Go where the water is – it’s green there!

How is our profession doing? I say ‘our’ knowing full well that I’ve been out of the classroom now for 2 and half years. (That realisation dawned on me only yesterday, in conversation.)

I talked recently with a Principal who reflected that she and other Principals she connects with have noticed a gap appearing in our ranks. It would seem that we have a growing number of brand new teachers, and a stoic group of experienced, older teachers but there seems to be a trend for those teachers in between these groups who are looking for opportunities outside of schools, and outside of the classroom.

Is this actually happening country-wide (I live in NZ) and if it is, why do you think it’s happening? I know that I often read and hear directly from teachers about the challenges they face now; parent dissatisfaction, assessment schedules, workload, student behaviour…the list goes on.

I’m also equally talking with Principals (in some cases, in the same conversation) about how exciting our sector is at the moment. Teachers are discovering new ways to engage their students, to create with and inspire their students that it makes you want to jump out of bed each morning and run to class.

Maybe the answer to coping with the stress and challenge is to embrace the new and exciting. Easy for me to say. And possibly easy for me to share.

What this does make so crucial is the need to connect with others who are excited, creative, engaged – other teachers who are embracing the change and inspiring each other.

Image – Pixaby


Listen to the Learning Chatter

If you’re like me then you love using technology to engage and motivate learning in your classroom. One of the ‘hits’ you often have to take when you do this is being labelled as a ‘teacher into toys.’ It’s frustrating to hear since you know and have seen the difference they can make for your learners.

img_2650One of the ways you can show others the benefits of these ‘toys’ is to record some of the conversations that your students are having during activities. I’ve started to call this;

  • LEARNING CHATTER = the language and conversations of learning in action.

Here’s a video of some sound bites I captured with one group at a recent Sphero SPRK+ demo hour I took at a local Primary School. Listen for the subject based vocab, the design thinking and collaboration here.


Student Engagement Poster

This is a great poster I’ve seen thanks to Educatorstechnology.com and it’s doing the rounds on twitter at the moment. I’d probably say that I’m great at using 2, 3 and 5 in my teaching practice at the moment and I’m definitely going to utitlise the “3-2-1” method of reflection in number 6. Lately I’ve been asking, ‘What’s one thing you’ve learnt or gotten better at today?’ and this would take that to another level, I think.

I also remember a teacher using number 7 a lot when I was in Primary School. We would try to beat each other to finish her sentence. Funny. What’s something you’re already using and also, what would you like to use in your class a little more?


So you’re Team Teaching now, are you?

Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 10.16.23 pmOur school has been working in Team Teaching pairs now for the best part of a year. It’s been so successful and beneficial across the board that we couldn’t imagine going back to teaching alone. We are also really pleased to see that this approach to a school structure is catching on all over the country and we’re having quite a few schools visiting to see what all the fuss is about.

Of course we’re not claiming to invent the idea of working with other teachers – my first introduction came from Jo Fothergill, a teacher from New Zealand, who spoke about her team teaching aspirations at an Educamp we hosted at our school in 2012. But we are very proud at our school of developing a whole school culture that has embraced Team Teaching as a crucial part of our shared pedagogy and learning programme.

So – why is there so much push back? I’m going to start a short series of posts that will ‘unpack’ (one of my favourite words, apparently) some of the reasons why TT gets so much resistance and also what makes it work at our school!


The Power to Act – Agency

Well – my word for the year (ownership) is growing some really long arms and legs! Here are some of those ‘limbs’ and the impact they are having on our learners.
This video, by Derek Wenmoth, explains some terminology for me around the concept of ‘student agency.’ He explains agency as the ‘power to act’ and it has really captured my attention as we build our active learning approach at our school.

In this video, Derek explains how student agency involves 3 dynamics and I’ve added some implications for our classrooms.

1. The initiative – self regulation of the student.

  • this describes exactly what we are trying to do – engage the learner to be more and more independent and self starting.

2. The relationship is inter-dependent – mediates and is mediated by the socio cultural context of the classroom.

  • the importance of a collaborative culture is key here. How we work together, give and seek peer feedback and create an environment where students want to learn together is incredibly important.

3. An awareness of responsibility of the learner’s own actions and the impact on the environment and on others.

  • our learner licenses approach is working really well in facilitating the right amount of support for each learner and I’m wondering how we can use it better to have student’s mentoring / supporting and encouraging others learning behaviours.

I can see how this terminology is going to catch on as some shared vocabulary for our school. Especially with the parents. Interestingly – one thing I have learnt to do, when talking about this with parents is to emphasise the ‘active learning’ aspect rather than ‘independent learning’ as the latter has overtones of teachers trying to take a back seat to the process.

So – here are 2 aspects of our programme that we have recently invested in across our school to help develop the agency of our students. While not exhaustive, they both form some important pillars to help empower our learners.

Solo Taxonomy

One of our teacher only days this term was spent working with Pam Hook, exploring the ways to incorporate the Solo Taxonomy approach in our classrooms. Solo is an assessment method that involves students, at all stages of the learning journey, to help them see where their understanding is and what to work on next. Pam, @arti_choke, has a knack for explaining the approach in a way that makes sense for people and has developed some fantastic resources for teachers to use with their learners.

She is always very generous with her resources on her site and we have already started using the hexagons, thinking maps and assessment matrix tools. My goal for our class is to be able to use the assessment icons and levels to be able to understand and articulate how well they have grasped a skill or idea and what they should next. This should give us some important vocabulary to use during those crucial learning conversations.

e.g, “How well do I know how to use syllables to decode words? Well, my understanding is at ‘multi-structural’ but I need to understand when and why to use them when I read – that will move my understanding to the ‘relational’ level.”

Learning Pathways and Self Selected Workshops

Last week our Senior Teachers travelled to Dunedin to visit St Clair School and we were hosted by @msbeenz (Claire Buist) AP and teacher, and her team. We have been hugely influenced by Claire’s approach with empowering students to self assess their progress using Goal Sheets and then booking workshops with the teacher. We were very impressed to hear their journey with this approach last year and to see the development of this approach with her team this year.

Our Senior Team has begun to adopt this approach, with our own spin, and combined it within our team teaching approach which will have, I can already see, the following benefits.

  • increased student agency
  • increased quality and quantity of learning conversations to help guide and support the learner.
  • more active and engaged learners!
One of the areas to explore from our visit is how to best develop the home-school connection and whether our current ‘homework’ programme is the best approach. I’m expecting that the ability for the learner to engage with their next steps is something that could and should be able to continue outside of school hours. So, there is enormous potential for our use of google apps, Ultranet and our other online tools carry on this journey.
Here are 2 other links to some docs we sent home for parents that explain how our learning programme has developed so far. This ‘coalition’ between school and home is something we are always looking to grow and the conversations these documents have continued has been crucial to the learning culture we are developing in the school.
We are certainly in the midst of some exciting times and it feels like the pieces of the ‘Active Learning’ approach are falling into place. And when we combine all this with an increasing access to the learning tools we need (10 Chrome books arrived this afternoon!) then the road ahead just keeps getting more and more exciting. 
I hope our learners are starting to feel excited as well. I’m thinking it may be time for some student voice!

Teaching Kids to be Brave and Kind

I thought I’d pass on this article on the Momastry blog. It’s written by Glennon Doyle Melton and really resonated with me this week. From the look of the 1400 odd comments underneath it has for others, too.

The idea that an educator’s role is to simply raise achievement standards would rankle even the numbest teacher. There are so many things we do in our classes that can make or break children’s futures – it makes me baulk at the weight of that responsibility and to be honest, there have been times in my shortish career where I would admit that I’ve missed the wood for the trees.

This recount of a parent and their description of the efforts they take to look out for the lonely children in their class is inspirational and incredible challenging! But the line that stands out for me the most is right at the end.

Isn’t that what it’s all about. Do we teach children how to read and write? Yes. But we should also shape and inspire them to be resilient, to go outside their comfort zones and to move from being ego centric to thinking of others.
So, what does this mean for me? It means that when I have photocopying to quickly grab before the bell goes and a student comes to talk with me and make a connection before the start of the day… I will stop and listen and gift her some of my time. It sounds easy but with the pressures of teaching I can assure you that if my priorities are not right, it’s not.
There are lots of little things we can do to make every student feel accepted, safe, cared for and valuable. Lots of small things. And small things, I’m finding, add up to be big things.
Have we missed the point of teaching sometimes? Is it all about technology, innovative practice and passion? No. I wonder if it’s about helping kids be brave and kind. I also think that we need to model that to them, too. 

The dangers of student centered learning

One of the current BUZZ words this year is student centered learning. We should have a student centered programme and a student centered curriculum. When we are talking about differentiation and personalised learning I am in whole hearted agreement.

My concern, however is that while being student centered helps to target the learning and boost achievement it is also solidifying our western culture’s focus on the individual and not the collective.
What I mean by this is the danger that we make our classroom programme ‘all about the student.’ Everything is structured to meet the requirements of (cliched) ‘little jonnie’ that we encourage them to think first and foremost about themselves and their own needs.

Like everything, I think we need to have a balance. Yes, education is about preparing the individual for the future but it’s also about helping to shape a society that cares for and thinks of others. It’s about helping children mature from being egocentric to being empathetic and altruistic. After-all, to be truly functional, societies are dependent on the health of it’s communities.
Perhaps, then, we need to add a new buzz word/phrase to this years teaching lexicon – ‘community centered learning’. I’m beginning to wonder if this is my true calling?
So, what does this look like?
Yes – we should guide student learning at their pace and towards their own learning targets.
BUT – we should also be encouraging a desire for them to look for opportunities to help others around them.
Yes – we should prepare them to have a dream and fulfill their potential.
BUT – we should also be instilling a passion to be aware of the needs and concerns of their communities and how they can be a positive influence in them.
One reflection from a student of mine made my
month! She was reflecting on a co-operative group activity where they investigated a question with their classmates and created a graph from the results. It was a group that I had helped form and had not just left up to them to join. I asked them all to describe what they felt was a success for them from the project.
Her answer – “I learnt that it’s fun working with people that aren’t just my best friends!”

Pure Magic! In that tiny moment in time, my work felt done…now for tomorrow.

Best PPT how to video ever!

This is a link to something everyone who uses ppt for presentations should watch. It’s from Alvin Trusty, recorded at the ‘etechohio2009’ education conference and has some fantastic practical tips – beyond the standard, ‘Don’t read out all the words on the screen.’

How to Create a Great PowerPoint – Take 2.0 from Alvin Trusty on Vimeo.

(Another credit to my favourite personal learning network – Twitter. This is a retweet from AngelaMaiers)

Unlearning Your Community

One of my goals for the year is to open up the walls of our classroom to our community. What I mean, and I know this sounds quite ‘uber-romantic’, is that I really want to engage the students, our learning, the content, our approaches to things, our challenges and our trials with the people outside our little box at school.

So far I have this blog (along with our class blog). I’ve given parents the opportunity to comment on their childs strengths and learning styles. I want to connect each student up with a significant adult that can partner with them in reflecting on their efolio and I’m looking for other classes and schools to form some ‘buddy’ type relationships with.

More transparency has not always been something I, and many teachers, feel comfortable with and most of the reason has to do with fear. It can lead to conversations that become critical questioning, especially as a teaching and learning shift happens in our schools.
This post by Jeff Utecht, on his blog – ‘The Thinking Stick’, has helped me realise how important it is for us to engage and ‘re-educate’ our community about this shift – especially as they become more involved.

“Never before in the history of education have we been given the task to not only educate the children they send us everyday, but to re-educate a whole community on what it means to learn in today’s world. What it means to collaborate, to read, to write, to communicate, to research. If you can get your community to relearn you can change the system.”

This places incredible responsibility on our shoulders. What will I do as a classroom teacher? What will we do as a school? The adventure continues.