My #TeacherCrush Blog Series Vol | 02

 

You know teachers who make you want to level-up your own practice?

You soak up their every word, nuance and lesson. Their students ADORE them, their administrators RAVE about them, and every parent wishes their kid was in her class?

One of those teachers is my new-found friend, Bela Luis. Her students know her as Bela, and she shares her gifts with other teachers through workshops {where I got to see her space first-hand!}, and has been invited to share her love for Land-Based Learning at a conference in Oakland, California later this year. 

Being in her classroom is how I picture heaven for teachers. She takes environment as third teacher to a whole new level. I know you will find so much inspiration in this interview, and especially in the photos of her learning environment.

Folks, meet my friend Bela. A much-respected teacher from my own hometown, Winnipeg, Canada! 

Please share a bit about your education: your school, major/minor(s) and
graduation year, as well as any other credentials you've earned along the way.

Bela: My Bachelor of Education (2012) is my third degree. I also have a Bachelor of Arts (French/Math/Psychology) and a Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) all from the University of Manitoba. Most of my family went into Education and so I decided to be the black sheep of the family, even though teaching was always in the back of my mind. I worked as a Project Manager for a Pharmaceutical Company and then as a Marketing Analyst for a Communications Company before having my son. I decided to stay home with him until he began school and started a stationery business at that time (PetalBlue Designs). In 2009, on the recommendation of a friend, I attended the Reggio Inspired Coalition of Educators conference here in Winnipeg. It was there that I realized that teaching was no longer just about lecturing to children and filling their minds with knowledge. The times had changed and so had philosophies. I instantly knew that I would be returning to school. I completed my PostBac in Education in 2013 and am just about done my Masters of Education. I think I will be done after that. Although, I am hoping to take Forest School Practitioners course this spring.

What grade are you teaching? What do you love most about this age?


Bela: This is my second-year teaching grade ½ multi-age in Seven Oaks SD. Previously I taught Nursery and 1/2/3 Alternative in Winnipeg SD. I also taught Kindergarten and a straight grade 1 in Seven Oaks, and worked 2 years as a Learning Support Teacher. Grade ½ is definitely my favourite so far, especially in the multi-age. The growth that you get to see and experience over the 2 years is phenomenal. They have so many questions and queries, and they are open to pretty much anything. They also give some great hugs and produce some pretty amazing cards, that I cherish immensely.

 

Did you always know you wanted to become a teacher? Were there any
influences (people or experiences) that led you down this path?

Bela: I knew that I loved teaching, and I could often be found helping in my cousin’s classroom, tutoring classmates or playing school. When I went to university though, I just felt the need to do something different from everyone else, hence Business school. It was only after attending the RICE conference and seeing what Education had become that I realized that this was in fact what I needed to be doing. It also helped that I had amazing teacher friends and family members who spoke about what they were doing in their classrooms and let me come in and observe them in action to really seal the deal.

 

In a paragraph, describe your teaching philosophy. What does teaching and
learning mean to you?

Bela: My teaching philosophy ebbs and flows as I grow and learn, but at the root of it is always the kids in my class. I believe that children give us all of themselves, they trust in us and share their good, bad, hard and heart with us, and that it is such an honour for me to get to learn alongside them every day. In return, I share my good, bad, hard and heart with them. We have a mutual respect for each other and I believe that it is because of this that our classroom community feels so much like a family.

I believe that the learning that takes place comes from questions asked by both them and me. That they guide me in our next steps as much as I guide them. Children express their learning in various mediums that make sense for them and they explore their learning in ways that capture their interests.

My teaching philosophy also centres strongly around the environment. Right now, my focus is on the outdoor environment and how we can continue to integrate it into our learning on a daily basis. We take daily walks, no matter the weather, and so much of our science and social studies curriculum (along with ELA, Math and Art) comes through what we do outdoors. Inside our classroom, the environment needs to be a comfortable space. We spend more time at school than we do awake at home most days, so I need to feel happy in our classroom and I want my students to feel the same way. For me this means natural objects, lamps and window lighting only, plants, comfy seats, books, loose parts, child-made art, alphabets and numbers, and photos.

If you would like a peak into my classroom, both indoors and outdoors, check out my Instagram @belasclass or my Twitter handle @mama2noah

 

Let's talk about lifelong learning. What are some of your professional learning
goals?


Bela: I am always looking for learning opportunities, both here in Winnipeg as well as at conferences elsewhere. Right now, my immediate goal is to complete my Master’s degree. Alongside that, I enjoy finding ways to learn and share my knowledge about Nature Pedagogy and the Benefits of learning outdoors. I am speaking at the Children & Nature Network Conference in Oakland in May and hope to do a few more workshops locally. In addition, I would like to take the Forest School Practitioners course this Spring.

 

What brings you the most JOY in your practice?

Bela: Seeing true engagement in children. When you know that they are so invested in what they are doing and that so much learning is taking place during that time, that is when I feel the most joy with my practice. It means that we are all in this together, and that our trajectories are spinning forward.


List the biggest challenges or obstacles you've struggled with in your practice. 

Bela: I think that most of us will say finding a work/life balance. Those 10 months of the school year are pretty intense. I remember in my early days as a teacher thinking about school 24/7. I think that there are days that I am still doing this, but I have also realized that it is important to dedicate some time every day to other things and to the people in our lives. It keeps us healthy and happy, and in the end makes us better teachers.

 

What are some ways you've overcome these struggles?


Bela: I head outside every day. Usually for a walk, but sometimes just to sit and think, or do a fun winter activity (like snowshoeing or skating). Making this time for myself has allowed me to connect more with my thoughts and reflect on things happening, both in the classroom and out. It provides me with the opportunity to process things and then come to a decision on what my next steps will be. I find this to be a much more proactive way of living my life, rather than the reactive that was taking place when I felt like I was working all the time.

 

 

How has the Reggio-Inspired approach to teaching and learning influenced your
practice? What have been the biggest shifts for you?

 Bela: The Reggio-Inspired Approach is all that I have really known as a practicing teacher. The ideas of inquiry, community, image of the child and the environment as the third teacher are what resonated with me and formulated my decision to go into teaching.

As I learn and grow as an educator, I begin to see other snippets of the Reggio-Inspired Approach becoming larger parts of my practice. Encouraging children to use 100 languages to reflect their learn, engaging in year-long projects, documenting learning for me, them and families are all examples of this. 

In addition to this, I often refer back to “why am I doing what I am doing” when planning an activity or lesson. I want to ensure that the children’s interests and questions are reflected in our daily happenings. I think that this is one of the fundamental teachings that I have taken from the Reggio Approach these past 7 years, and every year is a little different. I look forward to seeing what else I take from this approach in the years to come.

Bela, thank you for being such an incredible force of inspiration and creativity. Your students need you. The world needs your teaching gift. Thank you for sharing your story to inspire others.

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