Dear Colleagues……….. You are Amazing!

I wrote a letter very similar to this almost 7 years ago when we were going through some education struggles here in Ontario but with the most recent struggles that we are about to face I feel like this message needs to be said again. Even if you are not facing challenges like we are in Ontario I hope this message resonates with you as you start your year.

Dear Colleagues,

I want to start off by recognizing that you are truly amazing.  I have never been more proud to be an educator as I am today. Our profession is truly one of the most amazing professions in the world.

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 9.05.40 AM

Sure it has its challenges, more so in the last couple of months but even without this, we have always had these challenges. We face an ever-changing demographic and world and navigate it with tremendous professionalism and poise. However, as challenging as it can be it is also one of the most rewarding professions. Today I want to remind you of those moments, to challenge you to hold on to them and to strive to make more.

It isn’t every day that we get to see smiling faces that greet us every morning as if we are superheroes. It isn’t every day that we get to see a child learn something for the very first time (i.e, learning to read, learning to recognize their name, learning to self-reg or even mature right before your own eyes). There is nothing as rewarding as seeing a student come back to you and thank you for being there, for listening, for sparking their learning and growth. I know we have all had “that” teacher and even as I write this I smile at the influence of a great teacher in my life. In our profession, we continue to be that teacher even when we don’t expect it.

So why do I remind you of this? In the last couple of weeks, I feel that our profession is at a critical stage of development. We are being attacked, as a profession and as human beings. Our government continues to deny our learning, our judgment, and our professionalism. And it is tiring, it is frustrating and it continues to make me angry every day. However, I was reminded yesterday by John Spencer’s keynote address that when we are faced with challenges it is a reminder that we need to be even more innovative.

You may at the moment question why I say let’s be more innovative, you may say but it may cost me my job but I want to remind you that you are AMAZING! You entered this profession to help, to mold, to change and make a difference and you continue to do this no matter what the political landscape is or has become. We do this because we care because we have and always will put students first.

I started this letter by saying I have never been more proud of my profession and I will conclude with that. I want to remind you that you are Amazing! That you make the difference, that you will always make a difference. Teachers are always needed and no matter what we will be needed. So as the climate will continue to get worse (and trust me I think it will) hold on to those special moments, hold on to those stories, those students, and those smiles. Continue to innovate, to be the best you can be, to shine bright because that is what will be remembered.

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 9.05.58 AM.png

Advertisements

Sense of Number versus Number sense

I know I have talked and written about this extensively over the past 12 years but it seems in Ontario this age-old argument is coming back with a vengeance.

Now some may say that my title is misleading that there really is no difference but over the past couple of years I have really thought hard about this very topic. Over these years I have seen students come into my classroom with amazing fact recall. In fact, I have never seen a community that has spent countless hours practising math facts and algorithms. But I have also seen over this time I have also seen students have a lack of what those facts truly mean.

Our new government is calling for a “back to basics” and let’s get rid of “discovery math” but all of this is rhetoric by politicians who don’t understand how students development a sense of number. I see it in my own daughter. Izzy has trouble in math for numerous reasons, one of which is a low working memory but another is her understanding of place value. For Izzy, she is reworking on understanding unitization, grouping, and counting by fives and tens. At the moment she is playing Duck Duck Moose and app that helps build those foundational skills.

But back to my classroom experience. Many of my students struggled with the very same problems that Izzy has. They struggle to understand part-whole relationships in number, they struggle to understand estimation skills and most importantly they struggle with understanding reasonability of number. And now I think back to the thinking of our Governments call. They fear that this generation cannot do the math, they fear they don’t know how to make quick change but the reality is they have no sense of number or how our number system works.

When I think about how students learn I think about Dr. Alex Lawson’s work on developmental learning. This is also a great article that she has written: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/ww_modelling_proficiency.pdf .

I don’t have many answers right now but I do know that learning of mathematics needs to be a balanced approach. Math needs skills but they need to be developed properly.

As students are developing skills trying ideas like Which one Doesn’t Belong, Building spatial sense, Estimation 180 or even Math Before Bed. All of these are amazing activities to help your students build a sense of number. Combine these activities with rich problems and then purposeful practise and now we are building students up to be successful mathematicians.

So as we plan and think about our math curriculum over the summer I encourage you to think about how we are making our students think about numbers along with teaching number sense. A final thought as well, as math teachers continue to teach as I know you teach. You are strong individuals with sound pedagogy. Show students what mathematics is about, how it is a beautiful language, how it is comprised of beautiful and elegant thinking. That it isn’t just rules and magic tricks. Please do not get discouraged by politicians or other professions that have no idea how children learn. In the end, be true to yourself no matter what.

A little “Grit” goes a long way

20180519_081131.jpgA little over a year ago I started to run. I have always liked running but saw myself as a sprinter never a long distance runner. In fact, last year I barely could do 5km in 1 hour. I would wheeze, cough and walk half the distance. As the year progressed I got myself to 10km in 1 hour and felt very proud of my accomplishments. I had a lot of friends tell me hey your ready for a 1/2 marathon and I would just laugh in their face. “Me, do a half? Yeah, right!” Well as of May 19th I can no longer say that! In fact, I sort of crushed that comment by completing my first half marathon in 1 hour and 38mins.

But this post really isn’t about the running but more about what I learned that day. At the 15km mark, my hamstring started to tighten and my brain started to say “STOP”. I was physically done but part of me just said no keep going and so I did. It was a grind but I was determined to finish and finish I did. It reminded me of what I tell my students, a little disequilibrium goes a long way. When we are in that moment of frustration and exasperation we learn so much more about ourselves. The problem is I think we as adults have forgotten what it is like to be in those moments. Now I am not implying we don’t have our moments but I think they are a lot less than when we were children.

As an adult, we have had many experiences that formulate the sum of our learning and decisions but for a child, they have a lot less. I think we often forget what it is like to be frustrated and therefore we jump right in. I am also sure there is some brain science behind adults fully form logic versus kids but all in all we have to remember what it is like to be a kid. To wonder, to explore, to question and to make mistakes. The problem we have as adults is we forgot what struggle is like and so have a hard time relating to our students making those mistakes. Running this half has reminded me how important struggle is and just how important it is to let me own students and children struggle.

So as we head into next year I encourage you to think about “Grit” and how are you purposefully planning this in your classroom. Any ideas please share.

Also if you want to share, some of your most recent struggles? Love to hear them.

Stem Labs Alpha Kit Review

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 2.24.21 PM.png

So while researching STEM ideas and products for the classroom, I came across a company called Stem Labs. They are a company that sells small robotics kits that link coding and robotics together. Students will have the opportunity to play with various sensors and components to make autonomous creations.

It is an interesting product and not really a new idea as we have products like this on the market. However, what I do like about STEM labs alpha kits is the flexibility to interact with various components and pretty much build or think of amazing ideas. In addition to the various parts, each part can be connected to lego which helps with the structural building piece. Another great part of their product is all of the teacher lessons that go with the product.  These lessons are linked at the moment to United Kingdoms curriculum plan but I hope they will be soon linked to Canadian content. That being said with some decent teacher thinking you can make the relationships to the science materials.

A really cool lesson we tried was the probability lesson.

What I really enjoyed about the product is the flexibility it has to fit most if not all of our science curriculums here in Ontario. In addition, the kids picked it up really easy and even my 8 years old built a car and coded it to move. They are simple pieces that can be moved, manipulated and used in many parts of your curriculum.

They have various size kits and for $1000 can easily order a nice set for your classroom to use.

So if you are thinking about adding to your Makerspaces or need some more STEM ideas take a look at SAM labs.

Webinar for more info: https://youtu.be/lZf6OvgGydE

Balance

A balance I think is something that we find hard as teachers. For most of us, if not all, teaching is not just a career but a huge passion. It is something that we put more than 100% (yes I know there isn’t really more than 100%, but bear with me on this). Yet, balance is needed.

This year I have been on a journey of a sort to keep that balance in my life. The funny thing is I am not too sure if my journey was planned or if it sort of found me but none the less it has been quite a thoughtful idea. This year has been a struggle I am not going to lie. It has been a lot of ups and downs. I started the year in a rough place, with a lot of negative energy around me and inside. I write this because I want others to know that this does happen. I write this because we all have those moments but the important part is recognizing this and moving forward. Having balance find me has been one of the greatest parts of this journey. Reflecting on what makes me feel better has been great.

Unfortunately, part of that balance has been reducing my time on social media and blogging, which a part of me regrets. I know many find blogging to be therapeutic and I am glad for that but for me writing brings a lot of stress and anxiety. It has never been a strength of mine but I did it because it has helped me improve and articulate my thoughts in a different platform. instead, I have turned more to being with my kids and more physical exercise. Running has become a passion of mind and a way to unwind and reflect on my day. In fact, I would have never thought of myself as a runner. It was something I did once in my life but never long distances and now I may be a little obsessed.

We all have hidden passions and balance comes in many forms and may look differently for others. I know many of you may feel resting is the greatest form of balance but really balance is doing things that fill your bucket and replenishing your soul.  As a teacher, we lose connections sometimes to who we are as people. We tend to define ourselves by being a teacher but we are so much more. Don’t get me wrong I love being a teacher but there are years were sometimes a break is needed.  What do you do to find that balance? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

As the year comes to an end and we head into a downtime for ourselves remember to find time for yourself, replenish your soul and set a balance for yourself the following year. You are more and #youmatter

Rethinking discipline and classroom management

I don’t know about you but I was raised with the philosophy of spare the rod spoil the child. I’m pretty sure i’m not the only one. This philosophy shaped how I was raised, how I worked in my classroom and how I ultimately started parenting. But then came that proverbial moment when my 1st born was old enough to misbehave and everything I thought I knew had to be reevaluated.

Now please don’t get me wrong I am not saying how I grew up was wrong but since having children I have done a lot of rethinking about what discipline and management is.

I’ve talked about our struggles with my oldest before she is not the easiest child to work with but she has talk me so much in the process. So I thought i’d share some thoughts here:

1) learning about self reg.

Before learning about self reg I saw my childs tantrums just as that tantrums. I saw acting out as acting out. Even in the classroom I was why are they doing this don’t they know better. Now, it is easier to see those moments as a cry for help. Kids (K-12) act out for a reason. They are trying to communicate to the best of their ablities that they have been wronged or are stress. It isn’t on purpose, it isn’t to make your life miserable they just need help. Now is how they are doing it correct…not really but that is after discussion.

Self reg has also taught me that there really isn’t any reason to talk rationally to a child under stress until they are calm and centered. Their brain just cannot process the information. So step one is to identify they are stressed, step two calm, step 3 then talk. It is here in this talk you can discuss actions and discipline but not until they are back to rational thinking. Step 4 is figuring out stressors before they happen.

2. Punishment/discipline and anything else you want to lump in here

I was spanked as a kid. I was spanked often as a kid. I was spanked hard as a kid. I dont say this as a badge or a confirmation that it works but as a I know that it really doesnt work. Oh I did stop the behaviour but more out of I didn’t want to brake a spoon over my butt again. I’m sure that we all can relate to this story. But you see this is all I knew so what happens as a parent is this is what we revert too. It is in our tool box but it just doesn’t work to our desired outcomes. Personally, I have found that it continues the behaviour until a) you are so frustrated with the child you loose your marbles or b) the kid runs away and hates you forever. There is a c but that is a behaviour only stops because they dont want to be hit again. In all three cases the desire outcome of punishment isn’t really met.

We punish because we don’t want our children to repeat the behaviour, right? We want them to learn? But how is the above doing that?

Now please dont get me wrong there should be consequences for bad decisions.

What I have found is once a child is able to center and think again it is easier to talk and discuss the actions. My daughter has consequences. At first it felt like this wasn’t going to work but it has. Now she has less blow ups and actually understands why she is having them. She gets the reason why discipline needs to happen.

3) if a child doesn’t want to change nothing will change them

This has been the hardest part for me to learn. When I first started teaching I said I’m the boss and kids will lisyen to me. I was strict, I laid the law down amd guess what I still do but a lot different. My kids don’t follow the rules cause I said thou shalt they follow it because they have been involved and want to. Kids want to be in class because they feel a part of it. This has been the key to my management lately. My kids still know where the line is but they made it.

Now how does this come back to school. Today I saw next to a tardy list if a child gets 15 lates they are removed from all extra curriculars and teams. Now again I get discipline and why that statement is needed but then again i question this why is the child late? Does this take into consideration of home? Maybe they hate your class? Maybe they dont like you? These are all questions to think about before a punishment can be handed down. We also have to think about one other thing. Often our school clubs, teams, free choice periods are the only thing keeping our kids in school. They are one thing they look forward too, so in taking them away what are we doing to that child?

These are just some random thoughts but for me I understand that classroom management is needed…I know kids and adults need to understand right from wrong but we also need to consider the child and ultimately the reason for the negative behaviour. Lets focus less on the behaviour and more on the reasons and ultimately stopping it from happening.

Balance, what is that?

As you all know a teachers life is always busy. There is never a dull moment from planning, marking, researching and just plain teaching, our jobs are always on the go. This of course doesn’t even include our own personal lives which I will admit often is put on hold for our professional lives. I mean even as I write this blog I am walking laps around a track.

Lately, I have found it very hard to keep up. I try to balance everything but you always seem to drop something or get too stressed out to do anything else.

In fact, I feel guilty that I’m not on twitter as much or even writing 2 posts a month. I know I shouldn’t but you cannot help but feel the guilt.

This not only goes for us as teachers but out own students too. Students as well need to think of balance. Life is not about grades and homework but about enjoyment.

I write this post not to say hey I’m struggling or poor me but to say how do people find the time to balance it all? I wonder what strategies people have to balance their professional lives with their personal?

I am also writing this to leave some sort of affirmation that if you are struggling you are not alone. And that it is okay. I know that maybe weird coming from the guy now on lap 15 and writing a post but I think part it finding balance is to let go of the feeling we need to do everything.

So as I leave this post I would love to hear people’s strategies. I will also leave this statement: I will do my best to find the balance to be in the moment and most of all enjoy life.