Monday 18 April 2016

The Messiness of Inquiry Based Learning

The journey into Inquiry based learning, or IBL is never easy. There is a proverbial “leap of faith” when you let go of traditional teaching, and IBL doesn’t happen overnight. There is a lot of learning (for both teacher and students) and a lot of trust and modeling for everyone involved.

I taught for 3 years in Full Day Kindergarten where play based learning is what we strive to implement each and every day. When I moved to a primary split, I thought, “I’ll just do what I did in K.” Well, it backfired. “Inquiry time” became “play time”, which became “seek and destroy manipulatives and wreak havoc on the teacher” time. So, we scaled back. I took some cues from some professional reading, and we focused our energy a little differently. There was more focused reading, more focused writing, and our inquiry topics were based on our Social Studies and Science curriculums. Over time, we have gradually moved to more of an inquiry based learning classroom where the students are learning more about their own topics of interest. Is it perfect? Not in any way, shape or form. Are my students learning? You bet they are. Are they better for it? I can’t answer that.

I know that they are better questioners and seek out information with more purpose. I know that they are collaborators who are willing to learn from each other and ask questions of each other. I know that they are kind to each other and that they work hard each day. So I have learned to trust in the messiness of IBL and trust in my students. 

Mindfully yours,


Wednesday 24 February 2016

Nurturing Passion in your Practice - #Peel21stBlog Hop

Last week I was invited by a friend and colleague to screen the documentary "Most Likely To Succeed" at a local high school.  There were approximately 100 people there to see the documentary, which centers on educators in a high school setting in California called "High Tech High." The educators that work there fuel the passion and the work ethic of their students in a less traditional setting to engage them in their own learning.  So, I was asked.... 

"How can you support students in discovering their passions in your practice?"

A great question, and one that is not easily answered. To get started, you need to think mindfully about each student in your class, and get to REALLY know them as people, not just a student number. What are they passionate about? What do they excel at? What do THEY feel they are good at, and how can we fuel that flame? 

Once you have an idea of things that your students love to do and are passionate about, let them explore that. Just because it isn't in the curriculum doesn't mean you can't learn about it. More often than not, an aspect of their learning can be found within the pages of those hallowed documents we all love and cherish. If they love to draw, why can't they illustrate a book?  If they love science, why can't they initiate experiments and bring in things from nature?  If math turns their crank, why not let them teach a small group about addition or subtraction? If they can co-ordinate an outfit better than Kim Kardashian, then why not let them help with the dramatic centre to create a store or a fashion show?

The more we know our students, the more they trust us. And the more trust we have, the more we can learn from each other.

How do you support students and their passions? 

Check out some other #Peel21st blogs for more ideas and thoughts:

Amit Mehrotra

Tina Zita

Thursday 11 February 2016

Professionally Developing an Authentic Mindset

Last Saturday I had the privilege of attending "February Flurry", which is hosted at Mohawk College by ASCY Hamilton. A few friends from Peel had talked about this conference a lot last year, so I thought I would attend. 

I was able to attend 2 amazing PD sessions while munching on some fabulous food and re-connecting with some Twitter peeps and colleagues. Susan Stacey, author of Emergent Curriculum in Early Years Settings, The Unscripted Classroom and Pedagogical Documentation in the Early Years was my first session. She is a dynamic speaker who truly loves her work and is mindful of her students and her colleagues and how each of them learns and creates. I learned a lot from her books and even more from hearing her speak.

My 2nd session was with Aviva Fudem and Simone Spiegl from Thinking in Education, or ThinkinEd for short. These ladies are amazing, vivacious and all around cool people. They are mindful of their audience and create workshops and programs that incorporate loose parts and the imagination of everyone in the room. Truly mind blowing and thought provoking. 

But, the biggest influence of the day - the one speaker that I can't stop raving about - is Drew Dudley. I had never heard of him until Saturday morning. But I was blown away by his ideas. (If you haven't heard of him, look him up on Ted Talks. Do it now. You won't be disappointed.)  

Drew has been researching and developing ideas around leadership. He has devoted his professional career to being authentically mindful about what leaders do and how we can promote leadership in everyone. I have begun to follow his advice about writing down my core values, defining them and then working on how to recognize other people's leadership everyday. 

One of Drew's questions, that I will leave as a little parting gift here, is this:

"Why do you matter?"

Think about this long and hard before you answer. And then make sure you do. And own it. 

Mindfully yours,

This is why I matter. To them. 

Monday 1 February 2016

How are we mindfully helping our neediest kids?

This image has been floating around on Facebook and Twitter over the past few weeks. I  shared it with my friends, because I believe in it. I thank Alan E. Beck for saying it.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs lists the following, in a triangle format, from smallest to largest needs:

Self-Esteem Needs
Love and Belonging Needs
Safety and Security Needs
Physiological Needs

Too often, we focus on the fact that the kids in our classes are struggling with the academics, and we tend to overlook the fact that many don't feel safe and secure at home. Some don't feel loved, or that they belong anywhere. And if we can't help students to find a place in our classrooms, then we need to re-think why we are in this profession.  I hope it's not for the worksheets. 

As educational professionals, we sometimes have to take a step back from our job and really look at the kids in our class. There will always be those that know how to push our buttons. But are they trying to make us push back, because then they feel accepted? Or do they have lagging skills and a low self-esteem? If we really are mindful of our students, and what they bring to the class every day, then the academics will come. 

How do you make Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs a priority in your classroom? 

Mindfully yours,

Tuesday 15 December 2015

December #Peel21st Blog Hop - A few of My Favourite Things

It's hard to believe that it's already December. Mother Nature is still giving us fall weather (Thanks Mother Nature!) and it feels like we haven't been at school all that long.  And.... we're onto our 2nd #peel21st Blog Hop!

This month's topic is "A Few of My Favourite Things." So here, in no apparent order, are some of my favourite things.

Right now, my favourite website as a go-to on inquiry based learning is   This is a great website to answer questions on IB learning, finding out about how to build an IB classroom, or just to gain some much needed affirmation about IB learning.

My favourite Tweeters are The York Region Nature Collaborative (@YRNature) and Diane Kashin (@DianeKashin1).  They both give meaning to outdoor play and exploration and post great articles about bringing nature to the classroom and the classroom to nature.

My favourite professional book right now is "Black Ants and Buddhists" by Mary Cowhey.  This book is about bringing critical thinking and social justice to primary classrooms. A great read with lots of real world experiences. 

My favourite Pinterest Board is to follow any kind of Reggio inspired boards from educators from around the world. There are lots of great pins about ideas for the Reggio classroom.

My favourite hashtag is #reggioplc.  A group of like-minded educators post pics, articles and ideas using this hashtag. Another great resource!

So that's about it! Join in the #peel21st December Blog Hop to see the favourite things of other #peel21st educators! Here are just a few listed below!

Heather Lye

Amit Mehrotra

Jason Wigmore

Jonathan So

Jim Cash

Tina Zita

Maggie Fay

Gina Loutrianakis
Stay mindful this holiday season! 


Wednesday 18 November 2015

#Peel21st Blog Hop - What Has Been Your Most Memorable Moment This Fall?

My most memorable moment this fall happened yesterday - and it wasn't planned, and it wasn't something that I was expecting to happen until much later on in the school year. The day before I began a writing and reading workshop with my students about inquiry questions. We have done some open ended inquiry within the class, but this was the first time I am asking my students to do some "research". I gave them the prompts of "I want to learn about...."  and "My question is...."  I then helped each student to narrow his/her question down to something that was attainable and that we knew there was information on.  The students got books from the school LLC and some of them have been able to ascertain some information to answer his/her question.

The next day, during our Morning Meeting, the topic of snow came up. We looked at a map on my laptop of Denver and the Rocky mountains where they were in a middle of a blizzard. All of a sudden, the inquiry questions came flying at me. "Why do we have snow?" "Why do we need rain?" "Why are there seasons?" "Why is the sun hot?" "Why do we have celebrations?"  (not sure how that one has to do with snow, but we take all questions!)  It's like the parents of my class gave them all a copy of the science curriculum and said, "Go and ask your teacher these questions." I was blown away. With only one example to go by, they gave me 5 or 6 great inquiry questions that we can work on as a class, that are all related to the grade 1 and 2 science curriculum. It made my heart sing to realize we may have some critical questioners in my class. And that can lead to some critical thinking and some 21st century learning. 

And that's why I teach. For those memorable moments!!  

Check out these other #peel21st bloggers to find out about their memorable moments of Fall 2015!

Jason Richea -

Shivonne Lewis-Young -

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Being Mindful in a Difficult Time

To say that the world of Public Elementary school teaching has been a little zany over the last few months is an understatment. Teachers in the province of Ontario have been bashed in the media on almost a daily basis since September. Teachers have been raked over the coals by the Government, by the Ontario Public School Boards Association (OPSBA) and  by parents and other Internet persona that feel that teachers are overpaid, underworked and glorified babysitters for their kids. All of this can bring a girl down. It can make one re-think their career. It can make one cry at night, knowing that you are putting it all out there, day after day, and there are few out there that appreciate your efforts. 

So, I am going to try and stop looking at the media. I am going to think about what I feel my purpose is in the classroom - to teach. To focus on the students and their learning, because that is why I am here. I will be mindfully authentic:  I will pay attention, in the present moment to the truthfulness of the students' origins, sincerity and intentions in a non-judgemental way.   This is a difficult task, but one I am going to focus on during the next few months. 

The transition from FDK to the grade 1/2 class has been a challenge. At first, I started with what I would do during the first few weeks of FDK - allow for open inquiry and play so the students can start to work together and so I can see their strengths. And it worked - for a while. We found an inquiry we were all interested in (restaurants) so we, as a class, had a pop-up restaurant for staff, parents and lunchroom supervisors during our lunch times and during class times. Overall, it was very successful and a lot of learning was done during this inquiry. But then we lost focus. Many of my students were using the open inquiry time to do very little. They didn't know how to inquire. They just thought they had "free time".  So I have changed tactics, being mindful of what these students need to learn at this time. 

I have started a Reading Workshop and a Writing Workshop time period where students can use that time for reading and writing about topics they are interested in. We are looking at high frequency words and different word origins during Word Study. We are having a dedicated Math lesson and each day. I feel we need to have some structure and some of the basics down before we can explore some more topics in a deeper way. We will work our way back to open inquiry - but with some structure in place. And I found some of my answers in the following book. 

Upon a recommendation from one of my PLN colleagues on Twitter, I purchased the book "Black Ants and Buddhists" by Mary Cowhey. 

I was skeptical about another professional resource, as I have several on the go and although there are parts that speak to me, I have never found a professional resource that  has really changed my way of thinking. This book has changed the way I teach. I highly recommmend it as a great read for all teachers. It's practical, humorous and insightful without feeling like it's not attainable. It's definitely worth the money (and it's only 28.00 from Amazon!)

So that's it for now. I will keep you up to date. My apologies for the lack of posts in October, but it was way too zany. It will get better....

Mindfully yours,