TEDx West Van Ed: I Wonder How to Encourage Wonder?

One of the many reasons I love spending a whole day taking part in a TEDx is that it forces me to sit, listen and reflect. I attended TEDx West Vancouver Ed: Rethinking Education yesterday and now am filled to the brim with reflections and ideas of my role in education and as a parent. This will be the first of a few blog posts that I have rattling in my brain.

The first speaker was “Inquiry Based Learning Consultant” Kath Murdoch @kjinquiry (Kudos to her for having to go first!). Kath spoke about how classrooms need to be a place where we invite wonder in. I loved her image of a car being a wonder bubble. As anyone who has had to drive kids anywhere knows, car rides stimulate many questions from kids. The longer the car ride, the more out there the questions get! How can educators replicate the wonder inducing environment of a car ride into the classroom?

During lunch several colleagues expressed that they were frustrated that their students, when asked, weren’t able to come up with questions or wonders. They felt that their students needed to be taught how to ask questions all over again and that for some reason as early as grade one, the sense of wonder was stripped from their students. Last year, while introducing Genius Hour to several intermediate classes, I was dismayed that our students could not ask a good question or name a passion they would like to explore. I automatically chalked this up to the idea that kids have learned to expect to be told what to do and the older they are the more difficult it is to get them to independently learn or even want to learn.

While this is somewhat true, I have to wonder, what are we as educators doing to encourage an environment of wonder? Why are we expecting students to come up with great wonders on demand? How would you answer right at this moment if you were asked, What do you wonder about? I don’t know about you, but I get anxious just thinking about it. Will my wonder be good enough? What will everyone say about my wonder? Now I wonder… how do our students feel?

We all have an innate sense of wonder, it is part of what makes us human! We just can not expect students to reveal wonders on demand. While some students will share wonders with anyone, I believe most students (as most adults) need time and a conducive environment to germinate wonders. I love the idea of a wonder wall. I have seen many examples and think it’s a great idea for students to feel free to add to it at any time they have a wonder. Then, when it is “wonder research time” or genius hour, they have a wall of wonders to choose from. However, if students do not feel like they have a safe, respectful class environment, wonders will never be revealed. Maybe this is why car rides are so great for wonders!

So, with this all in mind, what are you doing to encourage an environment of wonder?

Kindergarten Orientation: Not Just Another School Event

Our school had it’s Welcome to Kindergarten afternoon today. I love it when new parents and students arrive through our doors at any time of the year, but the feeling I get from over 30 parents and their children arriving at school at once is even more exhilarating!

I have taught Kindergarten at many schools and the orientation format changes from school to school. Some schools have guests move through stations while they learn about important characteristics of the school and Kindergarten program. Some schools provide children a chance to spend time with the Kindergarten teachers while parents are given an overview of the school and the Kindergarten program lecture style. Some schools only invite parents.

Whatever format your school chooses to do, there are some important things that schools need to remember about this annual event. I get it, it’s a really busy time of year and things are crazy, but we can not risk treating this event as yet another obligation at this time of year to get through. I’d say it’s one of the most important events of the school year.

1) This is your chance to shine, to celebrate why your school is so great! With that you need to put your best foot forward. These parents are entrusting their most valuable possession to you. If you are having a bad day (who hasn’t had a bad day?!), put whatever is bothering you aside for a few hours.

2) Your role is to be welcoming. Be open to answering questions, and be patient with new parents who, most of the time, only have their own schooling experience to reference. Some parents and children may be overwhelmed with this new experience.

3) Use this opportunity to get to know kids and their parents. Covertly make note of “issues” children are displaying; however choose another, more private time to ask parents for more details.

4) Keep the teacher talk to a minimum. Share stories of your own kids and/or students. The best response I have received is sharing that I taught Kindergarten for over 10 years and when my own son entered Kindergarten I was a wreck! I needed to know every detail. If I didn’t have to be at work, I would be one of those moms hovering and peeking through the windows.

5) Don’t let them leave empty handed. Give them things to work on over the summer like a pair of scissors, play dough, a list of math and literacy games, etc.. Oh and, of course, you have to give them a tasty snack (healthy choices optional!)!

Kindergarten orientation is such an important event on so many levels, don’t let it go by without some thoughtful planning and discussion.

Art Show: We are Family

I love my school! I love how everyone works together like a family to support each other and get things done, always looking out for what’s best for our students. Like a family we go through the ups and downs of stressful and happy times, and sometimes like a family we make decisions, assumptions, and statements that can hurt. BUT, also like a family we talk it out, forgive, and move on… all because we are looking out for what is best for our students.

Our school recently put on a school wide art show, it has been a tradition for a number of years. After over a week of setting up and dealing with all the details, the show was held for two and a half days. Parents, students, teachers, and district staff, including our superintendent, came to see the hard work our students and teachers put in through a whole year of art making. Our students were proud that their work was displayed, “like in a real art gallery”.

Our school is considered one of the “inner city” schools in our district, and because of the hard life stories that some of these kids come to school with, some do not feel that they are capable of doing anything worthy. As well, the stress and hurt that we feel when we try to help these students sometimes overwhelms us. The art show proved to these students in particular that their work and their learning is important; and proved to us, that what we do with these students to help them come to terms and overcome their difficult situations is important.

When news spread of our art show, we received some wonderful feedback including those of excitement, encouragement, and thankfulness. In particular, one person asked if we had an artist in residence that did this… No we do not. What we do have are teachers and staff who are passionateabout our students’ and their learning. It did not come together overnight and without emotions getting in the way, but we were able to support each other through this large undertaking. We have teachers and staff that work together like a family.

Here is a video of all the art that was shown in our art show. I am so proud of my school, that I want to share this accomplishment (one of many) with everyone! There are some great examples of art projects using a variety of mediums. Maybe you can include some of these in YOUR art show!