APA, Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for the Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction, that encompasses the spirit of what it means, not only to have professional judgment, but to be a professional altogether.  He defines professional judgment broadly, as:

 a goal-oriented decision-making process carried out in the interest of one’s client wherein one gives reasoned consideration to relevant information, criteria, methods, context, principles, policies, and resources.

Professional judgment is rooted in experience, continuous training, and evidence. It is also testable through the litmus of “in the interest of one’s clients”, which for teachers, often means our students. We can ask our colleagues why they have made a particular choice, and should expect an answer that reflects the core of professional practice.  Has it worked in the past?  Is it founded on principals or teachings learned in PD?  Did it actually have a positive impact?

We as professionals cannot always be right, nor should we ever expect to be. But, we should be always improving, refining, and growing.  Professional judgment should reflect this process.  Professionals should embrace it.

When It’s Really NOT Good to Know

No Good to KnowIn my current position as someone who handles data for the school division, I often get asked to create tools, run analyses, develop theories, or present recommendations on matters concerning student performance. The thrust of my work is to help decision makers (teachers, administrators, etc.) make better decisions in their practice through reflection on evidence.  At the end of the day, it’s about improving student learning.

Usually, requests for help appear to link quite strongly to students’ wellbeing in school, such as their academic achievement, behaviour, attendance, or self-efficacy. Sometimes, requests are a little further removed, but still have tangible links, such as an HR project on a representative workforce.

I typically ask the purpose of the project. Sometime, colleagues want to see how well their students are reading.  Other times, an administrator wants to know if resources are being allocated appropriately.  Maybe a school team is trying to see if a targeted intervention is having the desired effect.  All these are great things to know.

I’ve also started asking why we want to collect this data. Occasionally, the answer I get is that “it would be good to know.”  As much as I am dedicated to helping colleagues (in fact, that is my primary role), I feel that this is the absolute worst reason to collect and analyze data.  In the immortal words of that great philosopher G.I. Joe, “Knowing is half the battle.”  I should say, knowing is only half the battle, and it’s also the most dangerous.

Why? Let’s take the example of students reading.  What happens when we put in the time to assess, graph, statistically analyze, and interpret the data on student reading levels in a classroom, and it turns out that most students are struggling?  It is not merely ‘good to know’ that students are struggling; knowing that students are struggling is only half the battle.  We are now obligated to do something about it.

I use the word obligation here very deliberately. As teachers, we are expected to help our students improve, and more than just a little bit (since small performance improvements over the course of one school year are more likely associated with normal effects of aging).  So if we know that our students are struggling, then we must be prepared to support, to intervene, to adjust, to strategize, to seek additional help.  On the flip side, what does it say if you know you students are struggling and aren’t prepared to do make any changes?

Herein lies the danger of knowing. Either you must be prepared to change something that you thought was working well, or you must be prepared to say that you refuse to help.  Knowing is only half the battle.  It’s not just good to know unless you are ready to do as well.

So to that end, I’ve decided to return to why I’m here in this role.  When a colleague asks me for data, I’ll first do them a favour: I’ll ask them how it will be used to help improve student learning.  After all, I want to help them, not expose them to danger for which they are unprepared.  That, I think, is good to know.


Been thinking a lot about happiness….

I’m happily off to visit my daughter in Vancouver during the February break. She’s finding her place in Vancouver and is settled there.  When our children were young, my friend and I always said we just wanted our kids to be happy when they grew up.  We often repeated that statement, but as our children grew, our definition of happiness was challenged.  The friends, schools, and life directions they chose weren’t always what we believed would make them happy.  I discovered that I had to let go of what I wanted for my daughters to be happy and let them discover what they needed for their own happiness.  Although stability and consistency bring me happiness, these same things do not provide my daughters with the same joy.  Happiness is a personal state.

“Clap if you know what happiness means to you.”   I came across this line from Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy,” as I was searching for a celebratory song for our newly implemented reading intervention.  The data that we collected after our first session showed that all students involved had achieved more than we had hoped for. We had cause to celebrate.  I put together a slideshow and needed a song to set the joyful mood. As I watched Pharell’s video, I was smiling all the time.  There are people of all ages, sizes and races, happily dancing their own dance.  It made me think of the variety of students and teachers as they danced through the intervention.   When we find the right intersection between quality programming and quality instruction, students will succeed. Success is essential to happiness.


Alison Behne, in a post on The Daily Café  quotes her young son saying he wants a job where he gets to make kids happy. She goes on to say that we (educators) are in the business of making kids happy.  But, what does make students happy?  It isn’t just loving them and telling them they are wonderful; loving my own children isn’t enough for them to find their own happiness.  It isn’t about making everything fun and lively. Students need joy in their lives, no doubt.  But again, laughter and activity isn’t enough.

I believe that students feel good about themselves when they learn to work hard and strive towards excellence.  A recent experience nuanced that belief. I work with a youth choir.  We seem to acquire very engaged, intelligent singers with strong family support.  We can push them hard and often say to them,  “You are smart and you are good, so now we’re going to challenge you even more.”  Recently, one of our younger singers taught us a lesson.  She was leaving rehearsals upset and finally wanted to quit.  After sitting down with her to find out why, we realized that what she was hearing  from us was not “You are smart and good,” but rather, “Even though you are trying, it’s not enough.”  We weren’t giving her enough compassion and laughter.  Providing challenge isn’t enough for our students’ happiness.

How do we encourage happiness in students? In Teachers?  In Consultants?  I wish there was a simple answer . As we strive to balance compassion, joy, success and challenge, perhaps we can guide our students and ourselves as educators to find the individual ingrediencts themselves that will provide their happiness.  We can then join with Pharell Williams and  “Clap because I know what happiness means to me! “

I’m happy I finally completed a blog post!

Share your latest moment of happiness….

The Opposite of Play

The opposite of “play” is not “work” … it’s depression.

What happens if we were to paint our dance with our feet instead of brushes?

A friend recently sent me this quote because, as anyone who knows me knows, I am always playing, talking about the importance of play and encouraging others to play. I bring it up in meetings, it’s built into my agendas for PD, play is always modelled in my work in the classroom and I spend time reading scholarly articles on play (yes, scholars write about playing!*). It is not uncommon for me to be caught dancing while waiting for my photocopying to be finished. I doodle, fold, tape, tear paper at meetings. I question how things are done and ask silly things. Sometimes I ask inappropriate things. People might laugh – and I notice when laughter enters the room that the mood changes, people sit differently in their chairs, they even begin to breathe differently. I really appreciate working in an environment where I can be free to operate in this way, and in a school division that values play, imagination, curiosity, problem solving and inquiry.

Clown hydrant
What do you see? A vandalized hydrant? Or … a clown in disguise?
Feeding my Creative Disposition
Feeding my Creative Disposition

Arts & Learning teacher leaders are developing examples of Inquiry in the Arts units to be published and shared online. Inquiry is being done into: how artists think and create; how manipulation leads to problem solving through building/constructing;  why traditions influence our contemporary world; and how light and dark create meaning through shadows. These are deep explorations for young people but our goal is to develop a process that builds curiosity and confidence to find the solutions as they play with ideas and materials.

As teachers, we are also playing with ideas and asking lots of questions as we work in our collaborative space:

Does the inquiry process look different in the Arts than it does in ELA or Social Studies? (Should it?)
What constitutes research?
Do we value play as research?
Does it change your perception if you substitute “experiment” for “play”?

Hmmm, what does this indicate about our perceptions of the word play and if we can take it seriously? Can play be work? Can you work hard at playing? Is this only allowed/accepted in Early Years education?


PreK teachers build a world from found objects.
PreK teachers build a world from found objects.

ORFF 4Improvisation and Learning by Playing
Recently, Jackie Kroczynski (NBCHS teacher and band leader) led a workshop for teachers on Orff and Jazz improvisation that had us singing, clapping, dancing and playing instruments. Those of us who cannot read music were able to create music that sounded quite beautiful – this was empowering for me and built my musical confidence greatly. Did I struggle and work at it? You bet! But I was playing and experimenting with sound, listening to others and layering in melody and rhythm. It was a wonderful example of inquiry based learning as we were given tools and allowed to problem solve, research, be curious and figure it out by doing. We were encouraged to use one another as shared experts in the room. As I reflected on the process I realized I was self regulating throughout, doing self talk, deep listening and improving by trial and error. I made lots of mistakes! And that was just fine. The experience left me wanting to know more, keep trying, delve deeper and to try again. Seems like a fine approach to learning for me.

ORFF workshop ( Short video of teachers at work, I mean play.)

* Articles on the Importance of Playing:

Tinkering is Serious Play, ASCD, Jan 2015

Why is Play Important?,  J.P. Isenberg| M. R. Jalongo, 2014

Play in Education: the Role and Importance of Creative Education, The Guardian 2013

Research Papers: Importance of Play, Waldorf Research Educators Network

January 19, 2015Permalink

Emergent Professional Learning

As a consultant team, during our recent STF-directed PD day, we were challenged by Wendy Jones from Saskatoon Public to change something in our current PD facilitation practices to improve our abilities in facilitating professional development……..

As overwhelming as this challenge seemed we all set out to establish a goal to move our PD facilitation practices forward.

My personal goal became: Incorporating more check-ins within PD events to create a more responsive professional learning environment.

As I think more about this goal I am beginning to make connections to the early learning principle of emergent curriculum.

If I am advocating for early learning teachers to follow the lead of their students, how can I as a professional development leader/facilitator adopt a philosophy of emergent professional learning?

According to Stacey (2011) Emergent Curriculum is defined as a cycle that involves:

  • Watching and listening to children with care
  • Reflecting on and engaging in dialogue with others about what is happening; and
  • Responding thoughtfully in ways that support children’s ideas, questions, and thinking.

What if I applied this cycle to the professional development opportunities I provide for teachers?

During my professional development “events” do I truly watch and listen to the teachers in attendance with care?

Do I reflect on and engage with teachers in attendance about what is happening or being presented?

And, do I respond thoughtfully in ways that support teacher’s ideas, questions and thinking?


Am I focused on covering the content of my carefully and preplanned workshop agenda?

Am I predetermining the interests, needs and thinking of the teachers attending?

Am I flexible in the content and structure of the “event”?


As Stacey (2011) challenges, “How can we parallel what we offer educators with what we want educators to offer children?” (pg.38)

December 15, 2014Permalink

Are you Listening?

Jim Shevchuk

“Help Me Tell My Story” -“Tell Them From Me” – Student Voice – All wonderful ways to engage students. But is it their stories we are hearing? Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions. Or maybe we are talking too much. The voice of a young person is the same as an old person. It wants to speak on its own terms and it wants to be listened to.

The data gleaned from these surveys is valuable. But who designed the questions? What information are we getting from our students? Is it their story or one fabricated by adults? My daughter gave me some valuable feedback. Why does the school need to know about my fruit and vegetable consumption? And, why so many questions about bullying? Can I ask a few questions she ponders? Can I tell my story? Her observations were excellent. She is just a teenager wanting to be involved in the process, yet still interested in helping out her school.

Maybe we should sit down and actually speak with the students. Personal interviews, qualitative surveys and kids just talking, can you image that data set? Could we actually use Indigenous Research methods with all of our children? I would wager they would have some valuable advice to the adults. Included in their advice might be ideas to make their schools more progressive, helpful hints for their teachers about themselves or even on what they would like to learn. They might help us improve. Here is some of research I have gleaned from students on “coffee row”.

“What Students really want us (teachers) to know!”

  1. Do you know anything about me?
  2. Let me ask the questions.
  3. Put your phone away – Did you notice me? How about a smile?
  4. Give me your attention – do you even know that I exist?
  5. Sometimes your rules about bathrooms and snacking are excessive – Have you actually thought about what you have said I can’t do?
  6. Can you pretend with me? Let me imagine – I have been doing inquiry for years.
  7. Trades and Computers – How about something I like.
  8. Trust me. Until I prove you wrong – Believe in me.
  9. Can we have the same respect we give you? When I tell you I am cold, hungry or thirsty, I am.
  10. Covering more challenging material keeps me interested.

Maybe we have the technology to record their thoughts? Of course some of these students will still propose the age old suggestion of beer in the water fountains and flexible scheduling; however some of our students are asking to tailor make their classes for graduation requirements. This seems to be reasonable. None of the student options include the compulsory Grade 12 English, Social Studies or Wellness 10, but I do hold out some hope that perhaps our administrators are listening. Our Ministry is actually investigating the 24 credit graduation requirements at the provincial level. If we can accommodate our students’ requests in this area, who knows, perhaps we are making some progress. And if the government is listening, maybe we should too!