Thank Goodness for Early Years Teachers

 

photo (5)
Grade 1 Students @pdaleGr1

 

My very first teaching job was a grade 1 and 2 classroom on a fly in First Nations Reserve in northern Manitoba.  I was so excited to have a teaching position and, of course, for my husband and I there were many changes, with our first year of living on our own as a married couple.  I enjoyed my students and the experiences we had that year.  At the end of the year, however,  I remembered thinking that I never wanted to teach grade one again.

It had nothing to do with not liking my students or the experience.  As I reflected at the end of the year I had to wonder if I had done enough for my young students.  Had I given them enough of a foundation to carry them through the rest of their learning?  Had we covered enough?  Did they read well enough?  Did they have enough basic math?  Had I taught them the social skills they needed?  The questions were never-ending and ran through my mind for a long time that summer.

As I proceeded with my teaching career I realized that I was better suited for teaching high school or middle years students and that is where I have spent the majority of my teaching career.   It is a bit of a joke in my school that I am not cut out for kindergarten.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all my students from kindergarten through grade 8, but I really think it takes a very special person to teach early years.  Not all of us are cut out for it.

IMG_0014-001
Kindergarten @pdalekinders

 

I have the absolute honor of working with a group of hard-working and caring early years teachers. They work well as a team and are an important part of the success of our students.  I think some people might have a misconception about what early years actually teachers do.  I have heard generalizations such as:

“How hard can it be, all they do is play all day.”

“You don’t really have to teach anything that hard or complicated.”

“You don’t really have to deal with any serious behavior problems.”

Recently I had a conversation with a high school principal I had never met,  as I was calling to do a reference check.  In the course of our chat, the principal implied that elementary school was boring and would not be a challenge for the individual I was calling about.  I had to laugh a little bit after I got off the phone.  I could tell that this individual had never spent time teaching early years.  It is not what I would describe as boring at all.

The thing that amazes me the most about my early years teachers is the never-ending love and kindness they show to their young students.  Early years are not just about A,B, C’s and 1,2,3’s, but more about learning the basics of getting along.  How to figure out the difference between a tattle and a report.  How to accept everyone even when they may not agree with you.  How to share your time with others when you may be used to having adults to yourself, how to play fair.

So many simple, but complex things to figure out.

grade2
Grade 2- @PdaleGr2

 

At times, when I am wandering around my school and am able to observe the small interactions and lessons within the lessons, I am truly in awe of the patience required by these teachers.  Every day parents trust them with the most precious and important people in their lives.  Relationships and communication are key to students success.  Early years teachers really never get a break during the day.  When older students are working independently, teachers can find a bit of time to do some of their own work, but in early years, this does not happen.  The students require attention and support all day long.

kindergrade1
Kindergarten/Grade 1 @kinder1kids

 

I had one of my early years teachers ask me the other day, if I was going to be able to teach for  less time next year and have more administration time.  She felt that I had too much on my plate and had a lot to keep up with.  The fact that my teachers would worry about me or each other, did not surprise me.  That is just how we are as a team.  What struck me more, was the fact that I think what she does on a daily basis is way harder that what I do.

So much more goes on in early years that what most people might think.  So much more than curricular outcomes, so much more than math, ELA, science or social.  Learning about the world and how it works, learning how to feel good about ourselves, learning to understand and accept differences, learning that we can make mistakes and fix them, learning how to fight our own battles, learning how to be independent, and the list goes on and on.

So the next time you are talking to an early years teacher, please thank them for the hard work they do and especially for getting all of our young learners off to such a good start.

 

 

 

Loading the Teacher Bus

 

http://3rseduc.blogspot.ca/2011/09/non-existant-teaching-job-market-and.html
http://3rseduc.blogspot.ca/2011/09/non-existant-teaching-job-market-and.html

I have to admit that I find this time of year both frustrating and exciting.  It does not seem to take long for the current school year to crash into the next school year.  Decisions are needed for budgets, staffing, ordering and spending and time-tabling, all while business as usual is going on around the building.

It is easy to understand why most administrators think that hiring and “loading the bus” with the best possible staff is one of the most important things we do.  Nothing has as big of influence over student achievement than the teacher in the room.

With so many things to consider, it can be a difficult and nerve-wracking process. Not only are we wanting to hire someone with all the skills necessary to be an outstanding classroom teacher, but we also need someone who will mesh nicely in the culture of our building and be an excellent staff member as well.

In my teaching career I have had the honor and privilege of working with many talented teachers and have had the opportunity to learn many things from the people who I work with.  In the short time I have been an administrator-5 years, I have interviewed and hired many great teachers as well, but…I have also hired a few not really suited for the rigors of an elementary classroom.

According to a study conducted by McRel, a private and non-profit educational  research corporation, the attributes that matter the most to teacher success are:

  • Some experience
  • Preparation and content pedagogy
  • Strong academic preparation
  • Verbal and cognitive ability

So if I find teachers that fit these 4 criteria, will that mean I have hired a great teacher? It seems very cut and dry to think this is true.  I could probably get most of this information without even talking to the candidate.

There are countless sites that claim to have the secret to good teaching- Top 10 Qualities of a Great Teacher, Ten Traits of a Good Teacher, and so on, but there is still no guarantee that I will be able to detect all those qualities suggested in an interview situation.

It seems to me that some of the most important attributes a teacher needs to have is a belief in kids and a belief in themselves as a teacher.  Teachers also need to have strong relationship skills, a willingness to be a life long learner and “withitness” or the ability to have eyes in the back of their heads to manage a busy classroom and again the list could go on and on.

Teaching is not simple, it requires grit, stamina, a willingness to admit we don’t have all the answers and the desire to work as a team to do what is right for children at all times. I always say to my staff-teaching is not for the faint at heart.

So, my fellow educators and administrators, I am seeking the truth about hiring and interviewing.  What are some of your best interview questions?  How do you ensure you are hiring the best teachers possible?

 

Being Connected No Longer an Option

community1
http://wspucla.wordpress.com/category/you-have-the-power-choosing-courage-in-a-culture-of-fear/

Most people who know me know that I am passionate about engaging students with technology. Not technology for the sake of using it, but rather technology because we can and because we should and because and when it just makes sense.  My view on educational pedagogy totally changed a few years ago when I took my Masters Degree and was exposed to the ideas of people such as Alec Couros and Dean Shareski.  My first exposure was scary and I felt way out of my element, but the idea that we could connect, communicate and grow as a global community made me very excited about my future as an educator.

My journey of growth and “connectedness” has been going forward since then, slowly but surely, and of course not without road blocks and frustrations.  The outcome of my perseverance, despite the frustrations, is what keeps me moving in a steady direction towards what I know is right for students.

All too often I am still hearing things like “I don’t really like technology” or “I can’t do that, because I am just too old to change”, or “I don’t have time” or “I am not really interested.” When I am hearing these things I have to wonder if the option is even there for teachers to feel this way.  When we think about the digitally orientated world our students are living in, participating with and contributing to, can we really choose to ignore that world and the opportunity for our students to write and share with a larger audience?

I have had a few experiences in my classroom connecting my students with other learners on Skype in the Classroom, having my students working on projects with other classrooms, sharing the interesting things I find and learn from my PLN and using blogs, wiki spaces and other web tools.   I am not saying I am any kind of expert, quite the opposite in fact, but what I have learned from what I have been able to do so far is that I need to do it more.

In a recent post I was reading by Justin Tarte, Life of An Educator, “Who decides when it is no longer optional?”, he was asking some of the same questions I have to wonder about…

 When is the choice of reaching out to educators from around the globe to collaborate no longer an option?
 
When is truly differentiating classroom instruction and meetings kids where they are no longer an option?
When is taking ownership of your own professional learning and growth not a duty and responsibility of the district, but an expectation of the individual?

About a year ago I got brave enough to start actively participating in twitter.  Previously I had sort of lurked around the outside edges wanting to jump in.  I can remember my nervousness when I made my first tweet, wondering if I had anything to say worth listening to. My first tweet was a response to a question my grade 4 class had put on twitter asking about favorite novels.  It is nice to have teachers that are leading the way and helping me on my journey.

 

 

 Once I bridged the gap between being a lurker to a participator, I have never looked back.  It is the best professional development opportunity that I have had in my teaching career.  The things that make it the best for me is being real-time, tailored to my interests and the fact that I can grow and learn in my profession from wherever I want and whenever I want and can follow whoever I want.

 

I came across an article titled Connectedness: The New Standard, by Eric Sheniger, which he had posted on twitter yesterday.  In the article Sheniger writes about the ease of connecting because we have so many tools available to us that allow us easy access. He feels “Connectedness is no longer an option, but rather a standard and a professional obligation.” The power of being connected is hard to ignore. He encourages teachers and leaders to take advantage of the power of sharing.

 

I have to admit that when I am passionate about something, I don’t let anything get in my way and I have to really work on keeping myself in check so I don’t blast people over with my desire for them to join in my passions.  You can probably ask any of the teachers in my school and they can easily tell you what my passions are and what I desire education to look like.   I have learned to pull back a little and I have realized that everyone follows a different path toward the desired destination.

 

I just finished reading Kathy Cassidy’s book, Connected From the Start, for the second time.  When I read her descriptions of the learning in her classroom and the connections her young students are able to make it validates for me what we need to be doing. She describes her grade one students writing on the classroom blog and recognizes that this is the world her primary students are growing up in and will be working and living in as adults.  She feels she is not only helping them grow as writers, but they are learning how to write in public and safely create their online presence.

 

“Whether you are working with five-year olds or fifteen year olds, the student want to know that what they are learning has value.  Sharing learning online often produces affirmation of value-not just day by day but over time as a student’s digital portfolio grown and becomes public evidence of his or her advancing knowledge and skills.”  

 

 We can no longer ignore real world connections and opportunities for our students to be sharing with real audiences.

 

What an exciting time it is to teach and learn.  So many opportunities to connect and learn from each other and to make real word changes.  When are these things no longer an option?

Things Just Aren’t the Same

http://liz-green.com/2010/12/those-who-cannot-change-their-minds-cannot-change-anything/
http://liz-green.com/2010/12/those-who-cannot-change-their-minds-cannot-change-anything/

If someone who had not been in a school for a while walked into one of our classrooms I think they would be shocked by what they would see.  There have been so many changes on the educational landscape that nothing much remains of the typical classroom so many of us imagine and remember from when we were in school.

I think the first thing you might notice is the lack of desks and collaborative groups of students sitting around tables or working at various places throughout the classroom from the floor to any number of alternative learning spaces. There are a variety of different learning activities going on rather than the entire class focusing on one activity at a time.   Gone are the days when learning was an individual activity and the different subjects such as math, English and Social Studies were taught in isolation.

The next biggest thing I think people would notice would be the teacher not being in front of the room feeding students with the regulated chunks of material they were responsible for learning. In today’s classroom a lot of the learning is done through inquiry and the teacher is more of a facilitator, guiding students toward individual learning goals.

On Friday as I walked around the school I walked in on our grade 3 students during math class. The classroom was noisy and busy and the energy of learning could be felt. The students were working at various stations around the classroom. Some were at the SMART board doing math activities.

Math on the SMART board
Math on the SMART board

Some were playing multiplication war on the carpet and were very engaged in the competitive nature of knowing their math facts faster than their partner.

Multiplication War
Multiplication War

Some were working together at the tables using 3 dimensional shapes trying to figure out how many faces, sides and vertices the various shapes had.

Learning about 3 dimensional shapes.
Learning about 3 dimensional shapes.

The teacher and the educational assistant were moving around the room  helping where necessary and checking in with different students assessing their learning. I could not resist getting  down on the carpet to see what the students were doing.  They were getting good at math facts and were motivating each other to keep going in the spirit of competition.

I couldn’t help but think this was the very reason that children needed to be in school…that attendance is important…that not all things can be duplicated outside of the learning environment the teacher and students have created.

We often have children that are out of school for extended periods of time, sometimes a week, sometimes a month or more. Parents will want teachers to prepare work for those students when they will be away. This is a reasonable request and we certainly appreciate that it is important to parents to try to support their children’s learning.  However, when we were in school working through textbooks and workbooks from page to page preparing work for students might have been easier.  Now that learning is so active, student focused and question based, planning for students absent from the classroom is a much more difficult task. So much happens that depends on the learning environment, created by the teacher, but carried out by the students.

Things going on in classrooms today have changed in many ways. Expectations of learners have changed and teachers have made many adjustments to provide the best learning environment for our inquisitive, digitally confident, 21st century learners.  Different does not mean the way most of us learned was bad or ineffective, but changes are necessary to  meet the needs of today’s learner.

Please come and check out what happens in our classrooms on a daily basis- you are always welcome.  You can check out our grade 3’s on their blog or follow them on twitter @plesdale3 to find out what else they have been up to.

Co- Teaching Just Makes Sense

http://www.scoop.it/t/clil-teaching-ideas/p/2564865111/2012/09/01/tips-for-team-teaching-across-the-curriculum
http://www.scoop.it/t/clil-teaching-ideas/p/2564865111/2012/09/01/tips-for-team-teaching-across-the-curriculum

I was inspired to write this post after listening to a discussion about team teaching at our staff meeting on Monday. I had asked our RTI (Response to Intervention) teacher to talk about her experiences with co-teaching and invited a few of the classroom teachers she works with to share their thoughts as well. I was hoping they would share ideas and perhaps open up some thinking for some of the other teachers who have not tried co-teaching yet.

As I sat and listened to them, and other teachers in the room, share their experiences it seemed like a given that we should be taking advantage of team teaching opportunities. I have to admit that I was also surprised at the amount of team teaching that was going on in our school. I pride myself at being out and about in classrooms as often as possible, but apparently it isn’t often enough. It also validated for me what I already knew to be true…I don’t have to be watching for good things to happen because the staff that I work with prove that to be true every day.

Some of the co- teaching experiences they mentioned ranged from parallel teaching that involved initial planning and then working together doing guided reading groups, working together to plan and prepare lessons, taking turns teaching-one teach and one observe or cover the room, dividing the students into groups and teaching to specific ability or skill levels, having two teachers circulating while students worked in math stations and other methods as simple as having two teachers in the classroom just to have the added support for the students.

It seemed to me that things that might have initially been seem as obstacles or roadblocks to co-teaching were easily solved. They were using short periods of common prep time to accomplish planning and were enjoying many advantages for them and their students.

Advantages:

  • Extra teacher body in the room to assist students.
  • Less chance that students were being missed and were getting help before they practiced misunderstandings.
  • Having someone to share and discuss ideas.
  • Having a new or different perspective brought to curricular outcomes and planning.
  • Less experienced teachers having the benefit to learn from more experienced teacher.
  • Dividing preparation and teaching tasks to save time.
  • Allows for creative grouping, inquiry teaching and stations.
  • Flexible amount of planning time depending on level of lessons.
  • Many others were discussed that I am sure I have missed.

I am always amazed at the unexpected things I learn from the people around me.  Taking time to collaborate and improve our teaching will only benefit our students.  Again…together we are way better then we ever could be alone.

5 Things I hope Our Parents Know

http://brandonsutton.com/togetherness-and-the-japan-disaster/
http://brandonsutton.com/togetherness-and-the-japan-disaster/

One of the things that I have learned over my years as a teacher and school administrator is the importance of parents and home support in the success of children.  I spend a great deal of time thinking and reflecting on the things we do, in the hopes of improving home school communication and relationships.  These are 5 of the things I hope our parents know…

1.I hope you know we feel thankful you trust us with your children every day. I remember the feeling I had when I sent my oldest daughter to kindergarten. For the first 5 years of her life I had been able to plan for her, shelter her and let her experience things within my control. All of a sudden I was turning her over to another team of people for many hours of her day. I had feelings of apprehension and I am afraid I did not handle her transition into school as well as I might have. The transition did not seem to get much easier for me as I sent child number two or three.  Now that child number 3 is in grade 10 and I have been part of a school team for a number of years, I have realized  it takes many people to raise a child and a strong team of people is what every child needs.

2. I hope you know we want to work as a team.  We know the importance of teamwork in the success of children.  When we make phone calls or send notes home, they are not meant as criticisms, but rather part of our desire to work as a team to help your children and our students be as successful as possible not only  in their academic growth, but also their physical, emotional social and spiritual growth.  We also try to remember when you contact us about your concerns and questions that you are not trying to criticize us, but rather you are being the advocate that all children need. I hope we come across as willing to listen and address your concerns. If we do not, don’t give up, because we are human and trying to do our best.

3. I hope you realize we understand how busy you are. We understand how busy life can be-most of us are working parents too or we were certainly raised by working parents. We understand that some of the things we ask you to do for us and your children add to the business of a full day. I certainly have to admit that studying for science exams or helping with ELA homework has come at times that I have found very frustrating and have had to dig deep to find the energy needed. We understand that sometimes you will not be able to meet our expectations and that is ok, because sometimes we may not always be able to meet yours.

4. I hope you know we are trying our best. I never have to doubt the hard work I see in our school every day.   It makes me proud as a principal when I see that everyone is trying their hardest to do the best we can for children.  In know that despite our hard work, we will make mistakes sometimes and I hope that you will be patient as we try to make things right.

5. I hope you know we appreciate everything they do for us. I am amazed by the generosity and support of the parents and families in our community. We are constantly receiving donations of time, money and effort. We cannot thank you enough and some days it is what keeps us going when things get busy and frustrating like they can at times.

Together we CAN accomplish great things, so keep calling, keep writing notes, keep asking questions. You are the most important part of your child’s team.

My Lesson in Engagement

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-engagement-stories-heather-wolpert-gawron
http://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-engagement-stories-heather-wolpert-gawron

I had a chunk of time yesterday where I had the opportunity to do my favorite thing-walk around and visit classrooms.  I like to see what the students are up to and it is so great to ask them about their learning and have them explain.  There are so many good things going on in our building and as I stated in my last post, “Tooting Our Own Horn”, I want to do a better job of telling the story of those good things.  I was able to spend some time in our grade 4 classroom watching a very simple social studies lesson.

The students were in transition when I entered the classroom, putting away their materials and grabbing laptops for the next activity. The class had been trying to find some information involving the history or stories behind some of the historical buildings in the City of Estevan, but there was not much information they could dig up, so they were concentrating their focus on the Court House.

What struck me was not the content of the lesson, but the level of engagement the classroom teacher had created in the lesson. It was like she took every small trick and used it.

1. The students were working in pairs that they were able to choose. We all know students are motivated by collaboration and each pair could sit together where they were comfortable working.
2. They were using technology in the form of laptops and the classroom teacher had put the research questions on the Smart Board and as they were finding answers, she was adding their information to her document.
3. She turned the activity into a bit of a race or competition to see which pair could find answers first.
4. She was able to scaffold the activity for those that needed it, gave encouragement and created a low risk learning environment.
5. She set them up for success by reminding them how to do a successful Google search, so they were not wasting time or feeling discouraged.
6. She constantly gave the students feedback as they were working together through the activity.

It was such a simple activity, but pulled off with the greatest level of student success. The teacher told me later, how excited the class had been when they found out some very interesting history about the Estevan Court House. Again, this ups the engagement for next time. I was so impressed by this young teacher who taught me a lesson in engagement.

If you are interested you can check out their class blog, Fantastic in Fourth, or follow them on twitter @Pdalegrade4s

The best thing about our school team and especially about my job is the opportunity I have to learn so many things from so many people.

Tooting Our Own Horn

bulldog logo

I finally received my copy of Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times, by Eric Sheninger. I am over 1/2 way through already taking advantage of a 2 hour drive to my son’s hockey game yesterday and some reading to my cell phone light on the way home. The book is very motivating and thought-provoking as I thought it probably would be. There are many ideas for using social media for communication, public relations, engaging students, professional development of staff and much more. It is amazing what some of the schools mentioned in the book are doing simply by taking advantage of opportunities available to us by various forms of social media.

One thing I don’t think we do a very good job of is tooting our own horn. We have so many good things going on in our school, but because they are just part of our every day workings we do not share them or brag about them. A few times so far in my reading Mr. Sheninger has written, “If we do not tell our story, somebody else will. Unfortunately, more often than not, the story that is told is negative.” It is hard not to agree with this because we often see public education and schools portrayed in a negative way in the media.

As a digital leader in my school it is my responsibility to do a better job of building capacity through positive public relations. I can say my plate is full, or what if something negative happens, or I do not have time for one more thing, but in a lot of ways, that is a cop-out. We avoid doing things because of the “time” excuse and later realize that time spent pays off many fold and was well worth it.

I have seen links on twitter about branding, but honestly I have not really paid much attention because, like a lot of people, I usually associate branding with big business and I am in the business of children and people. What does branding have to do with that?

Branding is creating an identity that people will recognize and buy in to. We are in control of what is happening in our schools, for the most part, and we know there are many awesome, experiences, moments, techniques and celebrations happening every day so why not spread the word.

We have put a lot of effort this year into using twitter as a communication and public relations tool with developing and promoting a school twitter account @PDaleSchool and classroom twitter accounts for all of our classes. I think we have done a great job and parents appreciate the effort put into being able to see those small moments happening throughout the day, receiving notices of things happening at the school and links to parenting or educational information. I also think it is a great professional development tool for many of our teachers.

We have made a great step toward positive branding of our school. The question now is…what is the next step?