When I first started blogging, it was to chronicle the creation of The Lit Pit (you can see those posts here and here). As the Lit Pit came in to being, my teaching partner at the time, Kristi, and I needed a guiding principle, our "why", as Kristi would regularly say. As we tossed around ideas and debated possibilities, we kept coming back to the idea that learning (in this case, reading in particular) should be joyful. We knew that the Lit Pit was not just a place to come to learn how to read, it was a place to come to learn to love to read. Sadly, we had many youngsters who did not want to read, did not think they could read and certainly were not choosing reading for fun; how did we turn their mindsets around? As educators, we knew that they needed the skills to read; as passionate readers, we knew they needed to love to read. So which comes first, the chicken or the egg?
We went back and forth so many times as to the "right" order for our mantra - Choose to, Learn to, Love to? Learn to, Love to, Choose to? Learn to, Choose to, Love to? Gah.
In the end we decided that there is no one right order. Each learner comes to this process in their own way and from their own starting point. My husband, for example, decided that he would really like to play the guitar sitting around the campfire on summer evenings. He had never played the guitar before so he did not have the love to or the learn to pieces in place yet; he was entering the "love to, learn to, choose to" cycle at the "choose to" and has been working on the "learn to" ever since. What is driving him to keep going, struggling through the "learn to" (which, thankfully, is fairly easy on the ears), is the idea that there is a "love to" at the end. He knows that playing the guitar well will be enjoyable so he's willing to put in the time and effort to get there.
Others, like most kids in school, enter the cycle at the "learn to" stage. There is nothing inherently wrong with entering the cycle at this stage; without exposure to new things, how would we even know if we wanted to try them? But, and this is a big but, unless that exposure engenders a small degree of interest, an idea that this will be enjoyable if I keep learning about it, that learning won't stick and certainly won't keep the learner coming back for more. Struggle for struggle's sake is no fun; struggle because you know that something will eventually be rewarding? Now that can be fun.
Without the "love to" learning falls flat. Without "love to" people never move from "choose to" to "learn to" and vice versa. As teachers, it's our job to share our passions with kids, to show them that learning can be joyful, that knowing how to do something well is the end result of a combination of passion and work, often really hard work. For a struggling student, who watches reading come easily to everyone else, passion is the thing that will keep them going. For a high-flyer, for whom everything comes easily, passion will save them from death by boredom. Passion is, perhaps, the great equalizer.
That's what this mantra is for - to remind us to keep "love to, learn to and choose to" as our goal. This is where we want kids to be, moving iteratively through this cycle, no matter where they start. We want kids to have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful, for sure. In our quest for this, we sometimes forget to make it interesting, to make it fun, to have the end goal be "love to". So, today, in your classroom, pause for a minute and look around - are your students learning that this subject, this learning, can be fun? Where are they in the cycle of Love to, Learn to, Choose to? Are they going to choose to do this, whatever this is, later on today? What can you do to move all your students forward, no matter where they are in the cycle?
As always, I'd love to hear from you - comment below or on social media!
This. This might be my mantra of the year. I came across it on one of Shelley Moore's social media accounts and immediately wrote it down. Because, duh. So simple, so obvious and yet so often missed. I mean, how often do you hear "She's so far behind. Here are the assignments she needs to finish to catch up." or "He's so low. If you could sit with him and scribe for him, he might be able to finish this task." School should be about so much more than task completion, so much more than stumbling awkwardly down the same path as everyone else.
I've been doing a lot of learning lately about the path, the journey, that learners take as they learn. Listening to podcasts about reading development, watching vlogs about math development, reading articles about both. And guess what? Learning isn't this nice linear pathway our curriculum and textbooks would have us believe; and yet we peddle this lie daily. We follow the sequence the text has laid out for us, we compare young readers to norms and we insist that those that don't make the grade try harder, work harder, keep tripping and slipping down the same garden path as everyone else, even though their path might just be ever so slightly to the right, meandering through the flowers.
What if, though, what if we were brave enough to worry less about the task and more about the child? What if we could shift our focus from a linear learning model to one that looked more like a scatter plot - little tiny dots of learning happening at their own pace, at their own time? Even if we managed it only for those children whose path has clearly diverged from the others, we would be supporting students to reach goals instead of supporting students to finish tasks. What a powerful shift for those students; to go from trailing along behind the others, constantly trying to catch up and exhausted from never quite making it, to feeling empowered to go after the goal that is attainable and attractive. What if we brought joy back to the journey? That would be truly transforming learning for kids.
Identifying individual goals takes time. Shifting from the "learning is linear" mindset that we have grown up with takes time. Coming up with a plan and executing it takes time. In order to truly change, we have to make time for all of these things. We have to support one another in making these changes, as slowly or as quickly as it takes. We can shift from focusing on tasks to focusing on goals.
Want to see more Teacher Mantras? Click here for Teacher Mantra # 2 - My Job is To Create Desire.
Literate, numerate, curious and kind. Literate, numerate, curious and kind. In the wake of another school shooting in the USA, a rocky Friday afternoon in my own classroom and an interesting teacher book club discussion, I found myself running these words through my head on a loop.
Of all the mantras in this series, I can proudly call this mantra my own; although simple, it took a lot of thought and examination of my own beliefs to come to it. I knew I needed something simple - I love words but too many words just didn't seem right; I knew I wanted something memorable - the words had to flow easily and stick in my mind; and I knew that it needed to reflect the whole student, not just academics. I often think about changing it but always decide to stick with it as is.
To me, these words reflect all I want students to be when they leave school. Literate, numerate, curious and kind. Simplistic? Perhaps. But sometimes there is beauty in simplicity. Sometimes a simple mantra can help us guide students where curriculum fails. Sometimes a simple mantra gives us direction where curriculum clouds the path forward.
No one should graduate from high school unable to read and talk about what they've read. This is a fundamental right, not to mention a necessity, and I doubt anyone would argue with me on this one. Yeah, you might not enjoy reading (and that is a crying shame) but you need to be able to read a job application, a manual and a menu (have you seen the words on some menus these days?!). Sadly, I have a few grade 8 students who aren't able to do this and my heart aches thinking of them heading out into the world, so vulnerable because they don't have this basic skill. If I focus on nothing else during a day but helping students become literate, I count that as a win.
Our students deserve to graduate feeling like they understand how numbers work, not like they memorized a bunch of formulas. News flash: our brains aren't actually designed to hold information we rarely use. That's what the internet is for (there are actually apps that will scan your math question and give you the answer in real time). At this point I know some of you are getting all squirmy, wanting to tell me that students need to memorize their math facts and that the only way to do it is by practicing it over and over and over. Numeracy isn't (nor ever was) about memorizing facts; it is about understanding how numbers can come together to make more, be pulled apart to make less, used to figure out unknowns. Does having your facts memorized make that easier? Absolutely. Is rote memorization the best path there? For some, but not all. Knowing which numbers to use, how those numbers might come together and which questions to ask - that is the true definition of numeracy (side note: there actually is no agreed upon definition of mathematics. Odd, right?). As I always tell my students, I don't care if you got the right answer, I care that you know how you got it.
Click on the pictures above to download your own copy of this mantra.
Curious (Creative & Critical)
I have been asked more than once about this mantra. Most people feel it misses some pieces; where is creativity? Where is critical thinking? I feel that they fall here, under curiosity. I can't imagine a curious person who isn't also a creative and critical thinker. Kids are naturally curious; they wonder about the world around them, they ask a million questions, they stop to investigate the most trivial seeming things. This is how they learn (in fact, kindergarten, created in 1837 by Friedrich Froebel, was based entirely on the idea that children learn through an iterative process of wonder and re-creation). If we are not careful, however, this curiosity dwindles, replaced by a sense of obligation and requirement. Maintaining a sense of curiosity and wonder in your classroom is fundamental to developing self-motivated lifelong learners.
Kindness makes the world go 'round. As the world around us seems to get scarier every day our best way to fight back is to teach kindness, expect kindness, model kindness. In this HuffPost article, Peter Field points out that kindness is a habit that paves the way to a happy life, for both the giver and the receiver. Teaching kids that simple words and actions can have a big impact will lead to a happier society overall. Looking for lessons on kindness? Check out the educators section on the Random Acts of Kindness website. Life Vest Inside has some pretty rad videos, lessons and challenges too!
Click here to see the first post in the series - We All Need Teaching Mantras.
Click here to see the next post in the series - Teacher Mantra #2: Creating Desire
Do you feel a little lost right now? I mean lost as in "I really don't know what is most important to be teaching in a world that seems so turned upside down." I mean lost as in "There is way more curriculum here in front of me than I will ever be able to get through." Lost as in "Am I even doing this right?" We all feel that way sometimes, especially when the weight of things like school shootings falls so heavy on our hearts and minds. As teachers we can't help but feel responsible for the next generation and that responsibility can be a heavy, heavy load.
When I feel lost like this I reach for my teaching mantras. These mantras are statements that I have gathered over the years that keep me centred and focused on what I know to be true and important in education. I tend to write them down on random pieces of paper or pages in one notebook or another; if I keep searching for it, keep thinking about it, keep coming back to it, then it's worth becoming part of my mantra collection. When I feel lost or torn in too many directions, I return to my mantra collection to get me back on track.
Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be sharing some of my mantras with you. Keep what resonates with you and use it to help you get back on track when the way gets a little bit cloudy. I've created a set of posters with my mantras on them. Click below to download them to use in your own classroom. I'd also love to hear your mantras, so please share them in the comments below!
The beginning of the school year is a time of hunkering down and doing your own thing in your own classroom but it is also a time of running in to people you haven't seen in awhile, at Pro-D, at school, at meetings. Making a big move, moving from the known to the unknown, has led to some very interesting conversations with people I run in to. Generally, they go something like this:
Other teacher (with a suspicious, this-can't-possibly-be-true tone) - "So...you're not in LAT anymore, right?"
Me - "That's right. Teaching Gr. 2 French Immersion now."
Other teacher - "Wow! What a change! How's it going?"
At this point, I have a choice to make - I can choose to smile and answer "Oh, great, it's going really, really well", which is the socially expected response or I can answer honestly, which sounds a little more like "It's good. It's hard, really, really hard. There's so much I don't know, so much I didn't realize about teaching little guys." It's a little too naked, a little too honest for most people, but it's the truth. So what do I do?
For the most part, I choose to tell the truth. This is hard, it is very new to me (it's still September, after all) and I'm ok with that. I think it's important that people know that this is a huge learning curve for me but that I'm working through it, that I'm ok with not knowing and learning as I go. To hide this process is kind of like trying to hide a cannonball in the deep end - everyone already knows I've made the leap, I might as well own the noise and the mess too.
What inevitably transpires after I own the noise and the mess is this - people jump in to save me: "Oh, so and so teaches Gr. 2 I'm sure that they have stuff for you" (love that word, stuff, as if more pieces of paper will help me figure this out); "Isn't ________ (name of very experienced Gr. 2 teacher) helping you out? I'm sure she would, you just have to ask!" (which leads to me backing her up because yes, as a matter of fact, she has been very helpful). Apparently, being in the deep end means I am drowning and everyone feels the need to throw me a life raft (a well-intentioned life raft, but a life raft nonetheless).
Honestly, though? I'm ok in the deep end. It might not be pretty and I may go under every now and then but as I struggle I am learning what works for me. Floating on someone else's life raft doesn't teach me to swim; I need to learn to kick, move my arms and breathe all on my own. I'll happily take a coach or two and some tools along the way but this is my process and my learning curve; my deep end.
In her book, Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton talks about our society's need to take the pain away when we see it in others. We aren't comfortable being uncomfortable and we really aren't comfortable seeing others in discomfort. The deep end is not comfortable; it is messy and deep, so deep. But it is in discomfort that we grow and so, I must work through this discomfort on my own. I must find my own rhythm and my own stroke in order to be able to feel good about swimming.
So to those who have offered to save me, thank you. Thank you for wanting to take the discomfort away, thank you for wanting me to feel more comfortable. I appreciate it. I'm going to be ok, though. It might not be pretty, it might not be smooth, but I will figure it out. I will learn how to swim in the deep end.
PS - to those of you who have offered to jump in to the deep end with me, who have jumped in to the deep end with me, I cannot thank you enough. Having someone swimming beside me means a lot.
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.
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!!!
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...
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!