First couple days of school – reflection

This week was a very new experience for me. I am only teaching two classes – my ESL class and my English class for Grade 5; however, I am busier than I was last year. My new role has me walking many kilometers a day and thinking about things on a different level than before. I am mentally exhausted but at the same time, I am excited. I see teachers who are excited about making new lessons and activities to engage their students and fit the competencies handed down from a ministerial order now three years ago.

I also moved into a new house. I don’t love the layout or certain things about it, however, every time I get to add something new, change something or by painting something, I make it my space. One of our teachers was locked out of the school this year and had her students set up her classroom. The students decorated the room and moved things around to make it their classroom. She was so excited to share and express the change in their attitudes and the ownership the students showed. I am so excited to see how this class grows as a learning community, and I am excited to see how this teacher fosters their voice.

This is just one of the examples that I saw this week of things that made me happy to take on this job.  Seeing the circles that teacher were holding with their students, seeing our teachers look for exciting ways to make connections with their students and their curriculum and having the opportunity to talk to our all our teachers, I am excited for this year and very proud to be a part of the growth our school is going through this year.

Getting feedback from your students on your practice as a teacher

I have been meaning to post this for a while but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to summarize my experience for getting feedback on my own practice. I made myself vulnerable to my students. I was worried at first, not what their answers were but if I had missed something that I should have addressed earlier in the year. Alas, other than a student who was having a bad day with their friends, I was impressed with their answers and how much thought went into a lot of the answers.  When I proposed the idea to my students, they were hesitant at first. I explained that to them that it is their chance to give me a report card. They fell in love with the idea. Some took it as an opportunity to complain about things outside of my control, others gave some very valuable feedback. There were also a few “I like grade 5” and “I don’t like writing” type comments but it was great for me to see this range. None of them seemed to care that it was anonymous but I chose to let them say who it was from if they wanted to or if they wanted to talk to me about it. No one wanted to talk to me but a number wrote their name in the box anyways.

The idea came as I was talking to my mom about the course she teaches at the local university, she mentioned her course evaluations and how even though it comes at the end of the year, she loves them. I decided it was time that I gave my students my own course evaluation. I decided to do so digitally because paper is not my friend. The great thing about Google Forms is that it will put the answers into a spreadsheet for you if you want, show all answers to each question, or you can see each individual response. It can be anonymous or you can also require them to be signed in and log their username. I chose anonymous to get some very honest feedback – I was feeling brave.

Here is a link to a copy of the form I used if you’d like to see the questions.

The themes I pulled from their questions didn’t actually surprise me that much because a lot of it are my own personal beliefs about education and how I felt as a student.

The loved the following:

  • Projects (of all sorts)!!! (this came up with very specific examples)
  • Field Trips that related to their learning but also the ones that were just fun!
  • Hands on and building activities
  • Modeling and being allowed to then go and try it
  • Multiple rounds of feedback not only from their teacher but also their peers
  • Having choice in how they showed their knowledge
  • Variety of seating choices in a “soft” classroom.

The would have liked to see:

  • More nature stuff
  • More focus on Skills and Competencies (This one surprised me but made me happy because I wasn’t very explicit with this as I felt I was overwhelming them at times – apparently not so.)
  • More chance to co-create criteria.
  • More mixing of the subjects (cross-curricular projects, YES please!)

Some things they learned about themselves this year:

  • “I learned that every time I try and don’t give up I feel like I want to do it again.”
  • “That working hard will make feel you accomplished something and you will earn something good if you really really worked hard.”
  • “I learned that if i put a lot effort into it and i try to to do good i do good.”
  • “That I am a more you tell me what to do then I will understand better. That is what I figure.”
  • “i usually need music because it helps me concentrate.(better)”
  • “need activity”

What they had to say about me or advice for me for next year:

  • “To always have comfy chairs. But she is not going to be teaching so go teach other teachers. Come to my class!!!”
  • “shes pretty good and knows her stuff”
  • “get a class pet” (sorry, buddy! I’ll get a fish for my office and you can visit)
  • “Make all the work in to projects.”
  • “Music helps people”
  • “This year was really fun. I will miss you Miss.A.”
  • “i wish I could get the same teacher again”
  • “she was tough on me but I need it”
  • “more hugs” (admittedly, I  am not a touchy feely person)
  • “One of the best school years of my life and i learned so much and i had so much fun learning because we had fun activities to help us learn like amazing race and i had an awesome teacher who had things like yoga balls, comfy chairs, couch. thanks”

I am really glad I did this. I was nervous at first but it reallyI’d like to do smaller scale ones each reporting period and at the beginning of the year to really get to know the things my students are thinking so I can make changes along the way.

Would you be willing to let your students give you feedback? How do you think they would feel about your class? Have you ever done so? I’d love to hear!

 

Moving into a new position

Besides my co-workers and a few close friends/family, I have not really told anyone yet about next year. As most know, I was evaluated for my Permanent Teaching Certificate this year. I also was successfully evaluated for a continuous contract this year that I signed based on a new position.  And without much ado, here’s what I am going to be doing next year.

I will be a learning coach and inclusion coordinator for my school. I also get the opportunity to teach grade 5 English to learn the Daily 5 program, teach grade 8/9 French as an option, and my new and exciting challenge of creating an ESL program for our school that is starting with an ESL course for grades 10/11/12. If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is but it is also a large change for me that I am finally excited about since the year is done. I am excited because I get to share my passions and learn new things as I learn and grow as an educator.

So, if you have resources for any of the above, please send them my way!

Reflecting on the year

This year was a year that is hard to describe in one word. Last year my word was growth – understandably given I was a first year teacher. This year I have a hard time describing my year to friends and family, let alone to my admin or coworkers.

I moved to a new school and a new town. Personally I went through a lot of missing home but professionally, I never looked back other than to when someone asked if I regretted moving to a new school. Fortunately, that answer has always been no. As I prepared for a new year, I decided to avoid reading cumulative files and confidential files until after I met the kids and instead took a more vague approach – who had an IPP for academic or behaviour or who was an ELL student. I am glad I did because it allowed me to build a relationship with my students without any prejudice.

As the year went on, it was clear to anyone who was in the classroom that it was OUR class, my students’ class, not MY classroom. The classroom was always flexible and changing to suit their needs. What went up on the walls was up to them and it was always their work. They created a culture in our classroom that was one of agreement, collaboration/community and honouring the learning that was happening in our classroom.

My students accomplished things that left other teachers wondering what was happening in grade 5. A grade 4 teacher saw my marking some of the assignments that my students were working on and I talked about the co-created criteria. Her answer was “I think our students are in for a shock next year”. During my formal evaluation lesson, my students showed that they were capable of exceeding the expectations normally places on a group of 10 year olds. They showed that they can to all sorts of things if given the tools and proper scaffolding to reach those expectations.

As I write this reflection, I realize that this year was one of exceeding expectations of others and showing that things don’t need to be set in stone. My friend bought me a pillow that says “Today I will make magic happen” explaining that each day is a new and wonderful learning experience in my class. While I wouldn’t call it magic, I do feel that the learning taking place in my classroom is a shift in current mindsets and that we are changing those mindsets each day that something new happens.

Resource: Teaching Feedback in your Classroom

I have put together a resource for teaching the feedback process to your class thanks to requests of a few friends and colleagues. You can find it over at Ninja Plans by following this link.  Don’t forget it is a process that needs time and practice to develop fully!

Just a note: When using feedback, it is important that the students have the opportunity for receive multiple rounds of feedback from each other and from their teacher, as well as time time to implement it/improve their work before submitting it for assessment (or final feedback as my students used to call it).

Also – check out my past post about building a culture of feedback in my classroom here.

Reigniting Your Passion:RedCamp16 – Reflection

RedCamp couldn’t have come at a better time for me this year. Lately I had been struggling to decide what I wanted to do next year – teaching, learning coaching, inclusion coordinator, graduate studies, subbing, leaving the teaching profession completely. This wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I really struggled to come to terms with what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. I relied quite heavily on my support system: Friends, family, coworkers, faith, and even a couple of strangers who were willing to listen. I am quite lucky to have an admin team at my school who realized that I needed time to make this decision and look at not only the job but the community and my personal life to see what it is that I wanted. I also have a fantastic team at my school who care about each other and encouraged me to figure out exactly what it is that I needed.

RedCamp16 was a small crowd this year but a group of extremely passionate individuals who were willing to be in a school on a gorgeous Saturday. I looked at our schedule we were creating and suggestions for sessions and decided to sign up to facilitate a discussion about active learning and inquiry in the classroom. I was expecting to facilitate a conversation, share ideas and get some cool ideas for myself but as life has it – the group had other plans. Many people came to learn more about inquiry and hear about my experiences. Now if you know me, you know that I hate talking in front of people because I like to listen to people and add to people’s ideas. I like to question and push things to different levels. This was extremely uncomfortable for me.

We talked and I shared my experience and where I was in my educational journey. I by no means claim to be an expert in anything or have it all figured out. It is all about making yourself vulnerable and open to the learning process. (Also a great thing to model for your students.) I shared the experiences in my classroom, I also opened up about my experience in school. If I made a difference to even one teacher today or shared one thing that a teacher can take back to their classroom or reflect upon their own practice, it was worth my own discomfort.

The most valuable part is it renewed my passion for education. It also helped me realize that I love working with teachers and inspiring them to try something new or find a different way to look at things. I want to support other people to be the best that they can be. I like to develop things. Most importantly, I don’t want to be in the spotlight – I want to make others shine.

RedCamp gave me the opportunity to revisit the things that were core values to me as an educator, but most importantly, it gave me a chance to make a decision that I had been struggling with now for 2 weeks. Thanks everyone for giving me something that you didn’t realize your gave me in listening and asking questions – the answer to a decision that has been weighing me down.