My One Word

This morning, I read a wonderful New Year’s blog post by Sue Dunlop: one of our Board’s superintendents, and an educator, blogger, and person that I truly admire. Like Sue, I hadn’t really planned on writing a New Year’s post. I’ve never done so before. I blog very regularly —¬†sometimes it seems like too much ūüôā — and I try to reflect all the time as well. I wasn’t sure that there would be more for me to add in a New Year’s post. But Sue’s post was different than the New Year’s blog post that¬†initially came to mind. In her post, she came up with “one word” to really focus on as she continues to learn, reflect, and grow in the coming year. I liked this idea. My one word for 2015 is getting (doesn’t count¬† ¬† ūüôā )¬†uncomfortable.

For the year ahead, I’m going to try to challenge myself to do things that are hard.

  • Maybe it will be performing at another school assembly.
  • Maybe it will be talking to someone new.
  • Maybe it will be making new connections with colleagues both at my school and online.
  • Maybe it will be spending a little more time in the staffroom and at a different spot at the long table.
  • Maybe it will be coming home and getting on the exercise bike first instead of doing the school work that has always been first for my “at home routine.” (The school work will still get done, but maybe just a little later on.)
  • Maybe it will be taking some¬†more time on the weekends to spend with friends and family. (I like to use the weekends to prepare for the week ahead, and I still will, but maybe I’ll also work in a little more time for me too.)
  • Maybe it will be taking the plunge, and having some conversations that I know I need to have, but just haven’t worked up the courage to yet.

These are all challenges for me. They’re all going to give me that stomach swirling feeling of being¬†uncomfortable, but I know that they’ll also help me be a better person and teacher.¬†What’s your “word” for 2015?¬†

I look forward to reflecting throughout the year and seeing just how well I do at embracing this uncomfortable feeling. Let the new year start with a wonderful new challenge! Thanks Sue!


Studying Structures: What Would You Do?

It’s the second week of Winter Holidays, and I can’t help but start thinking about heading back to school next week. While I took much of the holidays to relax, meet with friends, celebrate with family members, and read (I’m just starting book 11 ūüôā ), I’m now starting to do some planning for January. One of the subjects that I’m really looking closely at is Science. We’re just beginning to explore structures and materials.

I should mention here that I’m not a fan of themes. While as a grade team, we’ve decided on the Science strands that we’re going to comment on each term, elements of all of the strands/units have made their way into first term and will be present in second term as well. That being said, before we left school for the holidays, I created some building challenges for the students (seen in our Daily Shoot Blog Posts):¬†they connected with measurement (using non-standard units), counting and one-to-one correspondence, and structures. The class loved them, and really seem interested in this type of hands-on learning. It therefore makes sense —¬†based on interest¬†— to start exploring structures more.

With this in mind, I’ve been reading and thinking about the Science expectations very carefully over the past week. I ordered some books online about structures, and even made a trip to Chapters to pick up a couple of books and a building activity for the class.

2014-12-30_09-55-592014-12-30_09-55-37The books that arrived (and the ones that are still coming) made me think about how and why we build. Then I started to think about an activity that I did many years ago in Grade 1 when students were learning about structures: it was The Three Little Pigs Meet The Big Bad Blowdryer. Not only was this activity a lot of fun, but it helped students apply what they learned about structures and materials in the design and creation of their houses. The reflection at the end of the activity really got students thinking about materials and their purpose.

Then I started to wonder though, how does this Three Little Pigs activity connect to the real world?¬†That’s when I thought back to last year in Grade 5, and our introduction to the Science unit on Structures and Natural Phenomena. Building materials matter because they need to protect people from the weather. I wonder if a similar provocation in Grade 1 would get students thinking about structures and materials. This might provide a real world context for what the students are learning. I can also see some interest in writing, as they act like detectives and record what they observe: looking closely at the details and adding more details to their writing.

These activities may get the students really thinking about materials,¬†but¬†that’s just one of the overall expectations. There is also the expectation exploring¬†“the impact on people and the environment.” Looking at the specific expectations gave me an idea here. One specific expectation talks about identifying waste in the classroom and developing a plan of action. Right before the break, many of the students noticed that our garbage cans and recycling bins are always full.¬†But are they full of the right materials? What could we do to produce less waste?¬†Hopefully these student observations can help us develop a class plan and even track how we do —¬†I see a connection to Data Management.¬†Students can maybe even self-assess how they do at producing less waste and heeding to the suggestions in our plan, even setting their own goals for how they can do better. Maybe they can also share what they’ve learned about reducing waste with other classes through their written work and/or production of media texts:¬†making a connection to Language that can also allow the students to explore this topic more during our Writer’s Workshop time.¬†I see this Waste Reduction Plan as possibly being a class project that lasts throughout the year depending on student interest. (Now if we could look at getting a worm¬†composter, this could even have a great overlap with our Science unit on Living Things¬†‚Ķ)

Finally, we need to look at the purpose of structures, and how the design suits that purpose. After exploring the purpose of different structures, this is usually when students build their own. In the past, I had them¬†use recyclable materials to make a playground (or an object in a playground). We then tested out the playground, and the unit was done. Students enjoyed building these playground structures, but now I can’t help but wonder,¬†why build them? What is the real purpose for what the students are doing?¬†This is when I started thinking about Anamaria Ralph: a Kindergarten teacher in Toronto that I love to learn from online. She blogged about a bird inquiry in her classroom, and how her students created nests (after researching about them). I wonder if my students could create their own nests, and what might happen if we put them outside.¬†Would birds actually use them?¬†At one point, I wondered about having students use materials to create “homes” for animals, but I was afraid that if we put them outside, some animals might choke on the materials used. Then I started wondering about the environmental impact of putting foreign materials into the environment.¬†I guess this connects to our expectations, but I worry about testing this out if it means harming animals and/or the environment.¬†I wonder if students would recognize the problems with this plan if faced with the challenge.

I do think that students need opportunities to build for different purposes though, which is why I bought Crazy Forts. This building activity looks similar to the straws and jacks that I have in the classroom. I wonder which one will offer more support. As I tweeted about Crazy Forts this week, Matthew Oldridge, a Mathematics Resource Teacher in Peel, tweeted me back.


I see connections to Geometry and Spatial Sense as well as structures through his questions.¬†But why build these Crazy Forts?¬†I know:¬†to create some quiet, unique places for us to read and write and to make a “home” and/or a storage area for the stuffed animals that are coming our way.¬†Shirley-Anne Stretton, a Grade 2 teacher at Ancaster Meadow, had her class collect stuffed animals to send to ours as part of a pen-pal activity. We’re going to be Skyping with her class in January, and writing to them after that. Students will be bringing home the stuffed animals, but we’ll need to keep them somewhere during the day:¬†why not in a structure created by the students? We can even design and build structures with different materials and choose the best one:¬†looking closely at both design and material.¬†Volume and counting will also play a role in this storage area challenge —¬†again linking Math and Science.


Then there’s also this Document Camera Challenge that I’d like to possibly try out again. The Grade 1/2 class next to ours has a document camera, so students could even see how it functions before looking at alternatives. We could talk about the benefits of having one, and how we could make one to use when we need it. I already have webcams (more than one) so this challenge would be easy to do. I remember that it really got my Grade 1’s thinking about design, and they saw a real purpose for what they designed. I also happen to love Jared Bennett’s post on document cameras, and I’d love to see what these young students could create (and the thinking behind their creations).

As I continue to think through the planning and execution of this Science unit (for lack of a better word), these questions come to mind:

  • What have you tried before?
  • How has it worked?
  • How do you assess and evaluate the student work?
  • How do you communicate this assessment and evaluation with students?
  • What role, if any, do students play in their own assessment and evaluation?

While I can see how to create rubrics for many¬†of these activities, I wonder if they’re the best option. I can definitely see the use of Learning Goals and Success Criteria, and I can see how students could use these during reflection times (either in oral or written form). I still need to eventually put a mark on report cards though, so should I be providing marks during the unit?¬†I’m still considering options, and would¬†love to hear your opinions. Thanks for the help!


How Do We Get More Reading?

I remember one day in university, I was waiting at the bus stop with my good friend, Matt, as we were on our way to Nipissing for an evening class. I happened to mention to Matt that he was one of the luckiest people that I knew, and that’s when he spoke to me about his beliefs on “luck”:¬†best summarized by saying that in life, we really¬†create our own destiny.¬†I couldn’t help but think back on this conversation today as I commented on this great blog post by Doug Peterson.

When it comes to having administrators in our Board reading what I share through my blogs (class and professional), I feel very fortunate. My past and current principal and vice principal regularly read my blog posts. Sometimes they comment on them. Sometimes they tweet me about them, or even share them via Twitter. And sometimes they email me about these posts or we discuss them in person. We don’t talk about every post —¬†I blog a lot ūüôā — but we do talk about many of them, and I know that they read them. I also know that other people in our Board read them:¬†from people at my school (teachers, EAs, parents, and one of our secretaries), teachers in other schools, and even one of our superintendents and the previous Director of Education.¬†How do all of these people¬†come to read my blog posts?¬†Because I share these posts with them. I may specifically email or tweet them links, or I may just send out general tweets, and they may happen to catch them. Whatever the way, I’m glad that they read these posts, and I’m even happier that they talk to me about them.

While I can understand the point in Doug’s post that it’s important for administrators to know what teachers are doing, I think that if we, as teachers, want¬†administrators and superintendents¬†to know, then we need to share this information with them. We need to encourage them¬†to read what we write, but we also need to be open to feedback from them:¬†positive and negative.¬†This is not about administrators evaluating us. It’s about learning together, hearing other perspectives, contemplating difficult questions, and being open to new ideas. Reflecting on Doug’s post, I can’t help but wonder why we¬†want administrators and superintendents to read our¬†posts.¬†Is it because we want them to celebrate what we do in the classroom, or is it because we want to learn together with them?¬†I think that we need to have both.

I also think that we need to consider those people that are not sharing online. There are amazing educators doing incredible things in our schools every day, but they’re not using social media.¬†How are we seeing what they’re doing? How are administrators and superintendents getting glimpses into their classrooms?¬†Maybe what Doug’s post highlights the most is the need for “sharing and celebrating time” with teachers, administrators, and superintendents. I wonder if we can think beyond “luck” and create the conditions for this to happen. As we work and learn together, those that benefit the most are the students.¬†¬†How do we get all stakeholders in education reading, listening, sharing, and conversing? Are we all ready to hear these varied voices?¬†I’d love to hear what you have to say!



The Best Gift Of All

We’re now less than a week away from Christmas, and with the holidays so close, there is often lots of talk about gift giving and gift receiving. Yesterday, was the last day of school before the holidays, and I’m very thankful for all of the lovely presents I received from students, parents, colleagues, and friends. A teacher at school yesterday morning taught¬†me though of the best gift of all.

A few minutes before school started, one of my colleagues came by the classroom. When he came in, he said that he just had a little something small for me for the holidays. He then handed over a little box of chocolates and the most lovely card. This teacher is always so positive¬†and so supportive of everyone, but I totally did not expect this “special gift”:¬†encouraging words to show that what I’m doing, matters.

This was just one of many wonderful surprises in the last days before the holidays.

  • A lovely personalized card from my principal and vice principal with kind words of support.
  • Incredibly sweet notes from a couple of EA’s that I have the pleasure of working and learning with every day at school.
  • Some¬†surprise tweets, and even a blog post comment, from my previous principal and vice principal:¬†both showing that they care, even though I may have moved schools.
  • Kind emails, notes, tweets, and words uttered aloud by parents, colleagues, and students that offer that little extra encouragement at what can be a stressful time of the year.¬†
  • Unexpected hugs, high-fives, and sweet “goodbyes” from students, as they get ready to leave for the holidays.

These are those special moments that I truly love. I remember when I was in high school and attended an Awards Banquet. The guest speaker at the time —¬†I wish that I could¬†remember his name¬†— spoke about the fact that we’re always so quick to send notes and make phone calls when¬†there are problems, but much less likely to do so, just to say, “thank you.”¬†How do you show your appreciation of others all year long?¬†Whether in a quick note, tweet, email, or conversation, I’m going to try to not just wait until the holiday times to let people know that they matter. Kind words can truly be the best presents of all!


A Little Positivity For This Holiday Grinch :)

We are approaching the last day of school before the holidays. I think that most students and educators alike are getting excited about the time off and the chance to re-charge. Most teachers will tell you that the last week before the holidays is one of the hardest weeks of teaching. With many school-wide events, and often special activities happening in the classroom, students are usually louder and more unsettled. Students with special needs often find this week especially difficult, as the routines that they crave have changed.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m like these students. I may try to keep regular routines in the classroom, but I can’t change school-wide events.¬†Sometimes we just have to join in and embrace¬†the craziness.¬†

Today was our holiday assembly. It was amazing! Marco, one of our intermediate teachers, coordinated the schedule, and our vice principal, Gord, helped everything go smoothly. The students did an outstanding job as they shared singing, dancing, and dramatic performances. I know that everyone loved watching friends and siblings perform, and there was an excited hum both inside and outside of the gym.

I have to admit though that assemblies for me are a struggle.

  • There is a lot of sitting and listening.
  • It’s busy.
  • It’s loud.
  • There is a lot of movement.
  • There is a lot of multi-tasking:¬†watching the students, watching the performances, and getting prepared for our own presentations.¬†

Usually I get overwhelmed. Today, I tried a new strategy: I decided to look for all of the positives. This helped me focus my attention, and in a good way.

  • I saw incredible student performances.
  • I saw that there are teachers, EA’s, and DECE’s at Dr. Davey with a lot of talent.
  • I saw students working hard at listening, focusing on the performances, and being great¬†audience members.
  • I saw great camaraderie between educators, students, and administrators.
  • Through a few quiet conversations during transitional times, I got to make connections with some new students and develop even better connections with some current students.
  • I saw “differentiation” happening during the performances themselves —¬†both on the stage and off on the sidelines¬†— to ensure that all students met with success.
  • I got to step out of my comfort zone and participate in the Primary Teacher Performance. In 14 years of teaching, I’ve never done this before! It was scary, exciting, and fun ‚Ķ¬†and helped make for a great end to the assembly!

Lots Of “Positive Parts” In The Assembly – Click On The Images To Enlarge Them

My previous principal, Paul, used to speak about the importance of “staying positive.” Over the years, he’s helped me set some “positive goals” of my own. While I’ve tried to stay positive in other situations, I’ve never approached assemblies with the same positive attitude. I think that in different ways, assemblies have always terrified me, and being “positive” means moving past the fear.¬†I’m glad that I attempted to do so!¬†I was still somewhat overwhelmed, but ended the day happy. Today’s assembly even helped put this “Holiday Grinch” into a somewhat festive mood. ūüôā

How has being positive changed your experiences? How do you remain positive when it seems hard to do so?¬†I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Let’s end things tomorrow on a nice, positive note before the start of the holidays!