Make Your Mark

Image from chapters.ca

Last week (well actually more like the end of the week before…) my students and I celebrated International Dot Day by watching/listening to the story, “The Dot”, by Peter H. Reynolds, discussing the importance of giving things a try, and starting somewhere to see where things go. As I was planning the lessons for it I thought, “What a great lesson for the students!  Such a fabulous way to introduce growth mindset in Arts Ed!” And I was right! The students really enjoyed the story and the chance to be expressive, and we got to use a cool app too!

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the story was really an inspirational message for me too!

So far in this, my first year of teaching, I’ve been trying to focus on what I’m teaching the students and trying to get them set up for lessons and units I want to begin. I’ve been trying to get in a groove and to keep my head above the proverbial water, trying to stay afloat in the madness of teaching 14 different classrooms  across 8 grade levels 5 different subjects. I’ve been trying to make an impact with what I teach, but at the same time be realistic. Other teachers try to help, offering units or resources, but ones that I’d still have to adapt to suit my teaching style or an end goal that I had in mind. The trouble is that thoughts just keep swirling around and I just feel stressed and overwhelmed.

Image from thedotclub.org

Enter the lesson from “The Dot”: Just make a mark and see where it takes you! I’m beginning to realize that the key to making it through is just to take an idea, and see where it goes. I’m still trying to take in bits and pieces of advice that others care to offer, but I’m realizing that I need to make my own mark with my own ideas and try new things! Sure, my internship last fall gave me many opportunities to try all sorts of things, but since none of the subjects and almost none of the grades are ones I’ve taught before, in some ways I’m back to teaching like I did in internship as everything is brand new. It’s all about discovery, learning, and making a mark; trying something to see where it takes me.

Why I stopped blogging…until now.

So I haven’t blogged in forever…about 7 months. I used to blog a few times a month! Why the sudden lack of content?

Why the sudden lack of content?

Lack of motivation? Not really. I’ve always got things I want to share, want to think through, and want to explore!

Photo Credit: ntr23 Flickr via Compfight cc

Lack of time? Partially. My final semester of university was crazy busy as I finished 3 heavy courses, subbed as an Educational Assistant, and continued with my coaching and teaching of Sunday School each week. I was pretty busy, but really should have carved out some time to write even just a quick blog!

What else could there be besides those to “excuses”? Well, that’s where the real reason lies. While my semester was super busy, it finished in April, so why no blogging since then? I should have had all sorts of time with no school work to do, with my extra activities winding down, but It really wasn’t why I stopped blogging.

The real reason is that every time I opened my dashboard on my blog, I started to tear up. You see, for the last two years, on the majority of my heartfelt, or poignant blog posts, there has always been one person out there who’s made a wonderful comment, sent out a tweet, or spoken to me personally about the post I created. He was one of my instructors at the university and was just the kindest, most well-read, thought-provoking people I’ve known. He always had the time to chat, to provide an opinion, or to have a laugh with. I loved reading his comments, and he inspired me to write more and to think more every time I spoke with him. Sadly, he passed away very suddenly, the very last week of my semester at the start of April. At a time when I should have been overjoyed about finishing my degree and excitedly preparing for the next steps in my education journey, I was suddenly faced with this great loss in my life that I didn’t even know how to deal with.

From then on, I didn’t feel like writing anything, because every time I opened my blog site the first thing I would see on my dashboard was the last comments he had made on my blog. Every time I even thought about writing a post I would feel sad because I knew he wouldn’t be around to read it or to chat with about what I wrote. I felt kind of lost.

The last few weeks though, I have been more inspired to write. I’ve realized that my blog posts really aren’t about getting tons of people to read them, or even just one specific person to read; they are for me to get my thoughts out and to work through them. I blog to explore new ideas, to work through frustrations, and to ponder heavy things. While I’m still sad that my beloved instructor will not be able to comment on them, it doesn’t mean that I should stop questioning, wondering, and exploring the world of education. In fact, it may mean that I will just have to make a more concerted effort to reach out and explore more!

In just a few weeks I’ll be starting my very first teaching contract, and I am beyond excited. I need to get back into my blogging mode so that I can hopefully keep it up as I teach! I kind of missed the mark during my internship and I really would like to make a solid effort to write about something, anything, each week.

So here we go, I’m climbing back on the blogging train, and getting ready to journey on. I’ve got this!

The Rearview Mirror

While driving down a Saskatchewan highway may not be the most exciting thing in the world, at least not if you’re from here, it definitely has a sense of calm, and often of retrospection. The peacefulness of just cruising down an open stretch of road, with fields as far as the eye can see, and perhaps a tree or a farm dotting the horizon, is one that evokes a feeling of freedom and carefreeness that I have yet to be able to replicate in the city.

Photo Credit: Hot Meteor Flickr via Compfight cc

You travel on, excitedly anticipating your arrival at your new destination, sometimes looking out the window beside you to check out what might be going on in the world around you, or perhaps chatting with a passenger to pass the time, and make the journey more enjoyable. How often though, do you look behind you? Maybe when we want to pass another vehicle, or when a vehicle behind is coming up quickly, or their lights are just at that wrong angle and you have to adjust to avoid the blinding light. Other than that though, I could probably be that out on an open highway, your rearview mirror is not where your eyes are most of the time. Why would you bother to look back at that boring black asphalt of where you’ve come from? You’ve got your eyes on the road in front of you, steering yourself onward.

In life, I think this is often the way we travel on too. We have our sights set forward, eyes on the prize, looking for the light at the end of the tunnel (wow, that’s a lot of cliches all in one sentence!). Seldom do we really take the time to really look back at the path we’ve travelled to bring us to our current place, as we are too focused on where we are going. Teaching however, is a different sort of practice. It is one that requires you check that rearview mirror all the time; reflect, adapt, and then move forward.

Photo Credit: LabyrinthX-2 Flickr via Compfight cc

So this post is a bit of my rearview mirror on my 3-week block. To write the reflection I probably have stored in my brain would take pages and pages of writing (and a lot of your time to read), so here’s a bit of a snapshot of the adventures I’ve had…

 

 

Heading in, as you’ll know if you read my post “Now THAT’s a Good Idea”, I really wasn’t nervous at all. I was excited, yes, but it really had been such a great transition leading up to the block that adding on a single subject did not seem intimidating at all. Teaching full time seemed somewhat effortless, at least in the sense that it was natural, fluid, and felt like something I was really meant to do (not that it required no effort). That feeling didn’t really change throughout my block either. I felt throughout, as I do now, that teaching is one of my favourite things to do in this world, and I feel it is my purpose more than I ever did.

While I posted a great list of things I learned in my last post “Inside the Block”, this post is really more about what I learned as a whole. I feel that one of the most important things I learned is that good teaching takes time, as does good learning (or perhaps that should say quality learning). Yes, I had some really great ideas, and for the most part they went as planned, but I really should have given them more time for students to work, and to take the time to really “get” the purpose of the lesson. I was so focused on meeting the outcomes, and finishing the units and lessons in the time that was laid out for me that I sometimes missed out on making sure that students were really “getting” the lesson before I moved on. Now, I certainly didn’t jump from one thing to another every day, but looking back, there were probably a few things that I could have taken out, and a few others that I would have liked to have spent a little longer with. I think that I really had some great lessons, activities and assessments planned, and it is my hope over the winter semester to take those things and plan out some better timelines to really get the unit going the way I would have liked.

Photo Credit: Jenni C Flickr

Another area that I would really like to continue working on is assessment. Although I think I had some good formative assessment assignments planned, and certainly could get feedback and formative assessment during my lessons, I know that I can do better. Often as I was working and reflecting I would be reminded of Doug Reeve’s FAST acronym (Fair, Accurate, Specific, and Timely). While I think I got the first 3 down pretty good, the timely part was a struggle. I found it really difficult mostly because my students were not turning in their work. Partly I think it was because they are just not on top of moving their book from their table to the bin, partly because they misused class time and didn’t get it finished, and sometimes perhaps I just didn’t give them enough time, or check in enough to make sure they had substantial time. Regardless of the reason, it was a struggle, and something I really want to do better with. I can really see how students work changes and improves over time, and with accurate feedback it can do even more! I recently watched a video of Doug on “Toxic Grading Practices”, and I think it too really speaks to the ideas that I have about grading student work. While my co-op and I are not ones to give zeros on assignments, and we make the students do the work, it is not an easy task. I still have students finishing assignments from September! I think in the future though, I could be more firm in ensuring that students are doing their work, provide more time for students to stay in and do their work, and have those students who notoriously don’t get their work done actually sit down and do it.

On the positive side of things, I really made some amazing connections with students, found a real “groove” in teaching from day to day, and making great collaborations between subject areas. While our class’ schedule is not ideal to make some of the really awesome cross-curricular connections that I would like to, I felt that I really helped students get the big picture of what I was teaching them, and it is such a wonderful thing to see them making those connections in the work they do. I loved being able to draw connections from math to science to social to literacy, and even to physed in some instances, and I can see the potential to draw out my units to include health, ArtsEd, and career guidance too (although I did not have the opportunity to teach these subjects during my internship). I also really enjoyed using Google Classroom to do work with my students on collaborative projects, to incorporate websites and fun activities, and to teach them positive digital citizenship. These are things that I want to just work more at improving and making even more awesome!

All in all, my 3-week block was really incredible. Yes, there are things I would have done differently, but there are things that also were just amazing! I had some great days with my students, got to bring in some special guests to enhance their learning, and had just an awesome time teaching full time. I’m sure I could probably go on, but as I noted at the start of this already super long blog post, I’m not going to go on forever!

A word of advice to any other pre-service teachers, specifically those in their third year at the UofR, just take it one day and one step at a time. Know that there’s a process in the journey ahead of you, and that you’ll be where you need to be when you get there. Keep looking forward, but don’t forget to check your mirrors every now and then to recognize just how far you’ve come!

Photo Credit: M.J.H. photography Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Inside the Block

My 3-week teaching block is quickly coming to a close. So much faster than I ever anticipated, and it has been absolutely amazing!

Sure, I’ve had some “off” days with students who were unruly, disrespectful and who refused to do their work, but those days taught me how to manage, how to create strategies, and how to persevere. I’ve also had some truly incredible classes with my students where everything was just clicking, and moving through the lesson plan and into the next. My students have really shown me that I have all of the tools to be a really great teacher.

Here’s just a snapshot of what I have learned:

  • I have learned that not all lessons and not all days have to be perfectly planned.
  • I have learned that not all “fun” lessons are actually fun.
  • I have learned that routines are super important.
  • I have learned that university (and even pre-internship) only prepares you for 1% of the classroom management strategies you will have to learn, create and implement.
  • I have learned that some days are really hard (and I mean REALLY hard) and other days flow effortlessly.
  • I have learned over and over again that relationships are the biggest part of teaching. Students have to know you care, even if you have to be strict with them.
  • I have learned that I know how to have control and authority over my class.
  • I have learned that I hate the social studies textbooks. Don’t like them at all.
  • I have learned that other textbooks are ok and some are even pretty great!
  • I have learned that a half an hour class period is pretty much nothing and is best to use to have a discussion or to continue work from a previous class/day.
  • I have learned that boys PE is probably the worst idea ever.
  • I have learned that keeping up with marking is a struggle, but I totally realize the importance.
  • I have learned that what students go through (both inside and outside of school) will break your heart.
  • I have learned that I can function on less than 4 hours of sleep.
  • I have learned that I am far more creative and innovative than I give myself credit for, yet I still want to be more.
  • I have learned that it’s ok for your classroom to be messy. It means learning is happening and the mess is a product of the action.
  • I have learned that flexibility is a huge asset. Things change all the time in the school.
    There are: early recesses you didn’t know about, fire/security drills that take up half your class, gyms times that get cancelled, special guests and assemblies that pop up, impromptu lecture sessions by other teachers that derail your lesson and force you to teach something else, teachers who need/want to swap times with you, laptops that you booked being taken away by others who didn’t book them, laptops becoming magically available and taking the chance to use them (after verifying they really are available), opportunities for your students to go on special field trips that come up and you take them, and sudden illnesses cause you to have to leave at lunch time. (Yes, all of those things have actually happened in the last 3 weeks!)
  • I have learned that prep periods can sometimes be for prepping lessons or marking things, or just for taking deep breaths, having a snack and taking a break from the crazy day.
  • I have learned that lunar cycles are a real thing and can affect your students’ behaviour.
  • I have learned that I love teaching even more than I ever thought I did. I get a huge grin when I think of a cool idea and am able to put it all together for my lessons, and an even bigger one when my students are so into learning that they don’t want to stop.
  • I have learned that math games are magical.
  • I have learned that I can “trick” students into learning.
  • I have learned that learning outside takes practice. A LOT of practice.
  • I have learned that veteran teachers, while intimidating at first, are so willing to help.
  • I have learned that I have my own style of teaching, and that’s ok. It’s even great!
  • I have learned that students do not know how to dress for being outside and you must teach this to them. Even to grade 7s.
  • I have learned that some of the best lessons are unplanned.
  • I have learned that deadlines for student work really don’t mean anything, but also are everything at the same time.
  • I have learned that coffee can be your friend on crazy days, even if you’re not a “real” coffee drinker.
  • I have learned that I have a very high tolerance level for the general shenanigans of students, and know when and how to use my authority effectively.

If these are things I have learned in the past 3 weeks, I cannot even begin to imagine the teachings my first year of teaching will bring me! I also still have 3 more full days and a week of partial teaching days left too, so I’m sure I can still add to this list!

 

What Happens When You Fail?

What happens when you don’t make the right choices?

What happens when you don’t do the things you should have?

What happens when you break your promises?

What happens when everything you hoped for comes crashing down around you?

What does it look like to fail?

Yes, these are some pretty heavy questions, but they are ones I’ve had to face in recent weeks. You see, I’ve let a lot of people down, but most importantly, I’ve let myself down. I promised I would read two books each month this summer, I was dedicating myself to living an active and healthy lifestyle, and I had made a goal to blog at least once a week.

I have done none of these things.

I did not make the right choices.
I did not do what I should have done.
I broke my promises.
I had hoped so many things for this summer, and it is all falling apart.
This is what failure looks like.

Exactly two months ago, I was finished my 3rd year of my education degree, I had two great jobs lined up for the summer, I was just finishing up a great year of rhythmic gymnastics, I had the best summer reading list lined up, and I was so pumped to get outside, get moving, and make this summer fantastic. Well, half way through my summer already and I have nothing to show for it. I feel pretty bummed about it. I’ve cried once or twice about the frustrations with my jobs (one of which I nearly quit), I haven’t finished one teacher-type book (although I did read 2 novels in a week, so that’s at least something), and despite living two blocks from Wascana Park I seem to have only made it out for a stroll two times in the last two months. Brutal.

To some this may not seem like much, and really, I can admit that all of these woes are very “first world problems,” and I’m fortunate to have a job (let alone 2!), the ability to read, the means to do it, the means to walk, and the proximity to such a great park.

So why complain?

Because students will.

It is inevitable; students will fail. Students will fail at the most simple tasks. For some, they will barely even notice, but for others, even small failures can seem devastating. So what do we, as educators need to do with this failure?

  1. Acknowledge it
    • Photo Credit: TurtleCreek-Branson via Compfight cc

      Failure may be new to some students (and parents!). We live in a world with instant gratification, and failure may not be something kids have really experienced. Some may even come from a home where “failure is not allowed” (This type of parenting style has it’s own problems!).

    • Teach resiliency. This may be new to many students, so be patient, and take steps one at a time to work through things when they don’t go the way that was intended.
  2. Model it
    • Let students see you make mistakes (here’s a brief bit from a great-sounding book).
    • Walk through the process of picking up the pieces and going another way
    • Teach students to reach beyond the “expectations”, to take risks, and to be ok with the outcome
    • Show them examples of others who have failed
  3. Encourage it

Photo Credit: keepitsurreal via Compfight cc

I love this video, and how the speaker reiterates that failure is not the opposite of success, but part of the pathway to it.

At the end of it all, our job as teachers is to help our students gain the skills that will help them as they journey in life, right? So isn’t failure part of life? Don’t students need these skills?

elon musk quote

If a brilliant innovator like Elon Musk can live by this, then we all can. Photo from @ajjuliani, another great innovator and supporter of education.

I sometimes forget that in my own little world. I forget that sometimes, as someone, somewhere, once said, “When things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.” This is a great thing to remember, and one that I was recently reminded by a little piece of paper posted on a back wall at a shop the other day. In just looking up that quote I found several articles written in response to it, but I really enjoyed this one. It really spoke to the idea of making failure part of your journey. I have to remember how much failure I’ve had in my life, but it has all brought me to this point, and where I am is exactly where I need to be.

So, where do I go now?

Well, I still have exactly 2 months left to go in my summer. I still have time to read, to blog, to enjoy the beautiful weather that is to come, to enjoy time with my family and friends, to have so much fun teaching engineering summer camps to kids, to plan the best science unit that any grade 6/7 class has ever seen, to get out and get active, and to remember that everything that happens in my summer and the years to come will only help to shape me as an educator, and as a person.

Believe, make plans, fail. Believe again, make new plans, maybe fail some more. Believe some more, try those plans again, and find success.

And…if all of that doesn’t do it for you, take a trip back to the 90s, and remember the timeless words of one, Mrs. Frizzle, “Time to take chances, make mistakes and get messy!” Oh, Magic School Bus, you definitely had a hand in making me the educator I am today!