Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The 2 C's

Today we had our second class trip of the week...well, the second trip for me anyway! With a composite class, it means that our education outside the classroom is over 2 days with 2 different trips for the different year levels.

The focus for our learning was the 2 c's - communication and collaboration. We did activities that allowed opportunities for both and it was amazing to see them rise to the occasion. Even at this young age, leaders begin to shine through, children who are less confident become more obvious, and the group that works together best is always most successful!

Raft building, team games and camp cooking were the measure of the day. Each time, the children outdid themselves, overcoming their own fears, personal limitations and rising to the occasion. Their behaviour was exemplary, leading to comments as such from the outdoor education teachers. They made great choices, were considerate of one another, supported each other when someone was less confident, encouraged others in their teams and much more.

When we consider taking our classes out of the school to experience things such as outdoor education, there is so much more to consider than how many parents you need to take with you, risks involved, health and safety, buses to book, dates to organise and notices to send home. What we have to think about more than all of that, is the fact that there is a lot of learning to be done in outdoor education - there are many positives to the experience and it in an adventure that they will never forget.

As a teacher, I have spent quality time getting to know my class over the past 2 days. The relationship has changed and developed again, with the children gaining trust in me that cannot happen as easily or quickly in the 4 walls of a classroom. Their relationships with each other have changed and developed too - again, something that would often take the whole year to achieve. This is just one of the many benefits of working over 2 days in the close confines of a challenge and a series of new and exciting experiences.

Education Outside The Classroom

We spent an awesome day out of the classroom today. Our class trip was to a leisure centre, purpose built for outdoor education. The children were excited, slightly nervous and downright anxious in some cases. Our challenge - to try something new, to try something that may be outside their comfort zone.'

The first part of the day was a walk to the bush where they were asked to work in teams to build a bush shelter or bivouac. They had to gather materials from around them and had some ropes and a piece of tarpaulin to use. There was some great teamwork, and a few over-eager parents who joined in a bit too much at time, but we got there in the end! They created a range of shelters and then went around and gave each other feedback on their shelters.

From there we headed of to rock-climbing. In most cases the children had experienced this before and were generally fairly confident. It is always amazing to see the children who are daring and leap up as fast as they can to try something new. In contrast, there are usually a handful of the reluctant - the children who have never learned to dare, be adventurous or even try the totally unknown.

We had lunch and a short break before embarking on our archery session and the session in the pool for kayaking. The kids just loved the day - so many new things to try and so many moments to overcome their fears and JUST DO IT!

When we got back to school the opinion was unanimous - a wonderful day filled with great memories and plenty of A-HA moments too! You cannot put a price on a day like this. A day where every child has a new and wonderful memory of an outdoor education gained through fun activities!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Getting It RIGHT

After my disastrous start to last year, which one has to put down to over-eagerness and over-excitement wrapped into one, I have finally managed to get the year started (this time around) in a much better way!
No rushing in for me this time. No crashing head-first into the unknown and assuming it was known. Oh no, not this time.

THIS time I have taken it one step at a time, assumed nothing, missed nothing, planned for every eventuation (yeah right!), plotted a simple pathway of learning based on the known, and put the start of the year together bit by bit. THIS year, I have had a bundle of experts on tap - the 'known-nine' I call them - and I have utilised their skills and expertise to build the culture of learning in our classroom. THIS year, I am being patient, waiting for the growing to take place REGARDLESS of what I THINK I know, regardless of what I have hoped for. THIS year, I am letting it all happen at THEIR pace, not at my break-neck speed.

THIS year, I am getting it right! The devices have their place in our classroom but it's about the Key Competencies and building their learning through these first and foremost. THIS year, it is about the learning NOT the outcomes. THIS year is the year I am finally allowing each step to be driven by the children and the direction to be steered by their curiosity.

THIS year is exciting and amazing already. THIS year...well, who knows what will happen THIS year?!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Where TO From Here...?

Speaking to some close friends who work in the private school sector today, they were trying (unsuccessfully) to persuade me to apply for a job in their school. We have danced this dance many, many times over the years, but I am still so utterly, disgustingly, nauseatingly HAPPY in my place of work, that to change would seem like 'fixing something that isn't broken' or looking for better when you already have the best.

Anyway, this led to a fascinating discussion about frustrations with change, leadership and reform. Not that I have anything to complain about since I am utterly blessed on all counts at my school! They were talking about their frustrations with forward thinking, children compressed into boxes, getting change to be the catalyst for reform, teaching as a part of learning but life being the reason to learn, and much more. We talked about the things that they wish they were seeing support with at their school and it really made me (a) count my blessings twice! and (b) wonder at how many other totally frustrated teachers are out there?!

In a bit of personal soul searching afterwards, I have come to realise that one of the main reasons I love where I work is that we have leadership who are not above us or ruling over us but are actually the wind beneath our wings. We have leadership who can't wait to see what we will do next - they audibly cheer at new ideas, happily go and fight for us to try new things, get the board of trustees behind every new innovation, drive us through their own passion and are the best sideline cheerleaders in the world! With leadership that believes in you, there is little a team can't achieve!

In opposition to that, my friends are both in an environment where rocking the boat is not a good plan, where sticking to the norm and the tried and trusted is the ONLY option, where people simply say yes or do as they always have because there is such misery and frustration at anything outside of that. When they ask me to apply for jobs there and tell me to file proposals etc. all I can see is my head, a brick wall and a lot of years of dire frustration. I do CHANGE. I DON'T do 'stuck in our ways'. Imagine how that would kill a young teacher's passion quickly?! And I am OLD! So it would be a much faster burn for me!

What do we have to do as educators then, to get these types of changes as 'the norm' instead of appearing to be new age, new stage, new phase, fly-by-night innovations that we will somehow 'get over' one day and go back to things 'the way they should be/have always been'?! Where do we go to from here? And how do we get other school leaders to realise once and for all, that learning does NOT only take place in schools - that learning is a lifetime adventure, as essential as breathing and growing?

A stronger, better, more resilient and blood-thirsty teacher will come along and make that happen for my friends' school one day. But it won't be me.

Maybe one day someone will come along and help them to realise that it isn't about fixing things but about starting over and creating new and better.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What's Changed?

I was asked some pertinent questions recently about blogging which set me to reflecting about my journey with this - from the chalkface to the interface I guess.

Blogging is a platform for reflection for me, first and foremost. It is a means for plotting the journey that technology has taken me on, but even more than that, from the new (now well-worn) curriculum's beginnings, until now.

When we started to first look as a nation at 'authentic contexts for learning' I knew without a shadow of a doubt that in New Zealand we were finally on the right page in education. I believe that we finally have our learners at the centre of the learning, NOT a curriculum set in stone at the centre. I have often imagined (and if I were an artist I would've drawn) the sword in the stone scenario, where only the 'chosen one' can pull it out and use it. Education had become a lot like that 10-15 years ago - only the chosen ones who ticked all the boxes and jumped through the appropriately memorized hoops, could have the ultimate prize.

But now, as the years glide by since the introduction of the new (old) curriculum, we have schools where the walls have pushed back, the platforms for learning have not just expanded but out creativity has too. Our students have become the teachers and the teachers are firmly in place as the learners alongside them! Commonplace phrases heard in classrooms are, "I'm not sure, let's find out...what do you think?" which is the teachers speaking! Talk and chalk has given way to listen and learn, inquire and delve, dare and do. Self-management has superseded teacher direction, collaboration has usurped 'go and work silently', and thinking is now the highest prize for learning.

So why do I blog? Because this has been one journey that I would not have believed if I hadn't been able to record it and look back upon it. WOW is always on my lips and I talk about the WOW moments in our classroom all the time. The boundaries of possibility don't exist anymore - we are truly in an age where the only limits are the ones we set through fear or ignorance.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Carpe Diem

Over the years, I have made a powerful discovery about learning, particularly BOYS’ learning. You see, I have discovered that most boys have an ‘IT’. You know - a ‘something’ that they are into, driven by, passionate about and totally immersed in.
Now at the risk of this sounding extremely sexist, I would like to justify my cause by saying that girls talk about stuff, emotions, events, problems, solutions. Stuff. But boys seem to have an IT. They have to have something they love to do, to be able to talk about it. Girls are happy to talk about almost anything!
In our classroom last week, we had one of the boys bring his collection of rocks in. He is totally INTO rocks. He loves to look at them, describe them and find out all he can about them. It was therefore the perfect time for me to ‘carpe diem’ - seize the day. He and I set up a blog for him (he loves to write) and he started to take photos of the rocks and add details about them. This got the ball (or rock) rolling!
At our class campfire (meeting in a circle), we asked him questions and I began to notice some interest generating inside some other boys in the class. The following day, the iPod was quickly seized by the lads and the photos were quickly snapped, uploaded, downloaded and embedded on the blog. NOT by the original child, but by him and a group of the boys. SNAP! He had made new friends and was suddenly collaborating about the blog, how they could get access to more information about rocks and more.
Well, update as of yesterday, day 5 of the geology craze, and the wiki is revving up, they have found some great books in the library yesterday, set up a table with their growing collection and have now got the dyno-lite (microscope camera) set up for Monday so that they can check out the features of the rocks close-up.
My job now is to foster, nurture, plant and grow this passion in those learners. PHEW! Don’t you love curiosity and passion? The food of learning!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Building Relationships With Your Community

One of the resources most useful yet poorly utilised is that of the local community. Sitting within the closest proximity is the broadest base of experts and practical guides - yet we often forget to tap into that wealth!
We grab books, we jump online, we strangle Google, we dive through Twitter and we drag out every photocopy we can find. We rifle through flipcharts, borrow DVDs and forget that human resources are the keystone to all that we know and learn.
Tick back thousands of years...the elders were treasured for the stories and histories that they talked of. Gathering around campfires, snuggled in caves, the people considered the greatest experts were those who told of the history of each clan or family. They were treasured by their communities. Even now, many cultures still value most the person who knows the most about their family or community's history and the stories from the past.
Let's remember to use the best resources we have - the families of our class children, the local elders, the experts who surround us and have the memories and knowledge to enhance the learning in our schools.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Building Relationships With Parents/Carers

Teachers College gives our student teachers excellent advice about how to build relationships with our classes, but seems to give slim guidance on how to build relationships with staff, community and parents/carers. In reality, our relationships with our students is directly proportional at times to our relationships with those who know them best - their parents/carers. If we spend time establishing these relationships, we will allow ourselves the opportunity to get to know our students deeper and in a much richer sense - through the eyes of someone who knows them best.

So what advice would be best to give new teachers/student teachers about building relationships with parents?

Well, let's look at the 'typecast' parents we meet along the way - and remember that I, too, am a parent of school aged children so even I fall into one of these categories!

  1. The OTT parent - sometimes known as panicus parentus - this is the parent who constantly calls the office worrying about their child not having enough morning tea to drink or forgetting to wear their hat at lunchtime.
  2. The Intense Parent - also referred to as analus retenticus this parent is typically in the face of every teacher their child has, telling them about their dreadful health problems or issues with friends, and needs to e-mail 15x a day to let the teacher know about every event that may affect their child.
  3. The Laid Back Parent - affectionately known as flatus parenticus - this is the parent who treats every event in their child's life as if it was a non-event. When their child is in any trouble, they blow it off as 'boys will be boys' or 'she does that at home too, never mind'...
  4. The Disinterested Parent - named parenticus distancicus - this parent is the one whom we NEVER meet, in fact, we spend all year wondering if the child invented their parent!
  5. The Balanced Parent - called parenticus realisticus - this parent is concerned when things go wrong but is generally realistic about it, supportive of the teacher and has the know-how to realise that most teachers are professionals who love kids, love learning and are genuinely interested in the best for their child.
There is certainly a mix of parents in every school and the majority are fabulously realistic people who well remember their years as a school child. They are passionate about their kids and truly want to support their child's teacher and school in helping their child to be the best that they possibly be. I am being extremely tongue-in-cheek when I type-cast parents - I actually spend all year building and growing my relationships with all of the parents in my class and can proudly say that I have taught many siblings over the years and had lots of happy - as well as some not-so-happy - professional relationships with the parents of the children at our school.

In terms of 'how to build relationships with parents', there are only a few wise ideas that I have to share.

  • favour honesty over ease - never take the easy way with neglecting to tell parents the whole story about their child. No future teacher wants to see shocked parents who never knew there was a problem. Honesty can be the hard blow to deliver but it is, without exception, always the right choice.
  • listen 90% of the time and ask questions the other 10% - it's pretty simple. Just do it. Parents feel valued and listened to when you listen. Let them be the ones to tell you things. Everyone is ready to hear when they have been listened to first.
  • create time to be available before and after school - parents get 2 opportunities to talk to you, relate to you and hear about how well you know their child - before school and after school. They are NOT an inconvenience and they are NOT only to be spoken to at interviews. If you have not met them and talked to them before you report to them, then you are not making yourself available as a teacher.
  • communicate in the methods of the time/area you teach in - if you are in a lower decile school where the internet is unavailable, find other ways to communicate. Get your class to write invitations, create posters for the windows or send interesting home-made brochures. If you are in a school where Facebook and Twitter are encouraged and used well by the staff and community, then use the language of the time and the methods of the time and communicate through these.
  • be open to what parents have to share about their children - parents, more than anything, want to know that you KNOW their child and that you VALUE them, the parents, as the experts on their children. Let them fill you with anecdotes and stories of the portrait of their child and you will be alive with the amazing knowledge of who these children are as people first and students next.
You will find that parents will be happy and positive if you are open to them - they are only wanting to know that the person who moulds their minds is actually aware of who lies within them.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What's A Treaty?

Having celebrated Waitangi Day as a nation yesterday, I felt (as always) that there was a great deal of parallel learning to be gained from writing our own class treaty after it.
We talked through the big question: what is a treaty? Why would people need one? The class came up with 4 key ideas - a treaty is an agreement, a deal, it’s working together and it’s a promise.
The class then brainstormed what it would be key to include in our own class treaty. I explained that a treaty must focus on the positive side of things but also that it’s about agreed expectations rather than rules.
They decided that we should write a treaty that reflects our class as learners and teachers (the children) and us (my student teacher and I) as teachers AND learners too.
So our treaty looks a bit like this:
  • · We come to school to learn and concentrate
  • · We respect each other, our belongings and feelings
  • · We raise our hand to speak
  • · We use kind words and think before we speak
  • · We use our hands to help
  • · We use working voices

We have created a wall display depicting the treaty and how it looks in our classroom as we learn together.
What a great year we have ahead!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Visual Learners

I learn by looking at pictures and sucking the juice out of pictures then combining them into words in my head and printing the words onto paper.

This is what one of my students wrote when asked to describe himself as a learner. Wow! What a powerful way to describe his learning!

Learning Spaces, Learning Styles

So now that I have all of this information about my students and have started getting to know them, I have a responsibility to them as learners to use the information to inform the way that I teach them. I also need to use this information to inform the way I use spaces in the classroom, and that I ensure they have opportunities to work in spaces that suit their styles.

Already, they have started to drift to favourite areas to work - some of them are naturally drawn to the large, collaborative 'snake' table. This is laid out so that the children are constantly surrounded by lots of other learners, so they are interacting as they work quite naturally.

Others have headed to the 'quiet zone' - the children who are wired to work in a quieter or even solo environment. There were 6 children yesterday who kept heading back there to work, and they were certainly working quietly, although they were still interacting with one another.

As for my visual learners, I have made sure that I use icons on my boards and there are visual labels on book boxes and around the general classroom environment. That is something that I must ensure to do regularly.

My tactile bunch enjoyed creating using Lego yesterday. They had the challenge of working collaboratively to create a model of our classroom. There were two groups and they worked really well, although I think the resulting model looked more like something out of Star Wars than the classroom!

This week we are going to look at our multiple intelligences and use the colour wheel to explore whether we are more linguistic, athletic or so on. All of this helps me to gain a greater insight into how my students learn best and what their strengths are for me to draw on.

Another exciting week ahead!

So, how are YOU using and utilising spaces to support learning styles?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Day 1 - Learning Styles

I was inspired by a series of tweet challenges (and blog post) that were bouncing around over the past few days and decided to take it up with my class. Being that they are 7 & 8 year olds, on their first day at school after the summer hols, it was to be a more of an oral adventure than a written one, as I needed them to articulate freely rather than being inhibited by the day-one-writing-blues!

We gathered around the campfire (class sharing circle) and verbalised the idea around the campfire theme. What we do around a campfire? Why do we have campfires when we camp? and so on. The ideas were great! Apart from the suggestion of marshmallows from my student teacher (which got us ALL giggling!) we had a great list of reasons for campfire time - we talk, we take turns, we tell stories, we tell about our histories and families around campfires etc.

From there, I embarked on the challenge - what is one thing I should know about them as a learner?

Deep? Challenging for them to articulate at that age?

Perhaps. But I had already planned my strategy for (hopefully!) getting this big question answered.

I talked about my own learning journey as a child at Primary School and how I wriggled and giggled. I talked to them about how I learn best by fiddling with objects (one of my students has a stress ball that he brings to the mat with him, so this instantly put him at ease). I gave examples of my own time at primary school where I loved to collaborate and talk and argue and lead. After my time of sharing, we tossed the ember (a small ball) to the next child (a volunteer) who shared his learning style.

The class were AMAZING. From talking about learning best with others to learning best alone, wanting to work in a quiet classroom, a busy classroom and a noisy classroom, to children explaining that they were tactile or visual, movers or still, happiest with computers/technology for communicating and so on. WOW. What a portrait of how different learners learn!

I now have the most incredible portrait of the range of learning styles in my classroom. As the year wears on, this knowledge is powerful in enabling me to make choices that allow the children to best be catered for as learners.

I dare you to try it! Share you OWN learning styles to your class, in kid-speak, and just see what they open up and share with you in return!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In Ten Hours

In ten hours, my classroom will be bubbling and bursting with the cacophony of the first day excitement. The parents will be hovering and chatting nervously, still not quite assured of who this person is charged with leading their child through a year of learning.

In ten hours, I, the teacher in question, will be (also) nervously chatting, anxiously wondering what I have forgotten! After 23 years, there is still no recipe for confidence for me. There will be little rest tonight and I will toss and turn, making mental lists and reminders for myself until the alarm announces that the ten hours are almost past.

In ten hours, my class and I will begin the journey. Where we arrive, who knows? We only know that in just over 10 months, this day will be long forgotten by most of us, but hopefully the deep imprint from the learning with remain forever.

I can't wait. Ten hours to go...!