Blog, Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, Inclusive Classrooms

Supporting English Language Learners

After reading a timely post by Cult of Pedagogy‘s Jennifer Gonzalez entitled “12 Ways to Support English Learners in the Mainstream Classroom,” I wanted to learn more about how the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) welcomes and supports English Language Learners to their schools.  The OCSB’s website is excellent, and they have links to various videos that would be helpful for a new family to Ottawa whose first language is not English. While I was trying to put myself in the shoes of a newcomer to Ottawa, I thought that it might be helpful for newcomer families to have a visual source of information as well.

Below is a mockup of how I might present key information about the OCSB’s Family Welcome Centre, based on the information provided on their website. I envision it as an infographic for parents that explains the process of placing a new ELL student in a school in the OCSB. It also explains the programs for English Language Learning in Ontario Schools. It could be distributed in digital form for easy translation, printed as two posters in the Welcome Centre, or printed front/back to hand out to parents. As a bonus, creating this infographic helped me to understand the process in more depth as well!


Blog, Forest School

Ottawa Forest & Nature School

For my final three-week placement in the Teacher Education program, I had the opportunity to work with the teachers and students at Forest and Nature School in Ottawa’s Greenbelt. This program is offered through the Child & Nature Alliance of Canada, which supports educators in developing play-based learning in nature as part of their practice, and also builds a youth nature leadership program. The Ottawa Forest and Nature School is located on NCC land (currently leased by the Wesley Clover Foundation) and was established in 2014 as an early childhood education option that connects students with nature.

This location offers various programs, including:

  • Half-Day Forest Preschool: for children aged 2.5 to 4, this program offers an early opportunity for kids to wonder, question and experience the marvels of the forest. Students improve their strength, coordination and self-confidence, and definitely develop grit as they adventure through the woods in all weather conditions.
  • Full Day Forest School: the full day program is for students aged 4-12 and allows for a deeper exploration into the mysteries of the paths, rocks, trees, and creatures at Forest School.
  • Parent and Child Nature Mornings: this is a two-hour drop-in option for parents and caregivers to connect with their children, the outdoors, and other like-minded parents and educators. It is an awesome opportunity for families to get a feel for Forest School, and many take advantage of these mornings as a fun way to get outside on a weekly basis!
  • OCDSB Partnership: the Ottawa Forest and Nature School has a partnership with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) to support public school students in discovering play-based learning outdoors once weekly for 6 consecutive weeks. Some of these school groups complete their 6-week experience at the Forest School site, while other Forest School staff travel to schools and bring a class to a nearby-nature location.
  • PD Days, Summer Camps: while I did not participate in these program offerings, the Forest School does offer programming for OCDSB PD Days for children aged 4 to 10 years old. You can also register your child for a week-long summer day camp at Forest School, although the wait list is already full for this summer!

While I got to experience many of these programs during my placement at Ottawa Forest School, every day was different and I feel like I only got a taste of everything that this type of learning has to offer! I would be keen to experience similar programming during other seasons (e.g. winter) in order to learn how to handle other challenges and mitigate risks. For example, some students had to really push themselves to deal with the wet, muddy conditions of spring- I would be interested to see how they would respond to a similar day outside in the dead of winter, when there is snow on the ground and frost on your eyelashes. Having said that, I felt so fortunate to be able to engage with the inspiring educators at Forest School and observe their philosophy of education in practice. It was a unique and thought-provoking experience that will influence my future practice as a teacher.

Blog, Forest School

Top Tips for Play-Based Learning in Nature

The best advice I got from a seasoned Forest School educator was to continually ask myself: what is the reason behind what I’m doing or saying? This is a pivotal question for teaching in general, as it forces us to reflect on our role as teachers. Learning when to step in and when to take a back seat is the essence of teaching, whether inside or outside of the classroom, and I know this will take time and experience to develop! However, I did learn a few key tips for facilitating play-based learning in nature during my time at Forest School…

  1. Assess the risk: there are many potential risks associated with Forest School, and a successful outdoor learning plan needs to include a daily risk assessment. Potential risks or hazards could include: access to site; boundaries; other people; animals; canopy, shrub, field and ground layers; structures; weather conditions; group issues and activities; etc. You can find several sample risk assessment templates here. For a more general discussion of embracing risk, check out this blog post from a Forest School in New Brunswick. I found that the most important factor was to ensure that all adults and children on site are aware of the risks and the controls that are in place to mitigate them.
  2. Three pairs of socks: there is no bad weather, only bad gear! It is not only crucial to make sure that you have the appropriate gear to keep yourself warm and dry, you will also need to be cognizant of the type of gear that your students have access to for playing outdoors. For example, at Forest School in April we had many students that arrived in the morning with full-piece rain suits, waterproof boots and two spare sets of clothing. This level of preparedness may not necessarily be the case for your group of students, so make sure you consider and stay prepared for the moment when the weather (inevitably) turns on you. Hint: plastic bags in boots will become a go-to strategy during soggy spring conditions!
  3. Follow your students’ interests: As teachers, we often feel the tugging need to direct, to probe, or to guide our students towards certain learning objectives that we feel are important or valuable. However, the kids we are working with may or may not agree! Rather than dictating a task or proposing an activity, see what happens when you take a step back and let your students discover the forest around them: the rocks, the moss, the trees, the bark, the sounds, the sights, the creatures… there is a LOT to discover, and you will probably embark on a learning experience that you never could have planned!
  4. Get lost: another category of risk when it comes to outdoor play is the danger of children getting lost. Whether through hide and seek or venturing into unknown territory, playing where students can get temporarily “lost” is an important component of outdoor risky play. It allows them to experience thrilling feelings of risk and danger associated with exploration, which is a major part of children’s play. Check out this article for an interesting evolutionary perspective on risky play as an important part of child development.
  5. Reflect, reflect, reflect: reflection was a key strategy that was particularly useful when working with public school students to consolidate the learning that occurred during their time in the forest. “Sit spots” were one tool that we used for this type of reflection. As you might guess, this quite simply requires students to find a forested spot to sit for an extended period of time and observe their immediate and distant surroundings. We started with 8 minutes in our sit spots, but more experienced forest school participants could no doubt stay engaged for longer. We had a circle to share the things we saw, felt, heard, and felt during sit spots. Students could also use a Forest School Journal to communicate their reflections through writing or drawing. And finally, one of my favourite projects was when the students collaboratively created a map of our forest school site on a large piece of cloth. It’s not quite finished, but see below for a picture of the map in progress!

At the end of the day, our children and students are capable of more than we sometimes allow them to show us- you’d be amazed at what happens when there is a little freedom for them to explore, imagine and create!

Grade 8 Practicum, Inquiry-Based Math

QR Code Treasure Hunt

During my practicum in a grade 8 classroom, my associate teacher shared various techniques for increasing student engagement during math problem-solving. One such technique allowed students to use their own devices to scan QR codes that were posted around the classroom and hallways. By scanning the QR codes, students were able to access multiple different questions and work through them at their own pace. The order of the questions didn’t matter, so students (working in pairs) could disperse and travel freely to the question locations.

While they were working on solving math problems, the simple act of getting students out of their desks and moving between different locations kept them engaged and motivated to work diligently with their partner. *Side note: this class was used to working with visually random groupings, and we often used playing cards to determine groups of 2, 3, or 4 for different activities. 

This “QR Code Treasure Hunt” functioned best when guidelines were clearly communicated to students before the activity began. For instance, consider the following:

  • Devices to be used (classroom devices? student devices?)
  • Availability of QR code reader (app already downloaded on devices?)
  • Groupings (individual? pairs? small groups? visually random groupings?)
  • Range in difficulty of questions (simple to increasingly difficult? similar in difficulty?)
  • Number of questions (length of working time?)
  • Materials to bring (clipboards/paper/pencil?)
  • Teacher supervision (monitoring throughout halls?)
  • Consolidation techniques (select examples? group sharing?)

To create your QR codes and associated questions, check out this awesome tool- the QR Code Treasure Hunt Generator.

Overall, the students seemed to appreciate this break from routine and their level of engagement noticeably increased (which was especially obvious during this 8:00- 8:55 AM period)! I will definitely be adding this strategy to my teaching toolbox 🙂

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.



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.


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.

Grade 6 Practicum

Beyond the classroom

  • Social justice club (CHEO fundraiser): grade 6 students, led by the school’s social justice club, created hand-crafted items to raffle off as a Christmas fundraiser for CHEO.



Social justice club: CHEO fundraiser

  • Christmas wrapping challenge: students in grade 5 and 6 classes came together for a group Christmas wrapping challenge where they could each only use one hand to wrap a boxed present!


  • Mathletes: grade 6 students served as leaders for a school-wide, full-day math event that turned the gym into a high-energy atmosphere for learning math in creative ways.


  • Share a book day: students came together in the school foyer to share their favourite books on Family Literacy Day (January 28th).

Share a book day

  • Skating and sliding: students get active outside during winter by skating at the local rink and sliding on the school-yard hill.

Skating 2016

Sliding 2016

  • Junglesport: a unique opportunity for students to explore a climbing and ropes course structure with qualified instructors for a fun week of physical education.


  • Gr.6 retreat: as detailed in my community mosaic posting, grade 6 students participated in a retreat at Saint Bernard Parish for a half-day of community building, friendship and love!

Grade 6 retreat

  • Compassion assembly: grade 6 students led a school-wide assembly focused on the importance of compassion, featuring a moving rendition of “Lean on me” by Bill Withers.


  • Girls and boys basketball:  I was lucky to be able to join two grade 6 teachers in coaching both basketball teams at OCSB tournaments hosted by my placement school.

Girls basketball tournament

Grade 6 Practicum

Anchor charts

Anchor charts are created with students using chart paper and markers (or a white board/ SMARTboard) to convey the most important or relevant aspects of a concept. This keeps learning readily accessible to the students, creates a visible cue that triggers prior learning, and allows them to make connections to future learning.

Anchor charts in the classroom should:

  • Communicate the most current and useful learning content
  • Be created with the students in order to make thinking visible
  • Be referred to by students and used as tools for new learning
  • Be neat and organized
  • Review concepts and recognize future goals

These anchor charts should be posted in designated spaces within the classroom (e.g. clothesline, bulletin board) and rotated regularly so that current learning is represented.

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During practicum, I used this strategy regularly. The students were always involved in creating the anchor chart, as I was usually recording their thinking on chart paper during class discussions. For example, when we were reviewing multiplication (standard, lattice, partial products) and division (standard, partial quotients) strategies, we would solve a problem on chart paper as a class using a specific strategy. This chart paper would then be hung on the math bulletin board for the students to refer to as they were working independently. Anchor charts were also used during language arts to remind students of the characteristics of persuasive writing or the components of the APE strategy, for example. Thanks to associate teachers for some excellent anchor chart samples!

Newman L. (October 2010). Anchor charts: making thinking visible.

Grade 6 Practicum

Flexible learning environment

Flexible learning environments are created when students work with the teacher to design and create a classroom environment that provides learning spaces that work best for them (e.g. variety of seating options, flexible bookshelves, collaborative group tables, large carpet, space for standing). This not only empowers students with a choice in how they learn, but also increases their engagement and participation in the class.

Teachers must first be willing to remain open and flexible in terms of their classroom setup, and they also have to be willing to move away from traditional classroom layouts. The students can be tasked with sketching different configurations of their “dream” classroom, or submitting ideas to the teacher. Seating options should be varied, and can include couches, chairs, body pillows, etc. It may be necessary to develop new/improved classroom routines and rules to support a flexible learning environment. The ultimate goal of a flexible classroom should be to encourage collaboration and meaningful communication among students.



The school where I completed my practicum was encouraging flexible learning environments and provided teachers with some funding to initiate changes within their classroom. In our grade 6 class, students were given time to plan out how furniture could be rearranged to accommodate a new carpet and new seating (bean bag chair, four bucket seats, rolling chair). The results were amazingly creative and changes were made! Students loved their new options for seating and the carpet allowed us to more easily come together as a class for lessons and discussions. An inspiring change of environment for everyone!

Edutopia. (August 4, 2015). Flexible classrooms: Providing the learning environment that kids need.

Grade 6 Practicum

Learning centres

Learning centres, also referred to as literacy and/or math work stations, are designed to give students the opportunity to practice what they have been learning through independent exploration at their own pace. Learning centres should include a balance of process and product, where some centres provide the opportunity to create products while others simply offer a chance to practice. Learning centres can be used to help students improve reading and writing skills, practice phonics skills, develop conceptual understandings and skills, use subject area vocabulary, and make connections to big ideas.


While they have a variety of potential applications, learning centres should generally involve simple (and not too many) materials where the purpose of the learning centre supports instruction. For example, math learning stations could include: five-frames and ten-frames, survey, counting cards, dice toss games, estimation station, time cards, etc. Literacy stations could range from poetry to buddy reading to themed writing stations. Technology can also be incorporated into learning centres, depending on access. Most importantly, the skills and needs of the learners in the class should be the primary driver behind selecting and applying learning centres in the classroom.


This strategy was employed during practicum with a group of grade 6 extended learners. Learning centres were carried out during a designated block, where different stations were set up around the portable environment (space limitations prevented us from having these stations set up permanently). Students had about 15 minutes at a station and then rotated 3-4 times. There were usually 7-8 stations set up at once. Stations often included practice on phonics skills and vocabulary (e.g. making words with letter tiles, WordBrain app on tablets). Other common stations included math flash cards for multiplication and division facts, Lego building to inspire creativity, typing games on Chromebooks, and the Osmo educational game system (numbers, tangram, words, and drawing practice). I saw many benefits of routinely dedicating time to learning centres:

  • Students thrived on this time to explore their own interests and practice math and literacy skills.
  • Students remained on-task and worked well with classmates.
  • The more open-ended stations (e.g. Lego, Osmo drawing) gave the teacher insight into individual student interests.
  • Learning centres allowed students to interact with technology (tablets, iPad, Chromebooks) in a low-stress environment without the pressure of creating a product, which helped to develop technological proficiency.


Diller, D. (2003). Literacy Work Stations: Making Centres Work. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers

Diller, D. (2005). Practice with Purpose: Literacy Work Stations for Grades 3-6. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Diller, D. (2007). Making the Most of Small Groups: Differentiation for All. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Student Success: Differentiated Instruction Educator’s Package. 

Science Shorts

Science saturdays

Founded in 1993, Let’s talk science is a Canadian charitable organization that strives to prepare learners to thrive and lead by increasing science literacy through their support of learning and skill development.  The Faculty of Education at uOttawa partners with Let’s talk science to offer workshops linked to curriculum expectations for preservice teachers (Science Saturdays). As I have been lucky enough to participate in this program, I wanted to share some of the highlights from the workshops to date (which have been awesome!).

Human Body

In this workshop, we ran through a few different activities that addressed Gr.5 Human Organ Systems, including the skeletal system, the digestive system, the respiratory system, the nervous system, the circulatory system, and the muscular system. These activities were hands-on and engaging, and would help students to understand the functioning of each system.

Life Systems

The focus of this workshop was on life systems (other than the human body). For example, students in younger grades (K-2) could work on sorting wildlife and getting a basic understanding of the tree of life, while older students (Gr.6) could work at an advanced kingdom sorting level. The bird’s nest activity (K-4) would be applicable for units on Strong and Stable Structures (Gr.3) as well as Habitats and Communities (Gr.4), as the students must choose materials and build nests like birds do.

Structures and Mechanisms

This workshop touched on the topics of Materials, Objects, and Everyday Structures (Gr.1)Strong and Stable Structures (Gr.3), Pulleys and Gears (Gr.4)Forces Acting on Structures and Mechanisms (Gr.5), and Flight (Gr.6). The four forces of flight (gravity, life, drag and thrust) were explored through various stations and, of course, a paper airplane contest. Simple machines such as a wheel and axle, inclined plane, and lever were examined through the creation of a playground. My personal favourite was the balloon car activity, as you could draw in concepts of energy as well as math problems for older grades. We also channeled our inner beavers to build a beaver dam that would keep a beaver safe and protected while withstanding external pressure (you could also tie in ecosystem/habitat/biodiversity themes for this activity).

Looking forward to future Science Saturdays!