Buddy Blog: Breathing in the Flowers and Blowing out the Candles

Challenge accepted! Here is our Buddy Blog. Jacqueline Lee graciously agreed to be my blogging buddy for this post. We choose to blog about The 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom. My part is more of a reflection on 2 of these characteristic as I am not currently in the classroom.image-28kjgn6David Carruthers, Technology Coordinator for the Thames Valley District School Board located in London, Ontario.

Critical Thinkers: I recently wrote a blog post where I drew a comparison between compliance and engagement. I suggested that many students in school today, are simply “doing school”. In others words, they are complying with the instructions provided by their teachers, following the rules, and doing what is expected. Essentially, they are fitting into a mold, resigning themselves to what it means to be a student within the context of most schools today.

Recently, my daughter wanted me to play school with her. I agreed. What was the first thing she did? She told me to me sit down on the floor, and then went on to remind me that my eyes needed to be on her, and I couldn’t talk while she taught me how to add numbers. She’s 7, and if this continues throughout even her elementary school years, can you imagine how well she’ll be trained to comply by the time she reaches secondary school? Insert sad face here.

This is not to say that compliance in schools has always been the wrong way to teach. There was a time, albeit several decades ago, when compliance was expected by employers and society. The problem is that we’re still doing things the same way. It’s easy, familiar, and TTWWADI – that’s the way we’ve always done it – the most dangerous phrase in education.

We now need to teach students how to be critical thinkers, and teachers need to create opportunities that allow them to hone this craft. Isn’t the role of school to help our students acquire the skills they need to be contributing members of society? The same holds true now, as it did decades ago, and if critical thinking skills are what employers and society are demanding, don’t we owe it to our students to teach them how to ask questions, and challenge what they see and hear? We need to ignite students’ passions so that we create a generation of critical thinkers to help them succeed, and meet the problems and challenges that we face in the world today.

Problem Finders/Solvers: This characteristic is a natural extension to teaching our students to be critical thinkers. If our goal is to teach students to be critical thinkers, as I maintained earlier, let’s frame this within the context of meaningful, authentic issues to think about and tackle.

We can do this by allowing students to have a voice in finding problems that they would genuinely like addressed. Further, let’s provide students with choice in finding solutions to these problems. They may identify problems in the narrow context of their community, or the broad context of the world. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are provided with opportunities to be both problem finders and problem solvers.

Throughout The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros frequently reminds readers about the importance of empowering students. He is careful to point out the difference between engagement and empowerment. To me, empowerment rests with one word: pursuit. Empowerment is about the pursuit of passions and interests. Engagement is “in the moment”, whereas empowerment transcends the “now” and looks to the future. (Bill Ferriter, @PlugUsIn) I challenge anyone to come up with a more empowering opportunity for students than to be provided with a voice in identifying a problem, local or global, that is authentic and meaningful to them, and seek solutions to that very issue. What an amazing opportunity for students to feel that they have made a real difference in the world.

I love this Tedx Talk from Stephen Ritz. He uses authentic, problem-based learning strategies to address a real-world issue in New York City’s South Bronx. Check it out!

Hi there! My name is Jacqueline Puuri. To give you a little background on myself, I’ve taught young 5s for 2 years. If young 5s is new to you, it is for children who turn 5 between July and December; they are too young for kindergarten and too old for preschool. I picked 2 things from George Couros chart 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom and wrote about them. If you have any questions, find me on twitter @jlpuuri.

Self-Assessment: Self-assessment, I think, is important for everyone to do. It’s not something that is imperative just to the learning environment but any environment. So when we teach students how to assess themselves, we are really giving them a tool that they can use for the rest of their lives.

For my young 5 students, my goal was to get them to be able to reflect on their behavior. Social and emotional development was the main focus of my program and I felt that starting with that was an appropriate place to start. One way I got my students to self-assess was a checklist that I hung in the classroom. I wanted to make the self-assessment tangible for them. Our checklist only had three behavior expectations, but they were the top three things we focused on in our class. Throughout the day we would stop and I would walk them through the self-assessment.

It usually sounded like, “I want you to think about your day. You can open your eyes or close them, either one is fine, but I want you to think about your day……Are you keeping your body under control?……..Are you following the directions the first time?……And are you following our carpet rules? When you think about them, if you feel like you are not doing your best with let’s say following the directions the first time, then I want you to focus on that the rest of the day. This is our time to get back on track and make different choices.”

Like I said, we would walk through this multiple times a day and especially at the end of the day. As the year progressed, we moved into other ways of self-assessment. Having them self-assess gave them power and made them realize that they are in control of the learning and choices.

Voice: Nate and Sandy are building in the blocks. Nate’s tower is taller than Sandy’s and that makes her upset. She stands up and kicks Nate’s tower over. Nate looks up and says, “Sandy, I feel sad when you knock over my tower, please stop.”

The above scenario is a true story (with names changed) from my classroom. Working with other people – or learning by people – is not always easy. It doesn’t matter what age you are, it’s challenging to work with others. We can ALL get frustrated, confused and sometimes extremely happy – and that is ok. What matters is that we have strategies and tools to help us work through emotions so we can communicate effectively.

George Couros said voice is to empower students to speak up…and we must teach them to use their voices effectively. When we create a space where students feel allowed to voice their thoughts, their learning will be more powerful. They will take ownership for their learning and engage in meaningful conversations with their peers.  So my question is, what can we do to empower students while supporting them to use their voices effectively?

At the young 5s level, encouraging them to be able to use their voice, instead of using their hands, when someone hurts them or breaks something they were working on, is so valuable.  It can be challenging for a young student to demonstrate self-control when they feel upset. Sometimes students act out aggressively. Other times, students internalize those emotions and never verbalize their thoughts. Think back to when you were 5 and someone hurt you. What did you do?

Besides my mom teaching me, I do not remember one of my teachers walking me through strategies or scenarios. Maybe they did but I am pretty sure I do not remember deep breathing like, “breathe in the flowers and blow out the candles.” I did not learn that until I was an adult, but let me tell you, I wish I would have learned it sooner.

Breathing in the flowers and blowing out the candles, is a strategy I have always taught my students. Not only do I use that but I also use social stories, social lessons and modelling to help students gain an understanding of ways to speak up for themselves and control their emotions. I give my students tools that they can carry with them for the rest of their life. I’m empowering my students to use their voice by giving them tools to do so.

Basically, I am saying, empower your students to use their voice. Show them how to do it. Model it for them. Let them be a leader. Because by doing that, you will be giving them tools and strategies so that they can be effective and feel confident in the learning environment.

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