Sunday, June 14, 2015

*Leadership from the Trenches

I will be perfectly honest, I have never had much of a desire to go into an administrator role in a school environment.  I'm not sure I could handle being so far removed from children in a classroom, which is one of the reasons why I've never applied for a job at that level.  But do I believe the only way you can show leadership in a school environment is to be an administrator? Absolutely not!

I am a classroom teacher, a fully engrained classroom teacher.  I love the time I am able to spend with the most incredible young people. I love watching them learn and seeing their "aha" moments when something finally clicks for them.  I love it when they see themselves as readers and writers. But I believe as a classroom teacher I can also demonstrate leadership way beyond the walls of my classroom.

In today's day and age the world is a connected place, if you chose to allow yourself to be connected. Connections can happen through blogs or twitter or Pinterest or Voxer or Google+ or Facebook or.... you get the point. Educators of 2015 no longer can use the excuse that they didn't know when there are so many places to help them be in the know.   It is through being a connected educator that ANY classroom teacher can demonstrate leadership in education.  But how you may ask? By sharing  practice! 

Most of you know that I spend a fair bit of time on social media reading blog posts, joining discussions, and learning from others.  In fact I often believe that everything I know is because someone has shared it with me. Now I don't always agree with what I'm reading, but I am constantly learning. If I believe it's something that will positively benefit my students I will tweak it to work for them.  And that's the thing, if people didn't share with me I'd know so much less.

Sharing practice is one of the best ways to show leadership from within the classroom.  It is through my sharing in a variety of venues that I am able to have a positive impact on many primary classroom around the globe.  If I didn't share the only place I'd have impact is with my students.

So here's the thing, YOU are a leader too and if you're not already, YOU need to share too!

I honestly believe this video explains it best.

Leadership is very possible from the trenches, as long as you're willing to share. So go on now, find a platform and share!  

*This post is part of a series of monthly questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers to respond to.  This month's question was "What are the best ways a teacher can share leadership in the classroom?"  It is an honour to be a part of this group.  Please check out the complete list of posts here  . 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Teacher Stress? We've Got This Beat

If you’ve entered the teaching profession, the chances are you’ve encountered more than your share of teacher stress.  It’s an unfortunate given of the job as we try, as best as we can, to meet the unique and individual needs of our students.  Many new teachers struggle to make it past the first five years of teaching because the stress has gotten to them.  But with almost 23 years of teaching experience I’ll let you in on a little secret, there are things we can do to help better deal with the copious amount of stress this job throws at us.

Celebrate the Little Things

Often as teachers we are so immersed in teaching and learning we forget to take the time to celebrate the little things.  But the thing is without these little steps there would be no growth.  Look, and yes sometimes it’s hard to see, but notice the small steps your students are making and celebrate them!

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Don’t get me wrong I strongly believe our job is very important as we have a hand in shaping the future of the next generation.  We might be the first person to believe in a child, or the only person a child can trust.  But as important as our job is it is so important that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Have some fun with the job, laugh with your students. Take the time to play. Never take yourself too seriously.

Be Flexible

One constant we have as teachers is that there are many things out of our control.  Some of those things might drive us complete crazy, but the reality is we work in a system that is far more complicated than just us.  Being flexible is one way to deal with these constant changes.

Take Time For Yourself

Teaching is one of those jobs that can constantly demand your time. There is always another article to read, another student or parent to connect with, or another lesson to plan. It’s a job that can take every free moment of your day… if you let it. Don’t!  We are no good to anyone if we aren’t good to ourselves.  Take time for yourself. Breathe, walk away, get outside, travel, garden, read books for pleasure or whatever; do what makes your heart smile.

Be Active

Exercise is the secret drug of life. It helps keep you grounded and focused on what you need to achieve.  It helps keep stress from taking over.  Now I’m not saying go sign up for the local marathon but make a commitment to yourself to get your body moving regularly. It can be a simple as going for a walk over your lunch hour, or having a regular workout regime.  However you make it work, make time to be physically active.

What do you do to combat teacher stress?

*This post is part of a series of monthly questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers to respond to.  This month's question was "What are quick ways to combat teacher stress in a classroom?"  It is an honour to be a part of this group.  Please check out the complete list of posts here . 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Power of Skitch

Only just recently has my class and I returned to using the app *Skitch.  If you're not familiar with Skitch it allows you to annotate images with arrows, text, and drawing.  It also allows you to easily blur out content (or faces) with it's easy to use pixilating feature.  As I watched my students dive back into using skitch through our 2d shapes and 3d solids exploration a ton of ideas entered my head of others ways we could use this simple, and free app.

Labelling Images

At the most basic level Skitch can be used to add labels to images. In the first example my student is using the text and arrow feature.

In this example my student is using the pencil feature to better explain his math.

Blurring Private Information

For most of my students I have permission to use their images online but I work really hard to not to have their image with their name. Sometimes I get great images but when I look a bit closer I see I have managed to show their first name at the same time.  In the image below you can see that I have used the Skitch pixilating feature to blur out the name.  What's nice is it's so easy that my students can do it too.

Identifying Real Life Examples

As we continue to explore properties of 2d shapes and 3D solids my students have been exploring where they can be found in the environment.  One way they have been doing this is by taking a picture then using the highlighter tool to highlight the different shapes they can see in the picture.

Glenn Young, a Surrey Schools helping teacher,  recently shared images where his students took photos of each other as they were doing a plank in PE, and then they annotated those images noticing correct and incorrect form.  My head is spinning with ideas, is yours?

Self/Peer Assessment and Formative Assessment

My students have been working very hard to master the "givens" in our classroom.  The givens include things like adding a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, and using punctuation.  It's not an overly large list but it's things as a class we feel we can all do successfully.  In addition we have been working hard at rereading our work to make sure we haven't let any of the givens slip.  So what does this have to do with Skitch?

Imagine if I asked my students to take a picture (or screenshot) of their writing and import it into Skitch. From there they could use the highlighter tool and highlight where they have successfully achieved the givens.  To take it a step further they could easily pass off their device and have a friend do the same thing on their writing, but this time in a different colour.  What I like about this process is that not only does it encourage peer and self assessment, but it also leaves the original piece of work in it's original state.  Imagine all the things you could have students look for in their work and use Skitch to document what they have found?

Also for self assessment a student could look at their criteria and then circle the evidence in their work that clearly demonstrates they have met the criteria.  Of course this isn't just limited to writing samples, it could be used with any type of student work.

While I have been using Skitch since I met my first iPad almost 3.5 years ago I can't believe I've let it sit unused for a while when it has so much potential.  How are you using Skitch in your practice? How will you think about using it now?

* While I work in an iPad classroom, so the Skitch we use is the iOS app, Skitch is available on many platforms as well as being web based. Skitch is part of the Evernote family.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Creating a Culture of Kindness

If you know me personally you'll know that I have some pretty strong believes around children and their behaviours.  I am not a fan of whole class reward systems nor am I big fan of external motivators like stickers or candy.  I am however inspired to bring the very best out of  the students in my class and I will do what I can to do just that.

At the heart of all of this I have a strong belief that you must genuinely care about your students and their well being to have any long term impact on them.  It's a given in my classroom.  I may not know you very well when you first walk into my class, but I can assure you I will do my best to get to know you, and in turn you will find a permanent spot in my heart.

Some years I have students who are more difficult to get to know. Some take a lot longer to connect with.  But even in my most challenging years, with my most challenging students , I keep trying to bring the best out in all of my students. Building real meaningful relationships is key for me.

I also work hard to help my students build positive relationships with one another.  During our year together we are a family. I do my best to help each student see the best in their classmates. I want them to see the good in each other just like I see the good in them.

Together we work  hard to create a culture of kindness.  Our focus is finding ways to be kind, even when someone is not being kind.   We talk about staying calm and using kind words when we are approached with anger.  My students  use "I messages" to let their classmate(s) know how they are feeling.  We have talked about how important it is for my students to listen to one another.  When someone says "I don't like it when you....." we've talked about how important it is to listen and reflect.

I want my students to listen to their classmates and then reflect on their own actions, and take the right steps to make things better.  I am doing my best to teach them to do this on their own. I strongly believe most (if not all) children can do this successfully if given the opportunity to.  Far too often children run to adults to solve their problems. While I'm obviously there to solve problems I want my students to learn how to solve their own problems too.

There are many things I do in my classroom to help create the culture of kindness.  To begin with my students have a lot of choice to learn in ways that work best for them.  This choice includes working on their own or working with others.  I smile when I listen in as one student is explaining an activity to another. By having a room full of "teachers" to turn to when help is needed or is being offered we are drawn to be kind to each other. My students  understand that each person in the class is important and everyone has  different  needs to be met.

I have also worked hard to encourage my students to support one another because together we are all stronger.  If they want competition it should be against themselves, always pushing to be the best they can be, and not against each other.  We often talk about how everyone's best looks different but our goal is to continue to improve.  I love that my students understand that and are willing to support each other with their learning.

Lately we've taken the time at the end of the week to reflect on how we've been kind over the week. We tweet at least one reflection to the hashtag #classkindness. As their teacher I am proud as they each bring their tweets to me for approval before sharing them with the world.  It's a great way to end a week.

This is a sample of some of their tweets.

How are you creating a climate of kindness in your classroom?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Thinking About Thinking: Creating a Classroom of Thinkers

A couple of years ago I was fortunate to visit my dear friend Kristin Ziemke's classroom in Chicago, Illinois.  Kristin is an incredible teacher, author, and presenter.  She co-authored her first book Connecting Comprehension & Technology which is a must read if you're looking to utilize technology to increase student comprehension.

While in her classroom  one thing that continues to resonate with me is the way she had her students engage with the text as they were reading.  Leaving thinking tracks was an integral part of her literacy program.  It got me thinking, was I doing this well enough? Could this be something I could improved at?

Fast forward a couple years and leaving thinking tracks is an integral part of not only my literacy program, but throughout our day to day activities.  My students have been exposed to various ways to leave thinking tracks. They know that learning isn't about memorizing facts but more about connecting and engaging with those facts and making them meaningful to them.

While reading my students often write on a post it note to record words they are having trouble reading. They may write down a connection or question or wonder.  They know that good readers don't just figure out what words say, but they actually think about what they are reading and engage with the text. They also know that it doesn't matter what level of text you are reading, everyone can engage with text.

Thinking tracks goes way beyond just when my students are doing the reading. During shared reading we stop and turn and talk often as a way to think about and keep engaged with the text. We do follow up thinking activities such as  "think pair share", "I knew this but this is new information", or "I used to think but now I think" .  My students  are often encouraged to draw what they learned from the story, what their favourite part was,  or  how they would  change the ending.  Adding voice to the illustrations helps better explain the thinking behind the drawings.

While watching videos my students leave thinking tracks by taking notes. I want thinking to permeate everything we do in our class so I am doing my best to include thinking activities as often as I can.

Thinking occurs during one on one conference time too.  Not only are my students explaining to me what they have worked hard at and are proud of but what they feel they still need to improve. It doesn't matter what we are conferencing about. My students  are actively thinking about their work.

What I've found most interesting this year though is that when the key focus is thinking, and pushing thinking, mistakes become far less important.  Mistakes are seen more as a place to step forward from, instead of an error that halts learning.  For example  this past week my students were experimenting with writing  math stories.  They were given the open ended task of creating a math story with "big" numbers. Big was never officially defined but we have spoken about how playing with numbers to 100 is a part of grade two math. Here are a couple samples from one of my students.

While it is quite obvious that there is a mathematical error in the second problem the error takes a back seat to the thinking behind the math.  His attempt to write mathematical stories beyond what is expected at his grade level showed me that he is thinking about his math, and trying to push his thinking forward.  Yes, we did have a conversation about the error, but it was part of a more important conversation about how he took what he knew and explored a much larger number. We talked about how he was really thinking about his math.

Thinking is occurring throughout the day and it is coming from my students. It is not about me telling them what to think but it's about them being aware of how to think, and what's possible when they engage in what they are doing.  This whole notion of students being in control of their learning leads me to a whole other blog post on the power of student voice and choice.

But back to thinking... thinking routines themselves are not new.  Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchahart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison is a fabulous book that explores making thinking visible.   From the cover of the book it is written,

"Making Thinking Visible offers educators research-based solutions for creating just such cultures of thinking. This innovative book unravels the mysteries of thinking and its connection to understanding and engagement. It then takes readers inside diverse learning environments to show how thinking can be made visible at any grade level and across all subject areas through the use of effective questioning, listening, documentation, and facilitative structures called thinking routines. These routines, designed by researchers at Project Zero at Harvard, scaffold and support one's thinking. By applying these processes, thinking becomes visible as learners' ideas are expressed, discussed, and reflected upon."

No matter what age, all students are capable of thinking and being actively engaged in their learning.  For more information on thinking routines check this out Thinking routines.

Are you creating a classroom of thinkers?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

You're Never Too Young - Seven Year Olds Ignite

About a week before Spring Break I was asked if I thought one or two of my grade one or two students would be interested in putting an ignite session together for our district digital dinner series. If you're not familiar with the ignite format it is where you tell your story in 20 slides. Each slide is shown for exactly 15 seconds for a total presentation time of five minutes.

 My initial reaction was that I really wasn't sure it was something I could organized with so little "spare" time. Report cards going home, parent teacher conferences, a field trip, presenting a full day workshop, and of course a two week Spring Break adventure in Europe.  But when presented with a challenge I have  a lot of trouble backing down and late that evening  I fired off emails to three of my grade two families explaining the possible opportunity for their children. Then I waited.

My first reply came back quite quickly. Both mother and daughter were interested. Not long after the second response came in.  I had two children interested in sharing their story with a room full of educators. Did I mention it was a room full of 280 educators from classroom teachers, to the school district's most senior team.  At this point there was no turning back.

I quickly arranged an after school  meeting with the ladies and their families.  I took a large piece of paper and folded it into several small boxes. Then I asked the girls what they felt was important to share with the teachers and principals. They started talking. As they talked I filled in the boxes with their ideas. "I like Minecraft". "I got a lot of comments on my blog".  "I am a better writer on my blog". "We have a lot of iPads in our class". "When you write in your journal only your teacher, classmate, and visitors can see it. When you write on your blog the world can see it". The girls talked and I listened and wrote. After about an hour of talking we had a page full of ideas.

I went home and looked at all they had wanted to share to find some order to it all.  I also created a google slides presentation and shared it with both families.  The goal was that all three of us (me and the two families) were going to add images to the document so we would have our slide deck.  That night I combed the images that I already had of the ladies, or of our classroom in action and found places for them to go into the slide deck.  The thing was though that at any time either student could remove the images I had put in and add their own.  At this point it was Spring Break and I was off on my adventure and the girls were off on theirs.

The goal was that over the break we'd all find some time to add to the slide deck but the reality was none of us had much time to do that. A few slides were created over the two weeks, but only a small few.  When I landed back in Canada, less than 48 hours before they were to present  we all went right back to creating slides.

Monday we spent part of the morning reviewing the stories the girls wanted to tell.  Together we wrote a script but I quickly discovered that with a script my students just wanted to read it. They didn't need a script, then just needed to talk about their slides.

Tuesday they practiced a bit more and shared it with their classmates. We let the rest of the class know that their presentation was on behalf of our entire class.  They received thumbs up approval from their classmates.

After school the ladies went home to change and spend time with their families.  They then arrived at the venue. To their surprise they both wore the same shoes! For two seven year olds this was a really big deal. A total coincidence too.

They sat through the first ignite but as interesting as it was it was tough for seven year olds to sit still for so we headed out of the room.  I grabbed my laptop and put their presentation on it where they practiced a couple more times. Finally it was their turn.

I have to tell you, I am so impressed with how confident they were.  From the outside it seemed that they were not phased at all by the 280 grown ups looking at them.  Dr. Carlson introduced them and away they went.

As they spoke the district twitter feed lit up. I captured the tweets on this storify. 

I can't tell you how proud I am of them sharing their story with so many. They spoke with confidence and pride.  There is most certainly a reason why they were the final ignite session. Who could go after such wonderfulness?

Curious to hear what they had to say?  Take a listen. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

If It Isn't About Pedagogically Sound Practices, Using Technology MostLikely Isn't the Answer You're Looking For

"What are the biggest mistakes teachers make when integrating technology into the classroom?"
Since my grade one and two students are 1:1 with iPads, I am always looking for better ways to use devices for learning.  Along the way however I have seen a lot of less than ideal ways to use technology in the classroom. Here are some examples.  
1) I am still surprised to see people creating PDFs as a way to make their classroom paperless, when little thought has been given to the quality and purpose of the content going "digital.” If a worksheet was not in line with the best practice without technology, how does it suddenly become best practice with technology. Replacing paper with expensive devices is just something I can't wrap my head around.
2) I often read about people who are trying to use technology in their practice to make their lessons more "fun".  Last time I checked you don't need technology to have "fun" lesson. All lessons should be engaging, meaningful and delivered in a way that students have fun learning.  Pretty quickly technology will lose its fun factor if good teaching doesn't prevail.
3) A lot of people who use technology expect every child to use it the same way.  While yes, I am in a 1:1 iPad environment, my students still have choice and they are never required to use technology to learn if it isn't the best way for them.  When technology becomes the only way for a student to show what they know we have another problem.  And far too often there are way better ways for children to learn.
4) Some teachers rely on technology as a drill and practice device instead of using it to its full potential as a creation device.
5) The biggest mistake I see with the integration of technology is teachers who are not taking full advantage of what their devices can do and how it can positively support student learning. I am thinking specifically for those children who have trouble learning in "traditional" ways.   iPads can help read to a student, change spoken word into written text, increase the size of letters, help with text predictability.  There are so many other great accessibility features that can help support pretty much any struggling student. They can and should be used to break down barriers and help allow every student be successful with their learning.  If you have learners who are challenged in one way or another please get to know what your device can do to help support your learners.
So while I truly believe technology can transform learning, it must always be superseded by pedagogically sound practice. Utilizing technology with purpose in mind can lead to new and innovative ways for students to learn. It is important that we are looking for better teaching and learning practices when we integrate technology into our classrooms.

*This post is part of a series of monthly questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers to respond to.  This month's question was "What are the biggest mistakes teachers make when integrating technology into the classroom?" It is an honour to be a part of this group.  Please check out the complete list of posts here. 

The Global Search for Educations: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs - What are the biggest mistakes teachers make when integrating technology into the classroom?