An Open Door

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Have you ever thought about what makes your class or school special? Ever wondered what makes the difference that makes the difference? These have been questions that I continue to look for and reflect on all of the time.

Today something sparked my thoughts even more. I was in a meeting today, with a bunch of staff, talking with our Superintendent about our wonderful school, when one of my colleagues made an interesting statement.

When I first came here I took a back seat to reflect on what makes this school special. Part of what I noticed was that everyone’s door was open….

She went on to further describe that having an open door showed her how open and comfortable we were with one another. I can go to anyone for help no matter what.

Now, I am slightly paraphrasing here but you get the understanding of this message. Even as I write this I am still struggling to find words to talk about my thoughts but I thought I would share some of these thoughts with you. You see, she hasn’t been the first person to mention that there is something special about Ray Lawson.   I have also noticed that things are different here but couldn’t figure out why. When my colleague made this statement it was a big aha for me. It never dawned on me how something as simple as an open door could help others see you were warm and there to help, it was something I just did.

 

As teachers, we want to create a culture where students are competent, curious, and capable. We also want to create a culture of love and understanding. But for that to happen it starts with us. The comment my colleague said, made me think about how I present myself to my colleagues and to my students/ parents. Do they see that what I am saying is put into practice? or do they see something different?

I never would have thought that something as small as an open door would make such a difference but it does. Here at Ray Lawson, we walk into each other’s classrooms all the time. No one ever bats an eyelash. We talk about best practices, we talk about students and we question our teaching, ALL THE TIME. Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 6.48.57 PM

In Peel, this is one of our beliefs but how do we put this into practice? What do you do in your classroom that allows students, parents and other teachers to see you as open, flexible and responsive to their needs?  Love to hear your thoughts.

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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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My Guest Post on Starr Sackstien’s Blog: A Grading Journey of Epic Proportions (Part 1)

Here is part one of my guest post on Starr Sackstein blog post. It is a post about my journey ongoing gradeless. Part one deals more with my beginnings and initial thoughts and part 2 will deal with my classroom and student samples. Hope you enjoy!

 

Jonathan So shares his experiences of going ‘gradeless’ and offers some insights into his process. Read on to see how he reflected and adjusted his learning to better help students reflect and grow as learners.

Source: Guest Post: A Grading Journey of Epic Proportions (Part 1)

Some more reflecting

Last week I asked my students to do a final reflection on Grade Six. I gave them a google form that asked four questions:

  1. Rate your year
  2. What is your favourite memory?
  3. What is one thing that you loved about the year?
  4. What is one thing that you would change?

It was amazing to hear their words and voice through the form. I loved the honesty and it really has me thinking.

The questions that I focused on was what did you love and what would you change. Here is the response to what I loved:

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What really struck me were two things:

  1. They loved the use of technology
  2. They loved their freedom

Technology struck me because you often assume that these children are growing up in a digital age, shouldn’t they be used to using technology? But that really isn’t the case. Sure they are digital consumers of things but they don’t really know how to use it. In addition, I know that we have the tech in the classrooms but it isn’t always being used. I know that it is more but many teachers are hesitant to use it because we ourselves have no idea what to do with it. But what this really shows me is that our students don’t really know what to do with it. It shows me that we still need to teach them proper digital skills to create and use technology for educational means. They need to learn and be taught how to harness the power of technology and not just use it in the classroom. The kids want to use it they just need to know how to apply it.

The last part really struck home. This year I have been experimenting more with allowing my grade sixes to have the freedom to choose the path that they want. I want them to be in charge of their learning. The more I teach the more I am getting tired of pushing curriculum and telling students how to learn. I want my students to learn because they want to learn. I want them to be in school because they want to be in school. I know that we have a curriculum to teach and that it was made with good solid research but I still want my students to feel empowered by it and not because I put on a song and dance. This year I have tried a variety of things from rearranging my classroom, passion projects, to doing badging and going gradeless. It is great to see my student are loving those changes, that they actually made an impact. It’s amazing to see when you turn things over to your students what and how they learn. They are amazing people.

I was also equally shocked by what my students said they wanted to change:

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A lot of it centered around working in groups for math. I think I need to do some more work around how to work in groups and why we work in groups. Though I also wonder if students need some time alone to think. It reminds me of the book “Quiet.” Do we as teachers sometimes forget about those quiet moments where we reflect or think on our own? I know that group collaboration is a skill but so is working on our own. Do we give our students enough balance? I also loved the line about more homework, had a chuckle with that one.

Overall, this year has been about showing my students that they have a voice and that they are in charge of their learning. I want them to be comfortable in who they are, and know what they need to do in order to learn. I did ask one more question and that was what is one piece of advice you would give next year’s Grade Six. I did smile a little when I saw the responses because it was exactly what I was telling them all year, “Be bold, Be Brave, Be confident!”

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What would your students say about their year?

 

Just want to say Thank you

 

Thank You

As many of you know school has not been the easiest thing for my daughter. She did once love the idea but since she started JK she has had a lot of social problems and developmental delays in this area. We have learned so much with her and to be honest having my child in school has made me a better teacher. However, this year has been different and I just wanted to share my thank you note with everyone.

Dear Izzy’s Teachers,

I want to first tell you that you have made a huge difference. From one educator to another, you are amazing. I hope you realize how much of a difference that you have made in Izzy’s life and our own. You didn’t look at her as a problem or as a label, you saw her. You saw the funny, caring and spontaneous kid that she is. You saw the smile, the laughter, and her capabilities. You saw all this even when she couldn’t. You brought the love of school back into the heart of a child. You made a difference.

I know that it wasn’t the easiest year. As her parents, we know that she struggles with learning and expressing herself in positive ways. We know that she can be stubborn, willful and hard to deal with. We know that she is not a perfect child but we also know that she is amazing individual and you saw that too.

I don’t think words can express what you have done for Izzy and us but I wanted you to know. Izzy comes home and wants to talk about school, she wants to go to school in the morning and she wants to stay when I pick her up. She comes home ready to write and read anything that you have given her and we have started to see that spark that she had in preschool. You have made that difference for her.

You have dedicated your time to help her learn, to cope with her anxieties and learn how to handle social situations. You have taught her that she is special, that she matters. And we are very grateful for your time and effort this year.

Your passion, your dedication and your love of children shine in every interaction you have with Izzy and ourselves. You are an amazing teacher.

From the bottom of our hearts,

Jennifer and Jonathan

I share this note because being a parent has taught me a lot about being a teacher. I hope that all teachers look at each student and see who they truly are. I know it is very tough sometimes. I know that especially at the end of the year they can get on our nerves and I also know that many of us are ready for the end of June. But all I can keep thinking about is my daughter. She is and can be very trying at times but there is a reason; there always is a reason. We have to see the why’s behind our children’s behaviours can problems. All kids want and will behave if they knew how. All kids want to be good. We have been very fortunate this year to have four amazing educators in Izzy’s life and I know we all are educators because we love kids, just keep thinking about that.

Using coding to teach mathematics

I have been a proponent of coding for quite some time. I feel that it will be a skill that students need in the future. I know that this may cause some stir in many of you but here is my reasons:

1) Though I do agree with who knows what the future may hold, I do believe that this is a skill all kids will need. At one point in time no one knew how to read. In fact it was only geared to the clergy because they had to read the bible. Now that skill is in every classroom. We may not be there yet but I think we are very close. Coding is a part of everything that we do and our everyday. I think that it is important to know how things operate. Yes that does mean changing our oil and fixing our cars. We may not have the time but I think as adults these are important skills. Students now should learn about how their electronics work. How do we make them do what we want to do? I am not saying that all of them will become computer programers but we should understand the basics.

2) Coding does more then just teach programming skills. Students learn critical thinking, problem solving, and being creative. As students try and code they learn to research, ask questions and work through till they get a solution

3) Most kids if not all, love to code. Now I say this with a side note. I do find that when the task is meaningless then some kids are not as engaged with coding but if they are creating something and the right differentiation is in place then they are all in. To be honest you can say this with most ideas but it does apply here.

4) Coding teaches logical order and research skills. I don’t have numbers yet but the more that I have done coding the more that I have noticed my students critical thinking and sequencing skills improve. I have noticed my students improve in making connections and seeing how all the big ideas link together. Again I cannot say this is all coding but I believe that this is a major reason. 

For me coding fits naturally with mathematics. I mean the main idea of spatial sense is right in our curriculum. However, that is not the only area you can use it for.

Today I thought of turning a quite boring lesson of order of operations into a coding exercise.  It was really cool to see the students take a foundational lesson and a very procedural lesson and apply some creative and problem solving skills.

The challenge was to create an app that can test students understanding of order of operations. Students had to also have their users think about misconceptions and possible errors.

Here is what the code looked like for most:

The students still need more time but here is the sample that we have been working on, link. 

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Throughout this process the main purpose was not to teach coding but to understand the basic idea around order of operation. Sure I could have just told them the answer but they have now started to work through the procedure and how students can make mistakes. I hope that when we debrief they will forever have an understanding of order of operation.

This is just one example of how coding can fit into our everyday math lessons. The main focus should always be the concept and idea of math and then the tool. By teaching this way I have allowed my students to explore order of operation and to critically think about the concept.

I encourage you to try coding in your math classroom