All posts by wilsonteacher

New Role, New Excitement

I cannot believe that it has been an entire year since I made a post on this blog. I had great intentions of blogging my journey as a first-year administrator, endeavouring to capture the excitement and challenges of the Vice-Principal role at B.A. Parker Public School and Geraldton Composite High School. However, the nature of the job, the growing up of my daughter, and a ridiculous load of additional qualification courses ate up pretty much all of my free time. In hindsight, I’m disappointed, because I think there would have been some good reflections if I made the time to record them. But alas, I did not.

However, I just shelled out another $120 to maintain for yet another year AND I have the opportunity to start fresh, this time as a first-year administrator of a high school – my old high school! According to my high school yearbook, I have essentially reached the pinnacle of my life.

So, apologies for the lack of updates but I will work to remedy this site’s content. In the meantime, please continue to browse!

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.