Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Parent Interviews

Today we had parent/teacher interviews. Oh, let me re-phrase that a we had 3-way-child-led-conferences at our school! Wow, how reporting has changed!

I had a few lump-in-the-throat moments as my little treasures spoke of their learning journeys, personal learning goals, tricky moments, what they have been successful at and more. They shared their work which they are most proud of, reading (in most cases) with great confidence and sharing (in most cases) with confident speaking voices and no hesitation. I saw thrilled parents who smiled at their children's achievements and accountability for their own learning. I heard the children articulate their learning. I even watched a change in attitude about what the learning journey of this life is all about...a continuous learning journey, one which we have choices in.

So tonight as I prepare for another day of teaching tomorrow followed by more conferences, I am able to reflect with a smile on my face and a skip in my heart. They GET it. I mean, they really GET it. Not just the children, the parents I mean! They really GET what their kids are doing - they understand self-management (even if they don't know the phrase yet), they recognise that their child participates and contributes to their classroom learning environment. They can process how their child relates to others and how this affects them.

Tonight, today, I saw joy in my children's faces as they shared who they are as learners.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Question About Questions...

My little resident experts are so clever. They
loved sharing their learning today and were sensational at asking each other questions. One of my cherubs even said she had a few questions about questions!

It began with a thinking skills session about what we see and perceive from an image. We looked at the wonderful photos such as the ones above and they were asked to think and talk about (partner activity) where the photos may have taken place, why they were chosen as the subject, who may have taken them, what perspective it was taken from and even the platform (from a plane/chopper/boat/satellite etc.) The class then brainstormed with their partner and debated, discussed and confirmed their ideas with another group. They were asked to justify their ideas - we have had a huge focus on fact and opinion this term and this was a great way to apply what we know to be true and what we think is possible.

So the questions flowed and flowed and flowed - and I don't mean MY questions, I mean the questions that the children asked one another about why they thought something or what they knew about something else and so on. Questioning is a wonderful activator of more thinking and questioning if done well and they were certainly away on a roll! We have now had some of them choose to create blogposts about their thinking and some more are in the pipeline so watch this space!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Techie Brekkies

It is one of the most fun ways to start the day at school...a 7.30am techie brekkie! Our syndicate are great at sharing their knowledge and this has become one of our greatest strengths as a team. Teamwork is not about just working together when you teach, it is about 'learning together' - the motto of our school, coincidentally.

Every month or so, we ask for what people in the team feel is their next learning step in their skill-set with technology - from ICT scaffolding of skills to IWBs to ePortfolios, blogs, iPods, iPads and so on. We then decide as a team what the most important need is for the time and set about getting our expert in that area to teach it to us! There is great sharing and a lot of patience - teachers can be much trickier to work with than children but just like any student, we all progress at different rates in different ways and have varied learning styles, so it is always a wonderful session together!

I am now looking to start some techie brekkies for students with a mind to developing some 'go-to' people within each year level - students who become teachers for their peers and perhaps even their own teachers. There are a range of skills that could be embedded in these sessions that could transfer into all ICT - such as problem-solving, developing strategies, use of various search engines, and so on as well as the basics of as many technological devices as the school has and some that we don't have (such as iPhones etc.)

There is so much to be said for shared learning - our brains are wired to input far more than we ever bother to cram into it in one lifetime. When we share what we know with others it allows us to become even more aware of what we don't know, and as I say...if you don't know what you do know then you'll never know what you don't know!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Staying Relevant

It was suggested to a friend of mine that it might be worth her leaving teaching to go out into the 'real world' and become a digital learning consultant.

After much consternation, we got together and talked through the pros and cons of what this would mean for her.

The big question: could she really 'have it all' or was she already in the middle of 'it all'?

My thinking on it was thus: we need experts to impart their knowledge on so many levels to us as educators and learners, but we need RELEVANCE. When I was consulting in Greenwich, SE London, years ago, there was a deep need for me to stay teaching. I worked part time in a job share with a fantastic teacher, with a Y6 class, while also working alongside, modeling in other people's classrooms for 3 days a week. This balance was pretty full-on and at times, slightly manic, but it ensured that I stayed in touch with actual classroom teaching. It seemed to me that the very second you step out of a classroom, something fundamentally changes in education and it begins to leave you behind.

So. my advice to my amazingly talented friend is this: stay relevant. Stay in a classroom and pass on your knowledge in every creative and crazy way you can find. Speak at seminars, webinars and conferences. Lead staff and student techie brekkies. Lead staff meetings and show a new discovery during every syndicate meeting. Teach your students and then teach them how to teach their knowledge to others. But make sure that you are firmly embedded in the ever changing world of the everyday classroom or you run the risk of being behind the white ball and never being able to catch up.

It's all about being RELEVANT.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Virtually Conferencing!

Oh how things have changed!

I would think that a fair decades years ago, the world had grown smaller after the invention of passenger planes. Suddenly the world was at our fingertips and the furthest, deepest and most uncivilised places were within a few hours of flight time.

Then the telephone and mobile phone meant that we could be in touch with all of the furthest family members and other company members. Nowhere was out of reach anymore and no time was off-limits for contacting others.

The internet meant that information was no longer limited to where you lived and what you knew or could find out. The beginnings of social networking and the spin-offs from that suddenly meant that the experts were no longer limited by who you knew.

And now, we are able to even 'attend' seminars (webinars) and conferences in our PJs and from our living rooms. We can lead discussions and present ideas without ever needing to purchase a plane ticket or book a hotel room. It means that suddenly the world becomes even smaller and vastly easier to access on every level - what we know and need to know, where we are and where we want to be and who we know and need to know. Questions and answers are connected in a heartbeat and ideas are expanding and broadening exponentially. Within a short lifetime the world is changing at a rate that means we can not imagine and synthesize quick enough.

Climb on board ladies and gentlemen. Strap yourselves in safely, return your trays to an upright position and get set to go where you have never been before...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fragile - Handle With Care

Teaching is one of those professions where, as a young, impressionable 20-something, it is easy to be mistaken as confident or even arrogant. As we develop some backbone and guts to that assumption, as we gain experience, bruises and learning along the way, it is easy to be viewed as even more confident and extremely competent. These are good things, but in essence, they do not describe us well as teachers.

What I have discovered the longer I stay in teaching, is that the more time we serve as educators, the more fragile our self-esteems are revealed to be. We are NOT as bullet-proof, resilient or resistant as parents and administrators and governments assume us to be. Teachers are learners and as such, we strongly desire the approval of others to assure us that we are getting it right. We enjoy hearing praise for what we do. We love to be given positive reinforcement about what we are achieving. We NEED to know that we are appreciated and valued by all who we interact with.

But what often happens with teachers is that we have fantastic feedback from all but one and the only one we are affected by is the one. We succeed at raising standards of achievement with all of our readers/writers/mathematicians etc. and yet the one who falls through the hole is the one we feel we have failed. "Schools and teachers fail children" are the words that echo in our ears. Our parent interviews are all positive and the parents are all happy with their children as learners except one, and that is the only one we judge the interviews from.

We are a fragile bunch. We know this, we recognise this and we worry about this. But it is this quest for perfection and value that makes us the very people who are perfect to work with children. It qualifies us best as the very people you WANT to fight for your child's best choices. We are the very people that you may never remember in the long string of those who spend time with your children over the years, but it is exactly that which qualifies us to be who we are.

We are teachers.
We are learners.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Let's Collaborate!

We have two buddy classes, one which is New Entrants and one which is Year 6. This places us beautifully in the middle as both role models and also as those who aspire to be. My class love the opportunity every Friday to mentor the younger, new children to school. And they also love their less often experience of being mentored by the older, about to leave primary school children.

Today we went to our Year 6 buddies and assumed the role of teachers. It was fantastic for the younger to t
each the older for once - we collaborated together brilliantly! My class taught the Year 6 children how to create forms using googledocs/forms and they produced amazing quizzes about inventions and inventors.
There was a constant stream of chatter, questioning, laughter, 'aha' moments, joy, frustrations and solutions all going on with 50+ children in a small space. Creativity has so many faces and this was no exception! The children were so proud of their achievements and most managed to embed the docs on their wikispace pages - it was a positive result all round!

When Teaching and Learning Unite!

One of the children in my class had the opportunity to teach a teacher some of the skills that he has acquired over the past 6 months. He has become our 'go to' man (as told by another teacher!) when it comes to all things I.T as well as any general questions around work.

During my appraisal yesterday, the same child was the one who all of the class used as their first port of call automatically when they saw me working with a group and unavailable to them. This is fantastic as a teacher since I was totally unaware until my appraiser made the comment to me after the session about how this child was so readily available to the others as their 'second teacher'!

What is even more interesting is the fact that the same child lacked self-confidence and also self-management skills early in the year. Any issues, incidents or frustations ended in tears and temper flare-ups in term 1, but now, the same child has had no incidents, reactions or melt-downs for about 2 months. What a difference a bit of time and self-confidence has!

Fast forward to today when I had another colleague visiting to observe. The same child, yet again, was the one confidently talking about his learning, his learning steps, the expectations, his learning intentions and how he would use his success criteria to measure this. Wow. The teacher he was explaining things to was blown away as well. This is such a transformation that has occurred on a very personal level and it has been quite magical to see!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Indelible Impressions

What impression do YOU leave on your colleagues and class?

If people were asked anonymously to write a sentence to describe you, what would their lasting impression be of you as a person, workmate, teacher?

An indelible impression is one that cannot be rubbed or smeared off, an impression that cannot be removed. "The lightest of touches leaves the deepest of impressions" is a wonderful way to consider the impressions we leave every day in the things that we say and do.

How much do you consider this when you interact with people? We can damage or grace people with our words and actions and these interactions can leave either scars or lovely impressions, depending on how we choose to impress.

Worth considering when a picture paints a thousand words and one word can crush a spirit.

How will you choose to leave your impression on others, especially those we teach?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Would the teacher in the room PLEASE stand up???

When I taught in Year 7&8 there were a number of occasions (okay, DAILY) when visitors/students would come into the room and look around in search of the teacher. I am not only slightly vertically challenged but am also the teacher who is most often found on the floor with a group or beside a group of students knee deep in what they are doing, so I tended to blend in nicely (in my younger days…)
Now, with the paradigm shift that has occurred in teaching around the world, I am also the one who blends in because I too am a learner, and the children are teachers.
Less and less do I find my children imitating me in the library, reading books in their ‘teacher voice’ – they are all the teacher now and they no longer imitate in the same way since they would when the power seemed to lay with me. I have always been amazed at the way children ‘teach’ one another and have now found the value in them as the experts in our class.
The paradigm shift and change in pedagogy for many educators has meant that there is finally true value in every child as a teacher and a learner. My class love to instruct one another and we have learnt a lot about ‘human resources’ and the value that every member of the class brings to our learning pathway.
So, nowadays, when visitors and children come into the room there is no chance that they will find the teacher. They will find all learners, all teachers and one adult among them!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Just Inquiring...

We have had 5 blocks of time over the past 2 weeks to do Inquiry Learning with our fabulous specialist librarian who is also an inquiry learning teacher extraordinaire! It is one of my most favourite times and when it comes around each term, I leap in with more gusto than any of my class, which is really saying something since they LOVE inquiry learning!

With our focus on how technology/inventions have changed and improved our lives, we decided to look at the invention of hot air balloons. The class came up with some fantastic questions when we were 'wondering' - we asked: when and how were they invented? What do we use hot air balloons for? Why choose to travel in a hot air balloon? What famous flights have taken place? How do you become a hot air balloon pilot? (just to name a few!)

Our inquiry learning teacher is awesome at that wonderful balance of guiding and allowing the children to discover answers themselves, and through the very simple but strong Inquiry Model that we use, the children have strategies and processes in place that enable them to make decisions, know where to find information, use keywords to search, write information in their own words and present their findings to one another in a report form chosen by them.

Of all of the skills that we specifically teach, the ability to use the inquiry model is one of the most important - these are a series of lifelong skills which look like research and note-taking once they get to college or university, but they are skills which also carry through into adulthood and their future careers.

Our hot air balloon posters are succinct, informative and in great 'child-speak'. When they presented them, their 'child voice' came through and yet they could clearly talk to where they had acquired information and how they checked its accuracy.

It is great to know that by scaffolding these skills and then integrating them into our classroom programmes, we are building learners of today and the future. Gotta love inquiry!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cyber Safety

We had one of those 'moments' this morning, before school, when some of the best teaching can actually happen.

A group of children from my class were already organised for the day and had set themselves up on a laptop, busily online. We have very strict rules around this time - they are to be on either Mathletics or our class wiki and no other options.

Of course, boundaries and meant to be pushed and rules to be broken, so a small group had gathered around one laptop and were merrily surfing through a few games on this laptop. It was not a site which I had vetoed for them, nor was it on our wiki so they were well outside the parameters we have agreed upon. The site, for all intense purposes, is actually fine for them to be on but I immediately took the chance to re-visit the reasons WHY we have the safeguards that we have in place.

I went through the 'history' to show them how they leave a footprint behind of where they have been. We talked about how easy it is to think that a website is okay BEFORE we have actually seen through it. The children were able to tell me how and why we agreed on the places that are okay for us and why this is the same as our parents knowing who we are with or what we are doing.

We looked at what 'pop-ups' are and how they can appear on a website anytime, we have all seen them on youtube clips and so on. We also went back through our online treaty and then the bell rang and I asked them to report to the class what we had talked about.

What was most interesting in all of this, was the way that they accepted their error was just that - there were no excuses or silly responses, each of the children involved knew that we have boundaries for SAFETY - THEIR safety - and that the agreement we made is to protect them.

Cyber safety is an ongoing, integrated, essential, feature of our web2.0, social networking, eLearning, digital classroom life. We have a responsibility to protect what the children see, hear, read and experience while online and today reminded me of why I am so vigilant about what the class have access to. A timely reminder of what safety looks like in the digital age.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I Don't Mean To SKYPE but...

We had a fantastic Skype session yesterday across the bridge to a room in the Junior school! It was the most wonderful time for the children who thoroughly enjoyed chatting LIVE to one another!

Now you may think that we could have just crossed the 15m over the bridge to the other classroom and had the conversation that way, and you would be correct...but we were experimenting with social media and the power of feeling connected in different ways.

We began by waving hello to one another and both classes were projecting our image on the ActivBoard so that we could see one another's reaction. We hadn't planned any specific questions for each other so it was a little hesitant to start with...but once the ice was broken we were off!

I attempted to scribe our questions to one another so that the other class who are Year 1, were able to follow visually also. It served as a great prompt for my Year 3 & 4 children who kept referring to the questions and reminding each other of different things that they hadn't said yet.

As we really got going, the children took turns asking and answering questions about our respective topics - Orangutangs and Flight. It was actually a cool impromptu assessment for me as many of my children gave clear explanations of what flight is, the differences between flying and gliding, what the sonic boom is, the definition of supersonic and so on. The other class were able to tell us what orangutangs eat, their habitat and other information pertinent to their topic. Again, a great assessment of ongoing learning.

When we were finally torn away from the session (we were both late to our next sessions!) we spent some time reflecting on the learning - what did we learn that was new? Many of my children also fed-forward about what we could do to better prepare for our next Skype session with the other class and we decided unanimously that we will prepare questions and practice asking them, as well as preparing some statements about flight and images of some of the more tricky things to explain.

All in all, I don't mean to skite, I mean SKYPE, but - what a cool experience!

Thursday, June 9, 2011


My class have been learning about flight this term and they have been truly inspired by the achievements and daring of Amelia Earhart.

In typical fashion, I had planned to focus our writing on biographies of Charles Lindburgh, the Wright brothers or Jean Batten, but my class were so utterly inspired by the bravery and gaul of Amelia, that we have simply rolled with retelling her story as a biography. They have also devised a series of questions to stage interviews with one another, taking turns pretending to be the interviewer and interviewee.

The quality of writing has astounded me especially with those who are not necessarily fluent writers. Several of my children who use their iPads to record, got into things easily and were able to really expand their ideas well into full sentences. They have been talking about their writing and cheerfully encouraging each others' ideas! Now that is inspiring!

We have started to record our ideas as video clips and add these to the wikipages for each of them. It has been great for their oral language development to practice presenting their interviews, rehearsing enthusiastically and then filming one another. We have completed several interviews and the class are also enjoying viewing each others' efforts, although there have been a few very nervous giggles when they hear and see themselves on the big screen!

Inspiration comes in so many shapes, but clearly it is easy to enjoy doing anything when the learning inspires us. Thanks Amelia for being such an inspiration!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

We're All In This Together!

What have I discovered since becoming a blogger, fb user, tweeter, delicious bookmarker, flickr sharer, youtube post-er?

Frankly, peeps, as educators, we are all in this together!

Collaboration and community has never been as powerful as this!

I have realised that knowledge and experience has a voice. There is value to more than just me in all that I learn and someone, somewhere is either experiencing the same challenges or navigating their way through the same successes. And just the same, there is value in all of the other educators' experiences when they share them with the rest of us!

My blog traffic is from 77 countries to date, which means that everywhere in the world, teachers are trying to advance their knowledge by reading, researching, listening and sharing. The joy of social networking is that our voice can be heard across the miles and time spans. One of my favourite things to do in the morning is to see what other teachers have discovered and posted on twitter overnight, and one of my favourite reading times at night is to check google reader for the latest blog updates from the people I follow.

The world has become even smaller, time zones no longer matter, and it is obvious that things are changing in education at a rate which we can scarcely contain.

You should be!

Monday, June 6, 2011

#Tweeting #Twits

When I first discovered Twitter, thanks to my ever helpful I.T guru husband, I was extremely underwhelmed by the whole concept.

How could someone who loves to talk, delights in spewing forth as many words as a page can hold and is only able to 'tell the short version' if you have a spare 20 minutes, condense one comment into 140 characters??? INSANE! 140 words is a challenge!!!!

But now, having happily tweeted my way through this year and part of last year, I have finally discovered the power of being in community with like-minded people. I originally followed anyone with a pulse (and a few that I think didn't, perhaps an auto-generated computer comment...?) but I have gradually narrowed my little avenue of people down to a paltry 150.

Every now and then I get a bit twitty and end up adopting all and sundry (until they annoy me by telling us all about their hot chocolate and movie in some exotic location, and then they get rudely divorced by me.) Ruthless I know, but this is a collaboration tool for me, one that awakens me to new and wonderful teaching trends, thinking, eLearning tools and so on, so I cannot afford to talk latte when I need to be learning!

I have found a whole new group of people who think like me, but also think differently, learn like me but also learn different things and share like me but also share different things. It is probably one of the most powerful tools I have ever used and I find myself searching whenever I have a moment to find which tweets I have missed and to read, bookmark and catch up on the comments of significance to me that day.

So yes, I am a tweeting twit transformed by trendy twitter! Twit-twoo!

Friday, June 3, 2011

World Environment Day

Each year on this designated day, the UNAA seeks to focus world attention on the environment, and in particular, on positive programmes that work towards protecting or restoring the world's natural heritage.

Our school celebrated the day by having a special school assembly filled with lovely skits, dramas, songs, dances and presentations around the theme of protecting our environment. We also launched our new enviro-initiative of having 'Nude Food' - that means that we are encouraging parents to send the lunches for their children minus wrap of any kind. Many fantastic alternatives were suggested to encourage the children (and the visiting parents) to find another way to bring their food to school. We met the new and wonderful mascot called Tai, an extremely surfie monkey! He went down a treat with everyone and we even had to practice our own surfie talk!

The reality is, we have only 2 choices in the future of our planet. We can sit back apathetically and decide that it is not our problem or we can become part of the solution. Our school is in the 3rd year of being an enviro-school and we are fortunate to have the scheme driven by extremely passionate and motivating teachers, staff and parents. We have a community of parents who are behind the school 100%, prepared to give up their own money and time to ensure a great, environmentally friendly school for their children.

And hopefully, one day in our children's future, there will be less need to think so consciously about preserving our planet and protecting the environment. Hopefully one day this will all just be a normal part of our daily lives and we will no longer feel socially responsible for we will already be that way anyway.

Long live the planet! :)