Meet 2015 Teacher Awards Winner Elysa Morin

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What do thinking gum, body breaks and a calm fort all have in common? elysa-1 They’re just three of the things that you can expect to see in Elysa Morin’s Grade 1 classroom. Along with literacy, math and the other curriculum components, Morin says mindfulness exercises and physical activities, including stretching and even Yoga poses, are also a big part of her class’ routine. “My goal is to have them be able to self-regulate and know what helps them calm down,” says Morin. “They’re so receptive to that at that age.” One of her happiest moments last year came, she says, when one of her more anxious students used a calming strategy to help herself through a difficult moment. “I remember her telling me after an assembly: ‘It was really noisy in the gym and I was a bit stressed but I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing and then I felt calm.'”

Morin has also created a “calm fort” in her classroom. “When they’re elysa-2feeling overwhelmed or upset instead of blowing out in class, they’ll just let me know they’re going to the calm fort,” she says, adding the kids are really good at using it appropriately. While there, a student might choose to take 10 breaths with a breathing ball or paint on the Buddha Board—an art board where you create designs with water that eventually dry and disappear. It’s a great area to get a little time and space says Morin, noting the kids make the call on when they visit the space.
“It helps to proactively nip things in the bud.”

As for the gum? Morin says it’s a tip that she picked up from an occupational therapist during her first year of classroom teaching. “It’s heavy work on the jaw so it really helps the children focus,” she explains, adding that rules around the thinking gum include staying seated and quiet chewing. “I don’t give it out all the time. It’s mostly for sustained writing tasks—things that are hard for little five- and six-year-old bodies to sit through.”

Morin insists that her fun and innovative approaches to learning fit right in at Prince of Wales School where she describes both the admin staff and her co-workers as forward thinking. “It’s just an incredible place for doing anything that helps the kids,” she says. “It’s the kind of environment where trying things like thinking gum and calm forts is completely supported and encouraged.”

Q&A WITH ELYSA MORIN »

  • Q: What do you love the most about your job?
    A: My kids! I love grade one students’ enthusiasm for learning and life — their ability to find joy and wonder in everything is inspiring! They are so excited to begin reading, writing, and acquiring new skills… there is never a dull moment. I also enjoy teaching as a creative outlet.
  • Q: What is your teaching philosophy/creed?
    A: I have always found joy in learning and hope to empower my students with that joy, by integrating humour, playfulness, art, music, and movement as much as possible! I believe that teaching kindness and mindfulness is as important as teaching academics and is learned first by modeling – we need to treat students as we want them to treat others. Also essential to me is collaboration with other teachers. The reality is that teaching is a very stressful occupation, but we are each other’s best support system. I’m so grateful to be part of an exceptionally supportive staff, and that I get to learn from and with my incredible grade team partners!
  • Q: What is the biggest lesson you have learned from your students?
    A: Admittedly, I am a naturally stressed out person and have been a bit of a work-a-holic since childhood! My young students’ ability to fully immerse themselves in enjoying the moment — even the smallest, and especially the “silliest” moments – is an important lesson and reminder for me.
  • Q: What was your proudest teaching moment?
    A: There are many heart-swelling moments in grade one… one that comes to mind is the sheer delight and surprise on the face of a boy who had been working extremely hard to sound out and write a word, as he exclaimed, “I writed by myself for the first time in my whole life!!!” It’s all worth it for moments like that.
  • Q: If you could have any person, dead or alive, fictional or real, come in and speak with your class, who would that be? Why?
    A: Wouldn’t it be a dream to have Dr. Seuss come in and help inspire the students’ whimsy and creativity!? Like most teachers, I am a huge lover of all things Seuss. We are always working to develop students’ expressive skills and craft – he was an expressive genius! He was a true master of word play, fantastical imagination, and conveying meaningful messages in very accessible and playful ways.
  • Q: What tips do you have for parents on how they can help prepare their kids to get the most out of the school day?
    A: Physical activity really gets the brain ready to learn, so if it is a feasible option, it’s great to walk or bike to school. I also encourage parents to support their children’s awareness of how nutritional choices can help them learn; obviously starting the day with a healthy breakfast, but also sharing the ownership with their children to help pack a lunch that will sustain their energy and alertness.
  • Q: Favourite pastime?
    A: Yoga! It is really important to me (and for my patience and sanity) to stay active. There is no degree of stress that cannot be made at least a little bit better by standing on my head. I also love to cook and bake, and when I can squeeze in some time, painting.
  • Q: Favourite after-school snack?
    A: Whatever is sitting around in the staff room is fair game! But usually, banana and yogurt, ideally chased with some good dark chocolate. Just the chocolate works, too! Major sweet tooth.
  • Q: If you win, how will you allocate the Teacher Awards prize money?
    A: I’d love to purchase a class set of yoga mats. I feel it is so valuable to teach children mindfulness and self-regulation strategies, as well as body awareness. I certainly see the benefits within my own classroom, and love to witness the expressions of peace and contentment on the children’s faces while teaching our school’s yoga club. I will also excitedly buy some really nice new art supplies for our school. I love sharing my passion for art with students!

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