Kindness is the Cure

Kindness is the Cure

A project with a social/emotional learning focus:

A grade 3 student says, “You mean we can be friends again after we make a mistake?” Students learn the “Make it Right Formula” and ah ha moments are visible in their eyes.

The thrill of those ah ha moments is what gives me great joy!  And it doesn’t matter if that is with children or adults, the thrill is the same.

Principals often want me to address the theme of bullying when I come into a school. I have come to realize that every school struggles with students who need lessons in how to deal with their feelings.  In fact, social/emotional learning is a popular term in education now.

I like to be pro-active.  Rather than having certain behaviours at a tolerable level, why not aim for something much more positive.  Adam Grant, co-writer of “Option B Facing Adversity, Finding Resilience and Building Joy” says, “Proactive giving can be energizing.  It gives and fills at the same time.”  So, together with the teachers, we decide to call the unit, “Be Kind.”  Proactive giving happens with me giving workshops and here is how it happens in a classroom.

The consulting project, includes 4 parts, providing a scaffolded approach.

  1. First the teachers participate in a professional development session learning powerful strategies, part of a new methodology, while “living inside a story.” We use a story as an analogy making it safe to explore inside of the story, trying out different responses and learning from the reactions of others inside the story.
  2. Then demonstration lessons are taught with students while teachers observe and participate. Both teachers and students are engrossed in the process.
  3. Later, teachers work with students while being mentored.
  4. The cross-curricular unit concludes with a school assembly. Teachers learn the value and simplicity of sharing the learning process with a wider audience.

Relationships Breed Well-Being

Students participate in empowering strategies and learning games that allow them to experience different perspectives, learn to rebuild trust and to repair relationships.  They learn to take responsibility for their actions, inactions and words.  We debrief each experience relating to other texts and real life.  They learn to speak of real life experiences without pointing fingers at specific individuals.  This allows for community learning for students who have played the role of victims, bullies and by-standers.  We explore the power of the by-stander and call them “up-standers.”  We explore attitudes and actions of upstanders and students realize how powerful they can be and the difference they can make.

Speaking, Writing, Drawing, Reading, Math, Drama, Dance and Music are included in the unit.  The learning is deep as students’ emotions are engaged.

The homeroom teachers are part of the project as are the Drama/Dance teacher and the Music teacher.  All of us are learners on a journey.  We are teachers for each other and we recognize the students as teachers too.  We are community.  The culture is enriched.  Trust is built.  We experience healthy relationships and that breeds a sense of well-being.

The Impact of the Work Continues

During the unit, Mr. Wallace, the Music teacher, spins his magic.  He creates a song with the students.  It is a very catchy song where students sing and play their recorders. The song is part of the sharing assembly.  And months later, it is shared at an international conference, Quest 2017.  Have a look and listen here.  You may want to use it as your school song.

The impact of the work we did together in that school continues in another way as well.  While students enter the gym for an assembly months later, they are asked, “What do I do to be kind?” and asked to record their answers on a piece of wide coloured duct tape.  Their responses are written on the tape which they stick on a large outline on the gym wall.  It is a permanent reminder of the school pulling together to remember the lessons to be bold “upstanders,” to “make it right” and to “be kind.”

Blog by Margaret Boersma




Well-Being: How do We Grow a Community of Wellness?

Well-Being: How Do We Grow a Community of Wellness? Will it Take a Transformation in Education? Part 1 of 2 A

Case for Well-Being  

“Ms Boersma, can you help me with this Math problem?” “Tommy, please sit down and get to work.” “Stop it! I’m telling on you!” “Go to the office and get a bandage.” “Please take the attendance down.” “Who has money for the field trip?” “Put your projects on the shelf over there.”

Public School teachers are experts at multi-tasking, and by that, I mean keeping a lot of things in our minds at the same time and having eyes all around us. Elementary teachers are generalists in that we do many things, seemingly all at once, and we teach multiple subjects. But, we are specialists because we are nurturing, inspiring, engaging all the time while we deal with many children all at once. We have eyes and ears all around us, plus we are teachers, parents, nurses, bankers, police, psychologists, social workers, guidance counsellors and coaches to these children.

On the side, we are learners in education, plan lessons late at night and in our sleep. We are always thinking about how we can turn something into a valuable lesson for our students. Now I am an entrepreneur, educator, artist, global communicator, inventor, connector, life-long learner and thought leader. Even though my role in education has changed slightly, I still find myself wearing many hats. And, in some projects, I need all the hats.

Well-being as a Pillar  One thing I think about is a transformed education system. Well-being would be the pillar of the new system. Imagine what would it look like? Would we still need skills in multiple areas? I think so. I imagine a day as a teacher in, say, grade 4. Students work independently, they are well nourished, happy, self-confident and come ready to learn. They learn with the best pedagogical strategies neuroscience has discovered. What would that look like?

Bring Joy to Learning  Perhaps we would learn through play, not just in Kindergarten. Even adults love to play. Perhaps it would include free-structured play. Or perhaps the students and the teacher would enter a pretend world…an “as if” world. They would live inside it for a while, then come out to reflect and make connections to their own lives, the lives of others they know about through other texts and the world around them. Living and learning inside an imaginary world allows us to explore, to try things out, to see what works and what doesn’t work and to learn deeply. We get to learn real life lessons without real-life consequences. How great would that be?

Well-Being in Our Relationships  Maybe our students would build each other up, rather than put each other down. Possibly they wouldn’t abuse drugs and alcohol. Perhaps they would be able to look at another point of view and really “get” the other person. How amazing would that be? On the side of the recipient, what would it be like to be totally understood by someone, even though they might not agree with you.

And maybe both students and adults would learn how to make things right because we know, life doesn’t work without trust. That would be liberating! One of my grade 3 students said recently, “You mean we can be friends again after we make a mistake?” They wrote a song with their music teacher during our unit together. I think it would make a powerful school song.

Chronic stress inhibits change.  Did you know you can lower the stress thermometer? Problem solving can only occur in a clearing. Did you know you can eliminate the emotional reaction? These are topics for training in well-being. Teachers can learn and then teach them. The world would be a better place with these lessons learned.
Blog by Margaret Boersma, OCT



Modern Learning is… Bringing Learning to Life!

“Effective education is always a balance between rigor and freedom, tradition and innovation, the individual and the group, theory and practice, the inner world and the outer world.” – Sir Ken Robinson

Student1Modern Learning is mostly experiential learning or “bringing learning to life.”  As educators, we are preparing our students for the 21st century they find themselves in now and in the future. It is essential that students have the opportunity to problem solve collaboratively, to find their voice and express themselves confidently and persuasively. They must be proficient at reading, researching information and be able to use technology affectively and creatively. As well, students must be trained to respond appropriately in a given situation.

The 6C’s of education (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, culture, creativity, connection) are embedded naturally in holistic education where a single inquiry can lead to cross-curricular academic work in multiple subjects while embracing character education and social justice issues at the same time. Continue reading


Mental Health for Teachers is Essential for Students

As a teacher, my office was often in the centre of the school.  I regularly got visits from colleagues who were stressed.

“I am doing everything I can with the situation I have been given and I still can’t seem to make a difference with Johnny.”

This is a typical complaint from a number of very highly trained, compassionate teachers.  Most of the time, teachers know what to do and how to do it.  A number of factors increase the stress in the teaching profession and I would suggest that time constraints and multiple needs in one classroom with one adult, are among the highest on the list.  However, I am not writing about those circumstances outside of a teacher’s control. Continue reading


Communication – The Key to Making A Difference


Communication– the Key to Making a Difference

What would the world be like if we all know we have everything we need to make a real difference in the world? Would there be wars? Would there be hunger in the world? Would we feel loved and like big people with a mission to take care of each other and the resources we were given? What can we do to get out of our own way, build others up for who they really are and get passionate about making a difference out there? The world needs us…you and me!

“If it wasn’t for the conversation with you, the follow-up conversation with Tom (pseudo name) would not have been successful, Sally says. Thank you for seeing me as my possibility and for taking a stand for me.”

Sally and I are colleagues in a course.  The conversation she is referring to is difficult for me as well as for her.  I confront her on her ineffectiveness with taking steps to complete her project. I am coached to do that in a way I am not used to talking to adults, with rigour while standing for her possibility with love. We both experienced a breakthrough!

In the Team Management and Leadership Program Sally and I are taking, we learn to discover our “blindspots”…areas that are “missing” in having our communication be more effective. Sally is in her own way and doesn’t realize it.

The training for me, on this call, is to be rigorous with my colleague so that she gets the communication…previous attempts have not worked. I feel nervous about the conversation but after some coaching am able to be rigorous while loving and seeing her as her possibility and not the point of view she holds for herself, namely “I am a failure.”  If I allow her to stay in that point of view, it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy and the pattern she is used to would just continue.  In order for her to have a breakthrough I have to be rigorous.

At the end of the call, Sally is pretty quiet and I find out later that she thinks about it for a few hours before reaching out to another colleague,Tom, who is able to have a follow-up conversation with her. Then, she gets to work, completing a huge chunk on her project.  I see her as a huge leader that is up to making a big difference in the world.  We both have breakthroughs in that conversation!

Communication is the backbone of all relationships. It is the responsibility of the listener and the speaker. Communication is not possible without both people taking responsibility. In the share above, Sally takes responsibility by listening and taking time to think about what I am communicating and I take a stand seeing her as a powerful business woman up to big things.

We all have a point of view about ourselves and the world. It is formed when we are very young when something (often dramatic) happens where we feel we have no control. In that moment we make a decision about ourselves and about the world. And it is not an empowering one. Examples include, “I am unworthy and the world looks down on me.” Or “I don’t have a voice and the world doesn’t care.” Or I am not loveable and the world ignores me.” Then we go forward living our lives as if that was true and we find all kinds of evidence to support that…I think of it like buying a new red car and then finding more red cars on the road then ever.

The result is that most of us go into “survival” or “fix it” mode. When we do that we defend, manipulate, withhold communication, protect, etc. That is not real communication!

Consider that we live our lives based on the decision of a young child. Consider that we have everything we need to make a powerful difference in the world and to experience ease and freedom in the process. Consider that we are perfect, whole and complete the way we are and that God/the universe…doesn’t make mistakes. Consider that if we could get out of our own way, we would be able to make a real difference in the world.

Then I ask myself, what can I do for teachers and students to support them with communication…starting with how they see themselves. I am creating units to support that work. “I am Special – self-esteem” is an example (see description under “Workshops” on this website. Children get it…faster then many adults, actually. Let’s train this generation in the communication skills they need for each student to make a valuable contribution to the world.

Thank you to Landmark Worldwide for the Communication courses steeped in wisdom and practice.


What are my Strengths?


“Ms Boersma, come watch our dance! It is really coming together!” Boys in a grade 8 class work in a group of 6 creating a dance on power and oppression, part of a social justice theme throughout the grade 8 curriculum. Their athletic abilities are thoughtfully integrated into the dance after much group discussion on the topic and some specific lessons in expressing ideas and feelings through creative movement. These boys are often the students sent to the office for being disruptive. But, actually, they have much to offer…when learning in their area of strength.

Some of us take years to realize we are gifted in some way. I didn’t discover my ability to act or dance until I was an adult. I knew I had an interest in teaching because I always tried to teach my younger sister “important life lessons” as she grew up. But it was only during my March Break in my last year of high school that I took a weeklong course in leadership and was affirmed in my abilities to teach and lead. Why didn’t I know these things going to school all those years?

Sir Ken Robinson, in his new book, “Creative Schools,” addresses this very point. He says, “…many highly talented, brilliant people think they’re not because the thing they were good at in school wasn’t valued or was actually stigmatized. The consequences are disastrous for individuals and for the health of our communities.” Most schools cater to the linguistic and logical-mathematics intelligence types and this is mostly what is tested in standardized tests. No wonder not all students know their strengths!

“Creative Schools” is a powerful book published this year. This is Sir Ken Robinson’s response to many requests people have made to expand his thinking behind his famous TED talk, “Do Schools Kill Off Creativity” (2006). His book sights many examples of schools and school systems around the world progressing toward a more holistic approach to education while addressing the type of learning needed to take us into the future. “Creative Schools” is a ‘must read’ for all educators, politicians, policy makers and community leaders.

I see myself throughout this book, as a student, an educator and now as a consultant with a big desire to move the education system forward. Sir Ken Robinson advocates for a holistic approach to education, one that “nurtures the diverse talents of all our children.”

This is particularly true for the kinesthetic learner. Sports address this learning style and in many schools Physical Education class is only once or twice a week, or after school and then they are often paid activities. Drama and Dance are highly kinesthetic and interpersonal as well as linguistic, intrapersonal, mathematical, musical, spatial and can be naturalistic. It is my opinion that Drama and Dance should be given top priority in teacher training and professional development.


However, sadly, Drama and Dance are often the subjects on the bottom of the totem pole when being addressed in the school curriculum.  Not only do they address all the intelligences but they are tools or strategies that can be used to teach almost anything!  Most educators are not familiar with these art forms and therefore do not access these powerful teaching methods to teach the rest of the curriculum.

Inquiry-based learning, experiential learning, learning through play and discovery…these are the ways to reach students. Yes, and the arts, in particular Drama, has a plethora of strategies to engage learners in all areas of the curriculum. Now is the time to reach students, inspire them in their learning and encourage them to be self-expressed. They have a lot to offer the world. They are our future. Let’s go!

“And there are those who move: the change agents who can see the shape of a different future and are determined to bring it about through their own actions and by working with others. They know that they don’t always need permission. As Gandhi said, if you want to change the world, you must be the change you want to see….” Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D and Lou Aronica in “Creative Schools.”



Recognizing Biases through Social Justice Education

Image for Social Justice Tab

The university students in my workshop, “Poverty at Home,” think about the following statement, “Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit.” by Eli Khamarovthen. Students stand on a line according to their opinion…strongly agree at one end of the line and strongly disagree at the other end. “I hate to say it but I think poor people take advantage of the system and are basically lazy,” said one student as he stood on a Value Line.

At the end of the workshop, we create the Value Line again to see if perspectives change. After the drama, this student’s perspective had changed significantly toward “agree.” I find it so rewarding to use drama tools and strategies to teach on a social justice issue and have students really experience the learning first hand.

I am touched by a response I received recently from the teacher of that Additional Qualification (AQ) class as she reflected in the following testimonial: Margaret’s work had a real impact on my students. They were fully engaged both in their heads and with their hearts. Margaret’s work as teacher-in-role provided the students with a powerful example of how to use this strategy effectively with students.   All in all her work was sensitive, thoughtful and creative and I would invite her back in a heartbeat.  Jane Deluzio, Arts Educator

Social Justice is a theme for all ages. I can see why it is so current in education today. In the spring, I taught a Social Justice unit for grades 4 and a 5/6 class. Teachers chose this theme and had a deep desire to support their students to internalize their learning with the goal of making a difference in the class climate. In our planning meeting, we decided our inquiry question for the unit would be, “How can people of differing opinions and points of view work together to accomplish something outside of themselves that serves a greater need or purpose?” Students were put in a fictitious world where they were free to explore the consequences of their actions in role. Later, we would debrief out of role and teachers were shocked at the accomplishments of their students reflected in higher level, critical learning, reflected by rich discussion!

Now, I am looking forward to doing some work through virtual conferencing. Through this project, I will be the teacher in a school anywhere in the world! I will work with my colleagues in the classroom to organize things and then be the teacher…on the screen. This has been very successful using a whiteboard where students can see the virtual teacher from any point in the room. I am not sure if it has been done for a creative movement class but I am looking forward to it.

I am also setting up an on-line discussion platform, which I can tell you more about, in my next blog.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you via email (mboersma@rogers.com) or facebook (MB Creative Educational Consulting). I would love to write about specific ways I can support you.





Teach and Learn…Make a Difference

Sisters on the Beach Image“If you suddenly fall into a drift of snow that is up to your neck, how would you get out?”  Growing up in Nova Scotia, we sometimes got a fair amount of snow.  Sonya, my younger sister and I, were walking off the road and suddenly found ourselves stepping off solid ground, off a steep ledge and into a huge snowdrift.  I was able to show her how to save herself by rocking first and then getting horizontal and rolling toward safety.

I am a teacher.  My first student was probably my sister Sonya.  Teaching her how to use a toboggan, get out of a high snowdrift safely and leading creative birthday parties for her are some fun memories I have growing up.

When I was a child, the education system did not serve my needs.  That is to say, lecturing, reading and writing extensively are not my natural ways of learning.  I loved to be engaged in active play, do gymnastics and other creatively kinesthetic acrobatics in the yard.  I also desired to play games, especially large outside games like Hide and Seek, Kick the Can and Double Dutch Skipping.

In high school I passed an elementary school everyday on my walk to school.  One day I heard students sing through an open classroom door.  I thought to myself, I am going to be a teacher and sing, do plays, dance and play learning games on the floor with my students.  School in my class is going to be fun!  And everyone will be able to learn in his or her own ways.

You, my friends and colleagues are not nameless, faceless people to me.  You are real individuals, like me, with a deep desire to make a difference with those young people in your care.  We are thousands of loving and caring adults with a unique charge to shape the next generation.  Let’s work together, keep learning and make a difference everyday to each student in our care and each colleague we meet.

I teach a unit on “Warm Fuzzies” where we learn that a smile, a compliment, a “Can I help you” can make someone’s day.  I have my students share the reaction of the people they gifted with warm fuzzies as sharing makes it real to them.  It is amazing how simple acts can change an entire culture in a school.  Go ahead…change the school climate…one small step at a time.  Teach and learn and make a difference!



Where is my doll?

iStock_000061736934_SmallIts August 1st, I am in Montreal and attending a workshop. We are in groups of 5 and it is time to open up and share stories of our childhood. I pause, I look to the corner of my mind and in an instant, Teresa my doll pops vividly into my head.  “I poured all my love into that doll.  She was my little precious Teresa and I loved her and she was taken from me. In an instant, my little friend was lost. ” My group of 5 develops a short play about my story.  It pulls at my heartstrings as I was 5 years old when my favourite doll was so worn and ripped and then one day I couldn’t find her.

The workshop weekend I am attending is about story development.  One person plays the mother.   I teach her how to say good night in Dutch, “Welt rustin, Margaret,” she says each night.  After the door closes, I sing a Dutch lullaby as I cuddle my doll every night to fall asleep.  As the play continues, time passes and I get a bit older…the doll is so loved, she is falling apart.   One morning, after looking everywhere for Teresa, I cuddle the blanket and sing one soft line of the lullaby while curled in a ball.  The play ends.

This is part of a large conference, Association for Theater in Higher Education (ATHE), where I love to become a student again.  Theatre professors from universities mostly across the U.S. and Canada share their expertise with each other.  To me, this is my playground.  I get to explore…to be self-expressed using my words and my body to communicate my feelings and ideas.

I also taught a workshop with a U.S. colleague sharing my skills.  “Character:  Accessing Authentic Memory Experience through Process Drama” is a workshop we created for acting teachers and directors to enable their actors to develop memory experiences to draw from as they develop their characters.  The process drama (or educational drama) strategies are very helpful for an actor in this process.

I am looking forward to going to another conference in a few days, American Association of Theater Education (AATE).   I will hear keynote speakers about brain based learning and go to workshops to “play” again and learn about my craft.  This time I will be surrounded by teachers, theatre directors, playwrights and others interested in theatre education.  I will learn about devising or collective creations, as it is sometimes called.  I love it because it uses the whole mind and body.  Improvisation is a large part of the creation process and although it holds an element of risk, it is very freeing in an emotionally supportive environment.

I use it all at school.  As an educational consultant, I love supporting teachers to bring the curriculum to life.  I love watching those students (and then their teachers) get excited about their learning! Their eyes light up and they learn deeply about the theme (other subjects).  Their writing is expressive and passionate after experiencing their learning from inside the story…weather it is a passage in Language Arts, a History lesson, Math or Science.  This is truly differentiated instruction and assessment as students have the opportunity to express their learning in multiple ways.  It is playful, fun and uses multiple ways of learning, which totally lines up with current brain research for excellent pedagogy.