Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments

Birch Bark Canoe

Last week I had the opportunity to learn about a project towards reconciliation that is taking place in the University Centre at uOttawa. As part of our PED 3110 (Teaching in Roman Catholic Separate Schools) class , we took a mini-fieldtrip to visit Marcel Labelle – an Algonquin and Métis artist and canoe-builder. His teachings and stories were particularly moving as he shared so much of his own personal history. It set the context for understanding where he was coming from and what motivated his journey towards reconciliation through canoe building.

 

As luck would have it, our morning workshop with Marcel was also being documented by CBC.

When Marcel Labelle decided to chart a new career course building birch bark canoes 13 years ago, it was a journey that would help him reconnect with his Indigenous heritage while taking his craft to universities across Ontario, which has brought him to the University of Ottawa this winter to lead a hands-on canoe-building project (Jessie Park, CBC News).

Check out the full CBC news article with pictures here. You can also listen to the CBC Radio clip that aired on the Ottawa Morning show to get a sense of our wonderful experience!

Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, Summer Numeracy Program

Helping hands

As math camp involves many activities, including snack time, there is lots to do inside and outside the classroom to keep everything running smoothly. Inspired by the systems at some of the other summer numeracy sites, I created this ‘Helping Hands’ chart so our Mathletes are always aware of how they’ll be helping out for the day. Each student’s name is on a clothespin, and they are rotated through the different jobs throughout the week. The jobs include:

  • Dishes: washing and drying after snack time
  • Prayer leader: reading at the beginning of the day
  • Snack helpers: arranging and distributing snack
  • On call: ready to help in any way needed (passing out papers, sweeping, cleaning tables, etc.)
  • Vacation: no job for the day!
  • Recreation helpers: collecting recreation equipment, carrying it outside or setting up in gym, putting everything back where it belongs

Helping handsDepending on the needs of the classroom, some other jobs could include:

  • Paper passer
  • Sweeper
  • Servers
  • Table washer
  • Garbage collector
  • Techie
  • Gardeners
  • Etc.

With this group of students, having assigned jobs keeps them more focused and aware of all the work that goes into having a successful day. The students ‘on call’ pay special attention to the needs of the class, and everybody earns their vacation time!

 

 

 

Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, Summer Numeracy Program

Marshmallow challenge

On the first day of summer numeracy camp, we decided to have the kids try the “Marshmallow Challenge,” as described by Tom Wujec on his website and during the TED Talk featured below. The students were provided with a paper bag kit containing all the materials, and they were instructed to build the tallest freestanding structure possible that holds the entire marshmallow on top. They were given 18 minutes to complete the challenge, while the teaching team circulated to give time checks and remind the teams of the instructions.

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The results were very impressive! The tallest structure measured 47 cm, and a few other teams’ towers were close to that height. All the teams demonstrated great thinking, and persevered through disagreements, collapsed towers, and many other setbacks. It was an excellent way to get to know the students’ strengths and areas of opportunity right off the bat, and we were surprised by the honesty of the students during the debrief. For example, one team admitted that they struggled to agree on one idea and described how that influenced their process of tower construction.  This emphasized the importance of collaboration and communication among team members, which, as that team realized, is crucial for success. As always, the students’ creations exceeded our expectations: their creative, stable and TALL towers held the marshmallow in all sorts of ways, and even the towers that collapsed taught us all valuable lessons. All in all, day 1 was a definite success!

Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments

Applying principles to teaching

Throughout the course PED 3139 Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, we explored strategies and practices to build intentional learning communities that foster positive behaviour. This was accomplished by addressing the learning objectives listed below, which were used as a framework for the course (Orders, “Course Overview”).

Learning objectives:

  • Co-create authentic learning communities
  • Recognize the connection between healthy communities and effective learning
  • Critically examine mainstream practices of punishment and discipline
  • Explore the philosophy and practice of restorative justice
  • Become confident in the use of classroom circles
  • Learn techniques for responding to harm
  • Discuss how to uphold the dignity of all members of the classroom community
  • Engage with the idea of the democratic classroom
  • Explore opportunities that arise through conflict and controversy
  • Think through how to connect your classroom with broader communities

Given this learning experience, I felt that it was important to approach my Community Service Learning (CSL) and Practicum placement with an overarching inquiry question in mind that unifies the themes of the course. Based on the course outline and above-stated learning objectives, I developed the following inquiry question:

“As a teacher, how do you create a healthy, safe, and supportive learning community that promotes growth and positive relationships?”

Creative Representation: Applying the Principles to My Teaching

With this inquiry question in mind, I was tasked with demonstrating how the course concepts were (or will be) incorporated into my own teaching. Since each weekly course topic addressed a different aspect of my inquiry question,  I wanted my representation to incorporate all of the elements I would take into consideration when building an intentional learning community for my students. I thus decided to use an untitled ink on paper drawing by Brian Jungen (below), a contemporary Canadian artist with First Nations ancestry, as a representation of my learning journey through PED 3139, my CSL placement, and Practicum. To me, this drawing communicates the importance of diversity, opportunity, and synergy. It also speaks to the unifying idea of a circle, which promotes balance, change, wholeness, and connectedness in First Nations cultures (Manitoba Education and Youth, 2003).

An image of the drawing is shown below, and the full ThingLink interactive media platform can be accessed here. The scope and sequence of how I experienced (or envision) each part contributing to my teaching is detailed below, although they each play an equal role and work in tandem to answer my inquiry question.

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(https://www.thinglink.com/scene/776938216438628352)

1. Awakening community

  • Tribes trail map: the process of fostering a Tribes learning community is in line with the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Foundations for a Healthy School (2014b), and represents a holistic approach to promoting the well-being of all students.
  • Restorative practices to resolve conflict and build relationships: while the viewing of this video sparked strong responses within our class, I included it as a reminder that you never know the current or past struggles that learners or colleagues may  be facing. It is thus important to take the time to know your learners and become familiar with their potential triggers.

2. Building intentional learning communities

  • A community mosaic: this blog post details my experience in building an intentional learning community with grade sixes during my practicum.
  • Brené Brown on empathy vs. sympathy: this was my favourite video from the course, and I hope to continually use it as a powerful reminder of the importance of making a connection with students on a personal level.

3. Discipline that restores

  • Social discipline windowA basic premise of restorative practices is that people (students, teachers and staff) are happier and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority (teachers, staff and administration) do things with them, rather than to them or for them” (Costello, Wachtel and Wachtel, 2009). 
  • Restorative questions: a restorative environment is one in which students work in partnership with the teacher and other students. While the environment is controlled, it is done so in a caring and supportive way, and students are held responsible and accountable for their own learning and behaviour (Orders, “Class 4: Discipline that Restores”).
  • Brené Brown on listening to shame: this video reminds teachers to reflect on the message we are sending to students when we discipline them. As a new teacher developing my own classroom management style and practices, I will seek to always separate the deed from the doer and recognize certain negative behaviours as good people making bad decisions (Brown, 2012; Orders, “Class 4: Discipline that Restores”).
  • Brené Brown on the power of vulnerability: I have also included this preceding video by Brené Brown as it communicates the very important idea that vulnerability is not weakness; rather, it is “emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty” (Brown, 2010; Brown, 2012). As a teacher, I hope to help my students to believe that they are enough.

4. Embracing conflict in the classroom

  • Alfie Kohn on compliance to community: this is a series of Bitstrips I developed to communicate the importance of approaching conflict positively and “taking students backstage” (Kohn, 2004; Orders, “Class 5: Embracing conflict in the classroom”).

5. Responding to harm

  • Restorative practices talking circles: while I used circles in a more informal, games-based setting during my practicum, I look forward to the opportunity to incorporate restorative talking circles as a means of building trust and fostering cooperation in my own classroom.
  • Duty to report: this professional advisory outlines educators’ role in the protection of children and youth (OCT, 2015). This will be an important document to help me fully understand my ethical, moral and legal duty to report and meet the standards of the teaching profession.

6. Safe and inclusive schools

  • 5 things you didn’t know about bullying: this PREVNet infographic communicates important statistics about bullying in Canada, and highlights the importance of implementing appropriate anti-bullying programs. PREVNet (Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network) is an excellent resource that I plan to consult for tips, factsheets and other bullying prevention resources in my future teaching.
  • Crumpled paper lesson: this short activity brings to light the long-lasting effects of bullying for all those involved. I have encountered this compelling activity in classrooms before, and I plan to use it as part of a bullying prevention program in my future learning community.

7. Including LGBTQ students and teaching inclusively

  • Egale Canada Human Rights Trust: “Egale’s vision is a Canada, and ultimately a world, without homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and all other forms of oppression so that every person can achieve their full potential, free from hatred and bias.” This is an important resource for educators who are seeking to understand, identify, address, and eliminate barriers in education related to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014a).
  • The Genderbread Person: this excellent infographic contributed to my own learning about gender identity and gender expression, and I hope to use it in my future teaching practice as a guide for developing gender understanding.

8. Supporting exceptional learners and their families

  • Teacher’s gateway to special education: developed by the Ontario Teacher’s Federation, this website is a treasure trove of strategies and resources to help teachers meet the individual learning needs of their students (with particular focus on exceptional learners).
  • Compliments by Chris Ulmer: this video depicts the simple strategy of starting each day by complimenting every student. As shown in the moving video, I believe this practice would foster a positive learning environment and I plan to incorporate it into my daily routine, in a circle format if possible.

9. Theory into practice

  • New teacher induction program web resources: this PDF document outlines web resources available that address safe and healthy schools, and specifically identifies which resources new teachers should consult based on four success criteria.
  • Beyond the classroom, “Discovering Me” e-portfolios, Flexible learning environment, Genius hour, Makerspaces, Movement: these blog posts document the ways in which I implemented and applied the principles learned throughout this course to my CSL and Practicum placement using a variety of creative strategies.

10. The ideal and the real

  • Sketchnote:  this is a compilation of ideas generated in PED 3139 about the elements we identified as necessary to feel healthy, safe and supported in a learning community (Orders, “Class 4: Discipline that Restores”). I think it is a great summary of how the principles of this course could be applied in a classroom setting, and will  help me to foster a healthy, safe and supportive learning community throughout my future teaching endeavours.

References

Brown B. “The power of vulnerability.” Online video clip. TED. TEDxHouston, June 2010. Web. 14 April 2016.

Brown B. “Listening to shame.” Online video clip. TED. TED2012, March 2012. Web. 14 April 2016.

Costello B, Wachtel J,  Wachtel T. (2009). The Restorative Practices Handbook. Bethlehem, PA: International Institute for Restorative Practices.

Kohn A. (2004). Challenging students…And how to have more of themPhi Delta Kappan: 1-17.

Manitoba Education and Youth. (2003). Integrating Aboriginal perspectives into curricula: a resource for curriculum developers, teachers, and administrators.

Ontario College of Teachers (OCT). (2015). Professional Advisory: Duty to Report

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Caring and safe schools in Ontario.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2014a). Equity and inclusive education in Ontario schools. 

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2014b). Foundations for a healthy school: promoting well-being is part of Ontario’s Achieving Excellence vision. 

Orders S. “Class 4: Discipline that Restores.” University of Ottawa. PED3139T1, Ottawa, ON. 21 Jan. 2016. Lecture.

Orders S. “Class 5: Embracing conflict in the classroom.” University of Ottawa. PED3139T1, Ottawa, ON. 26 Jan. 2016. Lecture.

Orders S. “Course Overview.” University of Ottawa. PED3139T1, Ottawa, ON. 12 Jan. 2016. Handout.

Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments

Embracing conflict

My grade 6 students introduced me to the fun (and addictive) world of Bitstrips, so I challenged myself to harness my creativity and create a series of Bitstrip scenes! The Bitstrips below depict Alfie Kohn imparting some wisdom to a new teacher candidate about the value and benefit of embracing conflict in the classroom.

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Kohn A. (2004). Challenging students…And how to have more of themPhi Delta Kappan: 1-17.

Orders S. “Class 5: Embracing conflict in the classroom.” University of Ottawa. PED3139T1, Ottawa, ON. 26 Jan. 2016. Lecture.