Tag: Learning

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

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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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Countering Negative Self-Talk

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So often we hear how we must fill one another’s buckets, to be kind to each other, to treat others like we would want to be treated….but rarely, if ever, do we think to do the same for ourselves.

At the start of the year, I asked my students to apply for classroom jobs. Along with their application, they were required to provide me with a resume and a cover letter detailing their strengths and accomplishments. The cover letter proved to be the single most difficult task my students were ever asked to complete and not because of format, but because they couldn’t provide even one thing they thought was a strength was about themselves. I gave them suggestions from what I knew of them over the past two years, had parents weigh in and even had their peers discuss, yet I quickly realized that it didn’t matter if the whole world told them they were amazing, it meant nothing if they themselves didn’t believe it.

Over the past few years, I have been doing my own research on self-esteem, self-confidence and self-love because its something that I even in adulthood still struggle with. I grew up believing that in order to be loved, I needed the approval and the love of others. I didn’t know that I could be capable of providing myself with the same love I provided others. I was so focused on ensuring everyone else around me was always lifted and loved, that when I experienced one of the most devastating life experiences, my bucket was empty, there was no one to fill it and I realized I had to learn to fill it myself.

With all of this in mind, I wanted to start 2016 with a focus on filling our own bucket. I looked through our Health curriculum and created a unit on self-affirmations which targets the following outcomes:

  • examine how health habits/behaviours influence body image and feelings of self-worth
  • recognize that individuals can choose their own emotional reactions to events and thoughts
  • expand strategies for effective personal management; e.g., develop and implement a personal budget, assess the power of positive thinking
  • evaluate the impact of personal behaviour on the safety of self and others

I started my class off by gathering in a small circle and having a discussion on perception. We talked about the difference between real life and life portrayed on social media, we looked at before and after photos of photoshopped celebrities, we talked about societal expectations and how we can continue to be our true self.

As a middle years teacher, these discussions are crucial and I quickly realized the severe importance when we started talking about the inner negative voices we hear day in and day out that tell us we can’t do something, that we need to be this or that, or that we will never be what we want to be. I passed around the same colour sticky notes and had them take some time and anonymously write down some of the things they say to themselves on a daily basis.

What followed next was beyond what I ever expected. I asked them if they wanted me to read them out loud so they can know they aren’t alone and they all said yes. As I started to unfold the papers and read what they had written, I was heartbroken. At 11 years of age, they had already absorbed society’s expectations on how their bodies should be, how unworthy they are of love, how not good enough they think they are at everything, and the most reoccurring theme : Where can I go where everything is perfect? PERFECT….I read this word over and over.

I was so taken aback that I started to cry mid-reading which led some of my students to cry with me. To me, they are “perfect” in every way possible because they are all unique and bring so much of who they are to our classroom. I told them that the reason I am crying is because to me they are none of what they wrote about themselves, that I value each and every one of them and I wouldn’t want a single thing about them to change.

They were shocked to know that everyone else has these negative thoughts too and yet they would never think that way about one another. My reminders of to always be kind to one another really hit home because now they knew that their peers were also carrying these negative self-images of themselves around and they didn’t need to add to it.

Now that we know these thoughts are there, the next step is to challenge them with questioning their validity and logic, to put them into perspective, create goals and to start countering them with positive self-affirmations daily. We will brainstorm and each student will create their own meaningful personal self-affirmation every week. We will focus on these during our meditation time every day and save them in our own buckets (mason jars).

I don’t have the solutions, but I am hoping that by providing them with the strategies and awareness that they can and should love themselves before relying on the love of others, that they may have a head start as they get closer to those even harder teenage years. I want for them to value themselves for the amazing human beings that they are and for the joy they bring their families and our classroom community.

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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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Forging The Path

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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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