Today was one of those days when I hit the ground running and while its 8:30pm, I’ve yet to stop. As educators, you know this type of day well:
Running late as you drop off dog/children
Forgetting your lunch at home
Forgetting things and having to walk back and forth
Drinking 5-times the re-heated coffee
Lessons not the way you’d envision
Losing your keys
Worrying you aren’t doing your absolute best
No bathroom break until you reach a point where your body just understands…it’s not going to happen….and you lose the urge….
You hold all of this in as you go through the day and have an awesome time with the kids.
Today was one of those days and as a coach I had students depending on me to be at our first cross country meet after school. So starving from the lack of lunch, mind hyper-focused on making sure I have everything for our meet….I pushed through.
These are the things we do as Educators. We put our all in for our students without question. We do it out of love for them and for their futures.
I got home at 8pm exhausted and with a fast food order because cooking wasn’t happening either, and as I flopped on the couch, my cell phone buzzed.
It was a text message from the parent of one of my runners:
“Hi Miss Ariss,
Thanks for taking the time to train with the kids for running. ***** had a great time at the meet today.”
Attached was a beautiful picture of one of my little runners, ever so proud, holding her ribbon.
I burst into tears! Yes, we all have these days, but when we receive notes like this, it puts everything into perspective.
These little reminders that our hard work is making a difference, that our care and love for our students is noticed and appreciated, and that no matter how exhausted physically I am, my heart has never been more full.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Its something we rarely stop and think about, but language is vital as it not only connects us but can define who we are and how we relate to one another.
Our classroom focus this year is on connection and as the year has progressed, there has been a hidden element behind connection, that of language. We communicate with one another in English, and through the subtleties of body language daily, but through our journey towards connecting with others via social media, we have become more aware that our world consists of much more.
As a child, I was immersed in two languages from birth : Arabic and English. My early years, I attended an American elementary school and was taught in both languages, however when my family relocated to Canada, my parents feared that I would lose my Arabic as English and French became my two most practiced languages. Arabic was my connection to my heritage and even more importantly the only way I could communicate with my father, grandparents and extended family. As this was a time before internet and access to communicative technology, my parents did what any other would do when wanting their child to learn something; They enrolled my brother and I in Arabic school on Saturdays. There I was at the age of 8, trying to balance three languages and two very distinct cultures. I didn’t know it at the time and as much I hated giving up my Saturdays for more “school”, access to another language was one of the most important gifts my parents gave me.
Growing up in Ontario, learning French in school was mandatory. All English language schools taught French as a Second Language from grades 4-8. I never questioned this and thought it was a norm until I moved to Alberta where the only access to another language for elementary students was to be enrolled in French Immersion which was not offered at all schools.
Teaching at a small rural school, my students do not have this option. They were fascinated upon hearing me speak Arabic and French and I could sense that they felt it was something some adults learn “one day”. This train of thought changed this year with teaching the Grade 3 Social Studies curriculum about Ukraine, Tunisia, Peru and India. They slowly began to see that there were other students around the world learning and speaking multiple languages. Their fascination grew and grew and I could tell that a shift was happening. It wasn’t until one day while communicating with a French class in Manitoba on Twitter that the inevitable question was asked, ” Miss Ariss, why do all of these kids everywhere get to learn languages and we can’t?” I was looking at their little faces, trying to find the best way to explain it; the politics behind curriculum creation and design and culture. However, what came out was this instead, “Who says you can’t?”
I’ve always reinforced to my students that they own their learning. They have the power to learn anything they want and are living in a time where they have access to the world and even if something is not taught in school, that doesn’t mean they can’t learn it or that it’s not valuable.
Languages was one of those things and they were determined to learn one, so we created Language Club. We meet twice a week at recess and each student is given an iPad to research and learn a language of their choice. I downloaded Google Translate, DuoLingo and Tellagami to begin with. They explored the sounds and letter configurations of a variety of languages: German, French, Ukrainian, Greek, Spanish, Dutch, Korean and Arabic – if only to test my knowledge and that of the translator. They each ventured into a language and chose phrases, words and thoughts that they wanted to learn. Using the translators and feeling quite comfortable, they began to practice speaking out loud with one another and through their virtual Gami. It’s not perfect, but its a start.Their goal is to be able to lead a conversation in their chosen language with someone else who speaks it whether on Twitter, Skype or face to face. They want to connect and communicate globally.
When an intrinsic drive for learning exists, it is our responsibility to foster it and provide the opportunities for it to grow. I am overjoyed to see their faces beaming with pride after learning and sharing a new phrase. They are not only learning new languages, but more importantly, they’ve learned that they CAN; that they have the power to learn anything at anytime and to share that knowledge and power with the world.