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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 Professional Development

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Twitter is amazing.  Can we just take a moment and give Twitter a high five?  When teachers ask me about the best digital learning out there, I always plug Twitter.  In our school board, a group of us spent most of December posting daily on Twitter as part of a #twitterchallenge and it was so encouraging.  Sometimes, it's easy to feel cynical about the pace of change and all the barriers that get thrown up in the way of improving practice.  The teachers who are on Twitter are the ones pushing the envelope, trying new things, failing sometimes, and laughing about it.  They're my posse.

This week, while bouncing around the Twitter-verse, I got connected with the #resiliencechat folks.  One of the questions they had asked was: "If you could create a course for preservice teacher ed. what would it be?" I knew right away what my answer would be.  I wrote back: "Improvisation. Every teacher should know how to improvise."

This might strike some people as an odd response.  Surely, there are other more important things that teachers need to learn - developing math content knowledge, learning new instructional strategies, becoming more at ease with technology, just to name a few.  While I agree that all of these things are important, if I were forced to choose just one, I would choose improvisation.  

Teaching is a structured improvisation.  We are constantly confronted with the necessity of changing tack, moving with the wind, adapting to circumstances while still meeting our goals.  While we usually have a general idea of what's going to happen, sometimes we litterally end up making it up as we go along; a lesson emerges from questions, from conversation, or from an unexpected event.  But our training makes it seem like teaching is more like a fixed form, a symphony or a concerto that is written down and doesn't deviate from the plan except in subtle ways.  Anyone who's spent any time in a classroom knows that's a lie but it's a lie we as a profession keep perpetuating.  We keep teacher education focused on "methods" classes - how to teach science, how to teach language - but we don't bother to teach teachers how to manage the chageability of the classroom, how to think on their feet, how to confidently and competently improvise.  

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Tagged in: Change new teachers

Posted by on in School Culture

"Ugh... I hate art."

"He never wants to do art."

"I can't draw."

"I'm not creative."

I've heard all of these words, and more, coming from teachers and students over my years in Arts Education.

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Posted by on in Common Core Standards

Last week, I had an interesting conversation with one of my sons’ teachers. He has a classroom teacher who delivers the “core” subjects (not my favorite term, by any means), a physical education teacher, and a teacher whose job it is to teach social studies and the arts. I had asked her to call me in response to some assessments she had sent home. I was a little bewildered as to how she could manage to teach all of these subjects (Dance, Drama, Music, Visual Arts, and Social Studies) during the approximately 30 minutes a day she has with my son’s class.

It turns out that her background and mine are not all that different and that, until this year, she’d been doing a similar job in her school board to the one I have now. So we had a good chat about the challenges of her current role, the ways she’s trying to cope (by focusing on one subject per month in a rotation) and the near impossibility of giving any of these subjects their due in 30 minutes per day.

When I hung up the phone and went back to cooking dinner, I found myself thinking about these strange things we call subjects and how we often treat them in schools. I’ve come to realize that we really like boxes. We love boxes. We like boxes that describe our roles and we like performing those roles inside more boxes. We like boxes for timetabling and boxes for drawing. We can’t get enough of them.

But is that reality? Does it give students a real sense of the scope of a subject or a domain when we point to something and say “Here, this is math... that is science... and that is art. They are different. They don’t go together.”? I don’t think so. I think that not only does it do our students a disservice, it doesn’t reflect the reality of the work being done in those fields.

I have observed an interesting phenomenon over many years of teaching and learning in the Arts. I’m going to call it the Beginners Paradox. Often when someone starts learning in an art form, they are very open, very curious and are willing to try almost anything. They don’t have a preconceived idea about what is and isn’t part of that form. As they become more advanced, however, their ideas narrow and their willingness to experiment with techniques or ideas that they perceive to be outside of their sphere dramatically declines. Only at the most advanced levels do people again become more willing to open up and, ironically, try to become more like beginners – to see their domain with fresh eyes so that they are able to innovate and push the work forward.

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Posted by on in School Culture

I’m not a mental health professional. I’m not a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a social worker, or a counselor. What I’m about to say is grounded only in my practice as a teacher, my life as a parent, and my volunteerism as a leader in my faith community.

In our school system we’ve been spending a lot of time and energy in the past few years breaking down barriers and stigma about mental illness. We talk more about mental health and are far more aware of the anxiety, stress, depression, and trauma that students are grappling with every day. The Canadian Mental Health Association tells us that while “20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime,” we will all be indirectly affected by mental illness through our connections with colleagues, friends, and family. The economic cost, factoring in both the cost of health care and the time off work, is counted in the tens of billions – and that’s here in Canada where our population is about a 10th of that of our American neighbors.

These are huge, scary numbers and we are right to put resources into educating students, teachers, and parents about mental health. We’re right to work towards de-stigmatization and we need to keep at it. There is far more work to do.

But there’s something in our practice that contradicts all of this good work we are doing. While we consider fighting a cold or a sore throat – minor physical health complaints that don’t require a doctor’s visit - a valid reason for missing school, we don’t consider sub-clinical mental health concerns nearly as valid. If my kids are feeling anxious or stressed or just a little sad, I feel guilty keeping them home for a day although I know that just one day off, away from the social and academic pressures of school, a day to just be themselves and follow their own agenda, can make all the difference. It can restore their enthusiasm for school and help them to feel more positive about facing a challenge.


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Posted by on in Early Childhood

I've had several anguished conversations with friends in the past few weeks.  These are people with young children, particularly boys, who are watching their kids disengage from school, start to feel anxious about school, begin to dislike school.  Whereas backpacks and shoes used to fly on in the morning, now they have to coax and cajole to get their kids out the door.  They feel powerless to change the classroom environment and they are desperate for their kids to feel successful and happy at school. They are at their wits' end.

What's happening?  I have one word: assessment.  Assessment is happening to these kids.  Assessment is the reason that teachers have all kids sitting at desks doing the same task at the same time in the same way.  Their success on that task is assessed based on whether they're doing it the 'right' way.  This is the way assessment gets done in many classrooms.

So let's talk about assessment for a few minutes.

How do you assess student learning?  What tools do you use?  What data do you consider relevant and what data do you exclude?  Does assessment information only count when it comes nicely packaged on a piece of paper?

Here's an example:

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