Category Archives: RTC 1 – Professional Relationships
Next year sees a change for me.
I’m off to teach at an international school in Singapore.
Nevertheless I found myself feeling restless.
Put simply I can hear planes.
Derp Stephanie, you say, your home and school are below a flight path of course you can hear planes.
As a wanderer I know it’s time to leave a place when I can hear planes. It’s a sign that life has become too familiar and too easy. The planes have been loud this year and despite a few trips, my wanderlust has returned with a vengeance and I found myself desperate to move overseas again.
I’m looking forward to joining a PYP school and teaching a different year group.
Of course change comes with a cost.
I will miss my awesome students and their families.
My fantabulous co-workers and also the amazing teachers I’ve had the pleasure of learning with from up and down the country these last 3 years. Despite the bad press this week I can name hundreds of amazing teachers out there doing amazing things in their classrooms every day. What’s even more fantastic is how generous you all are with your knowledge.
One of the delights of being online is that distance is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Though if I do make it to any New Zealand-based educamps in the next few years I am totally calling dibs on the chocolate fish!
Last week I passed a significant milestone in my teaching career, I became a fully registered teacher. In New Zealand Newly Qualified Teachers go through a two year-induction and mentoring process. At the start of the process I decided that I wasn’t going to keep a PRT folder in the traditional sense.
Out went the dull meeting minutes and dry forms, in came blog posts, twitter chats, youtube and flickr. I’ve wandered through classrooms in different cities and countries and had some incredible experiences with my learners along the way.
None of this would be possible without the amazing support of the online teaching community only a fraction of whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting offline. I started to write a post wanting to thank you all but quickly realised that it would be inevitable that I would forget someone important. So instead if at some point you’ve dropped me a blog comment, responded to one of my tweets, had a chat at a conference, put me up for the night, then you are part of the awesome tribe of virtual mentor teachers.
At the start of this process my goals were to share, learn, show an alternative and inform.
1. To share – I haven’t shared as much as I had hoped to at the start of this process because I simply didn’t have the energy. I often have posts rolling around in my head but getting them into some sort of coherent and publishable form at the end of a long day of teaching is difficult. Nevertheless there are some posts I’m proud of and I’ve enjoyed documenting this journey. The bonus is of all this sharing has been tapping into expertise of some amazing educators.
2. To learn – To say the last two years have been a steep learning curve would be an understatement. When I look around the classroom, the space is markedly different both from a physical and pedagogical from the start of last year despite half the students being the same kids. This change has been result of reading about other more awesome teachers ideas and repurposing them for my context. The biggest learning moment for me has been the realisation that the induction process for new teachers is too important to be left to one person. I’ve had two incredible mentor teachers to learn from but having a world of educators expertise to tap into has made me smarter. I’m a proud member of the ‘mentor whore’ club.
3. To provide an ‘adjacent possible‘ Over the last two years the online community of teachers has grown considerably and it’s been fantastic to see more PRTs active on twitter. Hopefully others might start thinking that traditional PRT folder has long had its day and it’s time to start something more awesome.
4. To inform. I said at the start I wanted to show that teachers aren’t finished products immediate post graduation. 2 school years on, I feel like even less of finished product. Teachers need to be learning and growing because our kids and communities are ever changing.
Have there been any downsides?
Aside from the cringe that comes when someone says ‘hey aren’t you traintheteacher’ the only downside is the pressure to keep up with everyone else. It can be easy in a world of awesome teachers doing amazing things to think what you are doing sucks in comparison. There are frequent offers to join collaborative projects or new initiatives and sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to say yes to everything.
I’m often asked if I’m worried about breaching privacy of my students and colleagues by reflecting on public platform. If by keeping 99 percent of what I do at school off limits in terms of what I write online, then yes, I am totally invading other people’s privacy. Learning how, what and who to share with are important skills not just for our students but for teachers as well.
So thanks again to the dozens of mentor teachers out there helping make my classroom more awesome!
The end of the school year comes with rituals.
Prize-giving, leavers dinners, writing reports and end of year tests.
Even though I know that standardised tests aren’t completely accurate at measuring students learning growth, there’s something reassuring – dare I say gratifying – in seeing those numbers going up. It backs up your judgements and observations of kids learning. It’s a pat on the back that says hey yes your programmes are working or perhaps you need to tweak this area. Most of my students had some good gains this year in reading. Nevertheless, I found myself beating myself over a few results that hadn’t gone as well as I expected.
And there was one particular whose result I was eager to see.
Over the last few months I’ve been working with an RLit (A resource teacher of literacy) to help a student improve in literacy. On paper it should be easy, the child is diligent, has a highly supportive family and gets 20 minutes 1 on 1 with me a day. I’ve been doing running records with this child on a regular basis and seen improvements in inference, decoding and finding information.
But there had been no movement at all.
To say I was disheartened would be an understatement.
All that effort by both the student and myself had not a single bit of movement.
Fortunately I had appointment with the RLit that afternoon to talk me down off the ledge so to speak.
My Rlit reminded me that often it takes a while for the intensive work to show up in standardised tests like asstles and PAT. Moreover when faced with stressful testing situations low-achieving students will often resort into old habits of using background knowledge to answer questions rather than comprehension strategies they have been taught. I was also reminded that are so many variables that kids take in with them to tests. They might not have slept well that night, had a fight with their friend, are hungry or, dare I say it, are just sick of taking tests.
As the RLit and I went through a couple of the test questions to look for instructional points, we laughed that if it took us, two highly educated adults, a good couple of minutes to skim and scan for the correct information how hard it must be for kids who have trouble with reading.
However bad I felt about the result I know how much worse it is for students. Putting in effort and not seeing numbers go is hard enough. Living through the inevitable post-test comparison that happens as results come in are so much harder.
I left my RLit with an action plan. Areas to work on with the kid including some test-taking strategies and some re-affirming that there had been progress on other measures.
And it is those other measures that we often lose track of that make a real difference.
More than anything I want my student to leave my class with a love of reading. Even for high-achieving students it seems like a huge waste if kids leave school with a hatred of reading. For some kids in my class just reading a book from cover to cover for the first time ever might be their big achievement. Striking a balance between that short term gain that show up on test scores and the more long-term end goal of developing happy well-adjusted adults.
Our educational system loves to deal in absolutes.
Right or wrong.
Above standard or below.
As I watched a video of my 2 year old nephew on Facebook this weekend I was reminded that progress isn’t always linear and easily measurable. He started taking his first few steps this time last year and is pretty confident but he still falls over on his butt every now and again.
At what point do I say with certainty he can or can’t walk?
Does a test score determine our fate?
It’s been almost a month between posts.
Over the last few weeks of term school production gradually took over my life. By the end of term I could barely think much less write something resembling a coherent blog post.
This is not to say that production was all bad. I enjoyed teaching dance, finally got my head around final cut pro and created some awesome effects for the show. The kids relished the chance to perform and I had that proud teacher moment of seeing my students up on stage being awesome.
However being the resident AV geek has its drawbacks. Putting together music, movies and images for 110 minute show while also trying to teach full-time was not a good combination. Instead of feeling exuberant, as I normally do at the end of a creative project, I wanted to curl up in bed for a week.
And that’s pretty much what I did during school holidays.
For the first time in two years I haven’t travelled away from Wellington for a conference. It would be an understatement to say I’ve had a pretty good run of PD this year. On one level I was glad for the break, but on the other, the frenzy of tweets from ulearn made me a little envious of all the marvellous connections and MAGIC that comes from being in the same room with your virtual staffroom.
So I find this a very slow start into the final term of 2013. I’m hoping this post will re-ignite blogging as I’ve got a number of posts running around in my head.
This term I’m looking forward to
Makey Makey magic (hopefully with other classes)
Organising Market Day
Walking with my students to squash
Finishing up a special year-long project
I’m not looking forward to
Saying goodbye to my Year 8s and their families. I’ve taught these students for 2 years and have witnessed some amazing growth in these kids. While I appreciate it’s time for the students to move on the urge to blubber will be there at that final assembly.
I’ve become a huge quadblogging fan.
For those not in the know quadblogging is when a group of four classes take turns to read and comment on individual blogs. The quad can be international or national.
After a few false starts, the quad I’ve been involved in this year has been nothing short of awesome. I feel bad that the class hasn’t been able to give as much attention as I would like owing to production practices, swimming and learning conferences playing havoc with the classroom schedule.
A few weeks ago a challenge went out. The students of one of the quads wanted to map our classroom in minecraft.
To say my students are obsessed with minecraft would be an understatement. There’s something about building virtual worlds which is almost as addictive as refined sugar to my learners.
One of my students took over the project and spent the next few weeks measuring up a storm. I wasn’t allowed to touch my whiteboard as measurements went up and were then put into written form. The initial write up conveyed an insane amount of detail and involved discussions about the Pythagorus theorem.
The excitement of seeing the build grew but there was one small problem – the set up of my classroom is very different to a typical classroom. My students don’t really notice the difference as that’s our normal. We are only reminded that our classroom isn’t typical when the odd student from outside of our syndicate walks in and goes ‘woah it looks different in here.’ As a result our quadblogging buddies were having trouble getting their heads around our classroom layout.
The initial result was wrong.
And from that wrong I ventured into the promised land as far literacy goes: boys talking to each other about their writing. Not just the surface ‘I think you did a good job’ or ‘how do you spell this word’ but those in-depth conversations, the ‘if you write this, the reader might think that’ talks which really develop kids as writers.
My students had a go at giving the blogging buddies feedback. Helping their peers put things right turned out to be a fantastic way for the kids to really stretch their explaining skills. As I sat working with a child on their reading, I found myself distracted wanting to the capture the learning conversation happening just a few meters a way.
One of my students suggested a fix was for our blogging buddies to make an initial build and then our class could rebuild. While I was impressed by the lateral thinking a quick reminder about the ‘task with the task’ writing and measuring had the kids back thinking.
As always there was extra learning for me.
How could we have explained our set up a bit better?
When did we need to get our rulers and when was time to make sure our explanations used words to helped create an accurate picture in the readers mind?
I’ve been hugely impressed how this connection has lead to so much unintended and unscripted learning. It’s pushed me to think more about how we can redefine our learning tasks.
Over the last few days I’ve seen a few pleas for help about the value of being a connected educator.
I define a connected educator as one who uses social media to connect with other educators in their field. The platform for connections is actually relatively unimportant. blogs, twitter, pintrest, facebook, ning, google+, bulletin boards, YouTube there are a plethora of platforms which enable educators to connect with teachers across town and around the country.
To be honest I have no idea what it means not to be a connected educator. Even back in my days teaching English back in Korea 10 years ago I was part of an online community. So to talk about the value of connections to those who see no value is actually incredibly difficult.
Because I’m really passionate about being a connected educator, I’m probably not the best ambassador. I get excited and yammer on about the great things I’ve recently found online which tends to have people politely exiting the conversation.
So I’ll try something different.
On my own I’m a mediocre teacher.
I don’t disclose this as a way to gain sympathy or have people in the comments box tell me that I’m not all that bad. Because the simple fact is I’m second year teacher. I’m definitely better than I was last year and I’ll be better next year than this year. What they don’t tell you a teachers college is that teaching is an ongoing process of screwing up and learning from the screw ups. We’ve enshrined the process in the New Zealand curriculum, it’s called teaching as inquiry.
I often scratch my head and wonder how teachers who are not connected find new ideas to implement in the classroom. I suppose they continue to learn as we did in the past when to keep up with the latest trends educators needed to read journals, weekly PD sessions and conferences.
But here’s the thing. By the time those classroom ideas have been accepted by the editor or the teachers invited to conference the innovations presented have been polished up and time has erased the tough bits. I’ve rarely heard a conference presenter say ‘well for the first six months after we initiated X it sucked so we had do Y and stopped doing Z’ instead we get the finished product all ready to implement in our classroom.
Yet by missing the process of what got the speakers to where they are now, we don’t learn what to avoid, where to persevere and, dare I say it, when to pull the plug. And lets face it, trying to implement those big ideas into a classroom with actual children is hard.
Which is where being connected helps. It enables conversations to keep going long after the speaker from PD has left the building and the conference is over. The ideas often come in 140 characters. Small resources that you could use or ideas to stash away for a rainy day through to big ideas to mull over. Being connected enables me to tap into a vast global network of classroom expertise and insight which I can then remix and refashion for my own teaching context. The feedback loop is ongoing and I don’t have to be constrained to learning at a certain time and place.
In New Zealand we recognise that new teachers trying to get to grips with everything need help and support. So we have a induction process into the professional and are assigned a mentor. But the more I think about it, the more it seems unrealistic for professional induction to fall squarely on the shoulders of just one teacher and the period of support should extend for only two short years.
Being connected has enables professional learning and mentoring of teachers to be an ongoing process distributed among hundreds of people from across the planet. Following a few hundred educators on twitter will enable a constant flow of education resources and collaboration 24 hours day. I’ve often heard twitter described as little more than popularity contest to get the most followers. I agree that twitter is a popularity contest but not in popularity but rather of ideas. Good ideas get remixed and shared. Bad ideas don’t get shared.
A network of learners is more than the sum of its parts. It is the process of collaborating with people who share your area of expertise that makes both of parties better. If you teach high school science you can connect other high school science teachers. If you teach juniors, you can connect with other early years teachers. What’s really awesome is when junior teachers collaborate with senior high school teachers and both get something out of it.
Being connected has had a profound effect on what I do in the classroom and how I do it. It has opened up some incredible opportunities for my students and taken me on some amazing journeys. I have been able to help influence policy and shared what I’ve done to help others. Put simply, my connectedness has made me a better teacher.
There are thousands of connected educators from a multitude of teaching countries and contexts willing to share their expertise with you.
Your mission is to find the right people to follow.
A bit late in posting this but as always, better late than never.
I’ve lost count of the number of educamps I’ve been to since @fionagrant gave me a lift up to Educamp Tai Tokerau 2 years ago. But suffice to say it’s been a few. The beauty of educamps is that each one is always different from the last and even old hats like me get something out of it.
The problem with educamp is that it has forever ruined the traditional ‘sit and get’ model of Professional Development. As a learner I have a very low tolerance for any PD I feel isn’t meeting my needs.
My takeaways from #educampakl:
I’m moving away from the technology. The more educamps I attend, the less I find myself less interested in what the technology does but more how technology is being used to transform learning. As I mentioned in the think slam something that has been bugging me of late is this idea of ‘oh hey we used to do something this way but now we do it on a computer.’ What’s your purpose? What’s the effect of this effect of this on student learning? How are you changing learning culture in your class or even your school by using this technology? I suppose this is a natural progression for me as a learner.
Innovators in schools can feel incredibly isolated. Outside the pockets of awesomeness, I suspect there’s a few educamp attendees that are likely viewed as one of the ‘crazy ones‘ in their school. Educamps are a way to connect with like-minded educators and pick the brains of others who share a similar passion. Innovators thrive on collaboration. This is why educamp participants will sometimes travel 100s of kilometers on their own coin to attend these events.
Wise school leaders support and encourage innovative teachers to do their thing.
Our faculties of education are not preparing their students to be 21st century teachers. Much as I loathe the term ’21st century learning’ it’s an ongoing issue and not one that there has been a great deal of change since I was student two years ago. The result being that our beginning teachers are falling back to how they were taught. This isn’t good enough.
Teachers need to stop assuming that our students are going to be the ones that will force our institutions to change. There’s a lot of racial and socio-economic privilege wrapped up in the idea that our students are going to be the ones that force a change in the status quo. It assumes that not only that all kids and their families are able to challenge our institutions to do better but more importantly feel they have the right to. Put simply the standard we teachers walk by, is the standard we accept.
Student-driven learning = lots of teacher scaffolds. Daily 5, 20% time/passion projects etc. Kids need scaffolds to channel their energy into the tasks at hand. Making links back to the NZC and making effective use of time is something I’m working on at the moment with my kids. I’ve been impressed with my students’ engagement but know we can do better.
Being an awesome teacher is a journey not a destination. As always I’m amazed at how many educators willingly give up a morning to come together to learn. It was fantastic to renew old connections and make new ones.
Onwards to EducampPalmy…
I never sleep well the night before the start of a new term. There’s lots ticking over in my mind. how will the new classroom set up go (answer, a few remarks about more space and then business as usual) suddenly remembering a job on your to do list, a wake up jolt from an earthquake.
And this term a new principal.
Out of all the jobs in a school, the hardest definitely has to be the principal. Classroom teachers have the LOLz that go with spending time with the kids and not having to worry about setting budgets, buildings and managing the toughest group of learners in the school, teachers.
I joked on twitter that getting a new professional leader for a teacher feels very much like a student getting a new teacher. Students don’t get a choice of who their teacher will be and that new person in the swivel chair is now in charge of professional learning.
Which leads to an important question.
Who is this person who suddenly has the power to make your working day very different?
In this age of google you can quickly find out about a person from their digital footprint and New Zealand is so small that there’s almost always a mutual acquaintance.
A new principal brings change and with change comes uncertainty.
There’s a chance that this new person coming in is going to give up your patch of school culture, change your practice, or challenge a deeply held belief.
That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing.
As I often tell my students if we were all the same, the world would be a very boring place.
A fresh pair of eyes can sometimes do the world of good. Staying the same, doing things the same is ultimately leaving your students behind.
This year I volunteered to be the teacher in charge of Student Council which also means I’m the teacher in charge of organising the school discos. Officially the student council run disco but there are limitations to 11 and 12 year olds organisational skills.
Organising permission slips, tickets, posters, food sales, lighting, music, prizes, decorations not to mention cleaning up afterwards is a big job. I must admit that I was expecting the weeks leading up to disco to be frantic.
Ticketing has always been a logistical nightmare. 18 classes to keep tabs on and each kid needs to be issued with an individual ticket so we know how many kids we’ve got inside in case of an emergency.
So I set up a google spreadsheet. Each classroom teacher filled out their student names on separate tab. I filled in the ticket number and then mail merged the information into a ticket. The result was that each child was issued a ticket with their name on it.
When the night came, the teachers in charge of ticketing could easily cross off kids on the master list so we knew how many kids were at the event very quickly.
I also had a google doc going for the student councillors. Music is the most important thing for disco so each student had to go back to their class and get the top five songs. From there I could share that doc with the teacher coordinating the playlist. The kids designed posters which they then shared across the network.
The week of the disco I circulated a google doc with some of the jobs I needed teachers for. The teacher put their names next to the duties and added other jobs I had forgotten about to the doc. In short I was able to tap into the collective knowledge of the teachers in the school without having a giant meeting.
While having nice weather and some awesome staff does help to keep events running smoothly, I’ve found technology helps so much in helping to keep big school events manageable.
I was recently asked by a reader if I could give my tips for surviving teaching placement, practicum, teaching experience. Having gone through the experience myself and having watched two sets of student teachers come into our school, I’m not too far removed but I also get the benefit of seeing part of the other side of the fence. However I’m not at the point where I have enough experience to mentor a student teacher so I can’t give the Associate Teacher’s point of view.
1. You are there to learn
Going into placement you have two what might seem like mutually exclusive goals. On one hand, you want to show what an awesome teacher you are to your Associate Teacher/School and get that elusive permanent teaching job post-graduation. But on the other, you are there to learn. Here’s my advice, stick with the former and the latter will take care of itself. Soak in as much as you can, ask questions, make mistakes. Lots of them. The most important quality student teachers need on placement is teachabilty. Nobody expects you to be perfect when you arrive. Being able to show improvement and take on advice is what will impress your associate teacher.
2. No staying out late on a school night
A student teacher from another institution once showed up to my placement school very hungover. While it’s not against the rules to have late nights on the town, it really isn’t a good look on placement and you will be judged negatively on it.
3. Building relationships with your students
There’s a fine line to be trod between being liked and being respected. Often student teachers try to be buddies with the kids and then find classroom management is a challenge once they take full control. By all means be friendly with your students but remember that this different from being their friend. The kids will test the boundaries just by your mere presence. They’ll want to know if the no-nos with their own teacher are a yes with you. Make sure you find out from your associate how behaviour is managed in your school and if you are unsure in any situation, ask your associate teacher.
4. Observe other teachers doing their thing. Ask them lots of questions.
While the bulk of your time will be spent in your Associate Teacher’s placement, do make sure you that you arrange time to see other teachers doing their thing. If you are teaching juniors, ask to see a Year 5/6 class. If you are at an intermediate, be sure to spend some time in the specialist classes. Ask lots of questions. Teachers by their very nature are usually keen to share their knowledge with others.
5. Keep up with your paperwork
Universities love paper. Every week you’ll likely have some sort of form to fill in to keep your university happy. It’s really important that you familiarise yourself with the paperwork requirements of your placement and make sure that you keep yourself up to date.
6. Never say ‘no’ to an opportunity to teach
If a teacher is handing over control of the classroom to you, it means that they trust you. Yes things might go horribly and you will have your share of bad days. Even taking the roll will help you learn and grown into a better teacher. It’s not unheard of for student teachers to be called on to cover a class but strictly speaking you should have a registered teacher in the room with you.
A source of grizzling about student teachers from associates often comes from planning. No teacher will let you in charge of your class without lesson plans. I think some teacher education providers could do a better job of teaching student teachers how to plan a lesson effectively. However to head off uncertainties in planning ask to see your associate teacher’s template early on and adapt that (with permission) for your planning.
8. Be Professional
In essence your placement is an extended job interview. Dress professionally, be on time, attend all staff meetings. Try and schedule a meeting with the principal of your school during placement. Make sure you have questions prepared in advance to make the most of the meeting.
9. You’re going to get sick
There’s no nice way of saying this schools are vectors of disease. At some point you will get heinously ill and most likely at the most inopportune time.
10. Thank you
It goes without saying that you need to thank your school and associate teacher for the placement. A small gift and a heart-felt card for your associate is probably a good idea. Some sort of morning tea or some offering of food wouldn’t go amiss either.
Anymore tips for would-be teachers?