Network Weaver….no it does not involve yarn and needles, nor is it something you’d read about in a dystopian novel. It is, however, the focus of my professional growth plan (PGP) for this year. Every year at OJCS, each teacher chooses an area of growth to work towards. You can read about mine from years past here.
My definition of a network weaver is someone who helps others build their Professional Learning Network (PLN). The job of a network weaver is to constantly be building their own PLN, and making connections between like-minded individuals who can help each other. These connections come in many different shapes and sizes. At our school, we talk about teachers climbing the blogging ladder, but today I’m going to focus on the PLN ladder.
The idea of a PLN is not new. In one article I read on Edutopia, written back in 2013 by Tom Whitby, he talks about how he learned of the concept 6 or 7 years prior. Whitby defines a PLN as, “a tool that uses social media and technology to collect, communicate, collaborate and create with connected colleagues anywhere at any time.” When I think about the PLN ladder I see it like this:
My goal for this year is to become a stronger network weaver for the faculty at OJCS. In order to achieve this goal, I first have to continue building my own PLN and figure out what I want to share, with who, and how.
Building my PLN
Twitter is my main platform for connecting with other educators. One change I have made this year is that I am trying to actually connect with the people I follow. If I see a post I like, rather than simply retweeting or liking it, I try to think about how I can amplify and add value. Occasionally I will comment on the post to thank the author for sharing, and make connections to my own experiences or how I intend to use it.
If I find a post I think will be useful for others, I’ll mention them in the comment to help them become part of the conversation, and perhaps introduce them to an educator with whom they can collaborate.
I recently started following an educator in Australia, Lesleigh Altmann, and she sent me a private message thanking me for the follow. I thought this was such a simple, yet powerful strategy to making connections. In that moment, I didn’t feel like just another nameless follower, but someone she was recognizing and open to collaborating with.
I also want to build my PLN beyond Twitter and speak with people in other schools and organizations who play a networking role. Gerry De Fazio, who I met through our school’s work with NoTosh, and who now works as Director of Learning, Strategy & Innovation at Montcrest School in Toronto, continues to be a valued colleague and mentor. She and I meet bi-weekly to share ideas, experiences, resources and thoughts. While I look forward to each of these sessions immensely, speaking with other educators, or even other professionals outside of the education world, continues to be an area I’d like to develop in the coming months.
What to Share, With Who and How?
Due to COVID-19, a main focus of my position as Teaching and Learning Coordinator at OJCS has been around Hyflex Learning. Our teachers have had the challenging job of teaching students in class and online concurrently. In support of the added workload and planning this type of teaching requires, our administrators have kindly given over all staff meetings and professional development days to individual and team meetings. While this is amazing from a “prep” perspective, it poses a challenge for coaching and sharing useful strategies that would otherwise be addressed during these staff gatherings. In response, I’ve begun creating interactive resources that teachers can use at their leisure. Here is the first one I created to help teachers plan for a Hyflex Learning environment. Many of the tips and strategies I suggested were designed to build routines that could continue to be used whether we were teaching in person on not (** I say as we begin our second week of remote teaching**)
In addition to this, each week as part of our Faculty Bulletin, I share “Melissa’s Weekly Roundup” – a list of useful tools, blog posts, articles, videos, resources, books, podcasts or educators I have come across that I think will be useful to our teachers.
One challenge for me has been that I rarely receive feedback from my peers as to whether these resources are helpful or not. I know a few teachers have implemented choice boards into their practice, and others are using stations to find time to meet one-on-one or in small groups with their students, but I am not certain how widely adopted it is. I recognize that bandwidth is limited this year. It’s my hope that one post, one week, one time, will prove useful to one teacher, and that teacher will become my network weaver, sharing the value with their colleagues. I also intend on following up with teachers to see how the work they did before the lockdown impacted their transition into remote learning, post winter break.
Up to this point, I’ve talked a lot about all the valuable resources I’ve found by looking outside my own school. But the truth is, our fellow teachers in our own building hold just as much experience, knowledge and resources! As our North Stars says, “Each person is responsible for the other,” “We learn better together,” and “We are always on inspiring (Jewish) journeys.” Often, those journeys intersect. Every teacher at OJCS is working on a PGP of their own, yet we are not always aware of what those PGPs are. To help build connections amongst our own faculty, I have created a Trello board outlining all the PGPs this year, and grouping similar projects together.
I have slowly started inviting faculty members to join this board so that they can see for themselves who is working on what, and start reaching out to their colleagues for support, feedback and guidance. Not everyone has joined yet, and some who I have invited have been hesitant to share. Like everything, it is a process and they are slowly moving up their own rung of the PLN ladder.
During pre-planning week this year I led a session with the faculty at my school titled, A Foot in Both Worlds. The goal of the session was to help teachers begin to understand the new reality we would be facing at our school.
From what I have been reading online, there is a mix of what school boards and schools are doing depending on where you live and which board you are a part of. Some schools are only offering online programs, some schools are only offering in person programs, some schools have adopted a hybrid model (some days in school, some days online) and some, like my school, are offering a blended version, or HyFlex option, where teachers are expected to teach students both in school and online, at the same time.
This isn’t an easy task. And the first week of school proved just how challenging it would be.
First, let me share some of the new policies put in place to help make our school as safe as possible:
All students K-8 must wear masks at all times inside the school building (we’ve implemented this for the first two weeks as students come back from summer holiday. After that period (as of right now), it will be mandatory for grades 4-8 and optional for k -3) All teachers must wear masks at all times.
Students’ entry and exit from the building is staggered to eliminate cohorts mixing with others they never see throughout the day and limit contact. They must maintain physical distance while they line up and sanitize their hands when entering the building.
Students will be eating with their classmates in their classroom.
Recesses are staggered, with only 2 or 3 cohorts outside at the same time.
Students in grades 4-8 will have outdoor education (rain/snow or shine) and students in K-3 have an extended recess time added into their schedule to make up for the lack of P.E.
Art is taught asynchronously by the art teacher, with students working in their classrooms supervised by their teacher
There is no Music class this year.
As you can see from this list, many precautions have been put in place to help our students and faculty stay as safe as possible. However, it does add extra supervisory duties to the schedule that were not previously there. Our administrators worked exceptionally hard to work out this impossible jigsaw puzzle and have taken on over 20 duties themselves, but it was impossible not to increase the number of duties each teacher needed to take on.
In order to facilitate HyFlex learning, teachers share their calendars at the start of each week on our class blogs. These schedules are very similar to what we had been using in the spring when our building was closed and we were learning from home.
What did I learn in week 1?
For the most part, my student who is learning from home full time was engaged in the class and participating well. He is an extremely self-motivated learner though. I had two students home sick halfway through the week. One was well enough to continue learning online, but had more difficulty following along and staying on task.
I like that parents and students can see quickly at the top of the schedule which documents they need to print for the week. However the schedule itself felt busy and hard to follow. In week 2 we will be trying to keep the schedule less cluttered and each teacher will link to a more detailed plan. Here’s the one I have created, inspired by my colleague Faye Mellenthin.
We are trying to include as many asynchronous/student-paced lessons into our synchronous teaching periods. The hope is that this will reduce the amount of planning we need to do as teachers for both students at home and in school. It will also free up more time to meet individually with students, something we weren’t able to do as much of in the first week, especially for students learning from home.
Something else I’d like to do but did not manage to implement in the first week is class jobs. Last year I read Who Owns the Learning by Alan November, and blogged about it here. Inspired by his Digital Learning Farm a session with Sharon Reichstein, some of the jobs I’d like to implement that will help build community are:
Recess buddy (plays online with those who are at home)
Morning Activity leader
In the past, students would move from one classroom to another for their various classes with different teachers. This year, students stay put in their classrooms and the teachers are the ones who move in and out. Another idea I had that I would like to try once I run it by my colleagues, is to have a set iPad in each classroom. There would be one Google Meet link that students would stay in for the whole day, and teachers would have the student there on the iPad when they came into the room, rather than having different links for different teachers. From the feedback from our teachers, especially those who move around a lot (our French teachers can teach up to 5 different classes) it’s not easy to pack up one room, run to the next, set up your supplies, and login to the Meet. It’s not impossible obviously, but my goal is to come up with ideas, protocols, and templates to make life as easy as possible for teachers. When you consider all the “newness” our teachers have had to take on this year, including extra duties, the more we can do to support them, the better.
It’s that time of year again. Time to reflect on my year, the professional growth goals (PGP) I set for myself, and set new ones for the future. Reading last year’s reflection, I’m happy to see that I have accomplished many of my goals. As a self proclaimed life-long learner, it makes sense that some of those goals continue to be ones I have for myself this year too.
The ones I achieved?
Blogging with my students; blogging myself; create engaging opportunities for students to continue on their own documenting journeys.
The ones I still have?
Create authentic learning experiences in math (and I’ll add in all subject matter) that naturally reach students where they are and allow for growth at many levels.
It has been a year full of rollercoasters. With the two hats I wear, I feel it would be appropriate to reflect on each one separately. I’ll begin with grade 5 teacher.
Last year was a challenging one for me, but definitely one of growth. Although my PGP last year focused on Personalized Learning, I still don’t feel it is something I have completely mastered. I try my best to honour student interests, provide choice, differentiate, and introduce students to tools and techniques that work for them as individuals. Grade 5 is an interesting year in terms of maturity and development. Last year, I introduced an activity, “Be the Quote” based off of Miss 5th’s Keep The Quote. Every week, I posted a new quote and as a group, we would orally share what it meant and what it reminded us of. With the group of students I had last year, I wanted a space where we could discuss feelings and behaviours openly. I adapted that activity this year to become a writing task each week, recognizing that some students had things to share they may not feel comfortable discussing out loud. What I love about this activity is that it exposes students to varying feelings that may be different than their own and allows them to begin thinking of examples beyond the classroom walls. It helps begin to anchor how their actions impact others, and the control they have over the outcomes in their life.
The class novel we begin the school year with, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, contributes to this lesson as well. Students are encouraged to make connections with their own challenges in school, and ways they have felt different or insecure, to become more compassionate and inclusive classmates. There are many real-world initiatives and ways to contribute more to society that can be linked to this unit, and something I would like to focus on more next year.
With every task I give, students are always aware of the assessment expectations, through outlines and rubrics. One new addition this year, based on a podcast from EB Academics, is that even before we begin reading a book or a task with multiple steps, I let students know what the very final project will be. That way, they can begin planning and collecting evidence and examples to make the final writing process easier. One student, who struggles specifically with written output, has shown tremendous improvement with getting his ideas out on paper after I made this very simple switch.
I am proud of the commitment I make to bettering myself, and learning from others to offer my students the best education I can. It is through my own research for my class that I am also able to help my colleagues, and share those discoveries with them as well. Which brings me to my second hat – Teaching and Learning Coordinator.
As I’ve written about before, last summer I completed my Principal’s Qualification course (although I have yet to submit my final project…but more about that soon). Early in my career, a seed was planted in my head by a former principal that I would do well in leadership. Ever since then, different administrators have echoed that sentiment, and I have continued to do things to try to further my path down that road. I have held more formal positions of leadership, but have also at times acted as an informal mentor to my colleagues. At this moment, when I think about my most ideal position, it would be exactly what I am doing right now…teaching and working with teachers to better their own practices.
However, I don’t feel that the coordinator portion of my current position is as developed as I’d like it to be. I sometimes find it a challenging place to sit, where teachers aren’t “required” to meet with me, yet my job depends on it. I would never want anyone to feel forced to work with me. The opposite actually. I would hope that after spending time collaborating and brainstorming, teachers would see the value of the partnership and seek it out more often. And some have. But others, even when offered, do not always accept. There is no way that I would be the educator I am today without the support, guidance, collaboration and thought-partnering with my mentors and coaches.
One part of my PGP this year was to live through the prototype protocol, in order to then support other teachers going through the process themselves. It’s amazing how my mindset has shifted, appreciating the feedback portion of the protocol more than I ever thought I would. I am so much more motivated to build and complete my blogging course for teachers, knowing that I am creating something they had a say in, something they believe will be beneficial to them, and something they will therefore, hopefully, use often.
I mentioned earlier that I have not completed my Principal’s Course final project. Why? I had chosen to focus on documenting learning, specifically the value of blogging for teachers, administrators and students. I wanted to choose something that I was living and breathing in school, and something that would not end once my final project had been submitted. But that’s part of the problem! My documenting hasn’t stopped! I keep learning more, creating more, prototyping more, and adding more that I want to share as part of my final submission. I guess this is a good problem to have 🙂 Leading workshops for teachers and parents has been an added experience that will undoubtedly help me if/when my role continues to evolve further into leadership. Last night was the most recent of these sessions, where I helped our grade 3 parent cohort understand the school’s philosophy and expectation for our BYOD program.
Over the last number of weeks I have been working closely with Gerry de Fazio, who has acted as a consultant for our school through NoTosh since February 2018. She has been a thought partner for me, a coach, and sometimes(often) that little nudge I needed to continue moving forward with my PGP. As her time with us comes to a close, I will transition into taking over that “nudging” role for our teachers. Through our time together, I have learned even more about playing a coaching/mentoring role. It’s about asking the right questions at the right time, NOT being the expert. It’s about listening. It’s about supporting. It’s about finding barriers and attempting to lift them…kind of like what it’s like being a teacher 🙂
I am somewhat nervous about taking on this new responsibility. But when I think back to what I said just a few paragraphs ago, that I want to work with more and more teachers, perhaps this additional clarification about what my role and responsibilities entail, my collaboration and coaching with teachers will organically increase.
In a future with so many unknowns due to COVID-19, I am hopeful that amongst the tragedies will also be positive steps forward, particularly in education. With the personalization, flexibility, and the need to narrow in on specific skills during remote learning, I am eager to see how we will “go forward” to school and build these practices into our everyday instruction.
In my last post, I named some assumptions I had about blogging, and then challenged those assumptions by collecting data in various ways. Based on that experience, it was by far the easiest to ask people to fill out a survey in order to get high participation and feedback. Only two people participated in a padlet, two people added sticky notes in my classroom, and based on my own schedule and the schedule of my colleagues, I never had a chance to do any in-person interviews. The majority of the people I sent the Google Forms survey to filled it out, and spent time answering the questions honestly.
My next step was to take all that information, organize it in some way, and analyze it to help me make decisions about next steps. I started by looking at all the various platforms where I collected data, and writing each point on its own sticky note.
After that, I placed all the sticky notes, in no particular order, on a wall in my classroom. This felt like a good spot to model for other teachers how they could follow the protocol in their own classrooms. This was also based on the work we did with NoTosh, as I attempted to build a project nest in my own room.
Finally, I asked teachers for their help again, and invited them in to organize the data in any way they felt made sense.
If someone had spent some time with the data before them, they didn’t need to feel confined to the “categorization” that had already been made. The sticky notes were used purposefully, as a way to show how flexible the data was.
What did I learn from the responses?
Many see blogging as a great tool for communicating with parents, as a platform to share what they are doing in their classroom with a global audience, and a place to document, learn and grow from where they are now.
Most teachers feel completely comfortable with blog posts related to what they are doing in class and for sharing homework. It is posts about educational hot-topics and personal philosophies that teachers are more reluctant to write about.
One common frustration with blogging is that teachers feel parents are not interacting with the blogs in the ways they would like (no commenting, never read it, don’t follow)
Although teachers see the value in blogging, they want it to be self-motivated and not something that is “required”. They believe that blogging is personal, and it is not necessarily the right tool for everyone. When it is “top down,” the quality of the post is jeopardized, and it is harder to be meaningful.
Although teachers feel they know the basics, many still feel like they have a lot to learn and would have appreciated more training at the beginning.
So where do we go from here?
It is interesting to think more about the “top down” comments. Especially as I am working on Principals Qualifications, I understand that there are goals and visions that principals and school leaders make that they need to share with the rest of their stakeholders. I understand that there will always be critics and people who do not necessarily share the same visions or values. It is important to continue working with those teachers to find some common ground.
How long does writing a blog post take someone who is anti-blogging? Could their reluctance be due to a lack of skill?
Although it would still be mandated by admin, would deadlines by which certain types of posts needed to be posted be helpful in actually diving in and getting it done?
Could writing something out of your comfort zone actually help in changing your opinion about blogging? Would it be helpful to have a list of possible blogging topics to choose from to help the juices flow?
I think a few more conversations with people about this would be helpful. But it is clear to me that a more streamlined training program could definitely be helpful for staff who are new to blogging. Creating a set number of lessons, focused on specific skills, with specific tasks attached to them, could be helpful in overcoming some of the barriers that currently exist for our staff around blogging. If these lessons are clearly defined, while new teachers would have to go through each sessions, more experienced teachers could also choose specific lessons to attend to help develop their skill and continue climbing their own blogging ladder.
If you look back at the date of my first post, you’ll see that I have not been blogging for long at all. Documenting my learning in this format, on this public platform, is very new for me. It began as a tool provided to me and my colleagues who were fortunate enough to participate in a learning cohort with Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano (who I have mentioned many times in my posts) and has quickly turned into something I enjoy doing, value doing, and am eager to share out.
As with many things that are new to us, we often look for resources that can help us do what we’re doing, better. One such resource for me as I have begun to capture and reflect on my learning, has been A Guide to Documenting Learning, by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano and Janet A. Hale. This is not a book that needs to be read cover to cover. It is also not the book that I read at the beginning of my journey and now sits on my shelf. It is full of post-it notes, some weathered pages and has been the inspiration for many of the lessons in my classroom. This is because the authors have made this static book as interactive as possible, by including QR codes, website links, tool suggestions, annotated images and infographics to help the reader understand exactly what is possible. It is in and of itself, an artifact of learning that models what each of us can do to grow professionally and personally.
What I love most about this book is that it highlights that we are all learners. The line between teacher and student does not need to exist. What applies for educators in terms of documenting our learning applies for our students as well. The book recognizes that we are all at different points in our journey and there are no excuses as to why you can’t start now. Whether you are documenting your own learning as a professional, documenting the learning of your students, or helping your students to own their own learning and become reflective and critical thinkers for themselves, this book has many strategies to help you get started and continue learning every day.
I cannot believe Passover is over and tomorrow we will be back at school for the final months of the year. It feels like just yesterday I was sitting in Dr. Mitzmacher’s office, discussing my Professional Growth Plan for the year. Boy has it evolved!
I knew this year would bring it’s challenges, and I knew I needed to try as many things as I could to find the formula that would work for my students. Personalized Learning became the guiding term for what I wanted to do. In one of my earlier posts I talked about personalizing the math classroom. This was, and continues to be, the subject I have the hardest time personalizing. How do you make it authentic, personal, and engaging for all students? How do you truly make it personalized, where students are in charge and have choice and voice, without spending HOURS creating games and tasks? Especially when you have a prescribed curriculum to teach and report on. As I said, I’m still figuring this out.
I had the honour of Skyping with Allison Zmuda from Learning Personalized a few months ago. She had a wealth of information to share, specifically this graphic, which I intend to share with my students. Allison and I have discussed Skyping again with my class for them to share with her their thoughts and ideas of how to get through their learning pits!
I have also been working with my students on documenting their learning, more recently by creating student blogfolios. I believe that through the process of reflecting on their learning, and knowing they will be sharing their work with others, students will take more ownership over their learning, will interpret the tasks in their own unique ways, and will develop their own personal strategies of getting themselves out of their learning pit for the sake of learning!
Through the work I have done with Silvia this year I have grown my professional learning network on Twitter and am extremely motivated to learn and share with those “around” me. Every time I write a post, save a tweet, or connect with someone new, I share it with my students to help them see the power of a global network. I feel more comfortable reaching out to others for help, knowing that I am contributing as well.
There is still so much on my “To-Do” list:
Firstly, this blog in and of itself was new and is an ever-evolving skill.
Stay tuned (coming VERY soon) for my post on my Blogging Bingo board
Continue creating authentic learning experiences in math that naturally reach students where they are and allow for growth at many levels
Invite parents in for a pilot of “Student led conferences” with the blog posts they will have done by the end of the school year.
Next year’s “To-Do” list:
Start blogging with my students right off the bat next school year
Start a “Student Directed” Hadashot blog
I have no doubt even more will be added, slowly but surely.
I am at the very beginning of my sketchnoting journey. I have never, not even once, made a sketchnote. At this moment, I believe sketchnoting is drawing images to represent ideas we hear about or read about. They can be connected in various ways to tell a story and document what we know in a moment in time.
I’ve seen people participating in sketchnoting challenges on Twitter, but I have not yet delved deep into it. I am intrigued by it though, as I am on my other journey of personalizing learning. I have students in my class who I think, with my current understanding, will benefit greatly from sketchnoting. I have a feeling as soon as I start, I’ll be infected with #sketchnotefever!
To introduce us to sketchnoting, Silvia walked us through her sketchnoting tips, all the while, we made our own visual representations using Paper by WeTransfer. It took a few minutes to get into my groove…but I’m hooked.
So, without further delay, here is my first sketchnote:
Looking at my work, I can say that I can confidently and thoroughly explain each image that I’ve drawn. I can hear Silvia in the back of my mind talking through each of these tips. I know that I am a visual learner, and I believe I could look back at this image and summarize what I learned much quicker than if I was looking at a document of notes. I can only imagine what this can do for some of my students…and so instead of writing those ideas…I’ve made a sketchnote of it!
In one day I have realized that I find this tool very therapeutic and useful.
Although I’ve written some blog posts both here and on my classroom blog in an effort to document my learning and the learning of my students, I’ve never consciously thought about the actual process of documenting. Today, some colleagues and I, who are participating in an incredible learning cohort with Silvia Tolisano, focused in on the three phases of documentation: Pre-documentation, During Documentation, and Post-Documentation.
During the pre-documentation phase, we met with Julie, a grade 3 teacher, whose class we would be documenting learning in. (In hindsight, I wish I had taken some pictures of this step.) She shared her goals for the lesson, articulating the learning she was hoping to capture. First, she wanted to see if students could answer open-ended multiplication problems. She was curious to see if the students could show their mathematical thinking in pictures, numbers and words. She also mentioned how it was a class-wide learning goal for students to work together cooperatively, take risks and show leadership skills.
As was to be expected, the magic happened in the classroom!
Many groups gravitated towards using pictures to start off when solving the problem. Eventually, these pictures lead to math phrases and equations. All the while, there was a lot of discussion between group members about what to write and how. Although they may not have written it down on their paper, listening in to the conversation was evidence that many students understood their task. There were some groups that chose not to draw pictures and used numbers instead. There was only one group that clearly organized and identified their thinking as pictures, numbers and words, even though their question did not specifically ask for it.
Cooperative Learning and Risk-Taking
I witnessed an amazing moment of cooperative learning and risk-taking. Something I’ve witnessed in my own classroom is the reluctance for students to listen to each other’s ideas and try them out. There is often a desire to have their idea listened to, their example used, their writing on the sheet, that they often miss the point of the activity. Watch how these two students listened and ultimately cooperated to come to a conclusion.
Although this wasn’t necessarily one of Julie’s identified goals for her lesson, I chose to focus on this for my own learning, as this is the lens through which I am constantly looking in my own classroom. It was amazing to see students working on different questions depending on where they are in their learning. It was also interesting to see how they tackled such an open ended task. They each used their own strategies, tools and voices to tackle the problem in their own unique way. As mentioned above, some used pictures, some numbers, and one group even used manipulatives to help demonstrate their understanding. When I noticed some responses that didn’t quite make sense on paper, I was able to ask these groups for further clarification. With this extra step, students were able to show that although their writing did not convey the “correct” answer, they were more than capable of explaining their understanding thoroughly.
It felt new and familiar at the same time to be documenting another class’s learning. The pre-documenting phase of this process is the one I have overlooked in the past. However, I see now that this important step in this process completely organized what I wanted to capture, how I would capture it, and even organized this post long before I ever put it into writing. I imagine this may be the step that many tend to omit, but I see its value now and promise to at least try to do it more often in the future 🙂
January 7, 2008 was the first day of my first teaching job in Vancouver. I graduated with my B.Ed in 2007 and started working towards my Master’s right away. After being away from the school setting for a year, I realized the best place to learn what I needed to learn was to actually be in the classroom. In university the message had always been, ‘Take whatever job you are offered and then figure out how you’ll teach it.’ I followed this advice and spent the first 6 months of my career covering a grade 1 Hebrew class maternity leave. I was definitely less than qualified to teach this class, but I took the job and did the very best I could.
I continued to wear many hats with various names in the first 10 years of my teaching: Morah Melissa, the Hebrew teacher, Mademoiselle Melissa, the French teacher, Ms. Melissa the P.E, Gym, and Art teacher, the Tech Integration Specialist, Ms. Anders, the grade 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8 teacher, and now finally, Mrs. Thompson, the grade 5 teacher and Teaching and Learning Coordinator.
No matter what the students have called me, and no matter what I have taught, I have always striven to be the expert in one area for both my students and my peers: learning. Looking back, I can’t believe how far I have come, yet at the same time, I still feel like a novice with so much to learn.
This year in particular feels like one where I have stretched myself and will continue to push myself to learn. There are moments (many, actually) when I feel overwhelmed by all the ideas floating in my head, the to-do lists, the trials, and the errors. I’m sure this feeling isn’t new, and I wish I had something to look back on to say, How did I do this before? And so this post was born! It may be 11 years late, but better late than never!
What have I learned so far this year:
DOCUMENTING OF, FOR and AS LEARNING IS IMPORTANT – for myself and for my students! (Thanks, Silvia) This is one that I know in my heart, that I have felt for a long time, AND have not yet figured out how to best do it. I have started to write a few blog posts on this blog, as well as on my class blog, and I have also amped-up my use of Twitter to connect and build my PLN. I’ve participated in some chats, shared ideas from my own classroom, crowd-sourced for myself and for my colleagues, and never stop feeling excited when I have a new notification about someone acknowledging something I’ve shared! But I definitely have not been doing all this as much as I should be. Fortunately, my Head of School, Jon Mitzmacher, has a blog where he has documented his own blogging journey, and I have learned from some of his first posts, just how far I can go. I have now made a commitment to myself (and added it into my calendar) to blog at least once a week. I know that this will only enhance my practice as a teacher, and will allow me to continue playing the role of the lead learner. Knowing that this is a direction we would like our students to start following, I must take the time to figure out just how to make it a priority so I can then help them as they learn to find the authenticity and value in documenting their learning.
PERSONALIZED LEARNING IS IMPORTANT – it’s not necessarily easy to do at first, and I’m not great at it yet, but I am committed to figuring it out! I started by trying to understand who my students were as learners, and to help them to understand themselves to know exactly what they need to be successful. It was important for me to first build an environment in my classroom where students knew that being “different” was actually normal, and that fairness has absolutely nothing to do with being equal. This info-graphic from Brookes Publishing really helped me explain the concept to students in a way that made sense to them. Next, it was about creating opportunities in my classroom where students had more voice. I attempted to make Must Do, May Do lists in my math class, but after listening to these videos from Learning Personalized (this site has been a wealth of information for me throughout my learning journey as a whole), I realized that as the teacher, I still had too much of a role in what the students were doing. I am definitely differentiating, which is important, but students still do not have as much of a say in WHAT they learn, and HOW. The closest I have come has been introducing Genius Hour to my class, and they LOVE IT. Even though they know we only do Genius Hour on Wednesdays, they ask on a daily basis if we can do it during class. Today my students earned a class party as part of our Gotcha! reward system (I’ll have to write a post about this soon) and guess what they chose to do during their free time?…work on their Genius Hour Projects! They are interested, motivated, self-directed, reading, writing, creating, documenting and reflecting (on flipgrid) and *gasp* learning!
So where do I go from here?
I need to stick to my blogging goal. Not just for now, but for always.
I need to continue building my own understanding of what personalized learning looks like, sounds like, and feels like. I need to find out what I am holding onto from more “traditional” teaching or what the system I work in is holding onto, so I can better understand what needs to stay and what can go to make room for personalized learning. Math really seems to be the class where I am struggling the most. I imagine letting go of ‘teaching by the unit’ has something to do with it, but I need to research more, try more, fail more, and crowd-source more. I can imagine nothing better than students coming into every class, every day, with the same excitement and enthusiasm for every task as they currently do for Genius Hour. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve been successful…and I can’t wait!
I am currently taking my Principal’s Qualifications and am required to write a reflection after each module. It has been on my mind since the start of the course that these reflections get posted to one person, yet there is so much more we all could be getting out of these reflections if there was more value placed on them by making them public- where they can stop being reflections for the sake of reflecting, but can become reflections for discussion and growth. In an effort to practice what I’m preaching, here is a copy of what I wrote in my most recent reflection:
If there were to be a module where my passion lies, it would be with Module 4, specifically around the use of technology.
Technology has always been an area where I have felt comfortable. A new tool can come out, and I feel completely safe playing around, clicking buttons, navigating pages and simply figuring it out. The more experience I’ve had with this, the less fear I have to accidentally do something wrong.
Because of my comfort level, I have always been drawn to new and innovative technology-based tools that I can use in the classroom with my students. When I did my teaching practicum in 2005, I was fortunate to be placed in a school that had a shared laptop cart. I created a webquest for my grade 1-2 split class to virtually explore the different cities Terry Fox ran his marathon, and then write an imaginary journal from his perspective of the things they saw on their journey. This was the spark for the path I would follow for the rest of my career up until this point.
In 2007 I moved to Vancouver to pursue a Masters in Educational Technology. I was then hired as the Technology Integration Specialist at a school there. I attended workshops on iPad integration, participated in large EdTech conferences all over Canada and the US, and eventually moved to Ottawa where again, part of my responsibilities are dedicated to helping teachers integrate innovative practices into their classrooms, including but not limited to, technology. More than anything, I want to help them reduce their fear of “clicking on something wrong.”
I get that I may not be the norm. There are many teachers, both young and not as young, who feel intimidated by technology. However, after listening to this week’s group talk about the changes our students are likely to experience in their future, I can’t help but stand up and yell from the rooftops that it is imperative that teachers and administrators become literate in the language of now. Even in the last few months, I have upped my own online presence and realize that we have so much to benefit from the world of educators. Why limit ourselves to those in our school? Those in our board? Those in our city or even country?
This reflection in and of itself has no value if the only person I can share it with is my professor. That’s why I have also posted it to my blog. Perhaps this is a larger dialogue that needs to happen. Perhaps other people have ideas to share that will help me develop my thoughts even more. Perhaps I am completely off on my thinking. But I’ll never know if I don’t put it out there for others to comment on and reflect with me.
As potential future administrators, wouldn’t it be great to speak to other people around the world going through the same process? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to hear from those who have completed the process and are just beginning the next phase of their career? Why then, are we limited to posting our reflections inside a closed platform?
As one of my mentors, Silvia Tolisano, has taught me, technology is just the tool. There are always new things coming out and new ways of doing things. What’s important is that you know how to handle those things when they do come so that you are moving with the times, not falling behind them. We have a huge responsibility and a huge opportunity. As future leaders, we must be the leaders.