Saturday, September 19, 2015

Changes Ahead...

Back in June, I applied and successful acquired a new job.

Here was the job posting...

(Click on it to make it larger)

What appealed  to me most about the job was that is was a position that supports my vision of education and it was housed in a building being run by an administrator I highly respect. While I wasn't looking to move schools, it was a job opportunity I couldn't let pass me by.

This new job means that I ...
  • have a multi aged classroom ( a possible k-3 class although at the moment I have students in grade one and grade three)
  • will continue to support inquiry learning
  • have students who are not in the building every day as there is distributed learning piece where children are learning from home 
  • have the responsibility to plan appropriate/meaningful learning tasks for the home learning piece
  • am available to meet with parents to help support home learning
  • keep a focus on STEAM learning and integrate seamlessly
  • foster and support wonder and inquiry
  • embrace the maker movement as a way of learning
  • have my students look for and solve real world problems
  • continue to have my students learn with the world
  • teach the new BC curriculum and find meaningful ways to go deeper with it 
  • have on-going communication with families
  • OF COURSE honour my students as who they are and support them as passionate learners
Much of this is not new to me, or my way of teaching but it's in an environment that completely supports what I believe is best for kids.  To no surprise I have some pretty big dreams for my new adventure but first and foremost I am listening and learning from my students.  Within this first week I have learned that I am working with a capable curious bunch of learners.  I have a train expert and a dinosaur expert, and I have a group of students who need to move to learn.  The class magnifying glasses have been a hit for many, and our adventures in coding taught me a lot more about my students and their ability to persevere when things got tough.  I have also learned that I have some compassionate people, willing to use "I messages" to let their classmates know how they are feeling.  It's been a really great first week, and I can't wait to see where our year together takes us.

I am super excited to work with these children who are looking at a new approach to learning. And yes, my class is technically a k-3 class, but in my mind my class is a group of learners, who together will create, inspire, and support one another on each of their personal learning journals. Yes, there is curriculum that needs to be embedded into our learning, but student centered learning will be what we focus on most.

The program is available to most  students in the province, but the reality is you need to be face to face  in the classroom at least 3 days a week.  If you're curious to learn more about this new school be sure to check out the website at  Exciting times are upon us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

*Together We Are Stronger

I believe that as a classroom teacher, together we are stronger.  For this reason I create a classroom climate where students support each other with their learning, and where student ideas are listened to and valued. When a classroom supports the learning of all, then all are able to flourish.  But it takes more than just fostering a supportive classroom environment, parents need to be equal partners too.
As part of  The Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers”, each month we are asked to share our views on a specific question.  This month’s question is “What are the best ways parents can help teachers and that teachers can help parents?’ 

I see each of my students as unique learners with unique needs so I'm leary to give "advice" that will be of benefit for every student.  However at the most basic level parents can help teachers by being there for their children.  It is far less about what I need as a teacher, and far more about what their child (or my student) needs. It's about making the child's learning a priority.  This does not mean I expect parents to be on their child's case all the time because learning in a toxic environment doesn't benefit anyone. 

What I'd love to see is a family who creates a home learning environment  that is encouraging and supportive.  A family that makes time for a child by being interested in their learning.  And yes, I realize that many families are very "busy"  but if a family it too busy for quality time with their own children, then maybe what's keeping everyone "busy" needs to be looked at again.  Quality time together doesn't have to take a lot of actual "time" but it should be  meaningful. 

As a teacher I appreciate when I am provided information about a child that I might not already have.  However it's usually not ideal for a parent to show up unannounced or try to share this important information  during school pick up or drop off.  It's best if we can prearrange a time to meet and discuss, or if the information could be put into writing so that when I have a spare moment, I can give the information the attention it deserves. Open communication between the home and the school is crucial.

As a classroom teacher,  we can help by providing a variety of ways for parents to connect with us and to see into our classroom.  What we do in the confines of our classroom walls should not be a secret. One way I am open and transparent is by maintaining a class blog.  I also provide my students with their own individual blogs.  In addition each child in my class has their own digital portfolio housed in Fresh Grade which highlights individual student learning and includes feedback from myself, the student, and ideally the parent too.  Other ways teachers might share student learning wih families might be via a daily agenda messages,  e-mail updates,  Remind messages, and/or traditional  newsletters.  Social media sites such as twitter, facebook, or Instagram could help keep the communication open between home and school.  The tool is some what irrelevant, what is important   is that teachers and parents have clear avenues for ongoing communication.  With authentic relationships and open teacher-student-home communication all children should have the opportunity to flourish. 

Together we are stronger.

*This post is part of a series of monthly questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers to respond to.  This month's question was "What are the best ways parents can help teachers and that teachers can help parents?"  It is an honour to be a part of this group.  Please check out the complete list of posts here  . 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Celebrating Picture Book 10 for 10 #pb10for10

Today marks the anniversary of the picture book celebration #PB10for10.  It is a day where fellow educators share some of their favourite picture books with each other.  You can find many links to their blog posts (with some really great book recommendations) by checking out #pb10for10 on twitter.

It's been a couple of years since I first participated but it's something I've always hoped to get back to.  Thankfully this year I am back.  Below you will find 10 pictures books that are near and dear to my heart for one reason or another.  I didn't really follow a theme, like many do, but instead I went to the small pile of books that are sitting in my apartment right now as most of my classroom library is packed up tightly in boxes in my brand new school for the 2015/16 school year. (A blog post on this change is still to come).  So I guess I could say my theme is... books that I just couldn't leave packed up in boxes over the summer.  In no particular order here are my ten books...

The OK Book - By Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

There is something about a book that celebrates us not for being the best at something but for being okay.  I love the message this book shares and I love how everyone I've ever shared it with can relate.

The Most Magnificent Thing -  by Ashley Spires

 I love that through things going wrong (and don't they for all of us at one point or another) something new and exciting comes out of the mistakes.

Good News Bad News by Jeff Mack

This book in nature is really quite simple. Something good happens, then something bad happens, then something good, then something bad and that's how the story goes.  But what I like about it is how most students can connect with this story and can usually come up with their own version of this book.  It's a great book to inspire writing in the early years (and most likely beyond).

Stuck  by Oliver Jeffers

There is something about Oliver Jeffers that I can't get enough of. What a great author writing such crazy stories.  Here a boy gets his kite stuck in a tree and a whole bunch of silly activities follow.  I love the giggles that come with this story when I share it with my class, and the guess they  make about what might get stuck next.

Hey Little Ant - by Phillip and Hannah Hoose Illustrated by Debbie Tilley

Another older book but one that always brings up good discussion and writing with the students I've shared it with.  Everyone has an opinion around what should happen in this book.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse -  by Kevin Henkes

How can you not like Kevin Henkes. What stands out for me with this  book (and in all honestly all his picture books could make this list) , is that it's another story both my students and I can easily connect with. Waiting is hard, and sometimes, we just don't want to do it. I also love how creative she gets when she's angry.

Anything is Possible  by Giulia Belloni and Marco Trevisan

Such a great book to keep our dreams alive.

The Day the Crayons Quit - Drew Daywalt illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

I love listening to stories, and every time I share this book with my students they get right into the crayons stories too.  When given the chance to write their favourite crayon back the writing is always passionate and purposeful.  A keeper for certain. 

This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations by Amy Krouse Rosenthal Illustrated by Jen Corace

This is the sweetest book ever and really gets you thinking about how things all aroud you are connected.  My students have always loved coming up with their own "Life's Little Equations" each time coming up with something different. It's the book that keeps on giving. :-)

My students and I are huge Todd Parr fans.  There is something great about the topics he writes about in such a child friendly manner.  His illustrations are super colourful too.  This book always brings about great discussion around reading, and it helps me build that love for reading to my students.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What's Your Students' Ideal Workspace?

I strongly believe that we all learn in our own unique learning environments.  I tend to do a lot of my writing while sitting on my couch with my feet up.  I often prefer to stand instead of sit. And just like me, my students work best in different environments too.  It's kind of sad that many teachers expect children to sit in desks (or  tables) with little or no say around where they can do their work.  I wonder if it's a control issue (I'm pretty sure that's what it was for me when I had assigned seats for my students), or if it's the only furniture that's available to them.  In either case, for the sake of our learners ,shouldn't we be creating the best learning environments we can to help our students be the best that they can be?

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not about to run off to the nearest furniture store (or thrift store) to buy what my students need.  I'd be broke before I started and personally I'd much rather spend my money on good children's books. But I can be open to letting my students work around the room in spots that are best for them.  And the thing is, when you let them choose where to work, they will surprise you with where they want to work.  For some that has meant always standing up, and learning against a higher piece of furniture.  For others it's meant taking a plastic TV tray and finding a quiet place to get things done.  Some students love to work on bean bag chairs, while putting their writing on a hard surface.  Some love to be under a desk, or inside an inexpensive tent.  Some work on their belly's, some work on their backs. But the thing they all have in common, is that wherever they chose to work, they DO THEIR WORK! Crazy right?!

So as you set up your classroom for the 2015/16 school year be sure to think about how you can let your students work in environments that are best for them. You'll be surprised to see where they chose to work.

Curious about some of the places my students have chosen to work? It's nothing mind shattering, but perhaps it might give you a bit more confidence to let your assigned seating plan go.   Here are a few of their favourite learning spaces...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Some Reflections on ISTE 2015

When I returned from ISTE I immediately started writing a blog post as a way to share my experience.  I wrote about  some of the great things I got up to while I was there both at the  convention center and in the community (I love Philadelphia if you were wondering).  Things like heading to a Phillies game with people I'd never met in person and having a really great time, or heading to a party where someone was so supportive of me and tried hard to get me networked and more known by others.  There were many highlights. But the more I typed the more I felt like I was trying to make more of my experience. Yes, I did have many incredible experiences while in Philadelphia, and I'm thankful for each and everyone of them, but I'm not so sure my take away was as incredible.  ISTE was so much more about my own personal self reflection this year than all the good that I was surrounded by.

For me ISTE is about the face to face meetings of "My People".  It's the ability to share what I have learned and to learn from others doing similar and different things.  It's about the hugs, the smiles,  the conversations and the multiple opportunities to connect with people who get me.  ISTE brings together a large collection of people who understand my work, my purpose, and my passions.  It's a place where I can truly be me, floating around with the people who get me.  It's these same people that push my learning, and make me really think about my why and my purpose.  It is through them that I am a stronger educator, a more reflective educator, and hopefully a better educator. For me ISTE is far more about the face to face interactions with people then the sessions that I'm able to attend.

This years ISTE was different for me though.  I took on way too much and so I ended up being pretty stressed most of the convention.   I had sessions every day and between the workshops I was giving (three 3 hour workshops) , the Ignite and 1:3 adventures and the rehearsal time they required, I presented over 15 hours over the three and a half days of the conference.  I didn't get even remotely enough time to connect with many of the people I wanted to connect with. When I saw someone in the convention centre I'd often be able to offer them a little more than a couple of sentences of small talk, but in most cases my reality was that I was off to get to my next obligation.  I missed events I was really looking forward to attending but I also needed a lot more time for me.  As extroverted most believe I am, I get drained by people and need quiet time to recharge.

In addition I felt like I was being pulled by too many people and constantly letting people down.  Despite my logical brain saying "you can't be everywhere with everyone at the same time"  it bothered me  and  made me feel guilty.   Eventually I did get stronger at listening to myself and what I needed.  I also realized that others were feeling just as I was, being pulled in various directions, wanting to do more than was possible with so many great options happening at the same time. I learned a lot more about myself this year at ISTE.  I learned that I love to share with others, but when the sharing takes so much time (and causes me so much unnecessary stress) that I don't have enough time to connect with people who matter most to me,  then something is wrong.  This year I barely connected with anyone beyond the surface level and that's not something I'm proud of.

However despite feeling extremely stressed most of my time at ISTE, constantly running from one place to another, and feeling awful for having so few quality interactions with people, I did manage to sneak in some highlights.  One of the highlights  was my IGNITE session on the first day of the conference, but more specifically the support I had from my friends and district AND the luxury of time that I had with the people who I shared the backstage of this Ignite with.   I can't even begin to thank the wonderful people that I was back stage with. While our conversations may not have gotten deep enough - there is still so much more I'd love talk to you all about - we had a special bond behind the scenes.  I love how supportive the group was.  What most of you don't know is that when we finished our ignite the "team" was waiting backstage to congratulate one another.  I will admit it took me a few ignites to join the ritual but I think that was just the  fact that it took me a while to come down after my Ignite.   

The Ignite also scared me a lot and  required me to dig deep to keep calm and be brave.  As nervous as I was about going first, in the end it was probably a blessing because I got it over with first. And the thing is when you try something that really scares you, you get stronger as a person to try something frightening again and no one can take that confidence away from you.

The room for the Ignite
(I stood in front of the little screen in the middle)

If you're interested, here's a recorded copy of my Ignite. Thank you Petra for capturing and sharing this with me.

Other ISTE highlights included...
  • attending a ballgame with a great crew of people
  • connecting with friends from my part of the world
  • reconnecting with far away friends from my various learning communities
  • meeting on-line friends in real life for the first time!
  • connecting with  brand new friends 
  • sharing meals or drinks with people near and dear to my heart  
  • attending sponsored social events 
  • connecting with developers creating products I'm very interested in
  • eating all types of  food from Reading Market
  • visiting the String Theory School 
  • running up the "Rocky Stairs"
  • visiting  historical sights
  • and learning - about coding, robotics, makerspace, minecraft , STEAM, and so much more!

I have already reserved a hotel room for next years ISTE in Denver. I just need someone to remind me that I don't need to submit or be a part of so many presentation proposals.  And the Ignite and 1:3, I'll let others give those a try next year. I'm not sure anything can top going first on the BIG stage at ISTE.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Is Your Formative Assessment Really Formative? I've Been Thinking...

Lately I seem to be sticking my nose into conversations around assessment, and more specifically formative assessment.  These include apps or websites or favourite activities such as exit tickets or creating screencasts. My hope is that the ideas about "formative assessment" being shared by fellow educators are ways that their students are showing what they know.  But here's the thing, it seems that these conversations rarely seem to go beyond the tools students are using to share their learning.  Isn't formative assessment, or assessment for learning, way more than just seeing what a student knows, AND actually taking that knowledge and creating an action plan to help push the learning forward?

I wonder sometimes if people are so wrapped up in the tools to collect student knowledge, that they forget one of the most important reasons why this knowledge is being collected in the first place.  With formative assessment in mind, aren't we collecting our students thinking so we can help guide/support/facilitate  the nexts steps  to move their learning forward? Sometimes those next steps come from the student themselves through their personal reflection.  Sometimes those next steps come from their classmates during peer assessment. Sometimes those next steps come from the teacher. Sometimes those next steps might come from all three sources.  But isn't  the main point of formative assessment to see what a student knows and where they could/should go next?  The where to next is a key element to formative assessment and in my opinion the biggest difference between formative and summative assessment.

Maybe I'm way off base here around formative assessment.  Maybe I'm not acknowledging the growth that has occurred during a lesson or a unit or a school term. Maybe I'm missing the celebration of learning that has happened between the beginning of a unit and the end of it. In no way do I want to devalue that.  That is also a key factor in why we assess work but I think that falls under the "summative" form of assessment.  But if we are just looking at what we've achieved, and we aren't looking for or suggesting next steps then our assessment isn't formative anymore.  In my mind the purpose of formative assessment is to review knowledge and help guide/support/facilitate next steps

How are you supporting formative assessment  practices in your teaching environment? Are you just discussing tools, or are you discussing what you are learning from what your students are sharing via those tools and how you can help support and push learning forward.  Now that's something I'd love to talk more about.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

*Leadership from the Trenches

I will be perfectly honest, I have never had much of a desire to go into an administrator role in a school environment.  I'm not sure I could handle being so far removed from children in a classroom, which is one of the reasons why I've never applied for a job at that level.  But do I believe the only way you can show leadership in a school environment is to be an administrator? Absolutely not!

I am a classroom teacher, a fully engrained classroom teacher.  I love the time I am able to spend with the most incredible young people. I love watching them learn and seeing their "aha" moments when something finally clicks for them.  I love it when they see themselves as readers and writers. But I believe as a classroom teacher I can also demonstrate leadership way beyond the walls of my classroom.

In today's day and age the world is a connected place, if you chose to allow yourself to be connected. Connections can happen through blogs or twitter or Pinterest or Voxer or Google+ or Facebook or.... you get the point. Educators of 2015 no longer can use the excuse that they didn't know when there are so many places to help them be in the know.   It is through being a connected educator that ANY classroom teacher can demonstrate leadership in education.  But how you may ask? By sharing  practice! 

Most of you know that I spend a fair bit of time on social media reading blog posts, joining discussions, and learning from others.  In fact I often believe that everything I know is because someone has shared it with me. Now I don't always agree with what I'm reading, but I am constantly learning. If I believe it's something that will positively benefit my students I will tweak it to work for them.  And that's the thing, if people didn't share with me I'd know so much less.

Sharing practice is one of the best ways to show leadership from within the classroom.  It is through my sharing in a variety of venues that I am able to have a positive impact on many primary classroom around the globe.  If I didn't share the only place I'd have impact is with my students.

So here's the thing, YOU are a leader too and if you're not already, YOU need to share too!

I honestly believe this video explains it best.

Leadership is very possible from the trenches, as long as you're willing to share. So go on now, find a platform and share!  

*This post is part of a series of monthly questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers to respond to.  This month's question was "What are the best ways a teacher can share leadership in the classroom?"  It is an honour to be a part of this group.  Please check out the complete list of posts here  .