All posts by wilsonteacher

The Third Path: The Right Conditions

I’ve now read up to Chapter Six of The Third Path and I continue to appreciate how the authors echo my own professional beliefs and philosophies about supporting our students through positive relationships. As the book dives into the eight conditions that help students and educators understand the “how” of education, I keep stopping to think about a number of things: my own ability/potential to develop and strengthen relationships, the impact of relationship-building on educators, and the vital importance of knowing where our students come from.

Chapter four focuses on regulation, which most Ontario educators know as a learning skills. The education sector has been throwing around words like gritperseverance, and resiliency for many years, but I wonder if educators really understand what this is all about – as well as how it is measured, how it’s different from one student to the next, and how the experience of stressful situations is balanced with a nurturing environment. The chapter definitely raises some points that makes me reflect on how we help students develop effective regulation skills and coping strategies so that they can be better learners.

I also really stopped to think about the enthusiasm, energy, and emotions of a kindergarten class, most especially because this room has been so foreign to me – and I’m so excited that I’ll have many opportunities to reacquaint myself with these qualities in my new role. It’s the last line – the role of educators in positively influencing students – that reminds us of the importance of our work in the growth and development, (the human development piece) of children.

I believe that stress can be a good thing, provided that students have the tools and strategies to use it to their advantage. The authors highlight this point, but also weigh in to the psychological understanding of regulation and how our students are often “disregulated” by things outside of the classroom, (which is no secret to most of us!) – triggers such as their personal history, (there are powerful examples about bullying, traumatic home lives, and students escaping areas of conflict and war. Teachers need to get to know our students so we can recognize these stressors and help reduce them. Like the last section, I appreciate that authors Tranter, Carson, and Boland don’t pretend there is an easy solution to student triggers, nor do they fault educators who don’t immediately catch them:

That got me thinking about the importance of supporting educators. When we consider the role of the caring adult who is focusing on caring, communication, and consistency all the while “needing to always maintain their own state of regulation” I started to wonder what supports are in place for staff. A focus on human development in schools means that school staff take on emotional baggage. Educators know the value of relationships, and they also know some of the issues students bring to the classrooms. How do we prevent school staff from emotional burnout? What professional learning, mindfulness activities, and support systems are in place for staff?

There is a bit more to unpack in Chapter 5, which focuses on belonging and the social nature of humans. I’m not a sociological or pshychological expert, but I do think there’s merit in the belief that most people appreciate a sense of inclusion and belonging. The one thing that I started to think about is the nature of belonging in terms of belonging to a group, (as in the class or with peer groups) as well as a sense of belonging to the school. We have some serious attendance issues and I wonder how we might change that issue if we really push that meaningful sense of belonging, (beyond the traditional “attachment to a school mascot” sense of belonging). The focus on thinking about how we interact with students using the “relationship bank account” philosophy of deposits and withdrawals is one piece that helps students feel safe and positive in schools, so this is something to discuss further. Again, I feel like most of this is being done, but it’s good to review it. I really like the last line of the chapter, though. Just…be nice:

So in conclusion, helping students understand how stress impacts life is important, as is helping students develop tools and strategies to regulate their emotions. Doing this work means getting to know our students’ emotional triggers, which could create additional anxiety and stress for educators, so it’s important to consider professional learning, decompression techniques, and the mental health of school staff. Social skills and a sense of belonging are generally areas we need to reflect on when thinking about how we will do better at reaching students who are not being reached.

I’m looking forward to the next set of chapters!

Teaching Well-Being: The Third Path

Few educators would disagree with the argument that that relationships and well-being are important areas of focus in our schools. However, as Dr. David Tranter, Lori Carson, and Tom Boland write in The Third Pathhow those things are taught  is definitely more challenging. Teachers are pushed to focus on curriculum expectations meaning that well-being and relationship-building becomes something akin to extra-curriculars, (sort of important, but not as important as numeracy and literacy) or treated like its own subject, (where teachers then measure a student’s ability to know and apply aspects of “well-being”). If we acknowledge that well-being is important, then clearly we need to rethink how we “teach” it in our schools.

So many sticky notes already!

I’ve only read the first three chapters of the book, but I like it for many reasons. First, the authors acknowledge that it’s all well-and-good to identify some kind of academic/theoretical solution, but the focus in the body of the text is on the how to get there, broken down into small chunks with clear visuals and examples. Second, there is no sugar-coating the fact that students are complex beings with issues that are brought into schools, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and some paths aren’t easy to take. Finally, the fact that the authors are all from Thunder Bay reassures me that this book acknowledges the demographics of my area.

I also really appreciate the examination of what well-being even means. There’s no clear definition of that, either – and many educators aren’t great at establishing it in their own lives – so educators probably need help understanding what well-being is and how it relates to academic success:

The Third Path, p. 17

This is all summarized by a simple equation:

The Third Path, p. 23

The authors suggest that educators should use the curriculum, (with some flexibility) in a way that emphasizes the importance of relationships, (because that’s how humans learn) under eight conditions that promote achievement and well-being, (the body of the book) with the goal of positively affecting human development, (because we want our students to be more than human dictionaries and calculators).

My take-away after the first three chapters, (and hopefully my established practice at this point – which is probably why I like this book as it preaches to the choir!) is that:

  • Positive relationships and conditions for learning are necessary before any “curricular learning” can effectively take place.
  • Well-being will look and be different from student-to-student.
  • Well-being IS NOT just about doing well in school so that you become financially well-off later in life.
  • Educational research is not a hard science and there’s no guarantee this will work, BUT there’s an obvious benefit to knowing our students.
  • Understanding Common Attachment Behaviours (p. 37-40) and how students respond to different triggers and stimuli, (p. 41-46) can help educators understand and support our students. Educators have limited child psychology training, so this stuff is pretty valuable.
  • HOW we teach kids is so very important – and the conditions outlined in the book help educators think about this point.

Dr. David Tranter has created a great little video that explains what The Third Path is all about – and how we can’t just simply teach well-being. Check it out and let me know your thoughts…please!

I know that some of my colleagues are also reading The Third Path and I hope that I can continue the discussion with them. If you’re curious about the book, you can check out Two of the authors, Tom Boland and Dr. David Tranter, are also active on Twitter.


Indian Horse and Seven Fallen Feathers: My Reviews

I haven’t had much time to read for pleasure lately, but I was inspired by some friends and students to pick up Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse and Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers in the hopes that I would gain a greater understanding of the intergenerational trauma inflicted on indigenous people by Canada’s Residential School System.

I first heard about Indian Horse from a Superior-Greenstone DSB colleague, Laura Mason, who championed the novel. She used it in a senior English class and shared how the novel intertwined trauma with hockey while engaging readers. The book stayed on my back-burner until this year when one of my own grade 12 English students used it in her Independent Study Unit. She shared some very powerful excerpts that described – in horrifying terms – what happened in residential schools. We know much of these descriptions to be true as a result of the brave testimony of victims and survivors as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The story, as most likely know, has been reimagined as a film, (which was just recently released), though I have yet to see it.

The novel is beautifully-written despite the fact that the reader is almost always encountering loss. This includes the loss of parents to alcoholism, the loss of family members to death, the loss of trust in institutions, the loss of culture through residential schools and a racist society, and the loss of  self as main character Saul Indian Horse battles so much trauma. However, the novel also provides hope.

The hope lies in the fact that this novel is also about hockey and the beauty of the game. Saul Indian Horse is a naturally-talented player and despite society’s best attempts to strip Saul of his gift, he is still able to play on. Saul is also able to find closure – or at least come to peace with – his past as he travels back to where his story began.

Wagamese’s descriptions, his passion for his characters, and the important historically-influenced story proved spell-binding for me. The novel is emotionally-charged and although I finished it a week ago, it is still sticking with me. I can’t recommend it enough. I wish Wagamese were still alive so I could personally write to him and share how much I felt connected to his novel’s main character.

After putting down Indian Horse, I immediately picked up Seven Fallen Feathers, which documents the tragic circumstances around the deaths of seven indigenous youth in Thunder Bay, Ontario. In each case, the deaths involved a student who was in Thunder Bay for high school, since the vast majority of northern reserves do not have physical high schools. Options for students include distance education, traveling to places like Thunder Bay or Sioux Lookout, or receiving no high school education at all. What struck me the most about this book was the amount of research author Tanya Talaga and her team conducted to ensure that the stories she shares are factual. These facts, (cited in several pages at the book’s end) make the circumstances that much more horrifying: Systemic racism, a lack of appropriate support for students, a serious gap in educational offerings, communication breakdowns, addiction, and the reality that the death of seven young lives is the focus of the story makes Seven Fallen Feathers emotionally-charged.

The story is not about assigning blame or making non-indigenous people feel guilty. It’s about outlining what went wrong in the hopes that additional deaths can be prevented. When Talaga outlines the government’s stalling of funding and action, the questionable response of the police, and the ongoing trauma within the families invovled it’s hard not to feel guilty, though.

Talaga goes into great depths to detail the lives of the youth, celebrating their lives and their accomplishments – and the events leading up to their deaths. She describes the frantic searches, the panic of parents, guardians, educators, and counselors, and the aftermath. Some of the statistics are particularly tough to read:

However, like Indian HorseSeven Fallen Feathers provides some hope at the end. Governments and organizations are working hard – and working together – to make Thunder Bay safer. This includes, (after a lot of arguing, as outlined in the novel) a Coroner’s Inquest into the seven deaths, a review of the Thunder Bay Police, and new training for both educational institutions and those responsible for the health and welfare of students.

Both of these novels are important to me. The students and youth described in both are in many ways similar to the very students I teach. In the case of Seven Fallen Feathers, some share communities, last names and families. I want to have a better understanding of the effects of intergenerational trauma. I want to know where my students and their families come. I want to know the parts of Canada’s history that for far too long were kept in the dark.

I highly recommend both of these novels. I also highly recommend that anyone who has not familiarized themselves with the story of Chanie Wenjack, a Cree boy from Ogoki who died in 1966 trying to escape a residential school, learn his story. I remember learning so much about trauma, loss, and death in so many other countries in my own history classes without ever really knowing what happened in Canada.

Thanks for reading.