Sunday, 30 September 2018

The Children We Mean to Raise...

At the root of this problem may be a rhetoric/reality gap, a gap between what parents and other adults say are their top priorities and the real messages they convey in their behavior day to day. Most parents and teachers say that developing caring children is a top priority and rank it as more important than children’s achievements (Bowman et al., 2012; Suizzo, 2007). 

A 2014 Research project titled "The Children We Mean To Raise: The Real Messages Adults Are Sending About Values" makes for interesting reading - I first discovered it three years ago, shortly after it was released by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, "Making Caring Common Project".  In the report, over 10,000 students from 33 schools in various states were asked to rank what was most important to them - caring for others, achieving at a high level or being a happy person.  They were also asked to imagine how their school peers and parents would respond to the same question. 

Significant numbers of students reported they valued achievement in school and personal happiness over helping others - and reported their parents did as well. 

While achieving well in school, working hard and being happy are all important aspects of life, there are also many, many times when we are called upon to not put ourselves first, in the interests of others and the need to care for and build a caring society.  I believe the report captures this nicely when it describes:

"there are countless moments throughout childhood and adulthood when our happiness and desires to achieve collide with the interests of others, whether we’re helping another student when we’re studying to ace the same exam, taking care of a sick relative when we’re exhausted, or passing the ball during a basketball game when we’d really rather shoot. When the balance shifts too far toward our interests, we not only compromise our relationships, we’re also at risk of being cruel, disrespectful, ungenerous, and dishonest. When children don’t prioritize caring, they’re also less motivated to develop the social and emotional skills, such as empathy, needed to treat people well day to day.

Further, any healthy society depends on adults who are able to take responsibility for diverse members of their communities and to put, at pivotal times, the common good before their own. Our research suggests that we are not preparing children to create this kind of society.

And the irony is this: The intense focus on achievement and happiness can make children not only less caring, but also less happy.

Our findings suggest that both youth and adults do value caring, even if it is not their top priority. The issue is not that the values of caring or fairness have disappeared. It’s that they appear in too many circumstances to be subordinated to personal interests such as achievement and happiness.

How can we close the gap between what adults say and what they actually seem to prioritize? The big challenge is not to convince parents and teachers that caring is important—it appears they already believe it is.  

The challenge is for adults to “walk the talk,” inspiring, motivating, and expecting caring and fairness in young people day to day, even at times when these values collide with children’s moment to moment happiness or achievement." (p. 5)

As a school that is philosophically organized around the principles of Peace Education, a number of the guidelines the report suggested to foster greater student investment in being caring above all resonated with me - and I wanted to share them here:

1) Children and youth need ongoing opportunities to practice caring and helpfulness, sometimes with guidance from adults

2) Children and youth need to learn to zoom in, listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, taking in the big picture and considering multiple perspectives

3) Children and youth need strong moral role models 

4) Children need to be guided in managing destructive feelings 

These are steps we take into consideration every day at Eric Harvie School and they do account, I think, for the strong ethic of care that exists among our students, that they take with them into their everyday lives and eventually, we hope, to middle school and later life as respectful, caring and active citizens of the world. 

We build these experiences with our students only through the tremendous support we receive from our families to be as caring a school as possible - clearly that makes us very fortunate indeed to work in a community where adults 'walk the walk' of caring.  And we will continue to make these four guidelines our focus in the years to come!

I encourage families to take a look at the whole report - their infographic can be found at

and the full report at

Our students consistently strive to be caring towards each other - and sometimes that is hard when they are playing together and disagree - as well as through our school initiatives to help the community through ventures like Jacket Racket, our Christmas project 'Families Helping Families' and other initiatives. This is something we are quite proud of in our school and our community and I believe this is one small way we are helping to change the world :)

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Managing Inappropriate Behaviours through Peace Education

"There are several commonly accepted myths about the causes of bullying for which there is no supporting evidence. These include claims that bullying stems from large class or school sizes, competition for grades, or other school life pressures. Another common assumption is that bullies suffer from poor self-esteem and insecurity."  

(Dr. Tracey C. Burns, OECD's Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, Directorate for Education and Skills in Paris) 

I am often asked to explain what we mean by 'Peace Education' at Eric Harvie School. I believe this is because Peace Education is not a prescribed program and doesn't come with a 'how-to' book for establishing and operating a school program.  Peace Education is, instead, a philosophical approach to engaging students in understanding human interactions within a learning environment. In other words - building empathy and caring as fully integrated aspects of learning to read, write, explore mathematics, social studies, science and all of the Arts. There is no program because every school and every classroom must have the latitude to find the best ways to embrace this way of thinking as it pertains to them both collectively and individually.  In my opinion, this is why Peace Education has such a profound impact – those involved are able to discover what matters most to them and then put their energy into making a difference in their world.

I discovered the foundations of Peace Education 14 years ago at the Gandhi Peace Institute held at the University of Alberta through the summer of 2004. At the time, I was about to transition from Assistant Principal to Principal of Douglas Harkness School, a beautiful little place with a highly multi-cultural and economically diverse school population – and the inherent challenges that accompany such an amazing school, including daily incidents of meanness and occasional bullying across the grades, K - 6.  

Discovering the interests, personal challenges, heroes and dreams of the students in the school in order to develop an approach to building empathy and caring practices made great sense to me – our students did not share common cultural backgrounds or living experiences so how could they appreciate the beauty in each other unless we offered them authentic opportunities for discovery? We began the Harkness Peace Education journey with literature, moved on to develop personal stories for sharing, got involved with Roots of Empathy (an international program that is simply outstanding in its simplicity and impact), developed leadership opportunities for children that were grounded in student ideas and joyously celebrated as the bullying behaviours slowly faded and caring began to be the way children lived on the school landscape. 

It was during these years that I discovered bullying is most often a defensive mechanism utilized by children who are hurting inside and have lost their trust in humanity and, often, themselves. Peace Education practices help all children learn to trust themselves and each other as they openly discuss and explore events, ideas and feelings when needed, not when scheduled. Our students shared their experiences, ideas and dreams for the future with each other in a multitude of contexts within and outside of school – they trusted they would be listened to and valued because they were. And this provided them with a bank of positive feelings that allowed them to begin to trust the world a little more, and to offer the world a little more of themselves, their time and energy to helping others. The Dalai Lama says peace begins with kindness and I wholeheartedly agree.

It was also during these early years of working within a Peace Education paradigm that I recognized not all instances of childhood negative interactions were actually bullying - some were kids just being rude, other times mean, and each kind of interaction required a different focus of intervention and response from us, the adults in the school.  A few years later, in 2010,  I had the great good fortune to open the new Cranston K - 4 School, with a focus on Peace Education from the day the doors opened. Our successes with the work we accomplished at this school continued to pave the path for ensuring Peace Education is a key element of Eric Harvie School as well, which opened in 2016 with me as principal and Peace Education as a foundational focus for the school. Why? Because it works!

And here we are, in the first few weeks of Eric Harvie School's third year of operation. We have students  who have already been involved in a variety of incidents and when this happens each fall, it reminds me we need to keep talking about how to help our children stay safe in schools - and to help themselves stay safe as well.

Let's begin the conversation with exploring the differences between being rude, being mean and bullying  - I recommend reading Signe Whitson's full article about these differences at

Here's what Whitson says:

Being Rude = Inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else
"From kids, rudeness might look more like burping in someone’s face, jumping ahead in line, bragging about achieving the highest grade or even throwing a crushed up pile of leaves in someone’s face. On their own, any of these behaviors could appear as elements of bullying, but when looked at in context, incidents of rudeness are usually spontaneous, unplanned inconsideration, based on thoughtlessness, poor manners or narcissism, but not meant to actually hurt someone." I think of being rude as a spontaneous behaviour without a planned target - something a child (or an adult) says or does impulsively without intending to harm another but unintentionally does. There is usually remorse on the part of the 'doer/sayer' once they realize what they have done and the consequence can be quite minimal if the remorse is sincere because the injured party understands they were not targeted and are unlikely to be hurt by this person again.

Being Mean = Purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice)
The main distinction between 'rude' and 'mean' behaviour has to do with intention; while rudeness is often unintentional, mean behaviour very much aims to hurt or depreciate someone. Kids are mean to each other when they criticize clothing, appearance, intelligence coolness or just about anything else they can find to denigrate. Meanness also sounds like words spoken in anger - impulsive cruelty that is often regretted in short order. Very often, mean behaviour in kids is motivated by angry feelings and/or the misguided goal of propping themselves up in comparison to the person they are putting down. Commonly, meanness in kids sounds an awful lot like:
“Are you seriously wearing that sweater again? Didn’t you just wear it, like, last week? Get a life.”
“You are so fat/ugly/stupid/gay.”
“I hate you!"
Make no mistake; mean behaviours can wound deeply and adults can make a huge difference in the lives of young people when they hold kids accountable for being mean. Yet, menanness is still different from bullying in important ways that should be understood and differentiated when it comes to intervention.

Bullying = Intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power
Experts agree that bullying entails three key elements : an intent to harm, a power imbalance and repeated acts or threats of aggressive behavior. Kids who bully say or do something intentionally hurtful to others and they keep doing it, with no sense of regret or remorse — even when targets of bullying show or express their hurt or tell the aggressors to stop.

Bullying may be physical, verbal, relational or carried out via technology:
Physical aggression was once the gold standard of bullying— the “sticks and stones” that made adults in charge stand up and take notice. This kind of bullying includes repeated hitting, punching, kicking, spitting, tripping, hair  pulling, slamming a child into a locker and a range of other behaviors that involve physical aggression.
Verbal aggression is what our parents used to advise us to “just ignore.” We now know that despite the old adage,
words and threats can, indeed, hurt and can even cause profound, lasting harm.
Relational aggression is a form of bullying in which kids use their friendship—or the threat of taking their
friendship away—to hurt someone. Social exclusion, shunning, hazing, and rumor spreading are all forms of this
pervasive type of bullying that can be especially beguiling and crushing to kids.
Cyberbullying is a specific form of bullying that involves technology. According to Hinduja and Patchin of the CyberbullyingResearch Center, it is the “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones,and other electronic devices.” Notably, the likelihood of repeated harm is especially high with cyberbullying because electronic messages can be accessed by multiple parties, resulting in repeated exposure and repeated harm.

So,why is it so important to make the distinction between rude, mean and bullying?
Because gratuitous references to bullying are creating a bit of a “little boy who cried wolf” phenomena. In other words, if kids and parents improperly classify rudeness and mean behavior as bullying — whether to simply make conversation or to bring attention to their short-term discomfort — we all run the risk of becoming so sick and tired of hearing the word that this actual life-and-death issue among young people loses its urgency as quickly as it rose 
to prominence.It is important to distinguish between rude, mean and bullying so that teachers, school administrators, police, youth workers, parents and kids all know what to pay attention to and when to intervene. As we have heard too often in the news, a child’s future may depend on a non-jaded adult’s ability to discern between rudeness at the bus stop and life-altering bullying."

At Eric Harvie School, we make use of progressive discipline approaches whereby we ascertain the kind of incident that has occurred and then work with the students to help them understand why this has happened and how to best respond so the actions change and children are not left feeling like they are 'bad' or 'hopeless' or 'friendless' - all reactions that research shows may lead to greater incidences of inappropriate behaviour in children's future relationships. Our goal, through Peace Education, is to promote kindness and caring attitudes and help all children understand why and how negative incidents occur.

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Moving Towards Independence and the Hiccups Along the Way

"Learning is a vulnerable process; it’s not about knowing, but growing. Creating that environment is crucial at all levels."  Simon Sinek

Sometimes the work of teachers and parents fits like a glove - and other times it seems like the work we do with the children we have in common is simply eons apart in thinking! As parents and teachers, we both agree we want our children to be independent, capable thinkers and doers. It's just that sometimes we see the journey a bit differently, depending on our perspectives :)  The bottom line, however, is that children need room to grow into independence - and that means room to make mistakes, understand the mistakes and have another 'go' at building independence again. 

This year, we have organized our school to make sure there is room for growing as learners. 

Each morning, our students have the opportunity to engage in "Ignite" time - that could mean the opportunity to engage in a school-based learning opportunity such as SPARK or CALM, HeartMath or Zones of Regulation - or some other identified learning opportunity.  It could mean students are working individually or in small groups with a teacher to practice a newly learned skill (such as patterning, writing a poem, designing or building a project, etc) or engaging in a skills-based activity or game with peers to practice and reinforce literacy or math skills. It might also mean students are posting personal learning goals or artifacts on Iris to share with parents at home, or they are reading a favourite book independently or with a friend. They might even be working in the Studio or in the Learning Commons - as the year evolves, 'Ignite Time' will change to meet the needs and demands of students as well. 

One of the things 'Ignite Time' does is build student independence and thinking. They are not waiting to be told what to do all the time - even though they may be working with a teacher for a designated learning time, there will still be plenty of time for independent decision making related to choosing how to start one's day as a learner. 'Be ready for learning' by investing in learning activities as a warm-up to the day - reinforcing new skills and understandings at the same time - that is what 'Ignite Time' is intended to offer.

So what happens when a child makes a choice and then, for whatever reason, messes up - doesn't follow directions, gets in an argument with a peer, refuses to participate, doesn't follow through on what they planned to do, spends the time finding a pencil and never gets to work at all - all things that happen everyday - in every learning space in the world, I'm sure!  Well, that's when we know whether or not our school is a growing - rather than a knowing place - to learn.  

A growing place of learning demonstrates the grace to say 'well, that wasn't what we thought was going to happen, was it? What do you think we can do to help you try that again and see if you can get a different result?'  When a child knows there is room to grow, they accept the hiccup of messing up as part of the process. They understand it's okay to not be perfect and they can try again and do one or two things differently to get a more expected result.

Being part of a growing place of learning helps children achieve independence - they learn to ask for help when they need it and to persevere if they can see a solution ahead. Children learn to be more accepting of each other's mistakes, to blame less and accept accountability for an ineffective choice more quickly - because they know they have the space and time to try again. And keep trying, if that is what it takes to achieve success at what they are trying to achieve.

Children become independent thinkers, not only independent doers. It is not always a quick process.  Years ago, when I went to school, I perceived there was no room for second chances - children either did what was expected of them and were declared successful, or they didn't and faced the consequences. What that system failed to honour was the individuality of the learners - the possibility that it might take more than one try at something to be successful. 

We know our learners are curious, excited and willing to try new things without much hesitation.  And we know they will experience hiccups and trip-ups along their learning journeys. The key thing to know is that recovering from those hiccups helps us all become independent thinkers and doers.

And that is the way we move towards independence each and every day.

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal