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.
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.
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!
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.
By virtue of the fact that I am a learning assistance teacher, I am in constant contact with parents and frequently other members of the community. While all of this contact is meaningful and necessary, it is focused on individual students, their caregivers and other individuals who are invested in that particular child. It is not looking at fostering links between the school or classroom as a whole and the community in which we are found but rather at enabling individual students to reach their full potential in school. Important, yes, but not exactly what I think was meant by "meaningful involvement of the community in the learning in my classroom".
However, Kristi and I have big plans in this department. We really want to engage our school community (and hopefully others too!) in fostering a love of literacy. To this end, we plan to start a Twitter, Facebook and Instagram campaign which will involve parents, grandparents, students, teachers and anyone else who cares to participate. Because we haven't launched it at our school, I am hesitant to post too many details here quite yet. Suffice it to say that it will involve photography, student writing and journalism and a few prizes thrown in here and there to keep the kids involved. Knowing how we operate, once we get rolling it will be difficult to stop us! We also plan to host a couple of literacy nights to help parents help their students at home and regular tips and tricks in the newsletter to help them out as well.
Keep your eye on this blog and my Twitter feed for more information about our love of literacy project - we would love to have as many people involved as possible! Shouldn't be long before we've got it up and running...
There is a lot of talk in education these days about building your PLN (personal learning network) but, to be honest, I'm not sure that I've ever actually seen that term defined. I did a little digging tonight and here's what I came up with (gotta love Wikipedia!):
"A personal learning network is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection...Learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their professional development and knowledge. The learner does not have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person."
By that definition my PLN is a multi-headed beast consisting of both virtual contacts and real-life contacts, scattered both near and far.
In the virtual world, there are many educators that I follow on Twitter and Facebook (as well as a number of blogs, but they generally have either a Twitter or Facebook presence with which I connect more readily). While I wouldn't say that I'm yet at the point where I would consider myself an integral part of a network, I am slowly working my way in from the periphery - thanks in large part to this blog challenge! I envy those who have clearly made lasting contacts (dare I say friends? Colleagues?) via Twitter but am still working on the time management piece - where do you people find the time for all of this?! The balancing act is certainly a difficult one for me...
In the real world, my PLN consists of a number of educators whose teaching and opinions I respect and value. I have met them through a variety of avenues and each one of them challenges me on a regular basis to stretch myself and grow both in the classroom and out. Our communication may consist of e-mail a large part of the time but we are often gifted long stretches during which we can have deep, thoughtful and important conversations over a cup of tea.
The more I think about it the more I realize that there probably isn't that much of a difference between my virtual PLN and my face-to-face PLN. Both challenge me to think about things in ways I might not have otherwise thought about them and push me to be a better educator. While I'm sure that, with time, I will get more and more out of my on-line PLN I'm not sure that it will ever be quite the same as a long meandering conversation over a nice hot cup of tea.
Looking forward to checking out how others in my growing PLN view their own PLNs!
I recently read an interesting article by Sal Khan (founder of The Khan Academy) that talked about growth mindset. I loved this article not only for the whole idea of the growth mindset but also for the level of awareness that Sal's son demonstrates about his own learning. Far too often, I think we shy away from having kids be honest with themselves about their learning, because we are scared that they will be disheartened or because we don't think they are old enough or because we don't think it's all that important.
But it is important and, given the right tools and language, kids of any age can learn a lot by reflecting on their learning. By being more self-aware, kids are better prepared to guide their own learning, developing a growth mindset that will serve them throughout their lives.
So, how do we instill this growth mindset? How do we encourage kids to think about the hows, the whats and the whys of learning? Below are my top 3 choices for reflecting on learning.
Talk about it
Most kids love to talk, especially in small groups or partnerships. One of the easiest ways to have them reflect on their learning is to put in them in small groups, provide a prompt and let them go. A popular version of this is Think-Pair-Share, where partners think about the prompt (let's say, "how did you grow your mind today?") individually, then get together to talk about it, then one partner shares out what they discussed. You can also meet with small groups and guide the conversation to help them dig deeper in to the how, what and why of their learning (the why is often the trickiest for them to figure out, as any Gr. 8 math teacher can tell you).
Write about it
Or draw. Or blog. There are a myriad of possibilities for reflecting on your learning by putting pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Keeping a journal of daily reflections is one way to do it. These reflections can then be detailed drawings, written responses, quick sketches, word clouds, whatever comes to mind. Exit Tickets have also become a popular way to take the pulse of the room quickly and have students reflect on their learning immediately after it happens. There are low-tech sticky note versions of exit tickets and tech-based apps and tweets; the choice is yours. Blogs and wikis are excellent spaces for personal reflection and collaboration, allowing students the opportunity for feedback on their reflections (I'm excited to try out Quadblogging this year).
Do something with it
Of course, the goal of developing reflective learners is that they a) understand themselves and their learning styles better, b) internalize their learning and c) that they see learning not as a discrete activity but as an on-going part of life in which they sit in the driver's seat. To this end, it's important to allow kids to reflect on their learning by doing something with that learning. This is what Project-Based Learning is all about (although, I should add it is learning through doing as much as it is doing something with learning but I think the process is cyclical - learn-do-learn). Giving your students the tools to do something and then letting them try and solve a problem forces them to reflect on the hows, the whats and the whys in order to be able to successfully use the tools to solve the problem.
Which one of these do I use the most? I would definitely have to say the first two. While I would love to really get in to the third piece, the nature of my job makes it challenging to do so. Last year I had a teacher who was on board to try some PBL and we did one really neat debate (about gas pipelines - with Gr. 4s! Even changed some parents minds on the whole thing. Very cool.) and started in to a Rube Goldberg machine project (threw some flipped learning in there too...fun!) but unfortunately we were interrupted by the strike and the kids never got the chance to finish the project.Boo.
The fact that I can convince teachers to build more reflective learners in any way is pretty cool and I really enjoy doing it. One of my goals for this year is to try and ensure that what I bring to a classroom gets left behind to be used again and again; too often I find that what we do is really neat but doesn't continue or isn't used again after I go. I want teachers to see the value in what I bring to their classroom (and I think they do) but I also want them to adopt it (or parts of it) as their own. I think that discussion and written reflections are something that seem doable to teachers, something that they can do even without two teachers in the room, so that will be one focus area for me this year.
Any other learning coaches out there have any tips for me on getting things to stick?
How do you envision your teaching changing over the next 5 years?
In some ways, 5 years is a long time but in many ways it is a very, very short time. The thought of going from having a 5 year old to a 10 year old makes it seem like a long time, but the speed with which technology and teaching pedagogy are changing makes it seem like a short time. I am adopting new teaching techniques and new technology as fast as I can learn them but I am in a unique teaching position in that I have no class of my own to try them out with. I can only move as fast as the teachers I work with are willing to go (and that varies tremendously).
So, how will my teaching change over the next 5 years?
The same way that it does now - adapting on the fly, learning as I go, co-teaching, co-learning, collaborating to help students and teachers be as successful as they can possibly be.
Before you decide that this is a bit of a cop out answer, let me just tell you that in discussing the question with my husband, he looked at me and said "That's a bit of a difficult one to answer, given that 5 years ago you probably didn't see yourself teaching with iPads now did you?" All I could do was nod in agreement.
Image courtesy of mrpuen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This is my favourite part of the day. Any day. I love the peace and quiet of the early morning. I love everything you can get accomplished when no one else is around. I love being two steps ahead of everyone when they start their day.
I have two little girls who have rarely slept through the night in the last 5 years so no matter how much I love the early morning, I don't see it as often I would like. Among my goals for this year is to get back to that place, get back to that peace and quiet, that productivity, that feeling. Here's hoping...
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!