September has emerged as one of my favourite months of the year. In addition to the overabundance of pumpkin flavoured beverages and treats at your friendly neighbourhood café, many are gearing up for another year in school. Whether you are a student, a teacher, or a professor, September marks the beginning of a new chapter in your educational journey.
The more I reflect on the phrase ‘back to school’, the more I realize that I never really left to begin with. I did not suddenly stop reading interesting articles and books, nor did I make a conscious effort to avoid the occasional heated debate with my friends on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I am still fun and approachable at BBQ parties though, I promise.
Summer break in the K-12 setting is often depicted as ‘freedom’ from learning and the perfect excuse to avoid the books. While I understand the need to relax and take it easy after a year of rigorous academic work, we can definitely benefit from not juxtaposing the fun nature of summer with the productivity demands of fall. Do some students dread going back to school because they have less time to play outside or because the classroom simply isn’t engaging enough? I would much rather students be excited about all the potential learning opportunities rather than their next vacation.
Now that the school year is well underway, I hope you are brimming with the same excitement as me. I can’t wait to be introduced to must-read books, build new connections with my classroom peers, grow as a researcher, and so much more! What are you looking forward to this academic year? Whatever that may be, strive to be a snowflake, unique and beautiful in your own way, rather than another brick in the wall.
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).
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.
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!
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 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.
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 .
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.
My (Clare) little poochie, Abbey, passed away on the weekend. I had 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 on the sofa watching TV or reading, of course he needed to
I am so sad about his passing but I am so glad that we had him in our lives for many years. If you have never had a pet think about getting one. They may be a lot of work but they definitely enrich your life.
On the weekend, Clare and I (Clive) saw a wonderful production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at 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.
It started as a little book launch that (I) Clare was organizing for our new book. It grew to include 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!)
Taking 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 Simon
The Pedagogy of Standardized Testing: The Radical Impacts of Educational Standardization in the US and Canada by Arlo Kemp