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Emily Caruso Parnell | @teachontheverge

Emily Caruso Parnell | @teachontheverge

Emily Caruso Parnell is the K-12 Community Connected Experiential Learning Consultant/Coordinator in the Rainbow District School Board in Northern Ontario. Since beginning her teaching career in 2001, she has taught all grades from Kindergarten to Grade 12. She has taught in public, private, and independent schools, including teaching the IB Primary Years Programme and as the Arts-lead member of the local leadership team for Ontario's Early Learning Kindergarten Program. Emily is a dance educator who holds an MA in Dance from the University of North Carolina Greensboro as well as a Bachelor of Education from the University of New Brunswick, an HBA from York University and is a Registered Teacher of the Royal Academy of Dance. Emily writes regularly for the parenting website Kveller and for the Canadian Jewish News and she sits on the Sharing Dance Working Group of Canada's National Ballet School. Emily is passionate about education in, about, and through the Arts as well as experiential learning, parent engagement, play, and as much time spent outdoors as possible. She strives to bring the same enthusiasm and energy to parenting her own young children.

Posted by on in Social Emotional Learning

I believe that children are capable.  If my teaching life has a base, that’s it.

I’ve started so many experiences with that assumption that it’s become second nature.  I’ve tried, over the past few years, to make that foundation really clear and obvious to children, parents, and colleagues.  Sometimes it’s a bit of a challenge: You think kindergarten kids can’t do that?  Let’s try!

They can’t climb and jump?  Let’s try.

They can’t paint with acrylics?  Let’s try

They can’t play with sticks?  Let’s try.

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Posted by on in Education Resources

I don't know about you but I'm still coming to grips with this whole school business after a summer of lazy days and late mornings.  In the school I've been working in this week, kids are still staggering in bleary eyed and, on this last day of summer, we're still basking in the early afternoon heat at recess, soaking it all in, knowing that soon winter will start its annual bite. 

One of the projects I assigned myself when I arrived was to locate all of the supplies I might need to help out with Arts programming while I'm here.  I walked into that familiar space, the Arts Closet (insert the voice of doom) and discovered exactly what I expected to find: a dusty, over-filled space with materials scattered all over the room.  Not the inviting atelier that might inspire a teacher to think creatively about the possibilities for learning through the Arts in their classroom.  It's hard to get enthusiastic about experimenting with new techniques and taking risks when you can't find anything. 

So, I started throwing things out, and I threw, and I threw, and I threw.  Scraps of fabric, paintbrushes that hadn't been washed, dusty, faded paper, dried glue, and powdered tempera made in England. 

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Amongst those bits of trash, however, were some hidden gems.  Block printing ink, linoleum tiles, charcoal, parafin wax blocks, brayers, carving tools, and natural clay.  It's not surprising.  Lots of great Arts stuff gets ordered for schools but doesn't get used because teachers either lack the skills or the confidence to try them.  We get stuck in the rut of doing the same art projects we've always done because we're pressed for time and, well, the Arts closet is a hopeless mess.

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Posted by on in School Culture

Earlier this month, I wrote about our children starting at a new school. It’s a “good school”, that’s what everyone says. About their old school, they said less flattering things; "it’s a rough school, a bad school". I always felt like I was on some kind of affirmative action campaign, trying to dispel those myths because, well, we loved that school. It was a great school.

Now, the new school is a good school too but my point here is that the perceptions we have about our local schools are very often based on little more than dust in the wind, snippets of conversation and rumours.  Sometimes the perception is entirely based on standardized test scores and media reports about them – a very narrow window into a very big world.

I spent last week working in a school that is very much like the school my children used to attend. If you asked around at swimming lessons, or on the side of the soccer field, you might hear that this school is a bad school. You might assume negative things about the students or the staff. You might avoid it for your own children.  You would be wrong, very wrong.

It is a great school. I witnessed amazing teaching last week and I was so impressed by the ways that these teachers and administrators were carefully considering how to best serve their students. I didn't hear a single disparaging comment about a child or a family and I witnessed incredible compassion. Those kids need great teachers and they have them.

We who hang out on the sides of soccer fields, holding Starbucks lattes in our hands need to think carefully about how we define good schools and how we talk about all schools. Is it really just about the test scores? Don’t we want more from schools than test scores? I know I sure do.  The demographics of a school are not its destiny and numbers never tell the whole story.

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Posted by on in Movement and Play

We picked our little boy up from camp the other day.  He's been to sleep-away camp twice this summer, early in the summer for 4 nights, most recently for three nights.  He's still little so these have been taste-of-camp programs, designed to give kids an idea of what camp life is like, to whet their appetites for future summers.  He's been kayaking, swimming, boogie boarding, and canoeing.  He's gone on hikes and learned how to fire an arrow out of a bow.  He's made crafts, learned new songs, and had some intense dance parties.  He's also had great quiet times in his bunk with his counselors and his new friends.  

What struck me most after he barelled down the hill and into my arms was how brilliantly camps and their counselors work to build relationships with kids, quickly and deeply, so that after only 3 nights my son was firmly attached to the young men who had been caring for him.  What could teachers learn from them as we barrel towards the inevitability of a new school year?

1.  Relationships First, Relationships Always

Camps put relationships first.  Building relationships with and among campers is the most important part of camp life.  Camp is nothing without relationships and they are the focus of all the programming that goes on at any camp.  My son often has trouble falling asleep at night and one counselor stayed up with him telling "stories from his life" to help him settle down.  The sketch book he had brought to camp was canibalized for use in making droves of paper airplanes to entertain the boys on a rainy day.  One counsellor remarked on how creative and imaginative my son is and how kind he was to the other kids.  I wondered: do I know that much about my students after just three days?  These counselors are young adults; I'm a grown up (apparently) and I think they're doing a better job of building these relationships than I am.  

2.  Valuing Risk

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Posted by on in Education Leadership

We only have a few days left.  Every day we're counting down, using our ten frames: 18, 17, 16 days left. 
Some kids are getting a little clingy, wanting to be attached to us all the time and I wonder whether, for some, summer will bring happy days of outside play, sticky fingers, and wet bathing suits or whether they will long for the first day of school in September.  We send them out into the void at this time of year and, while for teachers (and probably most students) the countdown fills us with heady anticipation, there are always a few students who give me pause, who make me wonder about changing the school calendar, and for whom I wish I could provide more than the ten months we're allotted.

This year, I'm feeling even more nostalgic as I'm also counting down the last few days of my career as a classroom teacher, for the time being at least.  Over the next four years I'll be in a leadership role, spearheading and championing Arts Education in our region.  While I'm unbelievably excited about this opportunity, I'm also a little, as Mike Myers used to say, verklempt.  There is something powerful about being a classroom teacher; you are so close to the action.  You get to know the kids so well and are able to respond to their needs with such immediacy that you can really make change.  You don't have to look at big data sets to know what your students need;  they're yours, by the time the data is processed, you've already made your move. 

There is positional power in leadership roles.  There is the power of influence, of building relationships, of cultivating curiosity and commitment among teachers.  You can build a team of passionate individuals who are invested in shifting the paradigm.  You have the ability to make big changes; I've seen it happen.  There is the advantage of being slightly apart from the fray, allowing you some space and time to think about the issues without having to worry about collecting pizza money or wiping noses.  But there isn't the ability to turn on a dime, to decide that no, we won't be doing that today because the kids are engrossed in their work so we're going to stick with that.  The maneuverability and responsiveness of a classroom teacher are unparalleled.  The intimacy of a classroom, the ragged messiness of it, is both the reason why teaching is so exhausting and why its so rewarding. 

And I'm watching it walk away.

Every day, every square on the ten frame, brings me a little closer to the innevitable goodbye.

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