The image below was created by the kids, so there are a few spelling mistakes. But, as said by one of our amazing teachers, spelling, like life, isn't always perfect. But it can still be honest, heartfelt, and beautiful. So, with that, we hope you enjoy this beautiful piece written in combination by our students and our fantastic Ms. Tori. A wonderful way to start Spring! Thank you VVA!
“Can you name 10 things that make Via Vita unique, that you love and appreciate about your school?”
It’s a question I’m sure most of the kids have thought of from time to time but one that I was curious to see be put into words. As I stare at the wonderful 60 faces in front of me, eager to participate, I can not help but have a sense of immense pride. Pride in my kids, in my work team, and in the environment in which I have been honoured to become a part of.
As I stand at the front of the room in Buddies with my fellow teachers in tow, I am amazed at the level of critical thinking these kids bring to class every day. Without hesitation they create groups that involve all ages and designate a writer and “techy” who copies down the information and then prepares it for our Menti project. Menti (as the lovely Ms. Rhiannon taught me) is a brainstorming website that allows multiple people to add words to a central idea or question. The best part is the ideas that come forward more often are the ones that grow in size. It is reflective of that age old classroom question “so what’s our big picture, what is our major focus”, without standing at the front of the room in a lecture-style lesson. As we rotate around the room, it is clear that the kids mirror many of their fellow teachers’ style of classroom management. They prompt their friends for answers to our question, and are patient for the ideas to come out rather than move on to the next student. Some of our older students engage with focus activities or adapted questions to help our Pre-Kindergarten kids feel acknowledged and involved.
All in all the lesson goes according to plan, and as we come back together to share our answers with the Menti Cloud projected on to the wall, I cannot help but feel that twinge of excitement to see what the kids really believe sets our school apart.
Their excitement grows with each word that is typed and submitted, and while they smile, laugh, and point I cannot help but feel that sense of pride again. It wells up in my throat as I observe the things that I know in my heart are important to their learning, but that you sometimes wonder if they are picking up on. Music, daily physical activity and kitchen are the first to be thrown up on the board, and it is amazing to see how they value the impact that daily life skills have on their growth. Values like kindness, buddies, and helping others are quickly added; compassion training that is close to all of our collective hearts. After school is added by another student and I feel Ms. Hilary grab my arm, and with a giant smile she goes, “Look, I’m up there!”
“Of course you are Hilary”, I think... we couldn’t do this without you.
As the word 'kind' builds it’s way up to the centre (being the most common word they think of), I stare at these beautiful future adults. If the one thing we could bring to them every day is how to be kind to each other, I know I would never have another moment where I question myself, “did I make an impact today?”
Buddies lesson for the day: never underestimate the value of kindness in a child’s education. It will truly inspire everyone around you. It is something I have seen every day since I joined Via Vita Academy, and I cannot express how thankful I am to work in an environment that values this quality.
And knowing that our kids believe it sets us apart too?
Well, there’s something kind of magical about that, isn’t there?
From the very appreciative,
Think about your day… how many times to you find your head going through the “to-do “list? How often do you find yourself completing a task and yet immersed in thoughts of something else? How often do your thoughts spiral into the realm of the negative? Now…ask yourself this…how often do you allow yourself to live completely in the present moment?
We’ve been exploring the topic of mindfulness at Via Vita and the ways in which we can incorporate even more strategies to help our students live self-aware, fulfilling lives. Before we can dive into the “how to” of mindfulness, it's important to first understand what it is, and why we here at Via Vita, feel it will be a game changer for our students.
We’ll begin by debunking what mindfulness isn’t. In his book Growing up Mindful, Christopher Willard outlines some common misconceptions about the practice of mindfulness. We thought we’d elaborate on some of our favourites:
Myth #1: Mindfulness is selfish. There are better uses of our time.
Reality: Mindfulness is a health practice. One of the most important lessons we can teach our children/students, is that in order to for us to take care of others, we must first take care of ourselves. Putting your own health first is never selfish!
Myth #2: Mindfulness indicates weakness
Reality: Mindfulness strengthens and empowers! Mindful practices teach us to cope with difficult situations and help us to form resilience! It’s easy to fall prey to our natural “fight or flight” instincts, but mindfulness teaches us how to be the calm within the storm!
Myth #3: Mindfulness = magic
Reality: Okay, so it may not exactly be “magic”, but it is pretty powerful! Mindfulness helps students to become in touch with their emotional reactions. It builds an awareness of body, mind, and spirit. People who practice mindfulness have incredible tools to deal with stress and adversity. Moreover, mindful people are more intuitive decision makers. Thus, while it’s not “magic”, it’s an amazing life skill! Forget invisibility and x-ray vision…let mindfulness be your super power!
So, now that we know what mindfulness isn’t…what exactly is it?
Mindfulness encourages us to zero in on the here and now. We let go of past sadness (depression) and future worry (anxiety), and focus on the present. Mindful practices encourage us to become aware of our own thoughts and emotional patterns. When we stop, listen, and feel, we suddenly become privy to self-knowledge that was once concealed or over-shadowed by negative thoughts. When we take stock of where are minds wander, we ultimately unveil the truth.
Christopher Willard sums up the process of being mindful with the “4 R’s”:
Rest awareness on a particular focus or “anchor”
Recognize when are where your thought/focus wanders
Return awareness gently to the focus/anchor
Now that you have a general sense of what mindfulness is, perhaps you can see why we feel it’s so important for our students here at Via Vita. If you’re still not sold, here are some of the incredible benefits that we see emerging from mindful practices:
Practicing non-judgment: Our inner critic…we all have one. For some of us, our inner critic carries a megaphone. Adolescence in particular is unfortunately a time that is often plagued with insecurity. With the prevalence of social media, youth are bombarded with images of comparison. Mindfulness encourages us to examine the words we speak to ourselves and find contentment in where we are right now. We become aware of all aspects of ourselves…without judgment or comparison.
Learning ‘response-ability’: We’ve all been there…our “fight or flight” takes over and suddenly we lose all control. In Growing up Mindful, Christopher Willard points to the importance of teaching youth to respond rather than react. A reaction is thoughtless, impulsive, and often regretful. A response on the other hand, is controlled, thoughtful, and with purpose. When students become in tune with their emotional reactions, they can develop mindful strategies to coping with anger, anxiety, and sadness. Willard deems this act of mindful response, teaching our youth “response-ability”.
Teaching how to be alone: Loneliness is unfortunately a growing concern amongst today’s youth. Young people are often overscheduled with little downtime. They are constantly plugged in and connected through social media, and yet, there is a growing disconnect with their own thoughts and feelings. The reality is, that so many of our children and students don’t know how to be alone with themselves. When they are alone, they are suddenly bombarded with thoughts and emotions that they are not used to, and don’t know how to cope with…this leads them to go looking for distractions. Teaching children how to be alone is thus an essential life skill. Susan Turke perhaps explained this phenomenon best when she said: “If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they’re only going to know how to be lonely.”
So hopefully at this point you can see why we are so excited by the topic of mindfulness. There are many aspects of these practices that we already use here at Via Vita and have seen the results in our students. We can’t wait to learn more about the topic and implement more practices on a daily basis! Like any skill, mindfulness takes time and practice to develop. Mindfulness also pushes students to confront their emotions, which can lead to some resistance at first. However, we all feel that the benefits of daily mindfulness will empower our students in ways in which they couldn’t imagine! We look forward to sharing more about our journey with mindfulness over the course of the next year!
Ms. Meghan, Ms. Zoe & the Megaladon Class (Grade 7-9)
Please welcome Ms. Tori Portman - another fantastic new teacher joining Via Vita this fall! We are eager to get the year started with this enthusiastic, kind, and talented team player. Enjoy getting to know Tori with her recent blog post as she prepares for her first year, of many, with us at VVA!
Hi everyone! My name is Tori Portman, and I’m one of the new teachers joining the Via Vita Academy family! In my many years of adulting, and trying to stay a life long learner, it has come to my attention to pass on my recently acquired knowledge:
We are all continuous works in progress.
Isn’t that amazing? How has it taken me so long to realize this and yet we teach our students constantly to persevere, and know that another day, another year, or another change is right around the corner? So I think if there is any advice I could not only pass on to my fellow students or staff, but to myself, it is that we all deserve a chance to take a breath when it comes to growth.
I have always struggled with not being “immediately” perfect at a skill, or lesson, which has run over into my teaching ability as well. Why didn’t that lesson go perfectly? Is it obviously my fault? Why couldn’t I get it on the first try? Realistically, when do we ever get something the first try? Those odd opportunities when we have already mastered a skill, or find out we’ve been lucky to figure it out right away, but these are unrealistic expectations to meet on a daily basis.
So for this year, I have reminded myself to breathe, reflect, and realizing I am still building up the teacher I hope to be one day.
And that’s ok! Really!
I tell my students constantly that one day does not define their abilities. So why should we put the pressure on ourselves as adults, as educators, as parents to think the same rule does not apply? We are constantly rearranging the building blocks of our life and I hope take time for myself to do the same this year. This school seems to provide it’s staff and students exactly that space. Lesson didn’t go well? Try again tomorrow! Try it differently! Have someone there to tell you it’ll be ok and provide you with whatever support you need in that instance. What more could you look for when trying to find your “forever home” as an educator. Already from my few weeks of working at Via Vita, I can see the relationships and constant building up that staff and students focus on rather than breaking people down and reminding them of the faults they are usually self-aware of from the start. I can not contain my excitement at the success not only my students find, but that I hope to find within myself. Self-positivity is something I constantly preach in my teaching values, but not always something I practice actively. If I had primary goal for this year, it would be that. Someone remind me I said such coherent ideas when it’s December and I’m looking for somewhere to hibernate and de-frazzle my brain.
As a teacher I am ready to promote this theory. As a fellow learner with my students I am looking forward to practice building myself up every day.
Look out 2018-2019 school year, Tori Portman is coming atcha!
*insert power pose with ultimately clumsy results here*
A Work in Progress
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