Every single time I am at karate class I reflect on the professional practice I see around me. Granted, my job is to calm my mind and focus, but that continues to challenge me. Many of the instructors who lead my karate class are teachers themselves, and it is clear given the nature of the instruction and the best practice I see when I walk through the doors.
My own little guy finds karate to be very challenging. He tells me it is a lot of work, and I believe it’s because he finds it difficult to calm his body, and his mind, and focus on the training.
One of the things I love about karate class is the preparation for life and learning that occurs in the dojo. We begin the class with the upper belts on one side of the class and the lower belts on the other side. As class begins the upper belts circulate and help model behavior and form for the younger students. Sometimes this helps to encourage on task behaviour, although sometimes it is simply to model what needs to happen with hands, feet, knees, etc. The instructors vary the nature of the task. While there are routines set, and high expectations, there is room for learning and growth.
I looked around the class today and there was a moment where the instructor had released the students from the “ready” position and allowed them to relax their bodies. As I watched, several of the little boys in the class were in perpetual movement: hands, legs, arms. It reminds of the practice that we see in the classroom.
Our students are so little when they come to us in the primary years and while they learn the routines and the behaviours appropriate for school, it can be challenging to learn “how to do school”. As I have learned in this new role, coming out of the high school world, the notion of play and movement is so important to the development of our students. All of the supports that we offer, body breaks, movement breaks, limited time sitting in desks, alternate seating, moving around the room, manipulatives in math class, use of technology and devices; they are so significant in engaging our learners.
Not only in the primary world, where students are used to the freedom to learn through experiential play, but through middle years and into high school as well. One thing I love about my role is the ability to make the connections between the grades. I see how the supports and classroom environment, the structures and the varied instructional strategies are so important all the way through. I’ve been (and have taught!) in classes where students are required to spend the period in their desks and I strongly believe that it can be challenging for all learners.
I’ve heard it said that students can pay attention for approximately the number of minutes equal to their age. (Let’s see… how old am I?) It stands to reason then that even moving up into the high school years that we have to continue to vary the nature of tasks that we offer and continue to allow for varied forms of instruction. I love the new Campus Regina model because of the recognition of this very need. Students are able to acquire core subjects in combination with content that allows them to be hands-on.
I also see great instructional practice everywhere I look. In the elementary schools, teachers tackle split grade classes and literacy and numeracy groupings. This allows them to fill the learning gaps where they may exist and also move students forward. These groupings allow for shorter periods of focused learning time, with movement breaks and student choice and accountability built in. I see amazing things in the middle years; where teachers are using technology to collaborate with other colleagues and other classes in other buildings. In the high school, I’ve seen truly effective flexible groupings in Math, ELA and Science, not only based on ability but also on interest and passion.
I feel fortunate that my Sam, who finds karate a challenge, will grow and learn in an environment that will nurture not only his creative spirit but his love of learning and his energetic nature.
I have much to learn in my role; although I am grateful to my amazing colleagues and the teachers that I work with every day. They have allowed me into their classrooms to grow, to understand, and to learn. I know too that should my path lead me back into the classroom, I will have a far greater skill set and I attribute this to the learning that I have been able to do over the past two years.