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!
Just under 4 weeks until production and the scene I’m in charge of is… 1950s rock and roll dancing.
I’m one of those clumsy sorts who is forever falling over and dropping things. For that reason my dancing strictly to the gym to limit the chances of doing damage to myself and others.
Yet here I am in charge of scene of teaching 20+ kids how to dance.
I think so.
Fortunately one of the kids in the group happens to enjoy rock and roll dancing as a hobby. I am also lucky that one of the teachers at school is an accomplished rock and roll dancer so between the dancer and the other students I’ve managed to pick up enough steps to choreograph 90 seconds worth of dance.
When you can’t dance 90 seconds seems like an eternity when faced with helping 20+ kids on stage. While I have been firmly outside my comfort zone some kids have been in their element. One of the joys of production is seeing the kids who might not be sporty, good at maths or literacy shine. One of my students remarked ‘they were born for this.’
Sir Ken Robinson often talks about how every education system on the system has the same hierarchy of subjects: numeracy and literacy at the top of the pecking order, followed by science and humanities with art and in particular dance firmly at the bottom of the pecking order. The current obsession with childhood obesity has given PE/fitness a bit of a boost however dance is often forgotten about.
In fact as children migrate through school, dance is something that we tick off once every year or so through production barely even touching even one of the four arts strands in the New Zealand curriculum: Understanding the Arts in Context, Developing Practical Knowledge in the Arts, Developing Ideas in the Arts, and Communicating and Interpreting in the Arts.
A few moths ago I stumbled upon a Ted Talk premised on the idea of replacing powerpoint with dance. The idea behind the talk was that not only can dance help explain scientific concepts it can actually help scientists with their work.
Yet I can’t help wonder why we can’t value dance for its own sake. Our preschoolers and junior primary children know that it’s lots of fun to dance but gradually that joy it is educated out of them. We tell them to sit down and stop moving and get on with the serious business of learning.
A few years ago I remember walking down Nanjing Road in Shanghai and stopped to see a huge open air class of ballroom dancers out in the morning. I couldn’t help but wonder would New Zealand be a more happy and healthy if there was dancing in the streets?
Over the last three weeks my class has been participating in learn to swim lessons put on by our local swimming pool.
As with many things like this. It is easy to gripe about disruptions to the classroom programmes in the middle of a busy term. However after the first session realised these three weeks of learning to swim is the classroom programme.
Overseas readers might not appreciate how much of an influence the water has on New Zealand life. We are an island nation and most of the population lives on the coast. Our summers are spent floating in pools, rivers and oceans.
Despite being surrounded by water, New Zealanders as a group don’t know how to swim. Our drowning rates are one of the worst in the developed world and twice that of Australia.
At the start of our lessons I was concerned by the significant number of students in the class could not swim a lap of the 25 meter pool. Over the last few weeks there has been some amazing progress made by the kids.
As the lessons progressed, what I found myself really looking forward to was the walk to the pools. The walk down is just under 10 minutes. After the swim lessons we often walk to the adjacent park for a run around as the lesson time often cut into morning teas and lunches.
Those walks were a time often to have a catch up with students. The kids that might not talk so much in class, the ones whose behaviour might challenge you. The walk gave time to reconnect with learners. Our routine got a shake up and there was time to have those chats.
Time is arguably the most precious commodity in schools. Demands of curriculum must-dos, special events, those activities that foster relationships often get quickly get pushed aside as the school year gets gets in the way.
Yet kids change so much in just a few short months.
By taking a walk, time and space was recreated to reconnect with the learners in the class.
I had goofy discussions.
I learned about Pou.
I answered some tough questions about life and death.
All in the quick walk to the pool.
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.
There’s something about the middle of term which seems to send me into depths of despair. I think it’s that point where I look down at my massive to-do-list and wonder how on earth I am going to muster the energy to check those items off. The beginning of term energy has evaporated and a rejuvenating holiday seems a long way off in the horizon.
It’s weird that almost 365 days to the day I’m back in the same slump: tired, grumpy although not as cold this year owing to an abnormally warm Wellington winter.
I have a terrible habit of over-committing myself and then paying the price for that later. With reports looming, a school disco and talent contest to organize, moving house, my first ever conference speaking engagement in the next four weeks.
Possum meet headlights.
Then there’s the niggle of novopay.
My salary increment, due at the end of the January, still hasn’t come in. On one hand I know I shouldn’t be complaining. After all, everyone knows you don’t get into teaching for the money. I can still pay my bills and will get a nice backpay when the increment finally arrives. Nevertheless, when you’re having a crappy week small things like this start to become a big deal. Particularly as like other teachers I’m powerless in this situation. Aside from having a grizzle to my lovely office manager and a surly social media update, there’s not much I can do apart from wait.
Despite my despondency there have been some positives.
Quadblogging has been going well.
After a few weeks hiatus, I made sure that passion projects aka 20% time weren’t something that just got pushed to the side during a busy week. A lot of teachers might baulk at the idea, letting kids go off and do their own thing is surely a recipe for classroom chaos? But I’ve never had any problems with classroom management during passion projects as the kids are so engaged in their learning.
As with anything in teaching how you set up a task will dictate its success. My students write their learning intentions at the start before they head. This sets up the sessions to be purposeful for the kids as they are the ones setting the goals.At the end of the session the kids are asked to reflect on the session and decide which of the learning areas and key competencies they used during their project.
What has been gratifying has been watching kids from different social groups come together in order to collaborate on a shared passion. What has also been amazing is when given the choice about what they want to do, how many of students have chosen to write. Movie scripts, creative writing, managa cartoons.
At the end of the term the kids are going to put on an expo of their learning so they can share their passions with others. While the students were adamant in not inviting their parents, they did let me invite the school leaders to come in. We are already marking days until the expo down and I’m looking forward to the kids showing their peers and the senior leaders their passions.
The students have also been putting together documentary films after seeing the film I am 11. I was amazed when I looked out at my classroom during morning tea to see students who boldly declare they hate writing staying in of their own volition at morning tea time to write a script. Kids who don’t edit their writing carefully editing films to get their message across.
So much peripheral stuff can easily obscure us from the things that matter.
Be brillant where it counts, in the classroom.
These days most classrooms have digital cameras and/or devices that are capable of taking photos. But what happens to those photos?
Do they stay on the teachers hard drive or school internal server never to be seen again?
If a picture can tell 1,000 words, how much richer will your learning stories be to your students and their families if they are out in the open for everyone to see.
Enter photosharing sites like Picasa, Photobucket and Flickr.
These websites are places for you to store, share and most importantly organize photos publicly with your community.
I’ve been using Flickr since 2006 to store my 10,000 image strong photo collection. I pay around $25USD a year for a terrabyte of data. When I became a responsible for a class it seemed logical for me to have a class Flickr account to share photos with my parents.
Here’s five reasons you should be using Flickr to share photos online.
1. Sharing without clogging up inboxes
Rather than sending out photos as attachements that get lost with other bits of mail, Flickr is a great way to keep your photos organized and easy for your students and their families to enjoy. When you upload your photos, you can sort them into albums or sets. I keep my photos organized by event. You can even keep the same photo in several different sets so you could potentially have a folder for each kid as well as events.
2. Making space for reflection
When my class has big events, like say cross country, rather than sit through a long boring slideshow through a central monitor they can gather around a screen and talk about those moments with their friends. Sharing moments becomes a lot more realistic and the kids can skip past pictures that don’t hold their interest.
3. Ease of publishing.
Flickr has mobile phone apps (the iOS one rocks the house) and an inbrowser upload where you just dump photos and publish. However the big draw for me for me is posting via email. If kids have a photographic home-learning task, then you can create a special email address and the student can simply email the flickr account and the image is automatically uploaded.
4. Ease of sharing
Being away on camp, I could easily share images back to school and to my parents of camp without blowing my 3G connection. Flickr enabled my photos to be shared across the school community even though I was away from school. What’s more when the kids are writing a recount of a class event, they can go to flickr find a picture of the said event grab the code, and then embed the image into their story bringing that event to life for the child.
5. Library of creative commons images
One of the most awesome things about Flickr is that you can enjoy other people’s photos. Because my students already know about Flickr and how to embed photos, they can search out creative commons images for other tasks using Flickr’s search opening a vast library of images available for reuse. Obviously with anything on the internet that kids can stumble upon offensive content. Posting nasty stuff to Flickr is strictly against the community guidelines but it doesn’t mean that this never happens. There are precautions you can take though. Every photo has a place where you can flag the image as inappropriate or you can simply report a user or content to Flickr. The site is also monitored quite well and Flickr will shut down accounts that break the rules.
Before you jump in…
Obviously you do need to check your school’s policy on posting student images online before launching and account. I’m pretty lucky that in the past two years I’ve only had one student’s image not able to be published and that was only for a term.
There’s also an issue around blockage as a lot of internet filtering services block Flickr because it is a social media site (in fact Flickr was blocked at my school for a number of weeks when the filtering software was changed which annoyed me to no end).
Don’t forget about money. Personally I consider the cost of pro account worth it in terms of the amount of storage you receive in comparison to the free version but it’s up to you.
Finally don’t forget to have a conversation with your community about how you licence your students images.
Another weekend away.
This time I was up in Auckland for an Apple Distinguished Educator camp. This was the first time that I had met some of the New Zealand-based alumni but ouch another trip away.
Could I really justify more time and money away from home?
Over the week I’ve ended up having a lot of conversations about work/life balance.
If I’m spending weekends away from homecoming working, how do I maintain any semblance of a personal life while teaching full-time teaching load?
That’s a good question.
Firstly a lot of these trips away I don’t actually view as being work. I like goofing around on my computer and talking about technology.
It’s part of my life.
Secondly with family and friends scattered in different cities, I often end up spending part of the trip nurturing those relationships.
Thirdly I tend to look on some of my trips as an investment in my career. The learning and contacts I’ve made help make me a better a teacher. At this juncture in my life, I’m happy putting my time and money into nurturing these relationships. If I wasn’t, I simply wouldn’t show up.
While for some peering in from the outside might wonder about my lack of work/life balance I prefer the concept of work/life effectiveness.
What might work for me won’t necessarily work for others. Moreover what might work for me now, might not necessarily work in 6 months time.
Do what makes you happy, life really is too short to be doing anything less…
Every so often people ask me why I get into teaching. I could say I’m there to make a difference but I would be lying. I don’t teach for the holidays and everyone knows you don’t get into teaching for the money.
The truth is I teach for the LOLz.
Those laugh out loud moments that can only happen when teaching Year 7 and 8 students. They can spring up in serious lessons but there are some situations that lend themselves to a class of 11 and 12 year olds dissolving into giggles. This week as my students prepared for their assembly, we had a few goofy moments as we put together our acts.I know that when all is said and done, my students aren’t going to remember my lessons on adding fractions or inferencing but they are going to remember that time we had a race to eat chopsticks with jellybeans.
Sometimes I find my twitter feed depressing. National Standards are destroying learning, charter schools are the end of the world as we know it, PaCT will eat us all. I’m not negating these very real concerns but I often wonder if teachers as a group are prone to co-rumination. I know I’m not the only one who on occasion likes to vent and rant but I sometimes wonder if this is healthy. It’s amazing how quickly a “me too!” response to a bad day or depressing government announcement can quickly turn into grievance one-upsmanship.
As a result I’ve done a bit of pruning not because I’m not acutely aware of education but because that negative headspace online was having offline consequences. I don’t want to be a grumpy moaning teacher simply because my students will not remember what I’ve taught them but how they felt during their middle school years.
I hope alongside a love books and storytelling, my students remember the LOLz.
The Google Teacher Academy.
I’m sure I’m not the only person to compare receiving the acceptance email to two days in a Googleplex with 50 other passionate educators to finding a golden ticket in your inbox.
After all, the competition for spots for the 50 spots open in the bi-annual programme is pretty fierce. I know there are many fabulous teachers who missed out on coveted spots and there participants in Sydney who travelled great distances for the event. Moreover besides being an Internet juggernaut, what glimpses I’d had of Google offices looked more like the fantasy of Willy Wonka’s chocolate room than a sterile working environment.
While I didn’t spot any Oompa Loompas during the two days I spent in Google’s Sydney office, I certainly spent time with my mouth open in awe of my surroundings like Charlie however I’d be lying if said there wasn’t some Augustus Gloop gluttony going on during the many meal breaks.
The pace of the two-day programme was nothing short of frantic and subject to rapid change. After we were placed in teams by the sorting hat it was straight down to work. I remember thinking early on in the event it must be close to lunch given the amount of content covered only to find that we had barely made it to morning tea. Unlike many teacher sessions, there was very little sit and listen. Instead most group sessions focused on fast-paced creative challenges which showcased how to use google tools to enhance student learning.
What surprised me event was how much I don’t know about the services google offers. I’ve been using google since 1999 and considered myself a pretty knowledge about the suite of products available. But even I was amazed at the variety of online tools in google’s toolbox: newspaper archive, Google Moderator, Google crisis map, the world wonders project to name just a few.
What I really found fascinating was a deeply unsexy topic, scripts. For me it’s exhilarating watching a google script do its thing. No more do I need to beholden to clunky learning management systems that don’t do what I want them to do. Scripts give me the freedom to manage my online learning environment a lot more effectively. What’s more it is easy for me to collaborate with other teachers as I can share my decisions and students work a lot more easily with my colleagues.
Google indulged any serious internet geek’s request for a tour of the facility. Unfortunately I can’t go into great depths about all the things I saw. However as I walked around the alcoves and colourful breakout spaces, I couldn’t help but feel that our schools need an infusion of some of google’s company principles.
Shouldn’t there be places in schools for kids to eat high-quality food whenever they are hungry?
Why do playgrounds only ever seem to exist outside school buildings?
Why are so many online student learning spaces closed off from the world?
Yes I know finite cash resources, breakages and administration are all cold hard realities to these ideas. That’s impossible and/or irresponsible you say. However in order to make something a reality, you must dream it first.
The true value of the Google Teacher Academy isn’t actually about the technology or the glorious environment, it’s the connections you make with other teachers. There’s nothing quite like being in a room filled with passionate educators, you can almost see waves of energy pulsing as new solutions to old problems are found and exciting possibilities unfurl during the conversations we had over those two days.
One of the most surreal aspects of attending the Google Teacher Academy is meeting people that you admire and respect online in person for the first time. It was really cool to meet people like Jay Attwood and Chris Betcher in person as what they’ve shared online has helped me so much in the classroom. I would remiss in my post if I did not do a huge shout out to the lead learners, Googlers as well as Allison and Danny from CUE for producing such an amazing event.
What was particularly cool was the strong New Zealand presence at this international event. Nine New Zealanders were selected for Sydney and our contingent was bolstered by the awesome Dorothy Burt and Fiona Grant who lead some of the sessions at the academy. There really are fantastic things happening in New Zealand classrooms and I felt incredibly humbled to be accepted into the Google Certified Teacher community alongside these awesome educators.
So for anyone reading this thinking to yourself,” nah there’s plenty of rad educators out there and I’ve got no chance of getting in.”
The worst that could happen is you get a ‘thanks but no thanks’ email and you can try again.
But maybe you’ll get a nod and get to spend an incredible two days at the Google learning with and from an amazing group of educators. But don’t just take my word for it, read reflections from other teachers who attended the event.
Over the last two weeks of school holidays I have watched my twitter feed light up with hashtags from barious conferences and hui happening around the country: #ignition2013, #NAPPNZ13, #byod13 #tfchch13. It’s a sign of the New Zealand teaching workforce learning and sharing together.
That’s just the tip of a rather large iceburg. Up down the country there were teachers toiling away in their schools making resources, catching up on marking, photocopying, designing wall displays.
There’s often a fine line to be tread with holidays. Teachers sometimes have to put up with dark mutterings about how we get 12 weeks of holidays a year. It can easy to cast to take the role of a martyr, listing the hours of holidays spent working on that massive ‘to do’ list.
We all know the spiel.
We know those who start the spiel don’t actually care.
So we shut up because really who wants to listen to a teacher whine about how incredibly difficult the job is.
Nevertheless I can’t help but wonder why it is we seek to minimize the invisible work that teachers do to keep their classrooms afloat.
If I were a cynic, I would say it is because teachers go against accepted wisdom of our modern society that people will only work hard if there are cash incentives involved.
Call back days not withstanding, teachers don’t have to come to school in holidays. There are no billable hours, nor bonuses for doing that little better extra.
In fact teachers will often end up paying out of their own pockets for classroom supplies, a conference or a pair of shoes for their students.
Teachers do so not for recognition or a cash rewards but because they want to make their classrooms better places for students to learn.
They do so for the joy of it.