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New and Improved Lessons to Inspire Learners & the Challenges That Go With It

It’s been awhile since my last post…but for good reason! My blogging efforts have been spent more on my classroom blog. The purpose for my classroom blog has evolved since September. I think that when I first started it, I just knew I wanted to blog and jumped in with both feet. After settling in to my new role I have allowed many things to change as needed. My blog is now serves as a connector between home and school. Its purpose it to keep parents informed of upcoming themes and events, to showcase student work and exciting happenings that go on at school, to share ideas of how parents can support their children with what is going on in the class (such as math strategies, home reading, etc.). I’ve also added a section for extra copies of resources that might come in handy. I used to post more, but have also started a classroom Instagram account where I feel more comfortable to post students’ faces (where I do not in the blog). We post something everyday because it is so easy to snap a photo or photos and make a collage then post. Parents love it because again, it keeps them connected. We’ve been using the Instagram account for just under a month and I have 21/25 students with permission and have 24 followers (which includes some staff and other classes in the school). I am happy with the interest and participation so far and will be able to show other parents what we are up to during conferences and see who else might be interested! I feel that this in itself is a new and improved part of my teaching that has inspired learners and their parents. This is a quote from a parent that was posted on the classroom blog “Wowza! What an amazing month. I’ve noticed so much enthusiasm at home time listening to all of the cool things you’ve been up to. Thank you so much for painting such a vivid picture. It helps us stay connected.” This…is why I use the blog. This…is what I wanted families to get out of it!

There are challenges that go with blogging and managing an Instagram account. First of all you need to be interested and  take a risk and just go for it. Then there is the time commitment, teaching parents about it and getting them to subscribe and then use it. If no one is reading it, then my purpose is not met. Then there is the challenge of permission for posting. I decided not to use photos with faces on the blog, because the blog is not private and I wasn’t interested in creating a password for parents to use to access it. Instagram seems like the way to solve that issue, but then the division doesn’t have a standard permission note for Social Media yet. It took time and effort and the hep of others to create a note that worked for us. The Instagram account is private, but still parents could technically copy those pictures and share them elsewhere. It felt like ‘unknown territory’ for me. I just want to make this as private as possible because these are not my own children and it shouldn’t be me that makes the decision about their face being posted online. Sometimes I think the ‘old’ me would have just said that there are too many barriers to this and walked away. I’m glad I didn’t because things are going so well, but those challenges are always there.

It helps when I see other teachers in the school taking these risks too. It doesn’t feel like a risk anymore. It feels like part of my day or week. It makes me feel connected with other classes when we don’t have a chance to go to their classrooms and see what is going on. It’s an opportunity to ask questions to other people in my building and to offer support and hopefully inspire teachers who are ready to start their journey too.

This was not the route I was planning on going for this post! It just sort of happened and I think that is okay! I was going to write about student voice and choice that has led to empowerment, which maybe I still have a moment to comment on 😉

I think two of the most successful new and improved examples of my teaching practice that inspires and empowers my learners is voice and choice. This year has been such an exciting one for me so far. I wonder if it is because I’m new to the school and to the grade, so I feel like I can really start fresh, combined with the culture of the school that makes me feel so refreshed and ready to take ‘risks’ in my style of teaching?! Throughout the year I have been trying to give my students more voice and choice. I wanted to start the year off with this. At first it wasn’t easy for the students. It was like they were sure what to do with the ‘freedom’. I allowed them to sit where they wanted, we revamped the classroom library into how they wanted the books sorted, gave them options of what they wanted to learn about during theme time instead of telling them. It got easier as time went on. The kids stopped asking if they could sit somewhere. The just started sitting where they felt like working. Now-they crave this type of ‘freedom’. Everything we do involves their voice and choice. They respect each other’s ideas, they listen to each other and they compromise when needed. I am there to facilitate, but I rarely even need to present options for them now.

All voices are heard! There are students who learned that their voice isn’t the only one that matters and students that learned that their voice matters. Some scaled back in order to listen and learn from others and some learned to find their voice. It really is a beautiful thing! They are taking ownership of their learning and they feel empowered.

A challenge that can come with this is for teachers to let go. Sure, sometimes things happen differently that if I would have planned it myself, but it doesn’t matter! That can be hard for us as teachers. I’m very “Type A” and I worried that maybe I would have a difficult time letting go, but watching this evolve was a confirmation that this is actually what I wanted all along. No learning has suffered from giving students voice and choice…it has only created more opportunities for students to see themselves as learners and teachers and important members of the classroom and school community.

Perspective…

I thought about writing a new blog post throughout my entire recent trip to Europe. Things would happen, or I would see something, or hear something that made me think about teaching, learning, life in general. It was nice to step away from the hustle and bustle of being a teacher, but teaching is a part of who I am, so my class was never too far off my mind. I’d see and experience things that I knew my 3/4 class would love to see, so I’d snap a picture. I looked around for a postcard to send to them that would encompass my trip. I thought about how my travels could impact our next theme of countries around the world. Then I’d think about snapping pictures, buying postcards and souvenirs for families and friends. I am always reminded of a class I took in University called The Anthropology of Travel. I wish I could take that class again now…now that I’ve been so many more places (compared to when I was 19!). It was about how you don’t just think about yourself as you travel, your trip becomes something for all those people at home too! This makes so much more sense to me now! Travel is so much more than yourself! It is a good reminder to think about how small you really are in this big world. You step out of the comforts of your home and set out on an adventure. You deal with things that you don’t normally have to think about…what are you ordering at a restaurant, how will you find your hotel, adjusting to a new time zone, etc. etc. etc. While I was away, I really thought about a student I have right now. She is new to Canada and is new to speaking English. All the times I had no idea what someone was saying to me so I made gestures instead. Or followed what other people were doing…she does that too. It makes me think about how brave those students who come to a new country and are learning to speak a new language are. She trusts us so much to help her, just like we relied on others to help us translate a menu or point us in the right direction to purchase train tickets or find a hotel or a good place to eat. Travelling puts things into a new perspective…or maybe just a renewed perspective. I love that I have been fortunate enough to travel a fair share and have experienced some amazing places and learned about so many exciting cultures. I never take travel for granted and the next trip is never coming soon enough! I feel like this is the best way to spend money…on memories and experiences and learning more about the wold around me and about who I am as a learner in this great big world!

England 2006

Scotland 2006

France 2006

Spain 2006

Italy 2006

Iceland 2011

Sweden 2013

Denmark 2015

Germany 2015

The Netherlands 2017

Belgium 2017

Iceland 2017

Teachers as Learners

The process of being part of the ITLL team has been an interesting journey for me. The change in schools and the fact that I am working with a new team has been a process for me and the rest of my team. I am the only one who was part of ITLL last year so it is like I get to begin parts of the process again. My new team is eager, which is very exciting. We spent lunch talking about what our next steps will be and how we can bring our ideas back to the school in a way that is meaningful and useful to other staff members. We plan on working through what our ideas are as ITLL members, then move forward to making a plan with administration and the rest of the staff. We want to be prepared and knowledgable. We want to be informed and have time to try things out so we have some experience with tools we want the rest of the staff to try. We want this to be a natural conversation in our school between staff members. We want to take advantage of the opportunities to be leaders and learners!

Ancient Civilizations in Room 123

As I have mentioned in a previous post…I have changed schools and grades this year! After only a short time in my new position I can already see how this change has been impacting me as a teacher and as a learner.

I’m in a teaching position where I have the opportunity to work closely with two other teachers as part of the 3/4 Team as well as a full time Inquiry Support Teacher and a half time Art and Outdoor Education Teacher. How lucky am I?! I feel that as a team we are able to accomplish so much more than I’ve ever been able to as a solo teacher.

Over the past 6 weeks (ish) we have been doing an inquiry project on Ancient Civilizations. My class (along with the other two 3/4 classes) have been so engaged during this inquiry process. We have committed to five days out of the school cycle for at least an hour a day to work on Ancient Civilizations. It may seem like a big commitment, but we cover so many outcomes from the curriculum in such a natural way (Social Studies, Science, ELA, etc.) So far we have done a provocation day where the students got excited about the idea of Ancient Civilizations and started to ask questions about their wonderings, ideas, what they noticed, what they wanted to know more about. This was done through stations of music, books, number systems, art, leisure activities, architecture and photographs of teachers who had been to visit places with Ancient landmarks. At every station there was a chart paper where students could write down their questions. After this provocation day and time spent looking at books, watching videos and thinking about what they wanted to know more about, the students made a list of their top 5 choices for research and were grouped accordingly. We wanted the class to work in small groups/partners so they could really communicate and collaborate with each other. Once they were in their groups and had their topic of interest we started with some research online and in books. Things were progressing nicely but then our plans changed! Our inquiry support teacher found an idea from other teacher and we decided to add in come creativity to our projects! The students made “Tube People” based on the topic/civilization they had chosen. The tubes were from ArtsJunktion and they were perfect for this project! We definitely used the 4Cs throughout the project and really tried to learn from the process and not only see it as a final product. We aren’t finished learning about Ancient Civilizations. The mindset of being flexible and open to change of plans has developed into a really great side project. We also have some pretty excited students (in our 3 classes and students from around the school), parents and staff members.

Slowing things down, finding out what the students are interested in, using a variety of teaching and learning styles, enjoying the process, including student voice and choice, reflecting, making changes, communicating, collaborating, thinking critically, showing creativity… are all things that we’ve been doing for weeks now and there is no way we intend to teach differently in the next topic we study!

img_2512 Provocations and the blueprint/search for possible materials

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Planning, Painting, Making

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We are makers!

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Finished!!! Group photo 🙂

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Contributions from Ancient Civilizations that impact how we live now!

To us…this is a unit that we could sell tickets for, and we aren’t finished learning yet!

Thanks Team Montrose!

New School Year, New School, New Grades to Teach!

Cheers to change!

I’m starting a new chapter in my career this year! I’m moving to a new school and to make sure I am fully embracing change…I’ve also decided to change grades! There are pros and cons to this change, as there are to anything. I will miss my coworkers and students at my former school, but am excited to meet new coworkers and students and also to reconnect with coworkers from the past. One of the huge pros to this move for me is the fact that I have already taught at this school! It was 6 years ago and I was only on a term then, but with several of the same staff members and the same administration I felt comfortable enough to take a risk and try something new (ish)! I have taught grade 5/6, then N/K, then 1/2, then 2, then 2/3 and now an ready to try out 3/4 to complete the elementary range!

I’ve spent lots of time reading, thinking, planning and setting up for the upcoming school year. I’m ready to get started and see what I can learn from this new experience!IMG_1853 IMG_1852

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Curious Minds

As my mind is starting to shift from holiday mode to school mode I have decided to do some reflecting about my summer! I still haven’t jumped into the idea of blogging as I thought I would have by now. Always wondering what I should write about. Then it hit me! I had been spending a ton of time with my niece (1) and my nephew (3). They have inspired me to start writing. To jump in and try something new. So to my two favourite little people…thanks!

For a few weeks I became “Super Auntie”! My sister was just going back to work after baby turned a year old. Her and her husband needed a sitter for a few days. It was my pleasure to get to help out and spend some quality time with the kiddos. Especially since they live in Ontario so I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like. I don’t have kids of my own-and let me tell you that I slept well after watching the two of them all day!

Anyway, back to how this relates to me as a teacher.

My nephew has grown to be quite an independent 3 year old!  He wants to do EVERYTHING by himself. He also asks a zillion questions a day! At first it was my instinct to help him so we could get things done quickly and move on with our day. Then I asked myself…What’s the rush?! Why did I want us to rush through the day? We had no real schedule other than eating and napping! If he wanted to figure things out on his own, then he should! I watched him work through puzzles, trying to apply what he had learned at swimming lessons while we played in the lake for hours and also accidentally dump ingredients onto the floor from a birthday cake we were making. When he wanted help…he asked for it. If he was getting frustrated but unwilling to ask for help (he is a strong willed little boy!) I’d remind him that I was there to help and could show him what I would do and he could try that if he wanted. On the occasions that he would accept help and learned something new he always said “thank you Auntie”. We had fun! He would tell his Mom and Dad things he learned when they got home. He asked questions, wanted to learn what new words meant, showed me things that he had learned (“Your watch is on your left arm, we must be turning left” *He was super interested in learning lefts and rights after dong a puzzle about opposites). It was great! When I told him that I wasn’t sure how to drive his Mom’s car because it was different than mine he encouraged me and told me I was doing a “very good job”. He was helping his sister (who wants to do everything he does)! He was taking risks and trying new things. I felt like a proud Auntie! But also like a proud teacher! This is what I try to do with my class, but sometimes it can be so easy to lose sight of. It feels like we sometimes rush through things because we have so much to do…when what is really happening is that we are missing out on so many learning opportunities. I know that he is 3 and that he is one kid but he also served as a reminder to let kids explore and learn from their surroundings and experiences, to try and fail and make changes to their work and see if they can succeed the next time, to teach each other, to ask questions and to learn to love learning.

Again…thanks to my little buddy for the reminder!