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Emily Caruso Parnell | @teachontheverge

Emily Caruso Parnell | @teachontheverge

Emily Caruso Parnell is the Kindergarten Program Consultant 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. Emily is also 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 is also a student in the Ed.D program in Distance Education at Athabasca University. 

Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

Last year, in my Kindergarten classroom, we were lucky to have two dads who worked as firefighters.  They offered to come in to give a presentation about fire safety.  During their presentation they talked about how to prevent fires, regularly changing the batteries in household fire alarms, and the importance of having a fire escape plan that you practice regularly.  Then they did something interesting.  They put on all of their fire gear: boots, pants, coat, hood, gloves, hat, and breathing aparatus.  Then they crawled around on the floor.  The kids expressions were priceless. These Dads, who they knew well from after-school pick up, birthday parties, and gymnastics clases were transformed.  Suddenly the kids were wary and a little frightened.  The dads had planned all of this.  Apparently, children will often hide when they see firefighters fully dressed in their gear.  I don't blame them; they look a little alien. 

I've been thinking about that day this week.  Right now, I'm spending time in a school working with teachers but also trying to support students who need a little extra help.  I'm new to this school and I likely won't be there much longer.  So, these kids don't know me very well.  I'm the alien. 

And they don't want my help.  This week, there have been several grade seven students working on a test about solvents, solutes, and solubility.  I used to teach high school science so I know this stuff.  I could help.  I'm friendly and enthusiastic.  I like to think I'm not threatening.  But they will wait for a teacher they know - they will wait a long time.  They will wait even though I'm in the room.  It's been a humbling experience.

But it's also been a good reminder of the importance of relationships in education.  My curricular expertise doesn't matter to them; I could have a PhD in Chemistry and it wouldn't matter.  What matters to them is the relationship, the connection, the trust.  Rome wasn't built in a day.  Maybe in a few more weeks I'll have been around long enough to to help.  Maybe by then I'll have enough skin in the game to not be an alien. 

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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. 


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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