Archive for June 27, 2012

Reflecting on Year Five at Greystone

Five years have now come and gone for me here at GCMS.  This year, not unlike the other 4, seemed to fly by at certain times and slow to a crawl at other times.  As I look back and reflect on what was the 2011-2012 school year for me, Travis Kinney, I find it extremely difficult to narrow down my learning and growth to one specific area.  However, after some deep reflection there are three themes that are constantly popping up in my head as I recall experiences with students, colleagues, and parents over the last ten months.  The three themes are; “Carpe Diem,” “Lead by Example,” and “Locus of Control.”

Carpe Diem’s most popular translation is to “seize the day” as the future is unforeseen and therefore, one should scale back one’s hopes to a brief future.  This is not to say that the 2011-2012 school year taught me to not have long-term plans or goals.  What this year taught me is that it is so critical to my practice to be present with my students in order to help them achieve their future goals.  It is easy as an educator to get caught up in year plans, curriculum outcomes, assessment of outcomes, and the list can go on and on.  Through my experiences this year with students I found that once I gave myself the chance to relax and truly listen and analyze what my students are saying and not rush through conversations so that more curriculum can be covered or more assessments can be done, I came to the realization that there are so many variables in the lives of our students that affect their learning both positively and negatively.  As the year progressed I began to “seize the day” by making sure that the lessons and projects I would assign always had one key component, open communication.  By sticking to this key component and fostering an environment that encourages openness and “dropping of the waterline,” I found that students were given the opportunity to not only face their individual challenges that can affect their learning, but they were also given the opportunity to not go through it alone.  “Seizing the day” really changed the dynamic in my classrooms this year.  The conversations I had with students in the 13 classes and 6 subjects that I taught were absolutely mind-blowing.  The self discovery by students and the opportunities presented to me to help guide them through their learning experiences is all due to the fact that I was present with them.  We paused, had conversations, and discovered things about ourselves and our lives that we perhaps may have not had the chance to do had we not seized the moment, or the day.  Carpe Diem!  I will never forget this!

Leading by example.  For years I have been battling with this and I really don’t know why.  Over the course of this past school year I came to realize that there’s only so much that will come from telling a student what to do rather than showing them.  I, like most teachers in our wonderful school, have a dream.  I want our school to be the happiest most comfortable place that’s conducive to learning and growth where citizenship and doing what’s best for the majority is at the heart of our thoughts and actions.  There are many times throughout the year when this teacher’s dream seems to be far from reality.  No matter how many times I stressed the importance of showing characteristics such as trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship through one’s actions and words, it really didn’t matter unless I showed it through my actions.  If I wanted a student to be organized and prepared, I needed to be organized and prepared.  If my work space is a mess, then why would a student keep a tidy work space?  Caring for the school and community?  Maybe perhaps by picking up a piece of garbage that isn’t yours?  In my experience this year I’ve seen first-hand that I need to be doing these things on a consistent basis and eventually my students will follow.  I was always preaching things such as “be the change you want to see in the world,” or “do what’s right not just for you, but for your community.”  These are powerful messages that are meaningful, but only if I am modeling this to my students through all that I do on a daily basis.  Am I going to have slipups?  Absolutely!  You better believe however, that I’ll be vocal and using myself as an example of where it’s ok to slipup, just so long as you try your best not to again.  Lead by example, that’s all there is to it!  Well, maybe there’s more that I just haven’t figured out yet?

A high internal locus of control is what I’ve learned that I need to obtain in order to be happy in my profession.  In reality, I can only control what I do or don’t do.  Everybody makes their own decisions in the end.  Whether it’s on how to act, speak, or behave, every single person is accountable for their actions… including teachers with “challenging” classrooms.  I’ve become very aware that I have the responsibility to show students that one can only control one’s self and not others.  This isn’t to say that one can’t influence others; it just means that actions truly are more powerful than words.  Many times throughout the year I found that things that were out of my control were what stressed me out the most.  We are in the business of nurturing people and sometimes we get so enthralled with this business that we can’t help but get frustrated and consumed at times with things that are completely out of our own control.  This is something that I have been battling for six years as an educator.  This year however, I’ve somewhat learned to have the discipline and awareness to recognize when I’m wasting time and energy stressing about things that I can’t control.  I have a long way to go in this area of my professional life but, I do truly feel I’ve made some headway this year and will continue to do so in the years to come.

~ Travis Kinney, French and Health Teacher

Success Through Support ~ It Feels Good!

Year End Reflection 2012

As another school year ends and I begin to wrap my mind around all of this year’s successes, challenges and changes that made up the past ten months, I, more than any other previous school year, feel a real sense of pride and accomplishment in terms of understanding my students as learners, the effectiveness of my team and that I am working in a very special place that has helped me as an individual, classroom teacher and member of the school community.

Going into the 2011/2012 school year, our team dedicated ourselves to doing all we can to make sure that we were always ahead of the game in terms of planning projects, planning assessments, and handling the day to day operations of an LC. Sound difficult? Well we all know that it can definitely be met with its share of difficulties, but being blessed with a team like mine, makes accomplishing these goals much easier. I always feel a level of support that encourages me to do my best but at the same time, a level of responsibility that I need to do my part for the team to achieve success. This makes the life of a teacher much easier when you are coming to work each day. Knowing you have a group of individuals that work so well together for the success of the students, the school community and each other is a blessing that I hope I have for many years to come.

The success of your students is always the most important goal of any classroom teacher. We all want our students to do their best, but this also takes the support of a team of teachers, not one individual. You always wonder at the beginning of a school year, sometimes before that, who the students are that you will see coming though the doors in September and what they will be like? It can sometimes be stressful and worrisome and you do what you can to prepare but you don’t really get a sense of it until those classroom doors swing shut. I have to admit, I was worried this year. And although this school year was not without it’s challenges, I can say that after 11 years of teaching that this was the most successful I can remember. Successful because I really felt I accomplished a lot with my students in terms of covering curriculum, creating meaningful assessments and guiding them to become responsible citizens, but most importantly, knowing who they are as learners. Their strengths and areas of growth. This could not have been accomplished without the proactive support of our administration, the forementioned dedication of my team but also the wonderful teachers we have in our building. The students see and feel that we are here for them. Here to help them grow and learn. We have created an atmosphere in our school that encourages students to do well and it has helped me in turn get to know them better as learners.

I have never been a very overly emotional person in my life, and definitely not as a teacher, but with the events that transpired at the beginning of this school year, we were all thrown an emotional curve ball that tested us all as individuals, as teachers and as a school community. And although we are not out of the woods just yet, it has been reaffirmed that I am working in a special place. Greystone is always being thought of as an innovative school through its collaboration, inquiry based learning and integration of technology, but I think our staff should also be known for how we come together in difficult times. It is amazing to be a part of such a special place.

So what is the theme of my reflection this year? Support. I truly felt an immense amount of support this year from my team, administration and my fellow teachers. Does that give me a grade of emerging then? I hope not. What it does tell me though is that despite all of the changes, challenges and unforeseen circumstances we have seen this school year, the successes could not have been possible without the support for our students and for each other. It feels good. Good to know that I am coming to a building everyday that has this kind of support for you as a person. Our kids are lucky.

~ Craig Letendre, Learning Community 5 Teacher

A Year of Growth ~ More Teacher Reflections

 

For this school year, I have had the honor and privilege of working with a wonderful team in Learning Community 8.  The team has worked very well in areas of team building and collaboration. Although we were not fortunate enough to have had common planning time with all four teachers, we managed to make the extra effort to be in constant connection with one another. As a result of this our students were all well aware of the commonality among the entire Learning Community.

I feel that I have experienced a considerable amount of growth in the way I develop my lessons and assess my students. I have incorporated many opportunities for students to gain knowledge through inquiry.  Students have always been aware of how they can improve their work and how they will be assessed. At times, students were given the opportunity to be actively involved in deciding how they will be assessed. Through many projects being made public within the school, the students felt a sense of pride of the final projects.

Throughout this school year, I was given the opportunity to be part of a group of teachers from Parkland who participated in Professional Development around the topic of ‘Learning Coaches.’

During this process, I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge in the areas of ‘Cognitive Coaching’ and ‘Universal Design for Learning.’ From being part of the cohort and meeting regularly, I learned so much from my colleagues; such as effective practices and how we at GCMS are always making changes to benefit our students.

This year has definitely been one of the most difficult years for staff and students of Greystone Centennial Middle School.  Due to the events that have occurred during this year, I believe that we have all strengthened the bonds among us.  Everyone has truly shown how much they respect and value one another. As yet another school year has come to a close, it has only become more evident that we need to cherish every moment in our very busy and hectic lives as we never know what lies ahead.  We need to make time to do what we value with those we care about, whether this be part of our personal or professional life or a balance of the two.

~ Peggy Bly, Learning Community 8 Teacher

The Year in Review

The Professional Growth Plan Reflections from this teacher were shared via this Youtube video.  Be sure to watch the entire video – he shares his enthusiasm for learning through some great dance moves at the end!

~ Matthew Stelmaschuk, Learning Community 7 Teacher

Learning to Listen – Reflections from the Year

This symbol, representing the unfurling New Zealand fern frond, is something I referred to at the start of this school year as I met with the Greystone staff at our school start-up retreat. I shared the meaning behind this “Koru” symbol and how it could serve as an excellent reminder to all of us about how to move forward, together, in making this an exceptional year for our school community. Now, ten months later, as I look back on an incredibly challenging year, I recognize that my ability to live out the words represented by the Koru symbol have enabled me to not only survive the year – but to thrive.

New Beginnings

Several times throughout the year, the team at Greystone was called on to start fresh, hire new staff, change up roles and responsibilities, create new plans and look optimistically at moving forward due to some unexpected, challenging circumstances. We battled back through the tragic murder of our teacher, a student’s attempted suicide, staff health issues, students experiencing the death of a parent, ongoing involvement with the RCMP through their continued investigation and numerous other “behind the scenes” situations that arose during this most unusual school year. The ability of our school community to bounce back after each setback is evidence of the strength of character that exists among the team at Greystone. I am grateful for the flexibility, determination and support of so many individuals who were ready to do whatever it takes to move forward, together, with hope in the promise of new beginnings.

Growth

In spite of the struggles (or maybe because of them?!) the growth this year has been exceptional. Here’s what I noticed:

  • Successful implementation of Parkland School Division’s new process based report card. Comments throughout the report cards emphasize the development of perseverence, problem-solving, making connections, thinking critically, asking questions, taking risks, reflecting, assessing self and peers, providing descriptive feedback, improving work based on feedback – WOW!!!
  • Teachers assisting students and families understand and appreciate the best practices in student assessment and learning that are reflected in our new report cards – one conversation at a time
  • Improved Student Engagement according to student data collected on the “Tell Them From Me Surveys”
  • Observations of students sharing Math Fair Projects; students working collaboratively on designing and testing Science Projects (and recording the thinking process along the way!); students collaborating between groups with the use of technology to share and expand ideas; students sharing learning with others and getting feedback for growth.
  • Teachers engaged in learning collaboratively with grade level colleagues through feedback/feed forward dialogue and sharing of student work
  • Teachers designing authentic projects/tasks with subject discipline colleagues to get students thinking like Mathemeticians, Scientists, Historians and Writers
  • Increased supports for students through Social Skills groups, Rainbows Program, After the Bell,  assistive technology, small group pull outs/flexible groupings for direct instruction and guided practice, “learning lunches”, ongoing home/school communication accessing parents as partners in student learning
  • Continued focus on healthy active living choices for our students through an engaging P.E. program, intramural program, sports teams, clubs and the addition of a breakfast program
  • Ongoing opportunties for students to volunteer with coaching, time keeping, Media Centre, canteen, Student Advisory and most recently, the addition of our student newspaper

Balance

On a personal note, I have worked hard to maintain balance this year. I believe this has been key in my ability to come back to school each day – with a smile on my face and a renewed commitment to start each day fresh.  The balance I continued to strive for is made possible because I have surrounded myself with positive people including an incredible Office Team; kind, compassionate (and FUN) staff members; amazing family and supportive friends.

No matter how demanding things became at work or how challenging it was to deal with my mom’s health emergencies and ongoing rehabilitation this year, I made time for get-aways that recharged my battery. I travelled to watch my son play hockey, I headed out of town with my running buddies for some road races, and I managed to escape the cold for some down time with my husband during the breaks. I reminded myself to continue to spend time doing what I love with the most important people in the school – the students. Highlights included skiing in the mountains and at Rabbit Hill, running in Vancouver and zip-lining at Camp Nakamun with our Greystone kids.

Finally, the most important thing I have worked hard to do is to turn off the control switch regularly – stop the flood of thoughts and the overthinking, turn down the volume on uncertainty and fear, stop trying to control things outside of my control – and listen to my inner voice. When I am keeping myself in balance and have made time to laugh some, play some and learn some every day, I have the ability to handle anything that comes my way – all I need to do is trust my inner compass to do what is right. I have been tested on this often this year – tough decisions needed to be made and courageous conversations needed to happen. Through it all, I have listened to that inner voice a lot and I have learned a lot.  My most memorable learning… I know that all I need lies within in me – I just need to listen.

~ Carolyn Cameron, Principal 

 

 

 

 

Making Student Thinking Visible ~ More Teacher Reflections from the Year

“The Review” Evaluation –   How am I doing? What have I learned? What revisions and adjustments do I need   to make?

 This   year our Learning Community made a concerted effort to emphasize process rather than the correct response. This is encouraging our students to make their thinking more visible by explaining (words, images, actions or a combination of three) how they came to their desired response. The focus on looking for patterns in math is now being utilized in other subjects as students use general and subject specific strategies to achieve their outcomes.The use of collaborizeclassroom.com to allow students see each other’s work, and   participate in online constructive criticism has provided valuable feedback to students and an opportunity for teachers to evaluate the comments made by students. We are able to determine what students do know and what they have yet to grasp (issues that lack feedback) which helps us plan our future lessons. The students also get to see a variety of exemplars on the same topic that they are working on which can help them clarify what the intended outcome should look like. The website is also allowing teachers to compare student  work with the rest of our Learning Community so we can see if our instruction is covering all the required concepts (I guess we are looking for patterns too). Preet did a great job in leading us through this valuable process.

Students have commented that they would like more input on topics that we use to write   about. They allude to higher engagement when the topics are more meaningful and interesting. This is an area that I need to address in order to accommodate my more mature writers who will demonstrate their passion in the material. The emphasis on planning and increased description (using the 5 senses) is starting to show as students are now keeping their topics more specific and adding more detail. With the increase in feedback from classmates, students are starting to understand that acceptable grade level material needs to be pretty good.

The structured activities (See, Think, Wonder) were essential to guiding the students through the process necessary to effectively demonstrate inquiry and will be something I would like to incorporate at an early stage in grade 5 next year. The topics Katy found this year were very thought provoking and I hope I can call on her wisdom to suggest some curriculum appropriate topics next year.

After the recent PAT (Provincial Achievement Test) in Language Arts, I am noticing how students can benefit from that 5-10 minute, small group discussion that students were allowed, to clarify the topic. I have to gain more trust in their desire and abilities to   collaborate constructively (build on each other’s ideas and understanding of the desired outcome).

As far as PD activities go, the opportunity to collaborate with the other loops and clarify the key skills and attributes they would like to see my students come forward with has helped me focus on process. By clarifying expectations for outcomes at the next level, my subject discipline team reinforced my need to use the process, rather than focus on the content when designing learning activities. I would like to continue to have those opportunities available in my next two year loop.

The year has gone by fast and my only regret is that I missed some opportunities to build on student success due to a fear that I needed to cover more concepts rather than build expertise in the process. Having gone through this two year loop though has reinforced that our biggest successes occurred when we took the time to practice and develop skills. I will seek more opportunities to reflect on student work with my teaching team to help me   improve the quality of feedback I can provide for my students next year. That will involve sharing more assessment for learning with the team in a timely manner.

My teaching team is extremely supportive and provide a good balance of praise and constructive criticism in our meetings. This open dialogue allows us to consider alternative opportunities that have proved to be very beneficial over the past 2 year loop. That valuable collaborative time requires that we come prepared to justify our planning decisions, use consensus effectively yet delegate some activities without question. It is a model I can follow to provide an effective collaborative learning environment in my classroom.

~ Dale Johnston, Learning Community 6 Teacher

Looking Back on the Year

Once again, I have asked my teachers to submit reflections on their growth from this school year and I have asked if I can make their learning public. I am looking forward to sharing the learning of my incredibly dedicated team of teachers in the coming days and weeks ahead as we finish off a very memorable year at Greystone.

~ Carolyn Cameron

Photo: Ann Burlingham

http://www.flickr.com/photos/35702024@N00/5329248614/

As I reflect on this past school year, I wonder how I ever got from point A, September, to point B, June. Where have the last ten months gone? Dealing with the stress of returning to work with two little kids was one thing but to have it follow with the tragic death of a colleague and as a result spending months being afraid to be alone, to my husband getting laid off, finding work out of town and then to get laid off again, to on-going drama with my only brother and our  unreliable childcare provider, constant worry about Cara’s speech delay and recently developed stutter, and JT’s typical boy characteristics (ones I’m not accustomed too) … the last ten months have been surreal! How did I ever find time to teach?

As I turn the page and reflect on how these stressors have affected my professional life and how that equates in terms of success in the classroom, I’m 110% thankful, grateful, over the moon in debt, for my supportive professional learning community. As a team, the five of us were able to play on one another’s strengths in order to develop meaningful inquiry based learning experiences – experiences that will impact the students forever. Regular common collaboration time made everything from planning, to assessing and reporting for the new report card, easier than first thought possible. Initially, I was so afraid when my individual prep time was taken away. When was I going to get my work and planning done? I saw this ‘so-called’ collaborative time as a ‘waste of time’ because we were often scrambling, talking off task and sometimes dictating, not collaborating and then leaving with nothing. Through it all we have learned how to collectively bounce ideas and experiences off one another, how to maximize our time, and how to take negative feedback and turn it into a positive. Ten months later, as I reflect, I can’t imagine not having this time to work with my colleagues. The days of planning an agenda for our meetings are done. As educators, we know what needs to be done and we get it done. I love the connection we have built as a team and I’m appreciative of the qualities everyone brings to the table.

I decided early on this year that I was going to make a conscious effort to build stronger relationships with both my students and their parents. I wouldn’t say I ignored doing this in the past, but I really wanted to make sure students knew they could come to me about anything and parents knew my door was always open. By putting relationships on the front burner, I can honestly say I see a large difference. Many of those little bodies in our classroom have dealt with more hardships in their 10 years of life, than I have in 35. Regular private two minute conversations have given students an opportunity to gain trust in me and allow me to help them as needed. Since September, I’ve kept parents in the loop by having students’ complete detailed daily agendas; I do daily blog updates; bi-weekly group emails on classroom current events; emailing project pictures and notification of ‘Established’ assessment results. As a parent myself, I know how important communication between two separate yet intertwining entities is and above all else, I want to earn each parent’s trust. As challenging as this past year has been at times, not only have I persevered, but I have gained a clearer picture of who I am personally and professionally. I have educated and, most importantly, I’ve been educated. Thank you for a great year!!!!

~ Patty Nicholls, Learning Community 5 Teacher

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