My #5BestEd decisions

 

This post is Inspired by the many educators who accepted Jonathan So’s (@mrsoclassroom) invitation to share the 5 defining moments in their teaching lives. Jonathan has collated them here, and they’re very much worth the read. If you wanted to see a differentiated approach to a task, look no further!

  1. Influencers: I’m going to break the rules right off the bat, and say that my first defining moments as a teacher came as a learner, and that had to do with the teachers I was lucky enough to learn from. My pedagogy is heavily influenced by my Grade 13 experience in integrated studies at South Secondary in London, Ontario. This was a multi-disciplinary, scaffolded approach to learning first about our neighbourhood, then our city, province, and eventually country through as many lenses as possible. It involved many of those competencies we’re trying to incorporate today, including communication, collaboration and critical thinking. Final projects were completely passion-driven – I still have the suite of poems I created. It remains my gold standard for what an engaged learning experience can look like, and it was 1985, so it was largely engagement without the “bells and whistles”. Shout-out here to Ian Underhill and Pete Telford, who created and taught the course. Also thanks to my mom and my Grade 5 and 7 teacher, Murray Young, who helped me understand that teaching is about building a community and relationships first, and covering curriculum second.

2.Marrying my husband.:A day does not go by without me thinking about how lucky my students are that I married the person I did. I married someone who cheers me on when I’m taking on a new challenge, but is also willing to call me on my need for approval, and who regularly reminds me to set my parameters of what is “enough” in terms of how much I give of myself to my job. He is my foundation, and works to help me find work/life balance, survive through my ADD and (sometimes)self-sabotaging behaviour, and always, always, work on being a better partner, parent and teacher. I am amazed at his ability to work through things patiently with our teenage kids (when I’m ready to throw things), and I often think that he would have made a far more effective teacher than I sometimes am. I would not be able to be a risk-taker in my classroom and professional life, without knowing I had the abiding love of my spouse to come home to when an activity crashes and burns.

 

3. Becoming a parent. Putting the impact of the arrival of Mr 16 and Mr 14 on my teaching career into words is extremely challenging. It meant that I had less time to give to my classroom, but I also had a richer life experience to bring. I learned what kind of things engaged my own children, and that helped me figure out what might engage my students. When my boys began to attend school, and I started to see the ways their teachers impacted them, I really began to understand how much effect even my smallest action could have on my students, and I became much more aware of the kind of feedback I was giving. I also know (as many of you do) that sometimes I was a less patient parent because I’d been a patient teacher all day, and I love my kids for understanding and surviving that. The boys continue to impact my teaching every day. They share positive and negative learning experiences of their own, they let me bounce ideas off of them, they keep me a little bit in the pop culture loop (I teach Grade 7 and 8). They have made me a better learner, through the things they are interested in, and that has made me a better listener, and a better teacher.

4. AIM: Until the past school year, when I finally took the leap into teaching my own classroom full-time, the only constant in my teaching schedule had been Core French. I would not have been able to do that job for 20+ years without the help of Wendy Maxwell’s Accelerated Integrative Method. When my board opened up a pilot project several years ago, it was a lightning bolt for me – a way to help my Core French kids genuinely dive into expressing themselves in their second language, without relying on machine translations or dictionaries. It also opened me up to using drama, music, and movement more in my FSL classroom than I had before. For the first time, really, in my teaching career, I was hearing hugely positive feedback from parents and students. My students were engaged, my parents were noticing, and it rejuvenated my practice. One of my greatest regrets is that the program didn’t catch on in applied level secondary French – I think it would have made a huge difference. The other big “a-ha” for me through AIM was that I was willing to take on a huge learning curve in order to really make something work. I hadn’t really known that about myself as a teacher until then – and it helped me understand my students more. Many years after that extremely well-done pilot program (un gros bel merci to the late Carole Meyette-Hoag and to Jennifer Sampson), a group of women I met in that PD are still among the teachers I rely on the most for realistic feedback and shoulders to cry on. They were, and continue to be, educational “risk-takers” when it makes a positive difference for their students.

(one of my students’ favourite versions of an AIM song)

5. Powerful Learning Practice: In the 2011-12 school year, I was given an opportunity that changed me as a learner, thinker and teacher. I volunteered to be part of a board team participating in a year-long, action-research-based inquiry, run by Sheryl Nussbaum Beach (@snbeach) and Will Richardson (@willrich45). I had never done anything like this, and I remember almost bursting into tears at the first session, because I had no idea what was going on (there was a speaker, and a backchannel, and…). I was, in Sheryl’s words, immensely “whelmed”. What I came to learn, over the course of that year, with the help of an incredible community of co-learners, is that being “whelmed” is necessary for a learner like me. I need to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” in order to not get stuck. My experience with PLP introduced me to new ways of reflecting on my thinking, to new people to share with and learn from (a lot), to the whole framework of iterative teaching/thinking, and to really thinking about why I felt driven to effectively integrate technology into my classroom. I started to blog, I started to share my learning about these ideas with my students, I fell into a deep and lasting love affair with Twitter, and I began to seriously think about shifting from Core French to my own classroom, in order to go deeper into critical thinking, in particular. That switch came last year, and could easily be my 6th point. The connected learning I do with my students, the joy I get from my PLN, my learning opportunities attending and presenting at conferences, my willingness to dig into new learning and think deeply about how best that learning can serve my students? All of that had its genesis in my PLP experience and I can never thank the random forces that picked my name to attend enough.

This photostory was prepared by me for my PLP learning cohort.

Like Diana Maliszewski (@MzMollyTL) and Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca), I want to think about “what’s next?”. I’m currently on a teacher self-funded leave year, and I think if I were to reflect on my defining moments in the years to come, this may be one of them. The joy of time – to think, to plan, to write (as I’m doing now), to participate in activities that I simply can’t do, as a teacher with a full-time job – is so beautiful it’s a little overwhelming. I’m passionately interested in ways to help myself and my students make our learning visible to each other and the world, and I’m also really interested in figuring out how to make feedback work effectively, both for my students, their parents and my colleagues. Lots to keep learning about as the path unfolds before us.

Thanks for the writing prompt, Jonathan.

If you’re reading this, and haven’t written about your 5 moments yet, please join the conversation.

Let the sparks fly.

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Which of these systems is not like the other, Part 1

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about systemic change lately. While it may seem counterintuitive, a few experiences I’ve had recently have started me thinking that the church in which I advocate for change is changing faster than the education system in which I do the same. This will probably be the first post of a few, as I work through what I’m learning and feeling.

We call our worship community The Open Circle. Photo credit: Flickr user Thomas Hawk via cc

I have the privilege of being part of a worship community that has managed to create the kind of accepting space that I strive to build in my classroom. Our group includes people who might be marginalized anywhere else. We have adults from community living environments, those living with dementia, the under-housed and under-employed, along with a smattering of retired academics and university students. The liturgy, such as it is, includes reading of scripture and prayer but also a piece of secular writing (poetry, rap, song, essay) (an example: An indiscriminate act of kindness) on the week’s scripture theme. The reflection, or sermon, might be led by a clergy or lay person and always includes the opportunity for discussion and exchange of ideas. One reflection strategy we use which I find particularly meaningful is called lectio divina.
In lectio divina, the Gospel is read, and then each person in the circle (yes, we sit in a circle) who wishes to participate speaks the word or phrase that most stuck out for them in the reading. After everyone has had a chance to speak, the scripture is read again, and anyone who chooses to can share why that particular word or phrase was what spoke to them – or they can decide that the second time through, something else drew their focus.

Lectio divina offers me a variety of lenses on the week’s reading. Photo credit: Flickr user Yuma Abe via cc

What I love about lectio divina is the chance to hear the different perspectives of the astounding collection of people I worship with. A community activist in her 80s may respond quite differently than my 16 year old son, or they might discover that the same thing called to both of them. There are no wrong answers, there is no judgement, everyone’s voice is valid. It is, for me, an experience of overwhelming mutual respect and I am humbled by it. It also always leaves me struggling with why this environment is so hard to build in my classroom.
Why does this unconventional worship space work? Because it is driven by the community it serves. It was created because people were looking for a more interactive worship experience, a Sunday morning experience with a facilitator rather than an instructor, a community of co-learners. A traditional church took a chance on running two services at the same time to allow people the opportunity of choice, and to meet a variety of needs.
I know that one big difference between my worship environment and my classroom environment is that I get to make that choice. There is no “religion act” in Ontario that says I must have my butt in some form of pew for a set number of hours per week. The community I worship with is there because they want to be, and many of my students this year make it abundantly clear that they don’t want to be at school. That breaks my heart, and spurs me to continue my efforts to create a space as safe and engaging as the one that welcomes me on Sunday morning.
Which brings me to some of my first questions. If an institutionalized system like the Anglican Church of Canada can start to read the writing on the wall and know that it must adapt or die, why does it seem so hard for the education system to read the same graffiti? How do we work to build a learning space where it is safe to be yourself, and not worry about being marked as different – where all are valued for what they bring to the community? What’s worked for you, in trying to create that kind of space? Your thoughts and ideas, as always, are welcome.

Let the sparks fly.

Inchworm, inchworm…

Here’s the 4th question for the #ossemooc #innovatorsmindset bloghop series. Thanks, as ever, to Tina Zita for the amazing visuals.

bloghop4

As I let this question bounce around the inside of my brain this week, I was reminded of a song I used to sing to my kids when they were small:

The words that were sticking in my head were: “inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds. Seems to me you’d stop and see how beautiful they are.” But when I went back and listened to the whole thing, I realized that the image of the inchworm, based in his numeric framework, cheerfully reciting his math facts that will probably help him “go far”, was also relevant.

We are, in many ways, caught in the inchworm’s dilemma.

As we begin to shift our practice, to take on the innovator’s traits, to ask our students to be co-learners with us, to genuinely question the status quo, we are still expected to come up with something quantifiable to show growth. Something that can go into a data portal, something that results in improvement on a standardized test, something that can have a numeric result assigned to it to go on a report card. Like the inchworm, that’s the existing language we have to work with, and, as classroom teachers, that’s the language that students and parents and administrators (and on, up the chain) understand and expect to see.

That puts us in a difficult spot, because it’s very difficult to quantify the fact that we’ve begun to look at the marigold’s colour, and where it prefers to grow, and what uses people made of it in the past, and the fact that it’s a native North American plant, and what it might bring to our schoolyard gardens and a whole bunch of other things we’ve found out by letting our students go deep with their learning, and show that learning in myriad different ways. Being able to convey the value of that learning, and the growth involved is going to take a lot of deep conversation and reframing for all of us. It’s not going to be easy, but things that are worth doing rarely are.

One of the biggest things I’m taking away from this book study is that we have to start that conversation – whether it’s having students record their thoughts (digitally or analog) after a learning cycle, and sharing those with parents and colleagues, or being brave enough to ask an administrator to let you try and go without numerical grades for a term and use ongoing descriptive feedback and discussion and metacognition/reflection instead. Otherwise, we stay locked in the inchworm’s limited mindset, trapped by the numbers. (As Alfie Kohn writes here)

This March break, I watched my younger son and his friends use a variety of technologies to communicate with each other, problem solve, and plan excursions.  This amazing group of 12 year olds troubleshot audio problems in a transcontinental Skype call; used a combination of Google Hangouts and texting to set up a detailed cross-city bus excursion involving multiple departure points and destinations; and worked through the bumps that inevitably come when people are taking public transit from all different points. They laughed a lot, helped each other through their frustration, and found and solved real-world problems. Exactly what we want for our students, and one way that we could measure the impact of innovative practice. Are these the skills we’re helping develop?

Inchworm, inchworm….

Other people’s thoughts:

Leigh Cassell

Donna Fry

Tina Zita

Mark Carbone

Amit Mehrotra

Stacey Wallwin

Jennifer Casa-Todd

Peter Cameron

Don’t forget you can add your thoughts to this discussion. Comment on a blog, join the Voxer group, chime in on Twitter, or post your own blog on the topic here: https://ossemooc.wordpress.com/

Let the sparks fly…

What if…?

bloghop3a

image: Tina Zita

This is the 3rd question in the bloghop series for the #ossemooc on-line book study of George Couros’ book The #innovatorsmindset. Chapter 7, which marks the end of the second section of the book, ends with a series of “What if…?” questions.

image: Lisa Noble (highlights mine)

image: Lisa Noble(highlights mine)

As you can tell from the highlights in the above image, I’ve been thinking more about some of these questions than others. The risk-taking question is one that I’m particularly interested in, and often, frustrated by.

I know risk-taking is a huge piece of the puzzle for any learner. I also know it’s an extremely difficult one for me. I’m a gifted student who always played “school” very well, but who shied away from anything that I couldn’t do right the first time. It took the patient coaching of my spouse (also a gifted learner, but one who has always been much more open to learning experientially than I am) to convince me, in my 20’s, that it was okay to not be really good at something the first time, and to allow myself to “risk” in order to gain a new skill. Now, I sometimes see that stance of fear reflected in both my students and my own kids. I try really hard to model my “risking” behaviours and talk about my learning process, at least partly because I’d like to save them the grief and missed opportunities my fear caused me.

I see the fear of failure coming from two very different places with my students – those who don’t want to risk because they’ve tried before and the existing school system has made them feel like they can’t succeed; and those who don’t want to risk because they’re afraid of what will happen if they don’t succeed, because that’s not a place they’re willing to go, or have experience with. I’m realizing that my colleagues are probably coming from very similar places, and if we are going to move forward at all, we have to both be willing to name that fear, and address it. Creating an environment in which people feel safe to do that takes us back, as Leigh said in last week’s hangout, to “relationships, relationships, relationships”. Without taking that first risk to trust each other in our professional context, the safety net won’t hold. How we build that net with the diversity of learners and experiences in our school communities is still one of my biggest questions.

how do we create a robust "safety net" to support a culture of "risking" in our learning spaces. credit: flickr user Rob via cc

how do we create a robust “safety net” to support a culture of “risking” in our learning spaces? credit: flickr user Rob via cc

My other “what ifs”?Those tend to be aimed more inward than outward, and I offer them for your reflection. What if I just stopped making excuses for why I haven’t tried an activity I think looks interesting, and just did it? What’s the worst case scenario? And of course, what if we were easier on ourselves when things didn’t go as wonderfully as we thought they would, and what if we were better about sharing those experiences with our peers – the plateau and the ravine, as well as the mountaintop? How might that change the discussion?

Let the sparks fly!

Starting a school…from scratch

Going with the philosophy that late is better than not at all, here’s my contribution to the #ossemooc #innovatorsmindset bloghop. We’ve been reading George Couros’ The Innovator’s Mindset, and this is one of the questions:

bloghop 2

image : Tina Zita

As I reflected on what my “dream school” might look like, I realized that my views have been profoundly influenced by the school community in which I have lived, worked and learned for the past 9 years. Teaching a clientele that reaches opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum with very little in the middle has confirmed for me that I can’t really help my students move through Bloom’s Taxonomy without making sure that they have the necessities of Maslow’s hierarchy.

I have also realized, much more than I expected, that a great many of my students’ parents are intimidated by the very concept of school, often due to their own negative experience. If my school concept is to succeed, it has to find a way to get past that fear and negativity and be a welcoming space. A genuine community space, offering reasons for both parent and child to want to be there.

Beginning. then, with those physiological basics at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid – air, water and food.

breakfast program

photo credit: flickr user US Dept of Agriculture via cc

A fully equipped and staffed kitchen, open beyond school hours, that can be used as classroom space, community kitchen (for teaching parents, kids and community members to prepare and share healthy food), breakfast/hot lunch/supper program, or just a space in which to do schoolwork while eating is the cornerstone of my school space. Access to extensive outdoor space, with both structured and unstructured areas, as well as a stream or pond, are my tweak on air and water. Many of my students have nature deficit disorder and regular learning time exploring outside is becoming a necessity.

The next levels of the Maslow pyramid, that delve into mental and emotional well-being, as well as physical, are at the heart of what I’d like to address in my school. As well as meeting physical needs with spaces like an open clothing “swap shop” and regular visits from a team of medical professionals, my school would be equipped to help with emotional needs as well. Intermediate student in crisis, and needing to talk to someone right away? There would be a trained counsellor available. Family needing support to move through a challenging situation? That would be available on site, too. Teachers needing mental/emotional health support – that’s here, too.  In the environment where I teach, many of my colleagues are finding themselves faced with students who need substantially more mental and emotional health support than we are able/trained to give. Having services to address this on-site, as needed, would help us shape a new approach to mental and emotional health support.

Don’t get me wrong – I want bells and whistles, too. Loads of light, flexible learning environments, creation spaces (analog and digital), room to stretch and socialize and laugh and read and curl up and be quiet and make and share and learn! Yes, I want those, too. But I want, at heart, a healthy community to be able to live, love and learn in that space.

What do other people think? Check them out here, and please share a comment, or write your own post:

Paul McGuire

Amit Mehrotra

Patrick Miller

Donna Fry

Leigh Cassell

Stacey Wallwin

Tina Zita

Jennifer Casa-Todd

Joe Caruso

Gary Gruber

Mark Carbone

George Couros

Allison Keskimaki

Anne Shillolo

 

 

All that I have, and all that I am…

I don’t know where to start! 20 years ago today, I married Terry Noble. Many of you know that my levels of common sense are sometimes not overwhelmingly high, but they were off the charts when I chose my life partner.

Here’s what I know, after 20 years:

We make each other better – smarter, more grounded, able to take chances in our careers and our learning, better parents, better partners, better friends, and we do it all the time, every day in small and big ways;
We believe in one another – at times, more than each of us believes in ourselves;
We could not be the people we are today without the gifts we have both brought to this relationship.

Terry forces me to think deeply about things, to question why I’m making a particular choice, to stand up for what I believe in, and I strive to do the same for him.

He’s also the first face I want to see in the morning, and the last one I want to see at night.

He is my best friend, my partner, my companion, the best dad I could have ever imagined, and my hero for what he does professionally every day.

“All that I have and all that I am” – I promised these to my husband in our wedding vows on August 19, 1995. I’m still learning and exploring what those encompass everyday.

Thanks, sweet boy. I love you more than you know. Here’s to the next 20.

Feminists in our own House

I’ve shared with many people that an unexpected gift from Twitter to me is the reclaiming of the term “feminist”. I am blessed to have a community of thoughtful people who are willing to talk through the issues of the day, and think about what feminism might mean in 2015. Words matter, and my husband shared his take on this one in this post from his blog.

 

Feminists in our own House.

via Feminists in our own House.