A slow and steady start (but finally starting!)

This past December, I had a check-in meeting with one of my mentors to help guide my HMW question.

As we chatted, we kept circling back to some of the questions listed below:

  • How are mental health, executive functioning, and emotional resiliency integrated in our classrooms?
  • What does mentally/emotionally healthy learning look like?
  • How can we keep students at their best?
  • How can we teach students how to emotionally manage their learning?
  • How can we break the cycle of “can’t plan” –> “do poorly” –> “stressed”
    (rinse, repeat)

As a result, I opted to shift my HMW  to be:
HMW teach curriculum expectations through a lens of wellness?

Exploring wellness, cognitive load, and how we present complex curriculum is something I think I’ve only begun to scratch the surface on, and I’m looking forward to seeing where my research takes me.

Ideally,  my outcomes would include a list of tangible strategies teachers can utilize to help foster well being and a positive learning space for all students, meeting students’ needs wherever they may find themselves on the mental health spectrum. These strategies could be implemented while teachers are developing curriculum design and course planning, as well as help teachers respond to students’ needs with flexibility throughout the year.

As a preliminary step to my research, I’ve asked students to provide me with optional, anonymous feedback using a “start/stop/continue” continue model. I’ve also begun to read a bit more about wellness and cognitive load to help inform my next steps.

Hopefully, their responses will help refine my future experiments.


Caution: U-Turn Ahead

I left today’s second F2F session with a specific question:

      • How might we develop an inquiry-based unit which allows students to co-create academically rigorous success criteria, while leveraging observation/conversation assessments to track progress, mediate misconceptions, increase resiliency, and support students’ mental health in an unstructured environment?

Was the process to drive me to this question lively? Invigorating? Engaging? Absolutely.

Then why did I feel like I had missed the mark when I was heading home? I had a question that was cohesive, practical, and measurable, which aligned my school’s academic foci with my personal interests – something I didn’t feel I could fully achieve when I began my day.

Yet, when looking down at the last tab I had open on my phone, I saw my student’s anonymous survey feedback. And in that moment, I felt like I lost the user somewhere in my process today.

My students have resoundingly said that they need support managing expectations, and find missing school/class time overwhelming and challenging. They have told me that their mental health and wellness is suffering. They want me to know that teenagers feel stressed, stretched, and exhausted.

This left me with a nagging question – maybe I should be revising the original question I began to develop along with @kanderson2 and @lsmith‘s help:

      • How might we best support our students when they are absent from school, particularly during inquiry-based activities?

Maybe what I should really be unpacking with my students is what they find most challenging, or frustrating to manage when trying to catch up. I think these questions demand I go back to my students and dig a bit deeper to learn about what barriers exist for them when trying to catch up on missed work.

      • Does this look different if they miss school because of sports? An appointment? Health?  Family vacations?
      • Are the frameworks we have in place lacking?
      • Is our lesson design or online unit plan design challenging for students to decipher?
      • Do students disengage more with content when they miss school because they are discouraged when catching up? Can this snowball into more absences?
      • How does our school’s adviser program play into this?
      • How do teachers feel about the frameworks we have in place? Are they stretched and strained trying to catch up students who were away?
      • What do we see in our own classrooms? As advisers?

This question and its complexities lay beyond my classroom and likely require that I engage with various stakeholders at my school. I’m left wondering if I need to challenge myself to explore a bigger, messier question that my students have overwhelmingly said is an issue from grades 7-12, instead of playing it safe with a framework that can be answered with a series of checkboxes.

I think that nagging feeling was that I wasn’t being honest with myself with my curiosity, and in the end what I really need to be exploring is what is best for student wellness and mental health.

Any feedback is welcome and appreciated! @edaigle @mbrims @lmitchell @tjagdeo





The elephant in the (class)room

When I applied to Cohort 21, it was with the initial curiosity of exploring one of the following concepts:

  • Balancing the push for open-ended, inquiry based learning while still meeting the academic rigor, pace and complexity of senior biology, with particular focus on navigating students around identifying and preventing misconceptions, with a measurable outcome of student success and preparedness in post-secondary.
  • How can we numerically monitor the continuum of student learning using observation and conversation assessments in an authentic way?

I left our last face-to-face at Cohort 21 energized and buoyed by the excitement in the room. Afterwards, I was chatting with my peers and students about my experience, and was eager to engage and learn from them.

I started to interview a few of my students one-on-one, with the hope to check in with as many as possible. This year, I teach a significant cross-section of students (Grades 7, 10, 11, 12) with different age-stage needs, and different learning styles. In these conversations, I felt students were comfortable, candid, and authentic, but their feedback was minimal. I got quite a bit of “things are going well”, “I don’t think we need to change anything”, “I’m not sure”. Which, in truth sounds great to any teacher, but when actively seeking areas of growth, it left me feeling aimless and adrift. What are they not telling me? What do they really need? (In other words, tell me how you really feel).

In response to these meetings, I shifted my methodology – perhaps an anonymous survey with open-ended questions might do the trick. This method yielded a bit more depth, and I began to see a pattern, particularly within my Grade 11 and 12 students – wellness. This felt validating in the sense that it is something we as teachers are currently grappling with, and as one of the teacher coordinators for Jack Chapter in our school, it is something I strongly identify with.

How can we as teachers focus on complex content, rigorous standards, and diverse teaching methodologies, when so many of our students are unwell and struggling with their mental health?


Some comments which stood out to me from my survey were:

“I feel like the major issues facing all schools is that the work given to students impedes on the time that they have to be this young and experience the world […] a balance should be met somewhere.”

“Mental health. A lot of teachers don’t realize that students […] have a lot of stress and other factors in their life that contribute to their grades. A low mark on a test doesn’t mean that you aren’t smart or that you don’t try in class and I don’t think a lot of teachers understand that.”

“There is definitely an increase in mental health concerns that schools are getting better at addressing but still not addressing enough. So, creating a greater space of awareness in classes to mental health concerns rising would be extremely beneficial as it will signal support for students. ”

“I think that a lot of teachers don’t realize how much time some of us have to put into other things like extra-curriculars and other things at home (ex. chores, etc.) that are also very important and that take up a lot of time. Most of the time, if I don’t get homework done, it’s not because I was being irresponsible or I don’t care, its because we have a lot going on in addition to school. ”

“That sometimes teenagers have a lot of different things they’re thinking about and that results in the need to occasionally take a night off from working to try and sort out everything.”

I still feel aimless heading into tomorrow, but at the core of what I will explore, the urgency is mental health and wellness.

@edaigle @mbrims @lmitchell @tjagdeo – looking forward to hearing your thoughts.





My best learning experience




Reflect on your own personal learning journey and K-12 education. Identify one learning experience that you can point to as having made a significant impact on some element of your own growth and development. It could be that teacher and subject that really sparked significant growth or a trip that opened your eyes to a whole new world or way of thinking or a non-catastrophic failure that you learned so much from.

One moment that has resonated with me as a student, and teacher, is a day of (perceived) significant failure as a student. In my Grade 11 year, I remember going to my three science classes, back to back, and received a failing grade on all of my unit tests. Each test had my score and a note from the teacher –  “what happened?!” in Biology, “Why?!” from Chemistry, and “see me after class” from Physics. Needless to say, that was a rough day as a teenager, and heading home to explain these scores to my parents was my nightmare. I moved on with support from my teachers and didn’t think much past it. Fast forward to my Biology class in Teacher’s College. We walk into the room, and the teacher has placed various assessments on our desk, all with a different framework, or method of writing down scores. My stomach dropped. I hadn’t realized that I still felt nervousness and shame over that day. The teacher engaged us in a meaningful conversation around how students interpret and review feedback, and how teachers can create a safe environment within their classroom around their assessments. A small moment in time, but a defining moment in how I approach my classroom teaching. I share this story with my students to explain to them why their mark is embedded in small within the assignment (never on the first page), and why the writing for my comments, and feedback is larger/more significant than the score on the page. I try to emphasize that learning is about next steps, and less about the percentage acquired on an evaluation.

What is the one Learning skill (MOE) or Approach to Learning (IB ATL) that you feel is MOST important in this day and age? How do you intentionally build it into your curriculum and develop it in your students throughout the year?

Collaboration is a vital skill to develop and refine in our students. Our world is increasingly interconnected, and it is important that students understand the value of diverse perspectives and world views when exploring an issue. Students need to know how to communicate effectively with each other, and learning how to act as mentors to younger students, or collaborate with senior experts. In my classes, students have a seating plan that changes each day, ensuring that all students experience an opportunity working with each other. Students work in groups, seek out expertise, and take on a variety of roles within the classroom. Students should leave school appreciating that when working in a constructive team, much more can be accomplished, and they can learn from each member of that group.


Image source: https://slackhq.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/collaborative-leadership-hero.jpg?w=460