Day 30 - we made it! 30 Day Blogging Challenge complete. Well, almost complete.
What would you do as an educator if you weren't afraid?
An interesting question, as I do not consider myself to be afraid of much, either personally or professionally (except birds. Birds terrify me). Although there are several things dancing out on the horizon, things that I want to do, things I would love to do, I wouldn't say it was fear that was keeping me from doing them. I would describe it more as one part pragmatism (let's just say 2014 has been a crazy enough year as it is) and one part slow and steady process towards a goal (or goals). So what is it I'm working towards?
Although I may think carefully before I choose to do something, it is not out of fear. In general, I am looking for the best path forward, trying to figure out how I can do what is best for students within the parameters that are presented to me. No matter what, I am always looking to do what is best for students.
Trust the folks at TeachThought to bring out the heavy hitters in the last few days of the challenge. Today's question - How have you changed as an educator since you first started? - is a doozy. I have changed in more ways than I can count and am changing on a daily basis, always trying to push myself to be the best educator I can be, so how can I possibly answer this question in a blog post that will be of a somewhat readable length? The only way that I can imagine to share this information with you without boring you to tears (or keeping you up all night - I suppose it's possible that you will find my journey down memory lane with a detour down major reflection alley as remarkably scintillating as I do) is to whip out a good old, David Letterman-style Top 10 list covering all of the highlights (and maybe some of the low lights too). Insert the drum rolls as you see fit.
Top 10 Ways I've Changed as an Educator
10. I am no longer a silo. To be honest I've never been very good at the close-your-door-and-teach-all- day-without-talking-to-another-adult thing but when I started teaching I still spent far too much time, particularly as an LAT, working without cluing others in to what I was doing. These days, I try to make other teachers a fundamental part of my teaching so that we can best meet the needs of the students together. Student success hinges on the connections between all of the adults who make contact with that child, even for the briefest of moments. I can't afford to do my own thing and the kids can't afford it either.
9. I (sort of) know what I'm doing. Looking back, I realize now how little I actually knew in my first few years of teaching. I feel bad for those poor kids who probably could have done a lot better if only they had had a teacher who had it even halfway together. Oh, I thought I knew what I was doing but hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. I had no clue.
8. I don't try to do it all. As a brand-new teacher I coached everything, ran everything, said yes to everything. I no longer do that - 1) because I recognize that kids are better off having an expert show them something new and 2) because I recognize that a lot of the time I am not that expert. Oh, and there might be a little something called work-life balance that I've learned over time. Kids help a lot with that, kind of forcibly really.
7. I know I don't have all of the answers. For teachers or for students. Happily, I am the type of person who likes to find the answers so if you come to me with a question I can't answer, guaranteed I will find the answer for you. Even if I have no real reason to do it. Which gets me in to trouble sometimes, as it can eat up a lot of time I probably should have spent doing something else. I am working on a new mantra this year - Not my circus. Not my monkeys. Thank you Poland. And The Huffington Post.
6. I am a voracious learner. My first few years of teaching were dedicated to 2 things - 1) desperately trying to keep it together and 2) desperately trying to make it look like I wasn't desperately trying to keep it together. There was definitely some teaching that went on in there but with the wisdom of time I can clearly see that it was mediocre at best. I didn't have time to really learn anything; I was too busy doing. So now I am making up for lost time. I am a sponge, soaking up every bit of knowledge that comes my way, experimenting with it and then making it my own.
5. I am not afraid to experiment. To be fair, I have always been open to trying new things as a teacher. However, when you're working on just staying one or two pages ahead of the students in math, you don't yet have the tool kit you need to be truly, comfortably experimental. Now that I have a number of ways of teaching that I enjoy and have shown themselves to be successful time and again, I feel confident enough to wander off of the page a bit (sometimes a lot!), to take those successful strategies and build them in to something truly wonderful. And if it falls flat? Oh well, lesson learned - try again tomorrow!
4. I (sort of) know how to manage a classroom. I say sort of because there are teachers I know who are far superior to me in this regard and I feel like I have so much to learn in comparison to them (see point 6) . Can I run a decent classroom? Sure. Is it everything I want it to be? Not even close. But it is light years better than what, to me, was an attempt at a well-run classroom back in the early days of my career.
3. I am way more organized. I am not, by nature, an organized person. One of my all-time favourite anecdotes involves a conversation that went a little something like this - Colleague: "I wish we could all be as organized as you, Bryn." Me (eyebrows raised incredulously): "Have you seen my office?! (which, at that very moment had several tables and desks that were unrecognizable due to the gigantic piles of stuff on them), Colleague: "No, no, not your stuff, your mind!" Ohhhhh. Apparently I am able to keep a large amount of information organized in my head (although that has taken a beating since having kids! Mommy-brain doesn't ever go away, apparently) but my stuff? Look out, that stuff might swallow you whole. This, however, has been an on-going project for me and one that I know will pay dividends in so many areas of my teaching so I am working on it, slowly but surely. And I'm hopeful that I'm better at it than I was when that fateful conversation was had.
2. I am more connected. Although very similar to the idea that I am not a silo, here I mean less in the actual teaching sense and more in the professional development sense. Perhaps that's splitting hairs but I do think they're important hairs. That I am more connected, I think, is one part personality and one part time. I am a naturally outgoing person so I seek out connections with other educators, looking to learn as much as I can from them. I also think that time has allowed me to meet more people, both in person and on-line (it also allowed for the connectedness of the internet, which, let's be honest, didn't really exist when I started teaching). So, not only do I no longer teach alone but I also do not learn alone.
1. I am purposeful. Kristi just wrote a post about being purposeful in your teaching and I couldn't agree more. As a new teacher I spent a lot of time assigning and not enough time considering why I was asking students to do certain things. Now, however, I spend a significant amount of time thinking about why I am selecting a certain activity or why I am asking to students to hand in a particular assignment. In turn, I try convince other educators to look at things with the same critical eye. Our students deserve nothing less than our most well thought out, purposeful lessons.
This week's post is brought to you by the first week of school, my daughter's first week of kindergarten and the public library. It was amazing to be back in the classroom last week, but man, was it busy! On top of the first week of school, our district hosted the Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC) so we had almost 1000 high school students from all over the country descend just as we were trying to get up and rolling. To add to the fun, my principal, who is brand new to our school, was one of the organizers of the conference and Kristi and I both hosted 5-6 students in our homes; pretty sure none of us got much sleep at all last week!
The books for this week are an assortment that have popped up throughout the week; they come from our first assembly (thanks Karen!), my daughter's recommendations and books that we took out of the public library in a moment of quiet just before the storm hit. Enjoy!
Walter the Farting Dog (William Kotzwinkle & Glenn Murray) - Our new principal decided that a great theme for this particular start up was Happiness and in that vein she chose Walter the Farting Dog to read to the entire school. Well, the giggles and guffaws coming from 350 kids were definitely enough to inspire even the most curmudgeonly to smile. While I don't think that these books are particulary well-written (the story line meanders a bit aimlessly in an effort to maintain the joke), they certainly do make kids grin and giggle. A great choice for a just for fun read-aloud, a personal book bin book or perhaps even as a mentor text for older students who just don't know what to write about (after all, if you can write multiple books about a farting dog, you can write a book about just about anything).
Tickle Monster (Josie Bissett) - This is my 5 year old daughter Maryn's pick. Without prompting she explained that she suggested it because after you read it you would probably want to tickle someone and that's fun. It is a very cute book that comes in a gift pack with furry blue monster hands with cut outs so you can stick your fingers through to tickle - fun! The rhyme in this book just rolls off your tongue as the Tickle Monster goes through all of the body parts he is going to tickle. A great one for working on prediction and rhyme with young students, as there are strategic pauses just before the monster announces which body part he is going to tickle. Beware though, you may have a giant tickle fight erupt in your room after reading this one!
Silas' Seven Grandparents (Anita Horrocks & Helen Flook)- This was a random choice off of the bookshelf at the public library but wow, is it fabulous! My father puzzled for quite awhile over the logistics of having seven grandparents and my two daughters love all of the adventures the seven grandparents take Silas on. I love the fact that Silas' family will resonate in some way with almost every student in your class, as he has a truly multicultural set of grandparents who do such a wide variety of activities. The message is lovely too - while many blended families struggle over who gets to see whom when, Silas knows he is loved ("times seven") and figures out the perfect way to ensure that he gets to share that love equally. A great book for making connections about family and lifestyle and it's Canadian to boot!
Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House (Libby Gleeson) - This is another great book for connection, but also for transformation. It follows Clancy as he adjusts to moving to a new house; one that his parents love but that just doesn't feel like home to him. But when Clancy makes a friend, he discovers that his new house might just be ok after all. The illustrations are beautiful, with whimsical clouds that just beg for kids to notice them and laugh. Definitely a good choice for discussions about change, love and the important things in life.
As an aside, in searching for the picture for this one, I noticed that Carrie Gelson, from There Is A Book For That, featured this one in Jan 2013. Great minds think alike! You can read her post here.
Two days to go! Wahoo! While I have learned a lot from this challenge and really enjoyed writing and reading others' writing, blogging every day has been, well, a challenge. I am proud of myself and my fellow challenge participants for making it this far and look forward to seeing what challenge lies ahead in Connected Educator month (aka October); maybe it won't be every day...
On to today's prompt.
Should technology drive the curriculum or vice versa?
To me this is a little bit of a chicken or the egg question. With the speed at which technology is evolving, it stands to reason that there will be advances that will inevitably guide what we teach. At the same time, technology should rarely be the why behind your teaching (obviously there are exceptions, such as when you are teaching basic computer skills, coding or even internet safety); this should be left for the bigger thinking skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and metacognition, all of which may use technology as a tool but none of which require it.
Of course, this also depends on your definition of curriculum. Despite the picture I used above, I believe that we need to move curriculum beyond the teaching of discrete subjects with a checklist of learning outcomes towards a more holistic, meta view of education that looks at creating life-long learners who have the skills they need to figure out what they don't know and find answers. In a world where we are teaching these skills, technology becomes a vehicle for discovery and self-exploration, for creation and self-expression, for communication and interpretation, creating a spiral effect in which curriculum is driving technology and technology is driving curriculum, each pushing the other to become more refined, more precise, more elegant. The beauty? The spiral is likely endless.
Weekends are for family. With two active young girls and a condo at a ski hill, our weekends are devoted to playing, be it biking or swimming in the summer, hiking in the spring and fall or skiing in the winter. I bring very little, if any, work home, although I am not opposed to reading a few new books to my girls and a YA novel or pro-d book for myself.
Weekends are also for getting organized. Weekends spent up at the ski hill mean that laundry, grocery shopping and work around on the house have to be done during the week so we need to be very organized to fit everything in. I usually spend some of my weekend time planning meals, looking at the calendar and planning our activities for the week. Being organized around the house means I can focus more energy and time on work throughout the week, thus allowing me more free time on the weekends. It's a self-perpetuating cycle, as long as I can keep it going!
What are your 3 favourite go-to sites for help/tips/resources in your teaching?
My top 3 (well, 4) sites are perhaps not what one would consider the most scholarly or professional of locations for finding help/tips/resources but they are so incredibly useful that I can't possibly help but mention them. As long as you promise not to judge me, here they are:
Why Pinterest? The range of resources available on Pinterest, plus the ease with which you can curate them and share your own content makes this one of my top sites for educational resources. While the resources you find are mainly links to blog posts and activities, it is not uncommon to find links to scholarly articles and websites. Pretty much your one stop shop for all things educational.
Why Teachers Pay Teachers? The quantity of high quality resources available on this site is staggering. If you know what you want, you can most likely find it here. A word of caution: just because someone made it all pretty looking and many people have purchased it does not make it educationally sound. Do your research first to be sure that what you are buying fits best practice and will ensure a great learning experience for your students.
Why Facebook & Twitter? As mentioned above, there is plenty out there on the internet that may or may not be educationally sound. Facebook and Twitter provide a constant stream of excellent articles and blog posts; follow the right people and you will always have access to the best and brightest minds, working on cutting edge projects. Not to mention the fact that both sites are designed to constantly multiply the people that you are exposed to, resulting a steadily growing list of experts that you have daily, if not hourly, updates from. So much for monthly journals!
I was frequently asked growing up by my dad, "What's your point?" and he wasn't referring to my long rambling stories (although I do talk A LOT). He was constantly asking about my intention. Why was I doing what I was doing? In my writing, was there a point? He didn't stop there, he also would ask how I was going to accomplish my intention and how I would know if I did. Did I do what I set out to? I'm sure it won't surprise you when I tell you that my dad was an educator, and in my biased opinion an exceptional one.
This question of "What's your point?" runs through my head frequently. Admittedly, I didn't always teach this way. There were many days in the beginning of my career when I would realize that although I had done a lot of "stuff" I hadn't actually accomplished anything specific or intentional. Now don't get me wrong, sometimes the intention is simply to have fun, and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. However, if at the end of your week you can't list the things you did with intentionality, I think there may be a problem.
The typical teacher has children doing a lot of "stuff". How is what I am having children do creating readers and writers? - Regie Routman
This quote is at the beginning of the Daily Five resource book. It really got me thinking: How can we as educators ensure that we are teaching with a point? How can we ensure that not only we know what our intention is, but that our students do as well? I have seen time and time again that when students know the reason why they are doing something, they are more likely to buy in and engage, and if we are honest so are we.
So with my dad's voice in my head, this year we are changing a few things in our teaching in the Lit Pit. We are going to explain to our students why they are doing each lesson. It is our hope that our Love to, Learn to, Choose to Mission statement becomes imbedded in our lessons and more importantly imbedded in our students and in our teaching!
Fireworks. The ideal collaboration between students would be like fireworks - inspired ideas shooting off and exploding in the sky, forming something beautiful that elicits oohs and ahhs. Beauty emanating from a hidden source, grounded yet ethereal all at once.
Fireworks don't happen by accident though. Students need to be taught how to work together before the magic happens. Teaching them to be respectful, to be kind, to be fair and to listen are all key to ensuring great collaboration. Once you've got those skills in place, you need to inspire them. Whether this is through a problem that needs solving, carefully examining a critical issue or creating something fascinating, students will rise to the challenge of working with their peers to produce something great (thoughts count!). You also need to give them space - both physical and temporal - to allow them to work together at their own pace; you can't rush fireworks.
In the end, the where and how of the collaboration are somewhat unimportant. Whether the collaboration occurs in person or on-line is of little consequence as long as the end result is growth on the part of all of the collaborators.
Last year, my principal coined a term that we use frequently - co-learning. Co-learning is exactly what happens when people work together and are open to one another's ideas, feeding off of one another. Much like adults, not every collaborative situation that students are put in will yield great results but when the chemistry is just right, magic. Fireworks.
Love to, Learn to and Choose to read.
The interesting question in a world where technology is everywhere is "how do we continue to inspire our young people to not only be motivated to learn to read, but to love to read and choose to?" There are more and more distractions and more and more things drawing kids away from books. In May of this year we had an epiphany. Teaching reading was just one part of what we actually wanted to accomplish in the Lit Pit. Knowing how to read was one thing, loving to read and choosing to read, was completely another. The more we discussed it with each other and then took it to dinner table conversations (our poor friends), we quickly discovered that knowing how to read didn't mean that you would choose to. This became our motto, our mandate and our challenge.
So our discussions have changed a little, not only are our discussions surrounding how to teach reading but also how to inspire our students to love to read. Our first change in the Lit Pit came at the listening to reading station. We decided to re-brand this with our students and call it Love to Read!! Now I know Bryn has mentioned our administrator in previous posts, and this is again where she was an enormous asset! We asked her about stocking our room with books and she (loving books as much as we do) said yes! We then brainstormed with our students the kinds of books they would like to have in the Lit Pit; their ideas were awesome. There was one little boy in particular (who doesn't happen to love reading) and he asked for cook books! When the cook books arrived he lit up and said I won't need technology when I've got these to read (be still my heart). We also found that the grosser the better for many of our boys. So our love to read station was born.
With the start of the new school year upon us, we are brainstorming new ways to inspire them to love to read. We have a book fair planned where students will highlight their favourite books and want to start a kids' blog tied to "It's Monday what are you reading?". We also have a new idea using technology (instagram, twitter and blogging) to tie technology and the love of books together! We are so looking forward to creating a culture of readers at our school who Love to and Chose to Read!!!
PBL. CBA. AT. SBA. UDL. UBD. Flipped Learning. Coding. Maker spaces. Gamification. Learner agency. The list of acronyms and keywords for the latest trends in education can be mind-boggling to even the most seasoned of teachers. How's a teacher to choose?!
By following their passion. Good teachers are the ones who enjoy what they do and do a good job of it. Great teachers are the ones who love what they do and bring their passion in to the classroom, enriching the lives of their students with every new activity.
My passion is reaching those learners who are struggling, unmotivated and losing their passion for learning. To do this, I need many tools in my arsenal, including ones (like gamification) that will have to sit on the back-burner until I can wrap my head around them. But the trend (if you can call it that, it's really more of a philosophy) that I always get excited about is Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Using the principles of UDL ensures that all learners can access and learn from any lesson, no matter what trendy way of presenting it or grading it is used. Think PBL is the best way to reach all of your students? Go for it. Pretty sure gamification will do it? Have at 'er. As long as you have multiple ways of accessing the material and ways of showing what you know that respect the diversity of learning styles and needs, you have a great lesson founded in the principles of UDL.
As for me, I will always be exploring the latest trends and cool ideas. Some, like using social media in the classroom, I will jump in to with both feet; others will take me a little bit more time to wrap my head around. Anything I can use to hook reluctant readers and writers, inspire budding mathematicians and promote critical thinking will usually find it's way in to my teaching at some point. After all, if it's fun for them, it's probably fun for me too! No matter what, though, I will always be looking at these trends through the lens of UDL; if it excludes anyone (intentionally or not) or makes it more difficult for them to learn, it just isn't the right choice for me.
If you're interested in learning more about Universal Design for Learning, may I suggest you check out CAST.org, UDLResource.com and UDLCentre.org all of which provide excellent explanations and resources to help you out.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!