What I Have Learned To Be True

 

If someone were to ask me what I thought my greatest strength as an educator was, they may be surprised when I say it’s not technology as that is what I am most vocal about. While I love technology and use it purposefully in every way I can, it’s not what I would identify as my greatest strength or contribution.

In my five years as an educator and my varied experiences ranging from teaching Grade 2- Grade 6, I have discovered that my strength lies in my strong connections with students. When reflecting on this, it occurred to me that my passion for working with children has always been innate and it took removing myself from the comfort zone of corporate life and embracing what I truly love to understand that education is my calling and purpose.

It’s summer break and those connections have become evident to me from the amount of emails and messages I have already received from parents and students. I also recently read this article “13 Reasons Students Hate Teachers” which made me wonder what it is that I know to be true about kids and what I have learned from teaching that I hope makes a positive difference on the life of a child.

I’m five years in with so much more to learn, experience and grow. These five years however have taught me the following about kids:

1. They are free-spirits.

They say what they feel and notice, do what they want and enjoy the small things in life that most of us adults gloss over. They can mix and match outfits without care or worry about judgement because they love the colour. They dance, play, laugh and can talk up a storm when comfortable because it’s fun. They will pick flowers (weeds) for you because they were pretty and draw you pictures because they look up to you without concern. They live life to the fullest which is something that can cause unease with adults who are unable to go with the flow or appreciate their whimsy.

2. They are funny.

When was the last time you sat down with a group of kids and really and truly listened to them? When did you spend quality time at recess or lunch and just chit-chatted? I will guarantee you that some of the jokes and life experiences they have will have you in stitches. We often overlook that “free” time during school to catch up on emails, photocopy papers, run errands, but if we slowed down and took that time to hear and be a part of their stories, our own lives would be made so much brighter.

3. They are human.

This point is the one that I hold closest to my heart. They are not robots or machines churning out worksheets, booklets and dioramas. We do not get them fully charged every morning nor do we get to plug them in upon arrival to school in order to do “work”. They have full and complete lives that do not centre around school and we must honour this. There will be days where they are tired, hungry, upset, anxious, worried, scared and those are the moments we must stop what we are doing or have planned and talk to them, work it through and support.

4. They are honest.

Yes, you read that correctly, they are honest. If a child trusts you and knows you have the best of intentions for them, they will tell you the truth whether they are in the wrong or not. Without a solid relationship built on trust, honesty cannot be forged. The reason most people lie is because of fear and if they knew that the person they are being honest with cares about them and is not out for punishment but is there looking out for them and wanting to help them be better, they will tell the truth.

5. They are not looking for a boss.

I am a leader, confidante, guide and a trusted adult who is there to support them in learning about the world around them. I am not their boss nor do I ever want to be. This is not to be confused with being their friend either because that too is not my role. A student once told me ” Everyone always nags, nags, nags. Thank you for getting us and giving me a chance to do things on my own.” As an educator, I guide them in the right direction and in making the better choices. I teach them the tools they will need to succeed in life and I will be there for support in the areas they are struggling in both academically and socially.

6. They all have special needs.

Every single one of us is unique and all of us have areas of strength and areas of growth. There hasn’t been a single individual I have ever encountered in my life that didn’t require assistance in some way and this is the same for all students. We provide varying accommodations for all students depending on their needs at certain times which takes a strong educator to identify and apply. Every child deserves an education that allows them to be pushed to the barriers of their understandings. This requires dedication and hard work on our part as educators to ensure we are providing varied activities, assessments and content which target every child with what they require to learn.

7. They possess emotional strength greater than most adults.

When I hear the life stories of some students, my first thought is usually “how are you still able to bring yourself to our classroom everyday and engage in the learning because I know I couldn’t do it.” School is the safety zone away from whatever else is going on in life for a large majority of students that enter our schools. Some stories we know about while there are many others we may never know about however despite the turmoil, they show up everyday. I applaud and honour their strength and every day in our classroom is a celebration of life and learning because school is the one place in the world we have the power to make that possible.

8. They are curious.

They want to know what, how, why, where and who over and over and over. If they don’t, then their natural curiosity has been stopped at some point or they have learned that the schooling system doesn’t give much time for curiosity so why bother. It is our responsibility to ensure they retain that curiosity because it is the foundation for deep learning. They are curious because they care, are interested and looking for a way to understand. If we honour and harness this by not only allowing but encouraging it, they will engage in meaningful and relevant learning.

9. They want to love school.

Note that I didn’t say they all love school but that they all want to love school. Every year they walk into the unknown with a new class and a new teacher which could make or break their entire year. They start the year hopeful and excited because they truly want to learn, want to have friends and want to be a part of the community. We, as educators, have the ability to ensure this excitement remains all year-long for all students. Some start the year with self-imposed labels from previous years: “I’m always in trouble”, “I can’t do math and I am not smart” or “I have no friends, so I don’t want to be here”. We need to see these as cries for help and work with students to ensure they get past them. We need to find out the reasons and causes and together come up with the solutions to help them because deep down, they want to love school.

10. They are longing for connection and meaning.

They want to know that this place they have to go to every day where they spend the majority of their time is for a purpose. School has to connect to their life which means it must integrate the same tools and ideals they use outside of the building, build on their understandings and curiosities as well as be relevant for their future. No longer do we live in isolation and there is no reason why our classroom doors should be closed. Kids are connecting via social media, Minecraft and YouTube videos,to name a few, and yet school remains this isolated entity. They want to know how others around the world live, work and learn. They want to know that what they are learning has a deep purpose and is not just repetitive busy work. If there is a disconnect, they will disengage. The best way I found to do this is by explaining the “why” and having those full classroom discussions about the relevancy and purpose of the learning happening but most importantly by being flexible enough to change everything if need be to ensure it truly is meaningful to them.

The education of our youth goes far beyond just delivering curriculum and providing assessment after assessment. They are children and we are so lucky to have them in our lives each and every day. I cherish the learning I receive from each of them and I am so honoured to work with every child that enters my life. The above is my own personal roadmap and while I know not everyone will agree, it is what I follow in my heart and what I have learned to be true.

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Finding Strength Through Change

changeThe word “easy” has never been in my vocabulary as I continually seek those opportunities which lead me to be challenged and pushed to reach my highest potential. If those opportunities are not to be found, I often create them for myself.

This school year has given me those types of experiences, the ones which are challenging enough to grow me not only as an educator but also as an individual. I am not only learning about who I am as a teacher, but who I am as myself and how this influences everyone that I have the honour of working with and for.

I began this school year in a new city, in a new district, in a new school with colleagues I had never met and in a new grade with new students coming in from various other schools. To say that I embraced change would be an understatement, however I didn’t realize that when you leave yourself vulnerable and open to so much change, that it becomes about overcoming and learning from the challenges that come your way in order to truly grow.

The following excerpt was from my blog post entitled 2014 – My Year Of Change & Growth, I decided to include it here because it was the catalyst for me to finish off this school year strong.

“September 2014 – December 2014

When I first started this reflection I didn’t fully grasp or realize the amount of learning accomplished during the final half of 2014 until I started looking at the photos I had taken. I have grown immensely both personally and professionally in these past few months by being active in my new community and surroundings, by embracing the uncomfortable, by being honest and open about my strengths, strong passions and areas of growth but most of all in my own self-confidence as an educator.

I found myself surrounded by communities of support, expertise and varied experiences in an environment prime for growth. This is what I had hoped for and I knew it wouldn’t be an easy journey, but I have never been one for easy. I have come from close to 5 years of independent teaching in small rural schools. I have always planned, coordinated and constructed all of my own materials, units, and assessments based on my own student needs and most recently, students with whom I had looped with for three years and knew like family. I now was in a team of six grade five educators collaborating together on the learning for our students, in a school almost seven times the size of my previous.

Reflecting on the start of the school year, I see now that underestimated the transition into this. It has been years since I needed to share who I was, my true self, with other educators, as when working within a small district everyone knows everyone. My other collaborations have been with educators who follow me on Twitter or read my blog and have a strong sense of who I am. The individuals within my comfort zone, who are my rocks, all know my deep passion for learning, know how excited I get at the thought of planning a unit with my students and finding those connections for them, know that I am honest, genuine and will ask a lot of questions because I have a need to know the why behind everything I bring into my classroom, but that mostly I care…about everything and everyone all the time.

I learned that when working within a large group, fostering a relationship beyond work is essential for the dynamics because once everyone truly knows one another a foundation of trust and an environment where vulnerability is welcomed can be built, however that this also takes time. Effective collaboration doesn’t happen overnight, it needs to be built step by step by each individual party. My sheer optimism and strong will to ensuring meaningful things happen despite obstacles, is who I am however this is something that is shown over time through sincerity and action. I am learning how to communicate my passions, thoughts and ideas outside of my comfort zone and am pushing myself to hear (not just listen) and understand more and more.

These few months also taught me about the power of student connection and relationships. I had worried whether I would be able to connect with a brand new group, but as the weeks went on I started receiving hugs, drawings, jokes, stories from home, open discussions about their lives and genuine interest in mine, shared laughter and that feeling of knowing these are the amazing kids I am so lucky to know and work with every day. I love the community we have built and will continue to grow.”

The first half of this school year was a blur of learning and adjusting to everything that was around me. I felt lost and at times overwhelmed by the needs and expectations I had placed on myself to ensure that students were receiving the best learning, that my administration was proud of the learning happening in my community, that I was building strong relationships and that I was doing everything to the best of my abilities at all times. This type of pressure can be healthy if its pushing you to grow, but it can also become unhealthy if it becomes so much that you feel like you are barely keeping your head above water. My previous teaching experiences truly helped as I was able to find my balance and learned to create boundaries for myself. I began to make time for myself, to be ever mindful of my presence, to prioritize tasks based on student need, to delve deeply into one or two areas and alleviate the pressure  from others. Taking on a positive learning attitude without fear, worry or doubt (which can creep in when faced with a significant amount of change); to one with self-confidence and a focus on student learning will shift your perspective around.

The amount of learning the students and I had this year has been indescribable. Together we faced the challenges of being surrounded by “new” and grew wholeheartedly as a mini family. Any concern, issue, problem that came up whether in the world, at home or in class we discussed together as a group to solve. A level of mutual trust and respect was established between us and I am so proud of the work they accomplished this year. Their growth, happiness and well-being is what fuels me to keep pushing myself because in facing my own challenges I was helping them to face theirs.

As I had stated in my last post Forging The Path, I have grown a considerable amount this year and my focus has been on learning for students and for myself. I needed to take the time to be hands-on getting messy and experiencing everything that life was bringing my way in order to be authentic in my sharing and in my teaching.

So what new learning did we accomplish together you ask? Here is a brief list of everything we dived into this year all of which were new to my students and many new to me as well:

1. Chromebook use & integration as main resource and access to modes of learning for all students

2. Utilizing the Edublog system for blogging and creating individual student portfolios

3. Accessing Google Drive and creating individual student subject folders

4. Students learning how to blog, connect, use google apps for education, embed items into blogs, create links, group chats and copyright usage

5. Google Classroom facilitation for both students and myself

6. Book Clubs with audio recorded reflections which were then embedded into blogs

7. iMovie Book Trailers and summary videos

8. Multiple feedback loops across all subjects and projects

9. Use of in-depth authentic mathematics projects

10. Inquiry-based Problem of the Week projects for mathematics with detailed reflections and criteria

11. Socratic Circles in Social Studies on which region of Canada is best to live in

12. Full inquiry in classroom chemistry with the use of outside experts

13. Story writing in google docs and publishing to iBooks using Book Creator

14. Global Citizenship through Drama where we teamed up with Trickster Theatre on student research of child soldiers

15. Conducting deep research using media literacy skills and citing digital and print sources accurately

16. Paper Slideshows detailing impacts of Immigration

17. Experiencing the power of innovation and freedom to dream through Innovation Weeks and our trip to the Innovation Lab at our local library

18. Students utilizing metacognitive skills to purposefully reflect on learning

19. GoodReads for reading goals, reviews and connecting reading communities

I’m certain I’m missing more and when I look back at it now, I am in awe of what we accomplished this year. We took risks, we had many technical difficulties, we persevered when projects were taking long to finish, we asked for help when we couldn’t find the answers, we took breaks when our brains and bodies needed them, we cried from frustration at times but looked to the support from others around us but most importantly we faced these challenges and grew with and from them. They changed us for the better and we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

 

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Forging The Path

transformational-leadership-quote

I’ve always been a very reflective individual; a deep processor of information. Sometimes I see that as one of my best qualities and other times it feels like a large burden. It is when my thoughts overtake my ability to gain new insights, to grow and to be creative that I know I need to pull away and focus on other areas to maintain that balance.

I have been surrounded by such an incredible amount of learning this year that my focus has been on just that: Learning. My presence has been felt most in my classroom by my students, time with co-workers, on the field coaching and with myself as a life-long learner. My online PLN has contacted me numerous times this year wondering if I was ok, or if something was wrong because the one area I have pulled back from is being constantly connected.

I have learned that in order for me to be the best educator I can be for students and to also foster change and innovation in my passion, I have to grow in other areas outside of my online educational world. I have spent this year reading more than I ever have in the past and pushing my mind to think in different ways. I have implemented new ways of inquiry learning, unit planning and assessment along with my love of technology for authentic teaching practice. I have grown tremendously as an educator by maintaining a strong focus on one area of my career: what is best for kids.

This year has brought me to a point where I am realizing the importance of focusing on one thing and truly dedicating myself to deep reflection and evaluation for growth.  I have found that we as educators rarely ever take time to just learn, stop, reflect and evaluate, myself included and so that is what I have been doing. Reflective time is of the most importance and I have chosen to be mindful in how I spend that time in order to become an educator who will have a large impact on the lives of all students that I encounter and learn with in my career.

So while I continue to have an active social media presence, sometimes in full force and other times quiet just know that I am always there; learning, absorbing, applying and processing. The learning process is one of give and take and I’m now readying myself to not only give but to give authentically based on learning experiences.

Sharing what I have learned is my next step because I truly believe in transparency, openness and authenticity for true growth, however I want to ensure that what I share is relevant, true and something I am truly passionate about. In order for this to happen, I need to teach; I need to be active in my classroom; I need to see and witness the learning process first hand and grow through it. I cannot lead, nor can I seek growth or ask for authentic feedback, if I myself, am not walking the path. I have learned not to deny the world around me as in the Seth Godin quote, but to engage wholeheartedly in it to not only describe my vision for the future of education, but to start on the path of creating it.

Dear PLN…. do you also find yourself attempting to balance your time between absorbing, applying and sharing new learning? How does that balance look for you?

 

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The Chemistry Of Baking Bread

Groups made cinnamon buns, chocolate chip bread sticks, white bread, gluten-free cinnamon bread, garlic cheese bread and tic-tac bread!
Groups made cinnamon buns, chocolate chip bread sticks, white bread, gluten-free cinnamon bread, garlic cheese bread and tic-tac bread!

One of the best parts of teaching for me is finding ways to make learning relevant to student’s everyday lives and future.

We have been learning all about classroom chemistry this term and the topic itself is one of the most engaging and exciting units we have delved into so far. The students are learning about chemical and physical reactions, solutions, mixtures and the three states of matter through various hands-on experiments. One of the main outcomes for this unit was:

  • Produce carbon dioxide gas through the interaction of solids and liquids, and demonstrate that it is different from air.

So, the most relevant way for students to understand this concept was for us to get messy and bake our own bread! And just for additional learning, we also incorporated measurement and math understandings while in our Foods Lab by converting oz to ml, g to cups and differentiating between teaspoons and tablespoons.

My students were so eager to learn about cooking and baking because they see it everyday but have not been able to be a part of it yet and most importantly understand the chemical processes that occur when creating a meal.

Their main focus going into this lesson was observing and creating different chemical and physical reactions, solutions and mixtures while working on everyday life activities such as baking a loaf of bread. We learned and brainstormed together prior to engaging in the Foods Lab and students wrote down their hypothesis and their understandings of the criteria. Each group was provided with the same basic bread recipe and they asked if they could add variations. They worked in groups to determine what variations they wanted to include and how that would affect the reactions they were looking for.

Adding and observing the chemical reactions between yeast, warm water and sugar.
Adding and observing the chemical reactions between yeast, warm water and sugar.
Measuring, observing and kneading. Students were fascinated how dry ingredients came together to form dough.
Measuring, observing and kneading. Students were fascinated how dry ingredients came together to form dough.
Rolling, mixing and kneading.
Rolling, mixing and kneading.
Amazed by the carbon dioxide bubbles which allowed their dough to rise.
Amazed by the carbon dioxide bubbles which allowed their dough to rise.

The were absolutely amazed watching the tiny yeast granules activate with the warm water and the sugar. The shock was even more so when their loaves began to rise and through the glass pans they could see the carbon dioxide pockets.

Here two videos of a few of my students sharing their bread with fellow teachers in our school and explaining their learning:

Sharing with Mr. Letendre:

Sharing with Mrs. Krefting:

When we went to cut their loaves, I heard comments like ” It looks exactly like store-bought bread!” and “This is the best bread I’ve ever had!” I told them it sure is…because you made it yourself!

They also all blogged their reflections and observations on our classroom blog: www.psdblogs.ca/dariss

Next up for us is a Bake-Off Challenge this week with three executive chefs where students are going to be provided with $25.00 and will have to make their own food creations that feature 2 chemical and physical changes and 1-2 mixtures and solution.

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Not Another Game Of Bingo!

 

We complete a mini-problem every week focused on multiple strands of the mathematics curriculum as well as areas of student need for growth.

As we worked on our 2X2, 2X3 and even 3X3 multiplication learning, we were also moving towards division and I knew that a stronger understanding and focus on their multiplication facts was needed. I sought out ways to ensure their learning was meaningful, in-depth and not just rote memorization as they will need to have a strong understanding of multiplication in order to understand division.

My colleague, Jessie Krefting, forwarded me this problem called Multipingo. At first glance, one would think oh great, the students will roll the dice and play bingo, but that is not a way to grasp deep understanding of mathematics. While playing games is often a great way to engage students, the games need to be meaningful and allow them to think about what, why and how the things they are doing apply to their understandings. I decided to modify the problem to fit my student’s needs. I wanted my students to think, process and question.

What I also enjoyed about this was that it challenged them in the Statistics and Probability strand of our mathematics curriculum as well as problem solving and multiplication.

The following problem focused on:

  • Developing number sense
  • Understanding, recalling and applying multiplication facts to 9 × 9.
  • Describing the likelihood of a single outcome occurring, using words such as: impossible, possible, certain

What I watched happening in our classroom that day was incredible. The students were working in small groups and each provided with a blank 5X5 grid. Each group was also given two 9 sided dice. The first, and most important, task was that they choose a strategy to fill their grid with any products they thought would come up most when rolling dice and multiplying.

  • Some started inputting random numbers – 17, 23, 47, to which I posed the question ” What two numbers will you need to roll in order to reach this product?” The looks on their faces when they realized that no two numbers could ever multiply to reach these products was when the lightbulb moments began to occur. They then started to focus on their facts for possible products.
  • Some inputted products for the facts they knew which showed me which ones they were comfortable with. When I saw this, I asked them to input products they are not sure of. The goal was for them to expand beyond the basics to the more complex numbers.
  • Others began to get strategic. They were only inputting products to which multiple numbers rolled could bring about the same result. For example: 24 which is a result of 3×8 and 4×6 or 18 which is a result of 9×2 or 6×3 which increased their odds. This process required a strong knowledge and understanding of factors and probability.

They all were so heavily engaged in trying to fill in their grid with the best possible outcomes and working on factors, products, facts and probability that I couldn’t stop them, nor did I want to! They loved this challenge so much that the lesson extended into 3.5 periods that day with everyone fully engaged and learning.

They were also keeping track of which numbers rolled the most, which factors were more prevalent and why and what facts were correct on a separate google doc as they “played bingo”. Once their first round was completed, they then had to create another grid based on the information gathered from the first. Their task was then to change their first strategy using the new information in order to create a grid even more conducive to multiplication and probability. This required a deeper processing of information and statistics to which all then began to rethink their original ideas.

Upon completion, each student posted a reflection on their blog based on our problem of the week criteria.

Here are a few examples:

Ashley – Multipingo POW- Reflection 

Ian – POW Reflection – Multipingo

Kylie – POW Multiplication Reflection

I was very proud to see their growth especially as these concepts are some of our biggest challenges this year. They have come so far from just plugging in numbers and answers to actually breaking them apart, playing with them and understanding the relationships between them. This is an area that I hope to continue to grow and foster as we build a love of mathematics.

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