I Want To Do More Than “My Best!”

I’ve participated in professional development sessions before, where groups of educators have discussed what we can do to improve. As we look at options, often the point is made that, “we all do our best.” We all try as hard as we can. And I get that! I’ve made this point myself — many times

Recently though, I’ve been reading and thinking more about comments made by John Hattie, and doing “my best,” no longer seems good enough. On page 9 of this document, Hattie says that, “Expert teachers are more likely to set challenging rather than ‘do your best’ goals …” Hattie’s referring to goals for students, but shouldn’t we as teachers, hold the same high expectations for ourselves? I think that I almost always “do my best”:

  • I know my students.
  • I differentiate to try and meet all student needs.
  • I offer lots of voice and choice in the classroom.
  • I plan ahead.
  • I try to stick with predictable routines.
  • I try to always remain calm.
  • I ask for input from other educators.
  • I make changes to my teaching practices based on feedback from others.

And yet, every day, despite my best efforts, there’s always something I can do differently. I often drive home and think, “If only I …,” or “Tomorrow, I’m going to do … instead.” Thinking about what Hattie says, I want to be able to do more than “my best,” and I want to know that challenging myself to do more will benefit my students even more as as result. 

How do you set these high expectations for yourself and your students? How do you see “problems” not as failures, but as opportunities to improveI’d love to hear your thoughts!


Being There!

So I finally became brave enough to leave school and come home tonight, and I didn’t exactly get the news that I was hoping for. The vet wanted to do a biopsy of the lump on Toby’s head, but it’s too large. He was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to stop the bleeding. He took some blood tests, but the lump will need to be removed. What concerns the vet — and therefore, concerns me — is that Toby has lost eight pounds in a very short period of time, despite eating and exercising the same amount as usual.

My Two Dogs: Toby And Zoe

My Two Dogs: Toby And Zoe

Needless to say, I’ve shed a few tears tonight, but I’m still hoping for some good news — at some point, somehow. This personal experience makes me think a lot about my class though. Tomorrow, I’ll be going to school. My student teacher is off sick, and for the first time in over a month, I’ll actually be teaching. I’ll be conferencing with groups of students, leading lessons, and listening to learning. Tomorrow, I can’t be sad.

I can’t help but think of the wonderful FISH Philosophy book that I read many years ago. Tomorrow, I need to “be there” for the students because they deserve my attention and support. I am human. I do have a life outside of the classroom, and I do feel emotions connected with that life. But when I’m at school and in the classroom, I’m a teacher, and even though I have a lump in my throat now, tomorrow I’ll be excited to teach. Sitting with the students, hearing their ideas, and seeing what they do will make me feel that excitement, I’m sure.

How do you ensure that you’re “there” for the students during your own difficult times? I’d love to hear your words of advice!


I Should Be Heading Home, But I’m Not …

It’s almost 6:00 at night, and I should be heading home. The truth is though, I’m scared. Late this afternoon, my parents took my dogs to the vet. They needed a check-up, but my oldest dog, Toby, also has a large growth on his head. It started out looking like a wart. Cocker spaniels get warts, and an over-the-counter wart medicine, seemed to help. In the last couple of months though, the growth keeps growing. It’s really large now and takes over a huge part of his head. He keeps on itching it, and it’s bleeding a lot. The vet knows that it’s there, and he’s going to do a biopsy on it.

Toby Is Lying On The Blanket

Toby Is Lying On The Blanket

Dr. Google can be a wonderful thing or a terrible thing. I couldn’t help myself, so I Googled last week to find out more about Toby’s growth. It doesn’t look good. I’m terrified that it’s cancer. I’m terrified that I’m going to have to make a choice about what to do, and I don’t want to make this choice. I’ve had many dogs in my lifetime. When I was younger, we had to give a dog away because we were moving to a smaller house and she would’t have the area she needed to play. Then when I grew up, we got two other dogs: Princess and Maggie. One day, I came home from school and I found Princess dead. I was devastated! A couple of years after Princess died, Maggie did too. She had kidney failure, and we had to make the choice to put her down. It was one of the most difficult decisions we ever had to make.

Our dogs have always been very loyal to us (as dogs tend to be), but Zoe and Toby are different. They are incredibly loyal to each other. Zoe, in particular, adores Toby. She makes the most heart-wrenching sound if he ever needs to go to the vet and she’s left alone. I can’t even imagine what would happen if Toby has cancer. At this point, his appetite and activity level are normal (which is good), but this growth isn’t normal. I’m trying to tell myself to calm down. I’m trying to tell myself that it’s going to be okay. I’m trying to tell myself that I can handle the news, whatever it is, but at this point, I’m struggling with listening to myself.

And so I chose to blog. I chose to share what I’m thinking and feeling with the hope that it will help me feel better. This is not a professional post at all, and for that I apologize, but if all of my blog readers can think some positive thoughts tonight, I’d appreciate it! For now, I need to be brave. I need to head home, and I need to hear about what happened with Toby. I’m really, really hoping for good news!


Contemplating Changes … And Yes, Again! :)

Today, I read a blog post by Cristina Milos in response to my post from yesterday. Cristina amazes me with what she does with her Grade 2 students, and if I ever make it to Rome one day, I definitely hope to see her class in action.

When I blogged yesterday, I really believed that there was value in Friday’s Visual Arts/Science activity, and in many ways, I still do. I’m passionate about many things in education, but one of my biggest passions is differentiated instruction: providing choices to meet the needs of all learners. Often Visual Arts is a great instructional strategy that helps many of my neediest learners understand difficult concepts and meet with success. They are able to show what they know and see what others have learned because of the visuals that are shared. While creating their artistic pieces on Friday, I overheard and participated in numerous conversations about natural phenomena (connected to our Science unit) and elements of design (connected to our Visual Arts expectations). Thinking was evident in both what the students did and what they shared.

All of this being said though, Cristina’s post made me stop and think. As I plan ahead for our final Science unit on Conservation of Energy and Resources, I’d love to try some of her ideas to develop deeper student thinking. I’ve seen question stems in the past, and used them a bit, but never as much as I should. I decided to type out the ones that Cristina shared, and I’m going to use them along with the overall expectations to help drive student inquiry. I’ve also created an anticipation guide that links to many of the specific expectations that fall under the first overall one and many of the big ideas (for this new unit – page 107). My plan is to have students start by completing this anticipation guide (with the Yes/No question format, all students can definitely do this). Our initial research can link to the ideas in these questions, which will hopefully link to new wonderings and investigations, all while developing deeper thinking about energy conservation. Depending on how things go, I’d like to use a similar format for the two other overall expectations.

This has been a year of many changes, and thanks to Cristina’s post, I’ll definitely be making a couple more before the year is through. I’m currently still planning a link between Science and Visual Arts/Media, but this plan may change depending on where students go with their questions and where we go as a class with our thinking. And maybe this is truly the incredible thing about sharing online: we get to see the amazing teaching and learning that is happening around the world, and we get to improve our own teaching practices as a result. The big winners here: the kids!

What changes have you made to your practices (be it teaching or administrative) based on blog posts that you’ve read? What impact have these changes had on students? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Does “Sharing Publicly” Make You More Accountable?

I was in the middle of writing a blog post last night, when I received an email that changed things for me. This email was a notification that I had a comment on my class blog. How exciting! I opened up the message to view the comment on our Daily Shoot Blog Post and here’s what I saw: 2014-04-26_07-30-18 Cristina Milos is an educator from Rome that is a very important part of my PLN. She always manages to push my thinking and question me to always consider the purpose behind what I do and why I do it. I appreciate this — a lot — and that’s why her comment not only lead to a lengthy reply on my other post, but a blog post of its own here.

All night long, I’ve been thinking about what Cristina wrote. As a teacher that’s started using inquiry so much more in the classroom this year, and really worked on developing critical thinking skills, her comment bothered me. I’m not upset because she questioned me, but I’m upset because I’d hate to think that the projects didn’t “enable deeper thinking.” And this is when my “assessment for learning” became so critical. At around 5:00 this morning, I started going through the photographs, videos, anecdotal notes, and reflections that I’ve collected over the past two weeks as my students have been immersed in this task. Here’s what I found:

  • For the research component of this task, most groups started with a very straight forward research question. My student teacher and I conferenced with the groups of students, and through our questions and their wonders, the students modified their questions to apply what they read and heard and truly make sense of various natural phenomena. Students asked each other questions throughout the process. They challenged each other’s thinking, and they showed their own in their written notes, sketches, and oral and video recordings.
  • For the poem writing component of this task, the students had to apply what they learned about onomatopoeia and personification in the writing of their poems. When conferencing with my student teacher and/or myself, they had to explain how their word choices and ideas connected with their research. They needed to show their understanding of the content as well as their thinking behind this content. Students started to discuss and challenge each other’s thinking in their small groups first: leading to editing their poem throughout the process and generating new ideas that better showcased their natural phenomenon.
  • For the visual arts component of the task, students had to think about how to take their research and showcase their learning through their paintings, drawings, or creations. They needed to consider the elements of design, and explain how they used the various elements and why they chose to use those elements in this particular case. As they spoke to each other in their small groups, and as my student teacher and I conferenced with them, students questioned their choices, reconsidered new ways to showcase their learning, and started to think of ways to use different elements of design that they have not used before.

This bulletin board display also serves another purpose: it provides a reminder, all around the room, of the different natural phenomena and their impact on structures. It helps immerse the students in the content, and provides the visuals and informational reminders that some students need as they continue to apply their learning for the last part of this Science unit. For on Monday, students are going to see my student teacher’s latest provocation: 2014-04-26_08-00-39 Before school begins, she’s going to pour on some water, and then this “little town” will be ready. Students will need to discuss what natural disaster(s) could have resulted in this horrible destruction. They’ll need to use evidence from what they see, as well as from the research around the room, to support their ideas. Students will challenge each other’s thinking through their questions and comments on our Natural Disaster Detective Work Radio Show. Now the students will need to use their thinking from before to think even more as they tackle this new challenge.

And as I sit here, on this early Saturday morning, thinking more about Cristina’s comment, I’m reminded about something important: it’s good to be held accountable for what we do. Cristina made me think even more about the choices I made, what my students did, and most importantly, why my students did this. She reminded me that it’s ALWAYS important to have students think deeply about their learning, and she made me reflect on how much thinking they did. She also made me think about where we’re going next in this Structures/Natural Phenomena Science Unit, and how I’m going to get students to think deeply during our introductory activity, but also later, during our bridge task. Cristina’s getting me to start out by considering the “deep thinking” opportunities I’m giving the students, and how I can get the class to talk and write even more about their thinking. Thanks Cristina!

Does “sharing publicly” make you more accountable, and how do you feel about this? How has “sharing publicly” changed your practices? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!