Meaningful Mindset

http://timetothrivecoaching.com
http://timetothrivecoaching.com

Here I am being prompted to write another post because of something I saw on Facebook.  I am not sure if that means I should spend less time on Facebook or not, because it does lead me to think of some important topics.   Growth mindset is a topic that comes up often in educational discussions these days.  Growth mindset for teachers, growth mindset for students…what does that even mean?

The particular post I was reading on Facebook was a person venting out about city planning here in the City of Estevan.  I am not sure why people continue to vent things out on social media using a string of curse words to get their points across, but that is the subject of another post perhaps.  The thing about this post and the number of comments that followed, was the attitude that we can just post something, get others to join in a negative tirade and then feel that some positive change might come out of that.  I know schools and school principals are sometimes the target of these posts and if the truth be known, most times we don’t even see them.  It is difficult to promote positive action or change when the right people do not even receive your thoughts or concerns, which is probably what happened in this case.

I have to wonder, if we stopped for a moment before venting out the negative and spent some time, sharing positive solutions or possibilities, what a difference that might make.  I don’t know much about city planning and even though the railway tracks going down the middle of the city cause me some frustration at times, it seems to me, if I want a voice in decisions, I need to get involved in a positive way.

I came across a blog post on the weekend titled, “Quit Complaining”.  It caught my eye, because it was exactly what I was thinking in response to the Facebook post.   The author of the blog post explained that complaining negatively impacts the energy of the complainer and everyone around that person.  The post goes on to say, after 30 minutes, the effects of complaining actually start to change the ability to problem solve.

“Exposure to negativity for 30 minutes or more impacts the neurons in the hippocampus, impairing the ability to problem solve. We give away our power and become victims when we focus on complaints over solutions.”

In my last post, I mentioned the opportunity I  had, recently,  to listen to Tom Hierck speak on student engagement with the rest of our school division admin team.  Our grades 4-12 teachers then spent the day listening to him at the beginning of October.  One of the messages he left with us was the opportunity we all have to judge the actions of others in a positive or negative light.

For example, the person who cuts you off in traffic…

Is that person really being a jerk, who is irresponsible or has that person simply made an error in judgement that we all make at different times while driving?   Mr. Hierck was trying to get the point across that we should consider giving the benefit of the doubt in these simple situations and moving on without misplacing frustration and energy on negative paths that truly lead no where.

It makes sense when you think about it.  The time spent stewing in frustration or anger is lost on the person who cut you off, but takes away from the ability we have to move on with our day and focus our energy on much more important things.

www.flickr.com
http://www.flickr.com

Having a growth mindset, seems to be the ability to  focus on the process of learning rather than the fixed end result that cannot be changed.  Is it possible there might better way to do something  I have done a million times, if I stay open to the possibilities?  Can I truly stop and consider someone else’s perspective and be a better, more informed person because of it?  Can I make a mistake and look at it as a pathway for growth, rather than a failure?  Can I tackle something difficult and not give up in the middle of the struggle? Can I look at my weaknesses as opportunity for growth and not be discouraged?

So, what does this mean for students in the classroom?

We used to believe that intelligence and ability was fixed.  A sort of-you either have it or you don’t when it came to intelligence and talent. When I was in school, we were all given intelligence tests and our overall ability was judged looking only at that number.  Over the years, research has shown us that is not the case. All of our students have the ability to grow in different areas given the right circumstances and the right motivation.

I was watching a TED Talk presentation by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University, psychologist who specializes in research studies based on motivation and “growth mindset”.  In her presentation, she is talking about the power of “not yet”.  Her theory seems to be,  we are always on a continuum of growth towards achieving our goals.  Students who have been taught to have a growth mindset, look at challenges much differently than those who are just aiming for a passing grade or the end result.  Students with a growth mindset will not give up when given a difficult challenge, but rather look to it as being “not yet” there.

She offers many studies that show having a growth mindset can make a huge difference for our students and their ability to problem solve.  Her advice to parents and teachers is to stop telling our students how wonderful they are.

Now, we might say… “What? We are trying to build up their self-esteem?

She does not want us to stop praising them, she just wants us to think about how and what we are praising.  Instead of always telling our children and students that every little thing they accomplish is the best, she believes we should praise the struggle, the quest for understanding, the process needed to stretch and solve problems.

The “Quit Complaining” blog post, I mentioned earlier, suggested a quick strategy that might benefit us as adults, but seems to me could be a habit that might benefit our students as well.  The strategy was to simply add the word “so” to the end of our complaints or frustrations followed by the actions needed to make a positive difference.

If we go back to the complainer I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it might go something like this…

I get so frustrated by many of the decisions made by the city planners, so I think I should try to contact my city counselor and explain my frustrations and find out why certain decisions are made or think about running for city council so I would have a voice in the decisions that are made.

Now, I know, that sounds a bit optimistic, but again, if we do nothing, we get nothing.

Is it possible to change our language in classrooms to promote positive mindsets in our students? Rather than praising the student for doing well, can we instead, praise the process or the struggle?  When a student makes a mistake or does not quite achieve to the level he or she needs to be at, can we promote a “not yet” there atmosphere instead of a “you failed” atmosphere? Can we focus on the problem solving or seeking positive solution, type actions in our classrooms, rather than on end results?

We cannot do this alone.  Like most things that happen in schools, we need parents and families to be an equal part of the team.  Can parents also promote the idea that learning and growth is a process and perhaps it is okay if we are “not yet” there, “so” how are we going to get there?  Our first response may be to solve problems for our children, but imagine the benefit to them learning to solve problems for themselves.

Learning from the struggle.

Our students do not need to be praised for every move they make. They do not need a reward for every step they take.  Instead, they need encouragement to build a growth mindset that will take them into the future.  If we model and encourage growth mindset, we could be well on our way to having a group of young adults that might not be discouraged when challenged and might not expect to be rewarded for completing the simplest task.

 Imagine what those young adults might accomplish.

 

For the Love of Reading

https://www.flickr.com/photos/katerha/8435321969/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/katerha/8435321969/

I taught high school English in a smaller rural school for 20 years and enjoyed almost every minute of it.  Throughout my time there I always wished that I could help my students understand my love for learning and especially my love of reading and how the two of them were related.  I wanted them to be able to pick up and book and enjoy reading as much as I did.

 

It seems like everywhere I turn lately, we are focused on data…collecting data, reading data, acting on data.  Now, don’t get me wrong,  I definitely see the payoffs to correctly using data.  I think data makes us much more focused on our goals and it also helps us see where we need to change out actions in order to improve the achievement of our students.

We have been closely focused on our reading data since last spring when we realized our early learning  students were not progressing as fast as what we might have liked.  We asked ourselves what we could do to support and promote continued improvement in our young students and we have put many things into place that are making a positive difference.

There are a couple of important things that I feel can happen if we get too focused on our data and forget that a data set is only one part of an important picture.  Data in itself does not tell the whole story of a student, or a classroom, or a teacher or a school.  Most teachers and administrators will be able to tell you a whole story of the achievements and progress of each of their students.  The story is very different for each student and is filled with ups and downs, celebrations and reflections and corrections.

The other thing that might happen if we become too focused on our data and is a loss of the love of learning I was speaking of at the beginning of this post.  I have been doing a lot of reading lately about the love of reading and how important it is for our students and their reading achievements to enjoy books, see a purpose for books and reading and have opportunities to read just for the love of reading.

Grade 3's Reading to Others
Grade 3’s Reading to Others

It is important for them to choose books that are interesting to them and to read them for enjoyment and not just for the purpose of analyzing or taking the story apart bit by bit in a quest to check for comprehension.  It is also important for them to realize there are many ways to read a book and it is okay to enjoy a picture book no matter what your age.  Not everyone enjoys fiction or non-fiction equally, so choosing our own books to engage in, opens up the opportunity to discover what we know, what we want to learn and how we learn best.

Kindergarten
Kindergarten

I used to read aloud to my students a lot.  I didn’t really care if they were in grade 7 or in grade 12, I read aloud to my students frequently.  I shared all the short stories that I loved because they had twisted endings, such as Shirley Jackson’s “Charles” or Roald Dahl’s, “The Landlady”.  I shared my favorite authors and brought people in to read to my students often.  I still enjoy reading to students any opportunity that I have.  I start every year, as a principal, going into each of my kindergarten through grade 5 classrooms and read one of my favorite picture books.  I have to admit that when a student asks me to sit and read to them or listen to them reading I can’t turn them down.  It seems to me,  like there is nothing else that should take priority in that moment and I can’t make myself miss the opportunity to connect with our student over a good book.

I was in one of our early years classrooms last week and they were just preparing for their first session of Daily 5 that morning.  I watched one of our struggling readers grab his book bag with excitement and settle into a comfortable spot and begin to focus solely on his books.  The funny thing was, he was not actually doing what the teacher had requested, but he didn’t even realize it because he was so focused on what was in front of him.  For me it was a moment of triumph and made me very proud of his progress.  Certainly a time to focus on the success and not the lack of listening.

Grade 1 Daily 5
Grade 1 Daily 5

I have distinct memories as a child being so excited about going to the school library.  The rows and rows of books waiting to be read and sitting on the floor in front of Mrs. Walleen as she read aloud one of her favorite books.  On some days when I walk into our school library and I am watching a class of students pick out new books,  I can flash right back to those special moments I had as a young student.

My love of learning has a direct correlation to my father.  He taught me from the time I was a very young child to love books and we would spend hours curled up together reading everything “Winnie the Pooh”.  When I grew up and had children of my own, my father read to them and bought them many books.  I carried on his habits by reading endlessly to my children, sharing all of those books from my childhood.

My dad and my girls
My dad and my girls

My father is in his eighties now and continues to make learning a priority, reading every day, sharing his love of learning with his grandchildren, searching out things to learn about on the internet, learning how to share using Facebook, following blogs and really the list would go on and on.

Since the beginning of September we have been doing reading groups with our grade 1 students every day.  Our RTI teacher and the classroom teachers have divided them up into small groups of 4 or 5 students and every day at 10:30 they quickly grab their reading bags, find their leaders and excitingly go off for their reading.  We have called it ROAR, which stands for, Really Excited About Reading and they are really excited. If for some reason we do not have ROAR, which is not very often, they are kind of miffed, and not very happy about it.  They are reading for the love of reading and they do not even know it is improving their reading data.  The other really exciting thing about ROAR is that we have been able to involve some of our parents and even some of our older students in leading our reading groups.  It feels like a really community effort and I thank our RTI teacher who works endlessly to keep it going.

Even as I sit here right now writing this post I have a book that is calling out for me to continue reading. It is a joy in my life.  I will always thank my father, my teachers and my librarians that instilled in me as a child, the love of reading.

There are countless things going on in a classrooms and schools everyday, but whatever we do…let’s not forgot to read for the love of reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music to Exercise the Brain

 

http://www.genuineuk.com/
http://www.genuineuk.com/

I had the honor and pure enjoyment of starting my week attending and supervising our winter band concert this past week.  I am always over the top impressed with the level of musical skill our students are able to demonstrate in such a short period of time.

We share our band instructor with 3 other schools and the students only have one practice together before each concert.   When you think about it that is pretty amazing!

 

 

Our school is lucky to be able to have a band and music program under the direction of two hard-working and talented teachers.  I often think they do not get enough credit for the work they are doing with our students.

Our band teacher works tirelessly to gather instruments, find music, support practice and plan concerts.  It requires never-ending patience and dedication. She also organizes a trip for our grade 8 band students every year, so they can celebrate their hard work and accomplishments.

I don’t know if many of you have heard beginning band students in September or have stood in a room full of young band students warming up anticipating a concert.  Let me tell you it is not pretty!  I usually have to hover half in the hallway because I cannot stand the noise level and confusion.  Band and music teachers take this in their stride on a daily basis.

 

Winter Band Concert
Winter Band Concert

Our music teacher provides many creative musical opportunities for all of our students.  She runs a choir and our students were able to sing both at Creighton Lodge and the local nursing home this past week. They were also able to participate in … and sing at our Remembrance Day Service.  Right now she is working long hours coordinating our k-3 annual Christmas concert which will take place this coming week. It is a night of excitement and fun enjoyed by all.  Many times a week as I am walking around our school,  I witness students so excited because they are off to music class.

Grade 1 Music
Grade 1 Music

It can be hard to teach on the fringe.  I do it myself, and it can be difficult at times to see the importance of the “extra” subjects when we are lining them up against math, English Language Arts, Science and Social Studies.

We all know that everything we teach is important, but when it comes to music education, I think it is time to give credit where credit is due.

Now that we have the ability to study brain neurology there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that music affects our development and functioning in a variety of ways such as:

  • Reading and literacy skills
  • Spatial-temporal reasoning
  •  Mathematic abilities
  • Emotional intelligence

Research is showing us that music has a variety of healing qualities such as pain relief and reducing blood pressure and headaches.  It improves memory performance and helps us work more productively.

In fact, music is one of the few activities that involves the whole brain.

Other research is showing a connection between playing an instrument and improved executive functioning such as problem solving, switching between tasks and focus.

The thing I find a bit frustrating is, despite the growing body of evidence that supports music and arts programs, they are often the first things to be cut off the list when money is tight and resources are limited.  Band and music are expensive programs to offer because they require specialized equipment and travel is often necessary, but the benefits to all areas of student development cannot be argued.

IMG_0003-001

I hope that our students and parents will continue to support our band program understanding the short and long-term benefits of playing a musical instrument. The school division requires a minimum number of students to be in a unit of instruction.  I worry sometimes that our numbers will fall below those minimums and we will not longer be able to offer our students such a unique and wonderful opportunity.

 

When I was attending school I did not have the option to participate in a band program.  I think I missed out on something very important and valuable. I am grateful that my son was able to learn to play a trumpet and have the experience of playing in a band.  I realize that it will probably not be something he carries throughout his life, but the benefits of the experience will be long-lasting.

I hope that before we dismiss supporting the band and music programs in our schools that we will take a moment and consider that what we are giving up is much more than “just another class.”

 

 

 

 

Student leadership…well worth the struggle.

http://youthpastorsanonymous.org/
http://youthpastorsanonymous.org/

A few years ago when I started my position as vice-principal, all of our middle-years students became my sole responsibility once a cycle for 45 minutes.  Since then, I have recruited our French teacher to help me with our leadership teams, but let me tell you, it is still  the most overwhelming 45 minutes in most of my weeks.

There are times when I think trying to turn middle year’s students into leaders will kill me, but I still consider it worth the effort. Let me start out by explaining how we organize our students.

photo (20)
Spirit Heroines

We have 6 to 8 different leadership teams each year.  We start the process by explaining what the teams are and having all students put in an application making a case for why they feel they should be a member of a particular team.  Each student must explain what they think they have to offer the team, as well as supply some ideas that might help the team get started.

They apply for 2 teams they would like to be a part of.

Once we have made up our team lists by using the applications and what we know about the students, we are off and running. They choose their team names and develop norms for the expectations of teams members.

dixieland donkeys
Dixieland Donkeys

This year’s teams are:

  • Heroic Helpers Social Justice Team-right now they working on Purple for Peyton Cancer awareness and an anti-bullying kindness campaign.
  • McDonalds Team– running the hot lunch program and nutrition awareness.  Served 160 order of Poutine to students last week.
  • Spirit Heroines– organized a haunted house and dance party for Halloween, have put all students in the school into spirit teams with dog names and colors to support our “Bulldog” mascot.
  • Creative Clubs– made a club proposal form and surveyed students from 1-8 about what clubs they would like to have.  Starting 4 school clubs in January.
  • Dixieland Donkeys Sports Team-on their second round of intramurals and have planned a family movie night in January to raise money to buy a school bull-dog mascot.
  • The Virus Digital Team-making Vine videos modeling behavior expectations, a school video promoting our school and take picture of events.

The majority of the activities happening in our school are student driven.  The students do everything from organizing our intramural program, organizing and running our spirit activities, doing morning and afternoon announcements, deciding what social justice issues we are going to be involved in, organizing, shopping, cooking and serving our hot meal program, running our canteen, and organizing and running all of our assemblies and pep rallies and services.

Wow!  They are awesome!

hot lunch
McDonalds Team Making Poutine

 

Now, I might be remiss if I did not mention the fact,  encouraging and driving middle-years students to be good leaders is a lot of work.  Most of the organizing portion of our activities tends to raise my blood pressure, and I am certain it also drives most of the classroom teachers crazy in the early years and elementary end of the school.  As I stand back and watch the activities unfold, however,  I couldn’t be any prouder as a principal.  The end result is often even better than we would have imagined.

remembrance day
Remembrance Day Service

 

I would like to think the students in our school have a voice, and I hope they feel their voices are heard.  We start the year by explaining what happens in the school is really up to them.  We are willing to consider all ideas and work to help them decide which ideas will come into reality, but if they want things to happen, they have to do the work. Each year and each group of students brings a different level of success and is a new learning experience.

pink pomeranians
K-8 Pink Pomeranian School Spirit Team

 

Some might argue that not all students are leaders and I agree.  We would not have strong leaders if we did not have a group of strong followers and supporters. This very idea is portrayed in the video, “First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy”.

 

It is also what guides me as a principal.  I could not do my job in the same way,  if not for the strong group of teachers, support staff, parents and students that I have driving me and supporting me along the way.

Even though I think, often, that the leadership teams will kill me, and drive our staff crazy…in the end, when I calm down, and I sit back and reflect on our student leadership program, I can’t help but feel extremely proud of our students.  We put a lot of responsibility on them at a young age, but they continue to rise to the challenge.

I can’t wait to see what they will do next!

Attendance Does Matter

http://ihom.hwcdsb.ca/
http://ihom.hwcdsb.ca/

There seems to be so many reasons why our students miss school and in some cases, school attendance is becoming a chronic issue.   Everything from being sick, having appointments, attending sporting events, taking family holidays and many other reasons,  seem to be contributing to a growing idea that school attendance does not matter.

Although we realize that our students can’t always be at school every day, and we can’t expect sick children to come to school,  I have to wonder when the attitude changed that school attendance wasn’t important.

I know when I was in school myself, it seemed to me that my parents did not let me miss school unless I was throwing up.  I can remember more than once, my mom or dad telling me that if I just got up or just got moving or just had a shower or just ate some breakfast, or just a number of other things, they were sure I would feel better and would be able to attend school.

I can also remember this same attitude backfiring on me once or twice as a parent when the school office administrator would be calling me or my husband by 10:30 to come and pick up a sick kid.

Our family holidays were always planned around our school breaks and most of our appointments were done either after school or on our days off.  Our extra-curricular sports did not take us out of school with the frequency that students are out for these activities today.

Now in saying that, I am the first one to also admit that very little about education is the same as it used to be.  Our classrooms do not look the same, our teaching methods and learning assessments are not the same, and many other things about public school today looks different from it used to.  It is no longer possible to assign some pages out of a text-book to be completed when a student is missing school.  So much of our day is spent in interactive, collaborative activities that cannot be repeated in the same way outside of the classroom.

With the exception of a few chronic cases, I had not even given much thought to attendance until recently when our school division brought it into focus, because it does have such an impact on the academic success for our students.  It did make me stop and think about my attitude toward attendance and whether we as a school community could do something to turn around the idea that  school attendance does not matter.

When I started looking at some of the statistics related to attendance, I knew that we needed to come up with a plan to improve attendance in our school.

Did you know…

  • By 6th grade, chronic absence becomes a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school.
  • When students improve their attendance, they improve their academic prospects and chances for graduating.
  • Poor attendance can influence whether children read proficiently by the end of third grade.
  • The academic impact of missing that much school is the same whether the absences are excused or unexcused.

These statistics and much more information related to attendance can be found at http://www.attendanceworks.org/

There are many things we can do to start on the road to improved attendance.  Education and engagement of students families is the first step.  I look forward to the challenge ahead, because Attendance Does Matter.

http://jacobhiatt.worcesterschools.org/modules/cms/pages.phtml?pageid=308614
http://jacobhiatt.worcesterschools.org/

 

Celebrating the Moments

http://www.edutopia.org/
http://www.edutopia.org/

I been thinking recently how hard it can be to stay right in the moment in this job.  It seems like with the greater focus on gathering data and striving toward future goals it can be easy to forget to celebrate the journey and remember the story along the way. Now I am not trying to say that goals and data are not important…quite the opposite really.  I think having goals keeps us focused on continual improvement and we can’t argue with that.  Gathering data is one quick and easy way to show that we are making improvements or in some case that we are not.  It helps us know when to change our strategies and readjust our focus when striving to meet the needs of our students.

I think one thing we need to remember though, is that data does not tell the whole story.  We can get so focused on where we need to be that we forget to concentrate on where we are.

Last weekend I came across a blog post linked to twitter by Josh Stumpenhorst.  In his post titled, “Stop Preparing Students” he talks about our race to the future always preparing our students for some future moment, rather than staying in the present and enjoying and nurturing their growth where they are right now.

Every day when I am walking around our school and observing teachers and students in action, I appreciate the here and the now.  It is really what tells the story about what is happening.  It tells the story of student growth and of teachers nurturing that growth in every student in many different ways.

As we are approaching our 3-way conferences, again we are planning for the here and the now.  Students are reflecting on their own growth and what things they will share with their parents.  Our parents are wondering how their children are doing right now at this point in their growth and academic and social development.  Teachers are completing report cards taking a look at the here and now for each of their students.  They know the journey and are planning to share the story of student growth with parents next week.

Looking at data and striving toward goals is so important in our schools and in our classrooms, but taking time to celebrate the moments is important as well.  Each of our students has a story to tell, I hope we will slow down and listen.

http://www.jenksps.org/vnews/display.v/TP/5084ace25def9
http://www.jenksps.org/vnews/display.v/TP/5084ace25def9

Students Leading the Team

Terry1

This post is strictly about bragging.  My parents always taught it wasn’t nice to brag, but I feel like I have something to brag about.  I have to admit one of my favorite things to observe in our building is when our older students willingly step up and help out our younger students.  It is something that happens all the time and in many ways and it causes me to have a great sense of pride as their principal.

Last Wednesday our entire student body, staff and a number of parents set out on our annual Toonies for Terry Fox walk.  We usually organize ourselves in our buddy groups, older grades with younger grades and off we go with our vice-principal leading the pack.  It just so happens that the day of our walk it was very hot and humid.  We really hadn’t gone too far when some of our kindergarten students were getting a little tired and the little cheeks were turning red from the heat.

Terry3

When asked to help, our big grade 7 and 8 students did not even hesitate.   I usually try to move through the line so I can talk to various students, take pictures and then end up near the end to help bring in the stragglers.  Everywhere I looked I could see older students holding our little students by the hand, talking to them, encouraging them.  I asked some of the boys to offer a piggy back or two and without hesitation, most of them were up for the challenge even though they were hot, tired and thirsty themselves.

Terry2

Once again on Friday of last week, I had the opportunity to watch our students at work, lending a hand without hesitation.  We have been working very hard at our school to first raise money for a 2 phase playground installation.  The first part was a large play structure for our grade 3-5 playground that we installed a year ago last summer.  The second phase was swings, tire swings, a climbing dome and some picnic table mainly on our grade 6-8 playground.  We asked our grade 8 students to help with the installation on Friday.

playground3

First of all I know that the thought of all day outside on a beautiful Friday was pretty tempting, but even so, I was so impressed with the way some of them tackled the job with enthusiasm and stamina.  With the music blasting across the playground, we worked together to figure out difficult instructions, bolt many pieces together and solve problems when we got stuck.  I was so impressed with not only the attitude many of them had, but also with the skill level many of them possessed.
Maybe bragging isn’t nice, but I can’t help it, I am a very proud principal.

Having Fun Doing It

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/20/how-laughter-keeps-us-san_n_177353.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/20/how-laughter-keeps-us-san_n_177353.html

I was able to start my week in Saskatoon at the Saskatchewan IT Summit.  Not only that, but I had the opportunity to take two of my teachers with me and totally enjoyed being able to get to know them away from our building.  All in all it was a fantastic way to start my week.

There were many great ideas presented to us at the conference but my favorite part had to be our key-note speaker, Rushton Hurley.  He was full of very practical and easy to incorporate ideas and was funny and engaging to listen to.  Rushton offered up various links and ready to use resources, many of which I was able to come back to my classroom and use this week.  Take the time to check out his website Next Vista for Learning. It is a free online library of teacher and student made videos, organized and ready to use.  I used some of the videos and set my grade 6 students figuring out a new web tool, narrable.com.

Listening to Rushton brought forth a very important message that I feel we need to stop and remember on a daily basis.

Slow down and have fun being a teacher.

Here are a couple of my tweets as I listened to him.

I think it is easy to get caught up in the negative things that can be going on around us and overwhelmed with the demands of our jobs, rather than taking the time to enjoy the little moments each day that make us laugh.

We have had a difficult couple of weeks in Estevan and in our school division as a whole with the tragic death of a young teacher.  As we tried to rally around our own during that time and offer whatever support we could, the true meaning of what we need to remember to do came crashing to the surface for me.

Slow down and enjoy the moments.

Attending the memorial service and then attending the conference and listening to Rushton just drove it home a little more.

We need to take time to have fun with each other and with our students.

I know I am constantly bragging up my staff at school, but trust me I have reason to brag.  We try to have a lot of fun together which might be illustrated by a little trick that was played on me when I was at the conference last week.

BnFPnfQCcAExomD

Every day at school my little students make me laugh.  They are so funny, curious and passionate that it is difficult to have a bad day when we slow down and enjoy them.

Learning needs to be fun and we need to remember to have fun doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Striving to Make Learning Authentic

How many times have we heard the following questions in our classrooms?

  • Why do we have to learn this?
  • When am I ever going to use this in my life?
  • What is the purpose in learning this?

These seem like valid questions for us to consider.

I am an avid reader and because I am so passionate about education much of the reading I do is education related.  I have read and reflected on many topics related to change that is necessary in our classrooms today.  Our students are living in a much different world than many of us were when we were attending school.  They will spend their lives in a much different global environment created by our ability to communicate through technology.  They will need skills related to design, communication and the synthesizing of information. Classroom instruction needs to reflect these changes by moving from just “teaching content” to teaching our students how to learn.  They will need to be able to find and evaluate content, connect with prior knowledge and use that knowledge to solve authentic problems.

A real-world authentic connection requires that students see a reason to do what they are doing, other than the fact they were assigned to do it and will get a grade for doing it. Interests, experiences, significant issues, improving the real world, interacting with people we know are all ways to make learning authentic for our students.

I am not pretending to be an expert on anything.  I just finished giving my students a teacher report card to fill out on me.  Some of the feedback I received turned in the direction of providing my 13 year olds with nap time and play time.  When you ask young adolescents for feedback, it is important to be prepared that not all of it will be useful and thought provoking.

Math Olympic Problem Solving
Math Olympic Problem Solving

One the other hand, many of them did provide me with some very useful things to reflect on.  One of the things I took away from what they said was that I was not providing them with enough choice and I was directing them too closely perhaps, especially in the ways they were going to show and share their learning.  Listening to student voice is crucial to engagement in learning and I am planning to make some changes starting in our next class.

Grade 4
Grade 4

Our school has been working on an action research project this year.  We are trying to see if we can improve some of our math understandings and therefore math achievement by making  real world connections for our students.  It has been an interesting journey and I have been very pleased with some of the things we have been able to accomplish.  We will be sharing our results with other schools in our school division at the end of the month.

Kindergarten Students
Kindergarten/Grade 1 Students

Yesterday I was asked to judge a cooking contest taking place in grade 5 math.  The students have been learning about decimals and were creating their finished products using what they had learned and practicing ratios.  As I listened to the teacher describe what they had done,  I could tell a lot of authentic learning had gone into the process.  The finished products were all delicious, so perhaps the ratios were not too far out.  The students were excited and fully engaged in what they were doing.

grade5
Tasting our recipes.

 

There are many examples throughout our building of students moving away from textbook problems to the creation and sharing of authentic learning experiences.

One of the other things we have done is try and have as many parents, grandparents, community members as we could come in and talk to our students about how they use math in their jobs.  Our visitors have been great and our students have been very engaged in hearing that we don’t only do math during math class.

Many of our students have created videos showing their learning but also for the purpose of sharing and teaching someone else different math skills.

 

We have been looking for every opportunity we can to make connections for our students and try and make our learning authentic and connected for our students.  Over the course of the year we have been sharing our learning on twitter @PDaleSchool using the hashtag #reallifemath, we have had an Olympic Math Day followed by creating math problems using pictures and data collected during the afternoon and we had a family games night inviting our families to join us for some fun games.

We have yet to see if we were able to improve our actual math scores, but one thing is for sure we improved our engagement in math and were able to share with our students how we use math in our lives and work on a daily basis. Our next challenge will be to see what other ways we can continue to make our learning authentic.  Any suggestions?

 

 

 

Thank Goodness for Early Years Teachers

 

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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.

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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.