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.

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What does learning and teaching look like in your school?

 

This weekend I was faced with the question of what should learning and teaching look like. While this will depend on the context of the school itself, we are given a mandate through our curriculum, the inspiring education document and a ministerial order that drives our teaching practice. We also have our own expectations placed upon us by the union through the teaching knowledges, skills and attributes.

In the grand scheme of things, we want to see kids who are:

  • engaged in meaningful learning,
  • developing skills through their learning and a classroom activities that will support them in their future lives, education, and careers,
  • able to express their knowledge and understanding in a variety of ways,
  • getting a say in their learning,
  • enjoy learning, and
  • wanting to come to school each day

The real question lies in how we get there. I have been fortunate to have been given many opportunities to look at all aspects of education from inclusion to teaching to support and even at resources. It is important that all of these areas work cohesively together and are well supported.

We also need teachers who are willing to be risk takers, allow themselves to be vulnerable and are passionate about student success. You need to love what you do and realize that the kids come first. You need to strive to make yourself uncomfortable because it is my strong belief that innovative learning begins at the end of your comfort zone. You can be a good teacher but it is that burning desire to grown and share. Ones who are willing to ensure that each student has access to what they need to succeed while being included in all that we are doing in class. The ones who see their job as more than a job. How do we get teachers to jump in with both feet?

What does learning and teaching look like in your school? It is what you think it should look like?

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Loving our students on purpose

I flipped through a book called Loving our Kids on Purpose the other day. The title drew me in because I am always interested in the idea of being intentional with our actions with kids. While I don’t have any children as my own, the premise of the book struck close to me because it is all about building a heart connection with our children and teaching them to manage the freedom they’ve been given in their life. This was important lesson I learned this year with my students. I had to build a close connection with my students and I teach them to navigate their education and responsibility given to them.

I give my students a lot of freedom in my class. I shape my teaching around their ideas, curiosities, and needs. It is not about giving them what they want however. If that were the case, they would have skipped math class, drawn with Sharpie on each other, and taken a nap. It isn’t about saying “NO”. It’s about redirecting and teaching them, while respecting the unique individuals they are. It’s about helping them learn how to manage their freedom as learners and citizens of our classroom. It requires me to be attentive to my students and seize those teachable moments when they occur. My students did not choose me as their teacher but I chose to become a teacher. I needed to make a choice to love my students the way they deserved.

Strength based learning.

Recently I posted about teaching from my identity and learning about who I was as a teacher. My focus this year has been on my students and building them up as learners. This is only possible by encouraging my students to use the skills and strengths to their advantage. I am passionate about encouraging educators to embrace the power of a strength-based philosophy in their practice. While it is extremely important to help students recognize and develop their strengths, it is also important for students to recognize the strengths of others.

I’d like to clarify that strength based education is not about being the best at something. Chris Wejr writes about this in his post 10 Ways to Determine the Strengths of Our Students.

“An important activity is for students to understand that each and every one of them has strengths.  These can come in the form of activities (ex. dance, hockey, math, etc) and in the form of character strengths. It is also important to share what these strengths could look like in each student; strengths are not something that a student needs to be the best at but more about personal skills, qualities, traits and virtues that students have developed”.

When I look at my students, I realize that we did not get to where we are by accident. We started slowly by getting to know who we were and what our stories were. I believe strongly that storytelling is the best way to connect. Together, the grade 5 team of teachers developed an inquiry to learn about our identities. We explored how our families came to Canada and/or how our family’s history has shaped who we are by where we live. We got to know ourselves and each other. One of my students shared with me that in his culture adults don’t ask each other about their jobs rather where they are from. It’s how they break the ice. He said it’s more interesting because it can open up some personal things about a person, but not something so personal it’s awkward. It’s lets you equate someone more with their life as opposed to their job.

As we learned more about our families, we also learned more about ourselves. We learned about the things we love and enjoy. We also learned our our families and experiences help influence those things. This caused me to shift from thinking I was there to teach curriculum to starting to believe that as a teacher my job was to facilitate learning experiences that students could find their strengths as well as develop their skills and abilities at the same time as their passions. I started to find ways to tie curriculum into the things they enjoyed.

Over the year so far, one of the things we discovered we had in common is that we all enjoyed hands-on activities and building or making in a variety of ways. We have started to bring that into science. For example, we are working on weather. I put out the challenge of trying to measure the wind speed and direction. This led to the idea of building our own wind machines. Using the inquiry process we are going to build a machine using recycled materials to measure the direction of the wind. The students are co-creating criteria for their machines this week and it is awesome to see the two science classes I teach take their own spins on the project. The students are so engaged in the whole process but also are trying to find out what roles they will play in their group’s work based on what they know they can each do well. They want each other to succeed.

Strength based learning goes hand in hand with the growth mindset. It is about learning from your mistakes, taking risks and having the confidence in yourself. Relationships are key. Start small and build each day. It can be as little as a 15 minute conversation with each of your students. I’ve learned that creating a community is the most important part. The time we spend coming together makes the world of difference. We are excited about the work we do and take pride in our learning. We want to share. We have realized that together we are stronger than apart.

Teaching from your identity

Prior to teaching, I had found my niche at the company I worked for. I was the go-to person for things and the problem solver. I was quick on my feet and I was calm with my customers. I could give and receive feedback and I knew how to use the feedback I was given.  This became who I was. It was my identity.

Teaching has been a chance to really learn who I am as a teacher. In university we were given books to read that told me many things about what my identity as a teacher. I was told that teaching was a performance and that I was to be always “on”. I was told to teach like a Pirate, a Champion, that my hair should be on fire and a variety of other things. Most of these were good books but I never could finish them. Once I got into the class and learned about who my students were and what they needed from me, I realized that none of those books were about my kids.

My students were not looking for me to be a rockstar teacher and to entertain them day in and day out. They were there to learn and I was there to facilitate that learning. They wanted me to be me and I realized that they thrive on the relationships we built out of trust. I was able to be myself – a little bit goofy and weird but fun yet calm.

My classroom left arena where I felt I was on stage and became the garageband practice where we all learned together. We made mistakes and learned from them. We improved with feedback and challenged each other to grow. We help each other and want us all to succeed at something. We work together, not against each other because we take time to connect and evaluate what is working for us and what needs to change.

I have been fortunate to learn from some of the best in a variety of industries who had similar mindsets. When something wasn’t working for us, we went and changed it. They built something new if it was missing. They tried hundreds of things before they found what worked. They embraced mistakes and realized they learned more from making them. They helped shape my identity as a teacher before I even realized it.

Teaching is about being comfortable with the unknown. Realizing it is about growing and learning who you are. Just like my students thrive on relationships, I learn from those that dare to think differently and challenge me to improve my practice. Some of those people are teachers, some are friends and some are people who just took the time to connect with me for one reason or another.

There are many times that I meet a teacher or have worked with a teacher I did not see eye to eye with on something but I have taken that chance to reflect on what they could share with me and could teach me. Professionally, those teachers are some of my favourites because they challenge me to be the person I want to me. I respect the fact that they can share their identities and their beliefs because I have learned that approaching it from the mindset of wanting to learn about them and how they do things allows me to build a relationship built on respect. Sometimes I still need to ask someone else how to best approach that person first but it is out of respect to that person’s identity and needs. The same way I ask parents about their kids, I want to learn about who a person is to respect them.

My identity shifts and changes as I experience different things but at the core of it all, it is all about relationships and being willing to grown. My needs change as well. We are always learning, growing and changing. This is who I am as a teacher and a person. By recognizing it, my students are better for it.

From Class Blog: Learning Update Term 2

Each time that I listen to the students talk about their learning, I am amazed and proud at their growth and their ability to explain their learning using the vocabulary that we use in class. Seamus and Cailynne had the opportunity to speak with Mrs. Cameron about feedback and how it helps us grow in our learning. When Mrs. Cameron told me the story, I was so impressed with their description. They described like climbing a staircase and each feedback loop allowed them to move to the next step. It was phenomenal to hear. I have since used that example to explain to teachers in other districts about the work that we do. For this video, the students put together their ideas. My job was simply to hold the camera still and put photos and video together in a format we could share.

LC 5A learning for term 2 from Courtney Albrecht on Vimeo.

I am so proud of the students and can’t wait to see what Term 3 brings in our #bestyearever

Revisiting my professional growth plan goals

My personal professional growth plan goal was to be a more reflective practitioner. This year, I have had a steep learning curve. I never imagined how quickly and how much I would have to learn. My saving grace at times has been that I am creative and quick on my feet. That being said, when I look back on my blog posts, in my sketchbooks and notebooks, and at the conversations I have with my friends and family, I realize that I know that in reflecting and sharing, my classroom practice has benefited the learning of my students.

I look at my decision to really focus on the work my students were doing and their love of small group work. By doing so, I made a decision to have my students do a major presentation in groups of 3 and record their presentations for me to watch afterwards. I have very high quality work from students and students who were reflective and put a lot of pride into their work. This decision was made from looking at what I saw from my students and where I saw the greatest success individually. The students feed off each other and want to share together.

I look at my decision to close the wall between my class and the class next to mine and I see kids who are thriving because I am taking risks that are either extremely rewarding or really good learning opportunities and we “fail” forward together. I get instant feedback from them and they get way more individual attention. We have grown as a community and we experience together. I try new things with them and we explore together. This decision was made from look at what kind of learner I am and what kind of teacher I knew I was from the experiences I had as it was.

Reflection was never something I thought I was good at but I am really forcing myself to really stop and take the time to look back to see what I learned so I can move forward.