Hosting a Student Teacher

One of the things I have missed when leaving my role as a Learning Coach was the ability to work with teachers in a symbiotic way. Some of the teachers I worked with would teach me more than they will ever realize while I was supporting them with their educational journey. I’ve worked with mentoring pre-service teachers previously in a variety of capacities but this time it was time for something new – a student teacher in their advanced placement. This was different in the sense that I hadn’t worked with the University of Alberta (only some of the other post-secondaries in the province) and this mentee would come with a foundational experience already.

The experience was a very interesting one for me because I have worked or volunteered in grade 5 in some capacity since graduating high school. The curriculum is the same one I tried to escape by teaching high school (except I still ended up teaching Grade 5 Language Arts that year). I was really looking forward to seeing someone else’s take on a curriculum that I know inside and out. I was fortunate to receive a very strong student teacher who understood the importance of relationship so we could focus on confidence and trying new things as well as fine-tuning certain things.

One of the hardest things for me was to give up some of the management control I worked to establish. This year has been one where I have had to adapt my management style to meet several different needs. To be honest, I’m not sure that I ever really did give up completely but I did try to remove myself from the situation unless I needed to step in for some reason.

One of the best things for me was watching how timely feedback can be implemented by a reflective practitioner. 9 weeks is not a lot of time for someone to make significant growth, so it amazes me when I see someone make a lot of growth and strive to implement feedback in a personally meaningful way. I found it personally encouraging as I don’t regularly receive a lot of feedback geared towards professional development. My goal is that hopefully through my own evaluation process, I can implement feedback that is given in a timely manner as well.

Last week I had a chance to speak with a friend who also hosted a student teacher. We talked about things we’d do differently, things we learned and things we’d like to try next time. I am looking forward to next year already as I look to take on another student teacher. I should say thank you to my student teacher for reminding me why I love teaching grade 5 and the importance in the relationships I build.


Radio Silence

For the past year, this blog lacked any updates. I have several posts in my drafts that I have started but never felt the need to complete. My twitter account stood barely used except for the occasional #weirdEd chat when I had the time and energy. I was exhausted, I was disheartened, I wanted to leave teaching altogether, and I was ready to quit.

My confidence as a teacher was in shambles. No reference letter, evaluation, letter from a parent or student, or anything else would convince me otherwise. This hurt my soul and made me miserable. It also affected my own personal confidence in my daily life. What I needed was to go back to the classroom and start from the beginning.  Go back to my roots and do the thing I loved doing – helping kids find the joy in school.

I am happy to say that the rest of my year was fantastic and the 6 months I spent as the “replacement” teacher was precisely what I needed. For the first time in a long time, I am excited about the first day of school. That’s a pretty big thing for someone who did not enjoy school, who learned how to play the game of school without really internalizing the learning that should have been happening, and who avoided the place as much as possible.

I can’t promise regular updates but it can’t be as bad as it was.

Taking the personal out of the equation

“My kids did…” “My students made me feel…” “My class has no…” So often we talk for our students and generalize a situation. As teachers, we conjecture an understanding of what happens in our class. We take our observations as empirical evidence. We assume, we justify, we impose our beliefs, we make it personal. We often live on the front lines and in the trenches and unfortunately our times. We are trained to understand development, and knowledge acquisition. We have theories drilled into us as to how kids act, learn. change. Sometimes, it just isn’t what needs to be done. This post I am about to share has been brewing on my mind for quite some time but I never had the courage to share my thoughts until now.

I witnessed an interesting vlog recently on social media. A parent had taken issue with broken toys. She was disappointed with her children’s lack of respect towards the things that have been bought for them. She felt hurt and disrespected as a parent. Her emotions took a hold and she expressed her thoughts and feelings about her discovery of boxes for new toys crushed by little feet and could not be sold for the higher prices she had hoped for, lost pieces of a game, and toys that were no longer functional as they had broken. In the heat of the moment, she felt hurt and she was going to make sure her kids learned a lesson on respect by taking away all these toys that were no longer being used as much as they were previously. No more toys until they could show respect.  It was personal and the hurt was deep inside her.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with her choice to take away the toys and have kids earn them back,  she was living in the moment while her kids were away at day camp. She may change her mind in a few hours, she may be more upset when she goes in their rooms and finds clothes shoved in closets and books under the bed. Her reaction is not the point.

How does this relate to teaching? Based on what I watched and listened to, she never looked at the whole picture. She did not consider the circumstances leading up to the situation. She was busy living in the moment and not looking at things from 30,000 feet. Often as teachers, we become entrenched in what is happening in our classes. We care and give so much of ourselves to our kids, we forget that despite being emotionally invested, we need to sometimes take ourselves out of the equation.

The kid who tells you they hate you because you insisted they use a pencil instead of a pen? It is frustrating and time-consuming. At 30,000ft, their last pencil (that was donated at the beginning of the year) was stolen off their desk and they are embarrassed can’t afford more and don’t want to be picked on for tattling that it was taken.

The kid who is struggling in class and made you a bad teacher because they say you’re not able to help them? It hurts, it makes you feel like a horrible teacher but from 30,000ft, we remember that they have a learning disability and have amazing ideas but struggle to develop them within the contexts of the requirements for the assignment.

The kid who fails your tests yet never asks for help? They moved from another country, are trying to learn a new language, work a job, make friends, and figure out social norms and expectations in school. They are scared because they don’t know what they don’t understand until it is too late and they are scared to ask because they see how busy you are each day.

One of the best lessons I’ve learned is that we cannot take things personally all the time. Kids are going to be kids. They are going to struggle to learn something, get frustrated, break things, lie about things, push boundaries. That is part of growing up. In the heat of the moment, we forget our training and understanding of child development and pedagogy. We focus on how we feel because we know that to be true when we can’t understand what else is going on around us. This is fine to feel that way, but it is how you react. Take the personal out of it. Focus on the facts.  Look at the whole picture.  I highly doubt those kids intentionally set out to break the toys, the students set out to lose the pencil, or not understand and become frustrated.

I thought about why I was writing this post. I realized that so often we take things personally because we care so much. We spend so much of ourselves to see success in our students, we don’t have the opportunity to press pause.  We need to allow ourselves the opportunity to acknowledge our feelings and the situation. We need to align ourselves with the goal and students in a delicate balance.  Most importantly we need to assure our students we care, and assure ourselves that sometimes it is okay to put aside the emotion to focus on the fact. Our emotions our perfectly valid but the best advice I ever received was from a student of mine who had the courage to tell me “I need you to put aside your own feelings about what is happening and focus on a solution that will help us get past this.”

It took away the ‘I’s and the ‘You’s and it because a ‘We’, What can we do together? The goal was simple. We wanted to figure out a solution for the lack of homework completion but I had to get over my own pride of feeling hurt I couldn’t teach my way out of the situation and instead we had to work as a team. We had to be on a level playing field. It was a humbling moment and a difficult pill to swallow as I learned that my fancy piece of paper meant nothing if I couldn’t bring myself down to their level. My pride was hurt, I was upset by the fact I’d find their homework in a crumpled ball at the end of the day instead of being take home. When I put that aside, I realized I cannot change circumstances. I had not considered they would be testing our relationship based on their own reality of no support at home after a 1-hour bus ride where they needed to make their own dinner before being yelled at for using up the last of the milk. When I was called names I wouldn’t dare repeat, it wasn’t personal, it was a defense mechanism to prevent getting hurt from another person giving up on them.

With a bit (okay a lot) of reflection and starting backwards, I’ve learned that once the emotion is out of the picture, a team that included the student can accomplish more than my experience and education ever could. Now that is a hard thing to internalize and put into action for anyone. Still, even with the intentional focus on taking my own feelings as a human being out of the equation, I’m not always successful.

How do you love the kids who make it the hardest to love them? How do you teach the kids who make it the hardest to teach them? How do you balance the emotional and personal investment?

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!


Being a new teacher in the building

I am alway up for a challenge.  Last year, was my first full year as a teacher and a new school in a new district. Over the summer I researched and read everything I could about the school I was I had accepted a job in. The reputation was high and the expectations were higher but nothing prepared me for what I was about to step foot into. I was given the opportunity to take risks and challenge myself as well as my students. I was able to learn and develop my practice. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone on a regular basis. Something was still missing.

This year I moved schools and districts again. This time I didn’t researched and read everything I could about the school I was I had accepted a job in. This time I took the summer to relax when I could and to focus on planning some really cool projects. So far this year, I am being pushed outside my comfort zone but I have 2 very amazing team members I am bringing along with me. We have planned together, they have embraced my ideas and helped me clean them up. We have built assessment plans and rubrics together and they are there to answer my questions. I may have a year of experience under my belt but the questions keep coming.

Being a new teacher in the building is a very interesting feeling. I was never the “New kid” in school or on the block. I only moved schools in Jr. High with all my friends.  I’ve realized you need to make the most of it and take the opportunity to learn so you can help continue to shape your practice.

Questions to reflect upon

Am I engaging students with new and innovative approaches?
Am I a life long learner, open to the views and feedback of others?
Am I a risk taker, willing to move out of their comfort zone?
Am I tech savvy and able to integrate technology?
Am I they skilled at differentiating instruction?
Have I flattened the walls of my classroom?
Do I use ongoing formative assessment as part of student learning?
Do my students have choice in how they learn and how they demonstrate their learning?
Is my classroom environment flexible and student centred?

WeirdTBC – Chapter 1: Rockstar

A bunch of Twitter users and I decided to read “He’s the Weird Teacher” by Doug Robertson and have our own book talk. Someone mentioned having a blog post about each chapter. While I doubt I’ll remember to post about each chapter, I thought I would start off with the first one.

What is your personal rockstar mantra? What inspired it?

When I was 19 and in a class designed to give me a very brief (4 or 5 weeks brief) overview of what it was to be a teacher, I was given the assignment of writing a philosophy of teaching. Given this was a pass/fail assignment, I decided that the best way to give 19 year old me who was still in denial that I would become a teacher the best hope I could at actually passing this assignment while still being true to myself. I put myself in the mindset that if I was going to be a teacher, this would be what I thought about that. The assignment was wordy, did not flow well and was the result of an idea of what I hoped my favourite teachers had thought about being teachers or what I hoped that a few of my teachers never said because if they did, they did not live up to it in the opinion of 10 year old me. If you want to read that philosophy of teaching, I’ve uploaded it here.

I went on through my stages of acceptance of becoming a teacher and that philosophy changed, shortened and became even less refined but more honest. I laughed because Doug mentions that he taped his mantra in the file cabinet. Mine is in my car’s glove compartment. The only person who has probably seen it is the guy who fixes my car and if it wasn’t the giant stuffed shark buckled in the back seat of my old car, when he found this, he’d probably assume I was weird just from that. I embrace my inner weirdness and share it with you.

I shall be your anemone and in turn, you will be a clownfish in learning

I was watching Finding Nemo – one of my favourites – and I thought the explanation of anemones and clownfish were connected and reliant on each other was beautiful and made me think of learning. Somehow that translated into that I wanted to be an anemone. There are even actions to this and my somewhat childish humour finds it amusing to tell kids they are a clownfish. It is no “bombtastic rockstar frontman of a never ending education funk machine” but those who know me, won’t be surprised by my mantra.