Tag: Growth

Nobody Said It Was Going To Be Easy

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It’s the start of October, which means that last month was the hardest month of the teaching year. In September, is when I lay out the expectations, the groundwork and the flow for the learning in our classroom. With this comes the hardest and most frustrating aspect; getting the students acquainted with technology as a learning tool.

I have heard the gripes from fellow teachers and I myself used to say it too ” They don’t know how to log in! They won’t ever remember log-ins! How can I manage 25+ kids with different devices and access?” etc. The key I finally discovered was that it wasn’t hard for the kids….it was hard for ME. I switched my mindset around and started to focus on how to make it a smoother transition for all of us because I have seen first hand the powerful learning that can happen when a student is using a device as a tool to empower, create and explain their learning. It becomes second-hand nature to have that device ready to go when it’s needed.

I have been asked many times how I manage to get the kids ready to go so quickly and my advice is “Roll up your sleeves, and dive in.” It’s messy, it can be frustrating, it can drive you to insanity, but at the heart of it all you know that it is what is best for them and their future.

Here are a few tips I have experienced first hand that may help:

Use the expertise in the room

You are not the only expert in the room, and I am willing to bet that there are a few students in your class who have done this before or are quick and savvy learners. Put them to work helping their peers. I always tell my students “I am only but one Miss Ariss”, however there are some of you in here who can help me and your friends so we can learn this quickly. If you stand and deliver and expect every student to follow your exact move as you click on your computer…..you will be in for a world of mental anguish. I liken this to going to a PD session and the presenter hasn’t gaged the level of expertise in the room and treats us as if we are all beginners. I’ll be honest, if its something I know already, then I’ve started to tune them out. Our students are no different. You will have kids who know how to log in, who know how to make the @ symbol, and who know how to troubleshoot. Honour their expertise and build a collaborative, caring classroom community at the same time.

Set High Expectations

I know some teachers will print out their student’s emails or login info and passwords and give to them. I find that level of scaffolding to be great as a start….but at some point they will have to rely on themselves. With the exception of the students who I know need this scaffold, I post their log in info on the board and give them the responsibility of logging themselves in. At some point, after numerous trials and errors (with support by me,) they get it. Is it easy for them to memorize and copy their log in info, password and websites? Not a single bit, but they are learning perseverance, problem solving and building their confidence in doing this hard thing on their own. There will be tears, there will be stress, there will be anxiety…but there will also be triumph and pride.

Keep Everything In One Place

Let’s be honest…as an adult I can barely keep track of all of the websites, passwords, logins etc and I don’t expect my students to do so either. I start off small with logging into the computer system with their information and we practice going to our classroom blog. This in itself is a feat because learning that the Google search bar is not the same as the url bar when typing in a website address is just one big lesson. I keep all of the important links that they will need – Google Drive, Classroom, Creative Commons, School website, Government tests, et.- all on the blog for quick and easy access until we are at a stage where they are comfortable and strong enough in their technology use to type in other sites.

So yes, it might be easier to just hit print on the photocopier and hand each student a neat little packet without the hassle of the above, but is it what is best for them or for us? Are we living in a neat printed packet world or is our world digital, messy and requires us to push buttons and try new things?

Integrating technology in the classroom is not easy and it’s not meant for all tasks, but no one ever said anything about teaching being easy. We all just know that it’s worth it.

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Sharing Is A Moral Imperative

your-playing-small-does-not-serve-the-world

The #IMMOOC officially began this past week with a live google hangout featuring George Couros, Dave Burgess and Katie Martin. One of the most resounding lessons that has wholeheartedly stuck with me since watching was when Dave Burgess stated that as educators:

“If what we’re doing is powerful and could help other people, we have a moral imperative to share it.” – Dave Burgess

Now, I’m no stranger to sharing with the world, but no matter how many blogs I post, or how many tweets I send out, every time I want to put something out there, I shrink back out of fear and worry of how it will come across. There have been numerous activities, ideas, thoughts reflections that I have started to write about, only to never hit that publish button.The more I worried, the less I posted and it quickly become a bad cycle. Hearing Dave talk about morality immediately struck a chord with me because it never once occurred to me that I may have a moral obligation to share what goes on in my geeky brain in order to help others. Even more importantly, that my sharing could have a wider impact on the educational growth of not only my students but many others whose educators may come across my work.

Dave went on even further to state that as educators:

“We not only have a moral imperative to share but we have a moral imperative to get GOOD at sharing.” – Dave Burgess

So now not only am I morally obligated to share, but to also get good and comfortable with sharing. This is the hard part of blogging and reflecting publicly for me because it requires me to step out of my comfort zone, to be vulnerable and put it out there consistently. The more we do it, the easier it gets…or so I’ve been told. With Dave adding the element of moral imperatives, it allowed me to see beyond myself and to focus on the greater good.

My thoughts go to the many educators who blog daily or weekly and how much their work has affected and inspired me to grow in my practice. Would I be the teacher I am now and aspire to be without them not only sharing, but being good at sharing? Not even close.

I am learning to get good and comfortable with shining a light on the work that is happening in our classroom and within me as an educator. I am learning that the more we as educators share, the more we empower one another. Most importantly, I am learning that by playing small, I am doing myself and the world a disservice because the learning that is happening is so important that it needs to be shared….and that is a moral imperative.

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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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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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2014 – My Year Of Change & Growth

The start of a new adventure!
The start of a new adventure!

This reflection will be framed in a different format than my usual posts. This is just how I feel I can accurately reflect on the year that has passed as it contained such force and fundamental change that I have compartmentalized most of it by time frames.

January – February 2014

I felt it…that feeling in the pit of your stomach that digs away at you. It whispers quietly at first, but it quickly becomes so loud that you have to listen: “Dana, you need a change.” I loved my school, my co-workers, my district and most of all my incredible group of students who had been my little family for three consecutive years. I remember first meeting them in January of 2012 as they were told they would have a new teacher and a brand new classroom. They had been in a combined grade one-two and extra funding had come up enough to hire a full time teacher for them. There I stood in their old room and watched as each one came up to me, introduced themselves by name and told me their favourite colour. I still remember their anxious faces and their half-smiles as I walked with them down the hall to what would become our new room. “THIS IS OURS??” they exclaimed with joy and squeals as the doors to their new home opened. I nodded yes and in that exhilarating moment, I knew in my heart that I also had found my home.

So when that whispering feeling of change started coming around, I panicked. Ignorance is bliss as they say and so I ignored it.

March – April 2014

I knew that no matter what was to come in the future, my students and I were to be separated at the end of this school year as they moved on up to grade five. I went into full “make the most of every moment” mode and these months brought us so much innovation, creativity, inquiry and excitement in learning. I did my absolute best to ignore that feeling to the point where I wasn’t doing much beyond working. I planned, I connected, I shared, I communicated, I read, I tweeted, I moderated, I presented, I travelled to conferences, I blogged and I taught and learned with my all of my heart for and with my students. These were the most exhilarating moments of teaching I have experienced (all of which have been documented in my blog and our Twitter account Miss Ariss’ Class). I poured my entire being into teaching and making every minute count. However, that feeling of change didn’t go away and it was wearing me down as the days went on. I learned that no matter how hard you want to run from the feelings that scare you, it is often those that need to be felt and addressed. I finally stopped and really evaluated what I wanted and needed:  Leadership mentors, group collaborations, constructive feedback loops for growth, opportunities for larger impacts on educational change, learning PD for my own growth and a more permanent home-base both professionally and personally

Change was happening and that feeling became so loud within that I finally started listening. Sometimes in life, things happen for reasons beyond our control but when we look back upon them, we often see the real meaning and the learning that can occur from them if we have the right attitude. As much as I loved everything about my career, I knew in my heart that my time in my little community, where I felt the safest and happiest I have ever felt, was ending. I could continue to ignore my personal and professional needs for growth and stay in my comfort zone or embrace that feeling and move forward into uncharted change. Those who know me well….know how this story will end.

May – July 2014

I can only describe these months as an absolute blur. Somewhere between full-time teaching, numerous educational conferences, presentations and travelling….I found the courage to listen to my heart. I took a huge leap of faith and accepted a new position at an incredible middle school a few hours away. Many would call me crazy for leaving a permanent teaching position, but they would not know who I am and what teaching truly means to me. Its not about positions, status, rank or authority; for me, teaching is about continuous growth and learning. To truly be an effective educator, I needed to continually embrace the difficult situations and decisions in my life and learn from them in order to grow and develop into who I am as a person which has a direct affect on my teaching, because I teach from my heart. I cannot remain in my zones of comfort and expect my levels of teaching to grow. I needed to widen my experiences in order to become the educator I need to be for every student that I have the privilege of working with.

I make this sound as if it was easy when in reality, this truly was the single most difficult decision of my life. I had built a safety net and it was never harder to accept the truth that nothing in life ever stays the same. I became almost paralyzed with fear; I was so afraid of losing the only family I had come to known, so afraid of moving away from everything that I had built and created, so afraid of what was to come, that I completely became focused on the impact failure could have on me by making this decision. I forgot how much I would champion making mistakes and learning from them to my students, but the difference was that we had built a safe environment for failing. I didn’t feel so safe as my entire life depended on succeeding with this decision I had made. I turned to the safety of my closest friends and family, who rallied alongside me and supported me in every way imaginable. By July 1st, I was living in a new home, in a new city and preparing for a new school, new colleagues and my first group of “new” students in three years. That is a lot of NEW and it happened within a span of barely two months. This was that feeling in the pit of my stomach realized: Change.

August 2014

Questions, questions, questions swirling in my mind all the time!

Where is our room?

Who do I contact for this?

Where can I find?

Will I connect with a new group of students?

Will I make an impact on their lives?

Will my colleagues accept and welcome me?

Can I really do this? Oh wait… I AM DOING THIS!

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.

A few of my fun-loving colleauges!
A few of my fun-loving colleauges!

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.

Our LC5B!
Our LC5B!

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.

We are a family and their words mean so much to me!
We are a family and their words mean so much to me!

Just a few weeks ago, I decided to surprise my previous students by attending their Christmas Concert at my old school. I snuck into the dark auditorium hoping to grab a seat when one of them noticed me from behind the stage. Within a few seconds, they all popped out from behind the stage and began furiously waving to me. I can’t begin to describe that moment, but a lot of tears were involved. The kids I am honoured to meet and work with throughout my career are what make being an educator the most  meaningful to me.

Learning and sharing...always!
Learning and sharing…always!

This term also brought forth a lot of Professional Development and new projects which I am so honoured to have been a part of. Collaborating with other PSD70 educators on the first ever #EdCampPSD70 and co-keynoting the opening with Kelli Holden in the presence of so many incredible colleagues was truly humbling. Kelli and I reconnected again in November to present at ATLE on the use of SKYPE in the classroom.

I was also honoured to be asked to present an IGNITE session by Dean Shareski, who ever so kindly arranged the presentations to start alphabetically which in turn had me presenting first. This required me to dig deep into who I truly am as an educator and helped build my confidence in sharing that with the larger community of educators. Despite the nerves, it was an absolutely thrilling experience where in five minutes I shared my passion for education and spent the evening learning about the passions of others.

I was introduced this term to many new forms of PD focused on #MakerSpaces and #MakerEd, which I had implemented in my previous teachings but never had the opportunity to dig deeper into. From a Saturday road trip to Calgary with my AP and three other teaching colleagues to attend a one day MakerFaire to an ERLC hosted MakerSpace session where I connected with local librarians on the new creation of Innovation Labs in our city. I am so excited to share these experiences with the kids as they completed their first Innovation Week projects in December and will be visiting the labs in January. Not to mention continued collaborations and discussions surrounding Alberta’s Curriculum Redesign which I am currently a part of the committee for my new district in working on the competencies in learning.

In remaining true to myself and constantly having a need to learn and absorb, I along with my #Cdnedchat team continued our weekly collaborations continued and our chat is livelier than ever on Monday evenings! I also jumped in to three separate book clubs with Google Hangout reflections with various educators within my school and across the world to expand my learning and push my mind further. One of the book clubs focused on Leadership through being a part of my district’s Exploring Leadership committee.

Present – 2015 and beyond

My biggest take aways from 2014 have been to always listen to your heart, no matter how scared you are, and that how change is viewed depends solely on how you approach it. Is it an adventure filled with learning opportunities or will you view it as something horrible and choose comfort?

I learned how to truly be vulnerable and to rely on others when I need to. To not be afraid to say I need help or I don’t understand this can you show me. Reach out to others and in doing so, you open the lines of communication and make your connections just that much stronger.

I was reminded by my own inner fear and worries that we all face insecurities, hardships and stress. Our job isn’t to add to that, but to lift it off of one another. Be kind to all, especially the ones who may seem to have a hard exterior because somewhere down their path of life their experiences helped to shape that. Our students may come to school with brave faces, but they are looking to us to create the safety of an environment conducive to learning, just as we need in our own professional lives.

So what does 2015 have in store for me? I won’t even venture a guess, but I certainly hope my years continue to provide me with continued learning opportunities, strong supportive networks and a deeper understanding of my purpose as an educator.

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