Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Misbehaviours vs. Stress Behaviours

At a staff meeting the other night, we had training in the idea of misbehaviours versus stress behaviours. Misbehaviours are behaviours that the child knows are wrong, has the ability to control, but simply chooses not to. Stress behaviours are behaviours that result from stressors in the child's life.

Here's the brilliant part:

Misbehaviours require addressing the behaviour.
Stress behaviours require addressing the stressor.

The basic idea of this is well known. People know that when we are tired or hungry we can be irritable, short-tempered, curt, and sometimes even a little mean. Mothers know that sleep deprived children or hungry children act out. But we so often get caught up in the behaviour that we forget to look for what might be behind it.

We studied a list of example stressors in 5 domains: biological, social, prosocial, emotional and cognitive. Here's the crazy part: there were about 60 different examples of stressors in each domain. That's over 300 examples of things that often tip people over the edge.

I scanned through the list, and immediately things started jumping out at me:

Being hungry
Red lights
Chapped lips
Being cold
Insufficient solitude and quiet
Loud chewing/gum chewing
Too many things hanging in a classroom

Large social settings
Engaging in small talk and not really connecting at a meaningful level

Being late
When your partner is stressed

(none really)

Information presented too slowly
Lack of intellectual stimulation

These are all stressors that, if happen too often, get me into a "not great mood." Luckily, many of these I'm aware of, and when they start to happen I know how to deal with the stressor so that I don't start to "misbehave" (be irritable, short-tempered, become confrontational, pick on small things).

Dealing with a stressor isn't a "get out of jail free" card in regards to bad behaviour. We cannot condone the bad behaviour even if there is a reason behind it. But we do need to teach our kids to identify their stressor and deal with it appropriately, by removing it/themselves, or by using a healthy coping strategy. Because the reality is a certain amount of stressors are healthy and always going to be around.

So here's the golden nugget in all this: when I'm not happy with the behaviour of my kids, I need to stop and ask myself, do I need to deal with a behaviour or a stressor?

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Christmas traditions

I was part of a conversation the other day on Christmas traditions, and all I could think was "that just sounds like more work." Christmas for me is a time to unwind, hibernate by a fire, drink hot chocolate, cuddle in warm blankets with my family and curl up with books.  Then I felt a little sad because I thought "I wonder if we're missing out?"

But sometimes those knee-jerk reactions are just because we have such a narrow definition of something. Someone talks about home-cooked roast Sunday dinners and we think "how come I don't do that?" But if we pause, we might realize that Sunday dinners does happen - maybe it's not a roast, maybe it's grilled cheese and tomato soup, but it's still everyone together.

I don't do big decorations or fancy meals at Christmastime. We don't go for our own real tree or get photos done. But we do have some great things we like to do, and, not surprisingly, they aren't decorative but instead or artsy.

We always kick off with the Santa Claus parade, but lately that usually means marching in it. From soccer to our church to our school, we have participated in a few different floats over the years. Then, sometime between the 21st and 24th we join a live Nativity play as Shepherds or Roman soldiers or townspeople and bring the Christmas story to life for thousands of people in a neighbouring city.

Finally, squeezed between December 1 and December 24, we usually have a plethora of concerts. Yes, the most dominating tradition in our home is music, and I love that. This year we have 13 concerts in 3 weeks and I love it. Multiple choirs, a talent show, school concerts, community band, ukulele club, canatas - all of us are involved in multiple programs. This is where I realized our true family traditions are taking root. Music is a huge part of James' and my life, and while we have neglected the formal music training of our children, they have grown up seeing concerts, rehearsals and the like. I hope that they will always remember the message and beauty of the Christmas music in their young lives.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Finding your people

For nearly 20 years I have been looking for my teacher community. And for the past year and a half, even in my Bachelor of Education program, I've still felt on the outside. Inspired by project-based learning, gifted education, and homeschooling, I have formed very definitive ideas about the kind of teacher I want to be and the kind of classroom I want to create. And through it all, I felt very alone.

Then, this year, a brand new school in Kitchener, Ontario opened up. Just under 2 hours away from me, the entire vision of the school is based around inquiry and project-based learning. Finally, I found a place to which my philosophy of "teacher as mentor and classroom as workshop" aligns perfectly. In reading the vision of the principal, I felt as though I personally could have written every word. Everything in me wishes I was close enough to work at his school, but that is not the case. Instead, I suppose I will take it as another step and avenue of support as I continue to forge my own path.

If you're wondering, here's the vision of Groh Public School and principal Helmut Tinnes:

Groh P.S. will be a world class school with a community of autonomous learners engaged in meaningful inquiry and project based learning opportunities on a globally-oriented campus.
To create this vision, there will be a combination of three essential elements to prepare students for secondary school in advance of preparing them for the workplace:
  • a freedom-based, open and inclusive learning environment
  • enhanced project-based learning opportunities through inquiry
  • interaction with the larger world – to collaborate with students around the world
If you have spent much time with me, well, ever, then you'll probably smile a little reading that and know that yes, I've finally found my people.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Minimalist: the bathroom counter

I consume articles about minimalism like I do chocolate and Granny Smith apples. The trouble is that I haven't yet been able to transfer these much sought after yet elusive concepts in my life. I always recount the story of the day I sat in my friend's living room and realized there were seven things in the entire room. Literally, if seven people came in an each took one thing, the room would have been empty. It wasn't that I was striving to imitate someone else's look; it was that I truly felt at peace in that room. It turns out that visual clutter also clutters up my mind and spirit.

In our transition period right now, we are are amalgamating households to support my mother-in-law. While we search for an appropriate dual living space, we are all crammed into her house (which was bigger than our house - I'm not sure she would have wanted to sleep on the couch). This means two things: 1) most of our stuff we got rid of, or is in a small 10x10 locker space, and 2) most of my mother-in-law's stuff is what is filling our current space.

So I feel my hands are a little tied for the time being, and it's starting to mentally take its toll. I realized this lately as things started to slowly disappear from my bathroom counter. A few weeks back, I decided I didn't need two tubes of toothpastes, so I popped one back into the cupboard. A few days later, I took off the facecloth that sat there, unused. Then I decided the decorative jars didn't really need to be in the corner, and I moved them to the shelf.

Yesterday, as I went to brush my teeth, I looked at the long 36" counter and realized that only the things left on top were what we truly needed every day: toothbrushes, toothpaste, a cup and hand soap. I stood there for a minute and smiled. I had subconsciously been working toward minimalism.

Now it has moved into my conscious stream. Surfaces are my weakness. I'm eyeing that dresser and armoire top and my side table...

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Mature student

The death of the second-career teacher may arrive in the near future.  With the final changeover to the two year Bachelor of Education, us "mature students," those with mortgages and families and well-established lives, will not be able to pause everything for two years to become a teacher.  As a result, the schools will lose those teachers with life experience behind them, with the wisdom of being a parent already, and the expertise of specific industries.

What I love most about going back to school at this point in life is that I have very definite ideas of my teaching philosophy. Yes, I am learning a million new things in school, and of course I am deferring to mentors and professors with years of experience. But I care very little to conform to what other teacher's are doing. I research methods, seek out those using them, and then go forward boldly.  I will not fall into the trap of imitating the "typical teacher" method that is prevalent today.  Not that there is anything wrong with it; in and of itself it is a valid teaching method. But what I see is 90% of the teachers teaching in that same way. All I can imagine is that these plethora of youth teachers graduate and then imitate what they see, and then by the time they are old enough to have their own experience and their own ideas, they have been in the box so long it's now old habit.  I feel like if there are 50,000 teachers out there we should really see at least 100 different ways of teaching, every classroom reaching different types of kids.

Instead what I hear is that school is the optimal setting for girls who like to sit in a desk, complete assigned work, and please the teacher.  Everyone else (so many others!) are left to struggle.  But there must be teachers out there who don't like to sit and need to move.  There must be teachers who prefer individual work to group work, teachers who want to create instead of just imitate.  There must be scientists and outdoorsy people and artists and athletes.  And I wish I could see that individuality reflected in their classrooms! I wish that the students could actually look back on each year and not see the same routines over and over again. I wish that maybe they would remember grade 1 as the year they raised chickens, grade 2 as the year they had garden in their classroom, grade 3 when they spent every morning learning in outside, grade 4 when they played soccer to start every day, grade 5 when they pursued their own project-based learning, grade 6 when they made a movie, grade 7 when they formally debated everything they learned, and grade 8 when they got real about the real world.  By the way, these are all things I actually have seen, but in all the schools I've been in, in all the classes, I've only seen one of each of these classrooms.  Only one.  Mostly I see lots of desks and desk work and then some crafting.

Maybe one day I can inspire some of the teachers I meet to inspire their students by bringing their own personal passions into the classroom.  You'll never be the most interesting and relevant teacher to everyone, but at least you can make their learning unique.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017


A new documentary, a renewed idea.  I've written and thought and done a lot on the subject of minimalism over the years.  The past five months have ramped it up a little, when we combined households with my mother-in-law.  There is just not that much space and so, by necessity, we are scaling back.

I'm at the point where all the clothes in my closet I actually wear on a regular basis. I continuously cull the toy room (although I believe there is always more there - how sentimental I can be with the kids toys!)

Where I find myself now, however, is not that I don't use everything around me, but could I use less?  I wear all 8 pairs of pants, but could I do with only 3? Everything is useful organized, but is it necessary?  I still feel the clutter, I still long for those spaces where surfaces are clear and boxes don't pile up.

I don't buy things for the thrill, but why do new things become old and lose the lovely feeling they once evoked? That new sweater with which I was so careful eventually becomes something I throw on to clean.  Why don't those beloved things remain beloved?  With less, would they retain some of their wonder?

The only clutter I yearn for are bookshelves.  Every time I see a picture of an airy room with shelves from floor to ceiling stuffed with all shapes and colour and sizes of books, my heart leaps a little.  There is something about being surrounded by all those lovely thoughts poured out on paper that inspires me just by the presence of it all.