Throughout the year, we gathered information to build background knowledge by looking at the root causes, factors and effects of many concepts. While building knowledge, we focus on perspectives that initiate the students' critical thinking with a focus on economic, historical, cultural, ecological, social and spatial perspectives. For the students to have authentic learning experiences, they take action by reflecting and talking about what is happening in their community, city, nationally and globally.
My focus last year was on the development of self-awareness with the students. Through cross-curricular inquiry tasks and social-emotional learning, self-awareness became the essence of identity all year. Identity and identifying themselves in all tasks were the roots of students' achievements and the conduit of their motivation to learn.
From Cultivating Genius, "our identities (both cultural identity and others) are continually being (re)defined and revised while we reconsider who we are within our sociocultural and sociopolitical environment (Goldie Muhammad)." As the students were shifting their learning by carving their identity in all tasks, self Awareness became the cultural tool for all perspectives of critical thinking, from building background knowledge to self-awareness that ties to identity and how culture is constructed through the equity and inequity of all perspectives.
When we started the discussions on identities and heritage, ethnicity and culture, some students easily identified themselves, and most were unaware of their culture. The students were startled to answer the question; what is my identity and heritage? This question is an important component that students needed to understand to make up for their identities.
As the students explored their identities and heritage, they began to see race and each other as who they were. Everyone has an identity, and every identity matters in valuing indifferences.
Throughout the year, Indigenous perspectives and knowledge building were part of our learning process. The Indigenous educational team from our board had essential learning opportunities throughout the year, connecting us with knowledge keepers for cross-curricular conceptual learning. Thanks to Alanna Trines, Graham Master Smith, and Laurel Macdonal-Boucher for the many opportunities and connections that have immersed my learning and the student's learning and fostered our knowledge of Indigenous perspectives with many live events and resources.
I participated with the board in the ReconciliAction Collaborative Inquiry to understand our duties on the journey towards reconciliation and to gain knowledge through resources, strategies, partnerships, and guidance to collaborate with students and the community to take action in support of the 94 Calls to Action.
As we dove into students' individual history and heritage, their interests were in a sustained inquiry focused on Land acknowledgment for the reconciliation inquiry journey. The students unpacked the history by questioning the settling of their ancestors.
Throughout the year, the students were immersed in many inquiries based on current events in Canada, identity through the Medicine Wheel, the Truth and Reconciliation Calls, residential schools, the unmarked graves, the 60's Scoop, Treaties, The Indian Act, the impact of the Catholic church and events developed in Canadian news. Roy Ketcheson, the art teacher at St. Francis Xavier, has the school atrium and the learning commons surrounded by indigenous art from high school students. The arts also contributed to Grade 8 students' inquiry into History.
We began the process by creating ancestral identity portraits based on Gregg Segal's Photography As we developed the Land Acknowledgement process, we needed to include the past, how their ancestors came to Canada and benefited from the land, how we presently benefit through our connections to the land and the actions we will be taking towards reconciliation.
The following guiding questions were presented in our discussion circles:
Share a bit about your ancestral background. Where are your ancestors from?
What was their experience with the Canadian Government?
Share something about your culture that you value? Canadian cultures...birthday, Christmas.
How diverse is our social circle?
Do we have social relationships with people from different religions, cultures, ethnicitiesor sexual orientations?
What are treaties? What is the Indian act?
What place is important to you? What makes it so special? A home, a special memory.
How would you feel if you can no longer access this place and someone destroys it?
Why do you think some people have a different connection to land and place?
How familiar are you with this land?
How does it feel to be out sitting on this land?
What do you love about the land?
How does the land provide everything we need to live?
What places have special meaning to you? How would you feel if that place was taken from you?
What is a place that has a special meaning to the community?
What would happen if that place was taken from us?
How would the community be affected as a whole? How would individuals be affected?
What should we all do to feel connected?
Why should we learn more from history?
With permission from the students, I share some examples of the Book Creator's Land Acknowledgements:
There were many layers to the process, from stereotypes to single stories of dehumanization, racism and biases that have impacted students' perspectives and lived experiences. The students learned to facilitate conversations on historical contexts presented throughout the year. Learning to identify misinformation and being comfortable seeing stereotypes and multiple perspectives on race and justice. It does feel overwhelming, but conversations need to start somewhere on anti bias, antiracist work and current events that they see in the media.
Developing identity gave students space to build knowledge and make sense of interpersonal learning. Connecting identity to history changed the students' social, cultural and emotional interconnectedness with the community.
I continue to learn the importance of Indigenous Peoples' perspectives to cross-curricular tasks and decolonize my learning with the students in all subjects. I will continue to learn and take action by sharing initiatives within the school and my community.
Every year, teachers craft pedagogical practices and critically examine how we connect with our new kids and their needs. Considering curriculum learning, student's personal growth and well-being, and how can we motivate students intrinsically, not extrinsically? Are we providing students with reflective time to self-manage many expectations from well-being for personal growth, academics and family responsibilities (virtual) simultaneously?
Be Community: Embracing diversity and promoting equity, we are guided by Catholic social teachings to create welcoming places for all.
Be Well: Honouring the dignity of every person, we care for and support the well-being of all.
Be Innovative: We foster innovation to inspire Deep Learning so that all can realize their full potential.
Community building, relationships and well-being are the heart of a community! How do we foster to build trust and relationships in our classroom community and focus on well-being?
The process of building community and relationships always begins in September. As a result of COVID, the students could not socialize together from March until the start of the school year in September. Reentering the school with many precautions while starting the academic year with rows of students masked up to collaborate and develop their skills. I have always focused on building a community of trust and students' self-identity to personalize learning. Upon returning face-to-face in September, it was evident that students were more disconnected. Throughout the process, I had to reflect on meeting students' emotional needs that shaped their learning and metacognition.
Our community was built up by understanding the students' identities and values, focusing on their strengths and learning styles. Learning should not be stressful! Community readiness included interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships to communicate, collaborate, create, critically think, and develop characters to be caring citizens. Being able to deal with all the differences within our community and to become active participants in learning rather than passive consumers. By identifying the feelings and the executive functions during the process, we focused on the assets, not the deficits of metacognition. It was important to identify what they are doing well and how they can connect to their next steps. Through self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness, the students could advance their own personal goals.
Academic loss was not the focus. Putting the students in a passive role of being fixed was not the goal! Getting students to look at their own data, accelerate their own needs, and be proud of their own growth was crucial.
We unpacked what stresses them when they are learning. What makes them joyful? What do they think about grading and assessment? What conditions make students feel joyful and trustful to share what is on their minds? I focused on creating an environment for students to fill their cups of self-confidence, self-management, self-awareness of how they learn. What are they hopeful for? Creating a space where mistakes or failures are not punishments; they are learning opportunities.
Virtually or face to face, how are we allowing students to reflect and think about self-managing their learning?
The students embarked on a journey of transparency, building relationships of trust, and taking action towards their learning. It was not about teaching SEL (Social Emotional Learning); it was about creating an environment where stress can be managed and how it can be relevant to their lives. Additionally, I needed to keep in mind to assure students of their self-direction, and I needed to apply humanity to teaching and students' learning experiences to make them equitable. Science consistently demonstrates how learning is supported by emotional skills. It was crucial to integrate social-emotional learning into everything we do.
Our approach began by co-learning about System 1 and System 2 thinking and sharing evidence of our everyday interactions and decision-making through System 1 and System 2 thinking. I first learned about Systems Thinking through http://www.rotmanithink.ca/about-us.
Using the analogy and visual metaphor of the iceberg, students shared what's going on beneath the surface for a deeper identity than what we see on the surface. The identity of what we see and how they feel. By connecting their feelings, students were able to share and build empathy. Empathy is a two-way street by taking each other's emotions. By sharing, the students connected their emotions to become more vulnerable and strengthen their perspectives and compassion for one another.
We followed through by learning about unconscious biases, perspectives, and how we make assumptions.
The students' identity and values were discovered through the causal models on who they are and their values. They focused on what makes them special, what makes them joyful, on their own identity from culture to history that no one is the same. A way for me to also build relationships and know who they are. Giving them a space to share and identify who they are.
The students shared and reflected about their interests and connected them to their learning, their identity, their current self to their future self-learning about themselves and to others in the class,
By incorporating identity relationships through music and cultural expressions, I adapted the Personal Playlist Project P3 For community building and What's In a Name the WIN project for identity and building community from Noa Daniel. The students developed relationships and connected their identities, but they also referenced their projects throughout the year. With the WIN project, many cultural identity discussions, including Nick Names and mispronunciation of names over the years. The students also took part in the project Belouga on community building.
Biases and perspectives are essential to building our community. That is also an important process to build trust and relationships, especially when reflecting on interpersonal and intrapersonal relations when collaborating, creating, communicating and taking actions. There is so much to share about this process through many thinking tools and applications. Those who followed my journey on Twitter and I shared our experiences will make connections to the process.
Identifying our implicit biases, one of the team-building activities was cross the line. It was a way to comfort each other, helping each other by forming relationships.
The passion is beyond the surface; the students knew they are good people, and they thought good people are never biased. We tried to undo biases and call them out. Empathy and its role in building relationships, trust, and belonging were implemented in our self-action and learning actions. All reflections are in French, a couple reflections on empathy:
The key to understanding our emotions, their causes and self-managing were learning about the brain and the adolescent brain. Learning about Neurons, Myelin and its importance to cognitive performance. How myelin grows the more we do to produce neuron plasticity through many learning experiences together from academics, regulating, reflecting, learning and growing through experiences. It was challenging at first to learn how the brain works, but then students understood through collecting evidence and reflecting. Reflecting on how the brain fires through movement and oxygen to the brain to decrease stress. We learned that everything is connected in networks, and we develop in stages to activate different areas in the brain. Heart rate, fear, breathing, fighter flight and learning, calming using or losing it, emotional identity can affect how they are going to learn that day. From the prefrontal cortex to the limbic system, connections managing stress to concentrate and calming down the limbic system. We unpacked how the brain works by listening to Sarah-Jayne Blakemore about the adolescent brain from Dan Siegal.
As a team, we coregulated and built a safe space for relationships. What is making you feel unsafe? Validating the emotional experiences. Adjustment of the environment was not physical; it was emotional by giving time to calm down in the seats, supporting each other when collaborating. We adapted by learning to coach ourselves through self-regulation and executive skills needed for positive self flexibility. Goal setting, managing stress, managing time, organization and time for planning and self-reflecting, resetting and calming for problem-solving. Executive function is managed by the Prefrontal Cortex of the brain. I first learned about the connections of Executive Functions and the brain for SEL from my colleague Patricia Fiorino.
The students use the amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain, to make decisions, so students needed to practice executive functioning skills. The purpose is to create neuropathways between their emotions and their actions.
In order to function together from self-advocacy, identifying different perspectives, executive functions became skills for action. In the executive functions, we focused on; how to grow as a student from emotional self-awareness, and how collaboration and learning together can impact the community. They needed to identify their strengths and determine how they work together to achieve their own goals.
For me to think, how do I want the students to grow at the end of the school year? Through SEL, I wanted them to grow as functioning members of the classroom community rather than just academically. Skills to develop: How do I make decisions? What is the best way to prioritize? What are my strengths? What resources do I need and how do I advocate for them? Students should advocate for themselves and develop solutions that cater to their varied needs. As soon as SEL and executive functions were in place, academic growth occurred.
Students began to collect data on their experiences in the classroom explicitly so they could grow in the classroom culture. Students were allowed to take time to wonder about what they want to focus on and work on developing the neuron plasticity of the brain. Reflections allowed the brain to understand where they are and to sometimes share with one another for feedback. The SEL was on everything, not just SEL time; it was through the full learning throughout all disciplines. It was about the ongoing dialogue and reflection of the class. Thinking about what they do well and what their strengths are. I am sharing October examples of The ladder of Inference for collecting data and criteria for the purpose of SEL and executive functions.
The reflections continued throughout the year. I will share a few as they are all in French.
Reflective questions about the collected data.
Mindfulness of breathing and calming played an important role every day. There was value in pausing and taking a break, or pausing individually when necessary. The students were influenced by the ripple effect they had on each other and by my influence on them. As social adolescents, Grade 8 students exhibited reactions to judging the intentions of others or judging the safety, physiology, and biology of other individuals that were impacted on a daily basis both online and in person. As a result of mindfulness, the students reported less stress from interpersonal relationships. For culturally equitable SEL to be achieved, it was crucial to include their lived experiences as part of our school experiences, representing them culturally and affirming them as whole students.
Certainly, there was resistance; it was not always easy, fear of feeling unsafe, with all kinds of conditions and resistance, especially online. As a teacher, I was always wondering what SEL skills to introduce to the lesson and how to interact with them to engage their learning? To allow them to self-manage a learning plan and advocate for their own success. In the space of trust of expression, we also discussed how SEL and emotional awareness can help us discuss many topics. In discussions about the Sustainable Development Goals, several hard and uncomfortable conversations took place involving sexism, racism, violence, homophobia, and transphobia.
Developing a social awareness of interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts on many controversial topics was crucial. The goal was to keep a safe space when discussing uncomfortable topics to promote SEL opportunities during sociopolitical discussions. In discussions, all political events are connected to the curriculum expectations and students' interpersonal relationships, knowledge building, and understanding of themselves and others.
Virtually lots of time was given to self-regulate synchronously and asynchronously of not feeling alone and the trust that I understood their feelings by immediately responding to their written or oral reflections.
By moving online from mid-April to June, the focus was surely on the home environment of critical learning effects and the out-of-class experiences. There are so many responsibilities, it has become everyone's responsibility. Our goal is to humanize; this is everyone's responsibility; mine, the other students online, and the parents. Everyone had a role to play. I had to focus on how to keep their joy and talents.
Maintaining an asset-based learning community with so many responsibilities placed on students. The students amazingly managed babysitting and helping siblings with online learning. Assisting with household responsibilities during synchronous and asynchronous learning sessions. Working with parents and other family members in the same room. Some had the privileges of working quietly and keeping self-motivation with little distractions. The distractions of technology while completing work ranged from phone calls to online chats and games. Using PearDeck daily reflections assisted with maintaining self-management while doing online learning. This transition worked because they co-planned about their needs as a team.
It has been a year of exploration with many posts unpublished due to ongoing discoveries, unlearning, relearning and reframing practices due to various occurrences during our learning processes. It was important to develop the competencies for growth and success through SEL. SEL must be contextualized, integrated with academic learning, and reflecting every time through social management self-awareness and self-management, in order to connect and give feedback to each other. SEL is not a program designated for a certain time!
Yes, it takes time, and we need to embrace it. It is all day, every day, not a prepackaged curriculum. In the framing that we do every day, SEL maximized the impact. Students needed more deconstructed opportunities to develop their own goals, identify their strengths, and determine how they functioned collectively. It was our goal to learn more about how Social Emotional Learning builds just communities of respect, lasting relationships, and critically examines root causes for collaborative solutions that contribute to the personal, community, and social well-being of all participants.
Building community is essential for transformative learning. How are we supporting transformative SEL affirming the assets, the experiences, identity, acquiring knowledge, identifying and managing emotions, maintaining relationships for responsible and caring decisions?
I will end with this Hip Hop theatre of emotions from a student about her year:
Our ecosystem during the emergency remote learning grew stronger due to the established partnership with parents and the students. The students had the trust of being valued contributors prior to distanced learning. The process of relationships, perspectives, thinking errors, unconscious biases, and community trust were unpacked from September. The students regularly reflected on the interpersonal and intrapersonal processes of self-awareness to their community prior to emergency remote learning. We continued reflecting on an equitable learning environment from home with a focus on Social-Emotional and adaptive academic learning with new partnerships in new learning environments. It was still an emotional roller coaster as we learned to iterate and be creative together. The families and experiences from home were the transfer for learning rather than just covering the curriculum. The connections grew deeper that they became the foundation of the transferable learning experiences. Wellbeing and social-emotional learning were most important, and I placed them prior to academics through the development of skills and cross-disciplinary contextual thinking. Throughout the year we implemented social-emotional learning and the understanding of self-awareness and self-management (Blog post explaining SEL). For emergency remote learning we unpacked that transfer of SEL to understanding self success during the remote distance learning. During our Google Meets, acknowledging the feeling which was most important than just focusing on tasks no matter how long it took us. As I started focusing on acknowledging how they are feeling and to share their feelings the time went by. Less time was focused on tasks that altered my thinking and my learning. The students began building their own brain routines to develop new skills from home and from the community. They were already familiar with Ontario's Ministry Well Being guide and it was referenced for creating strategies of positive choices and belonging with the distance remote learning. Also, CASEL competencies were an integral part of the process (https://casel.org/core-competencies/). Prior to and after every task, reflections on social-emotional feelings were gathered to critically analyze their feelings and competencies for the next steps. Prior to and after every Google Meets, we had emotional check-ins and explicitly expressed based on Marc Brackett the color of emotions and the feeling wheels (Feeling WheelMood Meter). The students kept a written or oral records, or a sequence of images for a journal that was shared with classmates for feedback. Some students also organized teams for motivational workouts on their own. The outcome of emergency remote learning was to elevate students' cultural assets, their voices, and their agency from home. Learning is social and creating a safe space is important for their autonomy by being co-creators for their learning. Opportunities that were developed by the students were:
Identifying ways to stay active at home indoors and outdoors with the family.
Organization of their schedule based on ministry allocated hours for learning.
Focusing on the four domains of the Well Being and the four key components for well-being strategies.
Aligning with the Indigenous medicine wheel of the interconnectivity ofall aspects of one’s being. The circle of awareness of the individual self; the circle of knowledge that provides the power of how we each have over our own lives.
Exploring the six domains of resiliency Resilience
Designing their learning the way they see it. The autonomy of connecting their environment to their learning and finding ways to metacognitively share their thinking by applying many thinking tools.
Sharing reflections of their perspectives of who they are designing with and for, to develop a sense of empathy.
Learning to identify how they are solving problems from designing in the home or for the community.
Researching and connecting these opportunities to practical understandings of life learning skills. (In relation to the curriculum from Science (Structures, biodiversity, substances, heat...) to history by honoring traditions.
Leading their own learning by applying learning to and from the world around them.
Knowledge building and sharing by making connections to what they have learned and new learning that became cross-disciplinary for explorations.
Continuing to collaborate with family members or community members to communicate and share: What was surprising? What were they still curious about?
Applying thinking tools to problem solve that they were familiar with from the classroom applications. Rotman I-Think integrative thinking tools for collecting data, causal models for causes and factors, Pro Pro the benefits of opposing ideas through the point of view of all perspectives, and developing a sense of empathy.
Continuing with the Sustainable Development Goals that were developed in September for our action-taking.
Implemented through SDGs to cross-curricular connections by continuing what we started of pitching their ideas in teams for local and global actions.
continuing with responsible citizenship and connecting the take Action project to the home and the community. Are all people treated fairly and equally?
Aspiring ideas for hope from the home, from the community from nature on what kind of a world would they like to create.
Co-creating the plans of the week by taking turns sharing motivational quotes, videos, inspirational images, and of course humor and laughter.
Wellness became the most important integral of our Google Meets by taking time to practice consciousness through breathing exercises that the students adapted on their own as well.
Provoking small group discussions based on real-world events.
Technology with remote distance learning was not just for posting resources, it was for engaging with each others' learning.
Collaborating, reflecting, consolidating on Padlet, Fligrid, Screencastify, Google Suites (forms, slides, Google drawing), Jamboard, Google slides with Slido Q&A, Wakelet, and Mentimeter.
Technology added accountability for the students to reflect share their thinking and give feedback to each other. The accountability for me was to collect data and to reflect in order to iterate the process of learning.
Short instructions with reflective points and breaks. Emotional responsiveness to take breaks by playing their motivational music, or breathing exercises.
Applying active online discussions based on experts' insights and individuals perspectives and interactive reading books.
The greatest feedback was from passive self-paced interactive content like games, Kahoot, and Pear Deck. Digital citizenship that was developed earlier contributed to positive learning.
Creating impactful experiences beyond the curriculum that empowered students' learning from the pandemic to social unrest.
I began connecting experts to our learning from breathing exercises, to the learning of the designing of protective gears to the understanding of the past for History that has shaped the present unrests. This presentation summarizes some of our learning evidence of all remote emergency learning experiences.
An episode from Voiced Radio Ontario Learning From Home, I shared the reframing of my learning:
Relationships always matter for equitable learning experiences. Calling and emailing parents, understanding individual well being and online effects on students was the key to community trust and connections. Creating an environment for students to be heard and to be respectful of each other. The parents and the students chose how best to proceed with remote distance learning that responded best to their emotional well being with high trust and low stress. John Dewey (1938) quote: "We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future." Learning is communal and social to co-construct meaning, for students to project their personal characteristics and for students to interact and be cohort learners sharing their cognitive presence. Learning from our students and shifting our practices to meet their needs, it is not a deficit base it is an asset base that the students are telling us what we need to do. What educational experiences will we be designing for our students? Education continues to evolve and changes,please no more normalizing!