Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Teacher I Want to Be

The

I have been dismayed to realize that despite my self-image as a teacher with a learner centered classroom, I am far from truly achieving that goal. 

I have been listening carefully to myself lately, and I don't like what I hear myself saying to the kids. Instead of empowering my students to take ownership of their learning, I am still the director on the stage. I still ask leading questions rather than ones that push the learner to figure things out for herself. I realize I often spoon feed my students hopeful that they will give me the answer I'm looking for. An answer that will make my job easier. Answers that will fit with what I expect students to say despite the fact that 30 years in education has taught me nothing if not that students are unpredictable, and if we prepare for anything, that is what we should be prepared for. 

Teacher

An anecdote. The other day I was talking with a student about the fact that she was abandoning more books than she was finishing. I was asking her how she decides if a book is just right for her. She started telling me that one of her strategies is the five finger  rule. Before she could finish explaining, I interrupted her. (Mistake #1) Instead of listening and probing with more open ended questions, I told her not to use the 5-finger rule anymore because it doesn't often work. I continued by asking her what else she does to determine if a book is just right for her. She proceeded to do a perfect retelling of what I had just told her about the 5-finger rule. When I asked her if that's what she really does or if she was telling me what I wanted to hear (not in those words exactly), she nodded sheepishly. 

One lesson that I am learning over and over again during this first month of school is that I need to listen more and talk less. I need to simpler questions that force students to dig deep within themselves for their truth. I need to ask questions that help the learner think for herself. I need to ask questions that support students in doing more of the work. I need to ask questions that honor the learner and what she brings to the table. I need to really see the strengths rather than the deficits. Because in the big scheme of things, focusing on a student's deficits says more about me than it does about the learner. I need to stay positive as I notice and name what students can do even if it's incomplete or tentative. 

I

I need to continue to listen to what I say to my students. I need to weigh the value of my words. 

Want to Be

Although all of these changes may be awkward at first, I know it will get easier with time until I get closer to the teacher I want to be. 

The Teacher I Want to Be

I have been dismayed to realize that despite my self-image as a teacher with a learner centered classroom, I am far from truly achieving that goal. 

I have been listening carefully to myself lately, and I don't like what I hear myself saying to the kids. Instead of empowering my students to take ownership of their learning, I am still the director on the stage. I still ask leading questions rather than ones that push the learner to figure things out for herself. I realize I often spoon feed my students hopeful that they will give me the answer I'm looking for. An answer that will make my job easier. Answers that will fit with what I expect students to say despite the fact that 30 years in education has taught me nothing if not that students are unpredictable, and if we prepare for anything, that is what we should be prepared for. 

An anecdote. The other day I was talking with a student about the fact that she was abandoning more books than she was finishing. I was asking her how she decides if a book is just right for her. She started telling me that one of her strategies is the five finger  rule. Before she could finish explaining, I interrupted her. (Mistake #1) Instead of listening and probing with more open ended questions, I told her not to use the 5-finger rule anymore because it doesn't often work. I continued by asking her what else she does to determine if a book is just right for her. She proceeded to do a perfect retelling of what I had just told her about the 5-finger rule. When I asked her if that's what she really does or if she was telling me what I wanted to hear (not in those words exactly), she nodded sheepishly. 

One lesson that I am learning over and over again during this first month of school is that I need to listen more and talk less. I need to simpler questions that force students to dig deep within themselves for their truth. I need to ask questions that help the learner think for herself. I need to ask questions that support students in doing more of the work. I need to ask questions that honor the learner and what she brings to the table. I need to really see the strengths rather than the deficits. Because in the big scheme of things, focusing on a student's deficits says more about me than it does about the learner. I need to stay positive as I notice and name what students can do even if it's incomplete or tentative. 

I need to continue to listen to what I say to my students. I need to weigh the value of my words. 

Although all of these changes may be awkward at first, I know it will get easier with time until I get closer to the teacher I want to be. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

#EdCollab and #TWOTC twitter chats

I participated in back-to-back Twitter chats tonight. Two hours of fast-paced, free professional learning, coaching and collaboration. Ideas, encouragement and pure inspiration that I will take back to my classroom tomorrow.

#EdCollab and #TWOTC

Back-to-back learning opportunities.
My choice.
My needs.
Nerdy teacher heaven.

Here are nine takeaways from these two chats:

  • When I am working with a student, I must always make sure to teach at the point of a child's strengths and zone of proximal development.
  • As I grow and change my beliefs and practice, I will benefit from creating a "cheat sheet" with questions to ask students when I confer with them. Questions that remind me to talk less so that students do most of the work.
    • I need to ask questions like - 
      • What did you try? 
      • What will you try? 
      • What have you tried before? How did that go?
      • What can you try now? 
      • Tell me about what you did here.
      • What makes you say that?
      • If you knew the answer, what would you say?
  • I will stay focused on my students' strengths and not on their weaknesses. I will celebrate my students for who they and not for who we want them to be.
  • In order to grow as a teacher, I need collaborators. Other teachers who want to dig deep, talk, probe and innovate with me. I need other risk takers who are also there for the students.
  • I need to listen more and talk less. Those doing the talking are doing the learning.
  • Starting tomorrow, I plan to ask my students: "What are you proud of?" @SteveWyborney The focus is on celebrating small and big successes that students recognize about themselves.
  • It's important for students to understand how we learn so they can take charge of their learning.
  • Learning is not about magic or innate ability. It's about having a positive disposition and engaging in hard fun in an environment where the learner is not penalized for his or her learning. @GosnellMac
I truly love Twitter chats. I always learn something new about myself. I am always inspired by other educators, and the generosity of teachers to coach each other into better versions of ourselves. 

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Searching for Balance

I have been doing a lot of soul searching over the last couple of days. 

And, I've come to the conclusion that I must change my attitude - shift my stance - so I can assume a new perspective. So that I am more aligned with what's important and may add value to my life.  

Focusing on the negative is not making me stronger or healthier. In fact, I am often stressed because I worry a lot about unimportant things. I obsess over situations out of my control. I dismiss positive experiences that would help lift my spirits and align my focus towards what's important. 

I need a distraction from my own thoughts.  

I need balance in my life. Not because I work hard to prepare my classes. Not because I read a lot of professional literature. Not because I wrote a lot this summer and will continue to do so now that school has started. But because I have been obsessing on the wrong things. Mostly, I obsess about what someone said or did and what it says about me as a teacher. I obsess about my worth as a professional. And, I have to stop. I am not a new teacher. I have been doing this for a long time. I love what I do. All of it. But, my lack of balance is hurting me. 

So, this school year I will find balance in small and big ways by taking better care of myself both physically and emotionally. 

I will drink more water on a daily basis. I know this may sound insignificant and obvious. But since I haven't been practicing this simple habit, it is not an insignificant change for me. 

I will stay focused on the positive, especially what happens in my classroom. My students are always a source of joy for me as a teacher. 

I will not imbue a casual comment with anything beyond its face value. It's not always about me! 

I will exercise on a regular basis. 

I will eat well. 

I will write down positive events that happen throughout the day in a small notebook and refer to it when I'm feeling down. Hopefully, this will help feed my soul. 

I will stop worrying about what others think of me. My opinion of myself is much more important.

What will you do to find balance during this new school year?

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

In anticipation...

Today was my second day back at work.
The students haven't started yet.
Their first day is next Tuesday.

At this time next week,
I will have met my new students.

I looked at my class list yesterday,
and again today.
I studied my new students' faces.
None of them are familiar to me.
A new class.
Not my old class from last year.
I let myself be sad for a moment.

I loved my class last year.

I swallowed hard.
I took a deep breath.

This is the new group that I will love.
As much as I loved last year's group.

I have a lot to think about
as I organize my classroom.

I make sure that everything is in its place.
I lay out the flexible seating choices.

I think about the first day.
The first week..
The first month.

I sit at my desk - 
yes, I have a desk - 
and look out across the room.
I can see the cozy reading area - 
two couches, 
two chairs, 
an individual desk against the wall
(to give kids the choice to work alone),
a bench,
a large bulletin board,
a white board.

I look over to where the window seat will fit,
and I can already picture my new students 
reading by the window.

I look at other seating choices across the room:
A rectangular table at standard height,
another one low to the ground,
three round tables,
two individual desks - side by side.

I look over to the wall behind me,
where the SmartBoard will rest.
My eyes sweep over the red, crimson rug.
I am there with my students.
During read aloud,
mini lessons,
class meetings,
and celebrations.

And, as I write this,
I can feel my excitement mounting,
waiting for next Tuesday to arrive.




Saturday, 6 August 2016

Back-to-School Ruminations

I would be lying if I said I didn't have mixed feelings about admitting that I'm looking forward to the start of school in a couple of weeks.

Mixed feelings about admitting that I'm looking forward to returning to school in a couple of weeks?

Wait.

I am looking forward to returning to school in a couple of weeks!

There. I said it...at least in this blog...because saying this out loud in some circles may sound nerdy.

After all, who wants to return to work after a vacation? Who wouldn't want to extend their vacation if they could do so?

Admittedly, summer vacations are my favorite time off from school. But, what teacher doesn't look forward to summer vacations? They are stress free and rejuvenating. They provide a time to refuel, relax and reinvigorate for the new school year. They allow for extended travel time, reading - novels (adult and middle grades books for me!) and professional books - and for spending more quality time with family and friends. They are also a time to connect with other teachers through book studies, courses, and conferences - nerdy or otherwise.


First day of summer in June!



Best buds! 


















So, yes, I've loved being on vacation, especially this summer vacation, which has been particularly memorable; my oldest daughter recently celebrated her wedding at the end of July and we hosted many out of country guests for about two weeks. The feelings generated from the wedding linger on and I hang onto them as summer officially winds down.

The day before the wedding.
Breakfast with my son-in-law's family!













My daughter throwing the bridal bouquet at La Casa del Árbol,Baños, Ecuador.

Yet, I contain my excitement about checking out my new room, getting a hold of my class list (have to wait a little bit longer for this) when I try to imagine the person behind the name, gathering new school supplies, and figuring out how to incorporate all of the (free and online) professional learning I have done this summer.





Some of the new books I got this summer!

Source: http://ourelementarylives.blogspot.com/search/label/primary




I contain my excitement about the unveiling of the new furniture I requested that will make for a flexible learning environment for my students.

I contain my excitement about a new teacher in my division who is also interested in flexible seating and may make for a new partner in crime this year. Shout out to Nicole!







My first read aloud of the year!
Source:Wonder by R. J. Palacio






I contain my excitement about the first day of school when I get to greet my new class of 5th graders who are probably equal parts eager and apprehensive, as I am.

I contain my excitement as I anticipate getting past the formalities and awkwardness of that first day as we adjust to learning and living together.








I contain my excitement about my son moving to middle school because I know how fast that goes.

I contain my excitement about finally starting my field research for my doctorate. Since my research is happening at my own school, I look forward to making an impact in my school's collaborative and professional learning environment.

I contain my excitement about the new middle grades and professional books I ordered at the end of last year.

I contain my excitement about organizing my classroom library so that it's pleasing and accessible for my students.

These are some of the books my students read last year and
that I am eager to introduce my new students to this year.

I contain my excitement about getting back to the teaching I know how to do and weaving in new learning ideas from this summer. Think DIY Literacy, Who's Doing the Work, The First Six Weeks of School and other mentor books that I will be leaning on this school year.

I contain my excitement about the possibility of sponsoring the newly minted Student Leadership group that was formed last year with the passion and hard work of some of my former students.

I contain my excitement about #GRA16 and reading Pax, a book one of my students recommended I read aloud to the class last year; it was a huge success. Thanks, Willa!

And, finally, I can't contain my excitement any longer! Bring it on!

So, don't contain your excitement any longer! What are you looking forward to this school year?


Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Grandmother?

My daughter got married a little over a week ago.



I am now a mother-in-law and eventually will become a grandmother.
It's a lot to wrap my head around.

Although the title of mother-in-law does not scare me, 
the label of "grandmother" is a bit more than I can chew.

To make light of this, I have been polling my friends for names other than "grandma" 
so I can train (not really, but yes really) 
my grandkids not  to call me grandma. 
Of course, I am joking...sort of. 

The idea of being a grandma is scarier than being a "mother-in-law" despite all of the latter's negative connotations. I love my son-in-law and couldn't be happier that he is my oldest daughter's husband.

So, what do I do about becoming a grandma? Although this is not an imminent situation in the least, I am still thinking about it. And, although I joke about it, I recognize that this worry is all about getting older and coming to terms with what that means for me. After all, I'm not the first person to ever grow old or the last one; everyone grows old and many of us go through these life stages. 

Nevertheless, something's holding me back from enjoying this stage of my life fully. I know I will need to grapple with this sooner or later, so this is a first attempt, but certainly not my last.

Is it because of society's expectation that I should start to think about retirement that I am feeling this way? Perhaps.

Or, is it because I don't consider myself "old", just growing older, that I am at odds with myself? I have a lot of energy and feel like I could put in a lot more years in the classroom.

Most likely, it's the realization that a person's life is just a split second moment of time in the universe. It's part of coming of age, so to speak. The only path I can take is to embrace this new stage of my life gracefully and joyfully. 

I love the woman my newly wed daughter has become. It is a happy time for my family. 

Life is sweet. Life is good. I am grateful.