Ms. Jenn, new to VVA this year, writes about her first experience with SHOWCASE! So wonderful to hear her perspective, after we're sure, much experience with the traditional Christmas Concert routine. The Showcase situation is definitely it's own entity, and now with one under her belt, she's ready for more! Please enjoy her beautifully detailed reflection of this special thing that we do here at Via Vita. Thanks, Jenn!
As a new staff member at Via Vita Academy, the word “Showcase” floated around from time to time among the senior staff all year. It was a bit of a phenomenon in my interpretation and left me with a lot of questions which I silently kept to myself. Why? Because it was always mixed into sentences with words or phrases such as, “prepare for”, “crazy”, “stress”, “huge production”, “support needed”, “it is a ‘thing’”, “exhaustion”, and my favourite, “Oh, you wait!” followed by a giggle. What was this ‘thing’?? What was “Showcase”?! Will I survive?...
Once the Showcase preparation had started and our whole school schedule had been turned upside down for two weeks, I was met with the question from colleagues, “Are you ready for the Showcase craziness to begin? How are you feeling so far?”. I would reply, “Well with anything here that is new to me, I trust you all. I am just going to embrace the process”. You see, working at VVA, you live and breathe a supportive environment whereby the staff and students are very much a collective working unit - like a thriving honey bee colony where VVA is the hive, if you wish. That is where all the sweet success is produced. Only I guess, there would be two Queen Bee’s who regulate the unity of this buzzing colony - Ms Meghan & Ms Adele!
In the final two days leading up, a quick morning meeting with the whole school to go over the day, staff downing coffee like there was no tomorrow, and singing O Canada, was followed by every “honey bee” splitting off with his or her assigned job so we can run through the show and get out as many kinks as possible. The older students (Giant Pandas) had big roles aside from being on stage - walking around with microphones and headsets and communicating with us from all over the downstairs to coordinate the scenes and deliver cues. The maturity was remarkable. Some Panthers & Pandas also volunteered to help assist us in our “Kiddie Korner” which is not an easy job keeping all the little bees quiet, occupied, and ready when they need to be. Leadership was in full effect and surprising to us staff who were watching! The days were long. Snack and lunch happened, but not at the normal times. The little bees learned lessons in patience, and flexibility with these changes and moved through them like little bosses! A couple students found scenes challenging in dress rehearsal and they did not go smoothly. We discussed what things we could do last minute to support them - can we change things this late? Cut the scene? Modify the scene? Find a backup? What will happen on the big night? Oh my, this is where I struggled personally. I felt pressure. I did not want to let anyone down. Fingers were crossed.
The big day was long and the students were in after school care until 430pm following a full rehearsal of the show. However, the staff never left. We cleaned, did last minute preparations, ate, and quickly got ready at school for the doors to open at 6pm. Oh wait! And, of course, an unforseen hiccup - the power went out around 2pm, when we were just finishing up rehearsal, and stayed out due to unknown causes until close to 4pm! Nevertheless, we persisted. We ran around during that time with big, goofy smiles on our faces refusing to think that the absence of electricity would halt all the hard work that had been put into the show that night! In the words of Tinkerbell, “All you need is faith, trust, and a little pixie dust”!
With lights now on, the doors opened at 6pm, and Ms Adele was shockingly calm and actually ready to start the show before 6:30pm. We started on time, and the show ran amazingly well from start to finish. So much cooperation happened for those 2 hours of the show if only you could hear what was happening through those headsets. Students were creative and improvised to cue each other if they forgot their lines; students beamed on stage with more confidence than I had ever seen, and I even had an impromptu silent dance party in the back foyer to celebrate the success of one particular student who exclaimed, “I am so proud of myself!”, which brought tears to my eyes.
The Showcase wrapped up on time at 830pm with a whole school dance to ‘Footloose’ and let me tell ya, as tired as we all were, we were most definitely feeling the energy and wanting to kick off our “Sunday shoes”. We looked at each other when it was all over and felt that awkward high energy that you feel after you finish a big exam in university (a mixture of adrenaline and mind fog with a sprinkling of relief). As parents and children started to trickle out for the night, we heard many comments that it was “the best Showcase ever”. So many parents not only acknowledged their own children, but made thoughtful, congratulatory comments about other children with whom they were proud. The staff along with a kind student and parent volunteer began the clean up process which took us until 10pm when we closed the doors for the night and went home to our families. This too, I am told, was early compared to other years where the dinner was held in addition to the show, and staff finished up after midnight. For some of us, this had been a 15 hour day, with many similar late days leading up to it. My colleagues are the hardest working, dedicated people I have ever met - arguably at times, perhaps so hard working that I worry about them. But yes, they are amazing. Equally as amazing, are the students who comprise the hive at Via Vita Academy. Well done, well done, well done!! You should all be so proud of yourselves. You rock!
So what did I learn from the VVA family about this production? That true learning, like most things at VVA, stems from the collaborative process. Which I now get, is the reason we do what we do here at VVA. The end product was the Showcase - a result of ALL the learning that had taken place all year, the hard work putting together projects, studying for tests, finishing assignments, going to study hall, waiting turns in the kitchen, participating in discussions - I get it! Everything was put to the test over the two week creative period. Now I get why they call it “SHOWCASE” - My “A ha” moment!
I learned that people who I never thought could express themselves so fiercely and bravely on a stage, would truly amaze me. “Do I even know this kid?!” I saw students encouraging their peers and helping them with empathy and compassion through feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, fear of failure, and stage fright. I witnessed students find their peace and their confidence and surprise themselves at what they could do with perseverance mixed with a healthy dose of nerves! That’s huge.
The ability of the students to weave and link a story line together into a script that incorporated each class’ contribution was more than impressive. Even more so, the love for their school, their ability to emulate their teachers, the importance of acceptance and embracing diversity, and explaining what makes VVA special were the themes THEY chose to incorporate into the Showcases’ script - a futuristic vision of VVA in the year 2420 on a new planet. If that does not show off learning beyond traditional reading and writing, I don’t know what does. This is truly what sets VVA apart. Those are next level demonstrations of life skills to applaud. #loveislove #smallschoolbigdifference
I was in awe of the sheer talent and dedication of my colleagues (who gave up many lunch breaks and personal time to practice with the students and help them feel comfortable and well prepared) Their ability to create musical masterpieces collaboratively with the students that were thoughtful, humourous, and tugged at the heart; Their love for theatre and the gentle encouragement and nudges to keep trying; Their ability to wear many production “hats” and being so organized; Their artistic flair and bonding with the kids over painting and preparing; and their mutual support and laughs with me, and my fellow newbie teachers, as we were thrown wherever we were needed to help!
Furthermore, I started to see how much it was valuable to us collectively as a staff. It was ‘controlled’ chaos, as the phrase goes, with some of them prominently playing the, “Chaos Coordinator”, finding organization, schedules, and routine in rehearsing, preparing, and well, off-routine procedures. Trust the process, is what I did. “It really does come together at the end. Even if they don’t seem ready, they will pull it off! Trust us. These kids are amazing. The parents are so understanding and so supportive, whatever happens!”.
We worked so hard as a team. We supported each other when we were tired and feeling overwhelmed. We covered for each other when needed. It brought us together in times of stress, and also provided us with lots of laughter and togetherness. Modeling this to the students is important not only in seeing us support each other, but also in seeing our own vulnerabilities and appreciating us as human beings with similar feelings too! And, most importantly, how we persevered and handled change, stress, challenge, and creativity.
Funny enough, their original song, “Turn it Around”, about people helping others with difficult feelings to feel better, written by the Glass Belly Frogs and Mr. Ryan for Showcase, is now playing in my head :)
The song that sums up this whole Showcase experience is one of unity and the lesson that hard work and collaboration can produce beautiful things beyond what actually happens on the stage. It is a song that the Giant Pandas performed that night, choreographed by the beautiful, Ms. Zoe, titled, “We’re All In This Together”. The lyrics to the chorus are below:
We're all in this together
Once we know
That we are
We're all stars
And we see that
We're all in this together
And it shows
When we stand
Hand in hand
Make our dreams come true
The Showcase was the perfect way to end the first Term at VVA. SO MUCH growth happened here for everyone. I reflect on this, because it was more profound than I had imagined. Onto a fresh new start with the kiddos for Term 2. I hope they feel as united as we do :)
We started 2020 with a PD Day for our staff. We often spend our PD Days together, working on plans or researching most relevant teaching methods/ideas.. However, even with an agenda, we always have a tendency to go off course. But, as with any awesome teaching lesson, those offshoots from the plan are often where real gems emerge. And so it did, here. We wrote this little piece, in collaboration with our staff, who inspired the whole thing. Thanks crew!
Our new year started with a fresh bowl of fruit and fresh new ideas. Staff PD January 6th, 2020. The day’s plan included debriefing the first part of the year, looking forward with new initiatives, and planning out the next chunk of time – together. Being a small school of about 60 students, planning trips and special events involves everyone. Not only does it help that many hands make light work, but at our little school, getting students involved in everything, together as much as possible, is both momentous and motivating; creating opportunities for meaningful hard work, building a feeling of connection with peers of all ages, and feeling valuable and a part of something.
Our PD Day consisted of talking out a lot of things - projects, events, report cards, and more. Dances, Bingos, Camping Trips… There was much to talk about and discuss. But, before we did any of that, there was some self-reflecting and personal goal setting to do; a way to refresh and refocus. One by one, each of us shared our top moments from the previous year, things we’ve learned from, things we’re looking forward to, and things we’re grateful for. It was from this, that the day took a new positive twist. When each of us started to share things we were grateful for in 2019, each of us reiterated a similar thought, “I am grateful for all of you.”
Now, the school itself is a living and breathing dream come true for Meghan and I. Everyday, we still pinch ourselves. But to hear our wonderfully hardworking and caring staff, who have become friends through and through, share sentiments of gratefulness for their colleagues and our supportive work environment is beyond anything we could have imagined.
In our journey of creating a safe and supportive learning space for our students, it was most definitely also at the forefront of our efforts to also create a safe and supportive working space. We strived for a place where teachers are celebrated for their compassion, dedication, and collaboration. A team of teachers and administration who support one another, help each other’s strengths shine, and uplift each other when they need it most. A group that models teamwork as example of leadership, friendliness, and fun. And an environment that truly celebrates and models the benefits of diverse thought.
If you follow us on social media, you’ll see us often quoting our amazing teachers, with hashtags such as #beststaffever, #bestjobever, #proudteachers #viavitadifference. We are so grateful to these amazing humans. Bringing joy and discovery to the lives of their students on the daily, reminding us that kindness and compassion make the best educators. We are lucky bunch to have them working at our school.
They shared with us their thoughts on teaching at VVA and the joy that is teaching in this way, at our little family school. We hope you enjoy!
Though our days may be at times a little crazy, teaching at Via Vita offers opportunities that are unparalleled. Each day I wake up with the opportunity to teach students not only in the curriculum, but in life. I get to see students develop skills in independence, self-discovery, and confidence. I have the privilege of fostering inquiry in my students, and watching as they begin to ask questions of me-- challenging me to see things from a new perspective. I am able to put aside the drilling of facts, for critical and philosophical discussion of big ideas. I get to gently guide as students learn to problem solve, form resilience, and revel in their new-found strength. I get to see quiet, self-doubting individuals, grow into gentle and impassioned leaders. I get to observe as students experiment with a variety of subjects, such as art, music, fitness, dance, and cooking. I then have the immense joy of seeing them light up as they finally find their niche. I get to help nurture passion, and in doing so, continually reignite my own. I get to watch as students see their worth re-affirmed daily, for at Via Vita, they are appreciated for the unique value that they bring to the school community and the wider world. I have the pleasure of witnessing young strangers become fast friends, and inevitably a forever family. I get to see students become empathetic, thoughtful individuals--deeply aware of their impact on the world. Every day I get to experiment, grow, learn, take risks, and discover along with my students. In helping my students find a sense of purpose and belonging, I undoubtedly find my own.
As a new staff member this year at Via Vita Academy, when I reflect on my experiences and memories thus far, I am flooded with images that make my heart smile. In only a few months, the amount of growth I see in the students' social/emotional skills makes me proud to work here. All you have to do is look at the weekly photos of engaged and smiling children, learning how to take chances and challenging themselves in a school community that is rooting for them to succeed and grow as well rounded individuals. When prior lessons and thoughtful discussions are then demonstrated by the students in such a natural way, and incorporated into their vocabulary and behaviours, you know that true learning has taken place.
As someone who supports students in overcoming various challenges, I have focused this past term on teaching the importance of recognizing emotions, perspectives, and their effect on behaviour and impact on others. I am often the one in the "helping" role. However, if I have been under the weather and struggling through my day, the ability of the students to recognize this, demonstrate empathy in a reciprocal manner, provide warm hugs, and in one case from a 6 year old, "I will help be the strength in your weakness to get you through", brings tears to my eyes. These moments, are impactful. These moments are important reminders of why we are here on this journey together.
Where we work, teaching is exploring. We’re encouraging our students to take ownership of their learning, by helping them find and build routes that suit who they are so far. We know that they’ll pick up different skills along their ways, and so we encourage our students to share their skills with each other as they go. This way they’re reminded that there are many methods for getting to where they’re going, and that they’re not alone on their journey.
Learning like this is harder to map out. I like to think of it as helping each kid map out their own path to success, without ever letting them get lost.
Teaching this way allows students grow to be brave, thoughtful, and curious young adults. They care for their fellow human beings, affect change by not accepting the status quo, and know that hard work and perseverance are worth the effort. The world needs more people like this.
It’s a Friday… and my students and I gather together for our weekly “closing circle” to end the last class of the week.
“What was your favourite part of the week” I ask my students, and I wait for their tiny hands to raise in the air excitedly and bright eyed.
“I loved singing and dancing this week”, one squeals.
“I REALLY liked cooking in the kitchen”, another exclaims.
“I had fun going over my sight words and writing in the agenda,” one of my students continues, and I chuckle to myself that I’m glad I made the list in the sea of wonderful educators I get to spend my days with.
And with that simple question, I am reminded of the reason I get up each morning and smile as I head to work. Via Vita Academy offers their students the perfect blend of academic, life, and social skills all blended seamlessly in a weekly schedule. They are given opportunities to grow as learners in all sense of the word, and in that sense so do I in getting to observe and assess them. We are a school dedicated to giving each student an individual learning experience meant to follow them on their lifelong educational journey.
I wake up thankful every day to be a moment in that journey, and that my fearless leaders have provided myself and my team an opportunity to view education in this way.
So here is me, signing off forever and always grateful,
I love that Via Vita teaches children about everyday life. Getting children outdoors and discussing topics beyond typical classroom discussions, such as creating a whole new planet to support the environment rather than just looking at it from a textbook.
It brings me so much happiness to see each of our students excel at via vita. Seeing a student confidently execute a new yoga pose, a pre-k student experiencing painting with watercolours for the first time, or passionately writing their own songs and scripts. The value cannot be calculated. At the end of each term, when the students collaborate to showcase all they’ve learned is truly a magical moment. I’m so thankful to spend my days sharing my passion for art with them.
I feel very fortunate to be a part of this wonderful little school that brings together these very special hearts and minds. This is my first year teaching at Via Vita Academy, and I can already name oh-so many moments that truly made me proud to be an educator and a part of this family. There’s a certain feeling I get the minute I walk through those front doors and this feeling seems to stick throughout the whole day - regardless of any chaos or craziness that the school day may bring. VVA brings a feeling of togetherness. Whether it's through my time with my little Glass Belly Frogs, morning meeting with the whole school, or lunch with my fellow educators - there’s always a feeling of togetherness and family wherever you go and I feel so lucky to come to a place everyday where I may experience that feeling over and over.
"It’s showcase time!" I exclaim at morning meeting, about 4 weeks out from the main event itself.
"Woooo!!!" Cheers groups of students, young and old, and immediate chatter starts to take hold of the group.
All 64 of them all Via Vita students, sitting on the floor, with young ones settled into the laps of older ones, get louder with the vibes of showcase running throughout the room. Normally, morning meeting is a time to discuss things to change, the going's on of day-to-day events. Today, we've all come together to start our day and the first topic is showcase, which quickly takes hold of the entire agenda. The daily meetings are led by 2 students, who are now clapping rhythms trying to get the group back in order and quiet down. Vibes of excitement, anticipation, worry, and then getting-to-business waves over the crowd as they go through the emotions of preparing for such a big event as Showcase. New students unsure of what it all means. Old students grinning ear to ear, knowing exactly what it means.
A few rounds of repeating the pattern claps from the morning's leading students and finally the mass of the group settles down into low whispers and then finally quiet, while a few hands shoot up in the air.
“When is it? We have to write the script?”
“Can I sign up to act, please? Oh! And dance? How many things can I sign up for?”
“I want to babysit this time!”
“Remember last year’s? Can we do that again? That was so much fun!”
My absolute favourite time of year. An excellent example of controlled chaos, student-led learning, and infused creativity. Showcase season. The time of year when we bring all of the themes and most influential things we’ve been learning about all term and pull it together into an on-stage production. Songs, dances, skits, poems, stories, science shows – you name it, we include it. Written with the students’ guiding ideas, produced with the support of their teachers edging them along. It’s always completely unique and entirely theirs. Can we include a boat? Why not, if it makes sense! Can we include that story we loved reading over and over in class? Sure, let’s figure out a way. Can we include aliens? Spaceships? Zombies? I’m sure we can find a way to make sense of that, right?
Is it stressful? Heck, yes. Without a doubt. We willingly walk into the chaos and make more chaos. It’s messy, it’s challenging, it’s ever-changing. Our newest teachers are looking at us like we’ve lost it. Our oldest teachers just keep saying – trust the process, you’ll see.
See what, they ask? The payoff. The reason for it all. The moment when you see a child, who perhaps is struggling to keep their head up in math lately, or who has been chatting with us a lot lately about the woes of their changing social dynamics, or perhaps a student who has been having a difficult time smiling through the cold winter months, or a child frustrated with the complexity of reading the English language – you see them, beaming. Perhaps on stage, perhaps leading the younger ones, perhaps handling the mic system, perhaps keeping order back stage. It doesn’t matter the role, but it does matter that they are beaming. This is the reason for it all. For all the rehearsing and script writing, for all the prop making and mess cleaning. It’s also the reason for all the prep work, tests, quizzes, due dates, projects, parent meetings, staff meetings, schedules and classes. And it’s even the reason for the record keeping, payment collecting; accounting, upkeep and marketing of the business. This is the why.
That child is beaming.
Look at them. Look at what they’ve accomplished and look at how they feel about it. Can you compare anything else to it? This moment will move mountains. It’ll build confidence, and positive memories with school. It’ll help them believe in themselves, work with others, and never back down from a challenge. It builds grit, integrity, and independence. It's an opportunity to work through stress, cope with fear, and manage challenges. It’s real, hands-on, experiential learning. It’s hard work, no doubt, but it’s the reason Via Vita exists.
February 2020 marks 4 years since Via Vita Academy Ltd. became a thing and marks the 10th Showcase production with our students. We embarked on an adventure we had only dreamed of, with hopes in our heads and hearts for what Via Vita could be. Make a positive difference in the lives of our students. As a teacher, Via Vita is most certainly a dream come true.
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