#1138 Public School and Forest School Symbiosis

I wandered past the school’s library recently and noticed a young boy happily consuming dinosaur knowledge (and practicing his literacy skills.)

It was an idyllic picture of traditional learning…  except that he had snuck out of class to do so.

Public School and Forest School
Many know I have been teaching something most of my life and that I currently work as a teacher in a public school board and a Forest School. My passions belong to the development of youth – kinders to Grade 6 – as they develop their foundational elements (see Maslow’s foundational levels) that support academic and/or technical skills… and life.

Which is how I have found myself with a foot in both public school and Forest School.

Public School Love
I love the resources available within public schools including experts, funds, policies, and large quantities of people and students percolating to support as many youth as possible.

Forest School Love
I love the pedagogical ideas behind Forest School – specifically the Emergent Education Theory, or, less grandiosely, learner-led learning (LLL.)

Learner led learning allows students to follow their interests and puts the onus on the teacher to build balanced curriculum around the students’ curiosity.

public school

Learner led learning at Chelsea Forest School.

Bring the two ideas (LLL and Public School) together and you have magic.

Remember the dinosaur-reading boy in the school library?
He exhibited idyllic student behaviours – quiet concentration, independent, engaged learning. His behaviour was vastly different when he was expected to engage in a lesson in which he had little interest! In the library, he chose the learner led approach within a school board.

Managing LLL for the masses is no easy task, though. Answering to the individual desires and needs of millions of youth while addressing the data driven expectations of ministries of education and government benchmarks is no small feat.

But, it is possible.

A first step is recognizing that all people are different, learn at different paces and want to learn different things.

A friend’s son struggled at school. He has dyslexia. His school squeezed him into set avenues of learning and support which went poorly. All that interested him were cars – Volvos, specifically.

His mom planted the seeds for his literacy and math development through car manuals, car magazines, Volvo books. He learned traditional academic skills through his passion for cars. What does he do now? He’s a leading Master Volvo mechanic with a happy, fulfilling life. That’s learner led learning in action.

Forest School

Learner Led Learning at Chelsea Forest School – these students were mesmerized by what they found beside the trail. They were captivated (and learning)!

Within the last couple of years I worked regularly with a tough class in a public school board – they pushed my skills. Every lesson was challenging. I dreaded gym class because there were volatile students who could make the learning environment challenging for all.

One day, I came to gym with the prescribed lesson – protests started. I took a deep breath and turned the tables. “What do you want to do!?”

Students shared their ideas. Quickly, the gym transformed into a hub of four activities that students chose to join as they wished. I took a step back and watched. It didn’t follow the plans and I had to work backwards to see how it fit the prescribed curriculum… but all were engaged, smiling… and learning. It was one of the best learning environments I witnessed with the students. They had helped shape their learning environment.

The learners in these scenarios led their own learning with positive results. Good news for all.

Forward steps!
Ottawa Forest and Nature school launched a program to bring Forest School to the Ottawa Carleton District School Board. Select elementary classrooms were selected to go to Forest School one day a week for six weeks.

The effect? Positive. I asked Karen, a Kindergarten teacher whose class were involved in the Forest School program. One of the benefits she noticed was increased creativity in her classroom.

Chelsea Forest School offers a School Day Program where students spend one day per week at Forest School to complement their traditional school. One observation – students who struggle at traditional school often blossom in the hands-on, learner led environment. Why? They learn in an active, kinesthetic way with a different mindset – students are encouraged to follow their passions.

I’d like to see the collaboration continue between the ideas of Forest School and public schools. The tide is slowly turning as people see the benefits, strengths and collaborative potential of public schools and alternative pedagogical principles like Forest School’s learner led learning.

#1137 Teaching Beyond Surface Behaviours

I had never seen a more out of control environment – total disregard for any authority – it was ‘F— you’ on everything – if a student came into class late and was asked ‘Why are you late?’ it was ‘F— you…’ ”
Jim Sporleder; Past-Principal at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington; from CBC Ideas show: “All in the Family, Part 2.”

I recently got swallowed up by a CBC ‘Ideas’ discussion, above, challenging the norms of behaviour management in a classroom.

trauma induced behaviour challenges

Behaviour beyond the surface.

The program, CBC’s All in the Family (Part 2) discussed the basis and context of poorly chosen behaviour. In the documentary, the teachers tried something different… they did not impose immediate consequences but instead offered support (and an opportunity) for the young person to release the underlying stresses that caused the behaviours. Results were remarkable.

Low on Options – Bad Choices
In my own teaching and observations, I have seen students making bad choices. Often, students are immediately reprimanded and disciplined based on their surface behaviours. Early on, I was sure there was more going on than what presented itself.

In my first year supply teaching, I taught a Grade 6 class. After recess I learned one of the students had hurled an abandoned bag of dog feces across the playground. Gross. Inappropriate. Alarming.

After students cleaned up and the class settled I quietly took the pooh-throwing boy aside. I gently asked “What happened?” Initially he clammed up. With some quiet support he realized I was not, as expected, about to drop the hammer on him. He talked. I listened. He shared months (years) of angst, scape-goated-ness and fallout from not being listened to. Eventually, he knew what he needed to do and we talked about options and better coping skills.

His excrement launch was more a cry for help than a premeditated act of defiance. He knew what he had done was wrong. But in the heat of the recess moment he was low on options and high on stress.

I quickly learned from experiences like this that calm and supportive actions had a far greater positive impact than traditional discipline.

Trauma and Behaviour
In the CBC ‘Ideas’ program Teri Barila discusses her work with her Children’s Resilience Initiative:
From humble, early studies she found that adverse childhood experiences caused undesirable behaviours in schools. The behaviours came from stresses outside school and were often a result of poor coping skills rather than overt choices.

As my experiences grew I had more successes with challenged students in elementary schools. One winter, a student refused to come in, lying face down in the snow. The principal was called. No one could make him budge… I was asked to wait for the boy to come in… it was cold outside. After more than 20 minutes he showed no signs of coming in. I walked out to the boy and sat down quietly a few feet from him. After much silence, I offered, “It’s hard, isn’t it?

For the first time he looked up. After realizing he was not in trouble (again) he started slowly sharing perceived injustices from classmates and others. I listened and offered support. Slowly, I asked what he thought we should do. We went back to school. I connected with his teacher and the principal. I learned about his background. He had a tough home life, often made poor choices and was in trouble regularly. Over the next few months I was able to connect with the boy and help, slowly.

Executive Function
I was recognizing what John Medina, developmental molecular biologist, describes as an executive function becoming deregulated by long-term trauma: “When you are traumatized over a period of time you begin to understand that the world is out to get you, even though that may not be true… If you hit a dog enough, eventually they will growl at you… Traumatized children have a very fragmented executive function.” (quoted from CBC Ideas show, above.) This means students experiencing significant trauma behave differently – they do not have the coping skills to deal with stresses like many people do.

Research suggests a traumatized child will react poorly to confrontation or traditional attempts at discipline in the class.

High School Turn-Around
Jim Sporleder, Past Principal at Lincoln High in Washington State  suggests a new approach to inappropriate behaviours has a much better outcome. He turned around a tough school through listening and supporting rather than detentions, suspensions and expulsions.

In the CBC piece, Mr. Sporleder states part of the problem is teachers are pressured to meet test scores at the expense of base needs: “… test scores mean everything. ‘I don’t have time for this kid. I’ve got to get test scores up.’ … and yet when we show that we meet their social and emotional needs then we can get the learning… yet our system jumps to the top of the (Maslow) pyramid and leaves the social and emotional needs out.” (quoted from CBC Ideas show, above.)

He recognizes that, when Maslow’s basic needs are not met, students cannot pay attention to the higher needs of traditional school.

The solution?
I’d like to see more flexibility to allow teachers to specialize the learning to each individual. If student’s basic needs are met first, they will have a greater ability to absorb the learning.

While teaching my own elementary class I met a student was hiding his (lack of) literacy skills. He had come from a hard few years at home. When I met him he was falling through the cracks and didn’t want to come to school.

By focusing on his basic needs – emotional safety, belonging and self-esteem through a fun classroom environment – I made sure he enjoyed class and consequently ensured the school’s literacy programs would (eventually) reach him.

By the end of the year I received a letter from home: “Thank you for helping ‘Bobby’ achieve a great year this year. He is more interested and engaged than I have ever seen him…”

My learning continues…
Recently, I spent time observing, learning and teaching at an Ottawa school whose enrolment quickly increased by approximately 50% as it welcomed students from Syria. I was sometimes able to watch teachers whose support and nurturing made a difference to their new students. Some of the students barely spoke English. I can only imagine what the Syrians may have experienced. But what I did see were the smiles on their faces as they developed trust and the skills needed to learn.

My interest in teaching elementary school is to develop strong, confident, happy people.. For me, that includes teaching traditional subjects, but more importantly, it includes developing confidence, empathy, independence, and a desire to succeed at something.

Without support dealing with life challenges, I am afraid young people may take ‘pooh throwing’ to much greater acts of violence.
Listen, support, learn…

#1131 Looks Like Learning

As I look back on the last 25 years I smile at some of my adventures: swimming with dolphins in the Pacific, planting a quarter million trees, teaching via skis, camera, classroom and the forest, and GoPro style commercial art years before GoPro existed…

With the adventures came many bumps in the road – both small pot holes and bigger sinkholes that took more extensive extrication.

But everywhere I’ve been (and continue to go) keeps bringing me to similar places – (reasonable) risk taking, progressive education and creativity.

Learning limitations

What Learning Looks Like – Risky Play

Some ideas and people that have always made me smile:

Alfie Kohn – “Kohn’s criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated, and he has been described in Time magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.”” (sited from Kohn’s site.)

Ken Robinson – Supporter of arts and progressive educational ideas. He has three relevant Ted Talks.

Learner Led Learning

What Learning Looks Like – Child Led Learning

Chelsea Forest SchoolChild Led Learning for National Capital area children.

Outward Bound – Exploring potential.

Learning takes many forms for many people – an idea that is often overlooked. I keep learning and realizing the potential in and beyond traditional classrooms. And so I’ll keep adventuring…

Multiple intelligences

What Learning Looks Like – Kinaesthetic Learning: learning by doing.

#1120 A winding Path with Grit

It is always nice to look back and reflect on the path traveled.

I’m 47. I’ve worked for about 20 years as a photographer / arts educator. Before that I worked as an outdoor educator with aspirations to become an elementary teacher. I couldn’t get into Teacher’s College in the 90s. But I’ve come back full circle to where I wanted to be.

After disappointments I gave up on traditional teaching and pursued commercial art through stock photography – it was lovely work – one of the most traditionally creative times of my life. I produced commercially viable photographs that were marketed through stock agents. My best sale for one grand use of a photo was ~$32,000 split three ways between two agencies and myself. Alas, the industry crashed (digital cameras and websites caused flooding of the stock photo market.) Time to move on!

Assignment Photography

Stock Photography

Someone suggested I teach photography. I built a broad base of photo workshops – live and online that culminated in opening our own studio / classroom on Preston St, below. Alas, workshop sales dropped off significantly. Why? Who knows, but I think it was tech, again – YouTube offered free learning and smartphones reduced people’s desire for traditional photography. Sigh. I was left scrambling again to re-invent myself.

Photo classes in Ottawa

Photo Workshops at our studio.

A couple of years ago I was very low and a friend inadvertently replanted a seed stored in a drawer of my memory. Teacher’s College… I was accepted, thrived and succeeded. I worked hard and was offered a contract teaching a Grade 4 class until Christmas. It has been extended until June, 2016. I love it.

My photo business has been reborn. Although the new business has shrunk enormously, I am only doing work I love – teaching a few clients and working on two innovative and exciting (to me) art projects.

Cyanotype large format photography

Sunstreaks – tracking the sun’s path across the sky.

It’s been a long road… with many bumps and bruises. But it’s been exciting and I am grateful for where my winding path has taken me.

One of my favourite TED talks rings true as I look back… Angela Lee Duckworth talks about GRIT:

It’s worth a view.
Keep pursuing your passions.

#1105 Unit & Lesson Plan Assignment

I’ve been in Teacher’s College and in our Science Class we are to develop three lesson plans to cover a science topic. I used three lessons I performed in a Grade One class in the fall on “Structures and Mechanisms – Materials, Objects and Everyday Structures.”

I wanted some traditional fun (fun = learning!) but also wanted to make sure all members of the class got involved. I started with a classic hook – “The Three Little Pigs” and a hands-on exploration into the building materials the pigs may have used.

Lesson Plan

Building Materials

But from traditional building blocks I took a turn to include other students who may NOT be interested in bricks and sticks.

I used the Cinderella story to introduce the idea of materials used in fashion and everyday dress. I often add a little role-playing drama. When I showed up to part of the lesson wearing beach attire (shorts and t-shirt) just before -18C recess, the students eagerly told me why I had chosen the wrong materials (clothing) to go outside on the cold day. We had some successful learning!

See the 5-E Science Model
See the Unit Plan
See the Lesson Plans

#1104 Alternative Approaches to Education

I’m in my last semester of the Bachelor of Education program at Ottawa U. It feels like the home stretch!

I’m in the intense On-SIte program that condenses six months of lecture material into two and a half months to allow for an expanded six months of practicum placement.

For me, the hands-on learning directly in the classroom offers me the best educational learning experience. I am a hands-on learner and never excelled at traditional sit-in-the-classroom schooling. Most traditional schools cater to verbal-linguistic learners (read: book-learner).

Risk Management

Play Based Learning & Managing Risk – Much can be learned in alternative classrooms. Above was  my own weekend classroom of fun with my friends.

I am curious about the alternative and holistic approaches to education and how related practices can be incorporated into traditional classes. My elective this year explores the world of holistic and alternative education practices.

In my current placement I am lucky enough to witness a teacher who brings many elements of holistic practices into his classroom. In my last placement I was fortunate to witness a teacher who incorporated much play-based learning (although she disliked the term “play-based learning” because of the erroneous connotation that “play” and “learn” are very different things.)

Play based learning - incorporating drama to teach math. Captain Barnacle uses his treasure chest to teach about counting coins.

Play based learning – incorporating drama to teach math. Captain Barnacle uses his treasure chest to teach about counting coins.

I’m learning lots and love some of the readings – Ron Miller and Alfie Kohn resonate with me!

Stay tuned.

#1103 Education Exploration

In my last post I came clean with what I’ve been doing with my time – I’m taking eight months off to study education at the primary / jumnior level (Kindergarten to Grade 6).m I love it.

In the months to come, I’ll be posting some posts about my exploration into education as well as some photo links.

Education

Teaching in 2012 – © M Bachand

This week I read an article by well-known New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell on “Most Likely to Succeed” in the field of education. His writing is thought provoking (for me anyway.)

In “Most Likely to Succeed” he addresses attributes of a good, new teacher… which often counter the traditional selection process. He uses an NFL analogy to make his point. Worth a read if education or teaching interests you!

#1100 Student Success! France Rivet’s New Book

It always makes me smile when past students hit big milestones!

France Rivet completed our ProProgram and has just published her second book – this one chronicling the unfortunate treatment of eight Inuit who were paraded through Europe as novelties in a zoo. It didn’t end well for Abraham Ulrikab and his friends.

Four years of research has produced:
“In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab: The events of 1880-1881”

Read more and order France’s book!
Félicitations, France!

France Rivet

France Rivet

#1095 New Adventures

Thanks to all who came to our gear sale. It was a great success!

According to our newsletter I am on a sabbatical for 9 months! I am still here and will be back offering some services and workshops after April, 2015.

My posts here will be less frequent during this time but keep checking back for some fun!

Time off coming up!

#1093 Exposed! Photo Newsletter – New Adventures

Exposed! Photo Newsletter – New Adventures

In 2006, my web-savvy girlfriend suggested “Write a free photo newsletter with tips and upcoming events.
I thought she was crazy! It sounded like extra work to me.

Well, I did it (and then married my girlfriend.) I’ve sent Exposed! every month with photo tips, ideas and workshop announcements for almost a decade.

• I’ve promoted imagination, creativity and exploration of new ideas.
• I’ve challenged you to try new things at the risk of failing (on the way to new successes.)
• I’ve urged you to take time off to keep your creative juices flowing.


I’m about to take a big dose of my own advice…

I’m taking a 9 month sabbatical from my business to build on my love of teaching – I’ll be pursuing my Bachelor of Education degree.

Read the newsletter to get all the details.