A Change in Approach

Sometimes life is full of surprises.

Our division has been hard at work changing our reporting process. If you would have told me that I would be singing the praises of a new report card three years ago, I would have scoffed. What is wrong with the old ways? I had marks on my report cards and little to no information to go with the marks and I turned out fine. My parents trusted my teachers to use their professional judgement and they accepted my marks and my precious few comments. (Please pretend to be shocked and surprised when I tell you the comment often was about my love of the social aspect of school.)

Imagine my surprise when I realized that there is another way. Imagine my shock when I realized it was actually more pertinent to the parents and guardians. Our new report cards better reflect student abilities. They actually speak to not only what they know but HOW THEY LEARN! Fascinating. So the nerd who used to sit beside me spouting off three digit by three digit multiplication in middle years will still have his validation while the struggling student such as myself who could not do the multiplication the way the teacher wanted me to, but could still find the correct answer will as well. Awesome.

I feel like our new reporting system validates my job. Anyone with Google could potentially find the answer to any question. With smartphones and iPhones and all our little devices, we have access to all the information one could want, and then some. Yes, we still need a base knowledge, but now we need teachers to guide students into the correct information, the skills and attitudes from the front matter of the curriculum. And yes, it has always been there, but now we will finally, as a whole division, place emphasis on it.

That is a beautiful thing.

I said during my final PD session before my maternity leave, that I was jealous of the teachers who would spend the year prepping for the new report card that our school group will use in the fall of 2012. Surprisingly, I truly meant it.

The New Year: A New Approach

I’m only working for ten weeks this school year.

What a strange way to start the year; knowing that shortly I will be leaving on a maternity leave! It sure has changed my process when starting up my classroom. This year, rather than coming up with long-term plans, unit plans, seating plans and every kind of plan with myself and students in mind, I have been forcing myself to also consider the teacher that will take over my role in nine short weeks and debating how I can best set them up. It is a very bizarre feeling to question every piece of paperwork and plan that I write. I feel like a student listening to my inner English teacher repeating, “Consider your audience.”

Add to that, two new colleagues, both new to teaching in our district and new to our unique program and, suddenly the already collaborative nature of our little two room school has shot up 100%! I’m being forced to consider Person ‘A’ who has not yet been hired, Person ‘B’ who is brand new to our district and Person ‘C’ who is completing her first year of teaching after many years in our district as an EA.  Wowza, three distinct  needs. Good thing we have our rock, Lorrie our EA on our team. It is fascinating to have a new perspective after three years of the same team.

I wish everyone had this opportunity. In the week that I have been back at the school, I believe that I have said, “Well, last year we…” a million times. The more interesting thing is that it is usually followed by an explanation of the past policies and then a, “but we could…” and “…what do you see happening…” This new challenge has forced me to question our past ways of doing things and become more creative and open to change. That is awesome and refreshing.

We often talk about developing our “teacher leaders”. This is truly happening at Brightbank this year. I am honoured to step up as a leader and am even more privileged to work with such a creative team with varied and rich backgrounds. I’m saddened that it will only last another nine weeks, but I will enjoy our brief time together. I can only hope that the person coming in for the eight month leave will find joy in our strong and collaborative team.

A new perspective can be so awesome.

 

The Instant Opinion: It’s a new world folks!

So in the world of Twitter, Facebook, blogging, smartphones and instant everything, I found myself confronted with a paradox. A status update on Facebook read, “While John and Bobby sucked on their soothers, a lady at soccer told me that “we prefer to rock and snuggle our children, WE are their soothers…”**

WHAT???

In a fit of outrage on behalf of my friend I replied, “Nothing like some good old-fashioned judgement to get the blood boiling. LAME! “I prefer to teach my children to learn to censor their opinions and not judge others, …..”

Quickly, another person complimented me on my retort. I acknowledged her response with, “Yeah Sarah, I mean we all have our opinions, but do we need to share them all the time? I know so many moms who were heartbroken they couldn’t breastfeed and then, to add insult to injury, were told on a regular basis by strangers and even friends that they were doing wrong by not breastfeeding! What happened to supporting each other rather than one-uping each other? Grrr..”

This second post received three “likes” within minutes.

That’s when it hit me…ummm, aren’t I being just as judgemental and quick to give my opinion as the lady I was admonishing? I mean, come on Melissa, so the lady made a comment that seems judgemental and harsh….would it be so hard to reply, “Oh good for you” or “Hmm, that’s a thought.” Didn’t I just tell a friend who felt she was being bullied by in-laws to raise her child a certain way to reply as sincerely as possible that they had some good ideas and then do what she wanted anyways? What is the point in arguing with most people?

There are some things that need to be argued and debated. A good, healthy debate between friends or colleagues helps us see the other side and as Stephen Covey would say, can bring out the third way. I know that some of my most steadfast beliefs have been called into question during intense conversations with friends and that helped me develop a deeper truth. But really, just because we have an opinion, do we really need to share it with strangers, either during a soccer match, via Facebook or Twitter? In adding my two cents (a rather rude two cents I might add) to her status, I showed my self-righteous side.

Not my best side really.

I do wish we would support each other more and dig at each other less.

So I guess that will start with me. I’ll think about keeping my instant opinion to myself a little more frequently.

 

 

 

**Names changed to protect anonymity

The Amazing Transformation of an Educator

When I became a teacher, I wanted to change lives. I wanted to instill passion into the boring classrooms. I wanted the disenfranchised student to find their niche with me and discover learning comes in many forms. Pretty ambitious hey?

Working with the confines of an actual school, complete with division goals and administrative visions made my dream of being the inspiring teacher I wanted to be a much more difficult task than I had anticipated. I couldn’t always follow the path I wanted to as I had become aware of professional obligations and deadlines. Basically, I got into a classroom and found out what being a teacher is really about.

This year, I returned to school after the summer feeling truly blasé about my assignment. I didn’t really care that much about what I was doing. UH-OH! I knew in my heart it was time for a new career. I wasn’t about to subject a bunch of kids to a lackadaisical and idle teacher.

Then something amazing happened. An opportunity to join our division’s Exploring Leadership cohort appeared. I joined the group and was able to participate in discussions about leadership. and changes in education practices. It was easy to get excited about spending a Monday night once a month with a group of people who were passionate about being excellent leaders in their schools. I was hooked.  With my interest in my profession piqued, I was more open to exploring  changes in the way the educational system worked with kids.

My Principal, George Couros, opened up some ideas by showing me the RSA of Sir Ken Robinson and his Changing Education Paradigms lecture. Wow! It is like Sir Ken read my mind. The education system is short-changing a large percentage of the population. This has always been my belief and thank goodness someone much smarter than me was able to put it in words. I felt empowered to speak up about things that needed to change. I was ready to adapt my assessment practices and teaching strategies. This time, it wasn’t an initiative “forced” on me by the powers that be. I was finally ready to take some ownership in my district. As Carolyn Cameron put it during one Exploring Leadership session, I was moving away from being a “classroom teacher” and moving toward being a “school teacher”.  My passion for change in education began to shine through and was noticed by others.

My Assistant Principal, Carolyn Jensen, took notice and allowed me to take a role on the Comprehensive Reporting Team. A whole new world opened up to me! I was amazed that our school division was working to shift reporting to include better communication to parents, more hands-on and real-life curricular ties and engaging student learning by asking them to report on themselves. My employer was not paying lip service to best practices; it was ACTUALLY using them! Revolutionary!

I am thrilled to a part of such an important change and to be on a team that is willing to risk moving forward quickly when others would simply wait and watch. This year,  I am ready to take on the challenges that come with change. I want to be a better teacher, a better leader and involved in my career. I only hope that other teachers can survive long enough to have the same transformation I have had.

Technology is a Tool, Not a Teaching Technique

I love to talk.

Oh I can talk about any given subject at any given time. I know a little about a lot of  things, and if I don’t have an opinion or a reasonable amount of background, I ask questions. I play devil’s advocate and try to gain perspective.  The conversations that can happen when you are open to them are awesome, sometimes even life-altering.

What I find truly interesting is the amount of resistance when it comes to technology in the classroom.  Recently my administrator went over some of the practical applications of iPhone/iTouch technology in the classroom and suggest we might look at bringing in some to test. The resulting discussions were outstanding. During the PD, some practical questions were asked. After the session, during lunch and at a staff function is where the real opinions came out.

Now, let me start by saying I am truly on the fence. I have a Smartboard and one to one computers in my classroom. My students have school provided email addresses and blog space. I know that I am limited in my Smartboard use, but we use the computers daily. The ability to access information is amazing. A great deal of my teaching when we are using the computers is about deciphering what is true and important from what is not.  I don’t know if having more technology available to us will help or add to the pile of stuff we need to figure out.  I truly don’t know how I feel yet.

Even when I don’t know how I feel, I don’t want to rule it out. I like a challenge. Some others are not so inclined. Once we took the money and logistics (Why wouldn’t we pay for more teachers and EAs instead? Who will provide tech support when our district won’t?)  out of the issue, it seemed to become a generational thing. Kids will never learn to communicate, just tweet and blog! What is wrong with face to face? Is a pencil so offensive? Just because technology exists, does that mean we must use it?

Did my grandpa think the same when the telephone became common place? Did he figure we would become lazy just because cars replaced horses and walking? Did he think we would become illiterate because we could watch the  news on t.v. instead of  reading the paper? Makes you wonder…

For me technology is a tool, not a teaching technique or strategy. If iPhones, iPads or the next best thing makes its way into my class I will try to make it work for me and my kids. I will NEVER give up on the conversations and the learning that comes from them. I will make sure my students understand the connections they create with others, both in person and using our tech tools are invaluable. If my team goes from seven people in my classroom to hundreds using the tools available to us, I won’t resist because in the end it is about what’s best for kids.

 Thanks for the post topic George.

Assessment, Differentiated Instruction & American Idol

I watch American Idol.

My favourite thing about American Idol is having the opportunity to sing along with the contestants. I really enjoy that I can sing better than some of them and am bested by a great deal of auditionees. It is especially fun to watch it on the PVR where I can fast forward through the banter or rewind to hear some of the truly amazing singers.

On my way to work this morning, I got to thinking about a conversation I had with a friend. I had asked if anyone at the table watched American Idol and the passionate reply really made me think. “No way,” he proclaimed, ” I find it a joke that these kids get up there and sing and if they make it through suddenly they are stars. What about all the people who worked, slaved and sacrificed? Those guys who played the bar circuit and lived in their crappy vans touring around the country to build up a reputation are suddenly having to face these young punks who haven’t put in their time and paid their dues. Doesn’t seem right, does it?”

I guess not. But those kids have talent. Does the fact that they didn’t have to slave away, honing their craft for years before they found their big break make them any less valid or talented? I guess for some it does.

This morning, it dawned on me that we have a large group of teachers that have this mindset when it comes to education. Many believe that if the kid can’t pass the test, they must not know what they need to know. If they don’t hand in an assignment, they should get a zero. The  conflict of the kid that did all the assigned work and earned their 80% vs the kid who handed nothing in but pulled off an 80% on the final exam and because of division policy, they will both end up with 80%.  Not fair, right?

A big argument I hear over and over is that it is not real-life. In the “real world” no one can say to their boss they just aren’t going to hand in their work on time and expect to still have a job. Well, it isn’t that cut and dry. Talk to any HR person and they will tell you that when someone isn’t working to the expectation, there is a great deal of coaching and mentoring that takes place before a termination takes place. Most work places will try to help their employees rise up to expectations rather than start with a brand new employee. Sure, sometimes in some work forces firing isn’t that strategic or such a process, but try to fire the unionized employee without a lawyer and a boatload of paperwork.

Sometimes I wonder if it ego. How dare you come into my class and not do one assignment and then pull off an 80%! What, you don’t need me? Sounds ridiculous written out, but I think that can be an issue at times.

In the new Math curriculum, we moved away from the “I will show you how to do it and that is how you WILL do it” attitude. Now, we try to have the kids show us how they think they could solve a problem. We talk about differentiated instruction or “creating multiple paths so that students of different abilities, interest or learning needs experience equally appropriate ways to absorb, use, develop and present concepts as a part of the daily learning process.” Really, we are developing the idea that understanding how we get to an answer is just as, if not more important than the answer and that we must accept that each child may have a different way to find answers.

American Idol found a way to realize the dreams of nine individuals that compressed years of touring into nine seasons of  three-month auditions. Differentiated instruction for singers! It is pretty cool when “real-life” aligns with the classroom.

Blogs for All! (Taking the Hoard out of Hoarding)

I am a hoarder.

Not an “A&E” type hoarder where you can’t even walk through my house because of the garbage and cats; more a collector of stuff. I have my favourite sweater, essays and books from high school in my office. I have French textbooks that I keep in case I ever teach French again. I have a folder full of thank you cards that I never look at as I had once planned. I have pre-Jack and post Jack clothes. I have so many clothes in fact, I fill a huge chest of drawers all to myself. I also keep knick-knacks. If you gave me something at some point, chances are I still have it. Watching the show Hoarders really helped me find out where the need to “keep” comes from: I want to keep the memory attached to the item.

If you have read my blog before you know that I collect ideas too. I read and reread books. On my nightstand now I have four books going. One is a self-help, one a mystery, a non-fiction and a corny teenage romance. I like to collect opinions. Much to the chagrin of the people I love, I am continuously seeking advice and opinions. I guess I like to have the opportunity to hear another perspective.

Keeping all this in mind, I’m sure you’ll understand a niggling fear that came to me during my pregnancy. Here comes a third person to add to the accumulation of STUFF. How will I edit his clothes when he grows out of them? Or the pictures and writing he creates as he progresses? Surely, I will be able to part with most of his stuff as he moves to different stages in his life. Guess what? Once a hoarder, always a hoarder!

Now as a teacher, I am inclined to keep rather than purge. Add to that a little man creating paintings, sketches and word art (okay at 17 months it is really just scribbling at this point) and I seem doomed to live a life suffocating in STUFF!

Enter George Couros aka SuperPrincipal. He is a Technogeek/Principal with a mission. George introduced our schools to the idea of blogging and blog-folios. He asked us to start blogging with our classes and later assigned the students personal blogs. The idea behind this initiative is that each student is able, with guidance from their teacher, to store both draft and showcase work in a digital form. This can then follow them throughout their academic career and become a portfolio they can share with others.

I jumped in with both feet. What you are reading is my personal blog. I also maintain a class blog and help my students with their posts. What an awesome way to collect without the mess of a big collection.

HOLD UP!

Yesterday, it occurred to me that I could take the hoard out of my house. I took my baby’s first piece of artwork and created his own blog. Yep, my baby has a blog! Now does that mean I am going to throw out all his beautiful pictures that will inevitably come home? Nope. But should they get lost or ruined, I won’t weep. I will just log on to www.jackdallinger.wordpress.com and there will be pictures, dates and reflections to help my memory! George also put an app on my iPhone (Soundcloud) that will record Jack’s reading (when he gets there) and his babbling and I will be able to easily put voice clips on his blog.  I remember hearing a record (yes you read that right!) of my dad and his sister at Christmas performing for their gifts. I was amazed. I can’t wait for Jack to have that same experience.

Some might think it is overkill or maybe even over sharing, but I am thrilled that we started Jack’s blog so early.

I guess this means I’m becoming a digital hoarder.

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