A Visit To Georges Vanier Elementary

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the day at Georges Vanier Elementary School in Surrey. It was a Professional Development Day for me, but a regular school day at their school, so I hoped to spend the day learning right along with the students and teachers, being inspired along the way. It was a wonderful day and not at all what I was expecting, but it’s in the unexpected that I am challenged and stretched.

To be honest, I thought most of my day would be spent with my friend, Jodi Pulvers. She and I both teach kindergarten, we are fellow #kinderchat members and she had come to visit my class a few months ago. It seemed logical, right? But that’s not exactly how things turned out…

I did spend between recess and lunch and after school in Jodi’s classroom. We talked a lot about what she does and why, and she shared some assessment tools that the Surrey School District uses. I had the pleasure of working with her students at a literacy center and got to talk with them each one on one. There were many questions, many stories and many, many smiles. You know, no matter what Kindergarten class I have been in, there is one constant…beautiful, amazing little faces that need our love, care and attention. They may come from different backgrounds, have different personalities and quirks, but as teachers, it is our job and our privilege to be a positive influence and guiding force in these little ones’ lives. We truly have the best and sometimes most challenging job in the world!

Some pictures from Jodi’s class:

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The rest of my day was spent in unfamiliar territory…grade 6 and 7. I knew I wanted to spend some time with Gallit Zvi and Hugh McDonald in their open classroom. I had never experienced their style of classroom before, and I knew I would see many new, exciting things. They are amazing teachers who have developed #geniushour time for their students and I needed to see what it was all about. Unfortunately I didn’t see Genius Hour in action, but it was evident that inquiry and critical thinking are part of the fabric of their classroom.

The Genius Hour whiteboards in Gallit’s classroom:

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The first part of my day was spent observing a discussion about the novel The Giver by Lois Lowry. The students were thoughtful, contemplative and introspective in their observations. The respect that Gallit showed her students was reciprocated and very evident. The connections they made between their novel and other works of fiction (Divergent, Hunger Games, and The City of Ember) and with their own lives showed deep thinking skills. The discussion then branched into comparing utopian and dystopian society, comparing our current world to the fictional community in The Giver, and to the subject of speech problems and how society treats those with speech issues. I thoroughly enjoyed being an observer. It was great to see a student conversation go to deeper and more meaningful concepts than those which my own students are capable of discussing.

One student quote that resonates with me from the discussion is

Adults are wanting to give us the life they DIDN’T have, but they are forgetting to give us the life they DID have.

The end of the discussion brought about a fun time warp comment. A student was talking about cyber bullying and how many years ago there was no Internet, so cyber bullying couldn’t have happened. This student insisted there must have been bullying of some sort (I’m thinking that she’ll talk about physical bullying) but then she said,

People probably put messages on pigeons and sent them that way!

Who knew there was such a thing as carrier pigeon bullying? It’s a valid connection made by a student who is very aware of a current societal issue. Bravo for that thinking…but I don’t think I’ve heard of carrier pigeon bullying before.

My afternoon was a bit of a shock to my system. I knew I wanted to be challenged, but what I didn’t know was just how far outside of my comfort zone I would find myself. Antonio Vendramin, the principal at Georges Vanier, had started a project with the grade 6 and 7 students called WikiSeat. Basically each student gets a metal bracket called a “catalyst” and they are asked to create something with it. What I wasn’t expecting was having 120 kids in one space. You see, grade 6 and 7 isn’t my thing. In fact, kids that age kind of scare me. My brother is a grade 7 teacher and I always joke with him that it takes a special kind of crazy to teach that grade. Well, I got my initiation yesterday! LOL!

The afternoon started off well. Antonio was reviewing the different types of screws with the students and showing them how to use a battery drill. I thought Antonio was brilliant…deliberate, and purposeful. His silent messages to the students (written on an ipad projected with a document camera) really focused their attention. I need to try this method of giving directions with my students now that they are reading!

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What Antonio wasn’t anticipating was a Kindergarten class blowing bubbles into the window of a classroom where 120 grade 6 and 7 students were trying to focus. An innocent act of fun made it really difficult to get the students’ attention back on what they were learning. It’s hard enough to hold the attention of one class of students, let alone 120! I thought Antonio brought the group back together in a kind, firm, authoritative manner. He demanded and deserved the respect of the students.

Once the students got to work, it was interesting to see everyone get down to business at varying stages of the project. Some came prepared with materials, some scrambled to find suitable bits to make their prototype because they hadn’t brought anything with which to build. Some measured. Some built and rebuilt. One student was absent, so she FaceTimed with her partner so they could continue working together. How brilliant is that?!?

It was fantastic to see the student so engaged in a project that was stretching their thinking. Mistakes were made, which made way for new attempts. Some were successful, some not so much, but all were learning.

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Thank you, Antonio, Jodi, Gallit and Hugh for allowing me to be a part of your day. It is inspiring to see the awesome things that you are doing with your students. They are very lucky to have you leading their education.

P.S. A great opportunity also presented itself as I was able to present Jodi, Antonio, Gallit and Hugh with #TeamLiam wristbands. These help us show our support for our friend, Meg Unger’s son, Liam, who is battling cancer. We’re all in for #TeamLiam!

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