Saturday, 4 August 2012

Summer Hibernation

Summer is hibernation time for the teen-ager boy.  Don't worry if they show little or no motivation for activity, it's normal in their species. Here is an owners guide "tips for care" during these months:

1) Provide charging stations for about 12 hours a day – any TV, computer or ipod will do.

2) Don't worry too much about their laundry needs – they usually only need one change a week.

3) They will roll from the bed to the couch alone, but may need encouragement the other way.

4) If you need a motivational tool for them to stretch their legs (they should do this once a day), try waving a few salty snacks around face level and then placing the bowl on a nearby table.

5) If your neighbour has a member of the same species, set up a get-together; they are easily compatible with other hibernating boys.

6) Communication is even more difficult during hibernation. One grunt normally means yes.

7) Watch for cat-eye development. There may be some stealth during the late hours of the night.

Caution: Be aware that they are deathly allergic to sunlight, exercise and cleaning. Exposure could provoke wild reactions, unpredictable behaviour and defensive postures.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Technology Changes Things

"What if you used your cartoons to lighten up your blog?"
"Ya, good idea, and it sounds like more fun.  Thanks, Paul."

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Building an Ethos for our School

I have had this one email in my inbox for a while.  Normally I would respond immediately and delete it, but I keep looking at it and wonder what to do about it.  It was a simple suggestion to copy another school's ethos, "christianize" it, and adopt it as our own.  In itself, the suggestion is a good one.  Anything that will help us develop a moral culture for a child can't be bad, right?!

Yet, there was something that didn't sit well.  It was a simple suggestion that made lots of sense, but it left me with a nagging feeling.  After processing the suggestion for two weeks, I think I finally know what it is that bothered me.

It's not "us."  Encouraging generic moral behaviour is good, but they don't match the Christian character themes that we have been working on and emphasizing.  Of course, I see moral qualities in our students, and it wouldn't be harmful to build and improve on them.  But for the sake of a cool Christian themed acronym, we would be going a different direction.

Our school has a number of qualities that make us who we are.  It is in line with all the Bible lessons, teaching, discipline and playground themes that we have built on.  It is obvious when others come to visit.  Parents comment on them regularly.  They are pointed out in all of our government evaluations.  We need to emphasize these particular community themes, not start a new culture.

I had to first determine what distinctives are already there.  These are the themes I'd like to build on.  We can find ways to make them even better.  Then we can use an acronym to make our community even more distinctive.

As we develop the idea, things will obviously change, but here are my thoughts about encouraging and building on the strengths that are already in our culture.

1)  We are firmly dedicated to discipleship.  Our goal is to have our students ultimately become disciples of Christ.  Not only can every teacher readily comment on how they are teaching it, they can give you recent examples of how it is evident in their students.  Hand in hand with this is the student's responsibility for stewardship.  It is a common word in our community vocabulary.

2)  We have a strong feeling of community in our school.  People comment on it when they tour the school,  When speakers come in or evaluators spend time here, they cannot help but notice it and mention it. 

3)  Technology is a way of life here.  We are always looking at ways to fulfil the great commission with our "teckie tools."  Students are digital natives; they live and breath ways to communicate in ways that an adult has to take time out of their day to learn.  Our online school grew to mammoth proportions because of this knowledge.

4)  We are adaptable.  Our fearless leader has a quote that he uses in times of inevitable change: "blessed are the flexible, for they will not be broken."  Though it is not an actual Biblical quote, it has become part of the culture here.  We find creative ways to educate.

Adaptability, Community, Technology, Stewardship.  "A.C.T.S."  Let's find a way to improve what we already have.  Let's build on these distinctives.  Let's trumpet it to the world.  This is "us."  This is who we are.  This is the culture we need to delve into, develop and grow.  This is the culture we need to celebrate. 

"After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly."  Acts 4:31

In retrospect, I recognize now that my simple checklist reports to the community overseers don't do justice in representing what we educators are doing in the school community.  I'm sure that because of my lack of vitality in a long meeting for describing the wonderful programs and themes going on in our school, they are not getting a balanced picture.  They are focusing on the behavioural issues, not the triumphs.  I have learned that I need to let them know about the things we are doing well.  They should hear about the chapel themes and messages we are instilling in the minds of our students.  They need to watch the "Catch them being a Disciple" program and rewards in action.  They need to hear the excited students reciting their memory verses for all the office to hear.  They should see reports about how our students are volunteering in the community.  They should be aware of the charitable acts our students embrace to reach out to other communities.  They need to hear how community is bringing out the strengths of our students.

Hopefully, I can change my reporting to encourage our committee members in what our school community is doing for our children.  Hopefully, they will no longer look longingly at another school's ethos, but celebrate ours.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

More No-Nonsense Questions About Bullying

As a parent, I know the tendency to want to step in and immediately rectify any complaint my child might have against another. I am tempted to go right to the child in question and “enlighten” him… suddenly becoming a big bully myself. Unfortunately, when we take the solution out of their hands and put it in our own, they have not gone through the somewhat painful but empowering steps in learning to deal with the situation themselves. I may even be grooming him to be dependent on me for minor cases in the future as well. In extreme cases, immediate intervention is necessary, but in most cases, a few timely suggestions and support will help your child feel enabled to deal with the situation both now and in the future.

When my child comes home with a complaint of unkind treatment by others, what should I do?

Education begins immediately. Help your child to take the correct steps to stopping the behaviour the very next time it happens. Following the Matthew 18 principle we have discussed in the earlier articles, the first step is letting the intimidator know in no uncertain terms that this is not pleasant and the action should stop. If it continues, the next step is to loudly tell the intimidator to stop. There are now witnesses and other eyes apply the pressure to stop. Continuing unwanted behaviour past this point will be seen as a decision to bully. At this point, tell your child to seek an adult who will stop the behaviour and take steps to ensure it will not continue in future. Tell the teacher about the complaint the next day so he/she can be aware of in-class and playground interactions. Your child is now equipped to stop the unwanted behaviour on their own or can sit back and watch the system at work protecting them.

At what point do I as parent step in and approach the school? Do I speak to the teacher or the principal?

As a parent, step in immediately. Give them tools to deal with the situation the very next time it happens. Approach the teacher as soon as possible so they can be aware of any repetition or escalation. If you feel little change has occurred, feel free to approach the principal. The principal is not “in the trenches” so is not as capable of keeping a watchful eye out as the teacher. He will, however, be able to look into the situation and try to discover where the breakdown might have happened. He can then map out any further steps or intervention necessary.

I know that some parents don’t approach the school because they feel as though they would be making a mountain out of a mole hill. How would you respond to this?

A good question to initially ask your child might be: “What other problems have you had with this other student?” This question may help you decide if you need to intervene. Find out if this is a typical spat with another student or it is part of an emerging pattern with this individual. You know your child and how they interact with others. For example, is your child timid and the other aggressive? Does your child have a tendency to instigate reactions from other individuals also? You will have to cut through the emotion and determine if your child has truly been a victim in this case. Your parental instinct is critical here. Step in if you are convinced they are being bullied. If there seems to be no particular pattern, your child may have some relational issues and is in need of more intentional training in social interaction.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Parent Asks Questions About Bullying

bullyingA Christian education must include clear Biblical principles, including issues that deal with discipline. I asked a parent to ask some honest questions about bullying and how we should handle it at Heritage Christian School. I attempt to explain my elementary school intervention techniques, not with popular theory, but with methods that align with Scripture.

What would be considered “bullying” in our school?

In the elementary grades, bullying is a repeated intimidation of one or more students on one or more victims. It can take many forms and can include a variety of repeated unkind behaviour.

Is “exclusion” a form of bullying?

In itself, exclusion may just be an unkind action. When done repeatedly with other forms of intimidation, it could be considered part of the bullying tactics. While teachers and lunch hour supervisors react to any behaviour that falls short of “caring,” they report repeated incidents. I follow up on these cases where students seem to have repeated run-ins with each other. Often counseling sessions identify the problems children are having with each other, and usually methods of rectifying the situation are adopted by the students involved.

Some kids tend to “grab” others’ belongings such as hats, backpacks, or personal items and run away with them. Though many see this activity as “harmless play,” some children become upset. How does the school view this?

It is difficult to determine intent. Sometimes it is just one child teasing another in good fun. Other times it may be part of a series of attacks on another’s personal possessions. Whatever the situation, both children need to recognize at what point it needs to stop. The owner of the backpack must be able to let the teaser know when it is not fun anymore. The teaser must be able to recognize when the owner has had enough. Discipline and counseling is dependent on intent and continuation of these or other circumstances. In cases where there is an imbalance of power, it takes counseling of a different sort. Intimidators are often surprised that they have gone too far already in the early stages. They have to learn to see the signs earlier. At this point, some Scripture is important for them to see how they should be treating others. A retraining of the mind is in order for this child to respect and care for another. It touches on changing the heart, not just discipline for unwanted behaviour in the school system.
Victims must first let the intimidator know in no uncertain terms that they have had enough of the interchange. Often, they find themselves so rattled that they forget to verbalize their desire to quit the exchange. They must then reiterate their concerns for all around to hear. They now have witnesses and are attracting enough attention for the intimidator to see what it must look like. If the behaviour continues, it is a concerted choice to continue by the intimidator and the child should bring in a teacher or supervisor. It is then be very comforting for the victim to sit back and watch the system at work. The teacher will step in and the errant behaviour stops. The victim has been empowered. They have learned to follow some simple steps that bring about change.
Matthew 18:15-18 says:
"And if your brother does wrong to you, go, make clear to him his error between you and him in private: if he gives ear to you, you have got your brother back again. But if he will not give ear to you, take with you one or two more, that by the lips of two or three witnesses every word may be made certain. And if he will not give ear to them, let it come to the hearing of the church: and if he will not give ear to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-farmer. Truly I say to you, whatever things are fixed by you on earth will be fixed in heaven: and whatever you make free on earth will be made free in heaven."
Hopefully you see the parallel. If so, it would be one small indicator that our community is goverened by Christian principles.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Rethinking Technology

Have you been pressed to incorporate technology into your classroom more so than anything else in the last few years?  Are you feeling the pressure to stay ahead of the curve?  Before you feel too proud that you have put time and effort into a digitally enhanced curriculum, put yourself to the test and check to ensure you are headed in the right direction.

1) Rethink what you are Integrating
In the 80s, the Christian school movement took off because you could no longer be Christian in the public school.  Bible stories in readers were slowly replaced until the last Lord's Prayer was recited in classrooms.
In the 90s, Christian schools scrambled to find curriculum that would replace secular curriculum.  Christian teachers started to use expensive American curriculum to fill the void. 
By the 2000s, school started to learn how to use good secular resources by building a solid Christian objective into their overviews.  Administrators worked hard with teachers to learn how to meet these objectives while still meeting the requirement of the government learning outcomes.
About 2005ish, because the internet became so pervasive and influenced how teachers taught, the push for integration in the classroom moved from creating distinctly Christian themes to incorporating technology with the new technical tools.  Learning to teach with laptops, digital projectors, ipads and smart boards took more money and attention than anything else.
I was pleased when a primary teacher recently diligently worked through planning a Native unit and took the necessary steps to present the Christian worldview to her students.  Though a parent still chose to remove their child from the presentation, I believe the child missed a healthy Christian perspective and a carefully planned exposure to Native culture.
Are your administrators still working with you to encourage education from a Christian perspective?  Have you heard more about using the software recently purchased than ways to view the internet with Christian-coloured rose glasses?
It takes time and effort to integrate the latest technology into the classroom, but you get eternal value from the energy you put into educating from a Christian perspective.

2) Rethink your Classroom Free Time
What's the difference between what your students do on a school computer and a home computer during their free time?  Do you believe the games should be the same?  Should the school have a different set of plans for the technology tools they invest in at school from the ones students own at home?
I strongly advocate for computers that are set up for a specific grade.  There are a number of games that students could be playing on in their free time that are educational and would build math or language skills with out them thinking about it.  I also believe that if you control what a student can do on a school computer during free time, it will be a valuable growth tool.  Too many games are senseless and even detrimental to students. 
When I taught a class of Grade three and fours, I chose and loaded shortcuts and games on each computer that dictated what a student could do with their free time.  I worked hard at building folders for games that would be educational or Christian.  When I came to Heritage, I went to every computer and made my own folder for my primary students.  We did visit the internet for certain things, but they messed around with a rotation of games that I provided for them.  Since then I have moved into administration.  As teachers began to complain about the dated speeds of these doctored computers, out they went, and with them the collections of games that I had spent so much time assembling.  The other day, I went into the lab during a free time block and watched a student's screen as he dropped a handgun and picked up an uzzi to mow down the guards to free a prisoner.  My heart dropped.  So much time to play and learn, so little time in the schedule for good direction and supervision.
Our Learning Commons has invested a lot of money into ipads, netbooks and blueray TVs.  All the students have ever done on these is play flash games.
Computers in an educational setting should be tools for education, including free time. 

3) Rethink your Educational Videos
Can you find videos with Christian worldviews?  Can you find inspirational songs on websites that share your values?  Do your students know where you go to find these videos?  How about the videos you are producing in your classes - do they have a distinct Christian flavour?
This is your opportunity to influence student's work and thought into what they produce and how they influence others.  Instead of just doing a Flat Stanley adventure, why not have him preach a little, see a miracle or stand up for a righteous decision? 
When you host the video, how about hosting it on a site that links keywords with similar ideas on a faith-based video site?  I showed a class-made video to a crowd of students called "the Emperor's New Hair."  Even though it was on a private channel, the links on the side showed everything related to "emperors" and "no clothes."  Next time I will either ask to have it hosted on a better site, or have the video saved apart from Youtube.

4) Rethink your Communications
Do you know the school policy for electronic devices in the classroom?  You may plan to have a school or classroom policy on devices that are used in the classroom for educational purposes only.  Cyberbaiting is where a student pulls out an electronic device like a Nintendo gameboy or an Ipod with a video camera, and some other students try to get a teacher angry.  Presto - juicy Youtube material before anyone knows what just happenend.
What  do you think about Cyberbullying - it it a school's responsibility to monitor it?  Is it the RCMPs job to monitor threat and verbal abuse?  Does the parent figure into the discipline here?
When you "friend" students on Facebook, are you aware that they can see posts and pictures that others may put on your wall?  Teachers are held to a higher standard because they are so influencial in the lives of children.  Tread carefully here.
How is your email manner?  Have you ever sent a curt email or received one?  Do you have control enough to only include non-emotive responses?  I responded to a whimsical comment by a family member of mine in a public forum.  One of the contributers corrected some spelling on the site.  I suspect it was googled from the Chicago Manual of Style.  When I joked that the authors of this manual probably didn't intend it to govern Canadian spelling rules, I jested she still may have an ethnocentric American sentiment.  My comment was so offensive to the contributer that I had to apologize for what I said.  There was no intention to patronize him, but print doesn't always translate the laugh and tease intended. 
The use of Pen pals and print may be better than unseen (to you) emails to and from other cultures.

In Ephesians, Paul writes practical advice for a flourishing church.  I love the fact that they are challenged to move from the darkness to the light.  He claims that everything exposed by the light becomes visible. (Eph 5:14)  When we rethink worldly influences on a quickly moving educational field, we still need to stand out as light.  Our influences on our students should stand apart from a secular education.

In this light, you can now answer the question, "Have you successfully integrated what matters into your classroom?"

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Dreaded FSA Monster

Foundations Skill Assessments (FSAs) are government-mandated standardized tests for Grade four and seven students across the province.  I recognize that these tests are valuable to give parents and educators alike a snapshot of each child's progress in comparison to other children across the province. FSAs often get bad press because the results are public and can be manipulated to rank schools, which it never intended to do. Unfortunately, children hear about it and become a bit scared about how these tests will affect their grades, school reputation and peer rerlationships.
In an attempt to alleviate the anxiety it brings, I begin my introduction of upcoming tests to the Grade fours with this story:

Twenty year old Johnny Test graduated a few years ago, but he remembers with fondness his Grade four teacher, Mr. Chers. Students did everything they could to find out what his first name was, but to this day, it was never discovered. The deal was, if they could guess his name correctly, he would tell them if they were correct. The only hint he would give them was that it began with a “T.” Ever since, he was affectionately known as Mr. T.
Johnny remembered it like it was yesterday. Mr. T stood in front of the class and warned them a month in advance about the arrival of the dreaded FSA giant. He had said that it came every year; it was impossible to avoid. It struck fear in the hearts of all those it was mentioned to. Hallways were known to go silent at the mention of its arrival. Teachers had resisted it, principals had denounced them and entire school districts had ganged up to fight it. Alas, each year without fail, the FSA monster would seek out and wreak havoc on poor little Grade four students everywhere.
Mr. T seemed unfazed by the FSA giant. He made it quite clear to Johnny and the other children that he knew how to tame the monster. He would teach his students about his secret weapon, so that when the giant eventually came, they could handle it easily.
Johnny Test clearly remembered going home and worrying about the monster. In fact, the first night he heard of it, he dreamed of what it might look like. In his dream, he pictured the giant crashing through the tiny cities hunting out and destroying schools along the way. It was truly a giant, robotic in nature and sent by foreign forces seeking to ruin little Grade four students everywhere.
The next day, Johnny went to school expecting his first day of training. Instead, Mr. T walked calmly into class and said the same thing he said every day. “Get out your pencils and a piece of paper.”
Cautiously, Johnny questioned, “Mr. T, will you tell us more about the FSA monster?”
“Of course. It comes once a year, instilling fear everywhere he goes. Teachers across the province live in terror, dreading the day it arrives. They feel powerless to stop him. However, I know a lot about him. I can train you to tame the monster. I have the right weapon to make this giant beast lie down and submit to the smallest Grade four student. But enough about him, it’s time to start class. Take out a pencil and paper.”
Johnny was beginning to feel desperate. What weapon had Mr. T discovered that could neutralize the beast? When would they begin their training? When would they learn to use the weapon?
Once again, Johnny Test lay awake that night, thinking about what Mr. T said. He vividly remembered a nightmare from that night. He found himself alone in his classroom. Slowly looking around, he noticed the big green cupboard was ajar. That cupboard was never open; Mr. T always kept it locked. This must be where he kept his weapon to fight the giant. Johnny couldn’t restrain himself any longer, he had to have a quick look at the weapons. Inside the cupboard, there were empty holders of all types and sizes. Any type of weapon could be housed there. However there was nothing inside but a small box on the bottom shelf. Cautiously, he reached for the box. A laser beam shone on his arm, triggering a loud alarm. It made him jump back from the cupboard in fear.
It was simply his alarm clock, waking him up from his deep and troubled sleep. Johnny questioned whether Mr. T would really teach children to use a weapon in school. What possible tools had Mr. T discovered that would allow nine year olds to fight such a giant opponent?
Johnny Test arrived at school that morning ready and willing to begin military training. He could hardly wait to see what Mr. T had in store. Once again, Mr. T seemed more intent on doing what he did every day; always starting with a devotion, collecting homework, making an encouraging remark, then insisting students pull out a pencil and paper.
“Please, Mr. T,” Johnny asked, “Could I see what weapons you have for us to use against the upcoming attack?” inquired Johnny. Mr. T smiled and walked to the back of the classroom. He unlocked the big green cupboard and lifted out a small rectangular box. Johnny wondered how on earth such a little box could hold a reputed weapon of mass destruction.
“This is all you will need.” A smug look rolled across Mr. T’s face. He placed the box back on the shelf and taught on.
Finally, the big day arrived. News channels were arguing about the damage the tests would do to the students. Headlines in the newspapers described in bitter detail how it was to ruin every teacher's class. Johnny took his regular seat. The room was silent. Students looked at each other with saucer-sized eyes, not knowing what to expect. Mr. T walked to the front of the classroom. The FSAs had arrived; Johnny was horrified about facing the hideous FSAs without help. The principal seemed resigned as he slipped into the back of the classroom. Mr. T pulled out the little box. He shook it a bit. Every eye was on him. Silence. Not a child moved. He started to unfold the side flap.
Wasn’t it too late to show them the weapon? Had Mr. T lost his edge? They had known a month ago that the FSAs were coming and they clearly remembered learning nothing of any military strategy. They recalled no weapon training. He had no recollection of even one hint of tactical defense plans. They didn’t even know what the secret weapon looked like.
Finally, Mr. T finished opening the box. Curiosity. Silence. He tipped the box on its side and something long and narrow slid out. It looked familiar. Suddenly, Johnny understood. He was fully trained in using this weapon, in fact, he knew everything about it. He knew instinctively how to grasp it. He knew how to sharpen it more pointy than a pin. He knew how to spin it to rub out ill fated attacks. It was nothing more than a common pencil.
Mr. T laid a paper booklet on each student’s desk. It had “FSA” written on the cover. At Mr. T’s request, each student flipped the book open to the first page. It was a puzzle for Johnny to solve. On the second page, it was an opportunity for Johnny to write his opinion down. Johnny Test was ready, oh so ready, for this. He would show the world that the dreaded FSAs had nothing on him. He would attack the booklet with a vengeance. He would protect the school from its intrusion. It truly was up to him to lance and parry his way to victory.
If you ask Johnny Test for a moral to his story, he would look at you directly in the eyes and without wavering, would answer you confidently: “Every student at HCS can boldly face the giant FSAs, because they are still trained by the tested and true methods from the indomitable T. Chers at HCS.”

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Thoughts on my Multi-Grade Classroom

In a single grade classroom, the teacher plans to teach at grade level. This style of teaching is time effective and the teacher is able to present one clear and concise plan for the year in each subject. Unfortunately, any teacher will tell you there are many levels of learners even in a single grade classroom. The teacher still tends to teach to the strand in the middle. Some of the low-achieving students are always struggling, and some of the high-achievers become passive and unchallenged. Teachers have a variety of ways they deal with this, but this in itself can prove to be a real test.
In multi-grade classroom, the division of learners is more obvious, and the teacher preps and marks a variety of groups. Students in either type of classroom tend to fit into natural groupings. Some need a challenge, some need the basics, and some need a chance to develop. In a multi-grade, the material purchased will purposely reflect these types of groupings. For example, when I taught grade one and two together, I ordered three levels of phonics. I had the straight grade one, the easy grade two, and the tougher grade two. No student worked below their grade level, and students that needed a bit of a challenge had the chance to do so. I taught in splits most of my career, so I had my own way of exploiting these opportunities. It ruined me so that even in a straight grade, I kept teaching several group levels.
Of course, the drawback is when several groups are working, there tends to be more activity in the classroom as the teacher works with one group in particular. In this instance, a teacher’s aide (t/a) is provided to help in the classroom in one group or the other. The t/a will also help with the extra teacher prep work that a split generates.
I noticed that students that absolutely loved the multi-grade may have one or more of the following personality traits: they have a “get to it” personality; they enjoy being retaught a previous grade before they see the next progression or conversely they like to see some of next year’s work without having to do it; they enjoy a less tense work atmosphere; they enjoy working ahead; they enjoy getting to know and play with another grade of student; they love to help others with work; they love to work together; they like the inter-grade sport challenges. The list goes on, but you get the point. I believe that the children that went through my split classes had wider learning opportunities than those who sat learning in the middle zone.