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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.
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.
Baby steps are better than no steps!
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.
My initial goal for my PGP was to create a set of learning modules around blogging to help teachers who are new to OJCS understand what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.
After collecting data and challenging my assumptions as a part of the prototype protocol, this remains one of my goals, but three new things have emerged that I never would have thought of had I not asked.
- Create a “Blogging Agreement” between staff and administrators, so that we are all on the same page in terms of what we should be blogging about, how often, and if there are any educational hot topics that are “off the table” so to speak. How can we blog according to the OJCS way? Let’s set the floor but no ceiling.
- Create some type of database of hot topics, articles, blog posts, etc that could help provoke teachers’ thinking in case they need some type of inspiration for their blogs.
- Teachers who are already teaching at the school still have blogging skills they’d like to improve upon. Just because someone has been here since the launch of blogging at OJCS, doesn’t mean they feel completely comfortable with all aspects of Edublogs. Therefore, my learning modules should be both deliverable through coaching sessions, but can also be more “self-serve” where teachers can pick and choose the topic they’d like to learn more about and work their way through it independently.
Before I jump into each of these projects, I still want to work slowly and get feedback to ensure I don’t put all my efforts into something that really won’t be beneficial. Where do I start, then?
First, I’ll need to meet with my Head of School to discuss the Blogging Agreement and confirm what his “Floor” wishes are. I’ll also need to see if he has strong feelings about topics that may go against The OJCS Way.
Next, I will use Trello (a somewhat new tool for me) to make an outline of each learning module to make sure I’ve included enough in each section, and have included all the various skills teachers would want to learn. I will share this with my colleagues and ask for feedback again to make sure I haven’t missed anything or made any assumptions that need to be corrected. I will refer to courses I have completed myself, such as the JumpStart Basics unit from Cult of Pedagogy, and Ampeduca from Silvia Tolisano, as references for ways to organize learning modules for adults.
Finally, I’ll continue to brainstorm ways to house the “Hot Topics” menu for teachers to choose from. One idea I already have is to use our Faculty Info Hub blog that already exists. Teachers would then have the ability to post their own articles and help provoke the thinking of their peers. If a Kindergarten Hebrew teacher reads an article on French Immersion in middle school, for example, they may post that article and see if any our our French faculty have thoughts or opinions on the matter, which they can then in turn post to their blog.
I feel really excited about the work that is to come. I’m glad I didn’t just jump in right from the get-go, as these new discoveries make me realize that I would have missed such an amazing opportunity to give our staff what THEY need, what I THINK they need.
Last year, my colleague and I worked on creating a prototype protocol for the staff in our school to follow when prototyping something new. This was based on the work some of our staff had done with NoTosh.
At first we created a flowchart, in hopes that teachers would be able to make their way through and see what their next steps were. Unfortunately, it was not very user friendly. We then created a Prezi, hoping that the more interactive interface would be more appealing and useful, and would be more accessible for teachers. Again, no one used it. Following the protocol we created, we went back to the drawing board, and created a Google Slides presentation, streamlining the information, adding clickable links to flow through the protocol, and added guiding questions and examples as support. And what do you think happened? No one used it 🙁
So here I am now, taking the next steps by trying the protocol myself. I met with Gerry De Fazio, who is coaching me throughout this journey.
My first step was to name some assumptions about blogging at OJCS.
- Blogging is a requirement in our school
- Teachers are blogging regularly in three different ways: communication, homework, thoughts on education
- Everyone loves blogging
- People aren’t comfortable with blogging and that’s why they aren’t blogging
Now I needed to interview people to challenge those assumptions. Remembering that there were 2 goals for this project (my own PGP to create a blogging course for teachers, and to model the prototype protocol for staff) I wanted to model the “gathering data” step in a few different ways. I created a Google Form, a Padlet board, a post-it collection board in my class, and I will also be interviewing face-to-face.
I assume that for those teachers who I asked to participate online or by filling out post-its in my classroom, not all will participate. And that’s ok. I hope to see which option would be best to suggest to faculty.
Here’s some data I’ve collected so far:
I will continue to interview next week and update with more results and my analysis.