What Would They Say?

Have you ever thought what the students of your school would say about their experience there 20 years after? No? Maybe you should….

In an ironic twist of events, I found myself back in my hometown of London, Ontario this week. I hadn’t been back in close to 15 years and with some free time today, I decided to go visit my elementary school where I journeyed through grades 4-8.

As I pulled up the driveway, memories came flooding in of busy cars, parents dropping off kids, the harsh winter bolt from the car to the building; but more importantly I felt a deep sense of pride and a peace that I haven’t felt in years. Just seeing the building itself grounded me in a feeling of comfort and home and I wondered how many other former students felt this way and how many of my own will fill the same about their current experiences.

I walked up to the front doors and as fate would have it, there stood a man hoping to gain access to register his kids for the school year. He had just moved to Canada and was looking for a school for his children. As I explained to him that schools aren’t open for another few weeks, he soon realized that not only was I now a teacher but that I was a graduate coming back to just to see my old school. It was just the opportune moment for him to ask ” What was it like here? Is it a good school?”

Now this is where my mind started racing and the memories of my incredible teachers – Patricia Leschied, Jennifer Day, James Hull and John Arnett- came flooding in. Teachers who taught me perseverance, excellence, quality and showed me that I could be anything that I put my mind to. I spoke to how much fun I had learning here, to the close friendships and bonds I made (some to this very day), to being pushed to my limits due to high expectations, to care and understanding of my new culture and the turmoils of growing up, to new experiences scaffolded not for safety but for growth and mostly for the feeling of community and belonging. This school and these educators grew us into the people we are today – educators, police officers, engineers, doctors, politicians, environmentalists and librarians (from those I am still in contact with). There is no more powerful a sentiment than the legacy an educator leaves behind and that didn’t go unnoticed by this man nor myself.

As he thanked me and walked back to his vehicle, I stood there in awe wondering if my teachers knew this impact? If I as an educator truly understood the impact I leave on these children everyday. Will they be coming back to our school like I did today and praise the growth we fostered in them, the love we poured into their hearts and the strength we gave them to be who they are? I no longer say, I sure hope so…..I now say that is my goal and the legacy I want to leave for all of the students that I have the privilege of guiding along their life journey.


Nobody Said It Was Going To Be Easy


It’s the start of October, which means that last month was the hardest month of the teaching year. In September, is when I lay out the expectations, the groundwork and the flow for the learning in our classroom. With this comes the hardest and most frustrating aspect; getting the students acquainted with technology as a learning tool.

I have heard the gripes from fellow teachers and I myself used to say it too ” They don’t know how to log in! They won’t ever remember log-ins! How can I manage 25+ kids with different devices and access?” etc. The key I finally discovered was that it wasn’t hard for the kids….it was hard for ME. I switched my mindset around and started to focus on how to make it a smoother transition for all of us because I have seen first hand the powerful learning that can happen when a student is using a device as a tool to empower, create and explain their learning. It becomes second-hand nature to have that device ready to go when it’s needed.

I have been asked many times how I manage to get the kids ready to go so quickly and my advice is “Roll up your sleeves, and dive in.” It’s messy, it can be frustrating, it can drive you to insanity, but at the heart of it all you know that it is what is best for them and their future.

Here are a few tips I have experienced first hand that may help:

Use the expertise in the room

You are not the only expert in the room, and I am willing to bet that there are a few students in your class who have done this before or are quick and savvy learners. Put them to work helping their peers. I always tell my students “I am only but one Miss Ariss”, however there are some of you in here who can help me and your friends so we can learn this quickly. If you stand and deliver and expect every student to follow your exact move as you click on your computer…..you will be in for a world of mental anguish. I liken this to going to a PD session and the presenter hasn’t gaged the level of expertise in the room and treats us as if we are all beginners. I’ll be honest, if its something I know already, then I’ve started to tune them out. Our students are no different. You will have kids who know how to log in, who know how to make the @ symbol, and who know how to troubleshoot. Honour their expertise and build a collaborative, caring classroom community at the same time.

Set High Expectations

I know some teachers will print out their student’s emails or login info and passwords and give to them. I find that level of scaffolding to be great as a start….but at some point they will have to rely on themselves. With the exception of the students who I know need this scaffold, I post their log in info on the board and give them the responsibility of logging themselves in. At some point, after numerous trials and errors (with support by me,) they get it. Is it easy for them to memorize and copy their log in info, password and websites? Not a single bit, but they are learning perseverance, problem solving and building their confidence in doing this hard thing on their own. There will be tears, there will be stress, there will be anxiety…but there will also be triumph and pride.

Keep Everything In One Place

Let’s be honest…as an adult I can barely keep track of all of the websites, passwords, logins etc and I don’t expect my students to do so either. I start off small with logging into the computer system with their information and we practice going to our classroom blog. This in itself is a feat because learning that the Google search bar is not the same as the url bar when typing in a website address is just one big lesson. I keep all of the important links that they will need – Google Drive, Classroom, Creative Commons, School website, Government tests, et.- all on the blog for quick and easy access until we are at a stage where they are comfortable and strong enough in their technology use to type in other sites.

So yes, it might be easier to just hit print on the photocopier and hand each student a neat little packet without the hassle of the above, but is it what is best for them or for us? Are we living in a neat printed packet world or is our world digital, messy and requires us to push buttons and try new things?

Integrating technology in the classroom is not easy and it’s not meant for all tasks, but no one ever said anything about teaching being easy. We all just know that it’s worth it.


Sharing Is A Moral Imperative


The #IMMOOC officially began this past week with a live google hangout featuring George Couros, Dave Burgess and Katie Martin. One of the most resounding lessons that has wholeheartedly stuck with me since watching was when Dave Burgess stated that as educators:

“If what we’re doing is powerful and could help other people, we have a moral imperative to share it.” – Dave Burgess

Now, I’m no stranger to sharing with the world, but no matter how many blogs I post, or how many tweets I send out, every time I want to put something out there, I shrink back out of fear and worry of how it will come across. There have been numerous activities, ideas, thoughts reflections that I have started to write about, only to never hit that publish button.The more I worried, the less I posted and it quickly become a bad cycle. Hearing Dave talk about morality immediately struck a chord with me because it never once occurred to me that I may have a moral obligation to share what goes on in my geeky brain in order to help others. Even more importantly, that my sharing could have a wider impact on the educational growth of not only my students but many others whose educators may come across my work.

Dave went on even further to state that as educators:

“We not only have a moral imperative to share but we have a moral imperative to get GOOD at sharing.” – Dave Burgess

So now not only am I morally obligated to share, but to also get good and comfortable with sharing. This is the hard part of blogging and reflecting publicly for me because it requires me to step out of my comfort zone, to be vulnerable and put it out there consistently. The more we do it, the easier it gets…or so I’ve been told. With Dave adding the element of moral imperatives, it allowed me to see beyond myself and to focus on the greater good.

My thoughts go to the many educators who blog daily or weekly and how much their work has affected and inspired me to grow in my practice. Would I be the teacher I am now and aspire to be without them not only sharing, but being good at sharing? Not even close.

I am learning to get good and comfortable with shining a light on the work that is happening in our classroom and within me as an educator. I am learning that the more we as educators share, the more we empower one another. Most importantly, I am learning that by playing small, I am doing myself and the world a disservice because the learning that is happening is so important that it needs to be shared….and that is a moral imperative.


Little Reminders

c6142c3de003c97b7820b790ccbd3be6Today was one of those days when I hit the ground running and while its 8:30pm, I’ve yet to stop. As educators, you know this type of day well:

  • Running late as you drop off dog/children
  • Forgetting your lunch at home
  • Schedule changes
  • Forgetting things and having to walk back and forth
  • Drinking 5-times the re-heated coffee
  • Lessons not the way you’d envision
  • Losing your keys
  • Worrying you aren’t doing your absolute best
  • No bathroom break until you reach a point where your body just understands…it’s not going to happen….and you lose the urge….
  • You hold all of this in as you go through the day and have an awesome time with the kids.

Today was one of those days and as a coach I had students depending on me to be at our first cross country meet after school. So starving from the lack of lunch, mind hyper-focused on making sure I have everything for our meet….I pushed through.

These are the things we do as Educators. We put our all in for our students without question. We do it out of love for them and for their futures.

I got home at 8pm exhausted and with a fast food order because cooking wasn’t happening either, and as I flopped on the couch, my cell phone buzzed.

It was a text message from the parent of one of my runners:

“Hi Miss Ariss,

Thanks for taking the time to train with the kids for running. ***** had a great time at the meet today.”

Attached was a beautiful picture of one of my little runners, ever so proud, holding her ribbon.

I burst into tears! Yes, we all have these days, but when we receive notes like this, it puts everything into perspective.

These little reminders that our hard work is making a difference, that our care and love for our students is noticed and appreciated, and that no matter how exhausted physically I am, my heart has never been more full.


Countering Negative Self-Talk


So often we hear how we must fill one another’s buckets, to be kind to each other, to treat others like we would want to be treated….but rarely, if ever, do we think to do the same for ourselves.

At the start of the year, I asked my students to apply for classroom jobs. Along with their application, they were required to provide me with a resume and a cover letter detailing their strengths and accomplishments. The cover letter proved to be the single most difficult task my students were ever asked to complete and not because of format, but because they couldn’t provide even one thing they thought was a strength was about themselves. I gave them suggestions from what I knew of them over the past two years, had parents weigh in and even had their peers discuss, yet I quickly realized that it didn’t matter if the whole world told them they were amazing, it meant nothing if they themselves didn’t believe it.

Over the past few years, I have been doing my own research on self-esteem, self-confidence and self-love because its something that I even in adulthood still struggle with. I grew up believing that in order to be loved, I needed the approval and the love of others. I didn’t know that I could be capable of providing myself with the same love I provided others. I was so focused on ensuring everyone else around me was always lifted and loved, that when I experienced one of the most devastating life experiences, my bucket was empty, there was no one to fill it and I realized I had to learn to fill it myself.

With all of this in mind, I wanted to start 2016 with a focus on filling our own bucket. I looked through our Health curriculum and created a unit on self-affirmations which targets the following outcomes:

  • examine how health habits/behaviours influence body image and feelings of self-worth
  • recognize that individuals can choose their own emotional reactions to events and thoughts
  • expand strategies for effective personal management; e.g., develop and implement a personal budget, assess the power of positive thinking
  • evaluate the impact of personal behaviour on the safety of self and others

I started my class off by gathering in a small circle and having a discussion on perception. We talked about the difference between real life and life portrayed on social media, we looked at before and after photos of photoshopped celebrities, we talked about societal expectations and how we can continue to be our true self.

As a middle years teacher, these discussions are crucial and I quickly realized the severe importance when we started talking about the inner negative voices we hear day in and day out that tell us we can’t do something, that we need to be this or that, or that we will never be what we want to be. I passed around the same colour sticky notes and had them take some time and anonymously write down some of the things they say to themselves on a daily basis.

What followed next was beyond what I ever expected. I asked them if they wanted me to read them out loud so they can know they aren’t alone and they all said yes. As I started to unfold the papers and read what they had written, I was heartbroken. At 11 years of age, they had already absorbed society’s expectations on how their bodies should be, how unworthy they are of love, how not good enough they think they are at everything, and the most reoccurring theme : Where can I go where everything is perfect? PERFECT….I read this word over and over.

I was so taken aback that I started to cry mid-reading which led some of my students to cry with me. To me, they are “perfect” in every way possible because they are all unique and bring so much of who they are to our classroom. I told them that the reason I am crying is because to me they are none of what they wrote about themselves, that I value each and every one of them and I wouldn’t want a single thing about them to change.

They were shocked to know that everyone else has these negative thoughts too and yet they would never think that way about one another. My reminders of to always be kind to one another really hit home because now they knew that their peers were also carrying these negative self-images of themselves around and they didn’t need to add to it.

Now that we know these thoughts are there, the next step is to challenge them with questioning their validity and logic, to put them into perspective, create goals and to start countering them with positive self-affirmations daily. We will brainstorm and each student will create their own meaningful personal self-affirmation every week. We will focus on these during our meditation time every day and save them in our own buckets (mason jars).

I don’t have the solutions, but I am hoping that by providing them with the strategies and awareness that they can and should love themselves before relying on the love of others, that they may have a head start as they get closer to those even harder teenage years. I want for them to value themselves for the amazing human beings that they are and for the joy they bring their families and our classroom community.