Margaret Boersma and I were at TEDxKitchenerEd in front of the iconic sign when we asked each other to take the picture. Our grateful salutations turned to warm hellos when we realized that we had already met as panelists on ONedMentors. Margaret is a creative educational consultant, coach, teaching artist, curriculum writer, thought leader and speaker. With over 30 years experience teaching Kindergarten to Grade 8, Margaret has honed her craft. She engages learners in a process of learning that incorporates powerful personal expression, enhancing teacher-student communication synergy. Her work sets out to reach and teach the whole child through arts-based workshops and professional development.
On a recent ONedMentors, our topic was Mental Health and Wellness. Margaret spoke about a new program of hers that, like all of her work, embeds social and emotional skills. She mentioned SmArts for Well-Being, so I asked her a bit about it (a little abruptly for the first question out of the gate- my apologies, Margaret). She explained her interest and concern for both teacher and student well-being. In combining an understanding of how children learning best and the most recent brain research, she has developed a workshop
focusing on trust and perspective. This is the first in a series on Well-Being. She explained that, “Teacher wellness is the key to student success…We need to teach the educators first, and then the educators will teach the tools to the students.” Margaret explained some of the reasons for and results of her program. She sees the ripple effect going home to parents and echoing through the school climate. She added that, “A school-wide sense of connectedness provides a culture ripe for learning.” The chart below explains more:
Margaret pulled out her wedding box in preparation for her appearance on the Personal Playlist Podcast. It was there that she located the lyrics of her nostalgic song. She hadn’t looked in this box of keepsakes for 25 years. In it, she found the words for an old tune called The Ash Grove, but different people have added their own lyrics over the years. She first heard the tune at her sister’s wedding, so she incorporated into her wedding, as well. While it is a religious hymn, she sees it as a song reflective of universal truths. She connects this to the social emotional realities that so many people have in common, noting a shared experience of cause and effect. Straight from a church handbook, a hymn composed by Katherine Davis, sung in the video by Lebanon County Youth Chorus, here is Let All Things Now Living:
Margaret’s identity song is one I had heard before. She reflected, “ I chose this for my identity song because it wraps up what I think I’m about. In the lyrics, in what I try to do in schools and what I have a passion to do…its my life-passion to give…what I know to be successful…not just teaching strategies but ways of life…to be able to enter into deep conversations with students and teachers alike…to bring out those aha moments. I just love the lyrics that came out of this. ” It’s a heartwarming reflection of what she most often does in schools. Not long ago, she was working with teachers and students at Hartman P.S to build the social and emotional skills of the students. She was working with the Grade 2’s and 3’s and several of their teachers, Stewart Wallace, their music teacher, composed the music out of the student-generated learning from Margaret’s work with them. You can read more about the process here. The song resonated enough to be shared in multiple ways, including at this year’s YRDSB Quest Conference for Well Being. Here is Be Kind taken from the video at that event:
Margaret feels she has found solutions to essential problems for students and teachers. All she wants to do is give all of what she knows. In terms of music. she loves the songs that can go faster and faster, like her description of Klezmer Jewish music that is often expressed through a circle dance called The Hora. She quotes the biblical lyrics but adds her love of the dancing element as key. “I am a dancer at heart. I have taken years of dancing lessons. Even if I’m not moving, my heart is dancing.” She has studied with the great Marcel Marceau and shared how much she loves to communicate through movement. “I actually danced a solo at my own wedding,” shared our guest, “inviting God to come into the ceremony.” She connected her pick-me up song choice to children to whom she refers as innate movers. “Most of us don’t know how to teach them in one of their primal expression forms.” Margaret can help us learn to teach through movement and provides several examples of how kinaesthetic approaches can be integrated into teaching curriculum at different grade levels. Her final song choice is a whole body experience for her and lifts her up. Here is You Are My God; Sing Unto the Lord, Trees of the Field by Jeff Hamlin
In many ways, all of Margaret’s work is grounded in faith. Beyond the religious aspects of her calling, her belief in respect, community and the possibility created through social emotional learning has supported and motivated her throughout her years of formal teaching and in the development of her practice. This shined through in all aspects of her P3. When asked what was missing from her playlist, she mentioned a song from the musical Carousel. This song, reminds her of her time in Holland where she was exploring her roots. It helped her feel less alone as she would sing, “When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark.” She had performed in that musical and many others, as well. Margaret’s conviction and devotion to her craft has led her to contribute her work across North America and Hong Kong. You can find her through her website and on Twitter. Here are the lyrics from Carousel that light her up: