When I think of culture, I usually think about the surface aspects of culture, as seen above. The iceberg concept of culture is a perfect way of truly looking at culture beyond what is visible, or expected. I find it hard to pinpoint my culture. I was born and raised in Canada, and my maternal grandparents were born in England and my paternal grandparents were of Scottish origin. Due to this fact, we would often have shortbread cookies, scones, hot cross buns on Good Friday, and my grandmother insisted we take Scottish dancing as children. Besides the odd British phrase I picked up from my grandparents, that is the extent of my British culture. When I think of Canadian culture, it brings to mind the Indigenous cultures, the French Canadian traditions, and the British ties all in one. As Canadians we are so spread out, so diverse, and yet there is a truly Canadian identity that is hard to describe. Yes we can be kind and polite, but it is so much more than that. Generally, Canadians have a great sense of humour, and one of the reasons is our ability to observe our neighbour, and ridicule them. It has been said that Canadian comedy is one of observation. Another facet that binds us, is our insistence that we are not American. As I child, I felt like Canadians were a lot like Americans. I’m not sure if it was because I was young and naive, or because it was true. Now, I feel like we are further apart than ever in terms of our values and beliefs. I have American friends who I love and cherish, but the country is so divided among party lines, that it feels much more hostile and intolerant than Canada. This is not to say that Canada does not have a lot of work to do. I used to believe the story we told ourselves about being more tolerant and welcoming to all nationalities in Canada, but I have since learned that is not necessarily true. We need to look no further than Quebec and Bill 21, which is the ban on religious symbols. How can we as a nation pride ourselves on tolerance, but not allow a woman in a hijab to keep her teaching job? Why did I only learn the word “carding” by reading a Desmond Cole article? As Canadians we like to believe the story that we are tolerant and that racism happens somewhere else, but unfortunately that is not true.
I found a definition of culture that defines exactly what I believe culture to be: “The cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.” (Retrieved from people.tamu.edu/~i-choudhury/culture.html)
I do believe in Canada, that not everyone defines themselves in the same way. Many people identify more with their province, as in Newfoundlanders, for example. Other people don’t even identify as Canadian as in some Indigenous groups who identify themselves as Cree, for example, rather than strictly Canadian. I love having such a diverse heritage, and yet I do feel a little lost in explaining it. At International night at our school, the Canadians and Americans look a little casual in our t-shirts when others are wearing their elaborate clothing from their culture. I would describe Canadians as hardy people who put up with great fluctuations in terms of weather. We are generally friendly, and are willing to help people out who are in need. We are diverse, and yet there is something singular that binds us together. We are often educated, funny and laid back. I believe Canadians to be humble and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. One weakness is we don’t appreciate our Canadian artists until they become big in the U.S. or in Europe, with the exception of Quebec, as they seem to truly appreciate their home grown talent. I have been thinking about what being Canadian means since the pandemic and I think I would use the word “privilege.” Canada can afford to help people and businesses out in times of crisis and they have the money and the efficiency to procure a vaccine for their citizens. In Ukraine, people are not so fortune. Over 200 000 Ukrainians have signed up for a one time pay out of 8000 UAH (about $360 Canadian) for the entire pandemic. They also don’t have any vaccines right now. They have signed up for the Chinese Vaccine, Sinovac, but no announcements have been made for the roll out. They have also signed up to receive vaccines through the COVAX network in March.
Conceptions of Beauty
I wouldn’t say I have had any experiences like Marcea had in Malaysia, in terms of not finding anything but whitening creams, but I have certainly struggled to find the products I need. When looking for sage at the grocery store, I asked many people who thought they could help me, but in the end I left without the sage. When speaking to my Ukrainian teacher, she told me to go the apteka (pharmacy) to get sage. This was strange for me, I would never have thought to look at a pharmacy. The day we arrived in Kyiv, my husband’s boss picked us up from the airport and wanted to take us out for dinner. Our luggage got lost, so he first took us to buy some toiletries. We couldn’t read any Cyrillic, as our posting had changed from Beirut, to Izmir, Turkey and finally to Ukraine. We weren’t given any language training and both of us were working full time. We learned the alphabet before we came, but finding products in a language you cannot read is one thing, but finding products in an alphabet you cannot read is quite another. There was a bit of a time crunch, and many brands I didn’t recognize. That situation forced us get better prepared before our next shop. We would write down items in Ukrainian and Russian, since both languages are used here and we would use the camera feature on Google Translate. The only issue with Google Translate is if the product used a stylized font or handwriting. Here is a small bottle of what I thought was hand cream that turned out to be a scrub. I keep buying it now, my mistake has turned into buying a product I didn’t know I like.
While I have had embarrassing encounters with people in my time, due to my weak language skills, I know I am very fortune to pass as Ukrainian, and not have to struggle with discrimination, which can happen here. My friend who is from Sri Lanka was joining me for a yoga class and she wanted to take an Uber. I told her the metro was much quicker and she hesitated, but I insisted. She later told me she had been spit on the last time she took the metro. I felt terrible that I insisted, and I didn’t even think that was a possibility, but then again, why would I? When you don’t personally experience discrimination, you can believe that it doesn’t happen. Ukraine is a very a very homogeneous society, so you rarely encounter anyone who isn’t white. There may be the occasional person you see from Central or South Asia, who often come to Ukraine for medical school. When we were evacuated back to Canada, I realized I really miss seeing a variety of ethnicities.
As I read the article by Michael Allan, the part that really resonated with me, and it was something that was mentioned by other people in the class, is how culture can effect the way teachers are treated around the world. This is not something I had given much thought to, but it does make sense. It must be hard for students to get used to, and they must walk a fine line between fitting in with their peers, and behaving in a way they feel is right or proper. I felt so badly for the student in Extract B, as they were struggling in school, and they were not getting the support they needed and yet the expectation at home was that the student would get straight A’s. I just got off the phone with an educational counsellor, since we are moving to Singapore, and she was letting us know we qualify for tutoring if our son is behind in school or has missed something due to the cross country posting. I think again about how lucky we are to have supports in place, and people looking out for us. Yes, we have picked up and moved across the world and it hasn’t been easy, but I admire those who do it all without the help of an Embassy or at least a company that takes care of some of the paper work or the moving costs.
The student in Extract A reminded me of a book I read in university by Jamaica Kincaid called: A Small Place. She said that some people would visit her native Antigua and think they had gone on a real adventure and met so many wonderful people. Yet these people didn’t leave their resort, and they met people who were just like them. She asks some tough questions like “Did you notice the library is closed?” or “Do you know people laugh at you?” She talks of the resentment of people showing up on the island of Antigua and turning her banality in their paradise. The student in Extract A didn’t really get out of their comfort zone, and didn’t find a rich learning experience. They looked for the people who were just like them, and claimed to enjoy getting to know people from a variety of cultures, but in a very superficial way. It is only through experiences with people of different norms and cultures do get to look at yourself and think about your behaviours and beliefs.
Module 2: Part 2: Navigating Across Cultures
I have been lucky enough to navigate across numerous cultures. In Prague, the expectation was that both hand should be on the table when you are eating. In Canada, I prefer to have my right hand on the table, and the other hand in my lap when I eat. I was told regularly in Prague that people like to see both of your hands on the table. After 20 years, I occasionally find myself thinking about where to put my hands. It’s strange how some cultural norms stick with you.
In Ukraine, people push and shove and aren’t very good at maintaining a line. My theory is this is a carry over from the Soviet Union, and if you were polite and waited in line, you simply would not get bread or whatever you needed. I am very Canadian and prefer to give people a wide birth. If I do that here in Kyiv, people will just cut in front of me assuming that I am not in line. This is the same situation when driving. I have had to go against my own cultural beliefs and become more aggressive and not give so much personal space. This was in pre-COVID times, as now I rarely go out now, and I give people all the space in world.
One of the most aggravating occurrences is flying anywhere with Ukrainians. The minute the plane lands, people get out of their seats and start collecting their belongings. I’m not talking about the minute the seatbelt sign goes off, I am talking about the wheels touching the ground. I was shocked the first time I saw it. I can’t imagine the consequences of doing that on a Canadian airline. The flight attendants don’t say anything and I have gotten used to being one of the last people off the plane. There is no use in even trying to get up, because it will be a losing battle and a lesson in frustration. So I have had to remind myself it is going to happen, I will be last and I will be okay. I am such a rule follower that I want someone to tell them to sit down, but I have learned to calm down, relax and let the mayhem happen.
A culture that I think is very misunderstood is the French culture. Many people say that the French are so rude that they can ruin your vacation. I have always been nervous about visiting France due to this reason. I was born and raised in Alberta, and my French language experience was less than stellar. We did not have the opportunity to use any of our limited French and therefore, I have lost most of French skills. My husband speaks French and he was a great asset on our trip. One observation is the French like greetings and manners. If you spend the time to say “good morning,” or “good afternoon,” “please” and “thank you,” and try some French, I found it all went very smoothly. I think we in North America are accustomed to saying “I’d like a large coffee to go,” for example. I think in France if you just added the greeting and a please, you would be fine. Also, I am a real dog lover and I ingratiated myself to many a Parisian by speaking to, or complementing their dogs. People in France love their dogs and are more than happy to speak to you about them. I like the pleasantries and I don’t mind using them at all.
Take Aways for my current and future practice
Considering that not everyone who identifies as British, for example, feels and behaves “British” if there is such a such a thing, will definitely help me in my teaching practice. My son’s friend is from the U.K., but he has never lived there. He has visited, and like my family, theirs was evacuated to the U.K. for four months in the Spring. I don’t know if that counts, in that being somewhere during a pandemic is not like being somewhere without a pandemic. There is a lot of surviving going on rather that thriving. We went to parks and outdoor spaces and for the most part we avoided indoor spaces unless necessary.
I think some of the Canadian stereotypes like us saying “aboot” and always saying “sorry,” aren’t really all that accurate. If I extrapolate that and think of people who have not really lived in Canada, it may be even less accurate. Always keeping in the back of my mind that students who move around, or have parents from different cultures or nationalities, may be conflicted in their sense of identify and know I need to focus on seeing the child, like I would in Canada, as an individual with unique needs and qualities. Our former Ambassador’s daughter switched from the French School here in Kyiv to my son’s international school. She would come home and ask her parents “Why do they always want to know what I think?” She was used to the French school, where there wasn’t much room for opinion, reflection or questioning. She had to get used to a new system. She had to learn how to modify her behaviour to fit into a new system of learning. Teachers need to understand that their students may not volunteer, they may not ask questions and that doesn’t denote a lack of interest, but they may not be used to the style of teaching and learning that is expected of them.
As 2020 winds down, we should all reflect on the people we lost, the loved ones we cannot visit, and the events we had to cancel. It is okay to feel sad about these things, but as we look to the future, it’s important to remember the positives that came out of the pandemic. When I look back at this year, I think about the vacation to Barcelona I missed, the fact that I was evacuated to Canada for four months, and that I had to switch from entirely in-person teaching to online teaching, without much warning. Having said that, I know I am one of the lucky ones. I have my health, my family and I got to stay together, when many were separated, and Barcelona will still be there when it is safe to travel again.
When thinking about the pandemic, a lot of innovation came out of this time. Teachers, and other professionals quickly learned about useful apps to allow them to keep working despite the lockdowns. Through trial and error, teachers found creative new ways to keep students engaged, and to create connections, regardless of physical proximity. Some teachers and students have found they actually prefer online teaching and learning. We need to be able to harness the teaching methods and connection made now, and incorporate them into our teaching in the future. When we finally have a vaccine and we can return to teaching full time in person, will that happen? Will we go back to “normal?” Let’s not forget the lessons we learned from staying inside and being forced to slow down.
Appreciation for Front-Line and Essential Workers
During 2020, we learned how important and valuable front-line and essential workers are to our lives. People have been tuning in to see the advice of infectious disease experts and Provincial and Public Health Officers. Prior to the pandemic, I don’t think anyone could name their Provincial Health Officer. Some of these experts are even becoming household names, like Dr. Bonnie Henry, Dr. Theresa Tam and Dr. Isaac Bogoch to name a few. It seems to me that the Coronavirus has given us some perspective into who is actually worthy of our admiration. At 7:00 P.M., I was eager to participate in banging pots on my balcony to support hospital workers. This is surely something health care professionals had not experienced before. Teachers have also been elevated in the eyes of many parents, especially those parents who have had to act as teachers. I personally know one family who has rearranged their working hours so both parents can be home to help their two kids, because it was overwhelming for one parent to do it alone. I hope the good will continues, and teachers continue to be highly valued by the students, parents and the community at large.
So many students I have spoken to, including my own son, absolutely love hybrid learning. He finds that the days he is at school, the teachers can focus on instruction, and then he has a lot of independent time to work on his assignments at home. He is provided with guidance and Zoom calls to check in, on the days he is working remotely. This method, however, is not for everyone, as the student needs to have a strong work ethic to do their assignments independently. My husband also prefers working from home two days a week. The lockdown has necessitated that some people work from home, or at least limit their time in the work place. Some employers are wanting their employees to continue to work from home as many have reported increased productivity, and it can offer certain cost savings. It will be interesting to see if schools continue to offer this option to students and teachers. Could hybrid teaching and learning become the new normal?
Adaptability Between Home and School
It’s important to listen to our students to ensure the type of apps we choose are working to meet their needs. The feedback from my students is that Google Classroom meets all of their needs. They can access their assignments and messages in one place. They can use the platform to ask questions and to upload their work. When my child was in primary school, he liked using Seesaw to share his work and it was a great communication tool for parents as well. Toddle is something new my child’s school is using this year, designed for the IB School Primary Years Program, and they are planning to launch the Middle Years Program next year. My students have suggested we continue using the app even when we are back to in person teaching, if that happens. The beauty of continuing with Google Classroom for posting and receiving assignments, is that it allows us to pivot to online teaching without much effort. I now plan all my lessons as if learning is being done remotely, so I don’t have to make major changes down the line.
Before COVID-19, many children were rushed around from soccer practice, to violin, back home for dinner and homework before bed. Other children were spending every free moment at the dance studio or the rink. I know a lot of them are suffering right now because they miss their favourite sport, but having this time to slow down, to bring out the board games, to read a book for pleasure, has been a blessing. I think a lot of us have noticed that slowing down can have a positive effect on our mood. While getting fresh air and exercise is important, now we can do it for pleasure and not only on our way to somewhere else.
Access to culture without Having to Travel
Want to “visit” the Sistine Chapel? Are you interested in the Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre? Now you can visit these amazing places and more, virtually. Zoos, aquariums, art galleries and historical sites are offering virtual experiences for free, during the pandemic. Some people can only dream about visiting these amazing places. Now, in the comfort of your own home, you can immerse yourself in a place a world away. My family and I got to know Fiona, a hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo. It is amazing how soothing it can be to focus on learning about and watching a hippo, instead of focusing on your anxiety.
Here is a link to an article by Trip.com Magazine for more great animal and cultural experiences for you to enjoy:
2020 has changed the way most of us live our lives. We are approaching 2021 without a vaccine, so not much is likely to change anytime soon. The news is very depressing, but the positives of this situation cannot be overlooked. We have a new appreciation for those who are working to help the rest of us. People have started thanking truckers, grocery store employees, teachers, nurses, doctors and Public Health Officials. New heroes are emerging from the pandemic. We have found novel ways of operating, such as remote working and learning. We have perhaps tried new tools and apps to make our lives easier and keep us connected. Some of us have taken advantage of the free tools and experiences offered to us by companies and organizations in this time of great turmoil. The most valuable experience for me personally, has been slowing down. As Socrates wrote, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” That feels particularity true to me right now. The pandemic has totally changed my life. I used to commute to work, I had Embassy functions in the evenings, and since I am living in Europe, we were traveling every chance we had. Now, I truly understand the joy of curling up with a good book, without feeling guilty, and I have enjoyed playing board games and watching movies at home with my family. COVID-19 has made me appreciate my friends more, and we have been regularly connecting on Zoom. Since over 10 000 Canadians have died of Coronavirus so far, I feel gratitude for my health, and appreciative of all those people who keep working and innovating to make our lives tolerable, during this dreadful time.
The purpose of schools is often under debate. Should young people become educated in order to enter the workforce and contribute to society or is it more about gaining a foundation that is focused on social, cultural and intellectual development, so students can become engaged citizens? Can’t it be both? Can’t we want students to enter the workforce and want them to become socially engaged citizens who challenge the status quo?
Regularly missing in this debate is all the non-academic ways in which schools help children become who they are. The teams they join, the instruments they play, the friends they make. Students can gain so much confidence in the activities they choose to pursue. Students may join the yearbook club and learn about deadlines and design. Students that are elected to student council learn to use their communication skills to organize and lead. Most of the activities that are seen as “extra” right now have been postponed or greatly reduced.
Collaboration in general is currently reduced or missing from our schools. Teachers who are used to working together have had to limit their contact, and may find themselves working alone. Students who were used to gathering together to study or work on projects, have found themselves isolated.
According to Sabrina Gates: “Collaborative learning has been shown to not onlydevelop higher-level thinking skills in students, but boost their confidence and self-esteem as well” (Gates, 2018).
How do we promote collaboration, and learning from others, when that, to some degree, has been limited? The Coronavirus has reduced our ability to enjoy social events such as dances, plays and International Night. Many team sports have been cancelled and collaborating with others in person has also been severely limited. How do we promote team building, when there are no teams?
The power of collective capacity is that it enables ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things—for two reasons. One is that knowledge about effective practice becomes more widely available and accessible on a daily basis. The second reason is more powerful still—working together generates commitment” (Fullan, 2013).
Schools can provide students with much more than intellectual endeavours. Schools can teach us about bullying, about how important it is not to be a bystander and how to navigate friendships through the years. Schools can teach us about the importance of being physically active and how to prepare nutritionally balanced meals. Students participating in the production of a play can deepen valuable skills like communication, problem solving, creativity, and it can develop a sense of confidence in their abilities. Without these aspects to school, we have narrowed the focus of what a school and schooling is.
Collaboration of course can still be done virtually, but there is no doubt that we may miss important lessons by not socializing and working together in person. To offset this loss, we can remind ourselves of the importance of being safe and knowing that what we do now can have an impact on our lives in the future. Staying safe must be our number one focus right now, but this too shall end. There will eventually be a vaccine, and we may be in a position to resume some of our normal activities.
We have been forced to be creative and innovate during this difficult time which teaches our students resiliency. We may continue to use some of these innovations long after the epidemic ends. Let’s hope that when we do get back to some sense of normalcy, that we do not take for granted the all the opportunities that schools can provide.
Fullan. M. (2013). The new pedagogy: Students and teachers as learning partners. Learning Landscapes, 6(2), 23-28.
It is hard to believe that anything positive could come out of 2020, but like much of innovation in the past, our current situation necessitated it. While not all innovation requires a problem to fix, but seeing a problem, could be the very inspiration to create something new, or improve upon existing systems.
“The hardest part of learning something new is not embracing new ideas, but letting go of old ones.” Todd Rose
Since the start of 2020 and the global pandemic, tech companies, educators, school boards and nearly every business and institution has tried to find creative new ways of operating during a pandemic. The initial solution was for everyone to stay at home. While this was successful for a while to keep the infection rate from climbing, it did not help the economy or help our students learn. Schools tried to pivot to an online model of education with mixed results and some companies figured out that many of the jobs that “couldn’t be done from home,” suddenly were being done from home. A number of companies stepped up to offer their services for free or to provide donations during the first few months of the pandemic. Crocs donated 10, 000 pairs of shoes to frontline workers in the U.S. as part of their “A Pair for Healthcare” program. U-haul provided 30 days of free self-storage to college students in Canada and the U.S. who were impacted by the Coronavirus. Adobe Computer Software provided free access to their Creative Cloud Desktop apps to help facilitate distance learning for teachers and students.
What are some innovations that have come out of 2020?
Innovation is the process of adding value to an existing product or idea, through modification or applying novel, creative solutions to pre-existing problems. Innovation requires and open-mind and managed risk taking. Innovation is the implementation of creative ideas that lead to positive, effective change.
There have been some creative high and low tech innovations to come out of 2020. Here are just a few:
High Tech Solutions
A university in Tokyo is proving the opportunity for students to view surgeries using virtual reality. Prior to COVD-19, students had to peer over a surgeon’s head. Now they can watch surgeries with an uninterrupted view using VR. While only two students can currently watch the surgery in real time, the university plans to expand their capabilities. Also, the surgeries are being recorded and can be shared locally or globally and for use in conferences. This innovation may prove to be a superior way to learn going forward.
Two engineering students from India won the Code19 Hackathon for creating a virtual classroom to enable uninterrupted learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their winning entry, iClassroom, connects students with teachers through a social media-type interface. Students and teachers can interact with each other, answer questions, mentor others and conduct online classes. iClassroom was created by 19-year-old Abhinand C and 20-year-old Shilpa Rajeev, both students at Government College of Engineering in Kannur. According to Shilpa Rajeev, the platform will enable learning communities to interact with each other, share resources and keep track of progress in selected courses, without the need to use multiple communication tools.
Low Tech Solutions
Not all innovation needs to be high tech to improve our lives. Simple, but practical low tech solutions can make it possible for students to return to the classroom. Here are two examples:
Tent Classrooms can allow students to safely return to school. Pop-up teaching spaces can be erected on the playground or next to the school to provide opportunities for students to learn in a socially distanced way. Some countries, including Denmark are considering adding these pop-up classrooms into their future school design to allow for outdoor learning.
Schools without the ability to adequately space students due to class size or physical classroom space, have opted for Plexiglass work stations for their students. Students can still see their teachers and classmates, and safely learn behind the barrier. This low cost, low-tech solution in combination with masks wearing, can provide an extra layer of security for teachers and students.
Many tech tools showed us that we do not physically need to be in the same space to learn from one another and communicate. Hybrid learning and working has also proven to be an effective way to keep students engaged. When we finally leave the Corona Virus behind, let’s hope the innovations and good will we gained through dealing with a pandemic endure.
A friend of mine posted this haiku on Facebook and there were numerous comments about privilege, depression due to isolation, and youth suicide. It struck me that a short, three line poem can evoke such strong emotions in so many people. It is true, there is privilege in being able to stay home. Not everyone has that luxury, and not everyone functions well when faced with social isolation. It really got me thinking about inequality in society, and how that lends to inequality in education, especially during a pandemic.
Prior to COVID-19, students had access to teachers, counsellors, books, computers, the internet, and in some cases schools even provided food. When schools were forced to shut down in many regions in March or April, friends of mine asked for my opinion on whether kids would fall behind. I told them that kids are resilient, and as long as they were reading, they would be fine. I’m not so sure I believe that now. Without schools operating as they once were, the gap between educational equality seems to be widening, or perhaps the pandemic is just shining a spotlight on it.
Some school boards in Canada are operating with full-time classes, some have adopted a hybrid learning model and others are completely online.Since I have one son, who owns a laptop with high speed internet, and goes to school 2.5 days a week, he is thriving. He receives instructions at school, and he has independent learning tasks at home, with supplemental Zoom meetings when he is not at school. He has regular contact with teachers and friends in a safe, highly engaging environment. In speaking with friends and former colleagues, we realize how very fortunate we are.
What happens if you have more than one child? What if you have four children working from home? Does everyone have access to a laptop? If not, how does a family manage to get their child to a Zoom meeting, when another child has one at the same time? How do you make those tough decisions? What if a parent or parents are also working from home? What if you don’t have a laptop, or internet at your home? What are your options?
While some of these issues are socio-economic, others have to do with geography. Not every community has access to the internet, and satellite internet or cellular connections can be spotty or unreliable. In the Spring when schools were closed, one rural community in Alberta was creating packages for their students, which were delivered and picked up again by the bus drivers. I was impressed with this creative idea, since it allowed bus drivers to continue to work, when they normally would have been laid off. The problem is, since the packages are in response to no internet or limited internet, they are often full of busy work. There wasn’t much room for independent study or collaboration within these packages.
Even when students have access to laptops and the internet, they may still experience inequality. My friend in Vancouver had a very unfortunate situation at the start of remote learning which I relaid in one of my comments. Her son was asked to set up his work station as his only assignment for his first week. During his second week, he was asked to think of two stars and a wish. Keep in mind, he is in Grade Seven. I understand that many schools and teachers were caught off guard, but this was unbelievable and unacceptable, in my opinion.
I worry, due to no fault of their own, many students will be left behind or will give up in frustration. How do we overcome these disparities? How do we ensure that all students regardless of socio-economic status, or geography have access to high quality education? As cases of COVID-19 are increasing in many parts of the world, including Canada, we need to reflect on our preparedness for a possible return to online teaching. Are there ways we can provide rich learning experiences for our students which allow them to develop the knowledge, skills and competencies necessary to thrive in a modern world? What are the implications if this is not possible? What are the long term effects of inequality in education? These are questions I ask myself as the cases of COVID are again on the rise.
Since Mental Health week was just last week, and frankly, anytime is a good time to discuss mental health, I thought I would continue with my theme of wellness, this time for teachers. As teachers, we tend to put ourselves last. When we have time, and even when we don’t, we mark assignments, write lesson plans and contact parents. We must keep in mind that we are no good to our students our families or friends when we are depleted and lacking focus. We need to remember to put ourselves first and take time to exercise, get out in nature or do whatever feeds your soul.
I had the opportunity to visit the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains this week. It was the perfect mix of adrenaline rush, including a mountain roller coaster and a zip line, followed by a refreshing pool and a warm sauna. We went on hikes, we sat by the fire and played games and we sat through a raging storm and we experienced the first snowfall of the year. It was the perfect mix of getting out in nature and relaxing.
During COVID-19 I’m not recommending travel, unless it can be done safely. We rented a private chalet and practiced social distancing, including eating outdoors and we wore our masks when around others. It was the shoulder season, so there weren’t too many people visiting the mountains. Even if you cannot safely travel right now, getting out in nature, or taking time to read a book for pleasure can help you gain some perspective, and focus on something you love to do.
If you are able to get out in nature or participate in activities you normally like to do, and yet you are not able to experience joy, it may be time to seek help. Many School Boards offer counselling sessions to their employees, which may have to be virtual due to COVID, but could be potentially helpful to have a trained professional to talk to.
Keep in touch with people when possible. It can be hard to stay connected when the very message from doctors is to stay apart. I have started reaching out more socially on Zoom with friends and family in Canada. Even if you only have fifteen minutes to connect, it can really brighten your day.
As a teacher, I like to collaborate with other teachers and hear about their triumphs and challenges and see if we can help or learn from one another. Talking through issues or sharing tips can help you to know others are going through the same thing you are. Feeling connected is a struggle right now, but worth the effort to find ways to meet such as in the parking lot at school, on FaceTime, or Zoom if there are a few of you, or simply calling. Even just sending a text checking in on a friend can provide a much needed pick me up.
In recent years there have been a wealth of wellness apps on the market. While I haven’t tried any myself, I know friends that swear by Calm. It was named by Apple as the 2017 iPhone app of the year. Calm provides people experiencing stress and anxiety with guided meditations, sleep stories, breathing programs, and relaxing music.
“Need a happy fix? With its psychologist-approved mood-training program, the Happify app is your fast-track to a good mood. Try various engaging games, activity suggestions, gratitude prompts and more to train your brain as if it were a muscle, to overcome negative thoughts. The best part? It’s free!”
In this stressful and uncertain time, our well-being is so important. Make putting yourself first a priority. When that simply is not possible, try again the next day. Make and keep connections with others, even if it is just a text, or an email. Reach out to a professional if you feel like you need help or someone to talk to. There are many mental health programs and apps you can access for free or the premium versions for a monthly fee. If you need additional resources, you can access the Mental Health Commission of Canada at: https://mhfa.ca/en/general-resources
This past year has been hard on most people in the world. It really is striking to think about that. There is likely not a person alive who has not been impacted in some way by COVID-19. There have been other events in history such as WWI, WWII, the Spanish Flu and The Black Death which have impacted a large part of the world. The negative impacts of the current pandemic may range from health problems and financial difficulties to disruption and isolation. The silent but potentially deadly consequence of COVID-19 is the damage to our mental health.
Living in limbo is not easy on anyone. I was living my life in Kyiv, Ukraine when the pandemic hit, and my family and I were given a choice to stay put, or to evacuate back to Canada. We chose to stay. The numbers in Ukraine initially were much lower than in Canada, and it seemed safer than flying and spending time in airports. In the end the decision was taken out of our hands and we had to fly back to Canada. The medical system in Ukraine was deemed to be substandard in comparison with Canada, and for our protection, we were asked to fly home. We booked ourselves into a cottage in the woods in Havelock-Belmont-Methuen, Ontario for two months. We figured we wouldn’t be there the whole two months, but we wanted to ensure we had a place to stay. Every week we would have a Zoom call with our Ambassador and wait anxiously for any news. No news ever came. We would hear rumours from other colleagues that next week we would hear something and then the next.
We finally had to book another month, this time in Toronto. We again thought we would leave before the end of the month, but that date came and went, all the while still having weekly Embassy calls in the hopes we would get some news. All toll we were in Canada for 4 months. For anyone who lives in Toronto or was keeping up with COVID-19 updates in Canada, it was one of the last places to open up businesses and restaurants. Our daily lives were not easy. My son was continuing with his remote schooling, but his timing was off and he had to switch to asynchronous learning, when he had been used to live Zoom sessions throughout the day. As a result, he did not get to see his friends. My husband had to keep working, but again, most of his meetings were with people in Ukraine, so trying to collaborate with others was difficult due to the time change. I was able to conduct my lessons online, but our internet was satellite based at the cottage in the woods and that proved a challenge to maintain a good connection.
We were safe, we had food and we were together. Overall we were quite lucky, but still I struggled with my mental health. I am a planner, and it was killing me not to know when or if I would ever go back to Kyiv. The way I kept myself sane was to remember that we were lucky, and that there were people much worse off than we were. My son also handled the situation so well, that he inspired me to try to live in the moment and focus on the positive things that were happening.
“The fear of the unknown is possibly the most fundamental fear of human beings. From an evolutionary perspective, humans have been able to survive because we’re able to plan. We’re socialized from childhood to believe that “there’s a predictable universe” and order in which things should happen” (Antshel).
How are our students handling life and schooling during the pandemic? Overall, mental health services are lacking in most regions of Canada. Needing access to services during COVID-19 is proving especially difficult, due to social distancing requirements. While Zoom sessions may be an option for some, others are finding themselves on a waiting list. Many students who are struggling are suffering in silence and not letting others know their pain.
“The Covid-19 pandemic may worsen existing mental health problems and lead to more cases among children and adolescents because of the unique combination of the public health crisis, social isolation, and economic recession” (Golberstein, Wen, Miller).
For students who are attending school online, they may miss out on mental health services that are provided at school. “A major concern the researchers point to: Since most mental health disorders begin in childhood, it is essential that any mental health issues be identified early and treated. Left untreated, they can lead to serious health and emotional problems. In the short term, video conferencing may be an effective way to deliver mental health services to children” (Golberstein, et.al).
Mental health and academic achievement are linked, research shows. Chronic stress changes the chemical and physical structure of the brain, impairing cognitive skills like attention, concentration, memory, and creativity. “You see deficits in your ability to regulate emotions in adaptive ways as a result of stress,” said Cara Wellman, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University. In her research, Wellman discovered that chronic stress causes the connections between brain cells to shrink in mice, leading to cognitive deficiencies in the prefrontal cortex.
Not all students are dealing with pandemic in the same way. For some, their lives continue mostly as it was. For others, their lives have been turned upside down and they have had to isolate at a time when they need people the most. COVID-19 will have lasting repercussions for children, and it is important for them to get timely access to mental health services. Intervening early can help lessen the negative impacts on learning and help students find techniques to help them cope with school and life in an uncertain time.
Golberstein E, Wen H, Miller BF. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and Mental Health for Children and Adolescents. JAMA Pediatr. 2020;174(9):819–820. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.1456
Returning to the communication topic from my last post, I want to now examine family feedback, and how crucial it can be in general, but specifically during a pandemic. Parents always want to know how their children are doing academically, but now that being on campus can be a matter of life and death, parents have numerous questions about the health and safety of their children. My son’s school, Pechersk School International (PSI), has put a lot of time and effort into modifying their campus, and putting in regulations to safeguard the students and staff. In the summer, all families received a Back to School Guide and accompanying video to take parents through the important decisions that were made, and the expectations of staff, students, and families going forward. Attached to the Back To School Guide, is a Google Document, which allows parents to continually ask questions which are answered by the Director, the school doctor, a CDC consultant, or one of the principals. Not having any direct experience with other schools, to search for norms, I can say with great confidence that PSI is exemplifying gold-standard measures for safety, communication, and for focusing on emotional wellbeing. To help students adjust to their hybrid learning situation, an advisory program has been established in the secondary school to ensure social-emotional learning is emphasized during this time of uncertainty. This class allows students time for questions, for games and for reflection.
Even with all the steps PSI has taken, and all the information they have sent out, the questions continue. Speaking to some of my friend’s who are teachers, they are feeling overwhelmed with the amount of emails they are receiving from parents. How do we ensure we are offering a sufficient amount of feedback, without experiencing teacher burn-out?
Ways to Provide and Receive Feedback from Students and Families
Surveys let you know if the information you are providing is having the desired effect. Surveys also let you quickly see a graph or a tangible number to confirm or contradict your assumptions about parental satisfaction. There are several survey apps which make sending and receiving results quick and easy.
Sometimes parents can get bogged down in all the newsletters, classroom information, or district e-mails. Just like students, it helps to cater to all types of learners in your community. One way to make parents feel at ease, especially if they are not allowed on campus is to make a video showing the measures you or your school has in place to keep them safe.
At PSI we have weekly town hall meetings which are recorded to ensure all parents can stay informed regardless of their schedule. This is another great way to impart information, but also for parents to ask or text questions and receive answers live. This way you may receive an answer to a question you didn’t realize you had!
You can start a Google Document to allow parents to ask any questions and then the answers will remain to allow for any parents to easily retrieve information that has already been posted. This can save time and allow a place for ongoing communication.
Keeping parents in the loop and providing them with a consistent place to ask questions will ease tensions throughout the year. Having said that, you do need a time to switch off. Clearly state to parents your communication policy. If you do not answer emails during school hours or after 9:00 P.M. for example, make parents aware of this:
“Teachers who sense scrutiny from parents and administrators during this time when their struggles are observed have more difficulty coping. Teachers who perceive collegial support, who set limits on their time and who practice self-understanding are more successful in recovering efficacy and coping” (Guerin, 2020).
Being able to communicate effectively is arguably our most important life skill. During COVID-19, this can be a real challenge. Whether you are teaching in person, in a hybrid setting, or online, effective communication is clearly necessary, but more difficult during this time. When discussing communication, we often see it examined in seven parts, as the seven Cs of Communication:
I think it is important to re-look at these seven Cs through the lens of COVID-19, and evaluate whether we need to change or enhance our methods of communication.
Clarity: For those who are teaching in an asynchronous environment, or responding to emails, tone in the written word can be tricky. When trying to be funny or lighthearted, our messages can come off as odd or clunky and leave our students confused. When communicating, we need to be clear about our goals and try to avoid sarcasm, or cryptic messages. We need to be explicit, and state exactly what we want our students to do or know. Wearing a mask can also make it hard for some students who are used to reading lips or taking in facial cues like smiling, frowning or pausing. While some people smile with their eyes, it may be helpful to express what is going on under your mask, i.e., “I’m thinking right now.”
We need to be concise. When we introduce an assignment in person, students can get overwhelmed in the details. While it may seem important to include every detail at once, often students need time to sit with, or start the assignment before actually knowing what questions they may have. Breaking down the assignment into parts can help students get a handle on what you are asking them to do. Try to eliminate unnecessary information at the outset, and allow questions you receive to guide your instructions, once students have been provided with a hard or soft copy of the assignment.
Complete: While this may seem like the opposite of the advice just offered, having all relevant information in writing, makes the information available to check and recheck as a student works through their assignments. Have all the relevant information such as the due date, the expected length of the assignment, a rubric, and a clear, consistent place for students to be able to ask questions. Whether this is your email address, a Google Document a Zoom meeting, etc. Students need to be able to clarify instructions and have the ability to ask and have their questions answered. Communication is a two way street, and allowing a public place to ask questions can not only help that student, but allow others to benefit from their questions and your responses.
Correct: Double check your information before sending it out, as having the wrong dates on assignments, can cause a lot of confusion. Check your written assignments and messages for grammatical and spelling mistakes, and especially for the correct spelling of student names. Some students are used to teachers spelling, or pronouncing their names wrong. Make a real effort to get it right. My name is Leah, but people often pronounce my name as Leia (like Princess Leia). I usually just ignore it or roll with it, but it can go along way to building a positive atmosphere with your students if you make an effort to get the spelling and pronunciation right.
Courteous: During this uncertain time, having all students logging on to your class at the correct time, or wearing their masks properly when they arrive can seem like the only priority to worry about, but focusing on being courteous can go a long way in reducing stressful situations. Being friendly, and emphatic can allow your classes to run more smoothly and it allows you to model respectful communication even when under pressure.
Coherent: If you are new to online teaching or speaking through a mask, you may want to practice by video taping yourself to check for proper pacing, enunciation, and to see how many filler words you use. When becoming a teacher, we were constantly being taped to see what what we actually looked like or sounded like. My filler word was, and often still is, “okay.” Filler words are often unavoidable, but students may get caught up in these filler words and it may make focusing more difficult. My Grade 10 Social Studies teacher would clear his throat if we got an answer wrong. I can still hear him making the “er-h-r-m,” noise, even today!
Concrete: Providing students with a clear picture of what you are asking of them may need examples, like student work from a previous year, a photo, or a video to allow them to know what to expect. When proving an image, a story or example, this may make this abstract idea come to life.
Connected: Having reviewed the seven Cs and discussed the importance of effective communication, my focus for this year is to make it eight Cs and add “Connected ” to this list. Feeling connected is so important right now. Like many of you, I am feeling disconnected from friends, from family, from students and my way of life in general. Making students feel connected by checking in, offering remote collaborative experiences, and going beyond the course content to ensure everyone feels connected is what is needed right now.
“Humans are social creatures and have a deep biological and neurological need for interaction, so it follows that research has found that positive relationships in children’s lives play an important role in students’ ability to learn and cope” (Prothero, 2020).
“We know that kids learn best when they feel safe and secure; when they feel anxious and aroused and uncomfortable, learning stops,” said Laura Phillips, a neuropsychologist with the Child Mind Institute. “If we want to maximize the school year, we need to help kids start out feeling safe and connected to the people with whom they are interacting (Prothero, 2020).
There have always been differing views on the purpose of education, but in my view, feeling connected in a time where that is scarce, is my top priority. Everyone will remember 2020, but hopefully we can create opportunities for students to feel connected in an uncertain and unprecedented time.
In my last post, I stated that our response to change is key. We cannot spend time lamenting about the way things were or spending time resisting change. We therefore, need to address the learning curve during this pandemic. Some of us have known that our lessons would be solely online and have planned for this; some of have prepared our lessons for hybrid learning and still others have planned to deliver in person learning all year. No matter what your situation is, the way we teach and learn is different. There is no way around this fact. Even if you are teaching in person, you and your students will likely be wearing masks, or you may be seeing your students through plexiglass shields. You may not have access to shared materials and collaboration between students may be limited.
Although teaching and learning is different, the main goal should be the same. “The goal of any type learning system, regardless of the delivery is to promote learning, therefore, before any learning materials are developed, educators must tacitly or explicitly know the principles of learning and how students learn. This is especially true for online learning, where instructors and learners are separated. The development of effective online learning materials should be based on proven and sound learning theories. The delivery medium is not the determining factor in the quality of learning per se; rather, course design determines the effectiveness of the learning” (Rovai, 2002).
“To select the most appropriate instructional strategies, the online developer must know the different approaches to learning. Strategies should be selected to motivate learners, facilitate deep processing, build the whole person, cater to individual differences, promote meaningful learning, encourage interaction, provide relevant feedback, facilitate contextual learning, and provide support during the learning process” (Anderson, 2011).
For those teaching online, there are a number of valuable insights I have gleaned through reading up on delivering lessons remotely. Here are some of my main takeaways:
Practice your lesson before you deliver it. Practice retrieving files, having relevant tabs open and ensure you know which documents you will need and close those tabs that you won’t need.
Clarity is king. Ensure you deliver clear expectations and provide plenty of opportunities for questions and confirmation of assignments.
Ask students for feedback. This information will be invaluable to you in finding out if your microphone occasionally cuts out, if you are speaking too quickly, or if students have trouble finding where to find homework assignments, for example.
Provide a camera-off period to allow those students who feel anxious or uncomfortable answering questions to take a break from being “on.”
Create opportunities for students to teach. Students will gain confidence in their presentation skills, and it allows for students to learn from one another.
Involve families where appropriate. If you are teaching school aged children, ensure you provide opportunities for families to understand the expectations of their child, which can alleviate stress on both sides. When parents feel valued and informed, they will be more willing to collaborate with you and help enhance learning for their child. In my son’s school we have weekly town hall meetings to offer information and to allow parents to ask questions of the principal.
Anderson, T. (2011). The Theory and Practice of Online Learning 2nd edition. Edmonton, Alberta: Library and Archives Canada.
As of September, some teachers have been working full time in a classroom, some are working from home and still others are doing a mix of both. All of those scenarios come with positives and negatives. Even though some of us would prefer to teach or learn in person, it does not mean that this is possible right now. We need to adapt and become “responsive to change.” COVID-19 is here for the foreseeable future, and to protect one another we have to understand that some changes are necessary for the common good. My son’s school is doing a fantastic job of protecting staff and students within a hybrid model, but this week they are back to online learning due to a COVID case which has put too many staff in quarantine to offer in person learning. Staff and students have to adapt to an evolving situation and learn to be prepared for a variety of scenarios.
I was extremely disappointed when I found out all my classes would be online. I did not want to teach remotely. I like socializing with my colleagues and I like the down time with my students. I enjoy our greetings, our chit chat throughout our lessons, and that is something that is now missing. I am still struggling to create some atmosphere in my classes. I should mention that I teach English as an additional language and for anyone who has taught or learned a language, working remotely can present specific challenges in terms of sound quality and the possibility of missing sounds or words. Although this can happen in all online teaching, missing words or making mistakes needs be corrected promptly before errors are ingrained. With that being said, working online is certainly efficient and streamlined. There isn’t the downtime, so there is actually more time for learning, which is a positive.
Online learning is not new and there have certainly been a lot of studies dedicated to researching the efficacy of remote learning.
The majority of the studies have concluded that online learning is as effective as in person learning, but it can depend on what aspect you are looking at. For example, online learning is less expensive than in person learning, but there are upkeep costs to consider, which can add up in ways not always anticipated. (Strother (2002)
Just because online learning is effective and usually less expensive, doesn’t mean it is ideal for everyone. Some students definitely do better with in person learning, as the physical act of walking into the school indicates it is time for work, where some people have a harder time switching to learning mode in their homes. There are always other distractions such as gaming, eating, texting and napping to name a few.
Thinking back to the Darwin quote, our reality has changed. My goal, like many other people is to rise to this challenge. We need to find new ways to connect, to communicate and build relationships and communities, despite our physical separation.
Questions: Why do some conceptions of curriculum continue to be used over time or are considered to be mainstream approaches, while others are not?
Social Efficiency Ideology
Believe in teaching the accumulated, important, cultural knowledge from our past
Develop competencies necessary for functioning members of society in workplace and home
Learner-centred ideology Focused on growth of the individual School is Enjoyable Unique individual results for each student
Concerned with creating a more just and equitable society Human experience is primarily shaped by cultural factors
Teachers should be scholars who a have a deep understanding of the subject matter they teach
Teachers should aim to create an “educated” person through change by creating and sequencing learning experiences to reach the desired effects
Teachers must provide opportunities for students to reach their capabilities as they make meaning for themselves through interactions with others
Teachers help guide students by exploring social issues, presenting alternate view points and facilitating plans of action
Here is a snapshot of 4 conceptions of curriculum as defined by Schiro (2013)
It can be difficult to define the term “Curriculum” without adding a judgment to the definition, since it can mean different things to different people depending on their philosophy or philosophies of education. Begg (2005) stated that curriculum is “all planning for the classroom.” I thought this is the most concise and non-judgmental definition I have come across. Perhaps the definition is not as important as who decides what should be taught and what material should be taught. According to Brown (2006):
“Defining what should be in curriculum plans for the classroom requires answering two questions: (1) Who should determine what is taught?; and (2) What material should be taught? It would appear that there are a limited number of options available to curriculum developers in answering these questions. Who determines the curriculum can only be one or more of the following: (a) students’ needs or wants; (b) teachers’ knowledge and expertise; or (c) government’s policies in response to society’s problems or issues. The options for determining the substance of curriculum relates to either (a) important content, such as the chemical make-up of water, or (b) important processes, such as knowing how to learn.”
The reasons that some conceptions of curriculum remain over time is that no educator is falls purely into one category. Educators and curriculum developers draw from a variety of orientations at once, thus filling a need and keeping those conceptions in use. Pressure from various stakeholders from parents to politicians, demanding certain skills, traits and mind sets can be very powerful. Social change and unrest cannot be overlooked, especially during times of radical shifts and major world events. It will be interesting to see what happens as a result of the Black Lives Matters Movement and Covid-19. I find myself looking at the world through a new lens, and that is really significant since the onset of this radical change only took place at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. I find myself more critical of media coverage, for example, would this be reported on differently if this person were white? I find myself less connected to friends, family and my students, which is having a major impact on my life, especially since I have been evacuated. Although technology has been a godsend in keeping us all connected, I have realized I interact with others better in person. On-line, there are too many possibilities for not hearing everything that was said and misunderstandings, especially with ESL learners. Since there is not one “right” or agreed upon type of curriculum, we will continue to draw on the strengths of many conceptions to serve those in the best way we know how at any given time.
Explain your interpretation of conceptions of curriculum and how you can use them as tools or frameworks to analyze planning, instruction, and assessment within your specific context of practice.
I definitely draw from a number of conceptions when planning for my classroom activities. I am constantly reflecting on ways I was successful in order to improve and try new things. Teaching a variety of grade levels also has an impact on the way I plan, teach and assess. My start in education was with very young students and I became aware of Joseph Froebel, the “Father of Kindergarten,” of Vygotsky and his Zone of Proximal Development, and of Pestalozzi and his idea of “Life itself educates.” This has greatly impacted me and I am more concerned with fostering learning in the individual child at a level where they can thrive. I try to incorporate nature when possible and allow students to experience real world situations when relevant. During the readings, I was thinking about the different Program of Studies I have worked with, and the variety of stakeholders and who ultimately decides what should be included and when and how curriculum gets changed. I once read a quote that “Moving a graveyard is easier than changing a school” (Woodrow Wilson). I also read a related quote that no one cares about a graveyard, until you try to move it. These quotes highlight the difficulty in changing and implementing new curriculum. People are adverse to change, and some educators worry that new, may mean more. As our society changes, we owe it to our students to find ways to teach in order to maximize learning opportunities.
Al Mousa, N. (2013). An examination of CAD use in Two Interior Design Programs from the Perspectives of Curriculum and Instructors, pp. 21-37.
Brown, G. (2006). Conceptions of curriculum: a framework for understanding New Zealand’s curriculum framework and teachers’ opinions. 2, 164-181.
Eisner, E., & Vallance, E. (Eds.). (1974). Five conceptions of the curriculum: Their roots and implications for curriculum planning. Conflicting conceptions of curriculum (pp. 1-18). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan Publishing.
McNeil, J. D. (2009).Contemporary curriculum in thought and action (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley. Pages 1, 3-14, 27-39, 52-60, 71-74.
Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2013). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson. Read part of Chapter 1, pp. 1-8.
Schiro, M. S. (2013). Introduction to the curriculum ideologies. In M. S. Schiro, Curriculum theory: Conflicting visions and enduring concerns (2nd ed., pp. 1-13). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Sowell, E. (2005). Curriculum: An integrative introduction. Pearson, Upper Saddle River, NJ. 3. 37-51.
When I think about classroom management, my style has evolved over the years. When I first started teaching, a student made the comment that “You have no bend.” I was flattered at the time. I wanted to be strict, I did not want to be thought of as a pushover, and I wanted to maintain control at all times. After I thought more about what he had said, I realized that being inflexible is not a desirable attribute to have. I realized that I could be in control, and that changing my mind, or going a different way did not signify weakness or indecisiveness, but stubbornness and inflexibility. Somehow I had received the message that sticking to my guns showed I was prepared, organized and I wasn’t going to be pushed around. In reality, being prepared and listening to feedback, allows you to change direction and shows a willingness to engage, and allow students to be apart of the decision making in our classroom.
When I was taking my education degree, we had a course partially dedicated to classroom management. One of the most disappointing aspects to this course came out of a series of visits from a principal of an inner-city school. She spoke about the importance of maintaining classroom management skills and establishing rules in the classroom. As an assignment, she asked us to come up with a set of rules we would post in our classrooms and discuss why we chose these particular rules. What a disappointment this exercise turned out to be. She didn’t agree with any of us about the rules we had listed. Either we had too many rules, they were too vague, they were too wordy, or they weren’t comprehensive enough. She did not want to give us examples, since we are all different, but I left this class unsure of how to go about establishing rules. It’s like she had a specific answer she was looking for, but kept it a secret for herself. She also suggested that we needed to bond with our students by attending their plays, hockey games and accepting birthday invitations. While I have gone to some recitals and hockey games, since those are for everyone, I don’t agree with attending birthday parties. I think that takes away from family time and puts the teacher in a strange position. Overall, my experience with learning about classroom management was lacking, and I had to find my way on my own.
As I mentioned, my first approach to classroom management was largely behavioural. It wasn’t until I reflected on the feedback from a student did I realize that I was holding on to control, rather than expecting students to develop their abilities of self-discipline and self-control. I feel like I moved towards an ecological approach, after I received feedback from my evaluator that my transitions needed to be improved. I was often told I had “with-it-ness” and I did practice overlapping. I like to use proximately to give students the idea that I need them to focus, stop talking, or whatever behaviour I want improved. Students quickly get the message that I am approaching them for a reason. This way, I can keep talking and not have to disrupt the flow of the class. I find this method extremely effective. I also practice an interpersonal approach to classroom management as this is an area of strength for me. I now provide a democratic leadership style and empower students by allowing them an important role in the decision making process.
When I look at the list of successful practices, I have used many of the approaches listed. I like to tell my students how smart they are, how kind they are, and I try to maintain a good sense of humour. I do offer my students helpful suggestions and I am well prepared and organized. One area I would like to develop further is the internal control approach. I especially liked the phrase “building discipline with dignity” (Wubbels, 2007). I remember reading a book: Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn, in which he said punishment works, but only when the teacher is present. As I recall, he used the police as an example. We may not follow the speed limit when driving, but as soon as a police officer approaches we tend to go the speed limit or even lower, and increase our speed once the officer is out of sight.
An article I read from Early Childhood News described the guidance approach to classroom management. This is a way to teach children alternatives to their negative behaviour and provide them with positive alternatives instead. For example, if two children are fighting over getting to use the blue pair of scissors, the teacher could ask them to each choose another colour, which in actuality, punishes both children. Using the guidance approach, the teacher could ask the students to come up with an alternative to fighting over the colour of scissors. If the children need help, the teacher could suggest some possible solutions, like one child using the blue ones today and the other child could use the blue ones tomorrow. One child could use the blue scissors for half the period and then switch, (students could be given a timer to ensure this happens) or the teacher could suggest the two students sit together in order to share the pair of scissors. If this situation presents itself again, the students will have three alternatives to fighting over something in their repertoire. These students may even be able to advise other students on ways they can solve their dispute. This approach would work wonders for primary students, but could be used in difficult situations for older students. For example when navigating difficult friendship issues or communication breakdowns. To help other students who were not involved in this exchange and to solidify options to negative behaviours, students may be tasked with role-playing negative behaviours and then offering solutions to the behaviours. The audience may also have suggestions for correcting behaviours. This can help students build up their “toolbox” of alternatives.
Module 4: Part 2: Building Bridges Through Technology
I would love to use Google Classroom in my classroom. Because I am teaching English right now, I am not using this technology, but I am certainly familiar with it. My son uses Google Classroom and he is a great advertiser for the product. He loves the To Do List feature and the Calendar feature. He simply has to look and see what is due and if he has completed the assignment. He is a very diligent student, so I rarely look in depth at the Weekly Summary that the school sends, but a few weeks ago, I saw a section I don’t normally receive letting me know he was missing an assignment. I told him about it, he gasped and he went and handed it in. What an amazing save! Like I said, I don’t pay too much attention to the updates, because he rarely, if ever, misses any assignments. This program is great for students, teachers and parents. All the the information pertaining to my son is on one page, including any extra-curricular activities. He is a little worried, as his school has announced that they will be moving to Toddle soon. Toddle is designed for IB schools and since it aligns with the IB themes, it makes sense that the school would be switching to this platform. The Primary School has already implemented it, the MYP will be next the roll out. I had a look at the demos and it does seem to be simple, streamlined, and offer similar features as Google Classroom. I imagine it will be more functional for teachers, since it aligns will all the IB themes and evaluations.
In terms of technology, my goal is to embrace as many platforms as possible. I want to get my skills back. When I first started teaching, I was the go-to person for any technology we used in the school. People would come to me for help in setting up their report cards, for managing their attendance folder, and for creating I-movies. Our principal asked every teacher to create an I-movie that would be played in the gym during our monthly assemblies. This was an onerous process. Students and teachers had to take pictures and videos and put them together with music that celebrated some aspect of learning in your classroom. My favourite video was a story my students created about a student who was always getting into trouble and a ghost came to help him do the right thing. We even made our library assistant cry. I feel like over the years, if you do not use technology regularly, and learn about new websites and platforms, it is easy to be left behind. I want to again be the go-to person to ask about using technology and to offer tips and tricks to my colleagues. Through my courses at Queens I have improved so much. I have used Padlet, Powtoon, Zoom (before it was popular), Trello, Prezi, Keynote, Google Slides, Coggle, Mindomo, Twitter and WordPress. To achieve my lofty goal, I commit to using the existing technologies I know, and embracing all new technologies. When I am done my Master’s Degree, there is always a situation to use these platforms to keep up to date. Since I am moving to Singapore in the summer, I can create a: Places to visit in Singapore presentation. Additionally, I can make a mind map to prep my family for things we need to do before we move. I am eager and motivated to expose myself to as many tech tools as possible. The benefits for my future classroom are endless in both presenting material for my students and introducing them to new modes of communication and presentation platforms.
I have noticed that my son is using technology more to keep in touch with his friends due to the pandemic. At first, they would simply play games together and only discuss the game. Now, he sometimes leaves his microphone and speaker on for hours while he is doing his work and chats casually to one friend or multiple at a time. He uses Google Hangouts and then switches to Google Meet if more than one person wants to chat. He used to hate the game Fortnite, but now he plays it regularly with his friends. I think this has to do more the pandemic than anything else. He has one friend who has moved to Cairo, whom he still communicates with often. He unfortunately is picking up some not so positive generalizations of the students and the culture in Egypt. His friend has reached out crying a few times, which has been heartbreaking. Thank goodness for all the ways these friends have to stay in touch, even when they are far away. Not everything, however, has been positive. Sometimes his friends are demanding and want to know why he has not responded. He is not yet at an age, or has the disposition, to be fully connected to this online world. When Logan plays a game with us, or watches a movie or a show, he will not check his devices. We still get his undivided attention.
I have noticed that my son’s teachers, in an effort to not overwhelm students with screen time, have provided a variety of learning activities that can be done off line. I think teachers understand that students need to develop skills that don’t involve technology and this provides them an opportunity to create something tactile and allows for some time away from the screen.
Students do seem to have a preference for social platforms based on what their friends are into. My son, Logan, has reported that all the girls in his class love Tiktok, and they spend their time making and watching Tiktok videos. The boys are into Roblox, Fortnite, Minecraft and PUBG. Since he is only 11-years-old, he is not on any social media platform like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. When he had to choose a picture to accompany his school work, this is what he chose:
He is a cute kid, if I do say so myself, but he is bold, no-nonsense, and not at all self-conscious, as is evident from the photo. Even the fact that I asked him if I could post that picture to my school work, he did not mind at all. I wish I had that kind of confidence when I was 11.
This reminded me of the students in the Prayas School. The students in India did not agree with the student in South Africa using Lil’ Wayne as his profile picture. It is interesting what we are willing or unwilling to put out to the world. Everyone’s aesthetic is different. When I thought of my own social media picture on Facebook, I have convinced myself that I don’t care enough to update my photo from 2009, but I think I’m a little worried about the aging process. In terms of the types of technology that students use at school, I think educators are weary of using Facebook and Twitter due the negative aspects of these platforms. I suggested to a Grade 8 student that she could find the listings for English language movies here in Kyiv on Facebook, and she almost spit out her drink. She basically told me all I need to know about her opinion of Facebook. While I’m not a fan of the platform, I know that it is used a lot in Ukraine and I want to stay connected to what is going on. I know Twitter is also seen in a negative light, but I have seen Twitter used successfully by students in school who have used it for quick, instant updating of happenings to do with school news. Instead of students being responsible for making the announcements in the office over the intercom, they now Tweet out announcements online. I have also used both Twitter and Facebook for educational purposes myself and I have been impressed with the results I have received.
In terms of the local community at my son’s school, the real divide can be seen in which instant messaging platform you use. Most Ukrainian parents use Viber, and most other internationals use WhatsApp. I have a British/Canadian friend who was incensed that her kids were left out of playdates and birthday parties because everything was communicated on Viber, and she refused to get the app. Another divide is the elaborate way in which Ukrainian parents want to celebrate activities in the school or birthday parties. Many non-Ukrainian parents follow a more subdued response to these events, which is a less-is-more approach. This causes conflict and quite often a divide. Technology quite often plays a role, since all the planning is done on Viber and the final plan is presented to the group. I was the Classroom Parent Coordinator one year and one parent was angry that I wouldn’t post a list of teachers and their birthday’s, so the families could send flowers. I tried to explain that this is not expected by the teachers and not even welcomed in some cases. Privacy is prized by many of the teachers, and here is an area where the cultures clash to some degree. Flowers are very important in Ukrainian culture. On the first day of school in Ukrainian schools, the teachers are given a large bouquet of flowers from all of their students and the students and teachers dress up. It is a beautiful sight, and a wonderful start to the year. I think it is a great way to set the tone for a successful year.
Language is also a barrier for many parents. Some parents complain that the school will not send out messages in Ukrainian or Russian, but the school explains that the working language is English. I can see why the school will not change their policy since there are over 52 countries represented at the school, but this must be a barrier. Our school sends out a plethora of information on a weekly basis, as well as having bi-weekly town hall meetings. All correspondence is in English and all meetings are in English. I know that Ukrainians have a choice of where to send their children to school, but if you do not speak English, it must be hard to be connected to the school for the most part. I am a native English speaker and I could not imagine reading everything that is sent home, as it would take too long. We even have an app for our school with alerts, which can be overwhelming sometimes. I would never accuse our school of not communicating with parents.
In the reading regarding civics learning, I thought instantly of a docudrama I had watched on Netflix called: The Social Dilemma. How difficult it must be to teach children about civics, when their source of media is skewed or used to manipulate them. I used to ask myself how can so many people think Donald Trump is doing a good job? This program finally answered that question. All of the algorithms provide people with information that works to confirm their own assumptions or bias of the world. If you believe Donald Trump is doing a good job, your social media feed will include videos from Fox News praising the president; you will see mentions of him working at all hours and a list of accomplishments that “beats any other president in modern history.” If you despise Donald Trump you will see videos of him golfing, lying, sweating, and mentions of the crimes he has committed. While this is an oversimplification of this process, it speaks to a greater concern regarding people who get their news from Facebook, or other questionable sources. I watch CBC News: The National, on Youtube every morning to stay in touch with what is going on in Canada, and I think the reporters do a good job of presenting a balanced approach and not sliding into commentary. I can’t imagine teaching civics to Americans in this culture. I think the news networks in the States are very overt in their political leanings. It is difficult to find a media outlet that is “balanced.”
I do agree with the point made in the article that “digital natives” means students who have come of age during a time when computers were the norm. Alan November in his book and video: Who Owns The Learning, points out that digital native does not necessarily mean nuanced digital native. Just because students can navigate 8 open tabs and quickly get around using technology, they may not be any better, or sometimes worse at understanding how computers actually work. November gives an example of a student studying the Iranian hostage crisis. The student couldn’t find any sources besides American ones. November asked the student if he considered that the Iranians would not call it “The Iranian Hostage Crisis.” Also, he taught the student to find articles by using the country code of Iran and looking for Middle Eastern Media outlets to find his sources. Students may be more adept, but not necessarily nuanced in their ability to search out multi-view points and find a variety of opinions. That’s what makes social media so dangerous for young people who may not receive messages from a variety of sources, and this is where schools can be so important. Schools can tackle tough issues and open students’ eyes to the danger of confirmation bias.
Module 4: Part 3: Creating a Global Community of Connected, Reflective Curriculum Theorists
I thoroughly enjoyed all the readings and videos in part 3. I appreciated the vivid description by Foxman about the pull factor of technology vs the push factor of education that is boring or outdated. It’s so true; no matter how I have used technology in the classroom, the students are excited and engaged in learning. That’s not to say anything sort of assignment will due, but children embrace technology and are energized by its use, especially as they become more proficient at using it. I also appreciated the quote by Anita Simpson: “The brain on choice lights up” (Foxman, 2016). How amazing to grow up during this era and be offered choice in your learning and choice in the way in which you learn. I found the video about 21st century skills to be fascinating, as I have always wanted to know the answer to the question Steve Paikin asks about a general set of facts that every student should know. I embrace active learning and allowing students to choose topics that interest them, but I was wondering about gaps in their learning. The answers from the people on the panel convinced me that when students take a deep dive into their learning they are going to gain foundational skills and there is little evidence that memorized facts provide more than points on a trivia contest. When I think back to the way we learned geography in school, it was pitiful. We were given a blank map of Canada every year and asked to label the provinces and territories and their capital cities. We then had to colour the map and label the Rocky Mountains and the oceans. The map was jagged on the west coast to indicate the mountains. In a conversation someone mentioned the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, and I was confused. There was no indication on my map that there were mountains in Alberta. I was born, raised and educated in Alberta and I didn’t know until Grade Six or so that the mountains I had been visiting since I was a baby were the Rocky Mountains. I thought the Rockies were only in B.C. When I mentioned this to my parents they asked “What are they teaching you in school?” I guess the better question is what are you not learning in school? What a complete waste of time. I think the assignment was little more than busy work, which rewarded good colouring skills and small, neat printing, and nothing else. Think of all the ways in which students could do in-depth learning about Canada. Students could work in groups to find out about a different province and then present their findings to the class. This could even be done in chunks and then jigsaw the learning, by having each student or group teach the others about what they have learned. Students learn best when they teach others. Students could choose to research the bodies of water, the mountain ranges, the forests, the topography, or the climate in various regions. Students have access to Google Earth and Google Maps, which can help them to gain perspective of the size of Canada and distances between provinces. Offering choice, and allowing for a deep dive would be a much better use of time and would allow students to obtain a better understanding than a colouring sheet disguised as geography.
When reading about the 6 C’s, the learning partnerships stood out to me. I love hearing about students who partner with people in their community to make their learning authentic and “up their game” due to their audience. It can be life changing to have students who are interested in animals, for example, to get in contact with a vet and visit to find out what it takes to become a vet or what a day to day life it is like to work as a vet, especially in a rural community. I remember a reading I did for a previous course where students worked with their local municipality to try to get clean drinking water in their community. I can’t even imagine how fulfilling this type of work would be. As a student, the legacy of your hard work could improve the health and wellness of your community. I also want students to reach out to experts online to help them find the answers to questions they have. Guiding students to seek out a variety of sources will help them to understand how to go about researching topics in the future. Also by engaging in authentic learning experiences, students will begin to see that learning need not be limited to the classroom, but it can be done anywhere at anytime. The pandemic has offered few positives, but reaching out to people on Zoom, or connecting with people online has become a necessity, and opened more doors for reaching out to busy people.
In the video with Dr. Bill Cope, I could totally relate to the role of the teacher as all knowing and those who provide a very traditional type of teaching. I replaced a teacher who was retiring after 40 years, and I went to visit her classroom, while her students were there. What a time warp. The students would do their busy work, line up at her desk, where she sat, and made corrections while the other students waited in line, and then they were required to go back to their desks to make their corrections and complete the whole process over again. There was an authoritarian approach to discipline, and there was no room for choice or creativity. The kindergarten teacher at the school often wondered how I could allow my students to create art projects of their choosing, as she had her students create exactly her choice of art project, step by step without any room for creativity or choice. I felt so sad for those students. Allowing choice in art projects seems the minimum you could provide. In this classroom I was taking over, there was a carpeted area with a ton of books, a circular table and two long tables. They were used poorly by the former teacher for rote learning with the teacher in the centre of the round table, while other students worked out of text books. With this size of room and options for unique learning spaces I was overjoyed. I was able to have some students quietly reading on bean bag chairs on the carpet, some students working on art projects at the long tables and group work at the desks and at the round table. The learning environment is key to make collaboration, experimentation, and provide room for quiet reflection possible for all types of learning. I doubt I will ever have a room of that size again, but setting up your classroom for the type of learning you want to see is key. In the Bill Cope video, the students had to crane their necks to be able to talk to anyone, let alone learn together. I have found that the janitors, in my experience, are the ones that need convincing to change. The janitor didn’t like having the desks pushed together into pods, and would often move the desks into rows without warning. Old habits die hard and getting everyone on board can be a challenge.
The 6 C’s can allow students, through deep learning experiences, to follow their passions and think about how they can become change makers. In my son’s international school, like most international schools, he had to complete an exhibition in Grade 5. He had to learn about the United Nations Sustainability Goals and choose a topic of interest. He chose sustainable travel and he learned about hyper loops, electric cars, electric busses and electric trains and how our cities could be made more bike friendly and walkable. He learned about the environmental impact of flying, and ways to minimize the impact by taking direct flights over connecting flights, for example. Travel and maps are two of his passions and he was able to use both in his presentation. He was able to take his learning to the next level by adding in the global perspective of the UN sustainability goals and thinking about the impact his travel can have on others and come up with safe and unique alternatives to meet transportation needs such as the hyper loops. This project has made a big impact of the way he considers travel and plans itineraries. When went to France, he figured out our entire itinerary including transportation for a week. He figured out the Metro routes, bus and train routes, and the airport train shuttle to get us to our hotel. This project allowed him to see the practical applications of what he had researched and to give him the confidence to know he could be responsible for our travel plans for a week. His teacher provided a set of questions during the project that he was to ask himself, and he held individual and group conferences with students to allow them to express frustrations, successes and challenges they had overcome. This allowed students to reflect on their learning and in some cases allowed them to commiserate on their set backs. Students felt supported, challenged and responsible for their own learning.
What drives the curriculum at your school?
Again, I will be using my son’s school as I am teaching English mostly to individuals. The Learner Profile drives the curriculum at our school. As learners, students strive to be: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled people, open-minded learners, caring, risk takers, balanced, and reflective. Students also drive the curriculum at our school. So much so, that my son made a mistake in his Grade Four presentation and the teacher and my son handled it beautifully. Each student was tasked to research an explorer of their choice. My son either misunderstood the assignment or didn’t realize that John A. Macdonald was not an explorer. As time went on his teacher, who is American, realized what happened and asked him how he could use the information he had gathered and still be able to present something to the families and the school community. The first sentence on his presentation went as follows: “Sir John A. Macdonald explored the world of politics.” I thought it was brilliant. The teacher did not reprimand him for the error, she did not make him start again, she asked him to come up with a solution, so he did not lose all the effort he had put in. Overall, she cared about the process, the skills he was learning, and the way in which he presented the material. His teacher encouraged him to take responsibility for his learning, and did not turn this situation into a negative one. He still brings up this mix up regularly.
How would you describe the culture of your school?
The culture at the school is a positive one. The Director of our school is everything a leader should be. She is kind, extremely knowledgable, assertive, complimentary, understanding, proactive and reflective regarding herself and her decisions. She is open to listening to dissenting view points and she is able to back up her decisions with science (in the case of COVID) or pedagogy in the case of other relevant decisions in regards to educational practices. This really sets the tone for the whole school. She holds biweekly town hall meetings with the whole community and is happy to lead the discussion, or take a step back to allow others to voice their options and ideas. This school celebrates learning and puts children at the heart of everything they do. The school is still offering extra-curricular activities both over Zoom and in person, with all the necessary precautions. My son is in Cross Country running and all the students need to continue to wear masks outdoors and students are required to stay a safe distance from others, including staggering change room access. This is something the school could have easily canceled, but the mental and physical health of our students is always top of mind. It may sound like I am overselling this school, but I feel truly blessed that my son continues to receive the best education possible, even through the worst situation most of us have lived through. I could not ask for more. I know that some students in Canada have not been so lucky. When the pandemic hit and students were forced to learn online, our school took one day off to prepare and the students were up and running. The school was very proactive and taught the students how to use Zoom, and they only missed one day of school. A friend of mine who lives in B.C. had the opposite experience. Her son was off school for a week, and then when school started again, he was asked to set up his work station as his only assignment for week one. What a difference in our situations. When we, along with other families, were evacuated to Canada, the teachers would provide asynchronous learning for their students, as well as meet up with them every week to see how they were doing. Students were expected to continue on as usual, including video taping themselves exercising in gym and doing all their art projects. Nothing was left out. The expectations remained high and teachers outdid themselves in providing quality, challenging learning opportunities at all times, regardless of what was going on in the world.
What pedagogical tools or dispositions are prevalent?
Our school is equipped with Smart Boards, laptops, iPads and Chrome Books. Every student is either issued one, or brings one from home. Students, teachers and parents are connected through SeeSaw, Google Classroom or Toddle. There are no text books in the PYP or MYP program. The school takes an enquiry based learning approach. The school is very focused on bringing in guest speakers and field trips, (prior to COVID) and with creating partnerships in the community. The school has partnered with a Ukrainian company called No Waste Ukraine to help teach our students about sustainability and to collect recycled materials and food waste from the school. The students have also received funding through a grant from the United Nations for a community garden and hanging gardens inside the school. Through service learning projects, students work with local animal shelters, a Ukrainian kindergarten and local orphanages. The school is not only a physical building, but it extends outside the walls to allow students to engage in service learning and challenge them to see themselves as global citizens and use problems solving skills and empathy to help others in need.
Cope, B. (2014, March). From didactic pedagogy to new learning. shiphttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIWM7Ot9yD4.
I was blown away by Mark Slouka’s article: Dehumanizing. I have had a similar experience as the author when telling my then boyfriend’s uncle what I was studying in university. I told him I was an English major, and he asked, hopefully in jest, if I didn’t already know enough English. I told him English Literature, and he continued to look at me dumbfounded. He even questioned if that was a real degree a person could get. I didn’t know what to say. I mumbled that there were a lot of English majors at my university and it was a rather common degree. I felt like I had to defend myself. I felt judged. “Like the narrator in Mayakovsky’s “Conversation with a Tax Collector About Poetry,” we’re being forced to account for ourselves in the other’s idiom, to argue for “the place of the poet in the workers’ ranks.” It’s not working” (Slouka, 2009).
What do schools Teach?
Schools teach the subjects and topics that as a society we have deemed as important. The curriculum designers use philosophy as a basis for curriculum design which provides the goals of education, the subject content, and the organization. Unfortunately some school boards place a greater emphasis on topics and subjects that certain stakeholders have deemed more important. This is a sort of commodification of education. For example there may be funding from private companies to host a science fair, or to influence policy, like the No Child Left Behind Act in the United States, designed by business leaders to promote higher achievement marks. Curriculum results from a blend of curriculum design and instructional design. This is where a hidden curriculum can occur. Teachers decide what parts of the curriculum to stress and which resources to use. Schools also imply which subjects are important by the subjects they don’t provide. When school boards feel a crunch on time or feel like student scores in math and reading are low, the arts or physical education often suffer. Students may get the message that these subjects are unimportant or optional, by the treatment they sometimes receive.
What should schools teach?
Schools should think about all the skills, knowledge and attitudes they would like students to have when they graduate, and do some backward planning. How will our students get to that place? Schools should also teach students to become life-long learners, by allowing them to manage their own learning. According to Alan November, “We need to help students to design their own questions” (November, 2014). He also goes on to ask “What kind of culture do we want in our classroom? What is the locus of control? How much do we want students to own their learning? How much do we want students to design their own learning? How much do we want them to be connected globally?” (November, 2014). I think students should be given regular opportunities to delve into what interests them. What are their needs, interests and aspirations? How can we guide them through thoughtful questions to get there? How can we make schooling more than just a means to an end, but a place where their interests, and questions are valued? We need to helping students to find joy and passion in their learning. We need to provide authentic, real world experiences to allow students to know what they are doing matters. We need to up the ante by inviting professionals and parents into the classroom to offer feedback and validate their work. Here are some other important skills or attitudes I think are necessary.
When I taught on the reserve I did a little experiment with our classroom portable CD player. I asked the kids how much they thought it was worth. Some said $20, others said as high as $40. I bought an identical one, (the one in the classroom belonged to our school) at Canadian Tire for $42 and took the CD player to the local pawn shop and got $15 dollars for it. I asked the students how much they thought I would need to buy it back. I got a range of answers, but after some negotiation I bought it back for $25. So we lost $10 in order to receive a temporary $15 loan. Is that worth it? What kind of interest is that? When I was teaching on the Reserve, using a pawn shop was as natural as going to the corner store. We also discussed the risk involved, especially if the item was an heirloom or a wedding ring. What if the item was gone when you returned to collect it? Now, you are out more than just the $10, because you no longer have the item. I hope some of my former students remember the lesson of the CD player and think twice about using pawn shops. Students also need to understand the economics of not paying off their credit cards each month and how paying off a house or a car quickly, can drastically reduce the amount of interest they end up paying for those items.
2. Diversity, Ethics and Human Rights
Teaching these topics can foster open-mindedness and respect in the school community. If we want students to be able to interact with people on a daily basis or in a globalized society, we need to be aware of different religions, races, ethnicities, genders and how to relate to people who are different from themselves in one or multiple ways. It’s not enough to discuss diversity and human rights and ethics. We need students to reach a little deeper, by asking questions, researching the issues and coming up with possible solutions on how to enact change, or stand up for what is right.
3. Environmental Education
Students need to become stewards of the Earth. They need to know about fast-fashion, the impact of fossil fuels and living sustainably. I am originally from Alberta and my husband’s widowed aunt just bought a Porsche Cayenne as a 74 year-old woman. I wonder how she justifies needing an engine of that size and horse power, the gas it requires, and all that room, for just one person. This thread of environmental education that is woven through the curriculum, to be clear, isn’t about judging others, but looking at the environment from a variety of view points and rethinking wants over needs.
Nutrition should be included without propaganda from various industries. I watched a Jamie Oliver show in which he asked young students to name a variety of vegetables and they were unable to do so. Many children do not know where their food comes and what it looks like in its natural form. I remember going on holidays as a kid, and I was confused when I saw shrimp fully in the shell, with eyes, antenna and heads. I could have benefitted from that type of education myself. I was used to the deveined, de-headed, ready to cook version my family bought, or you would see in a restaurant.
5. The Habit of considering alternatives
Newkirk’s article really spoke to me in considering what is important to keep in a curriculum. I like the idea of seeing arguments, issues and even people through a process of wearing a variety of hats. I like The Six Thinking Hats approach. Students need to be able to question their point of view and begin to see an argument from another person’s side. Were you able to separate facts from feelings? Did your opinion change, or do you still feel the same way? Can you see now how others might disagree with your way of thinking? Why?
Beyond these particular ideas, I was impressed with the educational principles that guide Eagle Rock School in Colorado. The curriculum sounds like a utopia. If I had one wish, it would be for schools to focus on quality over quantity. I don’t like the idea that a Social Studies teacher would have three days to teach World War II, as mentioned in Newkirk’s article. I’m not sure how I feel about the school being funded by Honda, but the curriculum sounds progressive, compact, and yet robust at the same time. It seems to include all the key features of an innovative school. I looked at their website and the whole place looks pretty amazing.
6. Interdisciplinary Studies
This is more of a “how” than a “what,” but I think schools should focus more on teaching in an interdisciplinary way. Students need to know that everything is connected. We shouldn’t be learning in vacuum. I would like to see teachers working together to create cross-curricular units that emphasize integrative learning, critical thinking and creative problem solving.
Who Should Decide?
I think there should be a multitude of stakeholders involved in developing the curriculum. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to have people from a variety of perspectives come together and find common ground. This is exactly why we need a variety of views to ensure not only one view point is represented. We need students, parents, educators, principals, superintendents and school board trustees. We need to gather the data about what is important to each group. We need to look at advantages and disadvantages as well as well as the school population and environment. Ask if some of these ideas are possible and what is the cost, scheduling, and ask important questions such as, has balanced been achieved? Once some sort of loose framework has been developed, we need to present it to the community and look for feedback on the areas where we don’t have consensus and meet back to reflect on the ideas. Designing a new curriculum is not easy, but a diverse number of opinions need to be represented to ensure the curriculum better reflects the students who will use it.
How Do Students Learn?
Students learn by connecting new knowledge with knowledge they already know. Students learn formally with carefully planned out lessons and students learn informally. Students passively watch their teacher put on safety goggles and show students a safe way to smell an unknown substance by waving their hand over the beaker towards their nose, for example. Students learn best, when they are actively learning. When they are asking the questions, when they are seeking out answers, or experimenting with materials. Students learn through reflection. “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience” (Dewey). Reflection is a key skill to possess, as it allows us to judge and question our own beliefs and think about ways to improve in the future. Students also learn about the world from the people in their world.
Module 3: A Simpler Curriculum
If I had the ability to simplify the curriculum, I would choose to include life-long skills to help students succeed and thrive in the future. It seems that more and more we are hearing about students suffering from anxiety and depression. If someone is going to have a fulfilling life, they need to know how to regulate their emotions, gain strategies to help them cope in stressful situations, and how to life more mindfully. I think as well as providing students with these strategies we need to model this behaviour for our students. I have been guilty of not modelling the best strategies with my students. For example, after coming in from recess supervision, I have run in, put away my coat, apologized for being late and breathlessly started teaching. What I should have done, is come into the classroom, let my students know that I need to calm my body and ask them to join me. I could have said, “My heart is racing and I ran all the way in from the far fence. Would you like to join me in closing your eyes and taking a couple of deep breaths? I will put on some music to help us relax.” Students need to see that we are not going to be at our best when we are stressed, gasping for air and frazzled. There is always time to take a few calming breaths to bring us back to our optimal state. I could then ask them how they feel and if they are ready to start.
I think I could also model better ways of being in the moment for my son. I am a planner and I like to over-plan my life. These days, there is not much to plan, due to the pandemic, but I am generally thinking about the future all the time. I would like to model the art of being in the moment. Taking time to observe our surroundings and appreciating the present. One way that helps me is to get out in nature. I read a book by Johann Hari called: Lost Connections. Hari believes that getting out in nature can have healing properties on our body. He claims it doesn’t need to be in a forest, but simply a green space in the middle of a city will do. He believes that our disconnection from nature is one of the reasons we have such high rates of depression in our society. So walking in nature with my family and taking my class outside to connect with nature is important. When I take my students out I ask them to feel the air, to look at the trees, to listen for sounds, and to recognize how they are feeling. The more insight kids have into their inner experience, the more they are able to choose appropriate responses.
Another way to achieve mindfulness is to teach students meditation. By teaching students meditation at a young age, we can build on this and help nature their mind development and make meditation simple and accessible when needed.
The next big overarching skill I would teach students is collaboration. I have learned so much about myself through collaboration with others. Collaboration is one of the skills you will need for the rest of your life. Students need great partners, terrible partners and every type in-between to reflect on a range of experiences. I remember being on our first ever graduation committee in our school’s history. There had never been a graduate on my reserve school until 2000. Students could attend primary school on the reserve, but they had to go to the neighbouring towns for secondary school. The year I arrived, we had our first graduate and another student who graduated from the Education for Living Program. This was a huge deal for these students, their families, and the community. We needed to do a great job to show all the students and families in attendance how significant this is. The graduation committee members I felt, were not as invested as I was. I remember I had tears at one point because not everyone was doing their job. I knew we couldn’t fail at this extra special event. When I reflect on this experience now, I realize that I needed something from my group members that I could not get. You cannot make someone care more. You need to communicate your feelings and see if the group can agree on certain concrete steps they will take and establish an effective time line. Students need to know they will face situations in which they are the only ones doing the work, and they will face situations in which some group members will want to take on a big part of the project and they may feel guilty for the lack of effort they put in. It is only through repeated exposure that students will gain the skills to help them overcome obstacles when working with others. Every collaborative experience allows us to reflect on ourselves, and see ways we can improve, or help us gain the skills necessary in negotiation.
Another skill I believe is key is service learning. Students need to see that helping others can have the result of helping them as well. Service learning can be taught across the curriculum and can help develop civic engagement skills, problem solving and critical thinking skills as well as empathy. Students can be involved in a needs assessment and help develop a plan of action. Collaboration will be essential during these projects both with classmates and teachers, but with the organizations or community groups themselves. Students will need to use communication skills, decision making skills and creative thinking. At one of my former schools, the older students volunteered at a local nursing home. The students developed strong relationships with the seniors as well as the staff. The stories they would share showed how special this relationship had become and it was a chance for students who did not excel academically to take on a greater role. They felt real connection and saw how important their contributions were to others. What an authentic, real-life contribution these students made. It is hard to know just how many skills students needed to use to make this project happen and the number of lives they touched along the way. I think service learning should be distinguished from volunteerism. I think students should be involved in a learning project every step of the way, and be responsible for the implementation and daily communication. I think if students volunteer at a nursing home for credits or to add to their resume, they may not feel any ownership over the outcomes of the experience. Not to say that volunteerism is bad, just often not as authentic of an experience.
I talked about this in my former post, but I think ecological education and sustainable living needs to be part of any education. I think about the commencement speech by Doctor David Orr, in which he states “All education is environmental education. By what is included or excluded we teach students that they are part of or apart from the natural world” (Orr, 1991). We need students to discover that everything is connected and your decisions have consequence. For some students living sustainably is a way of life, for others, they have more work to do. I think back to an interesting story about a girl in my son’s Grade 3 class who is from Sweden and takes environmental stewardship very seriously. The class was measuring mould on a variety of fruit. In order to control the variables, the teacher announced the lights would be left on for 24 hours. This student was not pleased about this announcement. She thought it was too irresponsible to leave the lights on. The teacher explained that if the conditions were different, it may account for the rate of mould growth on the fruit. They came to a compromise that the next day, they would leave the lights off for the entire day. This seemed to please her, and the experiment continued. At eight years old, some students have already been conditioned to understand the importance of doing their part for the environment. From my experience in schools, the student who are actively involved in ecological units are cognizant of how to make the school more sustainable, but that interest seems to wane after their units are over. I think we in Canada can do a much better job of showing students what they can do beyond the basics of recycling, reusing, and reducing. We started that campaign decades ago, and we need to move beyond the basics.
How does your simple curriculum align with your everyday role as a teacher?
I liked the way Newkirk uses the image of Gulliver being tied down by thousands of tiny ropes to compare our lives as a teacher. It can be true. I’ve worked for some inspiring people and I’ve worked for some controlling people who would rather be tough than fair. When I think of my “simple” curriculum, it can easily be dismissed by a school or school board that buys into the idea of grade books that spit out a regular flow of numbers to please parents, as Newkirk suggests. I think that is unlikely, but it is possible. One challenge I see in adopting my “simple” curriculum is COVID. I’m sure there are work arounds, but my idea of going to nursing homes or having students engage in other forms of service learning will have to be postponed, but perhaps Zoom, Skype or FaceTime could be used to reach out to seniors who need to be able to communicate with the outside world right now. The logistics could be tough, but it is possible. Another option is to actively work on a plan with students and we can carry it out once it is safe to meet again in person.
One area I realized I am lacking in after watching Sir Ken Robertson is the Arts. I am a big proponent of the arts, but unfortunately I don’t have a lot of experience teaching the Arts. I have taught Art and Music to my Grade 1/2 class, but not Drama, Dance or Visual Arts. I absolutely know the value of arts, but since it is not an area of strength for me, I did not think to include it in my “simple” curriculum. I think one of the reasons that Art feels intimidating to people like me is the rise of singing, and dancing competitions, like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance. I have heard it said that most people used to sing and dance in the past, but since value has been placed on these skills professionally, many people have stopped engaging in these activities for fun or as a social activity. Now you are expected to be good, or to step aside. I should certainly add arts to my curriculum. The Arts can lead to an improvement in so many skills like perseverance, motor skills and confidence to name a few.
Newkirk, T. (2009) Holding onto Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones. Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For.
Here are my results from the World Abroad quizzes:
International Skills & IQ-96%
Preparation for the International Job Search-96%
I think I should probably add a disclaimer to my answers. I am married to my husband who is in the military and I have an eleven year old son. Since the responses did not allow for me to write that I have additional responsibilities that would not allow me to take a job in a country other than the one I am in. In others words, I answered the questions as if I were an unmarried person without a child. I did in fact, pick up and leave Canada alone after university to teach English in Prague, Czech Republic for 18 months. I am now living in Kyiv, Ukraine.
One issue I thought about when teaching internationally, or really in any new community, is getting to know your surroundings. For example, when I taught in Prague, my student asked me for the name of these “terrible birds, with the terrible song.” I told him I needed more information, and could not answer his question. When he looked it up, I was surprised to see he meant pigeons. I would not think a pigeon has a terrible song, but since he mentioned them, I started to see pigeons everywhere. How could I not have noticed? I suppose that it is just so overwhelming to be in a new place, somethings get filtered out. A more serious mistake I once made was when I was teaching in an Indigenous Community. I was reading my students a story about a fair, and I asked if they had a fair in their community. One student told me “we are too rank to have a fair.” I didn’t quite know how to respond. I was new to the community and I should have found that information out before planning my questions. I was able to redirect my questions to asking them to tell me what sort of celebrations or fun activities happen here in the summer. The students were able to tell me about the round dances, pow wows and feasts that took place. I can be difficult to teach when you are new, as you are often learning more that your students. At my first in-school pow wow, the female teachers were told we had to wear long skirts or dresses. When waiting for the festivities to start, our Principal told us to sit with our class. I sat with my legs straight out in a long, fitted skirt. An Elder approached me and told me I wasn’t sitting like a lady. I was crushed. I was trying my best to fit in, to follow protocol and apparently I had failed at sitting correctly. That memory is hard to shake. I have since learned that women are expected to sit with their legs curled to the side. All of these cultural experiences I had however, were a real bonding experience for me and my students. They felt proud to be able to teach me how to behave, how to smudge, and educated me on many of the protocols.
Another aspect that took me a while to get accustomed to was how unfriendly people were in the Czech Republic in 1997-1998, and how unfriendly people are here in Ukraine. It is only when you get to know them, in both cases, that people are warm, friendly and helpful. In Prague, some people were down right hostile. I was often mistaken for a local, and when someone would ask me for the time or directions and I attempted to answer, they would sigh, get angry or quickly walk away. Here in Ukraine when I am asked for directions and try to help, they often apologize to me! I am in their country and they feel badly that they don’t speak English. I try to go out of my way to help if possible, because of the guilt I feel for not speaking Ukrainian/Russian. I did try to learn Ukrainian, but unfortunately I didn’t make much progress beyond greetings, and ordering food and drinks. I took lessons with my husband and solo lessons, but due to the legacy of Russian being spoken, it is especially hard to pick up any Ukrainian on the street. If you speak Ukrainian to someone, they likely will switch to Ukrainian, but not always. In Western Ukraine, Ukrainian is much more prevalent that in Kyiv or other regions of Ukraine. My students in both places, have gone out of their way to bring me treats, to help me get opera tickets, to invite me to special events and bring me flowers.
Module 1-Part 2:
When I was in university, I knew I want to teach English overseas, so I had to make a choice, either stay in Canada and get my teaching degree, or leave after my B.A. and wait to take my education degree when I came back. I decided I was ready for adventure and I starting looking into Japan and Korea. When I decided on Japan, they didn’t need me to start until June, and I had graduated in January. I was working at a restaurant all through my university years, and I could not handle working there full time until I had to leave. So, I started doing some research into Korea and I found a position, but they wanted me to send them my actual passport. That wasn’t going to work for me, so at try number three, I decided on Prague. I didn’t know much about Prague, but from what I had read and from people I had talked to, it sounded interesting. I moved in February and my life became a whirlwind. I booked a month long rental with an accommodation service, so I could get my bearings and figure out where I should stay after the first month. The accommodation service asked if I could work for them on weekends to help out with the English correspondence. I took that job as well as teaching full time at an English school. My schedule was from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. with the middle of the day free. It was a long day, but perfect for sightseeing in the middle of the day and still time for the after work drink with colleagues and students. This experience was exactly what I was looking for. I met friends from around the world, I got to teach the Prague Castle Administration staff and the meetings were held inside the castle, which is gorgeous and an amazing place to visit. I got to teach at private companies, I taught adults, children, intensive, individual lessons and summer group lessons. I fell in love with teaching, I honed my teaching skills, and knew for certain that I wanted to be a teacher. I gained independence, I traveled to a variety of new countries in Europe, I tried learning Czech, which was difficult, so I switched to German, as we were offered free lessons at school. I will never forget that experience and I always think about Prague and the Czech Republic fondly. I have since visited, and it has changed immensely. I used to think it was packed with tourists when I lived there. That was nothing compared to the wall of visitors that was there when I visited with my family. I used to be able to walk though Old Town Square in the morning on my way to work and be one of the only people there, now it is difficult to walk anywhere in the centre alone. On my last night, my friends and colleagues took me to the Charles Bridge, we had champagne, and my friend played her accordion for me, and we had a picnic. when I visited last year, it was difficult to stop on the bridge anywhere without people walking into you. I am so thankful for the time I got to spend there.
I could relate to Rubina’s story. The Prague that people visit now, was not the Prague of 1997. Like Rabina, I was not prepared for what I was getting into. I left my winter coat at security in Calgary and had to go back. I had a nine hour flight, followed by a four hour lay-over in Frankfurt, followed by a 40 minute flight. I felt sick, I was tired and I was served a sandwich with some sort of meat I did not know. When I arrived I was taken to a dark apartment in the very centre. I was scared at how dark and old it was. I was picked up at the airport by the accommodation service and all I did was sleep at first. Once I got adjusted, I tried to buy some food, but nothing looked familiar or good to my eyes. I eventually found good food, and the grocery stores in my area.
Since the collapse of Communism, people were just getting used to a new way of life. The service industry was nearly non-existent. One commonality between everyone I met, was the complaints about customer service. Service staff sighed when you walked into a restaurant, as they did not seem to want to be there. If you wanted a table for six, for example, they would simply tell you no, and to go somewhere else. I found keeping my work schedule difficult, as it was in the 24 hour clock and it changed due to people cancelling and the Director switching lessons. I once left work thinking I had to be back for 5:30, but it was actually 15:30, which of course was 3:30. Which led our Director to yell, “why is a 24 hour clock that difficult for you North Americans!” I don’t know why I find it so difficult. Even now, all these years later, I prefer to use a 12 hour clock. I also had a difficult time getting to all of my lessons. I had to travel to teach at a variety of companies and there was no readily available GPS, so I had to map it out and find the metro or tram to take me there and then follow the directions. When I arrived at the company, more often than not, the staff would tell me they were too busy for a lesson and I simply had to leave. I would still get paid for the travel time, but not the lesson.
Rubina’s story captures cultural complexity and personal growth completely. Moving alone to a new country was one of the hardest things I had ever done, but in the end, it is one of my most treasured memories. There are so many things I wanted to change about Prague and so many things I missed about Canada. The moment I was back in Canada, all I did was think about Prague. It was like living in two worlds. A book that reminds me of that experience is: My Grandfather’s Journey, by Allen Say. The grandfather cannot decide if he loves his homeland of Japan or his new home in San Francisco, and spends time in each longing for the other.
Rubina’s personal growth seemed more profound than mine. I met fellow Canadians and Americans and we could go to a bar and watch two episodes of the Simpson’s in English on Fridays and go to 80’s night at a club on Saturdays. Bars were open until 3:00 A.M. and we could go to the movies with subtitles. Unlike Rubina, I had a lot of time to myself and with friends. I definitely would say I achieved a level of personal growth, but I found Rubina’s experience to be more meaningful in terms of the impact she had on her Director and her students. She was very brave and selflessly gave of her time and experience, especially since she wasn’t even getting paid.
When I arrived in Prague, I was very naive, and there were experiences I didn’t know how to deal to with. I was grabbed in a pubic washroom by an attendant and had to fight my way free. I had a women steal my phone card (1997) and I stole it back from her with a ferocity I didn’t know I had. I would regularly fall asleep on the night tram, since all the seats are individually heated and have to walk by to my apartment at the end of the line. All of these experiences cause you to either embrace life or retreat into your bubble. I was always open to new experiences and I said yes to bike trips to a castle by train, invitations to dinner parties and weekend stays at the dacha of one of my students. I learned that I am adventurous, I can travel alone and I can easily make friends. I would spend all of the money I made, and couldn’t wait until pay day, like most of my colleagues. I did have friends, however, that would stay at home, and save every penny, so they could travel. I did not miss an opportunity to do something interesting whenever possible. I was very good at my job and I was always requested back after having a lesson. It felt good to know I was making a difference and helping people learn English. I felt so badly for older Czechs that had to initially learn Russian with the occupation by the Soviet Union. After the fall of Communism, the business language in Europe was considered German, and so the Czechs learned German, only for the business language to switch to English. They are a resilient people and I learned so much from their resilience.
One other way in which I benefitted from leaving Canada, is my appreciation for it when I returned. I think it is only by leaving your own country that it can truly be appreciated. I notice this especially now in Ukraine. Since so many Ukrainians live in Canada, when I mention I’m from Canada, people just light up. They tell me of their travels to Canada, or about their relatives who lives there, or they ask me if I can help them get a visa. I have been fortunate to have two great experiences, and soon, I will be off to Singapore, having a whole new experience.