I have been thinking a lot lately about how teachers teach and how students learn. Perhaps it is because I am knee deep next year’s timetable and this causes me to reflect on what would be the best for all the learners in the building. I have to admit it frustrates me sometimes when we do not see learning as blended. We still organize our timetables into so many minutes for each subject and at times it ends up quite disjointed and not how I think learning should happen.
To me learning happens in many ways during our day and most certainly, not just while we are at school. True learning does not seem to happen in small chunks where we only think about one subject or idea at a time. To me learning is a bit more like doing a search on google. We start with an idea we need to know information about, but while we are researching we can be tempted to go off in many interesting directions, often giving us a different perspective on our topic than we originally intended.
Again, I have to reflect back to the learning in a kindergarten classroom. In Saskatchewan we promote the idea of play based learning for our early years students. Teachers will set up invitations in the form of interesting things or ideas based on a common theme for students to learn by explore and discover. If it all works as it should, the direction learning takes, stays flexible. It is based around student questions and interests. It goes in the direction that the students take it with their play.
For the last two years, I have been working with my students to perfect the “genius” in our Genius Hour. One hour per cycle where they can work on inquiry of their own choice. We work on presentation skills, research skills, and the importance of learning and collaborating about our ideas. Countless interesting projects have been presented during the time I have been doing this with my students. I know all learning cannot be totally open ended, but at the same time, I think learning should be flexible and blended.
In my ideal classroom situation students might not know what subject they were learning about. You might not hear questions such as, “Is it science next?” or “when to we have ELA?” Curricular outcomes would blend and the focus would be the learning, reflecting and growth.
We are almost a month into the new school year and I am feeling motivated by many things. I love the fresh start of the new year when everyone is rested and full of energy. We can forget about our mistakes of last year, re-celebrate the successes and plan for a fantastic year ahead.
The first day of school when the students come back fresh faced and loaded down with new school supplies. Smiles and hugs are shared. Even our middle-year’s students have to admit they are at least a little bit glad to be back with their classmates and friends. The fresh start allows so many to shine, while welcoming new students and adjusting to new teachers. One of the favorite things I do at the beginning of each year is read to every group of students in the school. I try to share my love of reading and choose my books to leave them with the message of working hard, not giving up and learning from our mistakes.
I have been lucky enough to spend the two days this month with our school division admin team listening and learning from Tom Hierck. His message is clear- do as many positive things as possible to build up every student in our schools to reach their potential. We do not give up on kids!
During these two days of learning and discussion we were able to think and share about all the ways we are being positive in our schools. I think our staff does a great job of trying to meet the needs of all of our students and look for ways of celebrating their individual talents and abilities. As I walk from classroom to classroom, I am amazed by the things I see happening on a daily basis. I know I am lucky to have such a dedicated, hardworking staff and our students benefit from that hard work. I am proud of each and every one of them and wonder if I can ask them to do even more than they already are.
Another part of Tom Hierck’s message was about the need for collective buy in to what we feel is important in our schools. It takes hard work to create and maintain positive attitude and culture every day. Are we doing everything we can to model those behaviors we would like to see in our students? Are we taking the time to build relationships that create safe and engaging environments? Are we reaching out to our parents in a positive way so they feel like they are an important and integral part of our learning team?
Last summer as I was reading and reflecting on the new school year I came across a post written about positive office referrals. I wish I had taken a better record of where the idea came from because I would like to thank the author of that post.
The principal who wrote the post was describing how much he enjoyed doing positive office referrals and how it had helped forge a positive relationship with students and parents. Basically the idea was simple, teachers and support staff refer any student down to the office for any positive reason. It might be academic, social, like being a good friend, helping out in the lunch room or in some cases something as simple as just getting to school on time.
Meeting students where they are, setting the bar high, but not too high and remembering one thing: building positive relationships are the most important thing we do to make a difference in a students emotional, social and academic growth.
Once the school year starts, it seems to move along at lightening speed. I hope we can slow down to catch those small moments where we can all make a positive difference in a students life, even those students who test us the most.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Everywhere we turn in the media are interviews and information about job stress. I have seen multiple articles, posts and studies lately about the teaching profession and how many young teachers we are losing due to job stress and other reasons. The statistics show that our young teachers are only staying in the profession for 4 or 5 years and then moving on to something else. This morning I came across an article about stress in the teaching profession and I was shocked by the negative and misguided comments written in response.
Teacher well-being is a timely topic for many of us. I have always considered myself to be a high energy and tackle anything coming my way, sort of person, but at the end of last year I was definitely suffering from some serious stress related health problems.
Over the summer I realized 2 things:
1. I can’t make everyone happy no matter how hard I try to no matter how many extra hours I put in.
2. I can’t solve everyone’s problems no matter how hard I try to and no matter how many extra hours I put in.
I think there might be a few different reasons that young teachers are moving on from our profession at what some might consider an alarming rate. I have noticed a change in the respect given to teachers over the course of my teaching career.
I didn’t always want to be a teacher, but once I decided that was the direction I was going, I was always proud to be able to say I am a teacher. It didn’t matter what school I was in or what position I had. Over the course of my career, I have taught every grade kindergarten through grade 12 in some capacity or another and have enjoyed them all.
Some of the lack of respect I notice seems to come from government, who do not always treat us like professionals in the manner we might like, some comes from the public perception that seems to be driven through media, and yes, I think we need to take responsibility for some of it as well.
I sometimes look back and wonder if I was starting all over again, if I would still choose to be a teacher. I look around me and see many other professionals which appear to have equal job satisfaction, making much more money than me with much less educational investment.
As you might have guessed by what I have said so far, I am pretty close to retirement, so I am not changing my focus from teaching at the moment. As a matter of fact, I am not even negative about my job and I enjoy what I do very much. If you ask any of my three children if they want to be a teacher, they will answer with a resounding “NO”. I am not sure if that is a reflection of what they have observed in me or if it is just their destiny to go in another direction.
I have learned over the years that I do not function well without a challenge. I can become bored with what I am doing and need to add some element of challenge, before I suffer discontent. It has happened a few times over the years, but I have been able to find enough opportunities within the teaching profession to branch out and try different things.
One piece of advice I would give to others is to keep learning and keep challenging yourself to be better at what you do. I think we do enjoy some autonomy within our profession that we do not always take advantage of. Yes, our curricular outcomes are mandated to us and many expectations are directed to us, but how we meet those outcomes and live up to the expectations is up to us, so why not have a little fun with it. I hope that I set this example for the teachers I work with and they know that thinking outside the box is always welcome and trying new things is what it should be all about.
I have also learned, maybe recently, as a result of my health problems, that I can step back and let others be leaders. I do not have to control everything that goes on around me. I know now that I cannot make everyone happy, so I need to step back and let others take control at times and not feel like I am personally responsible for everything that happens in our school. I am not very good at this, but getting better and I think that it is a benefit to our students every time I am able to do it.
Most of the teachers I know do not like to brag about the things they do in their classrooms, despite the fact that, in my perception, many of them are doing wonderful things. To them it is ordinary and not worth talking about. I think this may be part of the reason not every teacher wants to jump into using Twitter. They might judge the educators that share as bragging or feel like they do not have anything worth sharing.
I think the “bragging” is more like sharing, collaborating and branding. The one thing we all want more of is time and it seems to make sense to me to share the things we are doing so we are not all starting over from the beginning. The ideas, thoughtful information and support that I receive from my twitter involvement is incredible.
Another reason I think the sharing is so important is because we need to tell our positive story. If we allow others to tell our story it often comes from media sources that might not portray the positive things that are happening in our classrooms and schools. If we make an effort to tell our own stories more often maybe we can change the negative attitude that I was reading about this morning, by offering up a different perspective.
Maybe we can engage our parents and communities in what we are doing.
Maybe we can set a positive example for our students as they are portraying their own “brands” in the social media world, if they see us sharing positive and exciting things about our schools.
I agree that things can be discouraging and there are many stressful things that teachers deal with on a daily basis that I did not even touch on in this little rant, such as class size, data tracking, high level behavioral issues. The list can go on and on really, but I choose to concentrate on the things we can control and try to support the people around me in doing the same.
Thanks #saskedchat for helping me stay the course.
I do not know a single teacher or administrator that feels like they have enough minutes in the day or time in the week. Teaching is a 24/7 kind of job and can easily consume every waking moment if we let it.
Right now I am participating in a blogging challenge with my PLN at #saskedchat. The first topic we decided to tackle was organization. What do we do to organize our time? What tools do we use to make our every day tasks easier. In my usual style, I am a bit late with my first post. That seems a little ironic to be late when our first topic was organization, but, none the less, it might not have as much to do with my lack of organization as it has to do with life.
Interestingly enough, time management and organization was one of the topics of a recent administrators meeting as well. Many of the administrators have voiced difficulty meeting the demands of the job within the time given. This is a feeling that I know all too well. The conversation and suggestions given at the meeting were not earth shattering by any means, but did lead me to reflect on small changes I might make.
The unpredictability of the job is one thing I think makes it so hard to manage time and tasks. Whether we are in administration or we are a classroom teacher, we all know the feeling of having our best laid plans pushed aside by an unexpected student or parent issue, an emergency phone call, last minute changes to supervision and countless other things that come up during the school day.
I do not have any earth shattering time management advice myself, sorry #saskedchat PLN, but here are 3 things that I find do work well for me.
1.Intentional Planning- I believe that we make time for the things we put as a priority. Exercise and diet fall into this category for me. When I prioritize my exercise time, insist with myself that I leave the school and actually make it a part of my daily calendar and schedule, it will happen. On the other hand, if I take the attitude that we will see how the day goes, most often it does not.
One of the things I do that I believe helps is intentionally planning the tasks and priorities in my calendar, not just when I have classes and meetings, but for the blocks of time that are left up to me to decide how to fill. Before, I would leave these blanks open and just work away at the tasks on hand.
This intentional planning has allowed me to prioritize my tasks and accomplish more over the week, even with unexpected interruptions. Last week I noticed a Pinterest pin by Vicki Davis, @coolcatteacher. about intentional planning. It is worth taking a look at as well.
She talks about intentional planning of other times of your day as well to allow time for those things that you enjoy and time with family.
2. One tool that has been a lifesaver for me has been symbaloo.com. Symbaloo is a link organizational tool set up in the format of tiles. It allows you to take links you access often and organize them on different pages, colors, titles etc. I have all the links that I access on a daily or weekly basis and have them on the desktop of my symbaloo. I have other pages with course links, genius hour links, personal links, staff meetings, etc.
One of the reasons symbaloo works so well for me is I do not have a classroom of my own and I am always moving from room to room teaching in other teachers classrooms. Symbaloo allows me to move from room to room, open up a web browser and log into my symbaloo and have all my links at my finger tips. The classroom teacher does not need to log out of the classroom computer for me to access my materials.
3. Another tool that has really helped with my organization has been Evernote. I have used Evernote here and there for a long time, but one night while sitting in with #schadminchat and there was a lot of talk about using Evernote for walk-throughs and that is what prompted me to really take advantage of the app.
As an administrator, one of my frustrations has always been my lack of real conversations with teachers about the things that I see as I am walking around the building and spending time in classrooms. I see amazing things every day, but either lack knowledge needed to fully understand the intent, or have thoughts that may add to conversations about students.
Now as I visit classrooms I will bring my I-pad. I snap pictures, I record conversations with students, I video classroom activities and I record my observations and my questions. I have a file for each teacher and I am able to immediately email my visit to the teacher. We then find time to have a quick meeting or the teacher will email me back the answers.
Since I have started doing this, I have had some really great conversations with teachers that have allowed us to learn together. I feel much more knowledgeable about the things going on in classrooms and I think it has improved my communication and understanding.
I also use the pictures, videos, etc. when I am sharing with our parents and extending community about what is going on at our school through blogging, twitter, newsletters, etc.
I think Evernote can also be a very useful student portfolio tool or can be used in the same manner by a classroom teacher to track student conversations and assessments.
I can access Evernote on all my devices and I have never had any issues with syncing the information or using it wherever I am; home, school, school division office, etc.
These are the 3 ideas I would like to throw out in the conversation about organization. Of course, I could not live without my I-phone, my I-pad and my outlook calendar, but I am sure that goes without saying for all of us. I can’t wait to see what ideas my #saskedchat PLN will have to share with me.
This fall when we re-organized our School Community Council (SCC) for another year, I was struggling to try to find a member who wanted to step up to be chairperson for the committee. Our past chair had worked tirelessly for two years and was wanting a break. I can’t say I blame her because the two years she was chairperson we raised over $90,000 and installed 2 playground projects. That is enough to make anyone want to step down. She did an awesome job and is still a committee member.
The weird thing about not having a leader of our committee is that it might lead you to believe that our parents are not engaged in our school and I don’t feel like that is the case at all. Time and time again when we need something, our parents are there.
I have talked often about the importance of a strong team. We have plenty of research to tell us that when a child has support from many adults in their life, they have a much easier time developing physically, emotionally, spiritually and academically. It really just makes sense.
In reflecting on the things we do to make parents and families feel welcome as a valuable part of our team, it is easy to see we are well on our way, but are we doing everything we can do?
I think we can safely assume that all parents want what is best for their children or we should assume that. It may not be the same in every family and it may not manifest itself in the same way in our building. Taking into consideration differences in families and lifestyles, I think most parents give as much as they can. Perhaps if we want to improve our parent connection, we need to be more specific about what we want and we may have more parents willing to take a chance on investing in us more often.
According to a great book, “Beyond the Bake Sale” by Henderson, Mapp, Johnson and Davis, “…parents are more motivated to support their children’s learning when they receive clear invitations and support from teachers and other school staff to be engaged, are confident about their ability to help their children, and are clear about what they should do to support their child’s learning?” (p.34)
That is a mouthful, but in my mind, the ideas behind it are very simple.
1. We need to reach out to parents in many ways, personal ways, engage in conversations and build relationships by calling and communicating about our students many times and not just when we are having behavioral or academic issues.
2. When we want our parents to help us out with something, we need to be very clear about what we are wanting them to do. Knock off the “teacher speak” and give suggestions and directions and reasons why.
3. We need to believe in their ability to help us out. Parents come from all walks of life with all kinds of experiences and all kinds of knowledge to offer to us and their children.
Right now we have some parents helping us out every day with our early literacy project we have titled ROAR (Really Outrageous at Reading). We need every adult body we can get so we can divide all of our grade one students into small groups and have leveled literacy every day. We know this benefits our students and we also know we would not be able to do it, as well, without the parents that are helping us out.
At our SCC meeting in November we left with the challenge to reach out to another parent, explain what our committee was all about and bring them to the next meeting. We had a number of new members attend our meeting in January and I went home that night with a new chairperson for our committee.
What I hope we can create now is a true partnership where we ask for and appreciate feedback. Where we reach out with questions and information expecting the same coming back at us. I hope we can listen without being defensive when parents are being advocates for their children. I hope we can increase our communication, especially the positive, because the positive conversations may make the more difficult ones easier in the future. I hope we can see the advantage and build the trust needed for parents to feel like they are truly an equal part of our team.
What we need now is parents to take a chance on us.
We are the grade 7 class at Pleasantdale School in room 118. We are trying to raise awareness of health issues and promote healthy lifestyles to other people our age. We each researched a topic and made a podcast.
As many of you know when I was taking my master’s degree I learned so many things that changed my entire philosophy of education. Learning from people like Alec Couros and Dean Shareski opened my ideas to many ideas that I had never even thought of before. My first experience in an open education course scared me to death. Being online with 200+ people from all over the world was an idea I had never even considered before. It was through taking courses that I learned about web tools such as blogs, wiki spaces and many others. It was also through these courses that I realized the importance of being a connected educator.
I was shocked once again, 2 years ago when we agreed to send Devin, Kimberley and Nicole to Philadelphia to attend the Educon Conference. When they returned and taught us how to use twitter, I had no idea how something so simple would, once again, change my entire view of professional development.
People who say things such as…
“Why would I care what people are having for dinner?” or “Why do I care when people are doing their laundry?”
…have no idea the opportunities for individualized learning that twitter and other social media sites make possible.
I know that everyone learns in their own way and learning through twitter might not be for everyone, but I also feel so strongly about the importance of making connections. Connections open doors to other classrooms, to other methodologies, to opportunities to learn about things we have never heard of and connections also give us the opportunity to share what we are doing with others so they may learn from us.
I also believe strongly about telling our own positive story. The things we are doing every day are too important to leave to chance. We need to be in charge of spreading our story to our parents and community in our way.
Connections do not have to be made through twitter, but that is where we are going to start.
I thought it would be a fun idea to jump in and do a challenge in January so we could learn together in a similar manner to the blogging we did together a few years ago.
I hope you will use this opportunity to reach out of your comfort zone. For some of you the reach will be longer than others. You will not be alone! We are all in this together.
The January 2015 #pdale Teacher Twitter Challenge!
I started the school year in September kind of beat up and shell-shocked from a very stressful year that ended in June. I had allowed the stress of the year to consume me and it took a toll on my enthusiasm, health and desire to do my job well.
Over the summer I spent my time healing, reflecting and coming up with a plan to approach the stresses of my job in a healthier way that did not consume my life. I had to try not take things personally and concentrate on the things that we could control in our building rather than the negative feedback we were getting from a few parents and students. My mantras for this school year that I try to remember are:
I can’t make everybody happy.
I can’t solve everyone’s problems.
Even though the mantras do not seem very positive, they have allowed me to realize my limits, to allow my, very capable, staff to do things without my control and they have led me to a much happier school and home life, with a lot less stress.
I have mentioned many times , about my awesome, hardworking staff. We have been able to create a team that works together and involves all 25 of us, from our bus driver to our custodians. We started this year with a number of new staff and have learned to work together and appreciate each other’s strengths.
Our team has branched out this fall to not only include our staff and students, but we now have a number of parent volunteers helping us on a daily basis, especially with our school goal to improve our reading scores in the early years. Parents and extended family are a valuable part of our team and when we all work together we truly can accomplish great things for and with our students.
The Christmas break has allowed me time to think about the fall and be grateful for the things we have been able to accomplish as a school team including our parents and community members. Since I have become part of the administration @PDaleSchool I have been amazed at the generosity and support of our community.
January is a time of renewal and goal setting.
There have been many things I have learned this fall, but I have come up with 4 important things I have learned, that I would like to continue to develop and practice.
I have been guilty in the past of jumping to conclusions about situations before I have stopped to listen to what people are really saying to me. I have been trying to keep my mouth closed until I have truly listened and considered the perspectives of others. I have come to realize that although, I may not agree with what someone is saying to me or how they are saying it to me, the perspective of others is important. Many times all I need to do for staff, students and parents is listen and take their concerns seriously.
I hope I can continue to develop my listening skills according to the wise words of Woodrow Wilson,
“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”
2. Don’t judge what I do not know…
I have been frustrated many times as a teacher and principal, when I feel like we are being judged by a moment in time such as a quick walk through or one piece of data.
One quick snapshot rarely tells a story.
One of my teachers reminded me of this early in the fall. I realized that what I see as I am wandering around the building and spending time in classrooms are also snapshots and do not tell the whole story. When I am having quick conversations with parents or I am privy to only one small part of family situations, I should not be judging on these snapshots. Jumping to conclusions is never fair.
3. Lack of time is not an excuse…
I do not need to explain to anyone who is a teacher or who has spent time with a teacher the intense business and commitment that the job requires. It is easy to be negative about change and growth, using lack of time as an excuse not to buy in. I have realized the necessity of reflecting on how I am spending my time and whether or not it is really being used in the ways that will benefit, me, my family, my students and my staff. If I do not have time for important things like people, professional growth, students needs, etc. then perhaps it is up to me to re-evaluate how I am spending my time.
I need my teachers to be proud of the things they are doing every day with our students.
I need our parents to know what is happening every day with their children so they can be confident and assured we are helping them learn and grow on a daily basis.
I need my superintendent and other school division leaders to know that we are working hard to do what is right for our students and to support the school division goals.
I need our community to know that what we are doing so they will continue to give us their support.
As we start on the journey of the gift of another year, I hope that I can listen more, judge less, accept challenges without the excuses and continue to tell our positive school story, because it is worth telling.