Finishing Strong


Emotions run high, stress levels are skyrocketing–the sights, smells and feels of June are almost indescribable for those who aren’t a part of the education system.  It’s impossible to qualify or summarize how thousands of students and hundreds of teachers and staff are feeling on any given day.  From excitement or frustration to joy and despair (and everything in between) both students and staff are literally riding a rollercoaster for weeks on end leading up to that final bell.

There is so much that contributes to making June the worst month of the year for many.  Some of our students are ramping up for their final goodbyes, and not just at the Grade 12 level.  Students are leaving buildings and moving upwards all over districts, from elementary school to middle or secondary, or middle to secondary.  Our Grade 5s/7s/8s are moving onward and it’s scary.  Our 12s are leaving, and its exciting for some but overwhelming for others.  On the other side of things, some students are learning (or realizing) that they aren’t moving up due to a lack of learning outcomes demonstrated and that’s hard too.  Our staff is being inundated with pleases, and last chances and piles of extra work so they can try, one last time to help push someone through–even though they’ve been trying all year to help that happen.  We are expected to plan and execute celebrations, award assemblies, graduations, BBQs, final field trips.

It. is. beyond. exhausting. 

So, take a breath.  Take twenty of them.  It is so hard not to break down, to give up.  But you know you can do it.  You do it every year.  You smile, you give condolences.  You cheer, your say “don’t give up.”  If you are new to teaching, like so many are this year–know that you are so important during this transition for kids, be it grade to grade or building to building.  I know that puts tremendous pressure on you–but balance is going to be key.  Don’t take do summer school, unless necessary.  Don’t feel pressure to attend every concert, every game, every fun fair for their entirety.  CHOOSE YOURSELF as often as you can, whenever you can.  Close your door at lunch, and take a breath.

This too shall pass, and the freshness of September with eager kids, and smiling staff will once again arrive.  And, whatever you do–don’t skip your morning coffee for nobody, no how.


The Importance of Learning Resilience


If you had (or have) a child in school, what is the most important thing you would want them to learn?  Or, if you are an educator–what do you most wish for your students to learn during their 12-13 years as students?

Is it to read? To write?  To problem solve?  To program a robot, draw a map? Correctly identify a prime number?

For myself, the most important thing that I wish for my children and for my students, is to learn resilience.  This is what is going to keep them going when things don’t go as planned.  Is it what will let them overcome obstacles, difficult math questions, annoying people, and most importantly failure.  I want my kids, my students to be able to get back up when they are knocked down.  To keep going, no matter how hard things are.  Other elements that go hand-in-hand with resilience are courage, empathy, determination, perseverance.  All important skills to have, all important characteristics I wish for my children, my students to develop.

So the question is, how do we teach students resilience?  How do you help a child understand how failure and hardship can be a good thing?  In one of my programming classes, I used a project that pushed the boundaries of my student’s capabilities.  The project was to follow a online tutorial to create a game in an outdated program, called Adobe Flash.  The best part of the tutorial was that was incomplete and contained elements that didn’t necessarily work as stated.  That meant that students had to look outside the tutorial for new sources of help: their peers, user boards, help blogs, etc.  I, as the teacher, removed myself as a resource.  This was beyond frustrating for some of my students.  They struggled, they failed.  But then, they persevered.  They pushed back.  Some of my students learned to actively seek out help, either from online sources or from peers they’d never spoken to before.  In their reflections on the game (which many actually didn’t complete in its entirety), they talked about how they learned to find other ways to solve problems and how to deal with their frustration.  For some of my students, this project was one of the first times they had to confront this type of experience, and I am glad that I had the opportunity to provide it.

We need to provide more opportunities to help our students learn to fail, to learn to be resilience, and to learn to overcome obstacles.  By now, you have figured out that we can’t teach resilience, we can only facilitate opportunities for it to develop.  We can only sit on the sidelines cheering, encouraging and pushing our students to figure it out for themselves.  My challenge to you is to foster ways for students to develop resilience, to become confident in what they are capable of.  This means taking the risk of failure, it means being an example.  Sometimes it means anger, frustration and tears; however, sometimes it means conquering a mountain, and overall, it is the best possible “teachable moment” you can provide to a student to set them up for success.

Managing the Modern Classroom


Technology, lesson plans and PBL.  All useless without one key ingredient: cooperation from our classrooms.  Students today have the chance to learn about the world around better than ever, thanks to the revised curriculum, technology and student focussed pedagogies such as PBL; however, many new teachers (and even more seasoned ones) are struggling with classroom management.  You can have the best lesson and educational accoutrements in the world but without classroom management, unfortunately the learning outcomes (and goals) will not happen as expected.

In my experience, classroom management becomes more of an issue at the 9th and 10th grade; students in these grades often have access to distractible technology, are more socially stable (in so much that they at least know their peers), they’ve learned “the system” in terms of deadlines and the infamous “I” package.  So what can you do?  What is the magical formula to getting your class to settle down and settle into learning?


Every class is different, every nuance of classroom dynamics on any given day will be different; HOWEVER, there are a few things we can do as educators to mitigate distractions, behaviour issues and create a space where learning is priority for everyone.

  1.  Set high expectations.  Right away.  If you start the year or class off with the expectation you aren’t going to get amazing results from your class, they won’t give you any.  We as teachers should be making this a priority to get our students pushing themselves to achieve more each and every day.  High expectations means that students need to actually try each day, participate each day.  High expectations helps build resiliency, because it means that students need to be prepared to fail to meet expectations some days.  It means that students will learn to try again when that happens.  It means that we respect their intelligence, their capabilities.  It shows them that you value who they are.  Setting high expectations also is an opportunity to work with students on goal setting (#goals), and what it means to reach goals and reassess.  The great thing about setting high expectations is that you can do it in every single class, in every single classroom in every single school.

What NOT to do: Make sure that the expectations (though high) are still achievable.  I can run, but I can’t run 10 miles the first week of training.  Also, remember its about the students not about you–if the high expectations are to build you up as an educator at the expense of your classes, that isn’t going to help your classroom.

2. Routines, routines, routines.  Setting up your classroom routines and expectations are integral to a successful year.  That includes rules around behaviours (and consequences), parent communication, due dates, technology use.  The tone of your classroom is essential for learning.  Students should have a clear understanding of what they can and can not do.  You are the leader of your classroom, and that should be 100% clear to students.  There needs to be a clear division between teacher and student in the classroom for it to function.  That means you aren’t their peer or friend.  I have had many colleagues that struggle with this balance, especially younger colleagues who are close in age to their senior students.  Being respected, having students listen and learn from you, and be mentored by you is more important that being “cool” (or “fleek”, apparently).  That means being consistent, owning your mistakes, keeping the mystery (they don’t need details about your personal life!) and overall, making sure that that if the classroom is the community of learning, you are the mayor.

What NOT to do: Even if you are the mayor, you really do need to pick your battles.  Sometimes turning a blind eye and limiting the “reward” of a reaction is the best way to go.  When you do go “toe to toe,” make sure that whatever threats you dole out, you actually follow through on.  That means know where the professional line is, and knowing the expectations of your school on certain types of behaviours.

3. Enjoy your students for what they are: students!   Everything is better with humour.  That means that sometimes its okay to let students be silly (don’t be surprised when they do age-appropriate things, like giggle at certain topics or are over-dramatic or [insert typical teen behaviour here].  When it comes to age-appropriate behaviour, sometimes it is best to let it play out and move on.  Use fun rewards, like stickers or stamps in a class that might not expect them.  Have competitions, or use games for learning whenever possible.  Even big kids enjoy having fun, even if they sometimes don’t act like they do.  On that same note, try and see the good in every kid, even if some are more prickly and difficult to get to know.  After all, you are the adult and you get to let them be the kids.  We want to teach good citizenship to our students, but “being a kid” literally has an expiration date so use that to help steer their enthusiasm into building a positive learning community.

What NOT to do: Counteractive to enjoying students as students who want to be a kids too–don’t treat them like little kids!  They still want to be seen as autonomous adults but with the benefits of childhood.  Don’t punishing them for age-appropriate behaviour either.  If you grade 8s can’t stop talking after lunch, then they are in need of a way to get their energy out.  Instead of threats of extra work, make them do something silly to burn that excess crazy that is turning your classroom into a chaos-zone.

Hopefully some of what I’ve talked about in this post will be helpful to you in your classroom, even if you have taught a number of years already!  Teaching is a joy but also very stressful.  Classroom management can make or break your year, so take the time to fix those issues you might be seeing right away before you start to look at content.  A lot of these tips aren’t in any shape or form NEW to education, but sometimes reiterating (instead of reinventing) the wheel helps it spin a little better, a little faster, a little more effectively…



Seasonal Student Excitement: Tips & Tricks


Those jingle bells are ringing, the holiday lights are twinkling, and if you are a teacher then those students’ minds are wandering!  Especially at the secondary level, often times before a break in classes, (winter break, spring break, summer) we see a definitive lapse in student attendance and participation in classes.  It is almost as though they’ve headed to the airport days (or even weeks) before their flight is set to depart.  In elementary, they like to bring their holiday excitement to class; whereas in secondary they would prefer to celebrate anywhere but!  Seasonal excitement is a real speed bump in education, and how you approach it can make your final few days or weeks prior to a break more production, and even dare I say it, educational!

Don’t give in to the desire of students to slack-off or go crazy leading up to the break!  Movies (though when relevant can be useful), worksheets and other simple distractions may save your sanity but they aren’t going to help your students learn or you to teach.  Instead, find ways to spice up your classes that fit into student desires to do something “celebratory” in those days or weeks leading up to the holiday.  Planning ahead in this respect is always a good idea.  For example, we typically utilize December as the month we introduce programming our Sphero robotics with our junior computer science students.  Some science classes may “save” more involved labs for later in the year or close to these breaks.  English classes may find ways to encourage group work or class discussions versus seat work, channeling excited chatter into something educationally productive.

All that being said, there are times and places for celebration, typically the last few days before a break (depending on what kind of break it is) and certainly don’t completely shut down the opportunity to build community within your classes.  No matter the age, students love to celebrate and encouraging it (and even the planning of it) can help to hone those excited feelings into something more productive.  Obviously, making sure all students are involved in one way or another is important.  Another way to focus student excitement is to work together with your classes towards a common goal, be it to complete a project on time or perhaps even contribute philanthropically to a local cause.  Although most charities are thought of to be in greatest need during the winter holidays, in fact they are always in need.  Make it an incentive for something perhaps, like a movie on the last day or treat.

While the break itself will be needed by all, those days leading up to it can be exhausting–so embrace the excitement, channel the energy and plan accordingly!  


Parent Connections


With the world of today, parents are finding it increasingly more difficult to connect with the school community and classroom teachers.  One would think that with the increased usage of technology, parents would feel more connected vs. less.  Although some parents may receive upwards of 3-5 emails per week from their student’s teacher–others feel left in the dark in regards to how their child is faring.  Obviously, there are significant differences in parent communication when you look across the span of different age groups (elementary, middle and secondary)–with a notable drop in parent involvement as students draw nearer to graduation.  So, what is the answer?  To determine the answer, we first must identify the end goal.

Is it to have more parents present in the building (PAC, events, etc.)?

Is it to have parents feel more involved, nay, BE more involved in daily classroom learning (via home checks, emails, etc.)?

I would argue that both goals are important, at all levels of education.  There are certainly more opportunities at the younger grades for parents to be involved than at the secondary level; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is impossible.  Taking the time to invite parents to interact with the school is the first step in creating bridges between classroom and home; however, inviting multiple times is often required for parents who are busy and have limited options for school participation.

Three key ways to encourage parent involvement:

  1. Keep them informed.  How can a parent be involved if they are not informed of what is happening around school?  If a child isn’t overly forthcoming with school-related news, parents should have another access point for important dates, going-ons, etc.  For some schools, a weekly newsletter or blog has been useful for keeping parents “in the loop,” especially when items such as report cards, field trips or assemblies is concerned.
  2. Offer multiple opportunities to get them in the building.  While parent-teacher interviews are a standard way for parents to be included in student learning, there are many other avenues to have parents visit a school, even a secondary school! First, hold events at times that are typically available for working parents, such as open house evenings, performances, etc.  Second, offer more than the typical events that parent attend (sports, theatre, band), such as Fine Art/Applied Skill open houses, Social Studies project presentations or family-friendly language plays are just a few suggestions!
  3. Keep inviting them.  If turn out is lower than expected, keep inviting parents.  If they can’t attend the first event, it doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t attend the next.  Making sure parents really know schools want them to be a part of their child’s education is vital to seeing more participation and presence at the school.

Overall, having parents feel included in their child’s education will lead to them being more involved, more invested and more likely to encourage their student to be more engaged with their learning.  School community should be a symbiotic triad between staff, students and parents.  All three working together leads to better education for students, and that is of course, what we are here for.