Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Fostering Inclusive, Mentally Healthy Learning Environments

On Wednesday April 18th, 2018 I attended an NTIP Series workshop called “Fostering Inclusive, Mentally Healthy Learning Environments”. I place such high importance and value in all professional development opportunities as they allow you to learn and grow in your professional practice as an Educator. In this ever changing world, we need to keep up with current practices. Today’s session aligns with the York Region District School Board’s (YRDSB) Foci Mental Health and Modern Learning (Mathematics is part of the foci but not this can be applied to the learning environment as a whole, including all subject areas). This session also aligns with Moraine Hills Public School’s “Be Kind” Team initiatives of “Kindness to Self and Kindness to Others”.  


With every workshop I attend, I take plenty of notes and I like to make to-do lists containing at least one thing I can put into practice ASAP because research shows that when you apply your newfound knowledge within 24 hours, you are more likely to store it and use it. With this session, I found 8 practical takeaway ideas that I personally resonated with and felt would create a positive impact in my current Grade 6 classroom and would like to share them with you below:

  1.      Sunshine Calls

This can be a call, e-mail, or face-to-face communication at pick up where the Educator shares one good thing that the student has done, said, or accomplished that day. It is often found that parents immediately associate school calls with a negative emotion because they fear something happened to their child or that their child is in trouble. If Educators can add in a couple of Sunshine Calls per student per year, it not only makes the parents happy and proud, but also the student. I find that personally I have not been doing enough of this and will try to do this more often. I found a really great TPT FREE resource called “Freebie check-off sheet for positive parent communication” created by Teacher to the Core. It will allow you to keep track of your wonderful calls or e-mails so that you can spread the sunshine evenly among your students! Click here to visit the resource.

Flexible Seating27_Bored Teachers   Flexible Seating1_Bored Teachers
                 (@TheUniqueClassroom)                                   (@SettingUpForSecond)       

2.   Flexible Seating

In the beginning of this Grade 6 LTO, it was a rolling LTO which meant that we were not sure when the Teacher would be back so it kept getting extended. Seeing as I was never really sure when my last day was, I didn’t want to change TOO much in the classroom because it wasn’t really my class-just yet. At this point I am fairly certain that I will be here until the end of the year and even if I am not, I am willing to try to incorporate some flexible seating into my classroom. This can look differently for each class you go to. The students are sitting in their seats for nearly the whole day, after a while that can get pretty boring and uncomfortable. I currently have a ZEN Zone area where my students can sit/lay down with some pillows or in a comfy couch chair (from Mr. Weisinger our VP) and read their book or do some work there too. This means that I have spaces in my classroom for independent work/pairs (at desks), and independent/ pairs at ZEN Zone. In my next class, I would really like to include: a carpet, bean bags, lounge chairs, bouncy ball chair. For some inspiration, you can visit here.

3. Coping With Stress

It is evident that some students and adults for that matter, have a hard time coping with stress. In order for someone to be able to cope with stress, they will need to have some strategies in place to choose from. Many students are not equipped with coping strategies, so when they come to class and had a rough night before, or at recess and they don’t know what to do, you will see behavior. It may be visible in that you see students exhibit verbal or physical aggression towards others; but it can also be invisible in that a student shuts down and won’t speak to you or participate. If we as a collective of Educators and Caregivers can provide our students and children with coping strategies, it allows them to overcome their challenges and become resilient individuals. There are many ways to do this, and it all depends on the learners in your classroom. For our class, we have community circle and open communication about anything we wish to discuss. I have also implemented a “ZEN Zone” area, which was created by The Superhero Teacher. Click here to access the link for purchase. It was well worth the buy as it provides many wellness and mindfulness opportunities for your students (and yourself) to participate in. We also keep a wellness journal to reflect on different things each day. The students have access to this during each morning recess and it will be open to all classes once my students have mastered the challenges so that they can lead it out themselves. 

Image result for antecedent behavior consequence chart template

4. ABC Chart

An ABC Chart is a great way to track behaviours. A=Antecedents, B=Behaviours, C= Consequences. To read more about this and obtain a sample tracking sheet, visit one of my earlier blog posts titled “Creating Equitable Special Education Programs in Ontario Classrooms” by clicking here:
I have previously used this regularly when I was working in a Full-Day Kindergarten Classroom but for some reason when I came to Grade 6 I had forgotten all about it! There is so much to learn and so much to do as a new Teacher, which is why I really like to reflect on my experiences through my blog so that I can remember the things that worked well and change the things that did not. The ABC Chart worked well, and I will be re-implementing it in my Grade 6 class to help me try to identify the triggers. When you can identify the triggers, you can gain a better understanding of how to support or prevent.

Image result for class norms
5. Re-Visiting Class Norms

Throughout the year, students change and grow and the classroom norms that were once very effective, may no longer be effective as now there are differing needs. We will be re-visiting class norms/agreements and making any necessary modifications so that our classroom can continue to run smoothly and inclusively as possible. It is key to have students involved in this process so that there is “buy in”. They are more likely to do something or follow an agreement if they have a personal vested interest because they feel their ideas are valued.

Image result for google form

6. Learning Partner Survey

This is something new I have not yet tried. It was suggested in the workshop to create a Google Form that contains 3 partner options. It is an anonymous way for students to select people they feel most comfortable with. In the end, it is up to the Educators decision if that partner will be a good fit or if you want to let them have a chance to prove you wrong. I will definitely be giving this a try, even in group work scenarios because then you can just copy and paste the grouping results.

7. Storyline Online

(Include the video from the about page with this section instead of a pic
This is an online website where celebrities are doing read-alouds of well known books. Click here to visit the website. I feel that my students will really like this, especially in Grade 6 where celebrities are part of their interests and some even role models. Even a simple read-aloud to spark an inquiry, drama, or art provocation would be engaging for any learners 

8. Self-Advocacy Cards

I have heard about PECS or Visual Aids for learning, but have never heard about Self-Advocacy cards until the NTIP session I attended. Advocacy cards are needed for some but good for all! They allow students to communicate without the social pressures of raising their hand or verbally speaking if they physically are unable or don’t feel comfortable in doing so. The students can simply show you the card and then you will know how to respond.
  •     Students will be able to communicate their needs or ideas
  •    Students will feel less social pressure or anxiety in doing so
  •    Students will become empowered with the ability to advocate for themselves

I created Self Advocacy cards that I feel meets the needs of the students in my class. I also created a blank template for students to create their own, if there was anything I was missing that personally applied to them. If this is something you would like to implement in your classroom you can purchase them from my TPT site, click here.


I wish that I had the opportunity to take this workshop earlier on in the school year so that I could have all these great ideas in place. At least I have curated a wonderful repertoire for next year! If you are a new Teacher and have the opportunity to participate in the NTIP Program with your school board, then I highly recommend it!


I would like to end off with this quote that was presented to me at the NTIP learning session:

“When schools attend systematically to students’ social and emotional skills, the academic achievement of children increases, the incidence of problem behaviour decreases, and the quality of the relationships surrounding each child improves”.           
(Maurice J. Elias et al Promoting Social and Emotional Learning Guidelines for Educators, 1997)