Tag: Connection

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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Flip The Dynamic

Eyes closed and demonstrating deep and focused peer-listening skills.
Eyes closed and demonstrating deep and focused peer-listening skills.

When creating a learning environment of sharing, open communication and collaboration, it’s easy to forget that students might not know how to actively apply these skills. This is the foundation of which our classroom community is built upon and these vital life lessons are what we are learning to use in our everyday life and in our learning.

This afternoon we talked about what makes a good listener and how to communicate with one another and not at one another. With one month behind us, I am starting to recognize how dependent students are on me for their every move in the classroom. While we have mutual respect, my goal for my students is to help them achieve independence and ownership of their learning in our classroom and to help them foster leadership skills.

We started by participating in an activity which helped us to understand that listening is very different than hearing. Students closed their eyes for the entire activity and every student had the opportunity to share one statement to the group about themselves. As soon as their statement was shared, their peers had to guess who was speaking by not only listening but “hearing” their peer’s individuality in their statement. This was not an easy task as they are constantly engaging in conversations and filtering sounds, but to quietly sit and reflect on each individual’s one statement allowed them to understand the difference.

This led us to the importance of having a communication circle and why a circle shape is ideal for open conversations. I have often noticed that students are so used to only talking and sharing with me as their teacher, that they ignore their peers when we are having discussions. This leads to one isolated conversation, between myself and that students, while their peers are merely watching. I needed to change this dynamic and allow them to share and discuss with one another instead. I recognize just how strong my presence can be and so I made sure to stand behind every student speaker in our circle. This helped the students to focus on the speaker and also allowed the speaker to not be distracted by me but to focus on their larger audience.

Sharing stories and engaging with each other.
Sharing stories and engaging with each other.

This was difficult to do for some as their eyes would always try to find me, but they soon saw the power they had in sharing their thoughts with a larger peer audience.

Sharing stories with one another and really focusing on each other.
Sharing stories with one another and really focusing on each other.

Once they started getting comfortable with this, their true personalities started to shine. We had funny stories, sad stories and some scary stories about ghosts. The best part was watching them demonstrate independence and show courage in sharing.

Telling funny stories which helped us to connect.
Telling funny stories which helped us to connect.

I am so very proud of my students and the growth they are demonstrating every day. The foundations they are building will support them in all aspects of life and learning.

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Classroom Learning – September 15, 2014

Today was International Dot Day! A day to celebrate creativity, courage, collaboration and individuality with a focus on making your mark on the world. We celebrated by reading the book The Dot and then letting our creative minds free through a large collaborative group art project.

Mrs. Cameron joined us to celebrate creativity on Dot Day!
Mrs. Cameron joined us to celebrate creativity on Dot Day!

This was so important as it allowed students to connect with one another and also to let their imaginations be their guides. It was really amazing to see how students started with just one dot or circle and then expanded their ideas. Our final project showcased abstract art, Kandanski circles, chocolate chip cookies, beach balls, 3-D images, jersey numbers using pointillism and finger painted dots. It is a beautiful reflection of all of our creative thoughts and ideas.

Our final project! It will be hung up in the Purple Pod.
Our final project! It will be hung up in the Purple Pod.

We also had a guest speaker connect with us and all of the LC 5 community to talk about the importance of Digital Citizenship. Constable Lucas of the Edmonton Police Services face timed us and answered our many questions about using the internet and our technology in positive and appropriate ways. This was an extension to the many daily conversations we have in our classroom about the power of being connected and the best use of social media.

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We then reflected and shared our learning with other students on Twitter.

Reflecting on the use of social media and the internet.
Reflecting on the use of social media and the internet.
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They Reached Out To The World & It Reached Back Out To Them

Tweeting while watching webcast
Watching the #storysmashup webcast and live tweeting our learning.

Growing up, authors were comparable to super heroes. They had the power to transform words into magical journeys and bring me along for the trip. I had a long list of favourite authors, however the idea that I could reach out and talk to one or have one acknowledge me in any way was beyond the realm of possibility at the time. Connection through the use of social media has forever changed this dynamic and this week’s events in my classroom will forever hold a special place in my heart and in the memories of my students.

I received a tweet from educators Catherine D and Kelli Holden  asking if I wanted to join their classes in watching a webcast of popular authors Jeff Kiney – Diary Of A Wimpy Kid and Dav Pilkey – Adventures of Captain Underpants.  The event was being hosted by Scholastic and featured these authors discussing the elements of a story, what inspires them to write and details about the writing and illustrating process.The authors would then ‘smash a story’ together which students would have to complete. I immediately replied with a yes! My students are huge fans of these series, so much so that we had started a countdown for the next book release. We decided that a great way to have the kids connect on the webcast was to create a room using TodaysMeet and give students the opportunity to chat with one another while watching the broadcast, as well as have a group of tweeters from each class tweeting out the learning.

We waited in anticipation for the day of the webcast. That morning students were anxious, excited and couldn’t wait until after recess to begin. Once the time had arrived, my students logged in to the room we had created using TodaysMeet and found other students from Edmonton and Spruce Grove, Alberta and Colorado in the US. The introductions began as did their common love and connection to the stories of both of these authors.

As students continued their conversations, I had two of my students become our official tweeters for the event. I would oversee and assist if needed, but it would be their responsibility to watch the webcast and share their learning with the world. They started off a little rocky, not knowing what exactly to tweet but as soon as they saw tweets coming in from other classrooms watching and using the hashtag #storysmashup, their tweets containing their thoughts got stronger.  One moment during the webcast, they saw a photo from Kelli Holden’s class Millgrove4H of two of her students tweeting and realized that yes, other grade four students like them were sharing with the world too. The spark was lit and one student began writing tweets on paper, while the other furiously typed them out. It was incredible to watch.

The webcast was phenomenal. The authors touched on the important elements of a story and how they access their creativity when coming up with ideas. They even discussed whether they liked to illustrate digitally or on paper which was a big hit in my room as my students are currently experimenting with digital illustrations for another writing project.

Once the webcast was over, the conversations on TodaysMeet took over. Students were asking each other their thoughts, predictions and also sharing what elements they would add to complete the story. For students in the US, the webcast allowed them to enter a contest where the student-author of the best completed version of the story would win a variety of prizes. We, along with Catherine and Kelli’s classrooms, are in Canada and are therefore ineligible but we didn’t allow that to hinder us. We decided to have each classroom complete their version, post on our respective blogs and have students share their versions. Upon hearing this, my students were even more excited as its one thing to have adults read your work but it’s completely different having peers do so. It allowed us to have discussions about genres and how you can absolutely love a book or story that someone else might not and that is ok. We talked about how authors write to appeal to a certain audience and how best-sellers become so. Writing is not always an easy endeavour and how authors may go through many rejections before publication, but that their love of writing keeps them writing and sharing.

Following the webcast, Scholastic had tweeted that classrooms who tweeted what books, authors or stories they would like to see ‘smashed-up’ next would be entered to win a signed poster from one of the authors in the webcast. My students were on a roll tweeting out their favourite books and authors. This is where the magic of this event really happened in my classroom as they realized the power of their voice.

Students tweeted their #storysmashup ideas and included the authors who were on Twitter in their tweets. This was what happened:

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Wendell aka John Spencer responded!
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Katherine Applegate, author of one of their favourite books favourited their tweet!

And then…

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Jeff Kiney sent them a Direct Message!

They were jumping up and down in excitement and disbelief! THREE authors had seen, read and reacted to their tweets. I can’t even describe how ecstatic they were.

The following day we received the following from Scholastic:

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They were now understanding the power they have and how they had connected to the world. They saw that their friends from Millgrove4H also won a poster and were so happy. They wanted to keep going and began their story drafts. We re-watched the webcast and students drew their version of the character Coco-Puff which Jeff Kiney had created. They drew these and tweeted them:

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Student versions of Coco-Puff

Within minutes they received yet another direct message from Jeff Kinney:

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This time the sheer excitement was just incredible. They were jumping, laughing and giving each other hugs. It was priceless to witness. One of their favourite authors had appreciated their art work and took the time to respond and motivate them to continue. All they wanted to do at this point was write, write and write.

What started out as a tweet led to a wonderful collaborative writing project that assisted students in recognizing their voice and abilities. Thank you to all who helped in making this such a monumental experience for my students.

They reached out to the world and it reached back out to them.

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