The holidays have long been over. We’ve been back at school and we are well into 2019. I’m not sure how late into the New Year it is acceptable to say “Happy New Year”? Forgive me if time has run out, but to all my friends and colleagues, Happy New Year!
Each new year, I have joined the thousands who choose and write about one word for the new year. In this post, I share my story of my one word for 2019 and how I hope it will impact my classroom.
I pause and I think about last year; for me, it was a year of unforeseen challenges and difficult choices. Upon reflection, the challenges I faced brought wisdom and change. As I move into my 38th year, and after 8 years in administration, I have returned back to the classroom full time where I am most happy and undeniably where I can make important differences in the lives of many children and their families. Words such as joy, playful, and contentment, come to mind; each one of these words are both meaningful and have found their way into my life shaping who I am and how I want to live. These three words are part of my life and will continue to be, but after careful reflection, I am going to choose the word, SERENITY, as my word for 2019.
In our seemingly busy, keep-moving-forward, stress-filled world, I worry that many of us tend to see this as the normal part of our daily lives. Not me. This year, I am choosing serenity – a feeling deep inside me that brings a peace of mind, a quietness and calm in my heart even amidst turmoil, challenges, and demands, a feeling of well-being without conflict or guilt. Returning back to the classroom has helped me find the serenity to live a healthy and joy-filled life. In 2019, I choose to value serenity and adopt a peaceful presence, restoring my energy, unleashing my creativity, and losing myself in something I truly enjoy – being a teacher.
I believe we all need a little bit of serenity in our lives, maybe, more than a little bit. I also believe in this busy, changing world, one of my challenges is to bring serenity to my classroom. I hope my word for the new year will impact my classroom in positive ways.
In our busy world, children need serenity. I will work to create serenity in my classroom – a warm and inclusive environment with flexible seating, low lights, calming colours, sunshine, and nature. I believe students are sensitive to the atmosphere we create and I also believe that a calm and peaceful classroom impacts children’s learning and well-being.
As a teacher, I want to help my students find serenity in their busy, often stressed-filled lives. I want to help them deal with stressors, cope with challenges, and manage emotions in difficult situations. I believe when I am calm and serene, my students are more likely to be calm and serene. When children are calm and feel safe, they are more able to participate in activities and enjoy learning opportunities, approach new situations without being overwhelmed, ask for help when they need it, and persevere when faced with challenges. I also believe times of serenity can promote growth and unleash creativity.
It is within the context of caring relationships and strong attachments that children feel a sense of serenity and safety. As a teacher one of my first tasks is to nurture caring relationships with each one of my students; this is essential if I am to help them develop important social and emotional skills such as learning to regulate their emotions, to express their needs, and to solve problems. With these skills children are more prone to feel calm and secure. Children who are secure and calm have the ability to manage stress in their lives, which leads to healthy cognitive, social, and emotional development. This is not always an easy task, but there are some things I can do to begin to nurture strong caring relationships that help children feel a sense of serenity so they can do the hard work of learning.
Three routines to start our day, which help to create serenity and set the stage for a positive, productive day of learning:
Collect Before I Direct
The most important gift I can give a child is an invitation to exist in my presence, to be wanted, to belong, to be significant, to be seen, to matter. Building attachments is the first priority of all development. One of my beliefs as a teacher is that learning is promoted when children are prized and cared about. Gordon Neufeld, a developmentalist psychologist and author of the book, Hold on to Your Kids, uses the word “collecting” as a simple, yet powerful, way to build attachments with our students.
Every morning I go through an “attachment ritual”. As children arrive I invite them in. Even if they arrive early, I am ready to open the door and welcome them in. As every child enters the room, I take the time to greet each child by name, bending down to their level so I am able to collect their eyes, a smile, and a nod. I offer a kind word, a comment, making a connection, sharing an observation, asking a question. This simple, yet incredibly powerful action, helps me earn their trust and affection and their desire to please and to be taught. It helps me create a calm and prizing atmosphere.
This activity is also one of our morning routines. We all sit in a circle and using our talking stick, we take turns choosing a number from 1-10 and sharing how we feel and why as everyone listens giving the “gift of attention”. Children practice passing the stick to the classmate beside them using eye contact and saying their name. When they receive the stick, they respond with eye contact and a “thank you” before sharing their thoughts about how and why they feel the way they do.
This simple activity is powerful, helping children develop respect, empathy, and consideration for the people they work and play with throughout the day. This simple ritual communicates an important message, “I care about how you feel and you are accepted no matter what you are feeling.” When I know how children feel, I can help move them to more positive emotional states so they can learn and enjoy their day.
And finally, Morning Outputs
First let me explain the analogy behind the word “outputs”. . . Children, adults too, come to school each morning with “loaded suitcases” their hearts and minds stuffed full of their lives. Before we can INPUT new content, information, etc., we need to allow children to “empty their suitcases”, in other words, OUTPUT. Thank you, Selma Wassermann, my mentor and friend, who, in 1981, introduced me to and invited me to experience and engage in Outputs as a PDP student. From the very beginning, I have welcomed my students to begin their school days with Outputs.
In our classroom, we call our morning inquiry time, “Outputs”. This is a time each day where children direct their own learning in hands-on, minds-on learning, exploring and creating. Students can choose to visit centres that teach, review, and reinforce big ideas and skills across the curriculum, or they can move to their own “inquiry projects” exploring, researching, and creating fuelled by their own questions, curiosities, and passions.
Outputs is a time of rich learning, cooperating, sharing, decision-making, and problem-solving. As students continue to grow and learn, our Outputs activities and choices change. I believe when children come to school and begin their day with what some call a “soft start” they are ready to face the rest of their day in a clam and peaceful way. They too can find serenity so they can move to be their best throughout the day.
This was just a brief description of three important routines that I have made part of our shape of the day in all my classrooms, for over 30 years, from kindergarten to grade seven. The pedagogy and theory behind the three routines not only support our curriculum and core competencies, they help bring a little bit of serenity into all of our lives, students and teacher. Isn’t that what everyone needs?