The 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.