Sunday, October 16, 2011

Before I Was a Good Teacher. Now I Hope I'm a Better One.

Before I had a class website where I posted information.  Now I have a class blog where we post items together and we (and the world) can comment on our posts.

Before my class website was used by the parents of my class. Now my class blog is looked at by people all around the world.

Before I talked about teaching and learning with the people that I worked with, my fellow teaching friends, and the people at the workshops I attended.  Now, through Twitter,  I'm having conversation with amazing educators from all over the world.

Before I told my students what to read. Now they chose what they want to read.

Before I felt we couldn't afford technology.  Now I'm finding ways to get it into my school.

Before I thought we could only have physical education when we were in the gym.  Now I know we can have it every single day.

Before I worked in isolation only sharing with my close friends. Now I'm sharing with the world.

Before I had no place for my students to write on-line. Now my students have their own individual blogs.

Before I told my students what to write. Now I let my students write about what's meaningful to them.

Before my students wrote in notebooks or on paper. Now they write where they want including their notebooks, papers, white boards, computers, blogs etc....

Before my students sat in their own desks and always did their work there. Now my students are free to work with whom ever, and where ever in the room they'd like (most of the time).

Before I didn't think my students could handle technology.  Now I know that they can.

Before my students went up and down during reading time constantly changing their books.  Now they have their own just right book box with books they are interested in reading.

Before I felt that I had to do what everyone else was doing.  Now I do what I believe should be done.

Before I told my students how many sentences to write in their journals.  Now I just encourage them to write.

Before I was afraid to bring laptops into my classroom early in the year.  Now I can't imagine not bringing them in.

Before I set goals for my students but they didn't know what they were.  Now we set goals together.

Before I kept the student's individual goals  private.  Now I share them quite openly.

Before I needed to be in control of everything that my students were doing.  Now I give my students a lot more freedom to explore while they learn.

Before I asked for student volunteers to share their ideas.  Now we turn and talk to one another so we all have a chance to share our ideas.

Before I taught the whole class to read at the same time.  Now I work with small groups, and individuals too.

Before my lessons in the computer lab were done in isolation.  Now what we do in the lab the children can easily do at home with the links provided on the class blog.

Before I was expecting everyone to do the same thing at the same time.  Now I'm differentiating my activities so everyone is doing their own thing at the same time.

Before I taught the whole class to write at the same time.  Now I work with small groups, and individuals too.

Before I just taught, never really thinking about what my individual students already knew or needed.  Now I use my assessment data to help structure my lessons.

Before I was a good teacher.  Now I hope I'm a better one.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Look Back at My Year in Australia

In 2009 I spent the year teaching in Melbourne, Australia.  For me, spending the year working and living in Australia was a way to mix up things in my life.  It was an interesting year for me because while I had seventeen years of teaching experience, I felt like a first year teacher all over again. The systems were different, the rules were different, and the structures were different.  But the kids, the kids were the same.  One thing that I know, no matter where in the world you are, six and seven year olds are six and seven year olds.  Some of the biggest differences I noticed included how the day was scheduled, the number of meetings I attended in a week, the amount of administration/leadership roles, the amount of technology available to me, and how I was expected to teach.

The day was structured around five one hour sessions per day.  There were two sessions before recess, a thirty minute recess, two after recess, a one hour lunch break (15 min for eating followed by 45 min for playing), and one session after lunch.  It was expected that my first two sessions per day were reading, followed by writing.  Maths was typically session three. The remaining sessions of the day were left for "topics", school wide buddies, school wide assembly, and my specialists - library, art, and p.e.

I must admit I loved the two hours of structured literacy time in the morning.  I could actually get a lot of reading and writing done in that time.   Here in Canada I *typically have  approx. 97 min before recess (15 min) and I find the time flies so quickly that as much as I have a great structure to cover a lot of reading and writing, it's really tough to fit it all in.  I *typically have 90 min between recess and lunch, and 114 minutes after lunch.  At lunch time my students go out to play first for 25 min, then come in and eat for 15 min, before we start the afternoon lessons.

While in Australia I also loved the 180 min a week I had for planning/prepping lessons.  My students had p.e. for one hour a week, art for one hour a week, and library for one hour a week.   Here in Canada I have 100 min a week for planning/prepping lessons.  My students have two 30 min music sessions per week, and one 40 min library block per week.

What I didn't like was all the after school meetings we had.  Most weeks we had a meeting Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday after school.  Tuesday was typically a staff meeting, Wednesday I attended either professional development type meeting with the entire staff or a Welfare meeting with a quarter of the staff, and Thursday the year 1/2 team met. During the 1/2 meeting I had to share what I learned at the welfare meeting while others on my team shared what they learned at their Wednesday meetings.  To me it was completely crazy how many  meetings we had.  At times I felt like I was meeting to talk about why I was meeting, so that we could plan a meeting, to meet.  In Canada I typically have one staff meeting a month, and one primary meeting every six or so weeks.  Most of our communication is done via on line weekly messages from the principal, or through our on line conference. Of course we meet when there is a need but we don't meet for the sake of meeting.  There is always a purpose to our meetings.  In Australia, I did like that the 1/2 team met regularly and if we had used the time to actually discuss what we were doing in our classes and plan together the meetings would have been great. But they didn't really work that way, and they became more about keeping us in a meeting for the required amount of time than actually using the time wisely.  In Canada, while we meet as a primary staff far less often, when we meet we have an agenda, and we get a lot accomplished.  Maybe it's a difference between Canadians and Australians, or maybe it was just the school that I was in, but those Aussie meetings sure did suck a lot of my time.

Another big difference that I saw between my school here in Canada, and my school in Australia was the amount of people involved at the leadership level.  Here in Canada I teach at a school of 500+ students.  We have a full time principal, and a part time vice principal.  That's it, that's the leadership team.  In Australia I taught in a school of around 300 students.  We had a full time principal, a full time assistant principal, and the equivalent of 2.5 teachers removed from the classroom each week to fill a leadership role in the school.  The leadership team met on Mondays, so they had meetings four of five afternoons a week.  I'm not really sure what they met about though because I have to say with that many people trying to lead a school there seemed to be a lot of confusion of who was doing what.

The level of technology was also quite different for me in Australia.  My Australian school had an interactive white board (IWB) in every classroom.  Yes, every single classroom had an interactive white board.  When I left for Australia my school had NO interactive white boards. That's right, none.  When I returned we had one in our school lab, and we got it because we donated space to a program and in turn they purchased the IWB for us.  Last year the school purchased a second portable IWB.  So now we have two IWBs in our school (and the portable one just happens to be stored in my classroom).  My Australian school also had a bank of 15 computers in the library which could be booked out, and we (the 1/2 team) shared eight computers between our four classrooms. Here in Canada I have two so so computers in my classroom.  I have a 37 min time each week in our school lab (30 computers), and I can book out the class set of laptops when ever I like (assuming they are free).  I'm also housing four really old ibooks (the board wanted to take them away when they were being upgraded but I wanted to keep them for my students and so far I've been able to keep them).

Finally the biggest difference I noticed between my Australian school and my Canadian school was what I was expected to do. In my Canadian school we are given a lot of freedom to cover our required curriculum.  In my Australian school  I was expected to do a lot of things, whether I believed they were educationally sound or not.  Thankfully a lot of what was imposed on the teachers the year I was there were things I had already introduced myself because they were things I was already doing in Canada.  For example in my Melbourne school I was mandated to have a class library (which was so strange to me that there weren't any books when I arrived in my 1/2 classroom).  I was mandated to have a class word wall word (again, some thing I had already set up upon my arrival to Australia since mine is an integral part of my classroom in Canada).  I was also mandated to have just right book packages for each of my students (again something I implemented when I arrived because I felt they were so valuable in my classroom in Canada).  It was expected that I had reading, writing, and math guided sessions each and every day.  As it turned out I had five reading, five writing, and five maths groups running all year long. It was crazy insane for me as I had way less resources than I was used to in my classroom in Canada (I left my personal and professional resources for my exchange teacher but I was left very little), and the other teachers at my grade level were so busy with their own students needs that little was shared between us.  That part of the exchange really sucked because I actually worked with a couple of really fantastic teachers, and we could have accomplished so much more if we had utilized our team meetings to our advantage.  There were many other things that I was expected to do to cover the required Australian curriculm.  And I was expected to do what the others were doing.  Here in Canada, while I work with two other grade one teachers, we all do our own thing.  We all let our strengths shine through in our teaching so while each grade one class is doing something different, we are all doing great things with our students.  In Australia, I couldn't do many of the things I wanted to do because we all had to do the same things.

For those of you that have only taught in one school system I'm hoping as you read this post you are starting to compare the system you know, with the ones that I've gotten to know.  I'm really curious to hear how your day is set up.  What is your leadership team like? How many minutes a week are you given to plan/prep your lessons while your students are being taught by someone else?  What type of technology do you have access to? Are you expected to teach a specific way or with a specific program? I'm curious to know.

*This year our recess had to be changed to allow member of the school board to arrive at our school to cover recess supervision as we, the teachers, are in job action.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My Students Are Blogging!

I can't tell you how excited I am right now.  This afternoon I logged onto my computer to see a request to approve a blog written by one of my students on our  kidblog .  I've set up a class kidblog so that every student has their own page to blog, password protected and all.  Not only did they blog from home, on a long weekend here in Canada, but they even added a family photo.  No sooner than I had posted a comment and approved her blog for the world to see, did I receive another e-mail letting me know that there was another blog to moderate from a second student.  Then, a few minutes later a third blog from a third student.

In the past I've had a class website through our district server, but this year I took the step even further by having a class blog.  Snooping around other class blogs I realized what I wanted even more was a place for my students to do their own blogging - whether they were at home or at school.  Two weeks ago I gave them their individual passwords, and I showed them their individual blogs.  This week we headed back to the lab to try and write on our blogs, but it was taking us forever to log on so I decided to use the time to go over internet and blogging safety. Don't worry we had already talked about it but I had a great video that I wanted to show them too.  I then snuck back into the lab after school and set up a quick link to our class blog so we would no longer have trouble getting to our blogs.  So this week, the plan was (is) to utilize all the computers we have access to in our school lab so that everyone could write their own first blog.  I figured after that everyone would start blogging from home.  We of course would (will) continue to blog from school too.

You can imagine how excited I am right now knowing that three of my students have already blogged from home.  And to make things even better, after I shared this exciting news with my PLN on twitter (I love you guys) each student received three additional comments from  amazing grade one teachers in other parts of the world.

My class schedule is set up so that my students have time in the day to do their own self directed writing. I know once they see the audience they have with their blogs  everyone else in the class will be excited to blog too.  Ideally I'd love to be able to offer a computer to anyone that would like one but my reality is I have one (possibly two) class computer(s) that they will be able to do their blogging on.  Not ideal of course, but we will make it work.

I  don't think I've ever been this excited to see my students after a long weekend.  I am so glad I'm doing this with my class. So very, very glad.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Changes, Changes, Changes

As I keep saying, this summer I discovered Twitter and the incredible people learning and sharing with one another.  So much has changed for me in such a short period of time and I'm super excited about all the changes.  I've always loved what I do for a living, but I feel like my enthusiasm for my job is just growing and growing.  There is so much I want to do with my class this year.

On August 2nd I set the following goals for myself after attending  RSCON3.  So far I'd say I'm heading in the right direction.

I will set up a class blog with my grade one class this year. I hope to have a blog that the parents of my students can go to see what we are doing in class, and that the rest of the world can check out too.  DONE!  My class blog is up and running.  Today we wrote a blog together as a class.  There are still so many more things that I want to do with the blog, but I don't want to over whelm anyone - including myself.  I've also taken this goal one step further by creating individual blogs for my students.  We are writing on them even though nothing has been published to the world yet.

I will take the time to learn as many Web 2.0 tools as I can that can either benefit my teaching, my students learning, this blog, or my class blog. I've learned a ton of new tools which I hope to use either for myself or with my class.  I've also shared my knowledge at two professional development days with my staff.  

I will continue to differentiate my teaching because I believe so strongly about it, but I will look even more closely at how I go about differentiating. This isn't new for me, but I'm going to look for even more ways to differentiate.  

I will provide more opportunities for my grade one students to show me what they know in the manner that they are most comfortable with. Still working on this one, but I know it will come.  So much of my time at the beginning of the year is focussed on setting a proper tone for the rest of the year. I'm really pleased with the tone that we are setting together.

I will book the “free” lab time more often as well as bring the laptops into my classroom much earlier than term three. Each week I'm looking at when the free blocks in the lab are.  Obviously with a large school I have to be fair with the extra blogs but so far even adding one extra block in the lab makes a difference.  Today it was for a math lesson, next week, if the time is available it will be for a big buddy lesson- can't wait to get our big buddies to help us explore Voki. As for laptops, I've managed to get a small set of the older laptops into my classroom.  These laptops are at the end of their life span, but they are good enough for us at the moment. It's so exciting to see my students so excited to get on them.  Of course, I still have the laptop carts that I can book, which once I feel like our programs are really up and going, I will book them - perhaps next week during our math block?  Using technology in my first grade classroom does not scare me.

I will look for grants to get more technology into my classroom, and into my school. I haven't been able to get anything permanent into my school however I have been in contact with the "right" people in my district.  At the moment my school has a class set of ipod touches on loan and we are scheduled to receive  ipads into our school for a few weeks too.  While these are just temporary additions of technology (three week visits), they are (or hopefully will) help my staff realize how amazing these tools can be for teaching and learning.

I will read as many blogs as I can, and comment as often as possible. I have been and will continue to read other professional blogs. I'm making a real effort to write comments too.  I love what I'm learning from others and how it questions what I'm already doing.  I also love reading other people's "Ah Ha" moments.

I will be willing to help anyone that can use my help. I still stand by this one and I have helped out a few people in the process.  I'm hoping I can help out more but even if they don't ask for help, I'm hoping that by sharing what I'm doing I'll maybe help them take a second look at what they could be doing.  I really want to bring down the fear factor for as many as I can.

I will have my class fully participate in the Post Card Project. I love this project but I still haven't written a post card despite receiving three. But I will, or at least my class will, write postcards soon.

I will try my best to instill in my students that they can feel, imagine, do and share. This is and will be an on going process which I will not give up on.

I will be a change agent.

I'm really eager to see what the next couple of months have in store for me.  It's going to be an exciting ride.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Engaging the Digital Learner - a Look Back

On Thursday Sept 29th, I had the privilege of attending a workshop put on by my school district entitled "Engaging the Digital Learner". The key speaker was Chris Kennedy of the West Vancouver School District.  Chris inspired all of us with his stories of what is happening in his school district. He talked about how every staff member is receiving digital training, how all his principals are blogging, and how every student has a platform to write and share with others. It was truly inspiring.

During the session we had to turn and talk with our table about how we are doing with digital literacy.  I was happy to report that I was feeling pretty comfortable with it.  I shared how I've started blogging with my grade one classroom, and how my grade one students have their own individual blogs as well.  I think I surprised my table - mainly upper intermediate teachers with their administration - with what I was doing with my grade one students.  I was trying to show them that the age of the child is irrelevant, we all can be digital learners.  Of course as comfortable as I am with what I'm doing now, there is still so much more I could be doing.

To attend this workshop I needed to sign up with a buddy.  I'm really glad I went with my good friend and work colleague.   However, I really wish one of my administrators was able to join me too.  I am super charged to use technology as a tool for learning with my grade one students and I'm doing everything I can to charge the rest of my staff.  But it's not easy.  Having an administrator as equally charged as I am would go a long way.

There are still four more sessions and I can't wait to attend them.  In the mean time I will continue to share what I'm doing in my classroom with anyone that will listen.  I will continue to support those on my staff.  I will (and have) arranged to get more technology into my school - even if it's just on a short term loan - to hopefully (fingers crossed) inspire more people to help me convert more staff members to the benefit of technology in our classrooms.  My ultimate goal is convert everyone on staff to the benefits of using technology for learning, because really that's where the world is heading.

Until the next session, I'll keep learning and sharing.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

September: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Now that September is finally over (yes, I said finally as I find it one of the hardest teaching months of the year) here's a look back at September's good, bad, and ugly.


My Class

Late August every year I start to wonder and worry about who will be in my class. It's not that I don't think I can handle any student that walks into my room, it's just that I'm curious about the challenges I'm going to take on for the year.  Last year the kindergarten teachers at my school grumbled a little more than usual as they dealt with several challenging issues.  I don't know if it's just that the children are a year older, or those that caused the grumbling moved away, but I'm really loving my class.

My class does have its issues but I feel I can handle what I'm dealing with.  One issue that is more prevalent this year than in the past is anxiety.  I have a few (far more than usual) students that suffer from anxiety but I am doing my very best to help ease their fears.  We are using a chime several times a day to calm us and help us focus on our breathing.  I have also begun using the Fun Friends social emotional program which I was trained in last year.  In addition I'll be using the Mind Up and Vancouver Canucks Fin's Friends programs.  All three work well together and will hopefully (fingers crossed) give all my students more tools to deal with life.

I am going to have a great year with my class this year.

My Class Blog

I'm really happy to report that I have my first ever class blog up and running.  I've sent my parents some information about the blog, and most  have signed permission slips to allow me to post their children's work on the blog.  We are starting to get comments on our blog and my class is super excited to respond to the comments.  We are even starting to check out other class blogs and I think my class thinks it's pretty cool that other classes are doing what we are doing.

Just this past week I introduced my class to their individual blogs.  While we have spent some time writing on our individual blogs,  nothing has been submitted to be published yet, although I know that it's coming.  I've sent home the children's individual passwords too and I'm encouraging them to blog from home.

I'm really happy to be blogging with my class.

My Personal Learning Network (PLN)

I am so thankful for the people I've "met" on Twitter.  If there is something I'm curious to know about I just ask and the answers come to me. I'm still working hard at reading professional blogs written by others, and commenting too.  One of my favourite blogs is written by a fellow primary teacher Aviva Dunsiger. She teaches a few provinces over from me but what she says resonates with me.  What I like about what she's doing, is that she's pushing the boundaries of what primary students should be able to do with technology.  I love it.  I totally thought of her when I was at a Digital Literacy dinner session with other educators.  The table I was sitting at was surprised that I was attempting blogging with my grade one class, and that my students had their own individual blogs.   I explained what I was doing,  and why always keeping what Aviva does in my mind.

I'm also thankful for #1stchat - the grade one chat on Twitter.  Every Sunday afternoon (5 pm Vancouver time) I read and learn from fellow grade one educators.  I really appreciate what the "regulars" have to say.  We all come from different school systems so we are  able to share what works well, and not so well for us.  The chat also allows me to really think about what I do and why.  It always surprises me when something I say is retweeted by others.  I really look forward to this chat each week.

I am a different, hopefully better, teacher because of my PLN.


Job Action

All the public school teachers in my province are in phase one of job action.  I don't like job action. I don't like that our contract talks have gotten us here either.  Without having a political debate on my blog I hope that all parties involved could figure out what is truly right for the people involved in educating students, and what is truly right for students.  It makes me so angry that politics gets in the way of true progress.


Postcard Project

Okay, I love the postcard project.  We've only been back at work for one month and already we have received three post cards.  So why have I posted this in the ugly?  Well.... (as she drops her head down in shame) we haven't written anyone yet!  I'm hoping I can blame it on the fact that we have only been together for one month, and really we've only been a class for two weeks.  I'm still trying to figure out where my students are at, and I'm still training my students.  I'm also on the hunt for postcards from Surrey because if I can't find any everyone will be getting postcards from Vancouver, the closest major city. Surrey is a city in Greater Vancouver, but it isn't Vancouver.  I'm quite certain my students will want their postcards to come from Surrey, not Vancouver.

So, those are the good, the bad, and the ugly from the my month of September.  What are yours?