For my visual representation of learning, I decided to truly incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing. As a hands-on learner, I know that I need to immerse myself in the culture to further understand and fully appreciate it. In addition, I am actually a tad frightened to teach about reconciliation. Even though I am extremely passionate and love learning about different aspects of Indigenous cultures, I come from a background of colonization. How am I supposed to teach about Indigenous practices if I have never experienced them? That is why I feel it is so important to become involved in the culture. For these reasons, I chose to traditionally bead a hummingbird. Involving myself in the culture is my own way of putting myself in the shoes of an Indigenous person, which will hopefully allow me to be more accepting and empathetic, and help me connect to my students.
When I was brainstorming what to bead to demonstrate my learning, I really wanted to do something nature-related to represent the importance of the land in Indigenous cultures. The flowers and landscapes I was envisioning had little connection to my own life and seemed like a superficial, cliche symbol. After a lot of consideration, I finally decided on the hummingbird. The hummingbird is an important part of my life. My grandma, who passed away in 2015, absolutely adored them. Since her passing, I have started to notice them everywhere and I feel as if they are a message from her. Although this bird is important to me for personal reasons, I acknowledged that there must be a different perspective and way of knowing. After doing some research, I found that “In Native American culture, hummingbirds are seen as healers and bringers of love, good luck and joy” (What Does a Hummingbird, n.d). This actually reinforced my feelings of being connected to my grandma; always bringing me love. Because I chose this bird I am able to tie in my own grief and healing, and at the same time create new meaning for myself. To my future students, I can be the bringer of love.
The hummingbird was not the only aspect of this piece that I chose deliberately. I carefully chose the colours to emphasize the elements of reconciliation that I would like to focus on as an educator. The colour turquoise represents healing and protection. After learning from many stories, including the powerful stories in Muffins for Granny, I quickly recognized that there is a great amount of healing that needs to occur. At the same time, we need to work on protecting and promoting the culture that is still present. I believe that my beading is a small way to keep the culture present in my own learning. Similarly, I chose purple because it is associated with sacredness and spirituality; two characteristics that are meaningful in Indigenous cultures. I hope that my classroom will be a safe, sacred space for of my students. The purple, however, also represents my own privilege. Purple is often associated with royalty and the aristocracy. As a person with white privilege, I wanted to acknowledge that so I can continue to move forward and away from systemic racism. To me, this is an incredibly important part of reconciliation; acknowledging my privilege and realizing a change needs to be made.
Throughout the duration of this course, I have realized just how critical borders are in the classroom (Pirbhai-Illich, 2019). I did not comprehend just how I restricted I was in all of my classrooms. As a stereotypical western colonizer, I did not realize the extent to which colonization affected our classrooms. It is my hope that I can set up my classroom so that it is not an example of colonization. This directly relates to my piece as hummingbirds are not affected by borders. They are able to freely move wherever to accommodate their needs. I hope my students feel the same way in my classroom.
My high school experience was in no way similar to those who say it was the best four years of their lives. In fact, it was extremely far from that. Of course, I do have some fond memories, although unfortunately, they do not outweigh the times of unrest. Ultimately, my main objective is that my students feel that they are enough for themselves; that they are capable and strong enough to know that they are not alone. My students need to know that they have the power to decide what is important to them and determine the kind of person they want to be.
Growing up, I was extremely extroverted. This is likely because of my two older brothers, Aaden and Matt. At six and four years older than I am, I was always struggling to gain their attention. Consequently, I talk. I talk a lot. I always had to be chatting, or the class clown just like Matt. I was just a profoundly outgoing young girl. My brothers also influenced me to start playing basketball at the ripe old age of six. Yet another way for me to be just like my big brothers.
Basketball had an effect on me like nothing ever before. Starting as a tiny girl who could barely bounce a ball, who would have thought that I would eventually play on three provincial teams and play all four years as a starting point guard on Balfour’s senior team. Basketball taught me some very important lessons that I hope to take into my classroom: teamwork is essential, communication needs to occur, and constructive criticism needs to be met with equal or more positivity. It is quite obvious that teamwork and communication are important in almost any situation, but meeting criticism with positivity seems to be a bit less prevalent. Although other factors had an impact on my thinking when my coach pointed out all of my mistakes or weaknesses without ever praising my successes or strengths, I felt like I could not do anything right and that I was just not good enough.
This idea of not being good enough has played an instrumental part of my life. I have always been the kid that needed to get the highest grades or be the best on the court, and I suppose this pressure that I set upon myself became extremely detrimental when my mental illness began to take control of my thoughts. My depression and anxiety seemed to conquer my brain when I was in grade ten. After leaving a toxic friend group, I found myself becoming increasingly lonely. I also discovered that I no longer enjoyed playing basketball and that I no longer wanted any sort of attention. The old class clown was nowhere to be seen.
By May of grade ten, I was starting to give up hope, and then I received news that completely changed my life. My teammate Tori had commit suicide. Tori was by far the best teammate I have ever had. She was an easygoing, kind, hilarious girl who always made you feel loved and welcomed. Not only was she an amazing person off the court, but on the court as well. She had the utmost respect for all players and coaches, and she treated us as if we were all the best player on the court. When hearing of Tori’s passing I was numb. Not only did I lose an incredible friend and teammate, but the idea of suicide was no longer out of reach. I remember thinking, if someone as strong as Tori could take her own life, then what is stopping me from taking mine. Later that summer, I was playing on the U16 provincial team. While playing games in both Calgary and Washington, I had panic attacks. I felt as if I could not do anything right on the court, and like I was letting my teammates, coaches, and parents down. The thought that continued to run through my mind was “how am I going to play basketball if I do not even want to be alive”.
After my panic attack in Washington, we drove to Langley. I felt particularly worthless and sat alone for the entire trip. Once we arrived at our hotel, I sat in the bathroom that I was sharing with my teammates and nearly killed myself. Luckily, instead I texted my coach Jaimie, who happened to coach me when I was teammates with Tori, and she took me for a walk. She reassured and told me everything I needed to hear at that moment. Reaching out in that exact moment absolutely saved my life. Since then, I have taken back control of my life, and with the help of medication and a great support system, I am alive and happy.
When I become a teacher, I want to be like Jaimie. I want my students to feel comfortable enough to reach out to me when they are struggling. I think sharing my own story will help them embrace the vulnerability that accompanies asking for help; it is always easier to talk to someone who actually understands what you are going through. I felt quite alone at my school, as I did not know of any teachers who experienced anything similar. As a result, I was not interested in confiding in them when it came to my mental health.
Despite not addressing my illnesses with my teachers until my junior year, I feel that the relationships I established with them are a fundamental piece of why I want to be an educator. When I felt as if I had no friends left in tenth grade, an incredibly kind senior asked if I wanted to eat lunch in Ms. Clark’s room with his friends. For nine months I ate lunch in her classroom. For nine months I had a safe place to go. For nine months I felt welcomed and wanted. She became one of the most important people in my life, and it started by merely sitting in her room. Each and every day I looked forward to going to her class. Not only did her sense of humour brighten my day, but I knew she cared deeply and honestly. I really hope to be as influential and admirable as her one day.
Alongside Ms. Clark on my list of important people in my life is Ms. Mitchell. I have always had a passion for history, yet somehow my passion became even stronger after taking her class. In elementary, the bulk of my classmates and I were rather reluctant in regards to treaty education. We were taught in such a way that we felt we were being blamed for the mistakes that our forefathers made. As a twelve-year-old girl, I was offended that my teachers were making me feel guilty for the atrocities that were committed before I was born. This resulted in feelings of animosity and hostility towards Indigenous people. Thankfully, I had a change of heart after being in Ms. Mitchell’s class. She taught in such a way that did not make the white students feel ashamed of being white. Instead, she helped us realize that we are privileged, and that is not our fault, but we must make changes in order to make our society equal. Ms. Mitchell eliminated all of the negative ideas I had about Indigenous people. She even trusted me enough to speak about reconciliation on, an all indigenous (excluding me), student panel at an SSBA conference. Ms. Mitchell completely changed my way of thinking, while treating me like a real human being. Her neverending kindness inspired countless students at Balfour, especially me.
There are so many factors that have led me to want to be an educator. I want to be who I needed when I was younger as I know other kids will need that too. I want to be better than the coaches who made me feel like I was not good enough. I want to be as welcoming as Tori, as comfortable as Jaimie, as compassionate as Ms. Clark, and as honest and accepting as Ms. Mitchell.
Here are some of the highlights from my eight week field placement in a grade one classroom at Hawyrlak School.
I will forever be thankful to Mrs. Holmes for welcoming me into her classroom with open arms. Her kindness and passion encouraged me each and every day in the classroom.
Week One: Once the day started and the students came into the classroom, I immediately realized that these students crave positivity. They loved starting off their day with a high five or a hug from Emily as soon as they entered the classroom. When we stood up for O Canada, the students sang loud and proud, and they were absolutely beaming when their teacher complimented their singing skills. The same thing happened when they read their poems on their own as well.
Throughout the rest of the morning, I sat with different kids while they worked on printing and their reading response. For the most part, once I engaged with a student or told them even just a little about myself, they were telling me all about themselves. That little bit of trust I built with them was enough for them to open up and speak to me. I absolutely loved it. I cannot wait until I have my own classroom and get to build relationships with my own students. I received hugs from at least four little people, and they really filled my bucket (they are working on kindness and “filling each other’s buckets”). The goodbyes and see you next Wednesdays made my heart so full.
Week Three: My cooperating teacher does a really fantastic job of ensuring kids have multiple ways to learn. For example, when looking at the calendar in the mornings she will ask a student what day it is, and then ask them how they knew. She will then ask for other ways we could see that, which helps to make sure that all kids have multiple tools and skills that can best fit their learning. She does a similar thing when learning how to print specific letters. For instance, she will draw it properly two or three times, but then she will draw a horribly-done wonky letter, and asks for students to point out her mistakes. This lets the students see the right way to do it, and the ways that they should not do it.
Week Seven: In the classroom, the students use a program called Raz kids. I had the opportunity to use it with some students and they absolutely loved it. I asked a couple students if they would rather read a real physical book or on the iPad. They both said the iPad. With some nudging, they told me they like how it highlights the words so they do not have to use their tracking finger. They also like the questions at the end because it seems like a game.
Mrs. Holmes is doing an advent calendar, and with each new week they explore a holiday. I think it is so important that this classroom is actively celebrating diversity. This week they talked about Eid. Next week she even has some parents coming in to talk about their Eid traditions. I love how she is not only including this family in their classroom learning, but it gives this family a safe space to share their culture. Because of Eid, the grade ones have looked at the moon cycle. When I was asking the students about why they like their iPads, two students immediately told me about their app (at home) that shows them the different moons, stars, and constellations. We both agreed that it is really cool. He even related it back to how the moon cycle is important in Eid. I was so happy when he made that connection.
Final Field Reflection
My placement in Mrs. Holmes’ grade one classroom definitely confirmed that I want to be a teacher. Although I would still like to teach secondary, I enjoyed every minute with her amazing students.
The moment I met the students I knew that they absolutely craved positivity and encouragement. They start off everyday with a smile and, either a hug, fistbump, or high five from Mrs. Holmes. A classroom across the hall on the other hand, played loud cheerful music as the students came in to get them excited for the day. Not only does this allow the students to create a relationship with their teacher, but it also ensures that their school day starts off on the right foot. I genuinely believe that every student would have a more positive school experience if they were encouraged just a little bit more. I absolutely love the idea of playing music before class and I would love to do this in my own classroom. I think it would help to raise energy levels and make my classroom much more interesting and welcoming.
I also noticed that it is integral that the students have a sense of trust in their teacher, as well as their classmates. Making mistakes is often scary and intimidating, yet Mrs. Holmes ensures that her classroom is a safe space. Because the students know not to laugh or make fun of others if they do not know the correct answer, students are more open to sharing their learning and, in turn, making mistakes. If a student does happen to make a mistake, Mrs. Holmes would help guide them to the correct answer with a smile on her face and her tone not faltering. I think that because her facial expression or tone does not change, the students do not feel ashamed when they are incorrect. This stuck out to me because in high school and even university, teachers and professors do not hide their disappointment when a student’s answer is incorrect, and quite honestly it has no positive impact on the student. In fact, it makes the student feel foolish and not intelligent. In some cases, this can cause students to resent education and learning. I am going to practice being mindful of my facial expression, body language, and tone when speaking to people, especially students.
Additionally, this placement has helped me to further appreciate and celebrate diversity in the classroom. Unlike my elementary school experience, this classroom was full of a range of exceptionalities, ethnicities, races, personalities, etc. A specific memory that will forever warm my heart is how the students care for and treat their classmate with an exceptionality. They did not treat him as if he were different, but they would help to keep him on task and be where he needed to be. This helped me realize just how possible inclusion is. Similarly, the students learned about different cultural celebrations and their traditions, such as Eid, Diwali, Hannukuh, Kwanzaa, etc. If a student in the class participates in one of these celebrations, they will contribute and help teach the class. In some cases, their parents would even come in to speak. This opportunity allows the students to recognize their differences and learn about each other. I believe doing this at such a young age will break down barriers and allow these students to be more accepting. In my own classroom, I would love to have students teach about their own culture as I believe it is important to learn from someone who actually lives that certain way.
An aspect of Mrs. Holmes’ classroom that I adore is her flexible seating and I would love to employ these in my own classroom. In the classroom, there are traditional chairs, hokki stools, floor mats, and crates with pillows on them. She would also like to add a standing table to her room if it is possible. Not only are the students excited to have different seating arrangements each week, but it gives them an opportunity to recognize how they learn best. As a person with ADHD, I can understand the importance of diverse seating. It would have absolutely changed the way I learn, and I hope that using these different styles in my own classroom will help students as well.
As I entered this field placement, I was curious about how technology would be utilized in such a young classroom. Technology was only prevalent in my classrooms during the latter part of my elementary experience. Mrs Holmes’ classroom takes advantage of the smart board and school provided iPads. The smart board is used as a white board, projector, or to play videos. While using the iPads, the students use a reading program that also aids their comprehension skills. However, technology does not rule the classroom. I believe that it is so important for young classrooms to limit technology so that the student’s screen time is limited to allow for cognitive development. I feel that these students have a wonderful balance of tangibility and technology in this classroom.
This impact this classroom has had on me is stronger than I could have ever imagined. I am now absolutely positive that this is what I was meant to do. The multitudes of good mornings, high fives, and smiles have raised my spirits each day. The looks of frustration and piles of eraser shavings have helped me realize that this career is worth it. The train of hugs and thank you card filled my heart but also my eyes with tears. I am certain this is my future and I am even more sure that these students will be my future as well.