Old News, New Ideas: Teachers Are Trying to Change the World

What is the purpose of a teacher?

To educate?

…What is education then?

Learning about history, science, math, reading and writing?

…Can’t you just Google that?

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As any “good teacher” will tell you, the purpose of a teacher is much more than that. Most will tell you that education is more than just “book learning,” and tests, and more than getting a diploma at the end of a public education. The real purpose of education is to help young people discover who they are, question the world, and find the courage, creativity, and inspiration to make their place in the world.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know I talk about this sort of thing a lot. So why write another post about the same thing? Well, for one, this one will become part of my semester work in ESST 369, Critical Literacy in Social Studies, and the other, more important reason, is that I’ve got more to say, and new ideas to add.

This week I read a couple pieces that got my mind going. The first, excerpts from A.C. Grayling’s “The Challenge of Things: Thinking Through Troubled Times”, and the second, chapter 21, “Teachers as Transformative Intellectuals” by Henry Giroux from Educational Foundations: An Anthology of Critical Reading.

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Grayling suggests that good teachers “inspire, guid and give their students a broader sense of life’s possibilities” by putting themselves in the shoes of the student, and digging at finding better ways to make content connect with them.  He hints that teachers are more than just studious book worms there to dictate texts to young minds and make them memorize things. Grayling seems to say that perhaps teachers have a great ability to take information from the past and apply it to create new thoughts and ideas, and that by doing so, this type of education can be beneficial for the whole of society. He suggests that this is the definition of a public intellectual, and that all teachers should act in this way.

Giroux’s essay further corroborates these ideas by saying that teachers need to be viewed as more than just technicians who manage students and implement curricula. He demonstrates how stifling the world of education can be, both in the ways we train teachers, and the ways that schools are run. So much focus is put on controlling student behaviour, and making sure that teachers are trained to know how to teach the things students are “supposed” to learn at each grade level, that the real problems are often overlooked. Giroux goes on to say that too often there is “no display of concern for stimulating or nurturing a child’s intrinsic desire to learn,” because teaching and teacher education is often too focused on just getting through the content, and using plans and curricula that claim to work in any classroom. In the end, what Giroux really gets at is the idea that teachers need to be transformative intellectuals, questioning what they teach and looking at the bigger picture and end goal of our students’ education. He believes that goal should be more about creating engaged citizens than making sure that students can sit quietly in their desks.

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Straight rows and “good” behaviour are certainly things that I do not require in my classroom. The goals of my teaching are not to ensure that every page of the grade level texts are read. My students are not required to pass long exams to show their mastery of any part of the curriculum. Instead, I strive to encourage my students to show respect, kindness, and empathy, and that is done by creating a safe, comfortable space for learning. I use text books as sources of information, extra practice, and a companion in the learning. I encourage students to reflect on what they’ve learned in our time together, and in their time with other teachers, and mix them with their ideas and knowledge to projects and activities that help them apply it.

After examining Grayling and Giroux’s descriptions of a public transformative intellectual, and then looking at my own teaching philosophy it is clear that I am already embodying the idea that a teacher IS these things, and I whole-heartedly believe that teachers SHOULD be these things. Teachers play very real and large parts in the creation of our society, and that it is through the teaching of PEOPLE that our society can become a better place.

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Giroux also discusses an idea of making “the pedagogical more political and the political more pedagogical,” meaning that education needs to allow students and teachers to examine sources of power, to help students see and find themselves in society, and to take a look at the world and encourage students to find out about things and have a voice. I really believe that this should be the case, and this mixing of ideas is something that I began to dabble in during my internship. I encouraged my students to look at real-world issues, and to dig a little deeper and find out what was going on. We looked at elections, social justice issues, news articles, and other media outlets, and it was amazing to see and hear the ideas and questions that these young minds began to have about their world. Was it easy? No. Did it come naturally for them? Not at all (for me either!). It took nearly four months for many of them to begin to really get in there and realize that they, just like adults, can have opinions, and can learn about what is going on in the world now, and how it has been influenced by the past.

Teachers are able to encourage the “enhancement of the critical powers of the young” (so says Giroux, and I agree), but it starts with the willingness to go there in the first place and really look critically at the world. We have to take curriculum and use it to guide our thoughts and planning, and to open the minds of our students and anyone else we can reach out to in an effort to really understand our world, our society and ourselves.

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
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      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

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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!

The Road to Success

When I began this semester, and my ECS 410 class, I thought that I had a somewhat reasonable understanding of assessment. I understood that assessment was important, that it should often be one of the first things that is planned when creating a lesson or unit. I knew that while formative assessment is needed in the classroom on a daily basis in every subject area, summative assessment should be provided only after students have had time to adequately understand the content, and are ready to be assessed on their overall understanding, knowledge, and ability to apply the concepts learned. What my ECS 410 class has since taught me is that assessment is not only required, but that it is imperative in helping to increase students’ ability to succeed in the classroom.

So, what does this look like? Well, that’s what I’m hoping I can explain to you in this post. I believe that my understanding of assessment is much more than what it was just a few short months ago, and that I now have a much better understanding of how it will impact and influence my teaching. I have learned that while there are literally hundreds of different tools, strategies, and opinions on ways to assess, there are also many ways to appropriately utilize feedback to optimize student engagement, enhance students’ learning experience, and to adjust the ways we teach to meet the needs of the students. I have gained new understandings of quizzes and tests, of homework, and I have developed opinions on how I see assessment working in my classroom to improve the experience for everyone.

Assessment is in many ways, a holistic endeavour that brings together feedback and student engagement. Without one you can’t truly have the other. If students (and teachers!) do not know how they are performing on a given day, then it seems to give them permission to “check out.” Students also need to know where they are going if they have any hope of getting where you want them to be. So, I have learned that you need to be open with students, share your learning goals with them, and perhaps even have them create their own goals within the path that you are guiding them on! This is the first key strategy that Dylan Wiliam‘s presents in his book, Embedded Formative Assessment, a book that we read in our ECS 410 class, and one I really learned a lot from. Wiliam goes on to discuss that students also need to know where they are relative to the learning objectives, so that both students and teachers have a base to start from and can then generate a clearer picture of how to get where they are going. It’s all part of creating a really solid “map” for learning. It’s pretty impossible to assess anything if you don’t know where you’re starting or where you’re going! Thankfully, these two concepts are ones that I had begun to understand in the fall, and have enjoyed working with the Understanding by Design (or Backward Design) style of lesson and unit planning.

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The UBD template for both unit and lesson planning puts assessment first. After selecting what it is you want students to learn by unpacking the curriculum outcomes, the ways in which you will assess students is determined. At first I wondered why you’d need to do this first. Why would you pick how to assess students before even deciding what they will do? Well, it’s because assessment informs and directs the learning. This is something that I really began to understand in this class, and throughout the semester. Previously, I’d thought that assessment was just a way to check that students “got” what you were trying to get them to learn, but now I see that it really can let you know where students are at, what areas they are struggling in, which students need to be challenged, and where you should take the learning in the days to come. This is because assessment is all about feedback.

Feedback, as I’ve learned this semester, is vital to the learning process. But how does one provide effective feedback? Well, Grant Wiggins, one of the co-creators of Understanding by Design, wrote an article about how to do just that. In his article, “7 Keys to Effective Feedback“, Wiggins explains the best practices and reasons behind providing feedback to students. He explains things like making sure that feedback is goal-oriented, so that it can help students make progress towards their personal learning goals, actionable, meaning that students can really take action on the things you tell them, and consistent, so that students are constantly receiving feedback to have a continuous understanding of where they are and where they need to go. The other keys that Wiggins mentions, I feel, really align with the ideas that Douglas Reeves presented in a video chat that we were privileged to have with him in one of our classes. Doug uses the acronym, FAST, saying that feedback needs to be fair, accurate, specific and timely. In this video, Doug explains how his FAST feedback can really be a powerful tool in the classroom (he also wrote a book on this concept).

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Assessment as feedback can be done in countless ways in the classroom. I created a resource of just 50 ways to formatively assess students in the classroom, but there are hundreds of ways to do this. The important thing is really not even how you do the assessment, but what you do with it. How will the assessment help students improve? How will the assessment help you as a teacher improve? As I created this list, these were things that I thought a lot about. I also started to think about those “old school” methods that we use to assess students, namely quizzes and homework. Are they of any benefit to students or teachers in the long run?

I did a little extra investigating into these two assessment methods that often get a lot of flack from students and parents, because quite often they seem to have little purpose and result in little feedback. As Doug Reeves presented in another video, quizzes do in fact, actually have the ability to provide great, instantaneous feedback to students. They can be very informal and stress-free, which can lead to students feeling a sense of accomplishment. In this respect, I realized that there are actually several methods, like Poll Everywhere, Google Forms, and the incredibly fun Kahoot! game that certainly lend themselves to a quiz-based assessment. If you’re looking for some “lower tech” yet still fun options, Plickers, class created flashcards, or even a class race to answer a set of questions may be great options. The thing about these methods of quizzing, is that the feedback is in real-time, and quite instantaneous, which is why they can be quite effective. The tech methods even allow you to save data so that you can go back afterwards to analyze trends of find students who may still be falling behind.

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It is this instant feedback that is often lacking in using homework as a type of assessment in the classroom. Homework needs to not only be checked for completion, but for understanding. If students simply get a mark for completing the work, how is that an accurate reflection of what they’ve learned? It’s not. Our friend, Doug Reeves speaks to this a little in his videos, but another educator, who’s opinions I really agree with is Myron Dueck. In his video clip about his book “Grading Smarter Not Harder“, and this great article, “The Problem with Penalties“, Dueck explains how so many students often don’t do the homework because it’s either not interesting, too challenging, not challenging enough, or because they know that there’s nothing the teacher will do if they don’t do it. The problem is that penalties don’t really work, what Dueck suggests is motivating to students is the chance to improve. He suggests that students really do want to improve, but some students perhaps just don’t know how to go about doing this. Homework and in class work can be helpful in this aspect, but as Reeves pointed out in his video, that homework needs to be something that students want to do, something that they understand how to do, something that has a purpose, and something that is at the right level of difficulty for every student. I’ve seen this backfire in the classroom, even in my short time of teaching, and at that point I didn’t really see the point behind homework. If I gave students homework, the ones who really needed the practice didn’t do it, and the ones who didn’t need the practice often finished it in class time. I now can see how the “right” kind of homework can really be more motivating to students and empower them to be in charge of their learning.

This ownership and power over their own learning is something that Wiliams talks about in the last chapter of his book, and is something that I have begun to feel really passionate about. Really, who doesn’t want their students to feel proud of their learning and want to continue to learn more? Isn’t that every teacher’s dream? The problem is, it’s a challenging thing to actually achieve as I am very quickly finding out. It takes a lot of practice, persistence, and perseverance as a teacher to help students achieve ownership of their learning. Wiliams (2011) suggests that, by outlining what you’re wanting students to learn, promoting the thought that student success and ability is always increasing, making it difficult for students to compare themselves to others, providing feedback that will help them in their journey, and empowering them to be in control, that students will begin to see their own potential and take more ownership of their learning (p. 152). I think that these thoughts also really align with Paul Solarz, author of “Learn Like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed“. In his book, and on the website, Solarz explains practical methods to encourage students to take charge of their learning, even leading the direction of the learning for the class. It all comes down to that concept of making sure students WANT to learn by creating opportunities for them to engage with relevant topics, allowing them to work collaboratively, and of course, providing a lot of feedback. I am not quite finished reading this book yet, but I am very excited to try out some of these strategies in my internship experience in the fall.

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These understandings of student ownership I think can be made even more powerful by reinforcing the idea that growth is constant and that one grade doesn’t make or break a student. This was a concept that we discussed in our class quite a bit, and is one that I have really taken to heart. Why should we penalize students for not understanding the concept at the start of the unit, but being confident with the same material at the end? Why do we often just take an average score across all of the work the student has done, making it look like they have only achieved an average score, instead of acknowledging the growth that they have shown? These are questions that I think still need to be examined in many classes, including our university settings. It seems to be a mindset that we have to take the average scores in any situation. Why is that though? Is it to create a more “even” field? To make everyone “average”? I’m really not sure at this point, but I do know that it is frustrating. It is frustrating to a student who receives a 20% on an assignment, and perhaps is then given the chance to improve upon his or her score, and receives an 80% on the second try, but when those scores are averaged only receives a 50%. This really just doesn’t even seem fair! So why do we do this students? Why, after our attempts to build them up and show them how successful they can be do we take away their success? I unfortunately do not have these answers yet, but they are ones that I am beginning to work through as I create my own assessment philosophies and strategies. The trouble is that during pre-internship and even our internship in the fall, it is difficult to really stamp out your own understandings, as you have to work within the format that your co-operating teacher has for his or her class. So, while I am beginning to create a vision of assessment that includes showing a students’ growth and putting more emphasis on the process and end result, this may not always align with other teachers that I work with.

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The awesome thing about feedback though, is that it is most powerful when working with a team of other teachers. So, while I may work with other teachers in my internship, it is going to be those relationships and professional learning communities that are not only going to have an impact on me, but to my students too. While I had the chance to work with one really great teacher in my pre-internship, I really hope to be able to work with even more teachers throughout my internship this fall. The idea of collaborative teaching is one that I think can be really powerful. I have found that The Teaching Channel is a great resource, and this video on collaboration amongst teachers is really great. Many of their videos look at how teachers work together to plan and reflect on lessons and units in order to improve the learning of their students. They are really taking the assessments that they give their students and reflecting on how to improve their teaching. This was something that I found out very quickly during my pre-internship. I really had to stop and take in the information that I was getting back from the students in their work and use it to guide where I would take them next. When we had previously just taught single lessons this was not nearly as important, but I have now really realized just how important it is to use all of the feedback to design the next learning steps. When working with other teachers I think this has the potential to create even better lessons for students, especially if you have teachers of a variety of experience levels. Everyone brings different ideas, insights and opinions to the table, and that’s what makes us all better teachers.

Collaboration with other teachers is something that I have really enjoyed doing in the last year or so, and my love for connecting with other educators I think is just continuing to increase. I have established a wonderful PLC within my cohort at the University of Regina, I have a great group in the #saskedchat Twitter group that discusses new topics every Thursday night, and it is through these many avenues that I have created real collaborative power with many educators that I know will help me plan, reflect, and continue to learn. Opportunities like EdCampYQR are also great to help make those new connections, hear new ideas, and collaborate on future projects. The main idea is that we can always learn from each other, and this will make us better educators, which in turn, will hopefully make us better teachers for our students as we empower them to take charge of their learning experiences.

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What I have realized over the last few months is just how much there is to learn about assessment, and what an integral part it plays within the classroom. While I once thought that it was just about tests and projects, I have now come to the realization that assessment truly is everything! It is what shows students how they are doing, it is what shows teachers where students need help, it is what encourages students to learn more, it is what drives the classroom. While I had spent the first two months of the semester just trying to digest all of this information, in my pre-internship I had a brief chance to try and put some of this learning to the test. Although I don’t feel like I came even close to where I wanted to be in terms of assessment, I certainly learned from the experience. Assessment is complicated, but only because it encompasses so much. It is my hope to continue to learn more about assessment throughout the summer as I prepare for my internship in the fall. I hope to be able to put all of my “book knowledge” to use and be able to inspire students and activate them to wanting to learn. I know that this will be a challenge, but I’m excited for the uphill climb, because the view from the top is going to be spectacular!

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Teamwork is Everything

You are not alone.

This is a concept I think we often forget as university students.

We work on our projects, going solo, or perhaps in a group, trying to come up with new and exciting ideas. We scour the internet, looking for some little morsel of awesomeness to integrate into our lessons or projects that will wow our professors and our classmates. We spend hours trying to re-invent the wheel and create unique lesson plans and strategies. We do this all alone.

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The problem here, is that once we get out into the classroom the game changes a bit.

First, we’re not likely going to have the time to put in hours of research, inquiry and innovation into every single lesson that we teach. That’s just not realistic. Second, we’re not going to be alone in our teaching endeavors. In the schools we teach in, we will be surrounded by fellow teachers, trying, just like us, to make great lessons, to teach students new things, and get them interested in learning. Unlike us, however, many of these teachers will have many years of experience at planning lessons and teaching students, and they have a lot to teach us new teachers!

During my pre-internship experience I often forgot this. I forgot that I was in a building filled with teachers who could offer advice on how to help the students make connections with what I was teaching, how to manage “difficult” students, get students engaged, and manage a positive work-life balance. These people have done this for years, but I was stuck in my ways of university life and forgot that I can reach out for help. I forgot that a team of people can often do better than just one person on their own.

Asking for help is not something that I’m very good at. I like to think that I’m a very self-sufficient and independent  person and can do things for myself. The thing is, when it comes to teaching, I mean really teaching, and not just making up “pretend” lessons for my university classes, I am in no way an expert and I still need help from those who have more experience. Luckily I have a great PLN, and I mean great. I have made a lot of friendships through my connections on Twitter and #saskedchat, but also through social groups that get together to talk about teaching, technology, and anything and everything else! I know that I will have these amazing people to turn to whenever I need, and they’ll be there to lend a hand.

There are some great articles out there that help to illustrate just how important it is for new teachers to learn from more experienced teachers. Though this one is based in the United States, I think it paints a good picture of how important it is to learn from other teachers. And this video (and the others in the series) talk about the benefits of collaborative teaching groups that reflect and plan together to ensure that students can get the most out of their learning. There are so many others out there too!

This lesson on reaching out and not going the course alone is one that I really have to take to heart in the fall when I enter into my internship. I need to remember that I’m not alone, and to branch out outside of my classroom. I need to talk to other teachers and learn their little tips and tools for success. I need to help out with school activities and get involved int he school community. I need to really chat with my co-operating teacher about teaching, about lessons, about unit plans, about everything! My internship will be my chance to really explore what teaching can be, and to learn from everyone that I can.

The prospect of going into internship is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. I’m excited to get to test out my teaching abilities for more than just  a lesson or two a day for 3 weeks, and at the same time I’m terrified about planning multiple units, and the prospect of teaching multiple classes a day including a three week stretch of teaching everything! I do have some level of reassurance though in knowing that I’ll have a whole team of teachers to support me. I just have to remember that I’m not alone, that it’s ok to ask for help, that it’s ok that not every lesson is amazing, and it’s ok to stumble along the way, because my teaching team will be there for me along the way.

Oh, Anxiety…how I haven’t missed you.

After a wonderful 3-week pre-internship experience I must say I am less than thrilled to be heading back to “regular” school tomorrow. My “less-than-thrilled-ness” is also accompanied by my old friend, “anxiety”, and it has got me wondering…is this what some students feel about school?

I feel quite unprepared to go back to the “normal” schedule of university classes. I’m dreading finishing these final few assignments that remain. I don’t feel like spending hours of class time sharing the details of my pre-internship experience and listening about the experiences of others, that will ultimately make me feel like my experience was somehow “less” than theirs. I am not excited about being surrounded by hundreds of other people in the chaotic and dramatic university. I’m just not into any of it, and thinking of all of it just makes me feel very anxious about it all.

I’m an adult though, so I can handle this. I can get through it. I can block out the negatives, focus on the positives (thanks to my unit on integers I’m very good at working with those concepts!). I can do this.

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But what about all those students who may feel like this all the time? Are they as skilled at hiding these anxieties? What does it look or feel like for students who feel these types of anxieties on a daily basis as middle years students, and what I could I do as their teacher to improve their experience? How can I make a positive change in their lives and reduce some of the anxiety they may experience?

Obviously, creating an atmosphere of care, encouragement, and positive relationships is going to be key, but I wondered what else is required…

This website lists a lot of different ways that children can present their anxiety, and I was surprised to see the many ways that are listed! While I was a student who loved school, I definitely felt a lot of anxiety as a students, and can certainly see myself in some of these descriptions. I found a helpful website, Worry Wise Kids, that has some great tips for teachers and parents to help children that may be dealing with anxiety.  There are some really simple ideas listed, and I think that I would certainly try to implement many of them in my future classroom. As I read through many of the ideas on the website, I couldn’t help but think, wouldn’t it be great if these accommodations could be made in my university classes too?!

I think talking openly about anxiety with students will be key. How do you do this though? By building great relationships with the class of students, taking the time to just check in with students, making accommodations when necessary, and talking one-on-one with students as needed, I think that student anxiety could be greatly reduced. My time in the classroom the last few weeks has just really showed me how important those relationships are, and how they can help make the classroom such a welcoming and safe place to be. I have to say that I felt very little anxiety during my pre-internship, so there must have been something going right there!

Anxiety is one of those pesky disorders that we don’t talk about a lot, especially with kids, and I think it’s something that we need to work on more as future educators. Since anxiety is and has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, I hope that I can relate to my future students. If you’re not familiar with anxiety, I recommend checking out some YouTube videos (there’s a lot of them out there), but I found this one helpful in explaining some of the experiences of anxiety and panic attacks. They are very real feelings that I have experienced before, and I hope her talk will give others some insight into what it’s like to feel anxiety.

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Talking about anxiety doesn’t make it go away, but it helps.I know that mental health issues are very real, and I hope that the more people talk about them, the more others will be afraid to join in on the conversation. It is my goal to keep talking about it, to keep learning about it, to find more help for myself, and to find ways that I can help my future students. So, I hope you will not get sick of me talking about mental health, as I feel like it’s going to be a major avenue that I tackle in the next while!

Bubble Burst

I wrote recently about stepping outside the bubble. I wondered if teaching would really be all that I had imagined in my head, all that I had planned for on paper, and all that my peers and I had hyped it up to be.

It wasn’t.

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In so many ways my pre-internship experience was nothing like I had imagined.

I thought that my unit plan was solid, and would be the best thing ever. It wasn’t.

I thought that I’d coast through my three weeks with my head held high and confidence in my step. I didn’t.

I thought that I would be able to do all sorts of amazing things, and totally wow the students with a wonderful math unit experience. I didn’t.

Now, I’m sure by this point many of you (especially you, Mrs. G!) are thinking, “What?! Seriously? You didn’t have a good time? I’m sure you were awesome and had so much fun! You were born to teach! ”

These are the types of statements that really bug me. Did I have fun? Sure, lots of times! Was I awesome? ….well that’s debatable. Am I a born teacher? I am definitely nowhere close to being some sort of prodigal teacher who can do no wrong; believe me, I made plenty of mistakes in the past few weeks to prove this point. The thing is, my pre-internship went so beyond the perceived ideals I had before my pre-internship, and the experienced realities of the classroom have had such a huge impact on my understanding of education.

My super great unit plan did not turn out the way I’d planned, but what I taught my students was what they needed.

My confidence did not carry me through the last few weeks, and I had several days of near (or actual) tears where I contemplated how I got myself into this “mess”, and if I am really cut out for this profession.

There was little wow factor in the way that I taught my students, because I had to change on the fly, shift my unit, simplify, and adapt to the needs of my students and ensure they were learning what they needed to learn.

So no, my pre-internship experience was not what I expected; it was what I needed and so much more.

I learned so much about myself and the way I teach, that I still don’t know where to begin to explain it all. I didn’t blog last week mainly because I was just so caught up in the changes I was feeling within myself that I couldn’t pluck a tangible thought to share with everyone. Now that my time is over, I’m still sorting through everything, and hope to come out with some clearer thoughts in the next few days about what I really learned the last three weeks.

I have always found it really difficult to look back and see what I didn’t know before. Once I learn something new, I don’t remember what it was like to not know it. Perhaps this is why I can easily apply newly learned things into my life, because they kind of feel like they’ve always been there; like I just uncovered something that was always there, but I hadn’t noticed before. This is how I’ve felt a lot during my pre-internship. As I learned something new, I’d get a feeling like, “Huh, that’s neat,” or “Whoops, guess I won’t do that again,” and then the next day I could usually apply that concept and make things better. Now, this wasn’t always the case, and it lead to some major inner conflict and struggle, but I think in the end, I was able to really learn a lot of things about myself.

So, what did I learn? What are my biggest take-aways from my pre-internship experience? Well, I guess you’ll just have to check back later for another blog post…because I’m still sorting all of that out myself!

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Teaching in the Gong Show

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Let’s be real here; middle years students are pretty much walking gong shows. Trying to teach a whole class of grade 7 and 8 students is kind of like trying to wrangle a whole flock of chickens with their heads cut off while they try to figure out who cut off their heads, who’s sitting in their favourite spot, and which head is the prettiest. It’s seriously the craziest atmosphere to work in! If you have another analogy, please share! I love a good analogy.

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Let me start off by saying that my first few days of pre-internship have taught me SO MUCH! My first few days of teaching have been pretty chaotic. No, let’s rephrase; VERY chaotic…but I’ve loved every minute of it (ok, almost every minute), and am continually learning new things! If this is only day 3, I can’t imagine all that I will have learned by the end of my time here. I also already know that I truly LOVE teaching this grade level. Yes, the kids can be pretty crazy, loud, and somewhat obnoxious, but they are also fairly awesome, passionate, and enthusiastic when you find a way to tap into what their personalities. I have learned many things about my students, about myself, and about teaching, and these things are only going to make me a better teacher as I move forward.

I have learned that actually carrying out the plan for a unit is tricky. It all looks great on paper, but the reality can be far from the theoretical. I had an idea about this before in just teaching single lessons, but to now have to link lessons together and create continuity and scaffolding is pretty challenging. My first lesson went great, and even the second lesson was very successful. I learned a few things from both of them, like being really clear about my choice of wording in questioning, and ensuring that directions are both written and verbal. Today though, I learned just how quickly the tables can turn and how students who seem to know what they’re doing can all of a sudden be really stumped and clueless. We’re working with integers, and the introduction and addition lessons went super smooth, and it was clear that almost all students were totally on track. Today’s subtraction lesson though…yikes. I forgot just how difficult of a concept it is to subtract integers! It brought me back to our EMTH 217 class last year when a room full of university students couldn’t comprehend the concept of zero pairs. We did get it eventually, and it was a really cool “ah-ha” moment for a lot of people. So why did I think I could teach grade 7s and 8s the same concept in 20 minutes? Beats me! Needless to say, it took a lot longer to even get to the activity than I’d expected, and many students were still confused, so we’ll be going back to that again tomorrow.

What I have also realized is that sometimes something simple can be so effective. Complicated lessons can be just that: complicated! It’s ok to just focus on something “easy” and ensure that students get the concept before moving on. On the flip side though, too easy can also be a bad thing and students are easily bored and unchallenged. This is where differentiation needs to enter, and is something I’m seeing I need to work on more. Today I think I tried to put too much in. Tomorrow I’ll take another go at things, refresh, refocus, and see where we end up. When I created my unit plan I definitely created some flexibility in my plan, and I’m glad I did so that I have the time to ensure that students really understand the concepts they need.

Here are the key lessons I’ve learned so far:

  1. Flexibility is something that my co-operating teacher has really stressed as an important teacher tool. Things come up, stuff doesn’t go as planned, and kids are unpredictable. You just have to roll with it, adjust, and continue on. If your plan is taken off track, figure out how to get back. This might mean revisiting the lesson the next day, and that’s ok! Your job is to get kids to where they need to be, but you have to help them get there from where they are.
  2. Word choice is key. If you don’t say EXACTLY what you want students to do, then students will do exactly how they interpret the words. Think before you say things (especially when teaching about STI’s! …Mrs. G had a pretty funny moment with this today) because sometimes what you say in your head should not be said out loud, and sometimes what you say out loud is not really what you meant to say.
  3. Admit your mistakes. I’ve heard this one before, but I’ve had the chance to see it in action the last few days. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve seen others make mistakes. It’s ok! Admitting you made an error shows your students that you’re a human and assures them that mistakes are part of learning. Students actually think it’s pretty hilarious to be able to point out your errors.

I’m sure this list will continue to grow in my time in the classroom. I am learning new things every time I teach, and am realizing more about who I am as a teacher. It’s an adventure, and I’m loving it!

When Your Ideas Are Bigger Than You Are

Hi, I’m Kendra, and I have big ideas. I have ideas so big that I don’t know what to do with them. I have ideas that are overwhelmingly awesome, yet I don’t know how to apply them. I have ideas that are so amazing that I don’t even know where to start with them. My ideas stop me in my tracks and won’t let me pass.

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This is what has happened time and again the past week or so, even with trying to figure out what to blog about this week. I just have so many ideas, and want to do so much with them that I have no idea what to do. So instead of being able to show and share all of these awesome ideas that I have I’m just left in silence with the ideas chasing themselves around in my head.

I have ideas about the math unit I am currently working on. I imagine students being engaged in hands-on activities and never picking up a textbook to do repetitive questions. I hope to incorporate a project for students to work on and show their learning instead of writing a test, and making wonderful connections with the students throughout the process. I want to do things that are out of the ordinary, but not too crazy that students won’t be able to understand the meaning of them. I want to try new things, yet know that I can’t do something crazy every day too.

I get ideas from all of the books I read, and all of the books I want to read. I literally have a bookcase full of books I have been wanting to read and just haven’t made the time to do so. I have wonderful books that I have found that I hope will one day inspire the students I teach to read and explore. I have books about innovative thinking, about how the mind processes, and how to reduce the attachment to textbooks in the classroom.

I’m inspired by other teachers I talk to, by videos I watch on YouTube, by blogs that I read, and educators I follow on Twitter. The problem is that I’m so overwhelmed by inspiration that I’m not sure where or how to turn them into practical applications. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a “real” outlet to put any of these ideas into yet. Sure, I get to plan all sorts of lessons and units for my university classes, but as of right now no one is actually going to experience them. I think that’s why I’m so excited to work on my math unit, because I know that it will actually be experienced by students.

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The trouble now is that even though I know that the unit that I will plan will be something real, I still don’t quite know how to process all of the ideas I have for it. I am hoping that over the break for Reading Week I’ll have some more time to lay out my ideas and turn them into some amazing lessons. I think I have a plan, and I know that I have some great ideas, I just need to put them into action. I know that this will be a constant thing as a teacher, and I just have to remember that learning is always a journey, even as a teacher. I’ll always be finding new ideas, interpreting them in my own way and adding bits of pieces of them to my teaching.

So help me out here friends, what are some of your big ideas? How do you manage them? What are some ways you’ve incorporated some of your big ideas into teaching?

Everyday People Make Every Day Awesome

Look around.

No, really, look around you.

Come on, I know you didn’t actually look around you just then, or if you did it was only to briefly look up from your computer screen.



Look up. Look around you.

Notice. See.


There, that wasn’t so hard was it? I bet it was actually kind of nice! Maybe you haven’t done that in a long time. Really stop, look, and breathe.

What did you notice?

Maybe some furniture? Maybe some people you know? Maybe some favourite thing?

Aren’t they amazing? Isn’t it truly incredible to be in a place where you can look up from your computer and be surrounded by people and things that you love?

In the last month or so I’ve tried to take more time to do just this. To be truly in the moment and notice where I am, who I’m with, and the amazing things that surround me. I am so privileged to live such a life that gives me so much, and I need to take the time to stop and really appreciate it. We all do.

Life is awesome.

Yes, your life is awesome.

Sure you might have a bunch of assignments due next week, or you’ve got a pile of report cards to comment on, or your significant other may have done something seriously annoying, or your child might have knocked all of your books off the shelf, or your pet decided now was a great time to dump out their water bowl, but stop and think about those things just for a moment. If you have assignments due it means you are privileged enough to go to school. A pile of report cards means you have a job and get to interact with amazing children each day. Your significant other, despite their super annoying habits, loves you unconditionally. You have a child who idolizes everything that you do and a shelf full of wondrous adventures to share with him or her. You even have a pet who knows how to put a smile on your face and just wants to be near you. You’ve got a pretty great life.

In the past few weeks I’ve had several people ask me why I seem different; why I’m calmer and more peaceful. Well, I’ll give you a hint, it’s about appreciating the awesome.

Every day, there are things in my life that I am truly thankful for, and I am working at acknowledging those things. It is not always easy, but I’m working on it.

I’ve also heard a lot of great things about “The Book of Awesome.” It’s written by a Canadian guy, Neil Pasricha, who, after some great losses in his life, decided to create a blog and list 1000 awesome things in the world. Well, the blog was a hit, he won lots of awards, and wrote a book. Awesome! But he’s just an everyday person like you or me, taking the time to notice all the awesomeness around him. He’s chosen to have a great attitude, live in awareness and appreciation of his surroundings, and live an authentic life, true to himself. These are his “3 A’s of awesome.”

Now, I’ve only just heard of this book in the last few months, and haven’t read it or even looked at it myself, but after watching this TedTalk, I think I just might make a trip to Chapters tonight and check it out. These simple things are just what I have been trying to bring into my life.

Another great book that has helped me really pause, focus and gain clarity in my life is “The Zen Teacher” by Dan Tricarico. He too encourages you to take the time to be mindful, to relax, and really find that calmness in your life. By doing so, you can also bring those traits into your classroom, teaching your students how to tap into that calm too. I read this book over the Christmas break, and really, it’s made such tremendous impact on my outlook on life. It’s made me realize that I don’t need to stress over assignments, that I can take time for myself to recharge, and that there is so much good in the world. His blog also has some great ideas to bring to your life and your classroom. Fear not my religious friends, this sort of Zen has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with being an even better person than you already are, because you’ve been better all along and didn’t know it.

From @DrMaryHoward via Twitter

From @DrMaryHoward via Twitter


So here’s my challenge for you: Take time each day, even just for 2 minutes, to be thankful for the awesomeness in the world, and the amazing people in your life. Take the time to notice where you are, to breathe, smile, and take that next step towards being a better you. It’s all there for you already, you just need to notice it.