What Are They Afraid Of?


This past Monday, #PSD70’s “Exploring Leadership” cohort held its last meeting of the 2013/2014 school year.  The positive energy I personally felt from these meetings was a highlight of the school year for me.  I was able to meet colleagues from around the division who were involved in, or interested in leadership.  The discussions we had were thought provoking and made me reflect on my own expectations for myself and others in leadership positions.

On Monday, our speaker was Memorial Composite High School principal Shauna Boyce. Shauna spoke of her journey to becoming an administrator and some of the obstacles and successes along the way.  She was willing to answer questions about everything from curriculum development and implementation to leadership in trauma situations.  One thing she said at this meeting has stuck with me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  A question had come up in regards to dealing with angry parents or confrontational situations. Shauna said that she believes that anger comes from some kind of fear.  That being afraid is, for some reason, socially unacceptable, while being angry and “tearing a strip off” someone is acceptable. When dealing with people who are quite angry, Shauna seeks to understand what it is that they are actually afraid of and then tries to allay those fears. When she does this, the anger subsides and the conflict is diminished.

That was a powerful way to frame one of the most dreaded, difficult aspects of pretty much ANY job or position.  I thought immediately of a couple of situations that occurred during this school year, that, if I had considered where the anger was coming from, what fear it represented, it is likely that the issue could have been resolved sooner and easier.

It was also an eye opener to consider times when I was angry or confrontational with someone.  What was I afraid of? Why did I feel the need to express my fears in terms of anger?

I appreciated the paradigm shift, the new perspective.  I’d love to hear others’ best practices or strategies when dealing with conflict.



Can We Please Stop Yelling At The Officials?


First, I must come clean.  I have yelled at officials.  I have criticized, ridiculed, booed and disparaged those people,  without whom we would not have the games, leagues, tournaments and championships that we compete and coach in.

Man, I wish I could take those times back. I am ashamed. I’m also quite glad that I have “seen the light” and changed that behaviour.

It’s not right. Ever.

First I want to talk about why it is unacceptable in youth sports.

Reason #1 – Without officials the sports and games that we so love would not be able to take place…at ANY level.  I don’t care how bad the officiating is…if those people didn’t show up, the game would be cancelled or postponed. The end.

Reason #2 – You are a role model.  Parents in the stands and coaches on the playing surfaces are TEACHING young people what is acceptable behaviour.  When kids see you yelling at and showing anger to officials, they assume that that is ok for them to do as well.  The message is, “If you think this person has made a mistake, you have the right to yell and scream at them.”

Reason #3 – Another message you are sending to youth is that they are not actually in control of the game or what they do in the game.  You are allowing them to shift responsibility for their play to the officials. How many times have you heard, “The ref made a bad call and we lost the game”?  I try to teach my students and my athletes to deal with things that they are in control of – their play, carrying out the game plan or strategy. They are not (nor is the coach or the parents) in control of the officials so why even worry about it? Not to mention the fact that if you are a coach you need to be sure that your focus stays on coaching your players and worrying about the things that YOU control.

Reason #4 – Often in youth sports, especially the younger the level of play, the officials are the most inexperienced ones around.  There are many reasons for this.  They are cheaper. The flow of the game is generally slower/easier to follow and so this is the best place for them to get practical experience and improve their skills – just like the players.  It sickens me to think about the number of times I have seen adults yelling and cursing at minor officials. Kids. Kids who are doing their best, who are trying to give back to the sport they love and earn a few bucks while they are at it.  When would winning a game ever be more important than the dignity of that young, inexperienced official? Oh ya…and how would yelling at the official ever help you win the game? (That goes back to “worry about what you can control.”) The answers are NEVER and IT WOULDN’T.

Can you even imagine an official thinking “Jeez, I really hope I screw this game up today”? Do you think like that when you go to work?  These people go into competitions with the greatest intentions of getting the calls right.  Do they always? Of course not.  They are just like you and me (the people who haven’t signed up to take the officiating courses, buy the gear and equipment needed and spend hours of unpaid time training before they are allowed to actually work).  Ever made a mistake at work? Me too.  Ever had 20 or 30 people yelling at you when you made that mistake?  How about hundreds or thousands of people? Me neither.

When did this become such a part of our sport culture?  It is so accepted. It happens ALL the time at ALL levels.  I’m not saying that it is not ok to disagree with officials. Why can’t coaches just talk to officials? Ask what they saw or how they interpreted a certain play? Have a discussion.  Whether you discuss or yell and scream, the likelihood of the call being changed is slim. BUT, if you yell and scream, the chance of the next close call going your way is also slim.

I have one more point to make. Disrespecting officials at higher levels (junior, college, senior, professional, etc) is not ok either.  I know that some will say that these are the people who get paid the big bucks (not THAT big, really), that they are supposed to be the best and that they should be held accountable.  Once again, asking them to be PERFECT is unrealistic. Yes, officials need to strive to do their best, just as the athletes do.  I have been watching the NHL playoffs these last few days and have seen many mistakes made by THE BEST PLAYERS IN THE WORLD.

When we are in the stands at these high quality, high intensity sporting events we are again role models, whether we like it or not.  There will undoubtedly be young people around us who are watching to see what is acceptable behaviour.  They don’t understand that expectations are higher for these officials than they are for the ones at their own games. They emulate what we do.  When those kids go back to their home field or rink or diamond or court, they will do the same things they saw at that professional game.

So next time you are participating in or watching a sporting event at any level and you hear yourself shout, “Get your head in the game” or “What are you, blind?” or “Are you #$@$ing kidding me?” Stop and think about what is to be lost or gained by your words. Think about the example you are setting. Can we please stop yelling at the officials?


A Parent’s Pride

Curling by Benson Kua
Curling, a photo by Benson Kua on Flickr.

One of the absolute greatest things about being a teacher is the opportunity share in the goals and dreams of our students. As a coach I get to know students outside of the classroom and many of them have dreams of playing sports at elite levels.

In the last month, I have watched 3 of our alumni play hockey in the AJHL (Alberta Junior Hockey League), one play in and receive the silver medal at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts national final in women’s curling, one of our former basketball stars play in his last home game for Grant MacEwan University as a 5th year senior, and five younger alumni playing basketball at both of our local public high schools.

On Wednesday and Thursday, our students traveled to watch our drama kids perform the musical “Mulan”. I’m always filled with such a sense of respect when I watch our kids, who I usually only see in the class/school setting, pour their hearts into a performance and are brave enough to sing and dance and act for the enjoyment of others.

I’m not sure I can accurately describe the sense of pride I felt at each of these events. To be honest, I felt a lot like I do when I watch my own children while they play sports and master new skills. I know very well that most teachers feel “parental” to their students in so many ways and as I reflected on that fact and what it means, I wondered if parents know that. Do they know how invested we are in their children?

What’s Wrong With School Sports?

I have written a number of posts on this blog about my role as a coach and athletic rep at my school. The most recent one about the struggle to find coaches and ensure that students who want to play at least get the chance to tryout. Last week I read an article by Dr. Doug Gleddie expressing his disappointment with school sports. He lists 3 things in particular that are causing his negative outlook despite many years as both a player and coach of school sports. They were: 1. Participation Rates 2. Elitism and 3. Winning First.

The article made me stop and think about school sports and their impact on me as a young player and as a coach and athletic administrator. There are, most certainly, some frustrations, but as I reflected, it was evident that the positives and long term benefits of school sports largely outweigh those frustrations.

Dr. Gleddie states that in his experience only around %25 of students actually play school sports. While I haven’t crunched the numbers at my school to compare, the one thing I do know is that school sports are competing heavily with outside sports and leagues. Each year at my school (k-9 approx. 480 students – 240 in 7-9) we have a good number of kids who are interested but chose not to play school sports because of their commitment to equestrian, football (not a school sport in Jr. high), soccer, community basketball, dance, cheer, swimming, hockey as well as others. Opportunities are out there for young people to find their passions athletically. School sport is no longer the be-all and end-all for competitive athletics. I believe that the percentage of kids who are gaining the benefits of physical activity, socialization and competitive challenge from sport are much higher that Gleddie’s %25. Also, school sport is optional…we don’t HAVE to be offering any sports. Even if participation is “only” %25, that is a large number of kids who are getting an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise.


Not all kids are interested or passionate about sports or competition. Extracurricular sports teams are not meant to reach every student. If you look at schools across Alberta and Canada, you will find extracurricular programs in a large number of disciplines. All of these programs are meant to feed the emotional and physical needs of our youngsters. Assuming that all (or even most) students would like to be on a sports team is quite presumptuous.

Yes, I have seen elitism in sports. I have seen it in drama and music programs as well. The onus has to be on coaches to make sure they are doing their best to develop a whole team of athletes. Teaching a young player and their teammates what it means to “play a role” is a vital lesson that can be used in many areas of life. In our junior high athletic program, we believe strongly that all kids need to play significant amounts of time in order to learn and improve the needed skills. However, there are other things that come in to play when a coach doles out minutes on the court or field. Does the athlete miss practices? Do they work their hardest at drills during practice time? What about character? Do they treat their coaches and teammates with respect? The officials?

SrBball 2013 003

I truly believe that a “winning first” attitude of coaches or athletic programs is a thing of the past. I have seen very, very few examples of this kind of focus in 15 years of coaching at the Jr. High level. Generally, coaches are looking to teach the sport and social skills and attitudes that will help athletes in all areas of their life. Teaching them HOW to learn is as important as teaching them how to dribble a soccer ball, throw a football or shoot a hockey puck. In Canada, school coaches are not paid at all for their time. That alone shows that winning is not the top priority in our school athletic programs. Providing opportunities for our student/athletes is. In the athletic association of which I am a part, we have even put in rule changes in both our volleyball and basketball leagues to support player skill development and move away from placing importance on winning.

Are school sports perfect? Nope.

Are there some examples that illustrate Dr. Gleddie’s three issues with school sports? Yup.

Could we make some changes to how school sports are run/organized/coached? Probably.

Are there undeniable benefits to participation in school sports? Most certainly.


Another interesting point about Dr. Gleddie’s post is that he states himself that, “To be honest, I am not really sure what we should do.” I’m never a fan of making a complaint without having input as to what could be done instead, or done to improve whatever it is we are complaining about.

Even though I am not complaining about school sports, I do have one suggestion for Dr. Gleddie, schools, coaches and athletic organizations, that may help with improving some of the areas he is disenchanted with. I think that it is vitally important to decide as an organization what you believe and value and to make a public statement to shareholders as to what those team/organization cornerstones are. The next step is to ensure that decisions and actions express that same worldview. Follow up. “Put your money where your mouth is” so to speak.

I’d love to hear your opinions on school sports and on what is working and what isn’t. What do you think needs to change (if anything) about coaching and sport administration in your area?

Opening Books=Opening Minds

book club by robertmichalovebook club, a photo by robertmichalove on Flickr.


“What are you reading?” and “Have you read _____?” are two of my favourite conversation starters with children and adults alike.

As long as I can remember, I have defined myself as “a reader”.  Each school year, I introduce myself to my new class and tell them a few things about my life.  One of those things is always that I love to read and that books are extremely valuable to me (this also fits well with our Social Studies discussion on beliefs and values).  I have so many strong memories that center around books.

About 15 years ago, I was teaching a grade 9 L.A. class and we would do 10 minutes of silent reading at the beginning of every class. I would read as well. The Stand by Stephen King was the book I was engaged in at the time. Our 10 minutes was up and I was just at the exciting part of the story and I couldn’t stop! We read for the whole 50 minute class, mainly because I was unable to tear myself away.

The Stand

I have dampened many a pillow when brought to tears by an author’s creation of characters and plot line AND I have turned out my light during early morning hours because I have not been able to put those characters and plot down for a few hours to sleep.

Last year, I started a book club for my grade 8 Social Studies classes. I picked Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus because it fit with our curricular study of Japan’s Edo and Meiji periods.


I had 6 or 7 kids who read the book and 4 girls who actually showed up to the book club meeting. However, I wasn’t discouraged…the girls that came were completely enthusiastic and excited about the book and about actually having an in depth discussion about it. When we were done, they expressed a strong desire to do this again, and I promised them that we would.

So now, I am following through with that promise.  This time I have opened the book club up to any and all students in the middle grades (5-9) who are interested and I have invited all the teachers and parents as well. Our choice this time is The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.


I’m really hoping to share the excitement and enthusiasm that the four girls showed during our book club last year. The more opportunities students get to read and talk about their reading without the pressure of assessment, the more successful they will be when they are being assessed.  Parents and teachers will also be able to do some great modelling and involvement in their child’s school lives.

Nothing to Lose

you have nothing to lose by Señor Codo
you have nothing to lose, a photo by Señor Codo on Flickr.

I know that in #PSD70 there has been a lot of talk about “Innovation Week”. This year, two of our division schools staged Innovation Week during the last week before Christmas break, Greystone Centennial Middle School and the school that my husband teaches at, Muir Lake School. The idea is a great one: students take the week to learn, research and create based on a topic of their choice. Teachers give feedback and discuss and guide students in their work, but the work itself is not formally assessed. They learn in the way they want to learn about the things that they are interested in and produce a number of innovative and exciting projects.
My husband, Cam, thoroughly enjoyed his experience with his first Innovation Week. Friday night after school, while sitting around the dinner table, we were discussing this with our two boys, aged 10 and 7. Cam told us about many of the different projects and how they worked out. He spoke of the enjoyment of the students and the ownership that they felt. Then we all came up with ideas for what we would like to study or learn/produce if we were given a week to do so.

At first, my boys parroted what their dad had just told us. When we encouraged them to think about something that hadn’t been done yet, something that was rooted in their own interests, the conversation took an interesting turn. After throwing around some neat, original ideas, our 10 year old asked, “How is this going to be marked?” (Not going to lie, I was pretty happy he asked that question). When I replied that it wasn’t being marked, he was shocked and he said something that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. He said,

“You mean I’d have nothing to lose? Oh ya…I would do that for sure then.”

Nothing to lose.

My son who is just in 5th grade sees school, or at least assessment, as a place/time where he has something to lose. How often has he finished an assignment or project being worried about what marks he will lose rather than what knowledge or skills he has gained? I was bothered by that comment, but didn’t address it immediately as I had to think through what my response would be. Isn’t this just what we are trying to move away from in education? My son enjoys school for the most part, but I must say, he is not highly motivated. Could it be that he is not just “a bit lazy” as we have always thought, but demotivated by the impact of grades and “old school” assessment? I think it could be.

In the meantime, I started thinking about my own students and how they view what goes on in the our classroom. Right away I could pick out a handful of kids who were focused on what they would “lose” when preparing a project or presentation of some sort. I’d never thought about it in that context before. I could see them asking themselves,

“How much should I risk here? If I risk, and fail, I will lose marks so I am just going to stick to the basics and do what everyone else is doing.”

I don’t think I have emphasized enough that they should take more risks and that failure is the best way to learn. Starting in January, that is going to be my target for my classroom; to change the frame that my students are looking through so that they never fear what they “have to lose” but strive for what there is to gain. As for my son, we need to help him reframe his education as well. My questioning and guidance in both situations is going to take on a different look. We must also look into coordinating an Innovation Week at our school and providing times for my own children to explore learning and creating for the sake of learning and creating.

Someone Gave Me Homework…Now Its My Turn


Yesterday I read a blog post by Patrick Larkin of this same title.  In it, he writes that he is trying to focus on blogging more and that even though he dislikes “chain letter” type posts, he was going to engage in this one, in hopes that it would kick start more blog posts in the near future.  I connected to that because I too want to blog more AND I too hate chain letters. I do however, have a lot of thoughts about who I am and what I believe to be true and the fact that both of those things are constantly evolving.

Patrick linked 10 more people who he challenged to complete this “homework” assignment and even though I wasn’t one of those people…his 11th person was “anyone who wants to play along”. And so…I am going to do just that!  I have to post 11 things about myself and then answer Patrick’s 11 questions.  Here it goes:

11 Things About Me

1. I am proudly Canadian.  I have a Canadian flag tattoo on my thigh. I love Canada.

2. I went to Jamestown College in Jamestown, North Dakota on a fastpitch softball scholarship. Even though winters can be brutal here in northern Alberta, they will not compare to the winters I experienced in N.D. I didn’t realize how much I loved Canada until I went to school in another country.

3. I am addicted to books.  I can’t stop buying them.  I have stacks and stacks of them.  If I walk into a book store (or book fair at school) I WILL be walking out with something. If I had all the $$ I have spent on books in the last year, I could go on a nice little holiday. Obviously, books are more valuable to me than holidays.

4. One of my strengths as a teacher is in my ability to build relationships with students.  I don’t think anyone ever taught me that. If they know you care about them, they will care about you. If you care about each other, you will work hard for each other.

5. One of my weaknesses as a teacher is that I struggle to stay organized.  I go through periods where I work really hard at it and it gets better and then I can’t keep it up and it slips again. I can always relate to the kid with the messy binder, locker, desk, bag etc.

6. I cry when I’m emotional.  That means mad, sad, glad, proud, uncomfortable…all of it.  I can’t seem to have a serious conversation with someone without crying.  I wish I could have more control over that.

7. My husband has taught me a lot of important lessons but these are the most important: 1. Surround yourself with good people 2. Deal with what you can control 3. Keep going

8. My idea of a good night out is a night of Karaoke. I know the words to A LOT of songs. I especially like to rap or sing songs that are fast. Singing makes me smile.

9. My earliest memory is of my dad saving a child from drowning when I was about 2 1/2 years old.  That’s a pretty cool memory to have.

10. My sister is three years younger than me and about 9 inches taller than me.  How does that happen? YES…I am still slightly bitter about it.

11. Forrest Gump is my favourite movie of all time. I always cry at the end even though I’ve seen it a ton of times and know it word for word. The Shawshank Redemption and A League of Their Own are my next favourite movies.

My Responses to Patrick’s Questions

1. Have you ever been to Massachusetts? Nope, I have never been to Massachusetts. I’d like to go, though.

2. What is your favourite sports team (college or pro)? My favourite sports team is the Edmonton Oilers NHL team.  It has been a difficult 6 or 7 years to be an Oilers fan, but I’m still loyal.

3. Name a blogger you would recommend to others. One of the blogs I read the most is the Single Dad Laughing blog by Dan Pearce. He’s real. I like real.

4. When you were little what did you dream of becoming? When I was little I dreamed of becoming a rock star. I really did. I like being on stage. However, I knew by the time I was 13 that I wanted to be a PE teacher.

5. How far away do you live from where you grew up? I live in Spruce Grove, Alberta and I grew up in Trail, British Columbia.  They are about 950km apart. My mom and dad still live in the house they built the year I was born.  I would like to be closer to them, but don’t know if that will ever work out

6. What is your favourite meal? My favourite meal is Pizza. Hawaiian.

7. If you were offered a free trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? If I were offered a free trip to anywhere in the world, I would likely go to Italy. My dad’s family is from there and I teach Renaissance history. I think it would help me if I went there.

8. Do you prefer Macs or PCs? I prefer PCs to Macs solely because I have never owned a Mac and I don’t know what I don’t know.

9. Other than the birth of your children or your marriage/meeting your soulmate, what was the best day of your life? The best day of my life is any day I get to spend with my husband and 2 boys.  I know that sounds cliche, but it is true. Our family has been lucky enough to have lived a pretty steady life so far.  Not too many highs, not too many lows.  A great day is one we spend together making memories.

10. What is the best movie you have seen in the last year? The best movie I’ve seen this year is Hunger Games – Catching Fire.  I haven’t seen too many movies but I really really want to see The Book Thief over the Christmas break.  That book is one of my top 5 all-time favourites.

11. What was the last live concert you attended? Last live concert was Maroon 5 and Train. Pretty good show.  I have tickets to Justin Timberlake in January – I can’t wait.

11 Bloggers to answer my questions

1. Jesse McLean

2. Dan Pearce

3. Dave Oldham

4. Allison Evelyn

5. Tracey Trousdell

6. Miranda Niebergall

7. Travis McNaughton

8. Alan Stein

9. Jen Foster

10. Blye Seehagel

11. Anyone who wants to do this too! Follow the guidelines below!

Here Are My Questions For You

1. Have you ever been to Trail, British Columbia?

2. What is your favourite book?

3. What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?

4. What are you most grateful for?

5. If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?

6. If you were going to Karaoke tonight what song(s) would you sing?

7. Batman or Spiderman?

8. What is your earliest memory?

9. When was the last time you cried?

10. How much time to you spend on the internet per day on average?

11. What is your favourite sport to watch or play?

The Guidelines for your Homework

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger

2. Share 11 random facts about yourself

3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger made for you

4. List 11 bloggers

5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you have nominated and let them know.  Don’t nominate someone who nominated you.

6. Post back here, in the comment section with a link to your finished assignment.

Get going now…you’ve got homework to do

Renaissance Faire 2013

Once again, Stony Plain Central’s grade 8 Social Studies classes have succeeded in hosting a Renaissance Faire to showcase the learning they have done in the first term.  Groups learned about the types of food, clothing, religion, crime and punishment, blacksmithing, science, music, art and many other areas of Medieval and Renaissance life. Here are some pictorial examples of what was on display:

These girls created their own blacksmith booth that included tools as well as armour  that they had created.

These girls created their own blacksmith booth that included tools as well as armour that they had created.


One of my students dressed as a Catholic Priest and went throughout the Faire “preaching” to the visitors.


These young men created a display on Knights and Nobles and used creative means to dress the part.


Our Jester moved throughout the Faire and performed a juggling act and comedy show.


This was the center of punishment for crimes during the Faire. Criminals were placed in the stocks and rotten “vegetables” were thrown at them.


These girls represented the Merchant Class. They made crafts and products and then sold them to visitors at the Faire.


Nate created his own armour out of cardboard.


One of te students played Renaissance music on her recorder and also moved around the Faire playing the tambourine.


My student teacher, Miss Seehagel with one of our well dressed mercenaries.

Who Should Coach?

In my role as the Athletic Rep at Stony Plain Central School, it is partly my job to find and organize coaches for our Jr. High sports teams and programs. Over the last five years, this hasn’t been an easy spot to be in, but I have to say, people have always managed to step up whether it be teachers, administrators or sometimes even parents. Today, I am sad to say, it looks like I may be unable to find that person or people.

It seems that the current teachers at our school have too many other commitments, most of which include work, family and leadership outside of school as well. Last week, I held a meeting of all boys in grades 6 to 8 who were interested in playing basketball. In the end, I had 25 of them say they would like to try out. So I implored them to go home and ask, no BEG, their parents to come and coach the junior boys team. I had a few bites, but in the end, those who had seemed likely to take on the role decided that it was too much of a commitment for them.

I am now in quite a time crunch. You see, I have to declare by Friday whether or not we have teams. I have to admit, I am frustrated by this situation and that brings up a question that I am struggling to answer: In a school system where coaching is a %100 volunteer position, who should be expected to coach school sports teams?

I’m torn in two by this question. My first, automatic response is that teachers should be doing the coaching. We know the school and division policies, are trained to work with kids (seems like a no-brainer, but lots of outside coaches know their sport well, but don’t know how to handle young people) and can use sport to help build relationships with students and to help build a positive culture in the school. I have lived by that belief. It has been a part of my worldview. Coaching volleyball is something I have always enjoyed, felt confident in and saw the benefit of. I want to do it right. I want to attend a lot of tournaments (we do six in senior volleyball). My own children have been dragged along to volleyball games and tournaments since they were only months old. It is something I am passionate about. And I don’t mean passionate about volleyball, although I do love the game, I mean passionate about contributing to our school culture and sense of pride.

My second response is that I completely understand teacher’s reluctance to coach school teams. In order to do it right, it takes A LOT of time. It is not just the coach that is willing to spend that time, but their family who sacrifices time with them. My heart gets torn out every time I hear my kids say, “You have to go to volleyball again? Can’t you just stay here with us?” I explain to them that while I do not enjoy spending time away from them, it is important to me, and I am helping people. When I am in the stands watching them play hockey, someone else’s mom or dad is on the ice coaching them. It’s a trade of sorts. Many people are not willing or able to make that trade. I completely understand that. As my kids get older, it is getting harder and harder for my family to manage all of our commitments during volleyball season. What kind of trade is one that boosts school culture, but hurts – sometimes irreparably – family culture? That is not a fair thing to ask and while I know that some administrators will pressure teachers to coach, I’m not prepared to do that.
So now we are left with our 25 boys who are interested in playing, but no one to take over the team. Who owes it to them? Teachers? Parents? the Community? Don’t we all?

Becoming a Mentor Teacher

female pe teacher by hadfieldeducation
female pe teacher, a photo by hadfieldeducation on Flickr.

About a year ago now, I received a quick email on Facebook from a former student. She told me that she was taking an education degree and in a year would be embarking on her first of two major student-teaching assignments. She asked if I would consider being her mentor teacher. My initial reaction was to be flattered and to answer, “of course” to her request. When I pondered more intently on the responsibility I was taking on, I thought, “I’m not a good enough teacher to coach someone in how to be a teacher.” I was nervous, but the truth is, I thought that maybe she would forget about it in a year when the time came.

Fast forward a year later, I received another email forwarded to me by my principal with a more official request from the university facilitator. At that point, I accepted and looked at this as a new opportunity to learn and grow as an educator while helping a former student who I was very fond of, decide if this was going to be the career for her.

The duration of the experience is to be 5 weeks, of which we are already done with 2 of them. Miss Seehagel came for three “observation” days before she started so that she could get acquainted with school and class routines as well as start to get to know the students a bit. We used those days to discuss a few tings about educational philosophies and some of the challenges she would see in my classes specifically, and in the profession in general. It was easy to communicate with her and I could tell that we would be a great fit for each other.

For the first week of her IPT, Miss Seehagel did some more observation and got involved in my classes each day. Starting last week, she took over the three PE classes that I have and developed a fitness circuit for the students to do in the fitness room.

So far, I have found it rewarding and enjoyable. It reminds me of parenting in a lot of ways. At times it is hard to know when to step in and help and when to let her handle things herself (sometimes this means letting her fail). Truthfully, there are times when I don’t even know if I can help. When students are acting up, or pushing the limits, sometimes that is just because there is someone else in the class and they do not have a relationship built with them. She needs to handle that herself so that she is able to build that relationship.

The area that we have discussed the most, is not surprisingly, classroom management and dealing with less than ideal behaviours from some students. Again, since we already know each other and are effective communicators, these discussions have been easy. Advice I have given her so far:

1. Be firm when you ask students to change a behaviour. Don’t yell, but let them know you are serious.

2. The more you get to know them, talk to them and build a relationship with them, the easier classroom management will be.

3. Be proactive in your planning. Try to see the future – what roadblocks do you foresee and what can you do to eliminate them? You’ll never eliminate all roadblocks, but try to have a plan b and plan c, just in case.

Every suggestion I have given or discussion we have had, has led to a slight change in how she teaches the next lesson and even over just 4 days of teaching, I can see her confidence growing in the way she talks and handles the students. To be honest, my confidence in my ability to mentor her has also increased.

Together, we presented a half hour active team building session to our staff at our PD day on Friday. This was another area where Miss Seehagel thrived. This could have been quite intimidating for her but she showed no signs of trepidation and session was funny, active and enjoyed by all. I couldn’t have been more proud!

This week will be a bit different as she will be taking on the start of our basketball unit. The open gym and the noise of the balls and distractions will pose some new challenges. I am looking forward to seeing how she handles them.

I would love to hear about other educators experiences with student teachers. Any advice that you have for me as a mentor, or for her as a new teacher would also be welcome.