Guest Post: 5 Simple Tools to Enhance Wellbeing in the Classroom

Our guest post today is from Lisa Baylis, a Positive Educator and Counsellor in the Greater Victoria School District. She offers workshops that bring tools and strategies to educators in order to help them create wellness habits for themselves and their classrooms. Lisa also is a member on the BCalm Education Team, which offers 8-week mindfulness stress-based management workshops for educators. For more information on workshops, contact her at info@lisabaylis.com and follow along the journey in the Facebook group: Victoria Educators for Positive Education.

Congratulations!  You have made it through your first couple of weeks back to school.  By now you know who your students are, you can recognize them in the halls, and you are (probably) still bursting with summer energy.  Way to go!

Keeping that energy up throughout the year can be challenging, especially with all the demands on teachers these days.  If you’re like me, the expectations of what my job is and what I really want to accomplish aren’t always in line.  Because of all the demands in my job, I work hard at training my brain to scan the world for the positive. I want to create a culture of positive education.  By teaching skills that promote positive emotion, relationships, character strengths and resiliency, we achieve that positive culture, which also results in learning and academic success. To be able to create the positive education platform in schools, we need teachers who believe in this and live it daily.

Research now shows that when teachers are well, happy and energetic it reflects positively on students, creating healthy and happy culture in schools. Shawn Achor, in his book The Happiness Advantage, shows that positivity enhances creativity and productivity. Positive education is emerging in literature these days showing teachers they need to go beyond teaching academics towards equipping students with the knowledge and life skills to have flourishing lives.

Creating positive culture takes work and self-awareness. Happiness fuels success:  when our brains are set to positive outcomes, we are more successful in nearly every domain in our life.  Just by training our brains to look for greater levels of positivity and optimism we can change the way our students learn. With this in mind, here are five tools that every teacher can try daily to enhance their own wellbeing and help their students.

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  • Slow down.  We live in a busy world where there is not enough time to get everything accomplished.  We are so busy planning for the next ________ (lesson, meeting, parent interview) we forget about simply being present with our students.  Stop, take a breath, and if you’re ready take this mindful breath with your students. Slowing down allows everyone to catch up to the moment.  There are mindfulness training workshops for teachers — seek them out to create your own practice first, your classroom will follow.
  • Find a moment for Gratitude.  I begin my day with an email or text that thanks a colleague or friend for the work and help they offer in my daily life.  By starting the day with a moment of gratitude, I often notice (and am looking) for the positive around me all the time.  Can you make this a habit with your students?  What would it be like to begin each day thanking one of them for something unique and positive that you can be truly grateful for?  How would they feel?
  • Smile. Our brains are wired to reflect the people around us.  Have you ever walked into a meeting feeling great and left because one person in the room sucked the positive energy right out of you?  Change this by smiling, by looking for the positive and by reframing the challenges.  A genuine smile can be a powerful tool.  Some students are starting the day with difficult mornings.  Walking into your classroom and seeing a calm and real smile may be just enough to keep them forging through another day.  The little things do make a big difference.
  • Be Kind.  Being kind to others actually makes us feel good.  An altruistic act actually lights up the same pleasure centers in the brain as really good food and sex.  Think about how good we would all feel if we were just kind to each other.  American writer Henry James once said, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind and the third is to be kind.”  There is a positive feedback loop between kindness and happiness.  I’ve come to recognize this correlation between kindness and happiness in my own life.  The more I give, the happier I feel.  The happier you (and your students) feel the more creative, focused, productive and resilient they are in their daily world.  Be kind.
  • Look after yourself.  Do you whatever refuels you.  Go for a run.  Have a glass of wine with a nice meal.  Take a yoga class.  Enjoy a walk with friends.  Laugh with your kids.  Whatever makes you happy, make sure you make time for it and be fully present during the whole time. Create positive experiences for yourself and let these experiences come into your classroom for your students to see.  Watch the ripple of your happiness filter into their lives as well.

Just as stress and anxiety are contagious, so to is happiness.  You can consciously spread happiness to your colleagues, students, friends and family.  If you are looking for more information on positive education (as well as tools and strategies), the next Habits of Happiness for Educators workshop starts on October 8th.  Using the current research, this workshop delves deeper into enhancing your own happiness and wellbeing to create a ripple of positivity into the world around you.

Teach it Tuesday: Federal Election

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Here in Canada we have our federal election coming up on Monday, October 19th. Along with that we have the “Student Vote” that will take place in schools. Student Vote is a great way to get students involved in the election process and they also have some great teacher resources to help students connect and understand about the Federal Elections. The Student Vote website is a great place to start for more ideas!

Activity and Project Ideas for Teaching About the Election:

  • Inquiry into deep think questions (A great first research project of the year!)
  • Newspaper article review and collection (create a bulletin board of all the articles students bring in)
  • Inquiry/Discussion Circles on some of the top issues in the election
  • Step Up to the Line/Cross the Line… (Karley mentioned this one in her last post – just change to election ideas)
  • Would you rather… (I usually do this one as either a stand up/sit down or a cross the room activity to add some movement)
  • Advertising for Parties (Look at the different forms of advertising, attack ads, etc.)
  • Create your own class debates and have teams research party platforms

What’s Our Role?

I have written a post about this before (read it here), but I think it is VERY important that we understand the role we want to take before walking into the “political zone” with our students. Currently I’m teaching about the election in a grade 7 class – My favourite! I think in middle school kids are really starting to form their own opinions outside of what their parents and families think. But NO! That does not mean it’s time to push our own agenda on students! The classroom is a place for exploration and gaining perspective. Just last week I had a student say to me “Well you’re a teacher so you probably just vote NDP right?” and this opened up a great discussion about thinking for ourselves and not just following along with how the people around you think. I think the best way to get kids engaged in politics is to talk about the different issues that come up. Kids will get really passionate when something seems relevant to them – whether it’s environment, human rights, global issues, business/money, or whatever! To be honest, at the end of the day I would much prefer students not really have a specific party that they are aligned with but to be more aware of how they feel about different issues. I think it is more important to really know where we stand on issues than to follow a voting patter because “My family is Conservative” or “My profession votes NDP”

How do you talk about politics with students?

Are you doing Student Vote at your school?

Meaghan

Teach it Tuesday: Drama, Drama, Drama

Discovery: It is really challenging to write Teach it Tuesday posts when one is not teaching.  That said, it’s only the second week of school in our corner and I feel like a few drama games might be of benefit this week!  So here you go, folks – drama, drama, drama.

Props: I have tried and failed multiple times to find a hilarious and school appropriate YouTube clip of Whose Line is it Anyway’s props game.  I love this game – the skits and stills the comedians come up with is genius, alas, definitely not school appropriate.  A few years ago I created my own bag of props to use and let me tell you, some of the things my students come up with is even better than Whose Line.  When we play this game I lay down a few simple boundaries: keep it classy and respectful, no noises to assist the prop and share with everyone!  Allow students a prop of their choice, or not.  If your students feel comfortable performing solo in front of the class, let them!  If they feel more comfortable being in small groups, do that (and offer a few props per group).  Allow a few minutes for the student(s) to come up with their prop’s use, and off you go.  This game gets noisy and funny very fast, which makes it even better.

Step Up to the Line: This game is interesting because it requires absolutely no materials or props, unless you wish to create an actual line with tape on the floor.  This game can be played across all curricular subjects and it can be light hearted or quite serious.  In the past I’ve played a silly and serious version with students; however, while you and your students are still getting to know one another, I would recommend keeping this game on the lighter side.  You can watch a clip of a serious version from the Freedom Writers movie below (it always brings me to tears, but accurately displays the power behind connection among people).  You are free to create your own list of questions/phrases to ask you students, but some examples for a light hearted version might include:

Step up to the line if…

-you have siblings

-you have a pet

-you’ve traveled outside of the province/country

-you can cook

Act it Out: This one is not so much a game as it is a gentle reminder to get your students out of their desks to enhance and differentiate their learning.  If you are crafty about this, you can likely act out any piece of a curricular topic.  The last time I taught grade 8 science I brought in an acting piece to our digestion unit.  I managed to wrangle a vacuum “hose hugger” (which happened to be the exact length of an adult’s small and large intestine combined – convenient!) and a small ball.  My students and I stretched out in the hall and squeezed the ball along the inside of the hose hugger until it popped out at the opposite end (so much inappropriate fun, even for grade 8s…shall I say especially for grade 8s?!) This little acting session brought to life the real length of a small and large intestine and gave a slight indication at how far our food has to go in order to properly digest.  Be creative!

It takes team work to digest a floor hockey ball through a 33ft long vacuum hose hugger.

It takes team work to digest a floor hockey ball through a 33ft long vacuum hose hugger.

Happy playing!

Karley

Finding Connections

One of my favourite things about teaching is the connection I get to make with people.  I love connecting with my students and other staff in the building and I especially love doing so when we have something in common.  The first few weeks of school are all about building connections and finding those common threads among us, but because I am still on maternity leave for two more months, I am missing the back to school excitement this year.

This school year is a bit odd for me, not only because of the late start I’ll be having, but also because I’m working in two different grades at two different schools (by choice). Thankfully, this means I have two fantastic teaching partners (and Meaghan, who is covering for me in one class until I come back!) who have allowed me to come into our respective classrooms to meet our students.  Today I was able to meet my grade 8s.  My friend, and grade 8 teaching partner, Leah, has started our year with a BANG; it was great to get into the classroom today to see some faces and hear some voices.

A few days ago I realized that by the time I get back to work I will have been off for about 17 months (thank you, teacher strike and unexpected pregnancy issues).  This means I haven’t really taught in 17 months.  I almost cried when I realized this while thinking, “Do I even know what I’m doing anymore!?”  I’ll admit, going into my classroom today was kind of scary.  The drive to school had me asking all kinds of questions, like: What do I do?  What do I say?  Am I wearing the right clothes?  Do I look like a cool teacher?  WILL THEY LIKE ME!?  Clearly, I have confidence issues.  But I think we all do at the start of the school year, teachers and students alike.  This is one common connection!

Our first day of school!

Our first day of school!

The piece I’m leaving out here is that I brought Charlee with me and, just like a puppy, she had the room charmed in two seconds flat.  What I didn’t really anticipate was how bringing Charlee in would establish immediate connections with some of my grade 8 students.  Within fifteen minutes we were connected through our similarities: babies, nieces, nephews, siblings, NICU stays, gymnastics, babysitting, art…all these topics came up in my short classroom visit, and nearly every student had something to say, a story to tell, or simply wanted to touch Charlee’s hand (she happily obliged).

While this was all going on Leah tried to continue on with the lesson I had ambushed – a discussion about self-regulation.  She mentioned how holding a baby close to one’s own body could help some people self-regulate, or calm down.  As I left our grade 8 classroom, with Charlee strapped in the carrier facing heart to heart, I thought, “Well, Charlee girl, you’ve done it again, you little, wise teacher”.  Calm.  Connected.  Content.

It’s going to be a great year.

How have you connected with your new students this week?  Let us know in the comments!

Karley

Teach it Tuesday: Math Games

There are so many different ways that we learn but I love learning through play and I think it’s so important for our students of any age. Walk into any kindergarten class and you will see the importance of play in action but as you go up in the grades it seems to die off quickly. Now I realize there is a lot of curriculum to cover and we can’t teach everything through games but I really believe that games are a great source of student’s independent practice – especially in math!

cards-vs-dice1When I was a kid my family used to play games from this book: Family Math. And even though it’s old, it is still one of my favourites! If you have this book or can get a hold of it check out the Calculator Paths game boards and the Hot Air Balloon game.

Here are some of my other favourite math games:

Multiplication War

Similar to the card game war but you have to multiply the numbers together to win the cards. You can change up the rules depending on the age of the students and assign different values to the face cards.

Divisibility Memory

This is set up like a regular game of memory with the cards flipped over. When you flip two cards you multiply them together and if they are divisible by two (or any other number you choose for the round) then itA’s a match.

Pig

I’ve probably talked about this one on here before but it is just so good for practicing mental math and having fun. You need two dice and all you do is roll and keep track of your total in your head. You can roll as many times as you want on your turn but  if you roll a 1 you lose your turn and get a zero for the round. Double 1’s (or snake eyes) knock your entire game score down to zero. Whenever you choose to end your round you write down your score and add it to previous rounds. The first person to 100 wins.

Teachers Pay Teachers Games

Frosty Relay (or there is a Rockstar version for other seasons) – This is a great review game for the full class and lots of fun – Plus you get some pretty ridiculous artwork at the end to hang up – ha!

All Things Algebra – This whole store is full of awesome games and activities for math!

Holiday Logic Puzzles – I love all sorts of logic puzzles but these Holiday ones are perfect for sneaking math fun into the crazy December rush.

Meaghan

Resource Page

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Sharing is the most important thing we will do as teachers… teaching cannot and should not happen in isolation. It’s that time of year where everyone is planning away for the school year and resource sharing is a big part of the daily interactions between teachers. So today we’ve decided to compile a list of our favourite resources, both from our blog and other sites.

Advisory

Advisory Activities – A variety of different activities and routines to start off the day.

Thought Block – Different thought provoking discussions and activities.

Classroom Rules – A great conversation to discuss class rules with students.

Video: An Open Letter to Students Returning to School – A video from John Green about why school is important

Erasing Meanness – One teacher’s lesson on kindness for her students.

Language Arts

Creative Writing Lesson – Showing the progression of a creative writing unit.

Read Aloud – Making read aloud opportunities meaningful for students.

Quote and Note – Strategies for meaningful quote and note activities in novel studies.

Poems for Two Voices – One of our most popular Teach it Tuesday posts.

Genius Hour – How to start and incorporate into your class, plus some resources that will help!

Reader Response Activity – A great tool for collaborative student responses.

Math

Teaching Math – A blog post of ideas for teaching math.

Drawing Circles – An interactive group problem solving lesson for students.

Educating Now – A review of a great resource for math teachers.

Interactive Math Journals – This is the best resource if you are going to do Interactive Math Journals for math.

Math Journals Blog Post – Another great resource for IMJs.

Estimation 180 – A great resource to help teach estimation in the classroom.

Social Studies

Research Projects – A Teach it Tuesday on starting research projects in class.

Mummified Potatoes – A great resource for a fun activity.

Inquiry Circles – A social studies resource for inquiry in the curriculum.

Law Connection – A resource for bringing law issues into the classroom.

Science

Creative Note Taking – A Teach it Tuesday with a few different ideas for note taking.

Science and Photography – A project based learning idea.

Body Systems – An exercise based lab for learning about the human body.

The Great Plastic Round Up – A book review for an environmental book by a local group.

The Science-Penguin – A great Teachers Pay Teachers store for intermediate teachers.

French

French Centres – Different centres and how to incorporate them into your classroom.

French-English Dictionaries – A great way to start the year and get your students using dictionaries in class.

Tellagami – Utilizing this app in the French classroom.

French Vocabulary – Ways to make learning new vocabulary more fun and engaging in the classroom.

Teaching FSL – This is a great blog full of ideas and resources for the French classroom.

Physical Education

Go To Lesson – A progressive ball game lesson.

PE Lessons – Teach it Tuesday post: basketball, soccer, volleyball, and kickball.

PE Central – Database of PE activities and lessons

What resources would you add to our list?

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Teach it Tuesday: Community Building Links

Happy Tuesday!

Today’s Teach it Tuesday is a compilation of some of our most fun and inspired community building ideas we’ve used in our various classrooms throughout the last three years.  We know the first few weeks back to school are energy filled, pleasantly chaotic and downright exhausting for everyone!  We hope this list of our favourites can ease some of the anxiety you, and your students, might be experiencing this Back to School season.

Communication Calendars – A way to initiate conversation with each individual student, every day of the week.

Feel Good Friday – Begin and end your Fridays with a message of kindness.

Quick Drama Games – Play with your students…they will love it.

Circle Time – You can use this activity for every grade/class/composition of students.

Thought Block – Tap in to some of your students’ genius they bring to the room.

Dreams and Ambitions – What do you students dream about doing, being, becoming?

What’s on the Walls? – Maybe let your new students help you decide this year!

We are heavy on the community building in our classrooms and welcome other ideas you might have (tested or untested!)  Please share with us if you’d like!

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