Category Archives: Reflections

Mental Health Education and Way of Life Education

Last week, I (Clive) talked about the connection between general way of life education and career education. I believe there is a similar link with mental health education, which Ontario teachers today are strongly encouraged to engage in. A recent Toronto Star article on mental health education noted that around twenty percent of Ontario school students have mental health problems. It then went on to claim that the life learning these students need would also greatly benefit the other eighty percent of students!

From the teachers’ point of view, this insight has significant implications. It means that instead of constantly singling out students with mental health needs – thus adding to teachers’ workload and also running the danger of labeling students, reducing their self-esteem, and undermining class community – teachers can implement way of life education in the normal course of teaching and classroom life and so help all their students.

Increasing the feasibility of mental health teaching in this way is sorely needed, given the growing demands on teachers, the continuing cut-backs in special education funding, and the increasing integration of “special needs” students into mainstream classes. As Kate Phillippo says in her excellent 2015 book Advisory in Urban High Schools, there is today considerable “under-the-table expansion of teachers’ responsibilities,” especially “to provide social-emotional support” to students (p. 148).

While there is a limit to how much assistance regular classroom teachers can give to students with mental health challenges, supporting all students in developing a sound approach to life can help everyone, including those with special needs. For example, students who lack motivation for school work need a better general sense of where academic achievement fits into their life, now and in the future; and students dealing with bullying would benefit from greater general understanding of when and how to stand up to other people. Along these lines, Phillippo (2015) envisages classroom teachers taking on a broad “advisory” role that includes fostering “life skills development” (p. 154) and working to promote “student wellness” in general (p. 164).

Keep Calm & Play Video Games

When I (Said) was 8 years old, my parents bought me a Playstation video game console. It was the beginning of what is now my favorite hobby. Whenever I purchase a game, I adore the ‘new game smell.’ It resembles being in a brand new car or picking up a new book for the first time. I associate it with feelings of enjoyment and excitement. I am holding an adventure in the palm of my hands.

Some may think that video games are a waste of time and money, but I do not agree. Video games are a form of entertainment that has grown rapidly since the 1970’s. They have caused controversy, changed lives, and challenged how we tell stories. My main attraction to video games stems from the fact that I am no longer a spectator but a participant in the storytelling. Nothing is more satisfying than taking a break from my daily routines and readings to immerse myself in another world. Video games have allowed me to experience rich narratives that have enhanced my thinking and influenced how I see the world. Since they are often designed to challenge the player to complete a task, video games are an amazing tool to develop problem-solving skills (trial & error, perseverance, multiple solutions…). Since 1999, video games have taught me about history, culture, science, drama, crime, racism, love, creativity, imagination and more. In other words, video games made me literate; video games are art.

Instead of hoping that children ‘grow out of it’ (I certainly haven’t!), we must shift our focus to how we can use their involvement with video games to our advantage as literacy teachers. Some of my most interesting conversations as an occasional teacher have been the result of speaking the language of video games. There is no reason to discredit it as a form of media that does not contribute to knowledge building; there is great potential for its use in classroom instruction and assessment. You do NOT need to be a gamer to bring students’ out-of-classroom hobbies into the classroom. If it helps students achieve, feel included, and contributes to their personal growth, why spoil the party? Every few weeks, my mom will text me, “How’s your Playstation doing?” Often, she regrets asking, because I will spend hours telling her about my latest adventures.

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My video game shrine

Warrior Within

My friend Catherine Wachter is involved in this important project. Warrior Within (Twitter @warriorwithinpr) is a creative endeavour spearheaded by Catherine Wachter and Nicola Doyle.

The project centres around the creation of a student-driven fictional short film (shot in July, 2016) that uses metaphor and imagery to help engage students in their understanding of stress, anxiety and how to individually develop their own resilience.

This creative project also involved the student exploration of the film’s themes -stress, personal resilience and the power of social capital – through artwork, music composition, documentary film, creative writing, dance, blog writing and photography created alongside the shoot and under the guidance of mentors in the field.

This short film, and all its creative facets, will go on to inspire a student-driven curriculum (in the new year, a student group will be creating the lesson plans, student exercises, discussion points, etc.) aimed at filling the dearth of creative pedagogy regarding positive mental health for youth.

In May of 2017, Warrior Within will be celebrated at a gala to raise money for Jack.org, an important youth mental health initiative in Toronto. We will premiere the short film, the behind the scenes documentary and exhibit all other forms of artwork produced during the initiative. Our students will be there to share their work (process and completion) in person!

…and if you can helps us spread the word @warriorwithinpr, on Facebook, etc.,) that would be amazing!

Thank you!

http://www.warriorwithin.ca/index2.html

Imposter syndrome & the emerging professional

I (Said) graduated from UofT’s Concurrent Teacher Ed. Program in 2014. Since then, I have had experience working as an occasional teacher and as a student affairs professional. I am currently working on my Master of Arts at OISE. I am sharing this to highlight that as a graduate student and emerging professional, the pressure to achieve is tremendous. Every year, I have felt my professional identity transform and evolve in numerous ways. Said “the teacher”, Said “the researcher”, Said “the professional”… it is overwhelming at times, especially when imposter syndrome takes over.

imposter-syndromeImposter syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy despite signs of evident success. Those who experience it struggle with the fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’ or ‘not smart enough’, especially among peers and other professionals. Therefore, any success is often attributed to luck, downplayed, and rationalized as a means to mask a supposed lack of knowledge or expertise. Beginning teachers may feel like they do not belong in the classroom, especially if working within a school culture that does not value their contributions and perceives them as inexperienced. What they must remember is that they were deemed qualified to teach and are worthy of their position.

Similarly, graduate students may feel intimidated at their institution, especially when working with faculty members considered leaders in their research fields. However, I have come to realize that my voice has value and that insight from the sharing of ideas and heated debates can spark new avenues of inquiry and inspire those around me.  Isn’t it wonderful how being part of a research team/community of scholars allows us the opportunity to discuss, dispute, disagree, dispel, dissertate and so much more? I refuse to be trapped in a self-imposed cage, and if I ever feel surrounded by 20-foot walls, I will build a 21-foot ladder.

As I embark on a journey in academia, I recognize that it is perfectly normal to feel slightly out of place, as any novice would. Instead of emphasizing my invented unsuitably for this exciting new endeavour, I have decided to do all that I can to gain more confidence in my professional and academic life. If you ever feel like you are ‘not enough’, please remember what Christopher Robin once told Winnie the Pooh. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

Happy Canada Day!

fireworks

Greetings to all of our readers across Canada and beyond.  Today, July 1st, we celebrate a national holiday honoring our country.  This is a fairly new celebration for us, as Canada is a relatively young country (we only officially became Canada in 1867). I (Cathy) vividly remember our school celebrating Canada’s 100th birthday when I was a girl in school.  In 1980 the Canadian government began  to encourage and financially support the establishment of local celebrations. Start-up funding was provided to support popular activities and performances organized by volunteer groups in hundreds of communities.  In 1981 fireworks lit up the sky in 15 major Canadian cities; a tradition that continues today.  As we are such a multicultural country, I am always fascinated by the many other  diverse ways this holiday is celebrated: family dinners of a wide variety of traditional fare; back yard BBQ’s; sailing, swimming; playing sports; concerts; picnics; hiking; camping; parades; and festivals .

Hatfield

One of our national treasures, Colonel Chris Hadfield,  is a retired Canadian astronaut. He was the first Canadian to walk in space. An engineer and former Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot, Hadfield has flown two space shuttle missions and served as commander of the International Space Station. Interestingly, he is also a musician. To celebrate this Canada Day, click on the ink below to see Col Hadfield and his brother sing about Canada. They highlight some of the unique cultural aspects of this vast country.  Enjoy!  And Happy Canada Day where ever you may live.  

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Hadfield

Abbey: RIP

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My (Clare) little poochie, Abbey, passed away on the weekend. I 07 03 Marchhad never had a pet before so this was a whole new experience for me. For 16 years Abbey was a joy – fun, playful, exuberant, and full of beans. Before having a pet I “never quite got it” – the attachment people felt to their pets. Now I do. Abbey was part of the family. Every day when I came home from work he would be waiting in the window and just seeing that little face made me smile. When I would lie 07 05 Mayon the sofa watching TV or reading, of course he needed to

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I am so sad about his passing but I am so glad that we had him in our lives 03 01 04 001afor many years. If you have never had a pet think about getting one. They may be a lot of work but they 07 02 Februarydefinitely enrich your life.

A Constructivist Approach to Literature

On the weekend, Clare and I (Clive) saw a wonderful production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya Uncle Vanyaat the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake. We were struck (once again) with how “dark” the play is; but it is so well written and was so well done that we really enjoyed it.

A central theme of the play is how boring life can be. And one thing that occurred to me is how important it is not to take plays (or any literature) too literally. In experiencing such a play – or discussing it with students – we don’t have to accept that life is utterly boring, or even think that Chekhov believed it was.

Rather, we can take this idea as a starting point and go on to consider ways to overcome boredom in our lives, to the extent possible. We can enjoy ourselves, both as we experience the beauty and cleverness of the literary work and try to resolve the problems it raises. We can use the work for our own purposes, rather than feeling tied to a literal interpretation. I think this is part of what is meant by a “constructivist” approach to learning, and it can make literature more enjoyable and useful to teachers and students alike.

A Successful Book Launch: Check out these Amazing Texts

It started as a little book launch that (I) Clare was organizing for our new book. It grew to IMG_1739include 4 “hot off the press” books. All of which I must read! The book launch was unique because it included authors from different departments and programs. And it was great fun!.

Building Bridges: Rethinking Literacy Teacher Education in a Digital Era by Clare Kosnik, Simone White, Clive Beck, Bethan Marshall, A. Lin Goodwin, and Jean Murray (I know this book well – tee hee!)

IMG_1742Taking Shape: Activities to Help Develop Geometric and Spatial Thinking by Joan Moss, Bev Caswell, Zack Hawes, Cathy Bruce, and Tara Flynn

 

 

Teaching Literature to Adolescents by Richard Beach, Deborah Appleman, Bob Fecho, and Rob SimonIMG_1741

IMG_1753The Pedagogy of Standardized Testing: The Radical Impacts of Educational Standardization in the US and Canada by Arlo Kemp

 

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Getting to Know Our Students

I (Clive) have long believed in having a warm, friendly class community and a good IMG_3114teacher-student relationship. However, my understanding of what this means continues to grow. This term in my graduate course with 22 students I seemed to develop a closer bond with my students than ever before.

As time went by, each would greet me in a friendly, open way with a smile on their face. They told me more personal information about themselves (often in emails about why they couldn’t be at class that evening!) Before and after class, at the break or in emails, they shared with me (and I discussed with them) individual matters, e.g., interest in going on to doctoral work; wanting to teach high school rather than elementary; wanting to take an individual reading course; moving from the public to the private school sector; the struggles of teaching while raising 3 children; not really wanting to be a teacher.

I found this closer relationship had several advantages:

  • There was a higher energy level in our engagement
  • Our interactions – and the class experience generally – were more enjoyable
  • Attendance was higher
  • I could better understand “where they were coming from”

This was quite apart from the help they received by discussing their individual concerns.

 

Sometimes people worry about an overly close relationship between teachers and students. However, a sensible teacher can figure out what is appropriate and what is not; and in general I feel we are still far too removed from our students. We need to be constantly developing appropriate links with our students, rather than being afraid of links in general.

In terms of appropriateness, one important point is to avoid having favorites. We should go out of our way to have meaningful conversations with – and hence get to know – every single student in our class. They will really appreciate it and our own teaching experience will be enhanced.