Monday 17 February 2020

Making the right choice the only choice: teaching climate change to middle schoolers.

This blog is about climate change, about aligning our values with our practice, and about student well-being and voice.  Allison's blog is a challenge to us as adults, parents, educators, whole schools and as a district.  She is challenging us to: 1. listen to our students; 2. give them a voice; 3. align our practices and values; 4. do our part.  Thank you Allison.

Teaching climate change is hard . . . and complicated. Although most adults can look back and relate to the high school experience, relatively few of us can relate to growing up during a time of climate change and environmental distress.  The science behind climate change is simple.  However, altering our behaviour to match our understanding is difficult, especially when the right choice isn’t the easy choice. Climate change has been embedded into the curricula of many courses; if your students haven’t yet learned about climate change, they will. This topic is sticky, and practices carried out in our schools (and community) don’t always align with our teachings.  Schools need to be places where the environmentally responsible choice is the only choice.  
When teaching about climate change I take time to ask the students how they are feeling.  Common emotions include helplessness, anxiety and frustration; understandable given the gravity of our collective situation.  These emotions often stem from the incongruency between what we teach in the classroom and what we practice at the school.  Students also report feeling helpless if their parents react with apathy or are unwilling to change unsustainable practices.    

For example, when students learn that eating meat-free helps mitigate climate change, it is unfortunate that vegetarian meals aren’t status quo in school cafeterias.  When students learn that composting prevents the release of methane (and reduces waste), it is upsetting when this option doesn’t exist in a school (or at home).  If we truly care about our children, we’d exemplify practices that ensure they have a future to be successful in.  When we shape the culture of our school, do we value and model environmentally responsible behaviour? Are we providing the infrastructure at our schools that empowers children to care for their environment?


One teacher humbly champions the environmental initiatives at our school.  Bonnie Hatch is a Home Economics and English teacher at Skaha Lake Middle school.  She lives by her values and authentically demonstrates environmental responsibility in all aspects of her work and daily life.  School wide initiatives that Bonnie runs include: 

  • School compost program (SLMS diverts 1000 lbs of food waste from the landfill each year) 
  • Ethical and sustainable fundraisers (Students raise money through local apple sales (in paper bags) and a used clothing drive)  
  • Marker recycling program  
  • School garden
  • Re-usable dishes for school events 
  • Sourcing local and organic produce donations for Home Ec. classes and the SLMS Breakfast Club 
  • Upcycling textile projects

… Did I mention Bonnie drives an electric car?

At SLMS we are working hard to bring about positive change and build on the foundation Bonnie has established.  It’s our shared responsibility to transition schools into the progressive places they ought to be.  Places where the right choice is the only choice.

Blog by Allison Dietrich, Skaha Lake Middle School

Wednesday 5 February 2020

Fostering well-being and community at our school by starting with the adults in the building

What does it look like when we focus on creating and building healthy and positive relationships between staff members? Why is this important?

Community. This is a word that I value above all else in my practice. As an educator we take the time and we value building community in our classroom, with our students, but do we take the time to do the same with our colleagues?  
“Having a sense of belonging and community in a workplace can significantly change the atmosphere. It is vital to the success and well-being of our staff and students.” -Siobhan Magness

At the start of the year, some teachers were curious about The RULER Approach and wanted to know more about how they could bring SEL into their classroom. Knowing what the research supports, we dove into the building of a staff charter and chose to focus on the well-being of the adults first. We know that when our well-being is taken care of, then we will be able to be more present to take care of the well-being of our students. We took the time during staff meetings to ask ourselves two questions: 
• How do we want to feel in our day to day interactions with each other? 
• How will we make this happen? 

Conversations were rich and productive as we got to hear what was important to our colleagues. We discovered that as a staff we wanted to feel appreciated, supported, valued, balanced, included and inspired. 

We have been working on our staff charter since October and just finished it this week. There is still lots of work to be done as we put our SMART goals into practice. Here is KVR’s 2019/20 Charter:
·       Supported – Check in on a learning partner (teachers, EA’s, secretaries, custodians, admin, counsellors) 1x per week that you don’t normally check in on (at the end of this month we will do an anonymous survey to see if this is being met for everyone, if not we will make intentional pairings for the next month)
·       Respected – When an adult or any other learning partner is in your classroom, teachers will introduce them 100 percent of the time as learning partners. Ex. Have the names of learning partners that will be in your room for that day on the board
·       Connected – There are multiple opportunities to connect with staff in the building, I will participate in one of these opportunities a minimum one time per month Ex. Birthday celebrations, soup club, Friday volleyball, Cannery, staff socials etc. 
·        Inspired – Share a success/celebration/ idea/ something you are trying at a team meeting one time per month. Team leaders will carve out time for this.
·       Valued – We will pick a name one time per month, and we will notice, value and appreciate that person in writing via the compliment box.

“When our staff comes together to connect professionally and/or personally, you can FEEL it in the building: there is a climate of enthusiasm and warmth. We see the smiles, and hear the laughter and banter, and, of course, so do the students, parents and visitors.” – Michelle Glibbery 
By being intentional, and explicit with those intentions, we are building a staff team that is connected and grounded in creating positive relationships with each other. By co-creating these norms, we are laying the groundwork for a staff community that is conscious and aware of our own and each other’s emotions. We are placing value on emotions and are going deeper into how those emotions might affect our day to day interactions with each other. As teachers, we know how important emotions are and how they drive our students behaviour but how often do we get to reflect on how they drive ours?
“By modelling healthy relationships with our colleagues, then students also see what positive, supportive relationships look like.” - Julia Jashke
Community. It is so important that we ALL feel a sense of community in our schools. I’m thankful that I get to work at a Middle School where we are purposeful about building that sense of community not only between our students but with each other as well. 
“Increasing our social-emotional well-being through our connections with each other is an opportunity to build resilience to stressful situations to be able to support each other in both difficult situations and times of celebration. When the adults feel supported and honoured in their practice, they are more likely to be available and sensitive to the unique needs of their learners.” -Nick Korvin

Submitted by Melissa Burdock, KVR Middle School