Say Hello to Mr. Devin, our fantastic Physical Education teacher, who has been with us for a couple years now! Covid may have slowed down our blog posts, but we're finding our blogging groove again... slowly! Thanks Mr. Devin for getting us started again, and for this inspirational read. Your teaching, much like yourself, is a gem that we are grateful to experience.
This is very overdue, but that's because I've never known what to say. Over the years I have been at Via Vita, I have sat down many times to try and write this blog post, and have always found myself second guessing every word. When I was first asked to write one, I was given the option to look at the other teacher's posts for inspiration, which left me even more unsure what to write! I have the pleasure of working with amazing individuals who are extremely talented, and seemingly, have a way with words. I had never placed myself in such a category. I didn't think I could find the words to create an elegant explanation of my style and approach to teaching. Every time I tried and read the posts of my fellow teachers, I always thought "I don't think I can do what you're doing here."
But, hold on... isn't that the point?
The beauty of this school of ours is that we celebrate difference. The teachers are all different. We all approach teaching in a different way, because we have vastly different experiences with education. We teach our students to embrace their differences, stand out, and be genuine to themselves. They say variety is the spice of life, and I don't think that could be more true for education.
When I finally had the realization that I was a teacher, and that's what I needed to do, I thought that I wanted to teach Physics. I loved physics, and found it fascinating how we could use math to explain why things happen the way that they do. At the time, I was also teaching Taekwon-do, and found myself bringing those physics lessons into my teaching there. I taught my students how to increase their power and speed through the use of physics. It permeated everything we did, and the more I studied physics, the more I applied it to my Taekwon-do. Balance, coordination, footwork, body movement, it all could be improved through physics. Through these lessons, my students improved immensely, because they were finally understanding the "why" behind the moves and techniques.
Do you need to know the exact physics behind throwing a ball to throw it? No; but understanding why throwing a ball higher will help it go further will certainly help you get it to your target.
I am always looking for why things work, and why they don't, and I believe fostering that questioning will help every student better understand what they are learning. When it comes to physical education, I want people to understand the "why" behind these skills, so that as they get older, they can apply that understanding to everything else they encounter.
Physical Education Teacher
(And many other hats at VVA!)
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)
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