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.

Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 6.48.57 PM

 

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.

IMG_3932.jpg

img_2195-e1512605645946.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

IMG_20170905_093538_113

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?

Beginner's Challenge (4).png

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:

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 10.18.04 PM.png

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:

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 10.29.26 PM.png

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!”

13517652_158397857910166_3129571859488540841_o.jpg

What would your students say about their year?

 

"How are they doing?" Famous words said by every parent, ever thought why?

Famous words of every parent during meet the teacher night and words that many of us teachers cringe at.  For me I always felt that the students should be able to articulate this point of view to the parents, and to some degree I still do; however, I was picking up my daughter for the first time from school the other day and had to use every muscle in my body to stop myself from saying, “How is Izzy doing?”

This got me thinking: Even though, I knew my philosophy on this and yet I still wanted to ask those dreaded words. Why? Because I truly wanted to know how she was doing?  
Its been an interesting phenomenon having my daughter enter the world of school. I mean I know how she reacts at home, I know how she learns and yet when she is off in a different time and space then I wonder how she truly is doing? 
Million questions run through my mind: How is she behaving? What is she learning? How can I help at home to make it smoother? etc. Its a lot of stress and anxiety to have. As a parent all you want is the best for your child and I know that teachers will always give their best for my daughter but I also know its a very difficult job. I also know my daughter and I really just want to help. 
And lately this has gotten me thinking about my own students and their parents. What do they feel like when they drop their children off at school? Are they wondering about the same types of things (most likely yes). 
Now I know that we as teachers will often have interviews for students of concern or with parents we need to talk to, or we often see parents outside on the playground and say hey they had a great day but I know from experience that this doesn’t really alleviate the stress of wondering what your child is actually going through every day.
With this in mind it has gotten me thinking about how can I alleviate this anxiety? So here is my plan:
1) continue using twitter and storify in the classroom.  In know that in previous post I have talked about this but these are amazing tools to have the parents see into the classroom. However, they don’t necessarily give a picture of a particular child’s strengths and next steps; just what they did and lately questions that can help with home.
2) So here is my insane idea, monthly summaries for each student.  Now I know many of you are thinking that this means more work for you as a teacher but I don’t want to write them just give time for them to be completed. 
My biggest concern as a parent is what is she working on, and how can I help at school. Having these monthly reports would be, at least in my opinion, a great way of communicating this. This also will coincide with our schools philosophy of goal setting and making those goals public.  Now I am also about not making more work then what is needed. I have a new born and my own daughter that I want to spend time with. I mean as we speak I am writing this blog as my daughter is having a bath. So how can we make this work?

Conferencing has been always been an important part of my teaching but even more so now.  My goal is always to meet with the students four times a month.  During these meetings we discuss: reading goals, reading levels, math strategies, next steps, and classroom questions.  My thinking is that we turn these conferences back on the students and once a month we write down what we worked on this month, what our reading level is, where we would like to be and what our next steps are.  I was also thinking of adding in a parent connection where I can or students write what they would like to see at home.
3) I want to send home weekly good news. I hear this all the time in other amazing classes and I keep saying that I am going to do this but I really will now. Every week I want to send home five good news tickets, telling parents what amazing things that their child has done. Doesn’t have to be academic just something that they can be proud of.  Now this may be a little more work but I think it would be worth it to build that community and trust.
4) Quarterly classroom visits: Now this is something that we already do.  Twice a term I want to invite the parents into the classroom during the day so their child can talk to them about what they are learning. This will primarily be on #geniushour but it can also be on any other topic.
I have learned more and more how important this connection is between the teacher and parent.  As my daughter starts her career in school, I and my wife just want to be a part of it.  She is our child and all we want is success.  Creating this team dynamic will only help her’s and our student’s success. 
Now this is a work in progress I am not too sure if it is logistically sound but I think it will work.  What do you think? Have you experienced this personally? What do you do in the classroom to communicate with all of the parents not just the ones that struggle? 

My 2ndish attempt at using provocations

I would like to think that I teach through Inquiry.  I really try to keep all of my work about the kids and their thinking; however, I do find myself still leading discussions more than I would like.  Then I learned about provocations.  WOW! I know that I have previously blog about this subject but since that time I have tried to use them more.  Today in science I did just that (at least I hope I did).

Here is what I did:

1) I got a bunch of experiments working on air and water

Center 1: AIR

Center 2: Water
Embedded image permalink
(note: some of these items were for other provocations)
Center 3: Water Cycle
Center #4: Pollution
I then broke them into groups had books and iPads at the centers and asked them what do they observe?  Wow, I couldn’t believe the talk, the focus, and  the engagement.  Take a look at this shot:
Here the students were so engrossed in what was happening that they didn’t even notice me.  They were saying, “cool look its raining!”  They were also using the vocabulary that we have been building before this through our watercraft project.
What did I learn?

1) Inquiry (true inquiry) is allowing planned exploration.  Students really need time to explore and make observations about the subjects.
2) This takes a lot of planning.  I been planning this for some time now (many thanks to my amazing PLN for their help in this).  As I have been planning I had to think about questions, get all of the materials ready and even think about possible misconceptions.
3) True assessment.  I was amazed at what the students had absorbed through previous books, the Watercraft project and our discussions.
4) Its a lot of fun to watch the joy and engagement of true learning
So if you haven’t done provocations before, give it ago.  Its a lot of fun and you would be surprised at what you will learn about your students.

Geometry

I started this blog to talk about the things I did in my classroom but it has turned into more of ramblings on education; however, this blog post I want to focus on some things that I have been doing in the classroom with my grade twos.  

As I have stated before, I predominately teach through inquiry and problem based learning especially in math.  Rarely, if at all, will you find me lecturing, I just don’t think kids want to hear me ramble or that they are really listening. Instead I try to facilitate discussion through activities, problems, projects and carefully planned questions.  However, there are still some subject areas that I have trouble with, geometry is one of them.  The reason I struggle with this is it’s sometimes really hard to come up with a context or a problem that allows students to explore the concepts that you are teaching. Not only this, but there is a lot of vocabulary, or social constructs as I like to coin it, that students just need to learn (e.g. The name of a four sided shape is a quadrilateral). Moving to primary has allowed me to shift my thinking nd find more ways to explore these concepts.  I have had to revisit many of my favourite resources, like VanDeWalle, Marilyn Burns and Fosnot. VanDeWalle has an amazing learning progression for geometry in his book.
Here are some of my activities: 
1) concept attainment: yes and no categories
For this activity, I had a bunch of 3D figures or shapes for students to see. I placed one object in the yes and then another in the no. I would then have the students discuss what they think is happening.  I would then place another object in the yes and no category.  Once this was done we would discuss and then I sent them off to try and figure out my rule or concept I was trying to get them to see.  This was great for teaching terms like parallel, shape names (quadrilateral, triangle, prism, pyramid), etcetera.
2) 4 triangle problem
This problem is in numerous resources but I found it in Mariyln Burns book.  For this problem, I gave my students four equilateral triangles and told them they had to make as many different shapes as possible. They then had to organize there shapes.  This was really good for teaching shape names and other various properties.
3) property hunt:
This activity is one that I traditionally do as it lends itself to exploring the various shapes and figures.  For this activity I have the shapes or figures out and the students just try to find as many properties as they can. Normally, I would tell my students what properties they would be looking for or at least brain storm ideas from them.  However, this year I just let them search.  This often would generate lots of questions, which I would then stop the class and have mini congresses ( debriefing).  This would then lead to more questions, exploration and so on.  This change has really opened up my students understanding and has helped me see what the students actually understand versus what they have absorbed.  
4) Make a figure
This particular activity is used for 3D figures but possibly could be modified for 2D shapes.  For this activity I gave my students various shapes and asked them to find what figure they made.  This actually generated some really cool discussions around prisms an d pyramids.
For me inquiry is the best way of teaching but it does have some problems here or there.  I hope that these are useful ideas.  If you have any great lessons you love, please share; would love to hear them.