Monday, May 25, 2015

Teacher Stress? We've Got This Beat

If you’ve entered the teaching profession, the chances are you’ve encountered more than your share of teacher stress.  It’s an unfortunate given of the job as we try, as best as we can, to meet the unique and individual needs of our students.  Many new teachers struggle to make it past the first five years of teaching because the stress has gotten to them.  But with almost 23 years of teaching experience I’ll let you in on a little secret, there are things we can do to help better deal with the copious amount of stress this job throws at us.

Celebrate the Little Things

Often as teachers we are so immersed in teaching and learning we forget to take the time to celebrate the little things.  But the thing is without these little steps there would be no growth.  Look, and yes sometimes it’s hard to see, but notice the small steps your students are making and celebrate them!

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Don’t get me wrong I strongly believe our job is very important as we have a hand in shaping the future of the next generation.  We might be the first person to believe in a child, or the only person a child can trust.  But as important as our job is it is so important that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Have some fun with the job, laugh with your students. Take the time to play. Never take yourself too seriously.

Be Flexible

One constant we have as teachers is that there are many things out of our control.  Some of those things might drive us complete crazy, but the reality is we work in a system that is far more complicated than just us.  Being flexible is one way to deal with these constant changes.

Take Time For Yourself

Teaching is one of those jobs that can constantly demand your time. There is always another article to read, another student or parent to connect with, or another lesson to plan. It’s a job that can take every free moment of your day… if you let it. Don’t!  We are no good to anyone if we aren’t good to ourselves.  Take time for yourself. Breathe, walk away, get outside, travel, garden, read books for pleasure or whatever; do what makes your heart smile.

Be Active

Exercise is the secret drug of life. It helps keep you grounded and focused on what you need to achieve.  It helps keep stress from taking over.  Now I’m not saying go sign up for the local marathon but make a commitment to yourself to get your body moving regularly. It can be a simple as going for a walk over your lunch hour, or having a regular workout regime.  However you make it work, make time to be physically active.

What do you do to combat teacher stress?

*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 quick ways to combat teacher stress in a classroom?"  It is an honour to be a part of this group.  Please check out the complete list of posts here . 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Power of Skitch

Only just recently has my class and I returned to using the app *Skitch.  If you're not familiar with Skitch it allows you to annotate images with arrows, text, and drawing.  It also allows you to easily blur out content (or faces) with it's easy to use pixilating feature.  As I watched my students dive back into using skitch through our 2d shapes and 3d solids exploration a ton of ideas entered my head of others ways we could use this simple, and free app.

Labelling Images

At the most basic level Skitch can be used to add labels to images. In the first example my student is using the text and arrow feature.

In this example my student is using the pencil feature to better explain his math.

Blurring Private Information

For most of my students I have permission to use their images online but I work really hard to not to have their image with their name. Sometimes I get great images but when I look a bit closer I see I have managed to show their first name at the same time.  In the image below you can see that I have used the Skitch pixilating feature to blur out the name.  What's nice is it's so easy that my students can do it too.

Identifying Real Life Examples

As we continue to explore properties of 2d shapes and 3D solids my students have been exploring where they can be found in the environment.  One way they have been doing this is by taking a picture then using the highlighter tool to highlight the different shapes they can see in the picture.

Glenn Young, a Surrey Schools helping teacher,  recently shared images where his students took photos of each other as they were doing a plank in PE, and then they annotated those images noticing correct and incorrect form.  My head is spinning with ideas, is yours?

Self/Peer Assessment and Formative Assessment

My students have been working very hard to master the "givens" in our classroom.  The givens include things like adding a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, and using punctuation.  It's not an overly large list but it's things as a class we feel we can all do successfully.  In addition we have been working hard at rereading our work to make sure we haven't let any of the givens slip.  So what does this have to do with Skitch?

Imagine if I asked my students to take a picture (or screenshot) of their writing and import it into Skitch. From there they could use the highlighter tool and highlight where they have successfully achieved the givens.  To take it a step further they could easily pass off their device and have a friend do the same thing on their writing, but this time in a different colour.  What I like about this process is that not only does it encourage peer and self assessment, but it also leaves the original piece of work in it's original state.  Imagine all the things you could have students look for in their work and use Skitch to document what they have found?

Also for self assessment a student could look at their criteria and then circle the evidence in their work that clearly demonstrates they have met the criteria.  Of course this isn't just limited to writing samples, it could be used with any type of student work.

While I have been using Skitch since I met my first iPad almost 3.5 years ago I can't believe I've let it sit unused for a while when it has so much potential.  How are you using Skitch in your practice? How will you think about using it now?

* While I work in an iPad classroom, so the Skitch we use is the iOS app, Skitch is available on many platforms as well as being web based. Skitch is part of the Evernote family.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Creating a Culture of Kindness

If you know me personally you'll know that I have some pretty strong believes around children and their behaviours.  I am not a fan of whole class reward systems nor am I big fan of external motivators like stickers or candy.  I am however inspired to bring the very best out of  the students in my class and I will do what I can to do just that.

At the heart of all of this I have a strong belief that you must genuinely care about your students and their well being to have any long term impact on them.  It's a given in my classroom.  I may not know you very well when you first walk into my class, but I can assure you I will do my best to get to know you, and in turn you will find a permanent spot in my heart.

Some years I have students who are more difficult to get to know. Some take a lot longer to connect with.  But even in my most challenging years, with my most challenging students , I keep trying to bring the best out in all of my students. Building real meaningful relationships is key for me.

I also work hard to help my students build positive relationships with one another.  During our year together we are a family. I do my best to help each student see the best in their classmates. I want them to see the good in each other just like I see the good in them.

Together we work  hard to create a culture of kindness.  Our focus is finding ways to be kind, even when someone is not being kind.   We talk about staying calm and using kind words when we are approached with anger.  My students  use "I messages" to let their classmate(s) know how they are feeling.  We have talked about how important it is for my students to listen to one another.  When someone says "I don't like it when you....." we've talked about how important it is to listen and reflect.

I want my students to listen to their classmates and then reflect on their own actions, and take the right steps to make things better.  I am doing my best to teach them to do this on their own. I strongly believe most (if not all) children can do this successfully if given the opportunity to.  Far too often children run to adults to solve their problems. While I'm obviously there to solve problems I want my students to learn how to solve their own problems too.

There are many things I do in my classroom to help create the culture of kindness.  To begin with my students have a lot of choice to learn in ways that work best for them.  This choice includes working on their own or working with others.  I smile when I listen in as one student is explaining an activity to another. By having a room full of "teachers" to turn to when help is needed or is being offered we are drawn to be kind to each other. My students  understand that each person in the class is important and everyone has  different  needs to be met.

I have also worked hard to encourage my students to support one another because together we are all stronger.  If they want competition it should be against themselves, always pushing to be the best they can be, and not against each other.  We often talk about how everyone's best looks different but our goal is to continue to improve.  I love that my students understand that and are willing to support each other with their learning.

Lately we've taken the time at the end of the week to reflect on how we've been kind over the week. We tweet at least one reflection to the hashtag #classkindness. As their teacher I am proud as they each bring their tweets to me for approval before sharing them with the world.  It's a great way to end a week.

This is a sample of some of their tweets.

How are you creating a climate of kindness in your classroom?