A strategy for improving students’ social and emotional well-being in the classroom or school-wide is implementing a mindfulness program. Mindfulness involves being present and aware of one’s thoughts and feelings. Studies suggest that “focusing on the present can have a positive impact on health and well-being” (News In Health, 2021).
To implement a mindfulness program, educators can start by introducing simple mindfulness practices, such as deep breathing or body scans, periodically throughout the school day. One of my go-to guided breathing strategies is Square Breathing. Square Breathing involves taking a deep breath over 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, releasing the breath for 4 seconds and holding your exhale for 4 more seconds. In total, 16 seconds of guided breathing can be an effective way to slow down the busyness of our bodies and be present in the moment. This strategy can be used a few times in succession to truly mellow the energy level.
Over time, these practices can be expanded to include longer mindfulness sessions or guided meditations. As a Catholic school, we have implemented a school-wide Christian Mediation that occurs each day after lunch recess. The midpoint of our day is full of hustle and bustle, with 20 minutes of eating and 40 minutes of recess. Christian Mediation has proved to be a great tool in centering our students after a busy transition and helping them to prepare themselves for the next part of the school day.
As the Christian Mediation plays over the announcements (1 minute song followed by 2-3 minutes of silence), classroom teachers approach the mindfulness practice with their students in various ways. Some classes use this time as a formal mediation, ensuring that their bodies are still, eyes are shut, hands are free, and they are fully present in the moment. Other classrooms encourage students to participate in independent prayer, whether it be a quick conversation with God or a structured prayer (e.g., Hail Mary, Our Father). Lastly, there are classes that have the students engage in artistic mindfulness activities, such as colouring or using Play-Doh. All of these approaches promote mindfulness, provide students with a quiet moment to calm their bodies after a long and busy recess, and prepare their bodies, minds, and spirits for the next learning activity.
By implementing Christian Mediation as a school-wide mindfulness program, we have helped students develop important social and emotional skills, including self-regulation and reflection. Before implementing this mindfulness program, there was a lot of redirecting of student behaviour (i.e.,, busy bodies, loud voices, continuing recess conversations in peers) as we transitioned from recess to our next lesson. Christian Meditation has truly helped to improve students’ overall well-being and helped them manage stress (e.g., leave whatever happened at recess outside). The calm period of mindfulness has proven to improve focus and attention, which can be especially helpful for students who struggle with attention and self-regulation (i.e., ADHD). By improving focus and attention, students are better able to engage with their peers and the learning environment in a respectful and appropriate way.
Student voice and choice is of utmost importance in our classrooms, whether you teach the youngest Primary division students or the oldest Senior division students. Elementary school is a crucial time in a student’s life, as it is where they begin to develop their sense of identity and learn essential social and emotional skills. When students feel empowered to share their thoughts and opinions, they are more engaged in the learning process and are better able to take ownership of their education.
One way to support and encourage student voice in school is through student council, which provides students with the opportunity to become involved in their school’s decision-making process and represent their peers. Oftentimes, high schools have student councils, but they are not always commonplace in elementary schools. How can we effectively implement a student council in an elementary school to foster student voice? Let’s explore this further!
Benefits of Student Council in Elementary School
There are a number of benefits of student council to both the students and the school community. Student councils allow students to develop leadership skills as they take on the responsibilities of representing their peers and making decisions that impact the school. By allowing students to have their voice heard and to be an active contributor to their education, they will come to realize that their actions and decisions can make a difference and they can bring positive change to the world around them. Being a member of the student council gives these students a sense of empowerment and encourages them to become active members of their community.
We don’t want our school systems to create passive learners; rather, we want to empower and inspire our students to develop and implement meaningful change in the world! Student council is a great strategy to promote student voice and agency. It provides a platform for students to voice their opinions and ideas, which can be used to determine some school policies and processes, fundraiser ideas, theme days, and special events at the school. This promotes a sense of ownership and involvement in the school community, which can improve student engagement and academic outcomes.
Assembling a Successful Student Council
A successful student council should be diverse and inclusive. “The overall goal of the student council is to represent each grade and the students as a whole and provide leadership for the student body” (classroom.synonym.com). The leaders of the student council could be students from the highest grade, depending on the structure of your school (mine would be Grade 8 students). One way that these student leaders could be chosen would be through an election or vote process, allowing their peers to identify and select which students best represent their class and school community. This strategy in and of itself allows students to exercise their student voice and make the council representative of them.
Another way to assemble a council is through teacher nominations. Teachers could nominate students who they believe would make effective leaders and represent the diverse needs and perspectives of their peers. I believe that it would be beneficial and important to have 1-2 students from each class be “class representatives” on the student council. This allows all voices to be heard from various classes and grades, while also making it easier to communicate information to the larger school community (i.e., class representatives can promote the upcoming fundraiser to their own classes).
Twinkl has curated a few helpful resources to get you started on assembling your own student council (Twinkl – How to Start a Student Council):
The American Student Council Association is a great starting point for your research: https://www.naesp.org/asca.
Many states have their own student council associations, such as the Texas Association of Student Councils: https://www.tasconline.org/what-is-a-student-council-.
The National Education Association has some helpful hints for starting an elementary school student council: http://www.nea.org/tools/tips/Elementary-School-Student-Council.html.
Supporting Student Voice
The more that we as educators can give our students “choice, control, challenge, and opportunities for collaboration, the greater their motivation and engagement will be” (Student Voice: A Growing Movement Within Education That Benefits Students and Teachers, pg. 2). Student council can be a great way to encourage students to share their thinking by creating a safe and inclusive environment where all ideas and opinions are valued. Through regular meetings with teachers and administrators, students can help to plan and facilitate school activities that they would want to participate in. These could be fundraiser activities, like book fairs or dance-a-thons, or community service initiatives, such as food and clothing drives.
Student council could also plan fun events, such as theme days (e.g., jersey days, pajama days), which would help to foster a positive and unified school community. During meetings, students could provide feedback on school policies and programs and have a say in decision-making, such as improving school facilities (e.g., recess equipment) or promoting environmental sustainability (e.g., composting program). All of these different examples of involvement provide students with a sense of agency and allows them to actively contribute to their school community, rather than being passive learners and products of the system.
Student councils can be a valuable resource for educators looking to differentiate instruction in their classrooms. One way the student council can help educators differentiate instruction is by gathering and analyzing student feedback on learning experiences. Student council could create a student survey where they assessed their learning environment and experiences at school, while also suggesting ways that their learning experience could be improved (i.e., hands-on learning, field trips, outdoor learning experiences, etc.). With this information, educators can tailor their instruction to better meet the diverse needs of their students.
The student feedback could also be used to help guide the student council’s programming. For example, student council members could create and participate in a peer mentor or tutoring program at school, providing additional support to students who need it. This can be particularly helpful for students who may be struggling with specific concepts or skills. Survey feedback about representation could be used to guide in-school initiatives, such as Black History Month programming or a Girl’s Coding and Robotics Club.
Developing Global Competencies
Participating in the student council would provide countless opportunities for students to develop global competencies. Collaboration and communication are at the forefront of the council, allowing students to use their voice to share ideas and communicate change to the larger student body. There will be plenty of opportunities to work through challenges and find solutions to issues occurring within the school. This collaboration will encourage students to exercise their creativity and problem-solving skills.
By working as a student community to represent the diverse needs and perspectives of their peers, student council members develop empathy and respect for others, which strengthens their citizenship competencies. To further this sense of citizenship beyond the school walls, student council could facilitate initiatives that promote global issues such as environmental sustainability, social justice and equity. This can help them develop a global perspective and prepare them for an increasingly interconnected world.
From leadership roles that encourage student voice to developing students’ global competencies, student council provides numerous benefits to elementary school students. Does your elementary school have a student council? How does your student council promote student voice, choice, and agency? What are some important considerations when facilitating a student council? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
Community-connected experiential learning opportunities are authentic learning experiences connected to a community outside the school at a local, national or global level. The connection can be a physical on-site experience, a virtual experience or a blended experience. It may involve connecting with people from various cultures in Canada or in other nations and countries. It might be learning from experts in a field of interest or connecting with politicians about a social justice issue.
A project idea I had to create connections between our school and the larger school community would be to create a community garden! Here is the outcome of my brainstorming session about this project idea:
Following my brainstorm session, I created a more formal plan for pitching and implementing this project. The plan outline includes:
- a description of the potential benefits of this project to the school and to the community
- a description of how the project will help students develop the global competencies
- a description of how the project will positively impact student achievement, engagement and well-being
- an implementation plan
- individuals and resources that could be called on in the community to support this project
- a plan for assessing student learning
- creative strategies to allow students to reflect on the experience and apply their learning
The plan for my Community Garden “Community Connections Project” is outlined in the following presentation:Community Connections Project – Community Garden by Spencer Burton
This presentation could be use as a pitch to stakeholders to initiate this project at the school site.
What are your thoughts about this community connections project? What ideas do you have for a project that would work well with your school community?
Technology in the classroom can allow students to be self-directed learners in many ways. There are many types of assistive technology software that can help students. However, even with these softwares, common technology, such as Chromebooks, can sometimes have physical restraints that younger students or students with physical disabilities may struggle with. These restraints can hinder the students ability to use the technology effectively, therefore making it less self-directed.
Touch screen technology, such as touch screen computers or iPads, has proved to be an effective assistive technology tool for these students. The touch screen can help them overcome the physical struggles of using certain technology and provide them with the ability to be self-directed learners. With touch screens, students can use their fingers to navigate through their devices, making it easier to use technology without the need for a keyboard or mouse. This can help remove physical barriers to learning and enable students with physical disabilities or underdeveloped motor skills to engage with technology in the classroom.
In addition to helping with the physicality of using technology, touch screens provide an interactive and engaging way for students to learn. With the ability to touch and manipulate the screen, students can interact with learning materials in a more hands-on way, which is especially beneficial for younger learners. Touch screen technology allows students to drag and drop items on the screen (i.e., digital manipulatives, sorting activities, etc.), zoom in on images, or even draw on the screen to illustrate their ideas, all with their fingertips.
Arguably the best part of touch screen technology is that it is useful for all types of learners to use! Universal supports are a great way to meet the needs of all students, and touch screens offer just that. While all students may not rely on using touch to navigate technology, or they may prefer to use a trackpad or mouse, the option is still there to use whenever they would like, while also being available for those students who do rely on it. Therefore, I believe that, while often more expensive, schools should prioritize integrating computers and tablets that have touch screens into their arsenal of technology.
Diversity is such an enriching component to learning. Culturally Responsive Pedagogy describes “teaching that recognizes all students learn differently and that these differences may be connected to background, language, family structure and social or cultural identity” (Capacity Building Series: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, pg. 2). It is crucial that we, as educators, value and use students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, through culturally responsive pedagogy, to enhance learning experiences and develop our students’ sense of belonging and citizenship in our global world.
A resource that I feel would work well with my Grade 3 students to integrate FNMI teachings and develop their citizenship competencies is the “Rabbit and Bear Paws” book series. This series of books are written by an author, Chad Solomon, who is a part of the Henvey Inlet First Nation community in Ontario (www.goodminds.com). Since he is a member of the FNMI community, we know his books’ content is authentic and appropriate to use as a teaching resource about FNMI culture and teachings.
Chad’s “Rabbit and Bear Paws” book series is a collection of early reader stories, each focusing on a different Grandfather Teaching. The Seven Grandfather Teachings are a set of traditional teachings from Anishinaabe culture that promote values such as respect, love, honesty, courage, wisdom, humility, and truth (www.aihschgo.org). These values are relatable teachings that students can easily recognize in their own lives and intentionally work towards developing further. This helps to bridge the gap between communities and recognize that our outlooks on life are similar, therefore developing our citizenship to our local, national and global communities.
Incorporating these teachings into a Grade 3 classroom in a respectful way can be done by using FNMI-curated resources that appropriately reflect their culture’s teachings. It is important that these teachings are used in a respectful manner, and given the content of the Seven Grandfather Teachings, they could be used as a tool for promoting positive behaviour in the classroom and school community. In fact, this year, our school, following the guidance of our board’s FNMI liaison, is using the Seven Grandfather Teachings as our monthly virtue assemblies. Each month, classrooms teach about one of the teachings and promote/identify this value in all that we do. Then, we come together at the end of the month as a school community to reflect and celebrate the strides we have made in developing that specific virtue. As we do, we always acknowledge the origins of the teachings and the importance of FNMI knowledge and culture; we must remember that, while these teachings are transferable across cultures, we must not claim them as our own.
Teaching Resources/Supports: https://rabbitandbearpaws.com/teachings/
Culturally Responsive Pedagogy describes “teaching that recognizes all students learn differently and that these differences may be connected to background, language, family structure and social or cultural identity” (Capacity Building Series: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, pg. 2). Diversity is such an enriching component to learning. It is crucial that we, as educators, value and use students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, through culturally responsive pedagogy, to enhance learning experiences.
Global Competencies refer to a set of “knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values” that help individuals understand and engage with the world around them (OECD: Global Competency for a Global World, pg. 7). These competencies include:
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship
- Self-directed learning
Educators build upon these competencies in the classroom, through intentional learning activities, so that students are prepared to be effective and responsible citizens of a global society.
There are several connections between the use of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and students’ development of Global Competencies. Firstly, in order to be a respectful and effective global citizen, students need to have an understanding of the world around them. By integrating Culturally Responsive Pedagogy into our teaching practice and having students learn about different cultures, ideologies, and perspectives, students will become a more knowledgeable and empathetic citizen of the world.
However, we don’t just want our students to understand the world around them; we want them to be active members of a global community! Educators that are “engaged in the work of culturally responsive pedagogy are ‘committed to collective, not just merely individual empowerment’ such that the impact of this approach to teaching is directed towards making change for all members of society” (Capacity Building Series: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, pg. 7). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy can help teach students that their voice and actions can make a difference, therefore developing social responsibility, global citizenship, and communication skills. These, too, are important global competencies that all students should develop within our classrooms.
We are only able to solve problems that we are made aware of. Therefore, by intentionally learning about both local and global issues, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, students can develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are essential for addressing global issues, especially when they become the adults in society that drive this change. We can also build upon these Global Competencies through a culturally responsive lens; by examining and discussing the ways in which different cultures approach and understand these issues (i.e., what led communities to experience this issue, what are the varying viewpoints from different groups involved), students can develop a deeper understanding of the complexities involved in solving global issues.
This workshop will be focused on Building a Professional Learning Network (PLN) Using Twitter. Using Twitter as a platform to learn, communicate, and collaborate with other educators has been valuable in my own professional development, and therefore, I believe it would be beneficial to share this with other educators. Currently, there are only a few other teachers at my school that use Twitter, which seems like a missed opportunity, given how beneficial it has been in my own growth as an educator. This workshop would be best facilitated in-person, as it allows the attendees to engage in hands-on activities, group discussions, and provides a forum for immediate answers to questions.
- Introduction (5 minutes)
- Building a Professional Learning Network (15 minutes)
- Understanding Twitter (25 minutes)
- Break (5 minutes)
- Hands-On Learning (40 minutes)
- Break (5 minutes)
- Connections (10 minutes)
- Conclusion (5 minutes)
- Post-Workshop Survey (10 minutes)
The Post-Workshop Survey could be sent virtually, or even as a Twitter DM to the attendees to provide them experience with this aspect of Twitter.
There is so much that educators can learn from other educators: new pedagogies, engaging lesson plans, classroom management strategies, just to name a few. While there is much to learn from the teacher in the classroom next door to ours, there is also a wealth of knowledge that we can gain from interacting with educators in other schools, in other cities, or around the world! Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) allow us to make connections with other educators that help to support and enhance our own learning and professional growth. The best part is that it can be as simple as reading someone’s blog or following someone on Twitter!
I began the process of creating my PLN using Twitter as the platform when I first applied for my Bachelor of Education. I started following various teachers in my area and over time it grew to educators around the world. Throughout my B. Ed. and eventually my career, I continued to post resources, reflections, assignments, and my thoughts on education. Selfishly, it was a great way to bank my own ideas so that I could refer back them to later, whether it was to use again for future class or to reference in an interview. Twitter was also a stress-free platform to use, as it is easy to log into Twitter and scroll for 5 mins or less a day and receive a wealth of information (ideas for teaching, a new theory to ponder, etc.).
There are many positives to creating a Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). PLNs provide access to resources and ideas shared by a diverse group of educators. When I log onto Twitter, I can see various lesson ideas within a matter of seconds, without having to search for something specific. I’ve also been able to communicate and collaborate with various educators by replying to tweets or joining in on a Twitter chat. Participating in a PLN has also helped me to stay current in my teaching practice and philosophies. Interestingly enough, I also know that it has helped me to advance in my career. I once had a principal say to me at the beginning of an interview, “I follow you on Twitter, so I feel like I already know you and what type of teacher you are.”
There may be some downsides to participating in a PLNs. Participating in anything takes time, so while it may be easy to scroll through some tweets, some people may want to use their personal time for something other than education-related social media. PLNs can also create a space for you to negatively compare yourself to others. There are so many educators doing amazing things and posting them online, which may cause you to feel as though you are not good enough. It is important to remember that you should always be in a good head space before scrolling through any social media in order to view other’s work as inspiration, rather than comparison. As with any social media platform, Twitter can sometimes get negative… However, you create your own PLN and therefore have the ability to unfollow anyone that doesn’t meet your required level of positivity!
Regardless of what platform you choose to create your Professional Learning Network on, remember your “why” for your PLN: to learn from and engage with others, not to compare yourself or engage in negativity.
There are a multitude of ways that training can be delivered to education staff, both formally and informally. It is important to acknowledge that the education system is changing (e.g., new pedagogies and types of technology, while also adjusting to staffing concerns, etc.) and we must adapt to these changes in order to maintain innovative as lifelong learners. A creative approach to teacher training that I have read about and would be interested in trying is Pineapple Charts.
What is it?
Pineapple Charts provide an open invitation for other educators within your school setting to pop into your classroom and watch you facilitate a specific activity or lesson. The goal would be that other educators might learn something from watching and/or participating in your classroom that could be useful or integrated into their own classroom. Simply put, Pineapple Charts provide a space for “meaningful and affirming collaboration” for educators (Edutopia, Opening the Door to Professional Learning).
How does it work?
Let’s say you have a tried-and-true lesson that your students enjoy every time you use it. Or, you have designed a new lesson that has your heart and mind pumping with excitement to try. Or, you are going to use a teaching strategy or technology tool that you think other teachers might benefit from seeing in action. Really, any sort of lesson that you think other teacher’s might be interested in, you post that information on the school’s Pineapple Chart. A Pineapple Chart is a blank chart with each day of the week and each period of the school day that is posted in the staffroom (or anywhere teachers gather) or digitally (shared Google Doc) where teachers can fill in information about their lesson (TECA, Pineapple Charts: Learning from Your Peers).
For example, if I know that I am going to teach my students about coding on Spheros on Wednesday right after lunch, I will write that in the Pineapple Chart (e.g., Mr. Burton – Sphero Coding). If this is something that another teacher has been interested in learning more about or seeing in action, but hasn’t found a way of learning that works for them (e.g., online training), they can come attend my lesson at that time. Teachers can either use their planning time, or can rearrange their planning times with other colleagues in the building, to attend this valuable, yet informal professional development.
But, what’s with the pineapple?
Well, pineapples are a symbol of welcoming and hospitality, which fits well with the overall theme of the Pineapple Chart! This approach to teacher training is built on organic, staff-led collaborative learning. When a culture of open-doors and teamwork is fostered and embraced, the level of deep learning that can be achieved is unmatched.
How can this strategy be implemented successfully?
This strategy to teaching training only works if teachers are willing to open their classrooms up to their colleagues. That being said, there may be some things that have to be put in place in order for staff to buy-in. Adrian Cargal, an Instructional Coach and author at Edutopia, outlines 3 key components to successfully implement the Pineapple Chart:
(Edutopia, Opening the Door to Professional Learning).
- It’s a voluntary endeavor: Pushback will be inevitable if it’s a required task.
- The Pineapple Chart is accessible by all employees: A shared document via Google Slides or an equivalent is optimal.
- It’s a connected call to action that inspires others to join in on the fun: Highlight the positive things that you’ve observed in your classroom at every possible opportunity. This will encourage your colleagues to participate and will make the PD experience more collaborative.
Have you used Pineapple Charts in your school setting? What are some ways that staff buy-in could be fostered? What other uses could this strategy be used for? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!