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.
Our VVA staff is truly something special. Up until the years of VVA, we had never worked with such diverse, supportive, and passionate group of educators who truly take risks together, share and reflect together to build such a positive work and learning space. Another dream conquered - a work environment that feels like home! Every day we see new layers of ourselves appear because we feel so supported and apart of an amazing team. Thank you VVA staff. Truly, thank you.
An extra special thank you to Mr. Ryan for writing this beautiful post, describing a very special day for all us of at VVA, the day we decided upon our Vision Statement. A couple year's into operating, and we still hadn't narrowed down our vision statement enough to confidently share it with the world, that is until this wonderful summer's afternoon. It was a day none of us have forgotten, and often long to create again. The wonderful mix of mindful reflection, nature at it's finest, and clear and confident minds that came together that day has truly left a beautiful mark on all of us.
Now that it’s January, I thought I might share a flashback to this one day that our teaching team shared back in August, when things were warmer, and our vision for this school first officially took shape...
Mid-August arrives, and the Via Vita Teaching Team gathers to envision how our year of learning together is going to look...
...But before we can start, there is a major list of tedious to-do’s to be done; rooms need rearranging, schedules need straightening, forms need filling, protocols need punctuation, new staff need to be shown the ropes, plus-this-plus-that and then some, among a bunch of other one-last-little-items. Phew. The first days of our first week back have us feeling a bit hectic, straight outta the gate.
Then comes a surprise: we’re invited to spend a day together out of the school, well removed from our list of to-do’s. There’s this place, on a lake, away from the whirring, clunking sounds of the city. A place surrounded by trees, whose leaves will be gently rustled by the crisp winds of late summer. A place where the year ahead might be more comfortably envisioned.
Also we’ll be fed dinner.
Away we go.
Upon arrival, everything that was promised comes to life. We are alone on the lake, where all but the Judas Trees are still green with the vivacity of August’s bittersweet ending. We set up shop in a wide oval on the deck, and for that day’s first hour, we do little but breathe this place in together, and exhale the last few days away. This place. This is where we’ll truly begin our year.
Working comes easily. We have a list of to-do’s for this day, too, but here, getting things done flows as readily as the lake lightly rippled by the breeze. So we explore things that might’ve been harder somewhere else--our personal strengths and struggles, how we can be more mindful in our learnings and teachings, and how to move forward as a new team, together. These talks are challenging, but they are beautiful, and as we share, our vision of the year ahead becomes ever more clear.
There is one item left on our list, but the day is young, so we stop to eat and laugh. Above us, clouds waver indecisively about whether to rain, while late summer sunbeams promise to keep things warm regardless. After several helpings of delicious food, we’re feeling ready to take on that last to-do: make a statement about the school, one that encapsulates, in one line, what it is we’ll be ever-envisioning for our school as we learn, teach, play, and work alongside our students.
Our team is in full swing; we’re especially pumped about this line, and it shows in our approach; in pursuit of something simple, true, and achievable, we take to willfully weaving our ideal pursuit. Somehow, what we envision has to fit into this one clear-cut sentence. It sounds heavy, it sounds intimidating, and yet for us, melding likeable minds lakeside, under the shifting summer sky, the day’s last to-do is done not long after we’ve begun:
Our vision is a culture empowered by community, compassion and wonder.
We’re finished, but, because we’re feeling pretty great about our day, we decide to keep it going. So into the lake we finally go. Some dive straight in, while some dip toes. Some swim to the raft, and some soon after leap off in a rush after spotting spiders. While we’re laughing and treading water together, The sky finally makes up its mind, and we watch as the wind pushes a warm rainfall across the lake toward us. And we stay put, and keep treading water, and laughing together.
Happy New Year!
Three years ago, today, we announced to the world that we would open a school.
The echo of those words still, every time, sounds so strange in our ears, "Open a school"?! I think we still follow that up with, “who does that?” Because honestly, who does that? Did we really actually do that? I guess we did! And really, it turned out to be everything we dreamed it could be, plus some. Which really was a gamble, don’t you think?
We recognized that opening a school would be the riskiest, scariest, bravest, most unheard-of thing we could do at the time for our teaching careers and lives. It would change everything in our lives, from personal to professional, and everything in between. But, with a special blend of trust in each other and our skills, a strong dose of perseverance, and great amounts of passion for what we believed education could be, we took that big leap of faith and announced to the world January 1st, 2016 that we would open a school. (We didn’t realize that that would be first of many great leaps of faith we’d be making along the journey of entrepreneurship, but that’s besides the point)
So, looking back, has it been scary? Was it really a big deal? Yes, 100%. Managing people, money, time, resources, clients, families, our own beliefs and values, goals, ideas, and our own families is no easy feat. The toughest part is reminding ourselves that it’s okay, it’s not easy, and there’s no perfect way of doing it. We’ve made it through, with smiles on at the end of each day. And what’s even better, we’re still going strong with that same recipe for motivation that we started with.
So, yes, all of that was big and scary. But what’s bigger to us, what really gets us saying, “Wow”, is when we’re standing in the back lobby right after snack time when the kids are hanging their coats and rushing off to their next class. You see 58 pairs of boots lined up on the shelf, older ones stopping to tie a little one’s shoe, a younger one stopping to say hello, and they all bustle past and then suddenly, it becomes quiet as classes get started – that moment of quiet, when we both look at each other and know exactly what the other one is thinking. Wow. What is it, you ask? What is it about that moment that gives us goose bumps, wide eyes and is immediately followed up by a deep breath? It's when we both realize that all of this just wouldn’t be without that that great leap of bravery 3 years ago and the continued leaps every day since. It makes every once of effort worth it. These students wouldn’t have made new friendships, wouldn’t be aware of how different a class of 10 can be. They wouldn’t be bouncing to math class with the skip in their step, lining their boots along the shelf with care. They may not be confident in their ability to speak up, or even acknowledge the needs of someone else to tie a shoe. This all happens, day in and day out, which we think is quite amazing and awesome, because of a big decision we made, and truthfully continue to make every day, to push through barriers, go against the grain, and open Via Vita.
We, now, get to be apart of each of these students’ lives and play a role in shaping their future. They inspire us daily to be better and try harder, and we are forever grateful for that. We have met and continue to learn from the most amazing educators, parents, and community members who teach us everyday the value of working as a team.
To all of the wonderful teams of people who we’ve come to meet along this journey, and those we will get to meet in 2019, thank you, thank you, and happy New Year! Thank you for supporting us, challenging us, motivating us, inspiring us, and most importantly, reminding us stay true to who we are. It truly takes a village, and we are beyond proud of the village VVA has become.
Welcome to Our Blog
Each post is written by a supportive member of Via Vita Academy, be it a teacher, parent, student, community member, who is invested in the topic of education. Take a read and comment below!