Intentional Joy in the Classroom

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Partially inspired by this post on one of my favourite teaching blogs, and partially due to my own recognition that something is wrong, I feel the need to make a few changes in my classroom. It could be the weather, the never-ending winter we seem to be having that is drowning us in snow. It could be the stress from getting report cards done; the marking, the data collection, the hours of writing comments. It could be simply that I’ve been feeling like I’m spinning my wheels for a while. Regardless the reason, the cards or the snow, I need a change; this I know. (Okay I don’t know where the Dr. Seuss rhymes came from)

The problem is, I’m not completely sure where to start. What I want to do, is ask my students how they want to make their classroom, their school, their education better. I want to sit them down and have a chat about it. I want them to write about it. I want them to tell me, no holds barred, what do they want from their education? What do they hate about school? What do they love about school? I’m not going to change everything over-night and I’m not going to do everything the way my students want it to be, but I want to take their comments and suggestions into consideration and make some actual and hopefully meaningful changes. Here are a few things that I want to do more of to intentionally bring more joy back into my classroom:

Music – Early in the year we were doing great with this. We had a cleaning up song, a lining up song, an exercise to get us going song, used lots of music during French class and we haven’t been doing as much and I’d like to bring some more music back, not just during snack times.

Celebrating goal achievements – I’ve talked about goal setting, and we’ve done some goal setting in the class but I want to do more to celebrate when students reach their goals.

Projects – We’ve put aside our year-long learning projects because of the big Heritage Fair projects that students do at our school. However, I still want students to do an end of the year project on a topic of their choice because I want them to see that learning can be fun, especially if you get to choose what you want to learn about.

More choice/voice – I want my students to feel like they have more of a say in what they are learning and how they are learning it. I have trouble giving up that power sometimes but I know it’s important for them to have (not just feel, but actually have) ownership of their education if they’re going to learn anything.

I know I haven’t been the most joyful teacher lately. I’ve been feeling bogged down, sluggish and just plain unhappy some days and I want to change that. I know that if I want to make these changes it’s going to take work. I’m having the students work on an art collage about what they are grateful for to put up in our hallway and I hope they will help remind me and remind them of all the wonderfulness in the world.

It’s the Hard-Knock Life For Us: Combining drama and teaching

Hard-Knock Life

Hard-Knock Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

This coming Wednesday, for the first time, I’m bringing a group of students to DramaFest at our local high school. It’s been an interesting journey full of ups and downs. I’m mostly very excited to have my theatre life and school life collide. Mostly.

When I started at this school, the other teachers found out that I spend most of my non-teaching time doing theatre and so they told me that I was going to be heading up the drama club this year, taking a show to DramaFest and that they wanted to do a musical this year. With the help of two other teachers we decided to do Annie. I expected, like last year, that we’d have maybe a dozen kids show up, give everyone who auditioned a part or three and go on from there. There are about 30 roles in the show. We had 60 kids show up for the first meeting. 60! We could only take about 30 to DramaFest. In fact, we only wanted to take about 20 but after auditions we ended up taking 34 and now we’re down to 32.

I think the show is coming along really well. Yes, we only have a few more days before we perform and yes, it’s not perfect. Yes, some of the students are cutting off each others’ lines and yes, some of them don’t know the choreography still. But they’re kids. They’re between the ages of 7 and 10 and they’ve only been rehearsing for a few months and it’s a big show. Lots of songs, a few big dance numbers and some of them have a lot of lines to learn.  And most of them know their stuff pretty well. Tomorrow we have a rehearsal at school for a few hours (on a Sunday). We perform for the school on Tuesday and then it’s off to DramaFest on Wednesday.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a perfectionist. Maybe it’s because I’m just proud of all the work that they’ve done and while it’s not going to look and sound like a professional company or even like the amazing middle school production I got to see last year, I’m happy with the big picture. I happy with the fact that they’re up on the stage enjoying themselves and getting a small taste of the wonderful draw of performing. And if even a few of them go on to do theatre in the future then I’ve done my job as an educator.

What is the focus?: A review of a fitness app

This particular post has been brewing in the back of my mind for a while. It’s something I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time but kept thinking that it wasn’t directly linked to education so I shouldn’t put it on my education blog, but at the same time, life is education and I’ve learned something about myself so it’s still related to education.

A couple of months ago I stepped on a scale for the first time in a while and was shocked by the numbers I saw. I’m one of those very lucky people (and yes, I know how lucky I am) whose weight hasn’t changed much since I was a teenager. It goes up and down throughout the day like everyone else’s and goes up and down each month as well, but other than that it’s pretty steady. I don’t “watch what I eat”. I don’t have a set exercise schedule, though I wish I did. I don’t belong to a gym though I’ve been tempted. But I do eat pretty good food most of the time and I am moderately active. I like to walk and I dance when I have a show to dance in. That said, I’ve let things slip a little especially this year. I’ve been eating out more and eating more convenience foods. I haven’t been walking as much and, until recently, I was stage managing shows and in a play with no dance so I wasn’t being very active. That plus the extra time it was taking me to get to and from school, well, I put on a little weight, more than I ever had before and I freaked out a little.

A few of my friends had recently gone on a healthy living kick and one of them recommended an app that he was using called My Fitness Pal. I thought it would be a good idea to try it out as well. To me, the word “fitness” means exercise. I had another app that I used to track workouts and I’d tried Fitocracy and really enjoyed it, but they still didn’t have an app for android so I wanted to try something new. Even the icon for the app appealed to me. A person doing a lovely grand jeté across a blue background called to my inner dancer. This would help me get back into being active and help me track what I was eating as well.

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The first week or so with the app was okay. A little eye opening to how much food I eat, but okay. There were times when trying to stay under the proscribed 1200 calories a day (unless I exercised, then I could eat more) was difficult and left me hungry. I liked being able to see how much of each vitamin and mineral I was getting. Was I eating enough protein? As a vegetarian this can be a challenge, especially since I can’t eat nuts at school. Was I getting enough iron? Surprisingly, the thing I seemed to be the lowest on was salt! I was generally only getting about half my recommended intake! (Apparently not on the days I had pad thai from the mall but that’s another story)

As the weeks went on, and I only stayed with it for maybe a month or so, I noticed that I was “cheating” in different ways. I would look at two choices of meals and rather than considering what I would like better in terms of taste or which has more nutritional value, I would choose the one with fewer calories or the one that was easier to enter into the app. For instance, there was a night I choose to eat Kraft Dinner over homemade pasta with a 8 vegetable sauce because there are fewer calories in KD. And looking at two salads, the one made with iceberg lettuce has fewer calories than the one made with spinach. But which meal is more nutritious? 

So finally I stopped and thought about what I was doing and realized I was being foolish. This is not the way to be healthy and being healthy is way more important than numbers on a scale. The problem I was having with this app was it was motivating me towards the wrong goal. The focus of the app is not fitness, it’s calorie counting. Yes, you can track your workouts and you can see all the great nutrition information about the food you’re eating, but the focus is on calories. When you complete a journal entry, what pops up is not “Congratulations, you worked out for 30 minutes again today!” it’s “This is how many calories you consumed today”. You have to go searching for the rest of the information. It’s the same reason I stopped using the WiiFit in favor of Wii Active. The focus of WiiFit is weight loss. While you can go and just use it and ignore the weight tracking part, when that’s the goal, the part that either gives you a dopamine rush for completing a task successfully, or motivates you to try harder to get that carrot in the future, when you just ignore that then it loses it’s ability to motivate.

I think it’s the same with school. While we want our students to be focused on learning for the sake of learning and becoming better citizens, we’re still putting too much emphasis on marks and grades. So even if a student makes progress, learns something new, if they’re still getting C’s then where’s the motivation to keep trying?