Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Posting and Promises

So many things have been happening, so many changes have occurred in the last six months for me!
 I have been so busy -

  • helping two daughters move out and head off to university in the fall
  • texting to said daughters :)
  • adjusting to being empty-nesters after thirty years of in-house parenting with my hubby 
  • taking on a new grade while also ...
  • returning to the Assistant Principal position
  • focusing on new initiatives from our School District and our School Development Plan
  • planning for the part of my day as Learning Resource teacher and, 
  • taking on additional volunteer work
 - just to name the big ones!

Somehow in all this, my active participation in my own on-line professional learning has taken a back seat and writing on my own blog has not happened at all for such a very long time, in spite of my best intentions (not for the first time!)

During the last number of months, I have skimmed and scanned many wonderful posts, ones that made me nod in agreement, (re) consider an opinion or point -of-view and shake my head in astonishment.

I have managed to sit every so often and peruse tweets and links on Twitter, sharing quickly ones that caught my attention but taking the time, making the time to blog has escaped me.

NOT anymore! A #FF tweet from Drew Frank reminded me of how important making connections has been for me as a learner, a teacher and as an administrator these last few years! It was because of the writings, the ideas, the feedback and response I received from educators I have come to admire particularly on-line that I selected the topic of my graduate work.
Image from here

I cannot recommend fast enough to newbies and seasoned teachers alike the opportunities for professional growth that come from participating on Twitter. I also point out that you will get the most out of it when you move from 'lurking' and following Twitter chats and reading blogs to actually participating and commenting. That's when you are truly part of a #PLN, a network, a community of learners and that's pretty powerful.

SOOO I am promising myself that I will be a visible member of my PLN and that I will make the time. All of the above are important and ongoing aspects of my life but I want this too!

Which brings me back to Drew Frank and the BlogAMonth Challenge. Check it out for yourself.

And stay tuned'll be hearing from me!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Happy New Year...A Rainy Day's Reflections

It's raining.
It's pouring.
The teacher is planning...

The weather is interfering with many things today so it makes sense to use the time to sit and take stock. To make some lists. To reflect on the start of another coming year. To make plans.

Last year was such a busy year as I went from being a full-time classroom teacher in Grade 5 to being an Assistant Principal and Learning Resource Teacher (aka school librarian!) with teaching duties shared in a co-teaching arrangement for Language Arts and Social Studies.

Obviously there were quite a few changes and challenges but I just had to jump in and deal with them on a daily basis. This year I want to build on what I felt went well and tweak what didn't turn out as I envisioned! And September always feels a little like New Year's with possibilities for changing and improving, setting new goals. So here's what's on my mind:
  • Focus on relationships.
My leadership role in the school became more formal with my name on a door and in some subtle and not-so subtle ways it affected my relationships with staff members. I feel I have a great relationship with my colleagues, several of whom I taught!  I am seen by many, if not all, as a go-to girl, a mentor, someone willing to listen and to share from my teaching experiences.
I recognize I have a somewhat different role now, one that can be a positive. As part of an administrative team, I want to continue  to model what I believe as a teacher. I also want to "coach", be someone who finds the strengths of each member of our staff and as George Couros suggests, help unleash their talents!

"They're all your kids now!" Those words from my former principal put into perspective my concerns about not being in my classroom full-time, about not building the close relationships (perhaps) if we had teachers moving in and out of the room. I had to move to a place where I saw each and every student and their families as "my" students, that my role asked me to focus on building a sense of a school family much like I aim for within the classroom.

I also had to rely on the trust I had in the teachers who are sharing the students with me. I know they have the same ideals and that the Grade 5s were in fact, having an opportunity to learn with, and from, individual teachers who added personally and professionally to our group!

So this year I will strive to get to know even more about students and their families as I walk through our school, as they come to the library, as I talk to parents in the corridors or in conferences. Some things I will also learn from their teachers as I spend time in more classrooms this year, doing whatever I can to make this a successful teaching and learning year.

  • Be patient.

I need to be kinder to myself! Trying to accomplish everything I wanted to last year was an impossible task. Though, I am proud of what I did get done! Realistically, however I need to set smaller, achievable goals and not feel like I have to be in five places at the same time (Well, maybe I do but I have to be okay with that!!)

Sandy Cove Beach (Image from here)
I don't know about you but I can't jump into the ocean to go swimming! As a matter of fact I prefer no one near me when I do ease my way in to the chilly waters but I do get there eventually. When it comes to embracing change in education however (not the bandwagon approach, though!) I don't mind jumping in but I have to be very aware that not everyone can do that.

Facilitating real change takes time. And changing mindsets does too. There are several initiatives that our District has set in motion around Differentiated Instruction, technology integration, play-based learning and improvement in Mathematics that directly impacts the teaching and learning in schools. There are also expectations for continued professional growth expected of any staff; ours is no different. I will strive to be aware of the different comfort levels of our staff while letting them know they won't be swimming in over their heads ...we are part of a team doing it together.

Image from here

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What Matters - Reflections After Parent-Teacher Conferences

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I always look forward to the day of parent-teacher conferences. There is something special about sharing what I have come to know about a child's learning with their parent(s) or guardian(s). And with twenty-five years experience of these meetings, I know that talking to someone else who cares about that little person can be powerful -- in sometimes unexpected ways.

Thursday past was no different.

While the stories differed in the details one thing became abundantly clear again.  What we say to children matters.  What we say about children matters.

Trying to capture the strengths and the concerns about academic progress we have observed each term, in the short space allotted on report cards, is always a challenge for teachers.  We are expected to create a record, a snapshot of where the child is, at this point in their school year and share it in terms clear to both families and other colleagues. The words we choose so carefully leave out the many ways we provided opportunities to become engaged with the content and to practice expected skills. It doesn't account for the many ways we now assess learning, the myriad situations in which we directly and indirectly observed the student.

Needless to say, communicating to the parents about that over each term is essential. There should be no surprises when the brown envelope is opened! That being said, sometimes parents react differently when the words about their child's progress, or the concerns about it, are in black and white.

We have to keep in mind that a parent reacts first and foremost on behalf of their child. When a parent tells you that their child thought being asked to writing conferences meant they weren't good enough, then something needs changed. It matters not what actually takes place - that every student has participated in those individualized sessions with me, nor that I know what we do and say in conferences is carefully constructive, somehow that child's perception has been framed a certain way and I have to do something about it.

That parents want and expect the best for their child sometimes is demonstrated in what we would see as unrealistic or unachievable goals. "I want him to get 5s this term."  His teachers know his reading is not (yet) at grade level.  We know he resists writing tasks -work- as much as he can.  Words like "inattentiveness" and "struggling" were on his report cards this year. Encouraging him to get to the level of achievement demonstrated so far has been a regular challenge.

But when we find out from Mom that he really loves to be out in the woods, that he spends time ice-fishing and hanging out with his grandfather whenever he can and that he will watch shows on the Discovery Channel, don't we have a means by which we might now engage him in school-based learning, too? Might it  now be possible to support him in ways not yet addressed and help him attain higher scores than he possibly thought attainable?

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Finding out things about your student that has not been shared through the phone calls or emails can sometimes be hard to hear, as we know their potential impact on a student's success. Separation of parents, a death in the family, a parent leaving to go away for work are not uncommon topics at parent-teacher conferences. Some things need to be shared in person. Such was the case when one mother explained her son's recently changed attitude and effort was a result of him standing up to a classmate who had bullied him for the last three years! That was a shock! We have a co-teaching team in the classroom this year and support teachers as well; none of us picked up that there was anything of that magnitude going on between these two.

It was hard to think that we missed that. It was hard to think of him in class worrying and we missed that. It was even harder to consider what we might have said ( even as nicely put as one does) about his lack of focus on what we were saying and/or doing at the time. It was hard to think how we let him down.

As vigilant as we may think we are, we do not see everything that goes on in our classrooms, hallways and other spaces where students gather. Things happen. And as caring as we know we are with our students, we have to ensure all our students understand how available we really are, how supportive we can really be  ...that our words are not empty. What we say and do every day with every child matters. We cannot ever be complacent about the words we espouse about building a safe and caring school community.

Letting our students know that we care is a goal, part of the everyday experience at the school where I am proud to work. In each and every corner of the school, the staff and students greet each other warmly, ask about and share thoughts about the weather, the hockey game, the lost tooth, the lost pet. From the principal's high fives in the Drop-off zone to the caretaker helping to find a sneaker to the teacher sitting by a desk at recess to review something, I can see countless acts of caring everyday.

As I walk through the corridors each day, I hear many positives from our parent community about how things roll at our school! What we say and do matters.

When a parent tells you that she hears everyday about the way you touched her child on the shoulder, that you smiled at her, that you liked her story... it matters not so much what scores she got on "problem solving" or "uses writing strategies" as it does about how she feels coming to school everyday willing to try her best because she knows we care about her. We gave her that smile.

That matters.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Audrey Hepburn, Eat Your Heart Out!

As educators, we all know, or find out soon after beginning in a classroom, we have many "hats", or roles in our professional lives.
Image from here
In taking on a different role this year, one that has me in the classroom, in the Resource Center/library and in the office, I have had hats fly on and off so fast, I can hardly consider which hat I've donned!

While I would love to be able to wear a hat like the incomparable Audrey Hepburn...

and though my "hats" this year may be less glamorous than hers, upon reflection, they are none-the-less attractive to me! 

I love the challenge, the change, all the children that I deal with each and every day. Whether it's helping a student select a great read, discussing areas of concern or accomplishments with parents, reading to a rugful of little ones, rushing off to work with my Grade 5s or co-teaching with other teachers, this year has been quite rewarding!

However, the new job has impacted several things I intend (ed) to accomplish, among them to continue to blog here. With "Blogging From the Edge" this year I had hoped to expand topics and move away from how I began blogging  or my concerns about how it was going.  I wanted to develop more posts about teaching reading, especially in light of all the professional material that is available that appears to provide contradictory viewpoints.

I also hoped to reflect and write about being an administrator by now. It is definitely a more complex leadership role than it seems from the other side of the door!

However, these blogging goals have yet to take off in the way I envisioned in September but what has replaced it has been worthwhile, too.

I have established a website/blog for the school's Resource Center that builds connections between the school and our parent community. I have also shared it with other teacher/librarians in my part of the world as one example of how to make information and ideas accessible.

I have also taken the lead on using Twitter as a means of sharing the teaching and learning that happens at our fabulous school with families and friends. The school's Twitterfeed shows students and teachers at work and play, decorated doorways and walls, as well as notes and announcements! We have our own hashtag to quickly access shared resources at a later date.

Meeting with teachers to plan and to share how technology can continue to be integrated at our school, what new apps can be creatively and constructively used, how blogging with other classrooms locally or globally can be developed, what assessment strategies might be enhanced with digital tools...have been incorporated into my days.

So, in taking stock,  I have decided to pat myself on the back for what I have gotten done instead of ruing the lack of posts here. I will be kind to myself and be reminded that the time to blog (regularly) will happen...sometime.  In the meantime, I will enjoy the hats I do wear! (And just watch the occasional Hepburn movie!)

Until then, all of my hats are off to the wonderful, glamorous teachers who also put on so many each day!
Image from here

Monday, October 7, 2013

Blogging in our Classrooms: Do We Practice What We Preach?

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Many who read this would agree blogging is about writing for oneself ...but with an audience in mind.  Readers who share interests, experiences, passions ...or not.

Where is that audience for our students? How do our students find those readers?

For those who blog, most would acknowledge blogging is also about receiving feedback.  Blogging provides an opportunity to hear from others who may be moved to respond to your post... readers who may then engage you in conversation and perhaps pull you into re-examining your thoughts and ideas, though not necessarily changing them.

Where is that audience for young bloggers? How do students find those readers?

Blogging for our students has to be more than a paper-to-screen swap in order for it to be the writing/representing/responding endeavour we envision. Many teachers talk about 21st century learning and 21st century literacies but how do we support our students really with the [limited or not] technology they have at their fingertips? How can we help them "Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts"  or "Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought" as NCTE suggest in its definition of 21st century literacies?


And for those of us who have been able to facilitate blogging within our classrooms, there are still real issues around fully exploring the opportunities it holds for intentionally connecting with others. We may spend time within our own classroom community building skills with our students as respectful commenters on their peer's blogs, however that is, in my opinion, insufficient. Our digital manners, like those learned at the table, need to be used out in the world!  Our students need opportunities to be 'polite', add information, ask questions... really engage with others.

To do just that, many of us have sought feedback for students with #comments4kids, a terrific source for bringing our Twitter network to our class blog sites.  Many connected teachers do indeed read and comment on student blogs.  Though we have made many students deliriously proud by the comments posted, I am not convinced we've done enough as educators to develop the conversations or the networks we espouse on our own posts and Twitterfeed.

As I have discussed before here and here  it is that wider circle of readers who visit and leave feedback that can be quite motivating. My class has been thrilled to read the comments and questions left by adults; for example, they truly appreciated Mrs. Jones, who dropped in regularly with feedback! 

This feedback from other teachers is an essential part of the modelling of what we would like to see our students eventually do. Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, talks about it as reciprocating, coming from being teachers who are committed to "connecting, conversation and amplification" with someone else's students!  Linda Yollis describes in her comment to this post that ending her reply with a question was her way of trying to engage classes in conversation.

But in order or our students to feel that they are writing for more than a positive comment do they not need a little more?

Teaching our students to reply to comments also has to be integral to the process; it's not just about the positive experience and 'pat on the back' feeling they receive from getting a comment. It's not just the thrill of mapping where your readers is from. It has to be about our students going out and giving comments to others too.

 Comments4kids asks  "Does Commenting Make a Difference?" and the response was clear:

Marie put it this way: The power of blogging! Opening ourselves to the world to share ideas, receive feedback and learn from each other. 

 Greta Sandler added:  Leaving comments on other students' blogs has been really powerful too. We have expanded our classroom walls by blogging and commenting, and this has made a difference for my students.

There are great strides made in doing just that when students connect through such activities as the Global Read Aloud. Here they are able to share reactions and responses to a shared reading/listening experience with their peers in other parts of the world. Many teachers support the development of an extended community with the classrooms they link up with, and through, the purposeful use of various programs and apps such as Edmodo, Kidblog, Twitter and the wiki for the chosen book.

However, I am wondering why the conversations 'stop' once we've done sharing the book.

Why do we not continue to provide opportunities for students to connect with [these] students?

How are you trying to build longer and deeper conversations for your students?

How do you support students in the back-and-forth of comment threads?

How do you feel about this aspect of blogging with students? Is building a learning community outside the classroom valid for you?

Image from here

Are we practising what we preach?