Monday, April 18, 2016

Still Affected, Many Years Later: The Impact of Teacher

Today I attended a fantastic professional development opportunity which focused on the design process and making. I was part of a group of four and together we went through the process of design thinking followed by creating a prototype for a new and improved lunch kit. As a team we had many great ideas.  However when it came time to use the tools to bring our idea to life, I struggled.  It wasn't that I couldn't add to the ideas, and help with the design, it was that I really had a fear of using the tools to create.

You see back when I was in grade eight sewing and art something happened in both classes that still haunts me to this day. I never really realized how badly it has affected me but it was very obvious today as I tried to be hands on with my group as we began to create the prototype of our idea.  You see when I was in both grade eight sewing and grade eight art my teachers used my products as the examples of what not to do.  In one case my work was referred to as a "dog's breakfast".  Needless to say I've never felt so humiliated.

To cope I developed strategies, I'd come to class when no one was there and make sure my work was not in sight.  I'd do my sewing when no one was really around - before/after school or over lunch etc. I did complete all the required projects - yes I even made a jacket - but I showed no one anything I made.

Art class was the same. I'd sneak in and grab my work when no one was looking. There was no way that I was going to be humiliated in front of my peers again.

Fast forward to today, and I'm back in a maker environment. I've got tons of ideas and have a real vision for what our product should look like.  I listen well and feel I'm a good group member. But when it came to actually using tools to create I nearly froze.  I was able to clearly direct what I wanted to be done, but I could not do it on my own.  In fact I made just one cut with a knife before passing it off to someone one else. I was truly afraid that I was going to mess up our project. Crazy right?

I'm still baffled several hours later at how much the "making" process flooded me with these terrible memories from high school.  I know the whole thing is irrational but it's crazy how much of an impact it has had on me.

So please, if you have a student who may not have the strongest skill set in a particular area honour them for where they are at. Provide with the support and guidance to help them improve but DO NOT humiliate them to the point that it still affects them many years later.

As a side note, when it came time to show case our finished prototypes I received rave reviews for my selling capabilities. That made me laugh, and smile. After the flood of negative memories, I needed that.

So, when you are making in your classroom, be mindful that there may be a student like me. One who has had a bad experience with making even though the rational side of their brain knows better.

And as an educator, be good to your students always. Even, or more likely especially when they are struggling.  We have an impact far deeper than we probably realize.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Learning to Listen

One of my big goals has been to listen more and speak less. By listening more I mean to listen with the intent to understand, not just to listen to hear.  This has been a particularly important goal with my students this year although it really started back a few years ago when I taught an inquisitive young man who was often questioning what was happening in the classroom.

 It was this same young man who asked, "Ms. Lirenman why do you tell us which math station to go to and why can't we just choose our own"?  The first response that popped into my head (and thankfully stayed there) was that I'm the teacher and I want it this way. I liked the control it gave me to keep the class organized and well run. I liked that it meant every student would make it to every activity. I liked it that way.  But I didn't say that instead I said, "let me think about it". 

I went home that weekend and did think about it and when I returned on Monday I told that student that he was right, and that if he and his classmates could make choices about their learning and pick the math stations that best met their learning need to fully understand the concepts we were learning about I would be cool with that.  I did say that I would jump in and support those learners who weren't able to make those choices yet, but I'd jump in with the intent to help them learn how to make those choices on their own.  

Really to no surprise, my students were amazing. I still set up the activities but they were able to make their own choices about what they needed most. Yes, I did step in at the beginning for a few students, but quickly they were successful too. They showed me what they really are cable of doing if and when I let them show me.

Fast forward a few more years.  I'm now teaching in a multi-aged, home/school blended classroom which is part of SAIL (Surrey Academy of Innovative Learning).  I have highly inquisitive students in fact I'd say that most of my class is exactly like that inquisitive young man I taught a few years back. I still write a day plan based on my students and what I know about them as learners.  I understand the curriculum and  have ideas of how we are going to learn what we are going to learn. However I've created an classroom environment where it's okay for my students to suggest other ways to meet the learning objectives. The rewards have been incredible.

My listening with the intend to better understand and know my students has paid off greatly. How are you listening to your students as a way to support their learning?

Nap Every Day: A Metaphor for Education

This past Wednesday night I was given the honour to present as one of the speakers for edvent 2016 where each speaker was asked to chose one line from Robert Fulghum's  poem Everything I Learned in Kindergarten and relate it to education.  After my first choice was already chosen by some else, the line I spoke to was "Take a Nap Every Afternoon".  

For those of you who were not able to attend, here is more or less what I said, with the images that I shared as I went.

According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary a nap is defined as a sleep in the middle of the afternoon. As a grade one, two, and three teacher I think if I tried to have a nap in the middle of the afternoon, while my students were still in class, more than likely I'd no longer have a job. Having said that though, there is a lot we can learn about from a daily nap, even if a metaphoric one.  
I'd like to start with a story, but I must admit there are many truths to my story. This year I work at SAIL, the Surrey Academy of Innovative Learning. It is a blended home school program and falls under distributed learning. My students are most likely no different than yours. They are keen, curious, eager learners. They specifically have chosen to come to SAIL and travel from all over to attend. But for some of my students there is a very specific reason why they left their previous schools. It let them down. When they entered school they thought it was a place to explore their curiosities, but instead they quickly learned it was a place to please their teachers.  Some of my students were disillusioned with the notion of school and felt their voices had little place in THEIR learning.

So again what does this story have to do with a daily nap? What can we learn from that daily nap?

A nap forces us to slow down. As educators we never have enough time. We are always in a rush - We need to cover curriculum, attend required meetings, do our supervisions, learn new things, connect with our colleagues and of course teach our students. And sometimes in the rush I think we  fail to truly get to know our students. I know I certainly can be guilty of that. We need naps to slow down so we can watch and listen more. Not watch and listen to see and hear but to understand our students better.

A nap allows us to pause and reflect. It helps us learn more about our students interests, passions and learning styles.  We learn what makes them happy and what scares them greatly.

A nap allows us to absorb all of this, and worry less about who we expect our students to be and celebrate more of who they truly are.

Each day a metaphorical nap gives us the strength and the courage to reboot and re examine our roll as an educator. We no longer have to  expect our students to do it our way, and we can be open to them learning ways that works best for them. It gives us the opportunity to put our learners back in the centre of their learning where they belong. It can help remind us to switch from saying, “this is how I’d like you to do it”  to more of  “that sounds like a great idea, I can’t wait to see how it turns out”. Regular naps give us the opportunity to make a change to better meet our students needs. Not our needs, our students needs.

And, there are perks to those naps. The process of shutting down, even for just a few minutes allow us to  refresh and be more creative. We are less frazzled and more open to new and different ideas. We can better handle adversity, and develop better resilience and our judgment gets stronger too.  

The productivity both ours and our students, goes up when we put the learning back in their hands. When we do this we support meaningful and magical opportunities for learning for our students.

We need to slow down to avoid burn out.

But more than anything, as an educator, as a mother, as a father, as a partner, as a friend, a daily nap allows us to be good to ourselves. If we aren’t good to ourselves who will be?

So slow down, strive to understand, rest your worries, and have a nap. Our students are counting on us.

Thank you.