Heart of Our City: From pen-and-paper to senses and relationships

Lisa Scherr just celebrated 25 years of teaching young kids

As soon as you walk into Lisa Scherr’s classroom a calming presence overcomes you. For a space only meant to hold 20 tiny humans, the room is large and divided into sections. The walls are painted and decorated in neutral tones. Kids art will hang from two tree branches dangling from the ceiling with clips in them. On top of one of the tables three empty mason jars stand ready to be filled with flowers from Scherr’s garden.

“When children and families come into my room my hope is that this is a very calm place for them, they feel safe. I make sure that children have food and clothing, and that they’re learning how to play with each other, build relationships, and feel like they’re part of our school community,” Scherr said.

Scheer has been teaching since 1994, when she got her start in the Port Hardy school district. After six years her husband transferred to Prince Rupert to work at the port, and Scherr found work as a child development consultant, teaching adults working on their early childhood education until she eventually found her place at Conrad teaching Kindergarten and Grade 1.

“I’ve been at Conrad now for six years in a row. So last year, I was able to watch my kindergarten class actually graduate from grade five. So that was really, really cute. That was a really good feeling. I cried at the ceremony. It was really neat to watch the kids grow and develop and just be a part of their life for all those years,” she said.

Learning with feeling

Throughout her time at Conrad, Scherr has helped her pupils turn away from the paper and pencil method of learning toward building relationships and sensory learning.

“A real big focus of my program is play-based learning, where I have a lot of things set up around the room for the children to play out, we call them invitations or centres, and focusing on all the different areas of development. So making sure that there are things for their sensory needs and creative needs, as well as their academic and social needs,” she said.

Scherr, 48, celebrated her 25th year of teaching in last academic year. In that time she said the biggest shift in methods has been to build lesson plans around kids’ interests.

“We know that children don’t need to learn the same kind of facts that they used to, they all have electronics, and they can look up any anything they want. So it’s really more about teaching children how to learn and how to stay motivated,” she said.

The morning is exploration time for students where they can play at the sand table, water table or build their imaginations with Play-Doh, to keep their hands busy. Later in the day comes literacy practice through storytelling, rhyming and song. Math is explored through different materials from rocks to Lego.

Lisa Scherr said her new focus is on finding out what students are interested in and bringing the knowledge in from there. So literacy practice can come through storytelling, rhyming or song. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

Some days are reserved for Fun Days

To help kids stay motivated and build relationships Scherr began an inquiry a few years ago into hosting Fun Day. Originally Fun Day occurred only once toward the end of the school year. Now they are held four to five times around various holidays. The grades get to mix together and rotate throughout the school to do different activities, such as building things with cardboard boxes or baking. The day also starts off with a school assembly and drumming to include cultural education.

“It’s just really been positive. We’ve really noticed a lot of school spirit since we started doing this. Children are asking for it and a lot of our older children who maybe are not that keen on coming to school are asking all the time, ‘when’s our next Fun Day?’ So we know that it’s very motivating for them,” she said. “It’s also really nice for me to work with kids who are not just in my class so that when I’m out on the playground with them, I have a bit more of a relationship.”

Scherr first began to organize all the activities and themes until more teachers got involved.

“We’ve worked really hard at Conrad to build a school community here with lots of really fun activities and a staff who, you know, really supports that and feels it’s important.,” Scherr said stressing once more that the work could not be done without the support of her colleagues.

WATCH MORE: Conrad Cardboard Challenge

Forever learning

“There’s my favourite person in the world,” said Ms. Friendship, a Grade 2 teacher, as Scherr walked down the hallway. “The school wouldn’t be what it is without her.”

Friendship’s comments only affirm what Scherr has been trying to accomplish during her six years — build relationships with other teachers to help one another continue their personal journey in education.

Scherr co-facilitates the Primary Teacher’s Association, with two other teachers at SD52. The group is supported by both the local and provincial union with the goal of bringing teachers together and sharing ideas.

“We’ve been able to put on different workshops for teachers. So we will look at what is relevant in education right now, and how we bring teachers together, and just share ideas. I think that’s really exciting. Those are the things that keep me motivated,” she said.

Scherr is also part of a group working with StrongStart, a program supported by the province to improve results for kids struggling in different areas. The focus of this particular inquiry was on social-emotional learning.

Scherr’s “wonder child” was a young girl anxious about coming to school. The program had the girl read stories to the class about building relationships and then ensuring she connected with another student afterward. Scherr spends time with her kid in the morning and invites the family into the classroom for as long as they need. She also sends photos home throughout the week so her parents can see their daughter doing positive things at school.

Scherr said these kinds of programs would not be possible without teachers networking and holding sessions throughout the year to share ideas.

“I am just excited to be a part of everything that’s happening. I think there’s lots of great learning. I’m forever learning,” Scherr said. “Conrad is a really special place.”

READ AND WATCH MORE: Heart of Our City, Mona Izumi: Sharing a piece of history

Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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