Relationships Matter…I cannot stress this enough

The last couple of weeks I have been struggling with being a parent and a teacher. There has been many things lately that I haven’t agreed with but I have tried to stay calm and understand. It has been hard to sit back and find the right words to describe what I wish would be happening more in our profession. Then this tweet came across my feed today and it allowed me to center my thoughts that I have been struggling to communicate.

I want this quote to sit for a minute.

 

I know when I first started teaching I often neglected this very important piece. I often felt that I knew my students or that I was allowing them to be a part of the learning but the more I reflect the more I think I could have done more. Stuart’s work on self reg has been revolutionary for me. Reading his book was a breath of fresh air. The greatest take away I had was:

There is no thing/ concept as a Bad Child

I now firmly believe this but it is one of the toughest things that we have to realize as an educator. If you have been reading my blogs for the past I have often talked about the importance of relationships. I also have talked a lot about Stuart’s work and my daughter Izzy.

The latest update in Izzy’s school saga is that she has been formally tested and diagnosed with an LD, and ADHD. Now this wasn’t new information for me and my wife but it explains a lot of the problems that we have been seeing. The problem is Izzy is often misinterpreted. Izzy is not an easy child to get a long with. She is often difficult and stubborn. She has melt downs and high, high anxiety around school. These problems hinder her progress and have unfortunately labeled her as one of the problem children. However, there is a reason for her behaviour and she doesn’t do these things on purpose.

Izzy finds school hard, she finds learning hard and when she finds it hard she breaks down or is in a high stress situation. Like adults high stress causes her to be in a flight or fight mode, which in turn causes her to have behaviours.

For the past two years she has had two great educators who have taken the time to learn and honour Izzy as a person. They laughed at her quirkiness and joined in her loves. When she was stressed or struggled they often saw them even before Izzy did and was able to redirect and help her through them.

Now this relationship building takes time and I know oh so well that time is a very precious thing. As educators we often struggle with meeting all of the curriculum that we have to cover. There is so many things that we have to do that is not in the scope of teaching that we a lot of times forget about the most simplistic thing.

Teaching is not about teaching but about building

Our students know that we care. They pick up on our vibes, our stresses and our comments. This is for both the good and the bad.

Like most, if not all students, my daughter thrives on teachers who take a moment to see her for who she is. When you take the time to understand why she behaves the way she does, she actually has less bad behaviour and focuses more on the good. However, when she knows you think she is a problem then she tends to lean towards that. Students are pretty much the same. Relationships are needed and the time spent on them is time well spent.

When you take the time to honour students voices, who they are and what they like, they give it back to you. So I encourage you learn the stories of your students, understand who they are as individuals, recognize that they all of potential to do amazing things. I know that we all came into teaching to do just that but I think some times we loose site of it and get bogged down in all of the politics or curriculum.

If you spend the time building relationships I promise you will not be let down. My daughter is an amazing little girl, who I know has difficulties and causes a lot of stress in the classroom. But when she knows she is loved, she will do anything for you. I’ll end with this quote from Peel’s Modern Learner.

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School should be….

To borrow a phrase from my good friend Matthew Oldridge, “School should be a place of excitement and constant wonder!” I don’t really have any way of putting it so nicely and yet school is often a place where many students dread.

I want to share a personal story. As many of you know my daughter has had her fair share of difficult times at school.  I have often blogged about her difficulties and what they have taught me. But nothing pains me more when I hear her tell me she hates school and doesn’t want to go back. It has been very interesting to see her natural development around this concept of school and where her divergence went towards that famous, “I hate school” line. When Izzy was young and in preschool she absolutely loved it. I mean this was a girl who ended up being potty trained because she wanted to go to school so badly. During preschool, she couldn’t get enough. She would wake up early and eagerly wait for her time to go to school. Even the very first day of JK you could see her face beaming with excitement. But unfortunately, that was where everything seemed to change.

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It broke my heart, as a parent and as an educator, to see my happy child go from the above pictures to this.

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Now, I know that my daughter is not the easiest child to get along with. She has her many downfalls and is full of energy. In JK, she got into a lot of fights and a lot of discussions with her teacher about how we could help.  She struggled with the academics and what the teachers wanted her to do. We now understand that learning is very hard for her. She has a low working memory and ADHD. It’s not an excuse but it does explain why school is hard. It also explains why she sometimes seems like she gets it and then all of a sudden doesn’t.

But what changed?

When you ask Izzy, why she doesn’t like school she can’t really pin point it but when you explore further it is often because she has to follow certain rules or when she interprets something as fun and told to stop she doesn’t want to. Or according to her, is viewed as a “problem child”. She often tells me that her teachers don’t like her or that she feels like they pick on her.

As a teacher, I understand that places have rules and in the “real world” there are things we must follow but at the same time shouldn’t the purpose of school, especially in younger grades, be a place to foster the excitement of learning? Shouldn’t we foster growth and natural wonder and curiosity?

School for a long time has been a place meant to conform our young ones to the “way of the world”. It was made to have workers who could work the lines. But the world has changed and yet school hasn’t. We no longer need to have kids be little robots that do exactly the same thing. Is it important that we have students doing exactly what we want them to do or is it more important that students see themselves in the learning and want to be a part of it. In the bigger picture of the world, is it vital that students walk in a straight and orderly line down the hallways or do we teach the students the value of not disrupting others thinking but just being quiet. Do we stop the learning of our students because the bell has rung or we must move on the the next period/ curriculum expectation or do we foster the love of learning by allowing our children to naturally explore.

As a parent, my goal for my kids is that they love to learn. I am glad that school fosters academics but I also know that will come with time. Nurturing that natural wonder will allow students to want to learn and I think as educators we have a big role to play.

So I ask you, is your classroom a place of natural wonder and curiosity? Or is it a place that students dread to come?

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Silent Gallery Walks

On the second edition of the Mathpod, Cathy Fosnot mentioned that she does all of her gallery walks silent. I was struck by this idea as I have only done gallery walks in full conversations. Now I have been doing Gallery Walks for some time now and the idea has never crossed my mind.

To me a Gallery Walk was a place to engage in meaningful and critical math talk. I have done them in many different ways:

  1. Partners walk around and talk strategies
  2. Group Gallery Walks: Students find another partner group and talk to them
  3. Stay and Go: one member stays while one member goes
  4. Walk around and sign your name or place questions

But I have never been more impressed than with the silent gallery walk. Here is what I did:

  1. I set the rule that there will be no talking. Not one word. This was probably the hardest part but my kids seemed to handle it.
  2. I asked them to reflect on the strategies that they saw. They had to do two things, write a questions about the math or sign the bottom to say they understood and could share the strategy with the class.
  3. After students went back to their strategy and read the questions in order to further improve their presentation.

At first, I wasn’t too sure if this would have any impact on the learning but as I said it was amazing. I got the most rich and in depth questions I have ever seen on students work. Also, I have done this before with talking but it always seems that students are off task or done right away. This time my students kept the engagement for a full 15 minutes while walking around looking at strategies.

So if you have a chance try a silent gallery walk, you may be surprised.

 

My Journey with going Gradeless continues

As many of you know I have been on a three year journey to throw out Grades in my classroom.  Recently, I was able to be a part of a great PD day with the fabulous Starr Sackstien. I have written some posts about how much she has influenced me and my journey and meeting her in real life didn’t disappoint.

Being in year three of going gradeless I still felt like I was missing something in the process.  I mean I already was having students read the curriculum, write their own learning goals and success criteria and finish up with a quarterly letter to their parents but the process still felt like I was missing a piece of the puzzle.

In listening to Starr talk she mentioned the idea of tracking feedback with her students. It was at the moment that a little light bulb went off. Tracking, so simple yet so easy to forget and do.

So this year I have decided to make a simple google doc. The doc had a chart that included the date, title of assignment, what I said to the students and what they think it meant. I also included a met box with a link to a piece of evidence. This small piece of work has made a big difference in my students reflection process. Now they are able to look back and set better goals as they see which piece of feedback they haven’t been able to meet. This makes goal setting a whole lot easier.

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I just thought I would share this with everyone as it was really helpful for me. If you have any other suggestions about assessment love to hear from you.

 

A Balanced Math Program

With the endless humdrum of the math wars happening, it is easy to forget that what teachers really need is simple help to understand practical ways to improve or acknowledge their math program.  We have heard both sides for decades. One side is about the context and deeper conceptual understanding while the other side worries about the basics. To be fair there really shouldn’t be any sides. Mathematics is a combination of both concepts and procedures. Even more realistic you will never find a teacher that doesn’t do both.

I love this picture from one of the presentations that Matthew Oldridge and I do on this topic:

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 12.07.09 PM.pngWhat it shows is a continuum of teaching. At times, we may be closer to the fully guided while at times we do some unstructured unguided lessons. However, most of the time we are some where near the middle. For myself I lean more towards the 3/4 mark of the line.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about a balanced math class but since then I’ve had some small tweaks that I thought would be useful to highlight.

When I first thought of this subject I thought of six things that should be in the program (you can read about each section in my post):

  1. Guided Mathematics
  2. Shared Mathematics: Students work together to “Mathematize”
  3. Conferencing/ Monitoring
  4. Congress
  5. Reflection
  6. Math Games and Math Facts

Now my opinion about these things haven’t changed I still think you need to have all of these components but I want to simplify a bit and think more about the practical side.  For this reason I want to steal a little line from the Leaf’s Head Coach Mike Babcock, think of a five day block of time.

Now, before I go into detail I want to preface that this is just my opinion and in no way is this the only way. I think as teachers we need to have professional judgement to choose what is best. I also don’t expect to have these ideas prescribed like a five day must follow. I just want you to reflect on these components.

I broke it into five days because I really felt that it was easy to look a five day segment in time. Some times these components may take more time or less but on average I try hard to stick to this.

Day 1: Problem Solving

I am a firm believer that our math program should be predominately a place where students are problem solving and exploring math concepts. During this time, the teachers role is to explore the concepts with the students. It is a fine balance between a guided approach for some to a more let kids explore. As a teacher I am also conferencing, questioning and monitoring students work. I am checking it to landscapes of learning and thinking about how I will debrief the learning. What misconceptions are students having? How are they tackling the problem? What collective conclusions are they making? are all questions that go through my head.

Day 2: Congress

This to me is one of the most important things we can do in a math class and where that shared, guided and explicit instruction is happening. During this time, I am questioning and explicitly linking the math concepts to their problem solving. Where I may allow students to wander a bit in exploration I am tightly keeping the reigns around the big ideas and misconceptions I observed in the problem.

Day 3: Number Talks

These have been one of the best decisions that I have made as a teacher. Number talks allow me to discuss strategies, talk through misconceptions and help students visually see the mathematics that is happening around them. Number talks is also a 15 to 20 minute exercise so they happen frequently and often in the classroom. Another great aspect is that it allows students to communicate and talk about math in a meaningful way.

Day 4: Reflection

The more I read about this topic the more I believe that this needs to be integrated more in the classroom. We need to explicitly show students how to reflect about their learning and how to set goals in order to improve. This year in my class I have purposefully set time aside for students to regularly talk about their math learning.

Day 5: Purposeful Practise (Math games, Centers and regular practise)

Yes I said it Purposeful practise. This may be in a worksheet but if it is I hope it is geared toward each child’s needs. For me purposeful practise is about seeing where a child is developmentally and finding things that may work for them. This year it has been center work, using board games or math games and digital games like knowledgehook and Mpower.  The important part is understanding that it is purposeful and meaningful.

Overall, I think we need to think less of this war between concept and procedure and meet in the middle. How can we help our students learn and build bridges mathematically.

I would also love to hear your thoughts. If you have any opinions or questions please feel free to leave a comment.

Here is my slide deck on a balanced math approach.

Tedx Kitchener

 

So on September 28th, I did one of the craziest things I have ever done in my life, I did a Ted Talk.

Before I get into my experience I want to share this one with you. This talk was shared with me a week before my own. The message spoke to me about doing things that make you happy. More importantly it spoke to me about keeping what is important infront of you and being in that moment. It is so easy as a teacher to get caught up in the busy-ness of school that we forget what matters. I also loved it because if you are afraid of doing something I would encourage you to embrace and go for it. Have a listen:

I started off the post by saying that this has been the craziest thing I think I have ever done and it is true. Sharing my story not only in front of a live audience of 1500 people but also having it for the world to see is quite frightening. But this has been a really great experience.

The process started in April, almost 5 months before I actually went on stage. I have always wanted to do a Ted talk but never felt worthy enough or felt like I had something to say.  However, my journey with Izzy has changed a lot of that. If you have been reading my posts you know that lately have been centered around her and the struggles we have been through.

She has been one of the greatest influences on me as an educator

And so my journey to do a Ted talk began. As soon as I was chosen the TedxKitchener team got to work on mentoring and helping. There was deadlines that at first didn’t seem close but it is amazing how fast they come up. Our first deadline was getting a script ready so we could have a mentor critic and offer advice. I really valued this process as it allowed an unobjective person to see my thought process. Was it clear? Did it accomplish my goals? What biases did I have? My mentors were amazing and helped so much with the process.

Once this was cleared it was time to practise. I think this was the most daunting task for me. We were told that our speech should be rehearsed enough so it was like singing happy birthday.  We were told numerous strategies:

  1. Listen to it in the car
  2. Practise while doing exercise
  3. Read it over
  4. Practise in front of people

But to be honest, none of these really worked. In fact, I found this part to be the most daunting. I didn’t know how I was going to do this. I read it over, I would listen to it, I even ran and listened but nothing seemed to help me. I didn’t want to share with people as I didn’t feel comfortable with what I was saying. All I could do was just keep reading. Well two weeks before the event I still didn’t have it memorized but decided to do my best and bite the bullet. I printed off a list of the important points that I wanted to talk about next to the full script (almost like my coles notes). I then just went at it every day for about an hour. Every morning I would run I would still listen to it. At e-breaks I went for walks and would talk to myself (I am sure many people thought I was nuts). On my planning I would talk to a screen (which I am sure my teaching partner thought I was nuts). But by the end I had it memorized (nothing like last minute to make you learn).

This though did not stop the nerves. Just before I went on stage I was pacing back and forth20170928_185328.jpg

I could see the crowd filling in. 500 educators and 1000 students from all over Canada where coming to see people do amazing talks.

and then this happened…… (click to hear)

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It felt like a rock concert or the intros to WWE. The energy was amazing. I felt myself getting pumped up.  I was jumping up and down behind stage and then the MC introduces me and out I went. The rest is History.

Tedx was one of the coolest experiences that I have ever done. To be able to share my story about Izzy and that all children want to matter was remarkable. I wish I had the video to share but it will be up soon.

In the end, Tedx might not be for you but we all have something we want to achieve but are too afraid to do it. Don’t hold back, run towards it and enjoy the experience.

I want to thank the Tedx committee for letting me experience that.  Stay tuned for the video when it is edited.

Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iK1EmMg95tI

#5 best Ed decisions (#5bestEd)

So about two weeks ago I wrote a blog post about the 5 best decisions that I have made as an Educator or more importantly the 5 most defining moments that have changed me for the better.

You can read it here.

I tagged a bunch of people and low and behold it took off. As people started to comment and share their 5 best I promised I would collect them for all to read. I have been a little behind in this but here is my best attempt at collecting stories. Please keep tagging me and sharing. It has been amazing to read what has changed and influenced you as an educator. Many also have really enjoyed learning new concepts and also seeing the common threads. If you want use the hashtag #5bestEd and we can also follow that.

So here is the list that I have so far (sorry if I missed anyone but please let me know I didn’t do it on purpose):

Jim Cash:  5 realizations that defined me as a teacher

Aviva Dunsiger: https://adunsiger.com/2017/08/27/my-five-ish-defining-moments/

Matthew Oldridge: https://medium.com/@MatthewOldridge/defining-teaching-moments-d0a5e47ef2ca 

Heather Theijsmeijer: http://modelthelearning.blogspot.ca/2017/08/top-five-defining-teaching-moments.html

Mr. Hogg:  My Top 5 Defining Moments

Joe Archer: http://sites.granderie.ca/jarcher/2017/08/24/top-5-defining-moments-what-has-defined-my-career/

Joe Caruso: https://jcaru19.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/my-top-5-teaching-defining-moments/

Chris Cluff:

Peter Cameron:

Mary Wade: http://honorsgradu.com/my-top-5-defining-teaching-moments/

Diana Maliszewski: http://mondaymollymusings.blogspot.ca/2017/09/dianas-defining-teacher-moments.html

You can also hear a podcast from Derek Rhodenizer, Peter Cameron and myself talk about these moments. https://voiced.ca/beyond-the-staffroom/

Doug Peterson: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/218230/posts/1582147551

Mel Mulcaster: http://pedagogicalmaker.weebly.com/home/my-teaching-dominoes

Josh Da Silva: https://medium.com/@joshua.dasilva/my-5-defining-realizations-a5b602724f8e

Ramona Meharg: https://mycircus-mymonkeys-mo.blogspot.ca/2017/08/my-top-5-defining-moments-in-teaching.html 

Lisa Nobles: https://nobleknits2.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/my-5bested-decisions/ 

Tina Zita:  https://misszita.wordpress.com/2017/09/21/defining-moments/