Sunday, July 29, 2012

So what can the Olympics teach us?

The Olympic creed stands alone as a wonderful creed for life!–

"Citius, Altius, Fortius" (faster, higher, stronger). What a powerful thing to instill in our students, but the desire to be the best that they can be.

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

Pierre de Coubertin saw in the Games an ideal opportunity to develop a set of universal principles, or values, that could be applied to education and to society as a whole, as well as to sport itself.
These Values are:
   respect - fair play; knowing one’s own limits; and taking care of one’s health and the environment
   excellence - how to give the best of oneself, on the field of play or in life; taking part; and progressing according to one’s own objectives
   friendship - how, through sport, to understand each other despite any differences
The Paralympic Values are based on the history of the Paralympic Games and the tradition of fair play and honourable sports competition.
They are:
There is the opportunity through these simple values, for us as teachers to develop the Key Competencies through using the Olympics as part of that teaching. Managing ourselves and relating to others certainly match with these qualities - respect and friendship being the cornerstone of relating to others.  Citius, altius, fortius is also perfectly aligned with managing ourselves, striving to better ourselves constantly, which we demonstrate through excellence, courage and determination.

As for triumph and struggle, every one of us at some point in our lives, need to be equipped for victories and the highlights but also, and more importantly, resilience and determination for the challenges and struggles.

What can we teach through the Olympic values? We can teach our students how to be gracious in defeat and humble in victory. We can teach them about bouncing back and giving everything that we do 100% of what we have. There is a whole lifetime of learning wrapped up in the Olympic values and creed.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sharing - THAT'S the key!

It has been my turn for release for the past 2 days and while my gorgeous class have hiked off to Technology to make amazing movies, I have been busily checking out ideas from other teachers.

In my personal learning journey, I find there are always things that I want to be better at. There are weaknesses that when addressed, can become strengths but then the hole left gets filled with a new weakness. So, at the moment, I have been working to develop some new teaching ideas in Numeracy (for my lower maths groups) and writing, with a particular focus on the conferencing aspect of writing.

So today I spent 2 invaluable sessions observing how these things look in other classrooms. Firstly, I observed a fantastic creative lesson of poetic writing. The teacher launched the lesson with a flip chart on the ActivBoard which had sounds and videos of the rain (sadly the weather had fined up, so the lesson had to be Plan B!) There was certainly plenty of notes that I took and a lot of tools that I can now adopt within my own programme.

Maths was fantastic too because I was able to see how it looks in another room with a wide range of levels. My class is actually cross grouped with another and this allows us to plan more specifically and with less of a range to have to plan and teach with. I must admit that it still presents with a challenge regardless of this, but my class is easier spread across 2 maths' stages rather than the 4 it began as!

Sharing and learning - the cornerstone to what we are as teachers and learners. How lucky are we then, when we are able to have the privilege of observing other teachers and learners at work!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Autistic Children and Learning

Today I attended an awesome course, the 2nd part of an amazing look into the world of autistic children and their families. It has been an immense privilege to hear from the parents and a wonderful special needs educator - I have learnt a lot (probably only a little really) about the pre-school life and times of an autistic child and the struggle that each family has endured to understand their child.

It was fascinating to hear some of the dads, particularly, talking so lovingly of their children but also hearing how puzzled they are by the responses and frustrations of an autistic mind. The mums were insightful when they recounted some of their earliest memories of their children and a sense that they did not seem quite the same as their friends' babies/toddlers.

It is an amazing glimpse into what our school life must look like to a child who sees all things literally. I remember well asking a 5 year old autistic student of mine to "Just hold on...give me a minute..." and then wondering what on earth he was doing holding on to my top and counting to 60!!!

There is a sense of awe and wonder in our special needs children that knows no boundaries or perameters. It should never cease to amaze us when they respond in wonderful and amusing ways to the silly things we say. One autistic student used to furrow his brow at me and looked horrified when I told him to go and clean up. "But nothing is dirty and that's the job that mums and dads do not kids!" he would always say. Unless I specifically sent him to pick up and put the rubbish in the bin, he would stand tapping his foot, exasperated.

I was concerned though today, when one of the mums was horrified that we, as mainstream teachers, were not 'taught' at Training College to understand or plan for any special needs children in our rooms. We (the teachers there) did a fair amount of explaining that this is the way things have always been and how fortunate we are to have suppportive parents to work with and wonderful schools who send us on courses as needed. It was a bitter pill for a parent to swallow - to know that we, as educators, in the large, have a very limited understanding of all of the syndromes, conditions, disorders and developmental impairments that could possibly be part of their child's chemical makeup.

But the ray of hope came from the course facilitator, who was one of the most realistic, down-to-earth and downright wonderful people I have ever met. She showed us an amazing 3 minute video which challenged us to find the 'true colours' of ALL of our children, especially our autistic children. They may be hard-wired to view the world through a black and white lens, but our challenge is to see their true colours, shining through...

Bite-Sized Learning

We have had visitors through school over the past days who have been looking at our eLearning classes and the technologies that we are integrating into our rooms.

Today I was discussing the challenges of keeping up with change and how we have to keep upskilling ourselves constantly. One visitor commented on things seeming impressive and fantastic at OUR school but somehow unachievable for their school or perhaps even too overwhelming for some people to contemplate even where to begin!

It set me to thinking about 'bite-sized' learning. If we were to give a Harry Potter novel to a 5 year old on their first day of school and expect them to decode it and process the details, we would be considered crazy. There is no point in looking at the outcome after years of learning before we take the small steps to get there. My advice to the visitors I encountered today was to pick ONE aspect of eLearning, research it, visit other rooms, talk to other educators and look specifically at that, focus on it, prepare to do it with excellence and then take small steps to make sure it is manageable along the way. NEVER be afraid to ask others for help, always take risks and dare, remember that everyone started at the same place - the beginning!

The reality is that we tend to be good at looking at the END result and we simply forget what humble beginnings look like.

Top Ten New Things To Try

Looking at all of the changes that my class and I have made this year around eLearning, I have decided to make a commitment to myself to give some new things a try as well as to do some things completely differently next year.

10. Geo-caching - with all of us becoming more proficient at using iPads and iPods, and the fact that I am retaining 9 children from this year, I think it's time to stretch ourselves and have some fun with using geo-caching to learn about using directions and giving instructions.

9. Evernote - although I have used this myself almost everyday since discovering it, I have not yet utilised it effectively in my classroom. It is time! The children will be able to save photos and add text as well as voiceover all using one easy form, so we will be able to explore this more as a way to blog.

8. Keynote presentations through the iPods - this year, we did have a go at using the iPods as our 'telly-prompters' but never quite got a handle on this. My challenge is to build this skill as part of the presentation skills.

7. Scoop-It - there have been some great articles and blogs that I have found through Scoop-It but I have yet to move into automatically using it myself as a place to store great ideas and share sites. A great personal challenge for me!

6. ePortfolios - this is something that has been on the go and developing all year. I have yet to find the right way to easily manage them and the students needs to develop their understanding more of how this works to enhance their focus and partner their learning. There are lots of different places to store the info and lots of ways to explore how to do this well so that's definitely a class and personal challenge for me!

5. Blogs and wikis - quadblogging and buddy blogs are great! My class have used Edmodo to exchange information and conversations with our blog buddies and have enjoyed developing a much broader sense of our place in the world. Edublogs is another avenue to explore and I want to be eventually setting up my class with their own blog pages.

4. Skype - we tried out a few Skype conversations last year, interviewing others in local schools. This year it's all about expanding to a global audience!

3. Pinterest and Diigo it’s time to experiment with some different ways of saving and bookmarking websites, images and ideas so these are my next challenge!

2. #edchats on twitter - I have been rather 'harum-scarum' with my time when trying to make contact with other educators on twitter and the goal is now to make sure that I attend an online edchat each week. Contributing my thoughts and ideas is the next challenge as it's too easy to just retweet other people's comments and I have to make sure that I also step out and add my own thinking! 

1. Hashtags - I am getting better at using these when I tweet but I really need to get a better handle on how they add to the traffic on twitter. It's also making sure that I look up hashtags of interest when I want to make the search even easier. Twitter is an incredibly powerful professional tool that I am still only just getting a handle on. This is my number one challenge in the list of top ten things to try!

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Many teachers would consider that giving up a Saturday to personal professional learning, in a totally (apparently) disorganised forum such as an UN-conference, would be tantamount to ridiculous torture. But frankly, if you feel like that, you simply have never experienced an Educamp.

Educamp Auckland was awesome! I have followed the Educamps in Dunedin and Christchurch and have wished that I could attend. Amazingly, we had a teacher from Dunedin and one from Wellington who came to Auckland especially for Educamp today, so it certainly shows you how good they are!

So what is the whole concept of an UN-conference?

It's a place for sharing. It's a place to ask questions. It's a place where everyone knows someone and by the end of the day, you feel like you know everyone! It's an opportunity to grow your thinking, push out your own knowledge boundaries and really think about your own personal learning journey and 'where to next'.

Educamp generally begins with a Smackdown where each person who wants to share something has 2 minutes to talk about it - an app, a website, a specific idea that they can't live without! Smackdown runs at a cracking pace for about an hour with little time to draw breath and plenty of tip-tap-type going on as people take notes! The shared google doc allows for a collaboration of ideas to be written down, which means that no-one really has to worry too much about missing something.

It then goes off into breakouts, which are really just a bunch of sticky notes of things people wish to share or ask about. A group kicks off and people move fluidly between each group, staying as long or as little as they deem necessary. There are big groups and small groups, pairs and rooms full of people and there is constant chatter, listening, questioning and sharing. Everyone contributes ideas, no-one really cares who leads, but there is a lot of 'how do you do that?' and 'what have you found most challenging about...?' and so go on raging around you. It is intimate - in the sense that you have real, personalised learning and sharing, yet it is a big enough forum to not feel singled out or as if 'you are the only one' who has questions. There is no question too big, small or ridiculous, everything is relevant to the learning and the journey, so there is generally no time to feel self-conscious or inept!

Where else can you be surrounded by some of the most experienced and ground-breaking colleagues in New Zealand? Where else can you go to have PD at your fingertips, free to a good home (or a good head!) and where else can you meet, collaborate, connect and learn in such a short time?

Best thing since sliced bread.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why do I love teaching?

Parents comment on it all the time - "I don't know how you do it!" "I couldn't stand to have 30 kids in one small space all day!" "How do you stay so calm and patient?" "I bet you can't WAIT until the holidays!"

Well, the reality is that even after 20+ years of getting out of bed at 6am and getting home at 6pm, I still wake up filled with the hope of the day ahead. Why do I love teaching?

The kids. They come expectant. They come filled with an expectation that today will be a different day to yesterday. They come knowing that their friends will be there, their day will be filled with stuff to do and they come sure that I am going to be a huge part of it. For 40 weeks, I am the reason they learn. For 40 weeks, I get the chance to plant the seeds of learning as deep as I can. I get to water and nurture their minds, ever hopeful that the 40 weeks we have will still be a happy memory in 40 years' time.

The colleagues. We share the highs and lows of all that we experience. We giggle at the faux pas of a student, we smile at the AH-HA moments and recount with joy the successes our students have. We form the world's strongest cheer-teams for the underdogs in our classes and we lose sleep over the tricky moments. But we do it all together. We are the best support that each other have and the friendships we form are the kind that seldom come along twice in a lifetime.

The sense of community. A school is the kind of place where communities rise and grow if they are fed in the right way. I have worked in many schools but the thing that sets apart the good from the great is the ones that have a deeply embedded sense of community, where there are no school gates - learning is life and their lives are filled with learning. 

The challenge. Nothing has ever or will ever challenge me the way that teaching does. Every day is different. Every child is unique. Every moment is an opportunity to learn and grow and every experience gives us the chance to change and grow more.

Why do I love teaching?
The kids, the colleagues, the community and the challenge. It's all there and there truly is nothing else like it in the world.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tutor Teacher/Mentor - What Does It Take?

What does it take to be a good tutor teacher, associate teacher or mentor to a new teacher or a teacher in training? What are the most important information and support systems that we can provide to others who are finding their way in the profession?

  1. Be honest with student teachers/beginning teachers. Give feedback that reflects what they are doing well but also give them areas to grow in. Make it direct, simple and totally honest. We don't do anyone any favours when we make things appear better than they are. We cannot grow if we don't think we need to.
  2. Recognise their strengths - make sure you value what the student teacher/beginning teacher brings as strengths and help them to grow these areas to be even stronger. We all need to feel confident about what we can do and this really helps to raise teacher-esteem!
  3. Value teachers - people need to be valued, whatever role they undertake, no matter how big or small, how simple or significant, we all like to be valued for who we are and what can we can do.
  4. Model - model, model, doesn't always have to be YOU who is modelling a lesson, so encourage student teachers/beginning teachers to visit lots of classrooms so that they can take the best of everybody with them into their classroom. But it should always be your goal to be a modelling professionalism in everything that you do. Student teachers learn how we feel about our vocation through how we behave in AND out of school hours.
  5. Relationships - model how positive relationships work, advise on how to deal with relationships when things sour in the workplace, even if this is out of your experience-pool. It's more important to have a toolkit for when things go wrong than a banner for when things go right!
  6. Time - no matter how busy we get in teaching, if we are in a position where we are mentoring a colleague or working with a BT/student teacher, then they DESERVE our time. Not 5 minutes at the end of the day, but quality pre-arranged time when they are the focus and when we are able to concentrate, undisturbed on their needs. This gives real merit to number 3. You show someone their worth often by the time you give them.
  7. Eyes - be observant. It is often in the 'un-said' that we are able to observe how someone is feeling and how their professional relationships are and much, much more. So be vigilant with watching the person you are responsible for.
  8. Ears - listening is a far more important vessel than speaking when you are a guide. If we are available to listen and prepared to hear, then BT/student teacher or colleagues will likely talk about the tough stuff, especially if they feel that someone really wants to listen.
  9. Recognise the warning signs - when things go downhill they often gather momentum VERY quickly and the slide becomes a rip downward. Know what the person's weak points are and learn to look diligently for them. If you start to see the cracks then it is time to act. Don't wait until they have hit the wall to intervene, it's a long way back up the hill...
  10. Wise council - when you have done the listening, the looking and the modelling, as well as observing and giving feedback, it is the perfect time to give some words of wisdom. But be careful - we are NOT judge, jury and executioner. Remind yourself that you HAVE been exactly where they are and try to keep it in your mind that EVERYTHING is new and challenging, no matter how confident or competent a BT/student teacher may be. Be kind in your words but make sure you are very clear too when giving guidance. Try to remember the importance of HONESTY and that you are in a mentor's role where feedback and strong guidance are important.
And remember to enjoy this time - you are in a role where you are able to impact on the career of a teacher/future teacher which is such a treasure. One day they will hopefully look back and remember fondly what they learnt from you, just as you would want any former student to do, so treat them with the same respect that give to anyone in your classroom.