Category Archives: teachable moments
A few months ago I floated the idea to my Year 7/8 class making a submission to the Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy being run by the New Zealand parliament’s education and science select committee.*
The project seemed like a great way to give my students an insight into how laws and policies are developed in New Zealand with the added bonus that the children would be able to give the committee some expert advice on digital learning from a perspective often absent from educational policy-making; that of the student.
The class banded together to make a video submission on the topic which I posted to the class blog. As I was about to submit their project, I asked my class if they would be interested in making a verbal submission. They were excited about the idea so I let the committee know the students wanted to appear. The project then got put on the back burner for a few months while we waited to hear if and when the students would be able to speak to the committee.
At the start of this term I received an email inviting my class to speak at parliament in front of the committee. Like most submitters the class had 5 minutes in front of the committee to have their say and would be asked questions about their submission. Deep down mild panic set in. What on earth was I thinking to ask for a spot for my 11 and 12 year old students to present to Members of Parliament?
The simple answer is a deep belief in the power of participatory democracy. I didn’t want my students to just read about parliament and draw a flag of a fictional country, I wanted them to appreciate that each of us has not only a right but a duty to participate in our democracy. In short, I wanted them to learn how to make a difference.
In order to select their representatives, the students of my class drew up a series of selection criteria and invited interested candidates to give a speech on why they thought they would be a good representative. Nearly a third of the class made presentations. Their classmates gave grades on each candidate’s public speaking skills, the ability answer questions well, overall contribution to the video submission, manage their time effectively and cope under pressure.
As I watched the process unfold, I was amazed at how the students had decided to assess each other. While our education system frequently tests for content knowledge, my learners were more interested in the qualities of their representatives. Communicating, managing time, the students were assessing competencies rather than content. Yet why is it our educational system is more obsessed with content?
Once the class selected their representatives, work began in earnest. I began calling in people from my own learning network to help. Teachers at newly built schools generously gave up their time to talk learning spaces with the children while another classroom talked about their school’s 1:1 laptop programme. The student submitters were very fortunate to get a prominent Wellington lobbyist to sit with them for over half and hour giving them advice on appearing before a committee. The students then wrote their speeches, a media release and practised answering mock questions during our classroom literacy block.
A prominent Wellington blogger who connected the students and I with the lobbyist featured the project on his blog. What started as a small project in a suburban Wellington intermediate was starting to go mainstream. By Monday morning the project had been picked up by the Waikato Times and the students put together a media release to get broader coverage. The stakes were getting higher and the submitter’s first practice run of the presentation in front of the class did not go well.
Fortunately the group took on their classmates’ criticisms and by Wednesday morning were as ready as they were ever going to be. And so I took four 12 year old students and their camera person to parliament to make a submission in front of 10 members of the country’s elected representatives.
Talk about an authentic audience.
In a room of cameras, microphones and a large number of adults each child’s contribution was nothing short of spectacular. One of the family members who accompanied us to parliament remarked that the students were funny and articulate but they still acted like 12 year olds. Which is perhaps the best compliment they could give me as a teacher.
At times it is a fine line to be walked between authentic student inquiry and an adult taking over student learning. In short I wanted each student to bring their best selves to the committee and leave knowing that their perspectives were important. Because more than anything, the students’ submissions were quietly telling a story of how technology in education is changing our learners’ lives.
Whether it be managing a learning disability, coping with the tyranny of distance or even starting up business. The students wanted their representatives to know that schools should be fun places where kids want to go learn.
It is a testament to New Zealand democracy that a group of 12 year olds can rock up to their House of Representatives and be treated with respect and dignity. There are far too many places in the world where this isn’t the case. Our Members of Parliament sometimes get a bit of a bad reputation for mudslinging and bad behaviour but that day the committee members were attentive and asked perceptive questions of the students. The MPs showed my students democracy at its very best: inclusive, empathetic and empowering.
For me as an educator this experience has demonstrated the power of connections. It never ceases to amaze how generous New Zealanders both inside and outside the educational community are with their knowledge. A huge heartfelt thanks goes out to all the members of my Personal Learning Community who helped my class succeed in their project. It was fantastic to see family members at the committee supporting their children and the local Member of Parliament gave the students a tour of parliament to top off the day.
The project has been hard work yet the pay off in student learning have been immense.
What started out as a class project on cyber-citizenship has moved well beyond the confines of our classroom into other schools, national newspapers, radio and even onto national TV. The experience has made me wonder how can students use their education to benefit our society? Might there be other real-world problems that students can use their talents to help solve.
There are some downers from the experience.
Time limitations, both mine as a teacher and the committee’s, excluded the whole class from being involved in the final submission. As I mentioned week, last my class is waaaaaaaay behind on our must-dos. But that’s the thing with authentic learning, it’s messy, timelines often blur and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t unbelievably exhausting. However it was also one of the most of exciting experiences I’ve had in my life. I am sure the lessons from that day will leave an impact for many years to come and not just for the teacher.
As the students boarded the train out of the city one of them remarked, “That was fun. When can we make another submission?”
*For those readers overseas, a select committee is a committee made up of members of the New Zealand parliament who give advice on particular subjects of interest.
I spent summer moving cities and am now firmly ensconced in Wellington. Of the many joys I’ve discovered about living in Wellington as an adult there are two aspects of the city I don’t much care for; the weather and the airport.
Despite my love of travelling around the world I don’t do well with flying. And by don’t do well I mean absolutely petrified. Landings are the part of the flight I dread the most. It feels like someone is trying to stick a needle in my ear drums when a plane starts to descend. Plus there’s several hundred thousands tons of metal hitting the ground at speed which is always accompanied by the terrifying, albeit slim, possibility of dying in a giant fireball. The relief of landing safely at my destination after a bumpy landing has on occasion made me ponder whether I should kiss the ground after I emerge from an aircraft and those occasions almost always occur at Wellington airport.
Of the dozens of airports I’ve flown into around the world Wellington defintely rates as one the scariest. The runway is short and the capital’s foul weather make for a bad combination for a paid up member of the nervous flyer brigade. Wellingtonians are a curious breed and seem to take the ability to not flinch during violent landings as something to be proud of. A few years back the airport company decided to re-brand itself ‘Wild at Heart’ and the local paper declared making it onto the Guardian’s list of the world’s scariest airports would be great for tourism.
So after a weekend of final goodbyes in Auckland a few weeks ago I was dismayed to discover that weather forecast was for gale-force southerly winds and rain for my flight down to my new home. Hmmph. I knew that meant I was in for a white-knuckled ride. Sure enough my flight departed Auckland on time but the arrival was late. Almost four hours late.
Or more specifically Wellington’s weather which meant the aircraft couldn’t land. Though not through lack of trying. The plane started to descend. Glup. Then spent 20 minutes spent flying over Tory Channel due to a thunderstorm over the airport. Gasp! A sudden revving up to the engines signalled a diversion back to Auckland to refuel and recrew. Argh!! There was another landing attempt before a go-around was announced by a rapid ascent. GAAAH!!! Finally after what seemed like hours on final approach battling against the southerly the aircraft finally touched down to applause and relief of the passengers. I’M NEVER FLYING AGAIN NOW SOMEONE FIND ME SOME GROUND TO KISS!!!!
A few weeks after the flight that wouldn’t end, I decided that the actions of the people looking after the plane and its passengers was full of teachable moments for a beginning teacher.
1. Communicate with those around you. After each unexpected turn in the journey, the crew in the cabin and the flight deck always told us where we were going and why. This took some of the nerves away when I looked at my watch and wondered why I wasn’t on the ground. Teachable moment: be clear with your learning intentions and let kids know why you might need to try things again.
2. Always have enough gas in the tank. Obviously not having enough actual fuel has some rather dire consequences for planes but it’s also important for the people operating them to take time to refuel. That’s why our second flight was staffed by an entirely different crew. Teachable moment: Take your time to get the job right and get help when you feel yourself getting overwhelmed.
3. A sense of humour is a must. Air NZ has cultivated a bit of a reputation for its tongue in cheek advertising. However the airline’s quirky sense of humour turned an annoying situation (for those passengers wanting to get some sleep before their first day of work) and utterly terrifying situation (for me) into one where most of the passengers were laughing at our mishaps. Teachable moment: Laughing is a lot more fun than panicking when faced with a stressful situation.
4. Sometimes things just come down to luck. That night other planes managed to land or at least didn’t get turned back . In fact the black plane that I spotted when we took off from Auckland for a second time had made it into Wellington before my plane which didn’t seem fair. However I’ll take a late, safe landing over the alternative any day. Teachable moment: focus on what really matters.
5. Jet planes and cookies. The extra time in the air meant no dinner for me and I’m sure I wasn’t the only passenger whose stomach was rumbling and not just from nausea. Yet somehow getting the jet planes and cookies instead of choosing one option made up for it. Teachable moment: do the best with what you have.
So thanks to the wonderful crews of flight 463 from January 8 who did so well under trying circumstances. They kept everyone laughing especially the nervous flyer in 17C. Hopefully by the time the school holidays roll by I’ll be ready to fly again.
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 7.c
“Graduating Teachers are able to articulate and justify an emerging personal, professional philosophy of teaching and learning.”
What my Diploma in Teaching helped me Learn
And as of 2.13pm on Thursday I’m done.
When I enrolled in this diploma almost 12 months ago I thought I was training to be a teacher. Little did I know 11 months later I think of myself more as a learner.
But that’s not the only thing that changed.
This time last year I was in a profoundly unhappy place in my life. When the clock struck midnight for 2011 I wasn’t all that psyched about the year ahead. I thought my studies would be something to be endured not enjoyed. I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a teacher.
How wrong I was.
For me there is nothing more amazing than seeing a group of kids take an idea and making it more awesome than I ever could imagine. This year I watched the year 8 class I was placed with take a discussion of leadership and turning it into a bollywood inspired flashmob on the school field and the juniors in the next Teaching Experience take a simple maths warm up and turn it into a powerful learning moment. I may have struggled a lot to find those teachable moments but finding them is, to quote the amazing @annekenn, MAGIC!
So there’s the first important lesson I’ve learned this year, we all need some magic in our lives.
The second is the importance of people.
Over the course of the year I’ve watched the network of people supporting my learning transmorgifiy from a couple of friends and classmates to a global network of hundreds of teachers.
I’ve been humbled at how unbelievably generous the innovate educators I’ve met both virtually and in real life have been with their knowledge. I want to thank you all, especially the ones who gave up their time to give me advice online and more importantly in real life. Your generosity has been life changing and something that I will forever be indebted to each and everyone of you for. I can’t bake you all a cupcake but I can promise to Pay it forward.
In fact I’ve already started.
I’ve always said from the outset that purpose of this blog share my experiences for the benefit of others. I don’t pretend to be an expert at anything except being a student teacher in New Zealand.
But I think there is a need for more of this sort of sharing.
The most popular post on this blog is the Graduating Teacher Standards E portfolio which attracts a steady stream of visitors looking information about the standards and they end up here. They might not be commenting but my site statistics tell me that they are out there.
If there is one lesson teachers, student or otherwise, could take from my work this year it would that I think more teachers need to tell our stories and make our learning visible. More importantly we need to share the experiences of our students beyond the walls of our classrooms and borders of our nations.
As I look towards the future of education in New Zealand I can see the storm clouds of educational reform gathering overhead. I often find myself getting pessimistic at the current state of what often passes for education debate in this country. I ponder why policy makers in particular seem so determined to not listen to the very people working in the educational system and I start thinking that the work that teachers do just isn’t that important.
But perhaps it is.
This Tuesday I watched my reflection on the introduction of charter schools generate nearly 1,000 hits to this site in a day. At the time of writing this post has generated almost 1,300 hits and is now the second most popular on the blog. I don’t pretend my post made a huge difference, it’s just a small ding in a wider debate.
But then I’m just one student teacher.
There are of others of course.
But what if more teachers stood up and said pay attention, this is important work, this is hard and, at times, frustrating work but we’re not sitting around on our hands waiting for permission to do things differently.
What if we declared that our voices matter?
Because despite the best efforts of those outside the system to bring about change, ultimately the most effective educational reform will come from within.
I speak of the amazing power that the internet and mobile learning has to revolutionize and personalize education.
I know that there are still plenty of doubters out there wondering what the value is in students spending time in front of a screen during class. Some of this resistance may come from not knowing how to use the internet for learning. More likely stems from the fear that teachers might soon be replaced by a computer. I guess that’s natural when you feel threatened you retreat to what you know.
Ultimately our future depends on teachers embracing this new way of learning but more importantly new ways of engaging with our community. I just hope education doesn’t have to hit rock bottom to find the courage to change.
Which brings me to the final lesson I’ve learned this year, the importance of failure. I’ve lamented in the past that our society doesn’t do well with failure. We don’t speak of our own setbacks hiding them away in places we hope others can’t find them. Yet learning how to the heed the lessons when life doesn’t go to plan is by far the most important qualification I will ever gain.
When I look at my first post I’m reminded of the starting point of the journey wasn’t all that great. 2009 was a horrible year and despite the grand world trip, 2010 wasn’t that much better. But the bonus of the setbacks I faced during those two years was a stripping away of the inessential in my life.
I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than who I was, and began to direct all my energy into the only work that I had enjoyed doing, teaching. Had the setbacks of the last two years not occurred, I might never have found the courage to change course nor the determination to succeed. As my studies draw to a close I find myself ending this year feeling happier and more excited about the possibilities in life than I’ve felt in years. That is the power that learning has to transform lives.
Of course the end of one journey is really just beginning of another. I might not know where I am going but the purpose of this post is to document how I’ve come to this point.
Therefore it seems fitting that I dedicate this, my last post as a student teacher, to The Child, who turned 8 yesterday. Happy birthday kiddo. I miss you heaps and love you lots.
“Words have no wings but they can fly a thousand miles.”
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 4.a
Graduating teachers draw upon content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge when planning, teaching and evaluating.
One problem I’ve been mulling over for the last few months is making the most of teachable moments. I know that there are moments when teachers need to, in the words of my former eduction lecturer John Hattie, just shut up and let the learners learn. However there are also teachable moments in the classroom when teachers need to step forward and take an idea or question for a ride with your learners to see where it goes.
But how does a teacher know the difference?
Is it this where the idea of the natural teacher comes from? Natural teachers ‘just know’ when to shut up and listen but also when to speak up and the rest of us spend years trying to learn something that simply can not be taught.
You either ‘got it’ or you don’t?
The reason I bring this up is because on Monday afternoon it snowed in Auckland for the first time in nearly 80 years and I completely dropped the ball on a teachable moment. At the time I was busy trying to teach a handwriting lesson and the children’s backs were to the windows. The students probably wouldn’t have noticed what was going on outside had my Associate Teacher not piped up ‘look out the window children, what’s that?’
Once handwriting was put down for a moment the room was immediately a buzz and I quickly grabbed my camera to take video footage of the snow and the children’s reaction to it. I’m glad I did because when I was reviewing the footage later, I noticed a small teachable moment amongst the excitement, ‘is that snow’ a little voice asked? As it turned out it was something called graupel.
The children’s story’s this week for writing were amazing, they were animated and used highly expressive vocabulary. The class went nuts at the video I made of the children’s reaction’s to the graupel moreover the students were hugely excited at the prospect of someone capturing their stories on video giving the possibility of a far wider audience than the readers of their exercise books.
As it turned out the graupel was a teachable moment for me. I was bogged down in the nitty gritty aspects of writing, the forming letters, that I had lost sight of the reasons why we write. I think children are no different from adults in their desire to want to share their feelings and connect with others. Yet I wonder if our education system spends way too much time focusing on the mechanics of writing at the expense of the authentic experiences and audiences that inspire all of us to write.
Despite having a great visiting lecturers assessment, I spent another week plagued by doubt. Would I ever be able to judge a teaching moment without my Associate in the room to sound the alarm ‘danger Will Robinson you are missing a teachable moment.’
And then sure enough one popped up.
I was doing a brainstorm around the language associated with the +, -, = signs. I was impressed that alongside more and give, the students managed to hit on language like fatter and upgrade for the plus sign. But then when it came to the equals sign a student piped up that the sign meant “the answer is.”
I immediately knew that this was one of the mythical teachable moments I had been looking for. One student said it, which meant there might be more that think it. More importantly having taught algebra to a group of enrichment Year 8 students I knew that students misconceptions about what the equals sign means causes problems later on.
So I decided to have a quick mini-lesson on why equals does not mean ‘the answer is.’ I used materials, I used images and finally a moment of genius desperation I got the group to stand on one leg. By this stage the students were undoubtedly convinced that their teacher had a touch of the crazy, what on earth could standing on one leg have to do with maths? But there was a method behind my madness.
Each of the children had their arms out and when I asked them why sure enough they answered that they need to put their arms out to balance. I told them that the equals sign was like a balance, what is one side of the equals sign must be the same as the other. I then asked the students what would happen if they took the other leg off the ground and they responded that they would fallover, which I explained is kind of what happens when what is on one side of the equals sign is not the same as the other.
We started playing with our materials again when one of the children piped up that 1+1=2+0. What an awesome learning moment I sowed the seed of an important mathematical concept and maybe, just maybe, I’m not as blind to teachable moments as I thought.
After writing my ‘Dear Teacher Education Providers can you enter the 21st century‘ post I had a real mixture of emotions. On one hand the post seemed to strike a real chord amongst the twitterverse and bought a lot traffic to the blog which was pretty cool, but on the other I felt somewhat uncomfortable about the attention the post generated.
Yes I was frustrated and annoyed however it is not my style to just complain, I like to do stuff about my complaints. In a previous life I would have been researching madly, rapidly gaining signatures for petitions, lobbying officials in my university furiously in order to get policies changed. However universities aren’t known for their speedy policy-making processes which would have lead to more frustration and annoyance on my part. What’s more it wouldn’t have helped me with my problem in the here and now.
As I mulled over my problem, I decided to do something so simple that I believe a sporting goods manufacturer made a whole bunch of money out of it, just do it.
So for this Teaching Experience I’ve uploaded all my forms onto googledocs for my Associate Teacher and I to use and then will print the various forms off to keep the various powers-that-be happy. I’ll give my Associate Teacher mad props for having a go at using an unfamiliar tool and I will openly acknowledge that I’ve probably created more work for myself than following the procedures set down by the university. However I will go digital simply because I can and what’s more I’ve introduced another teacher to a tool that they can use in their teaching practice.
My situation got me to thinking of a great quote I read by Pete Seeger on the teaspoon theory of social change. He conceptualised that millions of seemingly minor actions, like picking up garbage instead of walking by it, will eventually lead to radical seemingly impossible change on a wider level. Going by this theory even a lowly student teacher like myself has power to influence ideas on a wider level simply by making the decision to do their little bit to help. Which makes me think if more people just did e-practice instead of moaning and waiting for edicts, whether it be from a university or leadership within an organisation, then the change I ranted about in my first post would happen anyway.
So why don’t we?
The problem is that nobody wants to be the shirtless dancing guy or those first few followers who risk ridicule or failure for trying something a bit whacky and out there. Moreover it’s so much easier to point at things other people have done and shout No! No! No! as you stamp your feet. But you know what’s much harder? Creating what you want. I know I’ve been guilty of criticising other people for their stuck in the past practices this, their archaic technology that, their outdated whatever because it’s a lot easier to do that than examine your own teaching practice (not to mention your own life!) and determine what you actually want from it. In short, demolition is a hell of a lot easier than construction.
But what if every day we all chose to do a little bit to contribute to a wider picture? Not only do problems seem far less daunting, but it puts the onus back on the individual to decide whether they wish to be constructive or destructive.
Going digital with my Teaching Experience documentation is hardly the stuff that future scholars of education will study as an ‘aha’ moment. In fact on scale of 1-10 of revolutionary education ideas it probably rates in negative number territory. Nevertheless I saw a problem and thought to myself ‘what is that I can do to fix it? ‘ which is a lot more productive than ranting on the internet. I also feel a lot better because I’m doing something something pro-active rather than reactive.
So I will wield my teaspoon as if it were a mighty shovel because I choose to be part of the solution instead of the problem.
Fun fact: I played the cello in high school.
Now that I’ve outed myself as an orchestra geek I can talk about my instrument which was a beautiful old thing. I was convinced that the instrument had lived a long life and had an interesting story to tell. Even if the story was being played poorly by various students over the decades, that cello had a soul to it.
There was also a flaw.
Every time I tried to play an F note on the C string my cello would start coughing like a dying dog. No matter what I tried, I just couldn’t get the instrument to play that particular note properly. For a while I was convinced it must have been a problem in my technique but what I had discovered was my cello’s wolf note.
Without getting too complicated a wolf note is the sound produced when the frequency of the played note matches the internal resonance of a bowed instrument producing both a dampening and oscillating effect on the instrument’s acoustics. In short a wolf note is the musical equivalent of having a ‘you shut up, no you shut up’ fight between the note and the instrument itself.
Wolf notes are not a problem of construction, as both good and bad cellos have them, in fact they are a result of an inherent contradiction between the construction of the instrument and the reason a bowed instrument produces sound, resonance. Every hollow body has a primary resonant frequency. You hear it when you blow across the top of a bottle and get a definite pitch sounding. A wolf note is simply a tone at which one of these resonances is excited.
A professional player learns to work around wolf notes with good bowing but for beginners wolf notes are immensely frustrating. You can buy a tiny metal tube to place on the offending string called a wolf note eliminator (well minimizer) to manage the problem but a lot of musicans find that the eliminator effects the overall tone of the instrument.
The story of the wolf note is a highly apt analogy for a student teacher. Especially for this student teacher in light of last week’s meltdown into misery over feeling the pressure to be perfect.
Student teachers need to remember:
- Our students have flaws – do we as teachers use artificial means to manage our students’ imperfections or learn to work around them to get the best out of our students?
- We have flaws – but that does not mean we cannot succeed. However student teachers need to bear in mind that we may have limits to managing imperfection in our teaching and more importantly the learning of our students.
- Our associate teachers have flaws – because everyone does but they will likely be different to ours. But more importantly associate teachers have mastered some techniques in managing imperfection in their classrooms.
But perhaps the most important lesson is that perfection is boring. There’s a reason electronic versions of instruments never sound as good as the real thing, it is these microscopic imperfections that make each instrument unique. Even a bad instrument can produce a beautiful sound in the hands of a skilled player while a highly expensive Stradivarius cello would be wasted on the likes of me who hasn’t picked up a cello in the last 10 years. But with time, practice and patience, I should get my techniques up to scratch so that my classroom sounds more like a Stradivarius and less like the 2nd hand instrument I played in high school.
It all comes down to learning how to manage those wolf notes.
So for this Teaching Experience I will try to manage imperfection by focusing on the learning both mine and that of my students.
One of my learning tasks this week was to go on a treasure hunt of my local community to look at my learning environment. So lets go for a walk.
As an online student most of learning takes place at home in an old factory that was converted into apartments. Perhaps the most significant part of my learning space is right outside my window, Spaghetti Junction.
I often look at my window during rush hour and wonder about the poor people stuck in gridlock on the way home from work everyday. Why do people spend so many precious hours sitting in a car going nowhere?
The answer is found in Auckland’s urban planning. After World War Two Auckland’s city planners were presented with two different versions of the city. One with sprawling suburbs connected by motorways and another one with high density housing based along lines of public transport. We got a motorway which resulted in demolishing thousands of homes in the area. At the time the western inner city, which was home to a large Pasifika population, was seen as a slum so perhaps the desire for roading was as much about pushing the problems of central Auckland somewhere out of sight (and presumably out of mind) of Auckland’s local politicians.
Interestingly the school where I will do my next placement is amalgamation of 3 schools whose rolls plummeted as the local population disappeared to make way for Auckland’s motorway. That area is now going through a process of gentrification, there are a few state houses still spotted but in general the population of Auckland’s inner suburbs is most definitely wealthy.
If you follow the motorway down the hill from my apartment, then you end up at Auckland’s harbour.
Over the summer I took some Stand Up Paddle Boarding classes down at Westhaven marina. Stand up paddle boarding is basically a cross between surfing and canoeing. You get a long surfboard which you stand up on and then paddle around. Although I am not a morning person can you imagine anything better than starting your day with this:
To me there is nothing more calming than spending an hour out on the water watching the sun rise over the city.
During the winter months I spend of my exercise in time here, studio 1 of a large Auckland gym. I’m told its the biggest exercise studio in the Southern Hemisphere. Group fitness is the way that I counter-act the isolation of my life as an online student. Most of the classes I do tend to involve me dancing badly to 1980s and 1990s pop music with a bit of Lady Gaga thrown in for good measure. Yes I get to live out all my glee-related fantasies while getting some exercise in, I really should bring my hairbrush with me to the gym so I can sing along.
The Gym has obviously made an effort to be welcoming to its female members. There are creche facilities in the morning and a women’s only section of the gym which is open at all times. Given that the gym has a bit of meat market vibe during peak times, I tend to prefer to workout in the woman’s section of the gym if I am not doing group classes.
Over the hill is a large public space, Aotea square.
The Council has just spent a few million dollars on redevelopment mostly on strengthening the roof of the civic carpark that lies underneath the square and put in some chair for sitting on which has improved the space immensely however it still feels empty.
Next up is the Auckland central library which is always packed despite the current roadworks making the entrance look a bit inaccessible. And there is good reason:
Auckland library has free internet and wifi it also has meeting rooms which are often used by the Auckland members of my course as a place to study. But the thing I really like about Auckland’s central library is that is a welcoming space, there are displays on every level of the library and plenty of comfortable seating. The library has made an effort to be welcoming to different sectors of the community, there’s a children’s section and also a collection of books in different languages. The inter-loan facility, where a user can request books from any of the libraries in the Auckland region for free, keeps a book nut like me very happy.
Lets get something to eat.
Central Auckland has a large number of English language institutions catering primarily to students from Asia. One of the bonuses of this is that there has been explosion in global eateries in Auckland. Just across the road from the library is a place that sells my favourite Korean street food. Hotteok are like a fried bready pancake stuffed with cinnamon sugar and nuts inside which gives them a sort of nutty caramelized flavour. This store makes hotteok in different flavours however ‘sweet’ is the flavour traditionally sold on the streets of Seoul.
In Korea Hottoek are only available in the Autumn/Winter and aside from being a tasty treat, I also get a chance to practice my fading by the day Korean.
The one feature that strikes me about my learning space is that even during school holidays there aren’t many children around. According to the New Zealand parliament Auckland central has the lowest proportion of children aged under 15 (and people aged over 65) of New Zealand’s parliamentary seats. As a result there are no state primary or high schools in the central business district however there is a private primary school and two private secondary schools. There are a number of childcare facilities in the area for pre-school children but these children do not likely live in the area. Some efforts have been made to welcome to parents (gym) or child-friendly (library) but in general I get the feeling that the Auckland CBD is not a place for children. I can’t help but wonder if Auckland’s space is influenced by the planning decisions made long ago when the nuclear family with a stay at home mother was seen as the norm (or at least the most desirable form) of organizing a family.
Sadly children aren’t the only people who have been marginalized in Auckland. Over the motorway from my home is Karangahape Road. K’ road fell into decline after the motorway was built and was for a long time seen as a place of ill repute. In the mornings I’d often pass sex workers coming off work as I walked to my last placement and in the afternoon I used to pass a woman named Margaret who used to hold court each day at the entrance of Saint Kevin’s Arcade since time immemorial. I didn’t know much about Margaret other than that she liked her liquor and would often hit me up for a ciggie but was just as happy with a couple of dollars since I don’t smoke. After giving Margaret a few dollars, we’d have a brief conversation we’d part ways for a few days until she was in need of a fix and then one day she wasn’t perched on her chair any more.
Aside from Nethui and EdCampTT the other thing I’ve been doing with my holidays is visiting schools that I had an interest in teaching for in 2012.
Although each school had a different organisational culture and leadership style the common theme I’ve had from talking to the principals and teachers I’ve met along the way is that your first teaching job really shapes you as a teacher. These interactions really got me thinking about the purpose of operation job search.
Before I embarked on this process, I must confess that I was more interested in finding a position for the age group I wanted to teach ideally located in a place I wanted to live and hope that there was a vacancy for 2012 that I could wrangle my way into. Now I’m thinking more about the organisational values and culture of the school and hoping there’s a vacancy for 2012 that I can wrangle my way into. An important change I think.
What kind of school would I like to work at?
- Collaborative – As a beginning teacher I’ve got a lot to learn about teaching and am going to make mistakes and ask questions. My ideal school would have a culture where mistakes are a learning opportunity and the relationships are there to ask questions of other members of staff. I would also like to work in an environment where I can make a contribution to learning even though I’ll still have my PRT training wheels on. I want to be part of a community of learners.
- High expectations and high trust – Most students on my course worked up to 5-10 days of full control bit by bit over the 7 weeks we were on teaching experience. In contrast my associate decided that after doing bit by bit for the first 4 weeks, I would have 3 weeks of full control and plan a unit putting my own spin on the programme. At the time I wasn’t feeling at all confident and spent the holidays before I started teaching freaking out. What got me through the freak out were the parting words my associate teacher gave me before the holidays, “I trust you.” Having a person who I respected put their trust in me made me want to do my best and was a far better motivator than fear (bad grades) or even a reward (good grades). A few months on I recognize that my associate had given me a massive learning opportunity which I am immensely grateful for. This is also something I need to do as a teacher for my students as well.
- A culture of happiness – Perhaps this is Pollyannaish way of me saying I want to work in a school with high morale. But I like the idea that happiness is valued in the workplace. Not the ‘you will be happy OR ELSE’ but I want to be amongst people who love their work and have a strong sense of purpose as to why they are there. Teaching is hard work at times but there should also be joy.
- Connected – If I were to sum up my teaching philosophy in a soundbyte, it would be that great Stephen Johnson quote, ‘Chance favours the connected mind.’ Working an ICT savvy school, or a school that wants to be ICT savvy, is something that I value because I’m all about using tech as a tool to help future students make connections to support their learning. Obviously reflective blogging is an important part of my practice and something ideally I would want to continue as a beginning teacher.
Despite making some inroads into the goals I set myself finding teaching job still has me quaking in my boots. There’s a certain vulnerability about putting yourself out in a job market where there are so many people who are super-fabulous not mention better qualified, I’m going to hear ‘no thank you.’
I’m trying to keep in mind that when schools say no it might be for a reason that has nothing to do with me as a person or even as a teacher. It just means I’m not right fit for a particular school which in the long run will probably be a good thing. I should (touch wood) find a place that is a best fit for my current talents and skill set as well as a place I can learn and grow. I may very well be singing the ‘have diploma, will teach’ tune if I find myself unemployed post-hiring season.
For any student teachers out there I would encourage you to visit schools you are interested in well before an interview perhaps even before vacancies are advertised. It’s a good way to find out about what makes a school tick without the pressure of being under the microscope of an interview panel. In reality you are still being interviewed (so you do need to be professional) but I’ve found the process useful in thinking a bit more about what school would be a good fit for me and the kind of teacher I want to be.
While this holiday hasn’t been a traditional holiday of me watching a lot of bad TV or travelling to offbeat places, I’m feeling energised and excited about getting through the next half of the year so I can start teaching in 2012. Undoubtedly there will be some bumps along the way but it is good to start the semester on a high.
What do you think are the key features of a good school culture for beginning teachers?
How do you identify a school with a good culture for beginning teachers?
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 6.a
“Graduating teachers recognise how differing values and beliefs may impact on learners and their learning.”
Last week there were a lot of tweets in my feed on a New York Times article on plans by schools to scale back homework demands on their students. The idea of moving away from the traditional worksheet has already been implemented in some schools in New Zealand.
As a student in general I hated doing homework. I was quite content to go to school orchestra rehearsals, attend Board of Trustee meetings as the student rep and reading encyclopaedias to find out stuff (spot the nerd) but when it came to writing assignments or filling in worksheets, I tended to do avoid doing them if I wasn’t interested in what it was I supposed to be doing. The worst were the school projects which seemed to take hours and involved lots of yelling on the part of my parents.
When I was on Teaching Experience I was in charge of setting and marking homework. To be honest I didn’t enjoy doing it. Here was I perpetuating all the stuff I hated about homework onto the students, the dreaded worksheets. Marking the worksheets dealing with students who had lost/forgotten/didn’t have their homework sheets ate into classroom time that could have been utilized doing other stuff. But classroom time isn’t the only time wasted doing homework.
Some working parents resent the impingement that homework has on the very brief window between dinner time and bed time that they have with their children while others complain that homework eats up time that their children devote to sports and hobbies. Moreover some parents argue that taking trips to the museum, cooking and playing games are just as important part of a child’s learning as formal school work.
To be honest the only week I actually enjoyed the setting and marking of homework was when I decided to get the top-achieving students to design a simple game of chance to be played in class by the other students. The homework was relevant to the work we were doing in class which was a unit on probability, we had learned about what was good game (something with an even but fair chance of winning) and the students knew that I had the materials for the game in class.
The goal was getting students to apply their knowledge and teach the other children in the class. For their part the students took to the assignment with gusto turning their class into a gambling pit, complete with chips and a pit boss (again, we were studying probability) and it was rewarding to see the students using the principles we had learned in class. More importantly the students, both the players and game designers, enjoyed the activity.
But should these sort of homework assignments be the norm?
There are many parents that believe that traditional homework of worksheets, times tables and spelling lists are an important part of their child’s education. They themselves likely did a similar type of homework when they are at school. There’s also a school of thought that if teachers set students a lot of homework, then the students must be doing a lot of learning.
There is some merit to the idea that there are some things you just need practice, practice, practice in order to get better. Martin Gladwell’s best seller Outliers argues that individual success in any field is based on the 10,000-Hour Rule. Drawing on a studying on the making of an expert by Anders Ericsson, Gladwell argues that the key to success in any field has nothing to do with talent. It’s simply practice, 10,000 hours of it — 20 hours a week for 10 years.
The idea of practice, and lots of it, makes perfect undoubtedly drives some parents in particular those who sing the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. However buried under the headline of the amount of time needed to achieve mastery is how the time is spent:
“You will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice—practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach
not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself”
The problem with homework isn’t the amount, but how homework is utilized by teachers. However like many aspects of teaching what constitutes effective homework practice depends entirely on your point of view of what effective learning is.
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 7.c
Graduating Teachers work co-operatively with those who share responsibility for the learning and wellbeing of learners.
I’ve been wondering about whether to make this post, firstly because it breaks vow not to blog about specific incidents but more importantly I’m blogging about work on the internet.
However I am in need of advice, namely how to ask for advice.
One of the issues that came out of my Teaching Experience is that I need to be more proactive about asking for advice and guidance on my teaching. So I’m putting this out here, how do you ask for advice from colleagues?
As a bit of a backgrounder most of my working life thus far has been spent in Asian workplaces, or more specifically Korean and Japanese workplaces with two very old-school (read Confucian) bosses. Teaching Experience was my first time working in a western environment and more importantly the first time in over 8 years that I’ve been a workplace were the language and culture are the same as my own.
Obviously there are some bonuses to this experience. Firstly I can adapt to challenging situations. Secondly I am very good at cultivating professional relationships outside of the organisations I work in (this blog and twitter are obviously part of relationship building I’m doing to become a teacher) to help develop professional skills. Finally the only time I would call in sick for work is if I had lost a limb and even then I’d probably drop by and let the boss send me home rather than making the dreaded phone call (far better to have the boss send me home).
But there are some downsides, my style of communicating and dealing with co-workers has become mired in eastern ways of doing things.
But how is eastern communication different? One example I often give is from my first summer of teaching in a public school in Korea. It was so hot that on occasion I would wear a sleeveless top. It wasn’t a spaghetti strap top and would have been fine in 99% of New Zealand workplaces. However in the 35 degree + heat and humidity one of my co-workers kept asking if I was cold. It took a few days for the penny to drop that she wasn’t asking if I was cold, she was asking me to cover up my arms in a way that didn’t cause offence to either me or her. Group harmony was seen as being more important than getting the message across. Vague (at least to western sensibilities) comments would be made and then it was the listener’s job to unravel the context to find the actual meaning.
As a result of these sort of interactions, I’ve adopted a bit more of an indirect style of communication when dealing with people who are senior than I. For instance instead of saying: ‘I’m having trouble with time management in class what do you think I should do?’ I will say ‘this week I am working on managing my time in class’ and then let the context of a student asking a teacher do the talking. It’s a way for me to raise an issue without having to say ‘I’m struggling’ but more importantly it gives the person I’m asking a way of not being put on the spot or saying something that could cause friction or signal incompetence. To the westerners this sort of behaviour is known as ‘saving face’ and something to be discouraged. But in group-orientated societies having good instincts or an ability to read or sense the mood or non-verbal atmosphere and respond to it is a highly valued quality.
Perhaps the the downside of this experience is that I while I’m happy to ask equals and the internet for help on job matters, I’ve gotten into the habit waiting for the senior person to give guidance rather than force a discussion. From my viewpoint it’s up to the senior to give guidance when they need to and me as a junior to implement their suggestions. However I can now see how me being respectful of a senior’s time and feelings could be perceived as lacking initiative in seeking out guidance on my teaching. It’s definitely something to work on during my next Teaching Experience. I am no longer the lone ranger within an organisation and need to start using people’s expertise a bit better in the future hopefully this will enable me to work smarter rather than harder.
Nevertheless unpacking my problem has also been a fascinating exercise in how culture shapes behaviour.