ISTE Ignite Speech July 2014

This summer I was extremely fortunate to be able to share my learning at the ISTE Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.  I gave an Ignite speech entitled, “Today’s Learners are Tomorrow’s Leaders: Social Entrepreneurship in the Classroom” describing the work my students have been doing with Kiva and microloans in developing countries.

I have been so very blessed to have the support of so many extraordinary people.  I would like to thank Steve Mesler for coaching me in writing for public speaking, Dean Shareski for mentoring me in Digital Storytelling and Karen Lirenman for helping me rehearse.  Bill Ferriter deserves an award for his inspiration, hard work, tireless cheer leading and sharing all of his materials.  Jessica Hanson at Kiva was instrumental in providing graphics, slides and technical support from KivaU Headquarters.  And lastly, I would be remiss not to thank my dear #sd36learn crew led by Elisa Carlson for their relentless support and encouragement to take new risks and share my learning.  Thank you to everyone for the ways you have made my path meaningful, I couldn’t have done it without you all!  (or as my pal Bill says, “y’all”!)

 

 

ISTE 2014 Initial Reflection- More Questions Than Answers

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How can I even begin to write about ISTE?  Short answer? I absolutely loved it.

I drank in every moment of it.  I loved the travel (yes, after living through a plane crash years ago, I can finally say that!), the humidity (goodbye excema, even just for a few days), walking through Olympic Park, seeing the skyline at night, the workshops, Chick fil-A :) visiting the Canadian Consulate, meals shared, memories made…

I need to clarify, though.  ISTE wasn’t just the sessions at the Georgia World Congress Center and being a tourist, it was the late night conversations, the unforgettable breakfasts, connecting with my #sd36learn crew over dinners and laughter, the walks/uber/taxi/MARTA rides to and from the hotel and events, waiting in line for the bathroom at the convention center, and even (yes, even) the expo hall…

For me, ISTE was about the people.

I could try to name all the brilliant people that have played a role in shaping my thinking, but I worry I would leave someone out.   You know may or may not know who you are.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts, experiences and building a shared history with me.

Sure, there were things that I simply don’t understand, that confused me, stressed me out and even upset me and made me mad.  But I am extremely grateful to have the experience of being with so many brilliant people who share some of the same ideals and goals that I do.

So here I am at home struggling to find words to describe how I am untangling this experience- trying to reconstruct and put this new learning into my present construct.  Truth be told, I’m a little lost and overwhelmed, but time will help with that.

I’ll try to keep this brief.  Maybe I’ll even come out of the blogging black hole I have been in this year and blast out a post or two more…but for now I’m just trying to figure out what I am even attempting to figure out.

I have so many questions racing around my brain that I am having difficulty even imagining what my classroom will look like in the fall, let alone trying to articulate my learning.  I’ve decided to be more vulnerable than I’m comfortable being and blog about what I am thinking and the questions I have, because my greatest take away from ISTE is that I have a group of people who want to help and support me by engaging in critical conversation.   Feel free to chime in any time, friends :)

So here are some questions/ideas that I am wrestling with at the moment:

-Why do we do what we do, what is best for the whole child?  What is fundamental to my professional identity?  Do I stay the course?  Do I change direction?

-Where is my balance in how I approach the weighting of inquiry vs. content?   Is teaching the skills of inquiry (questioning, collaboration, perseverance, critical feedback, communication and more) bigger than teaching the fundamentals of language and numeracy?  How do I marry my belief that practice is important in skill development with my belief that teaching thinking is what kids really need?  How can I integrate skills and processes more?  And what about what I am most passionate about-the arts and creating?

-Why do we use smart boards when a plain old whiteboard will do the same thing? Is technology putting distance and barriers between my students and I?   Am I missing something when I saw all the big name publishers saying their product will make my classroom more ______ (insert latest buzzword here…) and didn’t believe a word they said?

-What about teaching the whole child?  I’m pondering the myriad of qualities I want my students to develop and what I need to do to support my students in the skills and attitudes of being: social-emotional, academic, engaged, kind, generous, gracious, graceful, contributing, appreciating, being present in the moment…when do we lose sight of the basic skills of being happy, content people?

-I am in that uncomfortable space of wanting to know what is the right thing to do for kids and trying to pull it all together-when it isn’t together in my own understanding of tools and processes that will guide a child towards good questioning and inquiry skills…or really, just life skills.

-When are we going to look at tech that addresses the needs of kids with anxiety?  I was looking all over the expo hall for somebody that is the innovator in the field of social/emotional needs in the classroom.  What about something that will help a child to track his/her heart rate and prompt the child to calm, breathe, alter their self talk?  (Kinda like an emotional “fitbit” for kids)  I didn’t find anything that addresses those coping skills and it’s DESPERATELY needed for the kids in my classroom.

Kinda a lot, right?

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I’m grateful that ISTE was at the beginning of the summer so that I can have some time to ponder, read and visualize how I will begin to address these questions in my own classroom in the fall.  I need some serious time in the garden to get some thinking done if I’m going to even attempt to have an action plan in time for school to start!

I’m also grateful that I have a brilliant group of friends to reach out to and seek answers with.

And that’s really the best part of ISTE for me.

What questions did your ISTE experience spark in you?

Building my Ignite Talk

I’ve had a few people ask me about my Ignite speech and how I put it together, so I thought I’d write a blog post for anyone who may be considering doing an Ignite talk for the Dinner Series.

On Wednesday, January 15, 2014 I was very humbled and honoured to be able to do an Ignite talk for the Surrey District “Engaging the Digital Learner” Dinner Series.  Two colleagues; Sarah Garr and Sarah Dalzell, a special guest-US Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Mesler and I all presented Ignite talks before the main speaker, Sylvia Martinez gave an inspiring talk about the Maker Movement and her book, “Invent to Learn.”

Here is the link to the recording of the streaming;

http://www.alivestreaming.com/broadcast_iframe/abdcfa005fdd01313a7c3fba5ddccdf7

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The process…

The first thing I did was to reach out to friends who have done an Ignite before-helping teacher Lisa Domeir de Suarez and Karen Lirenman.  Karen and I met over dinner shortly before the winter break and I was able to pick her brain about the logistics of how it worked-20 slides, 15 seconds per slide, did she read notes or memorize, paper notes or on her ipad?  Is it too dark to read note cards, how do you see your slides as you speak…?  Her answer was that she used her ipad and flipped through her presentation as she spoke.  She could see her slides on the screen to her side as she spoke and was able to pace her speaking accordingly.   She gave me the big picture and logistics so I knew where to start.

Lisa recommended the e-book, “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte, which I downloaded (free) on my ipad and read over the holidays.  It’s a remarkable resource and I highly recommend it to anyone who speaks publicly.

Next I met with my #hashtagtrouble girls and in true hashtag style, tossed about some ideas.  This brilliant group of ladies continually challenge me to verbalize my thoughts and defend my ideas, which helps me to solidify my thinking.   For that and for so many other reasons, I am so grateful for their friendship and support.

This year I have been a part of Classroom Champions; a community of classes and teachers paired with Olympic athletes and a fantastic resource for any classroom.   I am proud and honored to be working with Steve Mesler, the co-founder.  When we were planning the logistics of another event, I mentioned to him that I was speaking and he very kindly offered to chat via google hangout and give me some coaching.

Considering that he speaks publicly for a living and has many Ted talks under his belt, I put on my brave, put aside my awe (and hoped desperately that I would be able to speak somewhat intelligently) and jumped at the chance.  After all, how many people get the chance to be coached by an Olympic Gold medalist?   Having a patient expert in my corner made all the difference in the quality of my Ignite talk.

The main take-aways from my chat with Steve Mesler were:

1.  Consider your audience-who are you speaking to?  What do you have to offer them?

2.  What message or main idea do you want the audience to walk away with?  We talked about how my two big ideas could be brought together under one theme, tagline or title.  (After much pondering I later chose, “Building Communities Around Students”)

3.  The best way to communicate is by telling stories.  He said to pick two stories that convey my ideas and tell them.  By telling stories you connect with the audience and establish that you are on the same level as they are and the audience is more likely to remember your talk.

4.  The biggest surprise for me was when Steve shared that the structure of public speaking is very simple:

1.  Tell them what you are going to say

2.  Tell them

3.  Tell them what you told them

It seems so simple, but the elegance is in the simplicity.  With the rapid-fire slide deck and the short time limit, the more direct, the better.

Building the slide deck was a bit of a chicken/egg quandary.  Pick the photos and build the script or find the photo to fit the speech?  I ended up doing a bit of both.  After my chat with Steve I had a really clear idea of the two main ideas I wanted to share.  I selected photos that went with each grouping and then printed them out on paper.   A few of the images had ideas already associated with them, but many of them were generic enough that I could work my ideas into the photo.  As my thoughts became organised, I moved images around (and searched for new ones) to fit my ideas

I was careful to make sure that the writing on the slide images was minimal because if the audience is reading your slide, they aren’t listening to your words.  The first slide with the quote from Bill Ferriter I read aloud for that reason.

Once I got my slides together and the words to go with each slide (3-5 sentences at the most is what I recommend) I sent the Powerpoint to Lisa and Steve for feedback.  I also had the guidance and tech wisdom of Kevin Amboe on my side to help with the timing and rehearsing in Powerpoint.

Karen also did one very special thing for me.  The day before the talk she sent me a message on Facebook and said that the hardest part for her was just before she spoke.  Once she started everything was fine.  I knew where Karen was sitting that evening, so as I got up to speak I looked her way.  She caught my gaze and gave me the biggest smile and two thumbs up.   That small act of kindness helped me to remain focused and likely stopped me from throwing up on my shoes.

Now that I have gone through the Ignite forge, I am happy to help out any #sd36learn folks who are considering speaking at the Dinner Series-just drop me an e-mail.  It’s a real challenge to refine big ideas into a five-minute talk.  I feel it has made me a better presenter in longer workshop-type sessions and I look forward to transferring these new skills to future presentations.

Finally, I am completely grateful to all of my caring, critical friends who supported my learning in this adventure.  My wish in presenting was to honour Bill Ferriter, Dean Shareski, the amazing folks at Kiva, Steve Mesler and Classroom Champions for all of the opportunities they have given my students and I because they shared themselves with the world.   Thank you to Elisa Carlson, Kevin Amboe and the IML team for encouraging me to present and giving me the opportunity to share my learning!

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At the end of the night with Steve Mesler and Robyn Thiessen

Resources for my Ignite Presentation January 15, 2014

Here are some links to more information about Kiva and Classroom Champions.

Kiva

 www.kiva.org

@kiva on Twitter

KivaU-site for students and educators.  The educator site has links to K-12 and post secondary lesson plans (which are fabulous!)

http://www.kiva.org/do-more/kivau/intro

My blog posts about Kiva

http://teacherdiana.com/the-story-of-how-i-found-my-joy/

http://teacherdiana.com/our-kiva-project/

http://teacherdiana.com/i-can-help-you-with-that/

http://teacherdiana.com/the-kiva-ninja-movie/

Bill Ferriter’s Wiki on Microloans with lesson plans and tons of information:

http://digitallyspeaking.pbworks.com/w/page/17791571/Microloans

Bill Ferriter’s Blog:  @plugusin on Twitter

http://blog.williamferriter.com

Kristen Goggin’s blog (she’s a math teacher in an all boys middle school who uses Kiva as a huge part of her math program.  Check out her blog, its fabulous!)  @gogogoggin on Twitter

http://www.kristengoggin.com

Inspiring folks from the Kiva family:

Jonathan’s blog about his walk across America to raise awareness for Kiva: @kivawalk on Twitter

http://www.kivawalk.com

Jake of Nuru International-profoundly inspiring story and truly making progress in the fight against global poverty @iamnuru on Twitter

http://www.nuruinternational.org

Bob Harris-author of “The International Bank of Bob” amongst other amazing achievements  @bobharrisdotcom on Twitter

http://www.bobharris.com

There are so many other amazing people and resources for Kiva.  I will add to the list as I have time.

 

Classroom Champions

http://www.classroomchampions.org

@classroomchamps on twitter

Steve Mesler

http://www.stevemesler.com

 

I have a blog post about Classroom Champions in the works, I’ll post it here when it is finished.

Feel free to contact me for further information about Kiva or Classroom Champions, I can point you in the right direction :)

 

 

 

 

More Homework

Seriously????  A chain mail blog post?  This blogging thing has gotten way out of hand.

So I get this e-mail and tweet from my dear friend Tia and much to my horror, my name appears in the post.  I love Tia and Dean so I am going to suck it up and do it.  Thanks guys.

Tia wrote:

I was given an assignment to complete by fellow blogging friend, and amazing educator, Dean Shareski. You can read his challenge post here.

Now it’s YOUR turn!

Come have some fun and accept this challenge invitation to allow others to get to know you a bit better.

First things first, here are 11 Random Facts About Me:

1.  I hate Seinfeld.  There.  I said it.  It makes my skin crawl.  I have hated it since high school.

2.  I take my blog way too seriously.  In fact, so seriously I rarely blog.  Thanks Tia, for the much needed nudge.  (cough, cough)

3.   I have an odd sense of humour and can be really sarcastic.  My favourite movie is “Strictly Ballroom” (see #5 below).  I have to mindfully hold myself back from commenting on Twitter.  Lest I incriminate myself.

4.  I play the bassoon.  Seriously.  No, I’m not joking.

5.  I was sent to finishing school.  It didn’t work.  Clearly I’m not finished.  But- my grade 12 Chemistry teacher (who was a crusty old Welshman with a thick Gaelic accent) taught our grad class how to ballroom dance.  I haven’t stopped dancing since :)

6.  I don’t wear a wedding ring because I have really bad eczema on my hands that somehow appeared after my youngest was born.  I wish I had new hands, not a new husband.

7.  When I retire from teaching I will be doing development work in some capacity, hopefully training teachers.  So I wouldn’t really be retired…but I digress.

8.  I hate that I can’t figure out a way to combine my tech and paper worlds to stay organized.  It was so much easier with just paper. (But much less fun!)

9.  I collect people.

*ok, I had to go back and clarify this one…no, there isn’t a collection of random people sitting in a curio cabinet somewhere.  I love people and love to hear their stories.  Maybe I should say I really like learning about other people!

10.  I don’t drink coffee.  I am making a good attempt at drinking tea, but even that is a bust most days.  I’m lucky if I get to the bathroom during a teaching day, so adding tea seems like some kind of torture.

11.  I’m easily intimidated by powerful people and that bugs me.

Next up, I am to answer the following questions from Tia:

Questions for You:

1. What are your favourite and least favourite colours?

Aqua and purple.  I look awful in them when I wear them, but I don’t care.  They make me happy.  I have a secret love of forest green.  It’s deep.  Not a big fan of red.

2. What was your favourite subject / least favourite subject in school?

I had the most amazing English teacher in high school, so I’d have to say English Lit.  My least favourite subject was math, taught by my most favourite teacher, Mrs. McLeish who made me kinda like it…it’s complicated.

3. Where were you born?

Nova Scotia.  I was the Apple Blossom Festival baby.  My husband calls me a Newfie.

4. What was your lowest grade in your post-secondary classes? In what class?

I got an D in Spanish.  I think the prof was being kind.

5. What is the best characteristic you received from your mom?

Her work ethic and love of people.

6. What is your favourite childhood memory?

It’s hard to pick just one.  I have lots of memories of being with people that I loved.  I’ve done a lot of ridiculous things that I look back on and they make me giggle.  The best of which involve food or paint.

7. How old were you when you learned to swim?

I learned to swim at a very young age but I never learned to do the head down front crawl because I kept choking on my long hair when I turned my head to breathe.  You’d think somebody would have given that kid an elastic.

8. Is Disneyland really the Happiest Place on Earth?

Not for me.  And chances are, not for the characters walking around in 100 degree heat.  I’d imagine it would be kinda sweaty hanging out inside goofy’s head.

9. What’s your favourite video you’ve watched recently on social media?

Kid President’s 20 Things We Should Say More Often

10. If you could plan it, what would your last meal consist of?

A croissant.  A real one, all buttery and flaky-not some gluten-free imposter.

11. What makes you happiest?

A.  Being with my family

B.  Teaching

C.  Sitting by myself next to the water at twilight.

Now it’s YOUR turn!

Questions for You:

1.  If you weren’t in education, what would you do instead?

2.  Pencil or pen?

3.  Last book you read?

4.  Guilty pleasure?

5.  Has tech made your life easier or harder?

6.  If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?

7.  What is your favourite blog to read?

8.  Share something funny.

9.  Would you ever wear orange pants?

10.  What is one thing you hope to do in the future?

11.  Favourite thing to do on a Friday night?

 

Come have some fun and accept this challenge invitation to allow others to get to know you a bit better.

 

1.  Bill Ferriter

2.  Kristen Goggin

3.  Trish Uppal

4.  Anne Marie Middleton

5.  Kevin Amboe

6.  Lisa Domeier de Suarez

7.  Tam Manery

8.  Vanessa Oliver-c’mon, make that blog

9.  Brianne Kolestos-time to get your blog on!

10.  Victoria Olson (the Victoria Olson)

11.  Sarah Dalzell

11b. You. (this includes all the people I didn’t name because I figured they thought  they were too cool to do this as well as those I never even thought, which could be you. Either way, I’ll read what you write) (Thanks Dean, I stole that off your blog)

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write this. Go on, you have homework to do.

You can thank me later.

 

 

The Story of How I Found My Joy

I have a confession to make.

I’m terrified of flying.  After the harrowing experience of a “non standard landing” (translation: plane crash) I have had a difficult time with flying.   If I had a choice between a three day camel ride or a flight, I’d take the camel.  No question.

But this sunny Friday morning before the Thanksgiving weekend, there was nothing that could stop me from getting that airplane to San Fransisco. I had to get there, the faster, the better!

So as I was sitting at the back of the plane, trying to remain calm, my mind wandered back to where this all began…

“It started with a single tweet…”

I can remember so clearly the words of Bill Ferriter as he began his talk about teaching the iGeneration at our District Engaging the Digital Learner Dinner Series on a dark, cold evening in January.  This was my first year attending the dinner series and my first year as a “connected” educator.

I had already had the honor of learning from great thought leaders such as Alec Couros, George Couros, Dean Shareski, and Shelley Wright.  I had visited Apple Canada to learn about Challenge Based Learning.  I had connected with a peer group on Twitter, and learned about the passions of my colleagues such as Global Classroom (Robyn Thiessen), Genius Hour (Gallit Zvi and Hugh MacDonald) Voice and Choice in Primary (Karen Lirenman) and Authenic Formative Assessment (Anne Middleton) and was making huge changes in my teaching practice.   The leadership in the Surrey School District is doing such an amazing job of giving teachers and administrators opportunities to learn and grow.

I loved how my classroom was now a place of curiosity and connection.  Something was still missing though.  I had yet to find something that was truly my passion.  Bill spoke about authentic learning tasks and how from reading a single tweet about KIVA on Christmas morning, he had used the KIVA lending platform to engage his social studies students in real life learning about other cultures, poverty and social change through microfinance.  My jaw dropped.  This was truly where my heart lay.  I remember looking across the table at my Principal, Carrie Burton who shared a similarly stunned expression and blurted out to her, “we are so going to do this!”  And just like that, the next thing Bill said, “if any of y’all want to Skype with my KIVA club, we would be happy to.”

So of course we did!  It took me a little bit to work up the courage to email Bill and ask, but as I should have known, his offer was genuine.  He was authentic, down to earth and so approachable.   He offered resources and advice and soon my fantastic grade three group was ready to Skype with Bill’s club.  The Skype went really well and his club decided to send us a very generous gift card to help us get started.

As we worked on needs vs. wants, community services and culture from the grade 3 social studies curriculum using Kiva as our anchor point, we also experienced hands-on learning about micro lending by taking out a small loan to buy beads to make bracelets to sell as a Kiva fundraiser. (You can read the project details here  Over the course of a few months, my little Kiva Ninjas had made over 20 loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries, and their legacy continues today.  The fact that 8 year olds from an inner-city school in Surrey can bring opportunity and hope to someone half way around the world through their school work, fills my heart with joy.

We had promised Bill’s SMS Kiva club that we would make a little video to share about our learning though Kiva as a thank you for the generous gift.  And, as luck would have it, my “connected educator” Vice Principal, Tia Henriksen had the perfect connection for us.  We had the great honor to work with Dean Shareski to make our video.  (You can read about our day here.)

We recorded a song called “Inner Ninja” by Classified.  We had re-written the lyrics to be “Kiva Ninja” and then Dean taught us how to use green screen technology with Discovery Education video footage to tell our story.  (Another huge learning curve for me, you can read the blog post here)  

We uploaded our video to youTube and shared it with Bill’s club and our friends and families.

 

We tweeted out the link and made a fantastic connection to Kristen Goggin from Town School for Boys in San Francisco.  We learned together via Skype with her middle school students who had been doing amazing work with Kiva.  You can read her blog post here  and see all the ways she is diving deep into Kiva with her middle school students-truly powerful teaching.

In a surprising twist, the engineers at Kiva saw the video and we got to Skype with Kiva Headquarters in San Francisco.   My grade three students did a fantastic job of preparing powerful questions and making meaningful conversation during the Skype call.  Not once did they ask if this was on the report card.  They didn’t care-they did their very best because it was real life and it mattered to them.

Real-life learning.  Doing work that matters.  Not only were my grade 3’s minds engaged, their hearts were too.

Which brings me back to the reason for the flight to San Francisco.  Through the Kiva Ninja video and the connections we made with Kiva headquarters, I was flown down to San Francisco to attend the first annual Kiva Summit and to facilitate the K-8 (Elementary) Educators working group.

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The weekend was a great combination of Keynote sessions, large group sessions and  5 working group sessions for our K-8 team.  All of the sessions were remarkable and I’m proud to say they even showed our Kiva Ninja video!  Here is a photo of the founder and CEO of Kiva, Matt Flannery and I doing our Kiva Ninja pose before the video started:

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And then he re-tweeted my tweet of the photo to 300,000 followers! (which I have to admit, was pretty cool!)

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I will be detailing my four days in San Francisco on my blog soon, but in brief, it was the most amazing, diverse gathering of passionate, compassionate, altruistic, brilliant people.   The summit organizers gave us a space to come together to dream, wonder and to think big.  I am energized, inspired and humbled by the kinship of like minded people I was able to be part of over the course of the Summit.  I can’t wait to connect my new friends with my #sd36learn colleagues.

The summit attendees ranged from the Founder of Kiva, the president of Kiva, the passionate and hardworking Kiva staff and interns, to high school through college/university students, elementary, secondary, college and university educators to Stanford graduates, the President of Harvard’s Forum for International Development, film makers, international community development visionaries, to even Bob Harris: writer for Fox, CBS and TLC, 13 time winner of Jeopardy! and author of “The International Bank of Bob”-a book about his travels visiting Kiva loan clients in their home countries.

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And the truly astounding part was they checked all their international awards and accolades at the door and were honestly just real folks who cared deeply about ending extreme poverty in our lifetime. They truly wanted to learn from everyone so they could help others have some of the same opportunities we simply take for granted.

And isn’t that what life is all about?  Learning?

The word Kiva means equality.  We are part of a generation where we can all truly be equals.  Take advantage of the opportunities the Surrey School District offers.  Attend workshops, ask questions, find your passion.  Only you can follow your dreams.   The opportunities are there, take them!

And as Bill Ferriter so perfectly stated in a tweet just a few days ago:

“Education should prepare and empower students to change the world around them in meaningful ways”

I whole-heartedly agree, Bill.  Let’s get to work.

 

This blog post was originally posted as a guest blog post on Innovative Learning Designs blog by Elisa Carlson, Director of instruction for the Surrey School District.

Closing the classroom door

It’s June 17th today and I am writing this blog post now because I know that in less than two weeks when the last day of school comes, I will be such a basket case that I won’t be able to write coherently.  There are a few things I would like to say to turn the page and close an amazing chapter of my life.

Because I need to be closer to home (to my young children), I have taken a new position in a wonderful little school.  I am looking forward to new challenges.  Sadly, it means that I will also have to say goodbye to my Bear Creek family.

It was a very difficult decision to move because I dearly love my school, the kids and their families.  There is another family at Bear Creek that I love too.  If the heart of the school is my students, the soul of the school is and always will be, my colleagues.  My time at the ‘Creek has been a coming of age for us…a golden decade if you will.  We got married together, had our babies together, nursed broken hearts, broken relationships and hopes for future, nurtured dreams, shared our darkest moments and our greatest triumphs.

We are kindred hearts, bound together as inner city school teachers-a place and a profession that can take so much from you if you let it, but it can give you so much if you take the time to understand. We are friends held together by moments of despair and moments of profound joy.  Moments when you wonder if there will ever be enough of you to go around, moments when you just want to run down the hall whooping for joy celebrating a student’s success.  Those moments are now cherished memories because they were shared with some of the most amazing, dedicated, hardworking, compassionate people I have had the honor to work with.

I will hold dear the deep friendships forged by sad stories of students who we couldn’t save, by stories of the students that we did, who come back and tell us how well they are doing…and I will miss those success moments most.  I wish I had started blogging earlier in my career to capture all of those memories.  I am very grateful to those who have encouraged me to blog and document what my amazing students do every day.

This last year for me has been a year of lessons for me.  I have enjoyed renewed energy for teaching, new ways of being a teacher and a learner, new connections and new friends.  I have grown so much professionally, had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  I’ve been inspired and challenged and also deeply hurt.  Had way more questions than I will ever find answers for.  And had the confidence in who I am shaken to the core.  I now know that there are times in life that you may lose your footing, but it is those who know you best who will bring you back to who you are, and will help put you back together when you can’t do it all on your own.

I will soon say farewell to cherished colleagues, to dear friends.  Farewell to the luxury of seeing them so regularly that I have taken it very much for granted.  We know each other so well that with one look we can read each other’s hearts and know just what to say.  I will miss that kinship.

So as I turn off the lights and close the door to my classroom one last time, know that I will hold all of these memories in my heart and will never forget the many ways Bear Creek has played a role in shaping who I am today.  Thank you for all the ways you have made me a better teacher by giving me the lessons of resilience shown by my students every day.  I have learned to savour and celebrate the small victories, the quiet moments of sitting at my desk on a Friday afternoon when all the kids have gone home, reflecting on another week and dreaming for the future.

I will walk down that hall with gratitude in my heart and memories to last a lifetime.  I know that one day when my own children are grown and don’t need me to be quite so close at hand, I will return to inner city teaching and try to give back in whatever way I can, some of the beauty it has given me.

And even though my heart is breaking, and the tears are running down my cheeks as I write, this blog post isn’t meant to be sad.  Because the thing about scar tissue that forms from a broken heart-vivid and raised as it may be-it’s strong.

So after the summer has passed and a new September comes again, I will begin again with a bigger, stronger heart than I had before, and I will be ready to take on the next chapter in my career.  But for now, it’s time to rest.  So with that, it’s time to say my favourite border collie sheep herding expression… “that’ll do.”

Wishing everyone a wonderful summer break.

Attendance Awards and Student Engagement

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Well, we won the top attendance award again this month…which makes it every month this school year except January (we had a nasty case of the flu go around the class, so we came in second).  It’s getting so bad that at the assembly when the attendance awards are presented, my students look at me with raised hands to be chosen to accept the award before the winning class is even announced.  Every month I pray that another class would win…not just to keep my little learners’ egos in check, but because I genuinely want another class to win because their attendance is so great.

Most of you know how I feel about awards (as in I despise them) so I am going to look at this from more of a teaching practice point of view.  The why behind winning these awards is really what interests me-why are my students coming to school more this year?  Why are there fewer lates?  Why has this group of grade 3′s dramatically improved their attendance over their grade two rates last year?  And why has my class attendance improved over my class from last year?

We took the data from our “Attendance Matters” program.  Tia has been very helpful in collating and analyzing the attendance data.  (And she took great joy in telling me (and I quote) “wow, your attendance really sucked last year!” (In the nicest possible way…I just love that!)

This is my first full year back after several part years due to two high-risk pregnancies and maternity leaves, but looking back at my previous full years at our school from 2005-2009, I can honestly say my students’ attendance has never been this good.  Before, I blamed it on poverty, lack of parent involvement, it’s just the way these kids are…but never really looked at my teaching practice and what I was doing to make my students want to come to school.

I know there are many reasons why my students are at school more this year: we are doing way more project based learning, Genius Hour, The Daily 5 literacy program, individual spelling, my brillant teaching partner is doing fantastic hands-on math and science lessons…we have six iPads that live in our room this term…all of which is great and the students love.

Students are in charge of their learning, building their own learning plans, conferencing and getting more feedback than ever before…I love the quiet, somewhat organized chaos in my room and the kids seem to thrive in having the power to choose how they represent their learning and even how they explore what they are learning.

But I think the real reason is the way we start our day.  In previous years I have done a “Big 5″ type start to the day, students at desks completing 5 questions off the board-review for math or language arts.  I have to confess, I’ve always hated it.  Hated coming up with five questions that had very little context or connection for kids, hated the way some students never finished, hated the way some students finished quickly and then were at loose ends, hated marking it and having no good reason to put that data in my mark book, other than under the “review” column.  Hated the way I had to close the door to parents who walk their children to school and who want nothing more than to chat about how their son/daughter is getting along in school.  I did “Big 5″ because that is what I knew from teacher training and what so many other more experienced teachers did.

Frustrated, I chucked the big five and decided to do centers.  Yes, centers.  I know it’s grade three, but even as a former grade 7 teacher, now I would do centers at the beginning of the day, every day of the week, no matter the age group.

I used to do centers at the end of the day as a time where students who aren’t finished could finish work and those that worked quickly could have some free time.  Ouch.  Yeah, that sucks.  How terrible for those students who struggle?  They never got to play the fun games, to be social on their terms.  I never realized at the time how punitive it was.  And for those students who “got their work done” what incentive was it to do a thorough, high quality job? None.

So we start the day with no pressure-we play. The kids love it.  Nobody wants to miss center time so they are on time to school every morning.  The only responsibility the kids have is to get their chair ready and leave their planner open on their desk.  We ease into the day with kids choosing how they want to start.  Do they need to be social?  Do they need solitary time?  Do they need to be moving or still?  There are a variety of options of play for students to do and ways to be in the classroom. Their are a variety of places to work, options for sitting-floor, bean bags, “special” spots (rocking chairs, camp chairs, a child size recliner and club chair.)   One of my goals for next year is to expand my centers repertoire to give much more choice.

Because the students are engaged in their own choices, there is very little for me to teach and very few behaviours to mediate.  I get to visit with parents, check planners, deal with notes/permission slips/collect money or simply sit on the floor with different groups of kids and chat.  I get to play games or help with projects (many work on their Genius Hour projects).  Sometimes parents come into the classroom and hang out with the students and share what they know too.

At nine o’clock after a 5 minute warning, students clean up, return to their desks and put their planners away.  We chat about the shape of our day, share news and get on with our day.  Happy kids, happy teacher.  Life is good.

I’m so glad I get to come to school too. :)