Please join us in welcoming Ms. Arlene to the Via Vita team! We wish we had met Arlene sooner, as soon as she started, we could see the awesomeness she offered both our students and staff. She brings with her a wonderful sense of joy and wonder, that has already inspired great discoveries in the classroom. We are so grateful and thrilled she has joined our team! With her contagious zest for life, curiosity and openness, we hope you enjoy reading her intro to you! Welcome aboard, Ms. Arlene!
Ever since I was a child, I knew there was something I loved about travelling. Having parents who immigrated to Toronto from the Philippines, I was fortunate enough to spend some of my childhood travelling to the Philippines to visit the hometowns of my parents as well as some family. Sure there was the whole process that was exciting too - packing up your bags, going on a plane, all that ‘good’ stuff. But there was some sort of magic in travelling somewhere, and not knowing what to expect. What feelings will I get once I arrive? What people will I meet? What will I see? I certainly didn’t have the answers to that, and if I asked my parents they didn’t know either - all those answers can only come from me, and when that time comes.
Visiting the Philippines was such a wonderful experience. I was able to learn more about myself - my heritage and culture. Even at a young age, I took this as an opportunity to learn something new. However, there was still something more that I needed, especially once the trip came to an end and I eventually had to go back home. But with that being said, my love and pride of being who I am, a Filipino Canadian, took me in the direction of doing more with that. For over 10 years, I was actively involved in a cultural dance group. We would showcase our Filipino culture through music and dance and we would perform in festivals within Canada and other countries around the world. I remember thinking, how lucky am I to do what I love and be able to share that with others. Essentially, this whole experience for me entailed learning more about my culture, dance, and travelling - all of my favourite things.
I believe that it is important to take up every opportunity to ‘travel’, and I am using that term very loosely. Although I have shared with you my first travel experience which involved hopping on a plane, this is not the only travelling one can do. Travel in a book, in a movie, or in your dreams. Travel with friends, or with new friendly faces. There’s mystery and wonder in where it will take you. For instance, mine took me to dance and to learning about Filipino culture. But, the grand souvenir that I got from this all is a broader perspective in the word ’travel’. To me, travelling isn’t merely a thing to do - it’s an experience and it’s a feeling. When you travel, I guarantee you will learn something new.
As a new teacher at Via Vita Academy, my hope is to inspire these students to do the same. I want them to travel within learning, within their creative minds, within their play, and within their conversations with others. There are new adventures awaiting them, and I am so excited to see where their own travel experience will take them!
Please join us in welcoming Ms. Jenn to the team at VVA! We are thrilled to have her join us and provide the much anticipated role of Health & Wellness Support for our students and staff. Jenn has a unique and valuable perspective; we are excited to have her energy, her experience, and her zest for helping children and families. We always throw a curveball at our new staff by asking them to introduce themselves through a blog post. Well, Jenn came right back with this wonderful tidbit to read, offering us a glimpse into her family life and also teaching (and life!) perspective. Thank you, Jenn! And to everyone - enjoy the read!
One of my favourite things to do with my children is sky gaze. We like to do this during the day when there are clouds, and in the night when there are stars. This activity sparks conversations full of questions (some of which I have to answer, “Let me get back to you on that one!”). It allows me to really see and hear my children’s viewpoint on many things and appreciate the wonder they have through their eyes and understanding of topics. Putting myself into their mindset is not only intriguing, but also grounding.
We lay on the raft at the cottage, which is sitting on the sandbar, and look up at the big white clouds contrasting a blue sky.
“Oh my goodness! I see a dragon with a long tail,” exclaims my son.
“Oh my! Where?” I reply.
“Right there! You can see his eyes and teeth and a tongue sticking out!”. He points to it and giggles. My daughter, excitedly says, “Oh, yes! I see it too!”
I stare at the exact same spot and struggle to see this dragon. Instead, I see something entirely different (the shape of a dog with big ears).
“Hmm, I am trying to see this dragon! In the meantime, give it a name guys! What are we going to call him?” As they discuss back and forth what this dragon’s name will be, I am hunting in that area to see what they are seeing. I tilt my head back ever so slightly, so that my viewpoint is just a bit larger, open my eyes a bit wider, and let my perspective shift. Finally, things slowly start to come into focus, and I simultaneously can see the dog and something else emerging. My depth of view had been too focused before, and I now see a very detailed and interesting looking dragon! Instant connection! Dopamine hit to the brain!
“Ohhhhhhhhh! Yes! I see him now! That is so cool! What is his name?”
“We decided to call him Smokey because he looks like white smoke!”. The conversation then lends itself to many questions I ask about Smokey (What kind of dragon is he? Does he have special powers? How old do you think he is?). Lots of laughs and giggles ensue as I am drawn into the minds of a seven and nine year old….
The tide is starting to come in now and it rocks the raft back and forth as it starts to float (my favorite!). “Smokey” starts to change shape as a small plane overhead cuts through the clouds. We say goodbye to Smokey. My daughter exclaims, “Now, I see a fairy with wings holding a wand!” And just like that, we are onto the next thing, which I have the task at finding again, and they will soon have the challenge of finding what I see…...
The ability of changing one’s perspective, being open to seeing and appreciating someone elses’ point of view, and switching one’s thinking/attention about a situation due to a change in rules or demands is known as, “Cognitive Flexibility”. Flexibility is a daily life skill that allows us to function competently in our world with others since we are social beings. Effective problem solving, emotional regulation, and creativity are all rooted in this vital skill. We need it to survive in our ever changing world as we must adapt to new situations.
Cognitive flexibility serves as part of a set of mental processes (known as “Executive Functioning”) which are necessary for the control of our behaviour, impulses, attention, planning, and our attainment of goals. It is a skill that varies across our lifespan and is extremely important in our wellness and in our ability to learn.
As a photographer, as well, while wearing one of my many hats, flexibility is important. I have to make decisions on which lenses to apply to a scene. Do I want to narrowly focus in on a particular person/object I find interesting? Or do I want to expand my view and be open to other things that may enhance the photo and allow everything to all be in focus at once? Am I open to shifting my attention to something else? Do I use a fixed focal length (“prime lens”) which requires me to move around and snap at various angles, but also pre-determines the amount that stays in view? Or do I want to use a zoom lens that allows for a variety of shots with different magnifications both narrow and wide, but may encourage me to stay at only one vantage point? Being open to seeing the beauty in all these options and not getting “stuck” on familiarity or habit, constantly sparks my creativity, influences my decisions, and thus challenges my cognitive flexibility artistically.
Whether an adult like myself with a self admitted, “Type A” personality, or a small child who views things naturally from a self-focused perspective, strengthening one’s cognitive flexibility can be introduced early in school and practiced throughout life. I see it as a welcoming challenge to my own behavioural habits. I strive to support students in developing this skill to experience success both inside and outside of the classroom. One book I LOVE to read which resonates with small children and is an empowering lesson on perspective is, “Pete the Cat and his Magic Sunglasses”. Check it out if you are not familiar!
How do we make ourselves aware of the importance of this skill and intentionally practice it in our daily life? It certainly comes easier to some than it does to others. For myself, I am driven to connecting with people. I am a ‘people person’. I love the variety of personalities people have and the diverse strengths and challenges that make us who we are. I love learning and try to learn something new every day from someone and try to intentionally challenge myself to see things from other points of view.
However, what do we do with students who do not have this curiosity or interest and find it difficult to manage frustrations or their emotions because they are “stuck” cognitively and do not have these skills? When supporting children who are struggling, I often get down physically on their level/vantage point. I ask myself metaphorically, “What lens does this person have on right now? Do they have another lens in their bag or is it very limited? Do I have the same lens that I can try on and appreciate their view and feelings in this moment? Can I lend them my lens and show them another way to view this problem that might be helpful?”. A child’s perspective changes when they know there are other ways to view things. Solutions to problems become visible and attainable. This also drives confidence and independence.
The one thing I think I have figured out in my life is that if I approach EVERY interaction with genuine interest and curiosity, and root it in EMPATHY, being cognitively flexible is easy. I think empathy is the magic key to it all. “It allows us to see with the eyes of another, listen with the ears of another, and have feeling with the heart of another”- Alfred Adler. If we can teach this before anything else and ensure that we have empathy for others and ourselves, this opens the doors to learning. One could argue that empathy is the highest form of knowledge.
This past week was National Dance Week. We aren't a Dance School, but we sure are a School that loves to Dance! Enjoy reading this beautiful post written by the lovely Ms. Zoe, our in-house Dance teacher, among many other things, who reflects on not just Dance Week, but the embrace of originality here at VVA. It brought tears to our eyes reading it! Thank you so much, Ms. Zoe, for al the gifts you bring. We are a lucky bunch!
Dance is probably one of the most innate forms of language. From the time that we are young, it seems like such a natural response to allow our bodies to speak through movement. I can still remember the absolute weightless feeling of flailing my limbs about, in no particular fashion; mimicking flight. Each motion completely my own invention from the curl of my fingertips, to the point of my toes. This is what it felt like to be absolutely free and move with complete authenticity. As we get older, social pressures act as inhibitors to this freedom of movement. We become more controlled, more in our heads, and less in our hearts. Yet, still it’s there…the natural inclination to tap one’s foot, or to gently sway from side to side. It lives and breaths within each of us.
For generations dance has joined communities together, through social connection and communication. For some it’s been seen as a spiritual experience. It is tied to our culture and allows history to carry on throughout generations. Most importantly, it transcends the limits of social factors, and allows us to just be in union with each other in our most natural beautiful state…happy and free.
I am so lucky to get to experience the joy of dance on a daily basis working at VVA. When I was first asked to instruct the dance class at VVA, I was a little apprehensive. Would the students really want to dance so frequently? I was pleasantly surprised to find how eager students of all ages were to have the opportunity to express themselves through this unique art form. From the vivacious pre-k’s who throw their bodies about with liberty, to the mindful teenager who forgets to “be cool” for a moment, while practising their favourite corny dance moves. From the impromptu dance circles that erupt at lunch like a Disney musical, to the heartfelt story telling expressed through showcase dance routines… dance is everywhere in our halls.
In discussing what we would do to celebrate National Dance Week here at VVA, I became aware of just how much dance is part of our school culture. In registering for Dance Nova Scotia’s ‘Dare to Dance’ challenge, we needed to have our whole school dance for 20 minutes together. This is of course something that happens all of the time at our school, without even questioning it. We ultimately decided on some classic line dances, followed by a student-led “dance circle” that invited each student to showcase their unique abilities. As I watched our students so naturally form their “whole-school dance circle” with appreciation for each unique individual, I realized how very lucky I am to be a part of a school community where students feel free to be completely themselves.
Watching these children move with such truth and joy has encouraged me to get back to my own natural roots of dancing, of which I’d cloistered for so long. Years of formal dance training had made me focus on perfection, and I’d forgotten what it felt like to experience dance as a pure outpouring of the soul. There’s no greater joy than dancing freely with the kids, not caring how silly I look. I honestly think the more ridiculous that I am, the more the kids enjoy it. Perhaps we can all take a lesson from these young dancers about what it means to live creatively, and authentically. Perhaps the only thing that we need to do in order to keep that spark of innocence alive throughout our lives, is to just keep on dancing!
With all my heart,
In keeping with the theme of National Dance Week, I asked each of my dances classes to share what they love about dance. Here are some of their thoughtful responses:
Dragonfly & Manta Ray Class (pk-1)
“Dancing makes me really, really, really happy!” -Regan
“Dancing feels so good and gives me exercise.” -Mason
“Dance is exciting!” -Bria
“I like playing freeze dance.” -Christopher
Melksham Monsters & Kronosaurus Class (grade 2-6)
“When I dance, I feel like I’m in another universe, and I’m the only one in it” -Greyson
“Even when I’m sad, dancing makes me happy.” -Ariella
“I like dancing because it makes me feel good about myself.” -Victoria
“I like dancing because I get to have fun!” -Olivia
“I love doing dance circles with my friends” -Kathleen
“Dancing makes me feel calm.” -Simeon
“Dancing takes me to a different world.” -Amelia
“When I dance, I feel like there’s nothing else around me.” -Payton
Megalodon Class (grade 7-9)
“When I’m dancing, I can just be myself. I don’t have to put on a face for anyone.” -Liv
“When you get into the groove you lose the negativity in your life.”- A.J
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