Top 5 Defining Teaching Moments

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I want to preface this post by saying that I have only been teaching for 11 years now but in those 11 years, I have, in my opinion, seen some life changing moments as a teacher. The moments that redefine your direction and make you really reflect on why you teach and how. This post came about when I was tweeting away, like I usually do, about Self-Reg and I mentioned in passing that this was one of my Top 5 defining moments as a teacher. Well, I got a reply back asking my what my other four were. I did respond but thought that this would make a great post.

For those that missed the tweet, I stated that my top five moments where:

Let me elaborate a little more.

Constructivist teaching:

I was actually volunteering when I started exploring the pedagogy around constructivist teaching. To be honest this was life changing. When I first thought I wanted to be a teacher I was very traditionalist. I grew up having to memorize, practice and then replicate. School for me was easy because I could replicate.  I will preface that I don’t think I ever liked school but I went and did well. The principal at the time was a truly remarkable woman and well ahead of her time. She allowed me to sit in on many of the school PD sessions, where I heard Alex Lawson, Cathy Fosnot and other teachers talk about teaching and more importantly constructivist teaching. She also allowed me to question and ponder. It was here that I saw the power of allowing students to be at a disequilibrium and how it created deeper and more concrete understanding of the concepts being taught. I am so thankful for this experience has it has molded me into the teacher I am today.

My Daughter (Izzy) going to school:

This by far has been the greatest impact on me as a teacher. I know I have spoken about this a lot but being a parent has been so reflective and eye opening. That first moment that Izzy went to Kindergarten was life changing. For the first time, I understood what it was like to be on the other side of the fence. I saw why parents always asked me, “How are they doing?” and I understood what it felt like not knowing how to help or even what to help with. Izzy being in school also led me down a path to many other very interesting life changes: Self-Reg, Collaborative Problem Solving, Going Gradeless, thinking about DOERS instead of DOING and what school really is all about. It is funny, I thought that I was doing a great job as a teacher, and to be honest I probably was, but seeing her struggle made me see that I could do more as a teacher. So from the moment that she went in the door I strived to be the teacher that I wanted for her.

Going Gradeless:

This has been a very recent turning point in my career. If you want to read about the journey feel free to search my posts or click here.  In a nutshell, I felt that my students were not meeting their potential. Furthermore, I felt like I was jumping through hoops to get them to reflect and make it part of their lives. I questioned, what do marks really tell us? Could I define the difference between an A- and an A+, or even better a B+ and an A-? What was the difference? I had no clue. When I read Star Sackstein’s books my eyes were opened. I saw the power of feedback and how grades hindered my students from reflecting and seeing their own learning process. Now I am trying to hone this skill and have students reflect more about their learning.

Completing my Masters

We have all been in PD or even AQs that meant absolutely nothing. They were a waste of money and time but my experiences in my Masters has forever shaped my teaching. My thesis work was on Fractions but it was also on how effective my questions were as a teacher. I was able to video tape and really see how I taught. More importantly how those questions impacted my students learning. It was here I saw the importance of wait time and asking certain types of questions at the right time.

Self-Reg:

I’ll end with this but learning about self-reg has been truly transformational. I see behaviour, students, and life in a different light. I use to firmly believe that a strong strict line was all you needed to keep a class under control but I was wrong. Seeing what could impact students and even more important than some students (if not all) had stressors that caused their behaviours was eye opening. Now I see the world in a new light. I am able to often see problems before they arise and therefore stopping them before they even happen. It has also been remarkable to see the changes in kids when you show them you care and that you want to help them.

Well, these are my five changing moments and I am wondering what yours are. Please let me know what yours are.

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First Day of School!

We are quickly approaching the first day of school for Canada, well most of us (if you have been like me in a balanced calendar it’s now week four :)) But for many of us, the hustle and bustle of getting back into the swing of things is upon us. As I see the business unfold I cannot help but think about my daughter amongst other things that I hope I can articulate here.

I know lately a lot of my writing has been about my daughter but that is because she has been one of the biggest shifts in my career. You can read about her in other blog posts but in a nut shell, my daughter struggles with school. She has a communication delay and a social skill delay that makes being and doing “school” very hard.  So as everyone is getting ready for school, my daughter is building up her anxiety levels and has a hard time communicating this to us. All we get is aggression, behaviour and the occasional comment about her feelings. It isn’t that she hates school, or her teachers but that she knows she has a difficult time or seems to always get into trouble.

Recently some good friends of mine have been posting some interesting thoughts that have also made me think more about the first day or welcoming our new students. Aviva Dunsinger latest post on “rethinking the principal’s office” got me thinking about Self-Reg again and just this very moment Rolland Chidiac just posted this tweet:

In her post, (and I hope I do this justice), Aviva reflects on her new role this summer having to be an admin of a summer school program. She asks a hard question about the room and what it does to our kids but more importantly it was this quote that got me thinking.

Over the summer, every time that somebody’s approached me with a problem, I’ve tried to think of Stuart Shanker‘s words: “Why this child? Why now?” I’ve attempted to see the problem through a Self-Reg lens, and respond accordingly. I’m not going to say that this is always easy, or that I haven’t made mistakes, but something interesting happens in the “library office.” As children come in, sit down, and play, they slowly start to calm down. As they start to feel calm, they talk. It’s through this discussion that I begin to see the problem from their perspective. We work out solutions together and find a way to make it back to the classroom.

I have been on a long journey with my daughter and self-reg, and it has been the best journey of my life. Like Aviva, I now see a lot more through this lens. I am not always perfect at it but when I see a behaviour I automatically question why the child may feel that way and try to understand them. It isn’t anymore about the action they did but more about why they would be doing this. I am often reminded that students act out for four reasons: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired (H.A.L.T). When I try and see problems through this lens I can often circumvent the issue. In addition, the more I stay alerted for these problems the more I can be proactive and avoid the problems completely.

Rolland’a post fit so nicely into this thought too.  It reminded me about the opposite of Izzy (my daughter). Whereas she has anxiety towards school, there are some students wanting to be at school. Furthermore, our classroom maybe the safest place they will ever have. It is a powerful thing to think about.

We as educators have such a powerful place in society. I have always known this but the more I think about my daughter, Self-reg and the baggage/ journeys our students have the more I know this to be true. Our students each have a unique story. They all have their problems but the one thing they all have in common is they all want to be loved. At times this is harder to do but as Shanker reminds us:

There is no bad child

So as we start our new journey this year I would encourage you to think about your students. I know we all do but really think about their stories. When a problem occurs instead of thinking “oh here’s another problem” try and see why students are acting the way they are. Even the ones that really want to be at school may have different behaviours than the ones who don’t. Some may annoy, some may fight. Bottom line is all want to be loved and be with you. You are special to them. You make a difference and just like they matter, so do you. Good luck my friends as you enter this new journey. You are amazing!