Monday, October 11, 2010

Reflections on Thankfulness

I realize that I haven't been that great at updating this blog now that school has started, and so it was great to see a tweet this afternoon about a Fall Blog Challenge, given by Melanie Holtsman. I hope that it will get the writing juices flowing.

Looking through the list of topics that were given for each week, I decided to switch things up a little, since today is Thanksgiving in Canada, I would like to be thankful today!

So, as a teacher, what am I thankful for? So many things! I am thankful that I can work in a school with a great, friendly and helpful staff. I am thankful that I can talk to any of the teachers I work with about problems I'm having in my classroom and get support.

I am thankful for every one of my students. What a privilege it is to have 19 second graders to fill your life with joy every morning, as you hope you do the same.

I am thankful that even when there's a bad day (and there are several) I know that tomorrow, we can turn it around.

I am thankful for a spectacular Teacher's Assistant in my classroom who does things before I even think to ask her, and keeps my room organized (even if the organization of the room just makes my desk make that much worse!)

I am thankful for parents. Even though some may be overbearing at times, I know they want the same thing that I want... what is best for their child.

So in conclusion, I am thankful that I am a teacher with so much to be thankful for. How about you?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reflections on the Positive

It's been a whirlwind month! I've been so busy enjoying my class, that I've had very little time to really reflect on this blog. This week has been a week with several thoughts rolling around in my mind. Of course, many edu-bloggers are taking this week to address Oprah's two episodes on the Education system in the United States, along with the new movie Waiting for Superman. That was one idea, but I sometimes get tired of hearing about the whole debate. If you want to read some good blogs about that, I suggest you go here, or here.

Instead, I wanted to share something that's been going on in my classroom! As I mentioned in my last post, I have started a class blog. An important part of this blog has been a page devoted to a district-wide initiative called "Celebrate What's Right with the World". Every day, I post something that our class needs to celebrate. More often than not, it's something that a student did really well, though sometimes I add something that our whole class did well. It's even more special when another teacher passes on something to celebrate about our class!

So why am I finding this so important? It's completely changed my point of view! This year, I've moved up from first to second grade, and so I've taken some of my students from last year with me... several of them were quite challenging last year. But this year, I've noticed a huge difference! I believe part of it has definitely been that they have matured... but now, my outlook has changed completely!

I wouldn't say I ever was looking for people to do "bad" things, but looking specifically to catch someone doing something great is such a powerful way to change my outlook! In fact, at our "Meet the Teacher" night, while it was a poor turnout, the one parent I did meet was ecstatic about the website. Her daughter's father lives over an hour away, and this way, he is able to connect with his daughter's learning, even though they aren't able to see each other every day. And of course, mom was beside herself because her daughter had been celebrated that very day for finding tons of patterns!

So if you're struggling in your class, I ask you to look for the good things that you can celebrate. It sounds totally cheesy, but it works! Some days it will be harder than others, but you'll be blown away at the difference it makes.

Stay positive!

(Now I must go update the Celebrate page! It seems I've forgotten to update it!)

Note: After posting this, I realized I had completely neglected to give credit where credit is due! A teacher I worked with for a few months last year had this idea for her classroom blog last year, and I am just copying her great idea! Thanks Deb Hicks!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Reflections on Parent Communication

Last night, at the end of the first week of school, I had the pleasure of reading through my first homework assignment for the year. It was an assignment that I had read about on numerous websites, and from several different people. I decided this year, that I was going to have my parents all respond to the following prompt: "Tell me about your child in 1 000 000 words or less."

WOW! I was amazed with all the answers! Of course, I don't plan on going into the specifics of what I read, but there was such a wealth of information. I will admit that I anticipated a large amount of parent bragging about how wonderful their child was, and how they could do no wrong. Boy, was I ever wrong! While each parent did praise their child (and rightfully so!) They were each very honest about strengths and weaknesses. The biggest thing I was surprised about was that if I took the names off of the assignments, I think after four mornings with these students, I could figure out which assignment belonged to which student! While there was definitely information that was helpful to me, it was also great to see that the parents and I were both looking at each child and seeing the same thing!

My next step is something I hadn't originally planned. After reading each assignment last night, and grinning from ear to ear, I knew that I couldn't just hold on to these answers that were so beautifully written. This required a response. Over the next few weeks, I am looking forward to calling home and thanking each parent for completing the assignment. This assignment had me so excited to see what's coming as the year progresses!

Also, as an added blog bonus, feel free to check out our classroom website, something else I'm very excited about!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reflections on the First Day

Wow... day one is over, and it flew by!

I have to say, I was really concerned, between parents finding out that their main teacher would only be there in the mornings, and some parents discovering their child had the same teacher as last year (though I hoped it wouldn't be a problem, it was still a question in my mind).

It was a great day! I decided to dive right into Math, and the very first thing we did was sort out some flyers that were to go home with students today. I gave piles to each table, and each student was responsible for counting out the right amount of flyers for each classroom, based on the numbers I had. But wait! What happens if new students arrived in some classes, after I had already done the count? We had better add two more, just in case!

But I bet some of these teachers won't realize how smart our grade two class really is, and they'll be worried we haven't counted correctly. How can we prove that we got the right count more easily? "Organize in groups of ten!" said one student! PERFECT! Exactly what I wanted!

So off they went, to put paper clips around groups of ten. Then we made a quick chart for how many packs we had for each classroom, and how many loose. Some students made the connection, while some had trouble... but they were all excited! It was authentic learning at its best! I look forward to doing more Math investigations like this as the year goes on.

If I was to improve this idea, I would spread the investigation out over several days... I felt rushed, as I wanted to make sure these flyers got out today, and while we made some great discoveries, it could have been so much better had I given it the time it deserved.

After a project like this, I really look forward to the rest of the year!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reflections on Setting Up

You may have noticed I haven't blogged for a while. Mostly it's because I haven't been thinking too much about school. It's been an absolutely beautiful summer here, and I have been enjoying it so much! But now, it's time to get back to reality.

Today was the first day back for teachers in my school district, and we had a short informational meeting, followed by a chance to get started on setting up our classrooms. I am in a brand new classroom with a brand new grade level, and I was surprised about how excited I was to rearrange the room and make it "mine", but not only make it mine, but make it an environment that could somehow belong to my students' as well.

I decided after taking down the word wall that was up (I wanted to move it to a different spot) that instead of the usual word wall that can be purchased from a teacher supply store, I would have the students responsible for adding the words up as we go.

I'm still trying to make arrangements and figure out exactly what the school year will look like, as I am teaching in the mornings only, while three other teachers will be with my class.

Overall, though, excitement has taken over. A new batch of kids is coming (though some were mine last year), and it's a brand new start.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Reflections on Identity

Wow! I'm coming off an awesome weekend at the Reform Symposium, a free online conference that went all hours of the night. I missed very few sessions over the weekend, which led to me not getting much sleep. So it's over now, and it's past midnight here... why am I not sleeping? I had to rewatch a particular session, because I enjoyed it so much!

I've gushed about it on Twitter, and I even took the opportunity to rave about it at the conference closing ceremony. It was a session by George Couros from Stoneyplain, Alberta on a special day he held in his school last year, called "Identity Day". The idea of the day is to have each student present something that is meaningful to them, and their identity. All students from kindergarten to grade six had the chance to present "science fair style" to all other students in the school. Not only this, but all staff participated (custodians, administrative assistants, cafeteria workers, educational assistants, etc.) It was a great chance for students to connect with each other, as well as for students to connect with teachers and vice versa.

George shared several specific stories in his presentation, including a second grader who was competing national in BMX, who then had something to share with another teacher who loves XGames! He also spoke of a pair of First Nations girls that presented on their culture. Parents were invited to these presentations, and the parents of these two children were so happy to see the students' pride for their culture. Finally, the one that was most touching was related to how to build acceptance among students. One of his students, who has Tourettes Syndrome, shared about this with her peers/teachers. Sharing information about it (including teaching her principal a thing or two!) brought acceptance, and the student was able to bring about this acceptance completely on her own.

So, it's great to reflect on this, and think, "Wow, that George Couros is an amazing principal!" But I want to go deeper with this one. As soon as this blog is posted, I plan on forwarding the link to the archived session to the head of Guidance at my school district. I think George has a passion, and I have caught it... now I want to make sure others catch that passion. I also plan on introducing my principal to the idea of Identity Day, in the hopes that I can give it a try with the school, but at the very least, with my own class.

This is one of those sessions where I can't see anyone seeing this and not wanting to do something! So what are you going to do?

If you would like to see the session for yourself, there's a link to it in George's blog. I highly recommend you subscribe!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Reflections on Leadership

As part of Leadership Day 2010, based on Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant blog, I have decided to discuss leadership and technology, but I'd like to take a slightly different tack.

There are many things that I expect from the administration of my school, but I do not expect my principal to be a leader in technology. So what is administration's role in knowing and implementing technology into the school to improve learning? I see the administration as having a supporting role. I think that in many school buildings there are teachers who are resources. As my grandfather used to say, why have a dog and bark yourself?

I expect that when I have a brilliant idea as far as incorporating technology into my lessons, I can go to my administration and they will be 100% on board. I expect my administration to ask me the important questions. The "how" and "why" questions. I will not be insulted if my administration doesn't know why and how I would want to use technology in my lessons... rather, I should be excited that I get the chance to share the how and why. After all, if there's no answer to these questions, should we really be using the technology? If there IS an answer to these questions, shouldn't it be my job as a teacher to explain the answers to administration (as well as all other teaching staff that are interested)?

In essence, I don't expect my principal to get a Facebook account, tweet his life away, start a blog and start using Google apps. I simply want him to be open to some of the ideas other staff members might have with regards to technology.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reflections on Blogging

It seems weird that I would want to post about this. I've fallen into Twitter in the past two weeks, and it has revolutionized how I think about blogging and technology in general. There have been several people tweeting links to their blogs, or talking about what a teacher blog should look like.

I really wasn't sure that I wanted to blog, as I wasn't sure what I had to share. After jumping in, I realize that it's not so much that I have something to share, but that I have to keep track of all my ideas. I can't flesh these ideas out in my head, but in a blog, it becomes so much easier. And then I can easily go back, and see how those thoughts have been fleshed out.

My real inspiration came from reading a post on a blog by Shelly Blake-Plock, called Why Teachers Should Blog. I love how Shelly says that "to blog is to teach yourself what you think." This is an amazing definition, and it finally clicked why this blog was important to me.

If you're not blogging, because you think you have nothing to offer, blog away! It's not about what you have to offer others, it's what you have to offer yourself. (And I can guarantee that what you have to offer yourself will also be important to several others!)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Reflections on Differentiation

It was with great excitement that I looked toward the #elemchat tonight on Differentiated Instruction. This past year has been a real journey in DI, as I taught a class with the widest ability range I had seen before. Looking back, I think my one success was Reading and Writing (especially Reading) as I implemented Daily Five and CAFE. It was a fun way to differentiate for each individual student, and it was easy!

So I was eager to share my excitement, but I was also looking at ways to make my Math work. Several people suggested Math Workshop, something which I tried for a while, but I just couldn't get it right. This year, I'm determined to give it another try and look at why it didn't work. I've got a month and a half to spend, how's that for a project? I have a few resources available to me on my District's portal, but I'm also interested to hear how anyone else made their Math workshop work. I know I want to incorporate some Math journal writing, as well as some problem solving. I would love to hear how your Math workshop works!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Reflections on Collaboration

I had such a wonderful time in both edchats today (at noon, AND at 7 PM) but I wanted to reflect on the latter chat, mostly because it's fresher in my mind, and I love talking and thinking about collaboration!

I realize I didn't do much of an introduction in my first post, but I am a fairly new teacher. I spent nearly a year doing Resource and Methods (working with students on SEPs, our version of the IEP) in my first year, followed by a year working in a Behaviour Intervention program in two schools, and finally this past year I spent September - December teaching grade three at one school, before I got a position back at my original school teaching grade one.

My first two years of teaching, as a specialist who did a lot of push-in work with my students, I had a great opportunity to work closely with teachers who were more than happy to have an eager learner in their classroom who was also willing to work.

Apart from my short stint in grade three, I have always been at the same school, even doing student teaching, and I look forward to returning to this school to teach grade two in the mornings next year.

During my second year of teaching, our district jumped on the PLC model, and we began to collaborate. We were given time each week to collaborate on lesson ideas, or whatever was on the agenda, usually given by the principal. While this was not a terrible thing, as I shared in the chat, forced collaboration is far from the best type of collaboration.

I didn't see true collaboration until I left that school for a short stint. I was called on a Friday afternoon two weeks into the school year and asked if I was interested in teaching grade three until Christmas... starting Monday. Of course, the answer was yes, but my mind was going in circles. I was in my third year of teaching, and yet I had NO classroom experience other than my student teaching. I came in Saturday and Sunday to set up a classroom (it was pretty much completely empty)... I prepared a quick lesson plan, and hoped that I could figure out what I was doing pretty quickly!

Then I met her. My next door neighbour was also teaching grade three (also for the first time, she had previously done grade two and several years of literacy intervention). She was eager to help, and a friendship was formed very quickly. We both would search for resources in a school with very few resources for our grade level (this was the first year this school had an English grade three!) She would pop into my classroom at the end of the day, an I would pop into hers... the question would be "So what are you doing tomorrow?" But it was never done in an "I'm too lazy to do any planning myself" kind of way, it was always in the spirit of true collaboration. Taking an idea and making it our own. When the time came to move back to my new school, I was excited, but also worried about missing my collaborator!

When I got back to my old school to teach first grade, and it was just the same. We had our weekly meetings, but the best collaboration was done after school with the conversation that involved "What are you doing tomorrow?" I was able to learn SO much from this collaboration, and I feel it made me a much better teacher.

I remember coming in as a teacher and being worried about not knowing all the answers. I'm so glad I don't have to worry about doing it all on my own. Teaching isn't meant to be done with the door shut (unless there is someone drilling things into the wall, or some other loud ruckus that distracts everyone of course!)

So the question is, have I been really lucky to be able to collaborate in my school? Am I the norm, or the exception? Based on some of the edchat conversation, it would seem that I may be the exception. What are your experiences with collaboration? Is it just that people don't see these casual conversations as collaboration? Is my idea of collaboration mistaken? I just feel like collaboration is so easy, that I must be missing something!

(And despite my saying, tongue firmly in cheek, that I know it all in edchat, I will fully admit that I know very little, which makes collaboration so important to me!)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Reflections on Project Based Learning

I had the pleasure of taking part in the first ever #elemchat on Twitter. I did say at one point that I simply couldn't fit my thoughts into 140 characters, so I decided to start a blog.

I came into the #elemchat with questions and anxiety, as I knew the topic would be PBL, or project based learning. I just wasn't sure what the term meant, and was a little worried that I would need to add one more thing onto my LONG list of things I want to do with my grade two class next year! As the chat started to pick up, I discovered that I have already decided my Math time will spend a lot of time in this PBL setup... I was just going to call it "Investigations".

In fact, I was so excited with this, because I attended a PD workshop yesterday with Cathy Fosnot from We recently received kits that are fully based on what she calls "Investigations." She started off the day by having all 150 attendees participate in an investigation involving counting in a brand new number system she calls X-mania (based on a base-6 system using letters.) As the hour went on, we discovered the place value system that was there... we figured out what number would follow AAC, and what number would follow A--. Then we discovered that A-- was A- groups of A-... That our snap cubes formed a square... we progressed through by making discoveries, all guided by our workshop leader, but they were OUR discoveries. We owned them. What a great way to demonstrate Project Based Learning!

I'm determined to add some of her Math investigations into my instruction over the coming year, and I'll let you know how it all works! I'm so pumped about this, it's almost a shame I have to wait until September!