Archive for June 23, 2013

My Real Learning Came From the Kids

 

I have been thinking a lot, this past few weeks, about how to meaningfully complete my “homework” assignment. I am due to meet with my Superintendent, Tim Monds, this Tuesday morning to review my Professional Growth Plan from the year. I read it over a few weeks ago and felt reasonably successful in achieving the goals I had set for myself this year. Great…all finished, I thought. I would summarize my results and be good to go, check off another item on the year end “to do” list. As I looked more closely at my Professional Growth Plan, my goals, strategies and measures, with a critical eye, I decided that if I simply commented on this document alone, I would fall short in reflecting on what I actually LEARNED this year. After thinking about the most impactful experiences I had from the year that resulted in me changing my thinking, improving my skills and developing my understanding, I know that my most valuable learning was the result of some unexpected opportunities that came my way and I need to include this in my year end reflection (these were not the goals included in my Professional Growth Plan). Here are my top three memorable learning experiences from the year:

1. Technology

My love/hate relationship with technology is shifting to be more about love…who knew this could happen to me?! It all started when I asked Parkland School Division Principal George Couros what program he would recommend for me to use in preparing a presentation for an upcoming National Middle School Conference earlier this school year. He told me about Keynote for Macbook and showed me a little bit about the program. After hearing both he and Greystone’s School Support Coordinator, Jesse McLean, and my two sons sing the praises of the Apple Macbook, I decided to give it a try. I used our school’s Macbook first, took in a session at the Apple Store and got lots of support from George, Jesse and my sons who both have Macbooks. Eventually, I even convinced my husband to get me a Macbook of my own through an employee purchasing plan he has at work…and I LOVE it! There are a ton of things it can do and I am only scratching the surface, but so far, I have stuck with it and have been exploring the ways it can help me with my learning and sharing. I am really proud of the skills I am picking up and most importantly, I hope I am setting a good example for our staff and students in being a continuous learner in an area that is not necessarily my strength.

2. Sharing Our Story

I am really not comfortable with presenting to others. Deep down inside, I think I may be more of an introvert, hiding out in the body of an extrovert. I have worked hard over the years to overcome my anxiety about public speaking, walking into a room full of strangers or even being comfortable talking face to face with people I do not have a relationship with. I have had to push myself each and every year of my career to become more confident speaking in front of others. I have always been this way – very outgoing with close friends, colleagues, peers – but put me with a bunch of strangers and I struggle. I was asked last year, by my Deputy Superintendent Kelly Wilkins, to submit a proposal for the Association for Middle Level Educators Conference in Portland Oregon, so that I could share some of the work we do at Greystone. I love working with and learning from leaders who push me outside of my comfort zone (okay, I don’t always love it initially!) The proposal I submitted was accepted and I was set to present in October at this conference. I invited two other teachers to assist with the presentation and an additional two teachers from staff joined us for the conference. As we were putting together our presentation, making decisions about what was worthy of sharing with a bunch of strangers, I remember thinking that what we are doing at Greystone really isn’t that big of a deal. We certainly haven’t got everything all figured out here and we are still a work in progress with many areas for growth. As it turned out, we discovered through this conference, and from other experiences where we were invited to share our school’s story, that what we take for granted as “the way we roll” at Greystone, can provide other school communities with some ideas to help them. There’s always something to learn from others and with others. I have found the conversations and the feedback that are a part of the experience when sharing our story to be extremely helpful to me in the process of building knowledge together with others who are interested in improving their schools and classrooms.

I am always reminding our teachers to take risks, make their practice public, be okay to not have all the answers, to share with each other and learn together. Clearly, it was about time for me to practice what I preach and put myself out there to share our work with others, too (flaws and all!) I think this video Obvious to You Amazing to Others does an excellent job of capturing the importance of sharing your story.

3. Student Learning

I am a big believer in creating curiosity as a way to engage learners. I have been working on this for almost twenty years – beginning with my experience as a classroom teacher when I made the shift from teacher control to student control of the learning (within a structured project-based framework connected to the curriculum). I worked on co-creating topics of inquiry with my students in order to get them personally involved with their learning. However, I never took as big of a leap in handing over control of the learning to the kids as I did this year when I agreed to have students spend an entire week exploring topics of interest to them. Our school’s first Innovation Week took place back in December and what those students did during that week absolutely blew me away. I knew the students could be more highly motivated if they were given choice, but I had no idea just how productive, resilient and creative they could be when the adults got out of their way. The kids taught me so much during that week of time. They were resourceful, they took initiative, they made mistakes, they failed and then figured things out, they faced challenges, they persevered and they learned a lot along the way.This experience has led me to continue to do a lot of re-thinking about curriculum, authentic learning and the importance of making school more of a place for discovery and tapping into passions while developing competencies and skills and less of a place where regimented, regulated, lock-step processes and procedures are followed in a “one size fits all” structure. Real learning is organic, personalized and should be responsive to the unique characteristics of our learners. I knew this before, but through my experience with Innovation Week, and seeing how students responded when pursuing their interests, I learned that I need to do everything I can to ensure our students are continuously exposed to this kind of learning environment. Our students are incredibly capable if given some autonomy and purpose for their work. Thanks to the kids for giving me my best learning from the year. I am looking forward to continuing to provide these amazing learners with ongoing opportunities that get them engaged in what school is supposed to be all about – REAL LEARNING!

 

 

 

 

Running on Empty

 

I’ve got nothing left in the tank – in my vehicle and in my body. I stopped by the gas station on my way home from school today – and I couldn’t even get the gas tank to work so I could at least get my vehicle operating properly…aaaggghhhh!

So my jeep is still running on empty – but I’m not…anymore. I took some time tonight to do some reading, some reflecting from the day -and I filled the tank back up.

This post Dancing in the Rain, by Chris Wejr, really got me where I live – and reminded me to be a little more grateful for all the blessings in my life (too numerous to list here, for sure!) So what if I’m a little tired because we are wrapping up another really busy, demanding, unpredictable school year – working in a middle school is the career I chose for myself…get over it – it will always be this way – and most days, that’s what I love about it.

Today, I came into work, lacking sleep, missing out on my morning run and feeling particularly grouchy because there aren’t enough hours in the day to finish all the items on the “to do” list. As the day went on, something happened – I slowed it down (mostly because I was exhausted!) and started paying more attention to what was going on around me – I love when I remember to do this.

I noticed a crazy, wonderful, fun teacher who I will only get to spend five more days with because she is moving to another province very soon. She was bouncing down the hall in an outrageous costume that her colleagues had created for her. I laughed my head off – and remembered that I won’t have her in my life at GCMS for too much longer.

I noticed a gym full of energetic grade 6 students performing their “air band” show – demonstrating so much confidence and enthusiasm – willing to put themselves “out there” for the audience. I told one of them that I would remember to mention his outrageous costume at his grade 9 farewell in a few years time.

I noticed a snowmobile sitting outside the doorway of one of our classrooms as kids started bringing in their supplies for Innovation Week 2 – our wrap up to the school year. Kids are getting so excited about the week ahead and I remembered how amazing our first Innovation Week was back in December…I can’t wait for this one to begin!

I noticed teachers getting excited about new opportunities as we met after school to discuss alternate classroom spaces for next year – awesome ideas about how to create places/spaces to meet the needs of our kids -everything from designing flexible groupings, ways to team teach and design classroom communities  that foster engaging, differentiated, student-centred learning – and I remembered how incredible these teachers are – they still have the energy to plug away in meeting after meeting this week as we keep planning, dreaming and scheming for next year and how we can keep making our school the best possible place for our learners.

I noticed a group of wonderful moms, who had just delivered hot lunch to our kids. They were gathered in our Foods Lab – buzzing about the meeting that was held at the school last night to inform parents how technology can be used to transform student learning. I remembered one mom, in particular, who was so excited about the possibilities for learning and committed to getting the technology her daughter has been asking for at school.

It’s that time of the year when there isn’t much left in the tank – the only thing that is going to give me the energy needed to end the year on a positive note is if I remember to stop, often, and notice all that I have to be grateful for in this crazy, busy, unpredictable middle school.

 

No Two Days are Ever Alike!

 

Our Learning Community 6 Teacher, Laura Robert, has had a year full of challenges, successes and growth – thanks to her nonstop commitment to learn from her colleagues and her students. Laura has shown her students such an excellent example of patience, dedication and genuine interest in them as individuals. Her students think the world of her and she has made a real difference in their lives this year.

Year End Reflection-2012-2013

Greystone Centennial Middle School

Laura Robert

Each year I have taught, I have grown so much through each experience. Some of these challenges have been difficult, but have each have contributed to who I am as a teacher today. The people who I have encountered have made the greatest impact to my life.

This was my third year working at Greystone, and it was my first year I was given the opportunity to shape my own classroom community from the start of September.  I was so excited to set up my room, and meet my students. Our Greystone retreat to Pigeon Lake helped me to connect with the staff I would come to rely on throughout the year to come. My teaching team were instrumental in working together to plan lessons which could challenge and enrich learning.  My team went beyond working with me to develop my educational practices, and also encouraged me when I had a difficult day, or celebrated with me when I reached my goals. Since Craig and I shared our barn doors he was always the first to be my “sounding board,” and I could always rely on him to give me helpful advice or support. Joan and I spent many nights developing experiments and ways to guide our students to make inferences out of observations working together on the science curriculum. I always felt that we bounced ideas off each other as if we had known each other for years! Patty impressed me by the way she inspired change, and helped our group organize activities that made a lasting impact. Claudia came alongside me when I needed support, and became my mentor this year as I developed my approach to classroom management. Cheryl worked tirelessly with a group of my students who needed support, and was always gracious in the way she approached each task.   I feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to work with such an incredible group of teachers! Even though some of us will be working in different areas next year, I have developed a high level of trust with these individuals, and I know that I can always count on them!

As I worked with my students throughout the year, I was able to develop new strategies to help them succeed, and to create a more positive learning community. This was not an easy task as many students’ had experienced painful or stressful experiences this year (ex. Death of a parent, divorce, abuse, behaviour challenges, etc…). As a result developing respect and trust within the class was hard to foster. To ensure success for my class I received dedicated support from the office administration team (Carolyn, Tracy, and Jesse), and from Claudia, who worked alongside me.  By structuring my classroom, developing relationships, and helping my students to feel secure, my classroom changed into a better learning environment. Through a social skills boys program, and a girl’s “sticker” club I was able to spend time outside the classroom hours to ensure my class felt more confident, respected, and cared about. I also spent a lot of time working with the WE CARE Leadership team this year assisting students become involved in local and international outreach programs.  I love the students in my class, and would do anything to help them. By working with them this year I have been able to challenge them to set goals to help them achieve, and am always available when they need to talk.

The unique thing about the teaching profession is that no two days are ever alike! I enjoy the opportunity to work with students who are learning something new for the first time, or watch as they discover a new way to look at the world. I never realized how much I would learn through the process of teaching. Teaching inspires me to learn, improve, create, and explore! Over the last three years at Greystone I have developed my professional practice through guidance and collaboration with my administrative team, fellow teachers, my learning coach, parents, and individual students. I have dedicated my time to making an impact on those around me.

I am excited to start planning for next year when I will introduce a new group of grade 5 students to Greystone.

Positive Relationships = Positive Learning Environment

“I love you Bly”! was the message heard several times while the grade 9 students’ beloved Math/Science Teacher, Mrs. Peggy Bly, delivered her speech at our Grade 9 Farewell last week. Mrs. Bly is a teacher who connects with her students and does so much to help them navigate their way through the challenges of adolescence. Our students love being in her class and she is always ready to support them in their learning and in their lives.

Building Relationships

As yet another school year draws to a close, I begin to think of all I could reflect about and one thought sticks in my mind….building relationships.  I look at all of the relationships I have built with the students and their families.  This is truly a positive aspect of ‘looping’ with the same group of students for two years.  You really get to know them as individuals, how they interact with their peers and how they learn best.

Building positive relationships with students can only lead to a positive learning environment for all.  When students feel comfortable, they ask questions which allows for more opportunities for exploration.  Students trust that you believe in them and they in turn believe in themselves and are willing to be risk takers.  They are not afraid to make mistakes as long as they can learn from them.

There is one particular student in my class who has just reaffirmed why I truly love working with middle years students.  In Grade 8, this young girl was very quiet and kept to herself; she only spoke to me when I approached her.  She was never rude to me, but she never really seemed to care if she ever had a conversation with me.  This year, in Grade 9, the young lady strikes up a conversation with me daily.  She eagerly comes up to me every day, telling me about the events of her past evening.  One day, after she and her mom had been shopping, she came back to the school to bring me a cookie and chocolate which she had bought for me at the mall. I thanked her and asked if I could give her a hug (not something this student would usually willingly accept).  She gave me one of the most heartwarming hugs I have experienced.  This is what working with adolescents is all about!

I am not usually a procrastinator and would have written my reflection long ago, but something was telling me to wait and I am glad that I did. The night of the Grade 9 Farewell just confirmed how much the families of the students appreciate all we at Greystone do for their children.  There were comments like, “What we will do without you next year?

 “I will miss your emails.”

 “We need a family picture.”

 “My daughter says she can tell you anything.”

All of these are just some examples of how building healthy relationships in and out of the classroom will lend itself to a healthy learning environment.

Peggy Bly

Changes Ahead

Craig Letendre, Learning Community 6 Teacher, is one of the most thoughtful, reflective, conscientious teachers I know. His students and colleagues respect him for the dedication he shows towards doing the very best he can for his students. Craig is making a significant change in his assignment for next year – and through this change, he is modelling for students and colleagues the importance of continuously challenging yourself. I know Craig will be an excellent addition to our Learning Community 9 Team next year.

My Year End Reflection

Well, another year winds down and we come to the end of another loop during my time here at Greystone. It seems just like yesterday I was a new staff member in the building, finding my way around, “learning the ropes” so to speak. As I sit here and reflect, I can’t believe how fast time flies. That may sound cliche, I know, but its true. Just today, I was talking to some of my colleagues, as I do around the coffee pot from time to time, speaking about birthdays, getting older and how age is but a number. Am I there already?? Am I having those talks?? This is my 12th year as an educator and time has definitely flown by and I am about to embark on a new journey as I make the transition into grade 9 next school year. Am I nervous?? You betcha. Not because of the team I am joining, because I know they are strong and will support me as the newbie on the team, but because I am moving away from what is comfortable, what I know and what is almost predictable. And as previously stated, I sit here and reflect and I can’t believe it. Another year gone by, and a new grade I have never taught before on the horizon. There are so many things running through my mind, so many memories of my loop.

I joke all the time of working with all “my ladies”, but I have grown attached to them and I wonder how I will be without them?? Without their support?? All seven of them. In all seriousness, I have learned so much from them. I have learned plenty about making authentic assessments, how to plan inquiry projects and preparing meaningful report card comments, but it has been more than that, way more than that. I will remember them for the wonderful people they are. The kind of people who support you no matter what. The kind of team you can rely on during the tough times and we have all gone through our own tough times over the past few years. I am so happy to be in a building that is full of those kinds of people, and I have had the privilege of working closely with some of the best. So thank you to Claudia, Joan, Patty, Laura, Marge, Cheryl and Pat. I know most of our paths will still cross through the pods next year, but we all know how busy our lives as teachers, parents, husbands and wives get, so I wanted to thank you ahead of time.

So, as I embark on a new era in my career, it is easy to forget this past school year and start worrying about the next. And for those that know me, you know I am. But, as this loop comes to an end I owe my students the respect of reflecting on the year. I will be the first to admit that this has been a very busy school year. I think I even told a colleague this past week that I took on way too much again. Not just in school but outside also. This has been a unique year for me in that respect. I have in reality, always taken on too much but I really did this year. But you know what? I am fine with that. Yes, I maybe didn’t do as much as I could have with technology or other professional development, but I realized that I don’t need to do everything. I can’t. I actually think my wife told me that too. But Greystone does that to you. This building, what it stands for, makes you want to do more. I have said it before and I will say it again. It is a special place. A special place in my heart and I am not afraid to say it, as unmanly as it sounds. I couldn’t have been a part of all the things I did without having the class I did. Yes, a bit immature at times. They would even say that, but a great group of kids. We had many ups and downs as any class does but this class taught me a lot about myself as a teacher, a person and a father. They taught me to be patient. There was no other way to teach them. They needed that. I made a point of trying to be more patient this year. I will admit, it didn’t always work out, but I tried. I had to for Evan. My son. With the school year my son had last year, I was blessed with him receiving a super patient, supportive teacher this year and I saw the changes it made in him as a person. It made a light bulb go off for me and I approached every situation, or at least tried to, with that kind of patience for my students. I tried to be more engaging in my instruction, to plan ahead of time, to be more personable. I am not entirely certain it was 100% successful, because I am a realist, but I did what I thought was best for my kids. And that’s honestly how I felt about them, like they were my kids. That’s the positive of looping. The relationships you make. And I will remember the ones I made with this group over the past two years and I hope they think of me the same way.

Craig Letendre

Journey of the Marathoner

Melissa Kerby is a Learning Community 7 Teacher who inspires me daily with her commitment to continuous learning and to her Ironman Triathlon training. She created a new classroom environment this year through the use of different furniture designs and a relaxed learning atmosphere – the results have been very positive for her students.

Melissa Kerby 2012-2013 PGP Reflection

During this school year I have focused on two major goals to direct my professional growth. This years goals were not easy for me to measure or achieve. These two goals were a stretch for me, and I will continue working towards these goals throughout my career. The first goal was to create flexible and creative work spaces for students, and my second goal was to gain a deeper understanding and employ the strategies of inquiry learning. This year was full of challenges and pushed me in many ways, but I feel like I can confidently compare this year’s journey to the experience of my last marathon.

On May 26th I ran my 5th and most difficult marathon. I started the race with with the goal to use it as a training run; I was just going to get the distance in. But once I was at the start line my heart rate started to raise, and so did my desire to complete this race in under 4 hours. I looked around and compared myself to all the other runners in the crowd. Sizing up the runners I thought I should be able to beat, and the ones I wanted to keep up to. The race started and off we went. I was running with ease with nutrition and hydration fueling my muscles I maintained a consistent pace, I was excited and optimistic (this is how the start of every new school year, and new project feel to me). At the halfway point I was right on target to finish the marathon in 3:45 ish, but I also felt pain in my right knee… This was a new pain, in all my running I have never had pain like this before. Before I knew it, my knee was seizing up and my “graceful stride” turned into something I would expect to see from Egor. I wanted to quit, the discomfort was becoming too great. As I shuffled along I realized that I needed to check in with my mental toughness, because this was something I was more than able to see through. I continued on. At the 28th km feeling so isolated, and every colour of despair; I came across my friend waiting for me, to cheer me on. When she realized the state I was in, she jumped up and started “running” along side me. She took my the water bag from me, and started talking me through the rest of the run. She lightened my load both figuratively and literally. She raced with me for the last 13km talking to me and encouraging me all the way. I finished the marathon with the my slowest time yet, but I finished – thanks to a good friend and teammate.

So, what is the parallel to my school year, what’s the learning to be had from this? First of all, I want to recognize the importance of our team, and the great collaboration that occurs on it. Embarking on a goal as hefty as inquiry learning can feel overwhelming at times, and it can even feel a bit isolating (in regard to finding like minded people). Collaborating with my team has allowed me to stay focused on our goals, share feelings of success and failure, and help me remain energized throughout the year. It is such a relief to know that I work with a group of enthusiastic, motivated, SUPPORTIVE people.

The second parallel I can draw from my marathon story is the importance of goal setting, and evaluating the importance of your goals. I had a goal for my marathon, but when I arrived at the race, I got caught up in the excitement. In this particular case, my goal was my safety net, it was there to keep me on track. When I abandon my goal, I lost the focus and the reason I was at the race at all. I feel that we need to keep a clear focus on our goals, and adjust them when we have a clear mental space, not in a time of “excitement”. Two questions I always ask myself when I am reevaluating my classroom goals are: What is best for the kids??? and What is the learning that can come from this? These have been my guiding questions for the last two years. Asking myself these two questions helps me remember what our intentions are and to stay on course, and see our assignments through.

The third and final parallel that I can draw from my marathon is the realization that even though we call a marathon a race, it is not. Just like the school year the marathon is a journey with much learning to be had from the experience. This learning can only occur if your are in the middle of it getting your hands dirty, and risking the soap. It is impossible to fully understand the dynamics of a marathon by merely being a spectator. Just like being a part of the process of inquiry learning, you do not get the full understanding by sitting on the sidelines. Although, all too often, participating as a spectator often excites and inspires the audience. You can see how this too plays a role in every individual’s process.

To be prepared to run a marathon, you need to do the training, you need to take your time to make sure you have considered every part of the marathon puzzle. This too is true when going through an inquiry project. The planning is intricate and attention needs to be paid to every possible outcome to be prepared to face any obstacle. When you are faced with these obstacles you need to be willing to walk away having learned from it, or the next one will not be any better. Just as you will not master your first marathon, you will not master your first inquiry project. The road to becoming an expert takes time, patience, and practice. I look forward to continue to master my craft in inquiry learning over the years of my career.

Steep Learning Curve Leads to a Year of Growth

This post comes from our Learning Community 7 Teacher, Brad Arndt. This was Brad’s first year at Greystone. He brought a lot of energy and passion for students, their learning and his own learning. He has been an amazing addition to our school community.

TPGP Year End Reflections

When I started brainstorming ideas to reflect on from this year I quickly realized how incredibly steep the learning curve has been.  I thought back to how I was teaching a year ago, what I am doing today and how I would like to improve my teaching next year.  This process brought me to the realization that while I have learnt an incredible amount over the course of this year, I still aspire to achieve so much more in the classroom.  Three significant topics arose from this reflective process.  First, I would like to discuss what I learnt about inquiry this year.  Second, I want to discuss the PLC’s that were so helpful in guiding my learning and finally, I want to talk about some ideas that I will implement into my practice for next year.

A year ago I was asked in my interview “what inquiry based learning was” and I had a textbook answer something along the lines of “inquiry based learning is allowing the students to ask questions to guide their learning…”.  While this answer was enough to show I understood a bit of what inquiry meant, my true understanding was shallow and superficial.  Over the course of the last year I realized that good questions are just a small piece of the inquiry process.  Those questions need to develop a deep, genuine curiosity in students and at the same time give them the tools to be able to answer those questions.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  While I am sure there are a number of additional key ideas for fostering true, deep, inquiry that I will come across in my future learning here are a few key ideas I came across this year.

  • Connect the learning to the students’ passion.  The difference in the depth of learning when the students learning is directly tied to their individual passions is substantial.  Our Innovation week does an incredible job at this.

  • Connect the learning to real world hooks or authentic tasks.  Building real world, authentic tasks as the foundation of the learning provides the student with a true sense of purpose in their learning.  This purpose spikes engagement and pushes the learner to provide their highest quality work.

  • Connect the learning to fun and play. Kids are meant to play and so much learning can be done by having the kids just wonder about their play.  Just through the encouragement of questioning and reflection about play we can open up a whole new world of inquiry to students.

  • Connect the learning to as many disciplines as possible.  By linking ideas across multiple curricular subjects we foster the students’ ability to make broad meaningful connections in the real world outside the walls of a school.  It will also allow for individual students to access this new knowledge using their own strengths, abilities and learning style.

I can tell I still have a lot to learn in this area (yes, I have had a few lessons flop this year and these became memorable learning experiences) but I have seen enough evidence in my classroom to know that the power of deep inquiry is incredible.  I have watched students come in early and stay in at recess to work extremely hard on a project, I have seen students engage in passionate discussions about their learning and I have seen beaming smiles of students being successful after an incredible challenge in their learning all because of some well structured inquiry based projects.

None of the above realizations would have ever been possible without the help of some amazing people and resources.  I am truly thankful to the people that put up with my questions, engaged me in conversations, and pushed me beyond my comfort zone this year.  Without these brilliant people my growth would have become stagnant. One of the most beneficial Professional Learning Communities (PLC) I accessed this year would have to be the staff in our own building.  I genuinely believe that I am blessed to be surrounded by some amazing teachers. The discussions we had during design team meetings were always full of incredible ideas. The conversations in the hallways and after school were also meaningful learning opportunities. Book club discussion topics helped bring new knowledge on student learning into the classroom.  Team prep times were invaluable to collaboration and the development of my teaching practice. The rich learning that comes out of our own building is by far the most advantageous to my development and growth as a teacher.

Another PLC that I really enjoy learning from is the online PLC I am involved in.  The amount of bright minds in the teaching world I have access to as a result of Twitter, You Tube, Zite, Pinterest, Blogs, and Tedtalks is unbelievable.  Following these people online means I have access to the knowledge of the best minds in education across the globe.  Not only do I have access to their ideas but to the conversations they have with others on Twitter and in the blog comments.  These conversations allow me to consider multiple perspectives on an idea, and to deliberate on the positives and negatives of an idea for my own use.  They also grant me access to advice on challenges I am facing in my own classroom. Online PLCs allow me to find and gain access to resources I never knew existed.  Sometimes the interactions I engage in online go beyond learning to provide motivation or humour after a tough day in the classroom.  Bottom line is that the internet has provided me with so much fuel for my passion in learning and educating that I consider it a very powerful learning tool.

The final PLC I used as a valuable learning tool is the conferences, networks and conventions I attended this year.  Three in particular seem to stand out as the most valuable to my growth in the area of inquiry based learning.  One very powerful learning opportunity came when I received the opportunity to work the Galileo Network with the rest of my team.  This was a very exciting and valuable experience because we had an expert to help us build a project around the idea of settling the west.  This was the first time I ever worked on a truly cross curricular project.  I believe this project was as successful as it was because of the support and ideas from our planning day with Galileo and the GCMS lc7 team.  Teachers’ Convention was another opportunity to connect with a PLC I really value.  Every year at convention I make the point of connecting with teachers I worked with in University.  This is a great way to see that the challenges and stresses I experience as a newer teacher are very similar to the experiences of my colleagues.  We talk about challenges, solutions,  swap funny stories, and share insights on successful ideas.  I always walk away from this experience with renewed excitement about what we do with our projects and lessons here at GCMS and what I do in my classroom.  Finally I have to mention the ConnectED CA conference at the Calgary Science School I attended recently.  The biggest takeaway from this conference is the fact that there are so many more amazing teachers that are focusing on inquiry as a major part of their work as educators.  I feel like it is so important to be able to connect with these people to share the ideas we work on in our classrooms on a daily basis.  I also got the opportunity to connect with teachers that are working in team teaching scenarios very similar to the work Jenna and I will be doing next year.  Overall, this was easily the best conference for learning, understanding, and growth on the topic of inquiry based learning I have ever experienced.

To wrap up my reflections this year I want to ensure that the growth I experienced this year continues over the course of next year.  Obviously, there will be a steep learning curve in regards to teaching as part of a team.  However, along with that we are planning a couple of projects that will strengthen the inquiry skills of our students and develop our abilities as inquiry focused educators.

One idea that was discussed at the connectED CA conference was that students rarely receive instruction, lessons or reflect on what it really means to have an inquiry focus.  We want to spend the beginning of the year focusing on an “Inquiry Boot Camp” where the focus will be helping the students understand what inquiry is and why this method of thinking is so important.

Another way to help continue my learning over the next year here is a plan that Jesse McLean came up with where Jenna and I team up with two inquiry focused teachers from B.C. and develop inquiry projects together. At the end of one of the projects we will do a “teacher swap” and Skype back to our classes to share the learning between the classes.  Jenna and I had the chance to meet up with these teachers from B.C. at the ConnectED CA conference and are excited to continue planning this project.

The final plan we want to put in place for next year is how to design the classroom to include learning spaces that meet the needs of today’s inquiry based learners.  Spaces that accommodate various learning styles as well as various project tasks.  Areas for building, creating, or presenting, alongside quiet studying areas, distraction free areas alongside collaboration areas.  This classroom design challenge is going to be our project for our Teacher Innovation Day in August.

This reflection process has reminded me of the challenges I overcame this year. It also mirrors aspects of a good classroom.  Students who face difficult challenges in school and still are successful undergo a deep and memorable learning experience.  This is exactly how I feel about my learning experience here in my first year at Greystone.  I intend to continue putting myself into challenging learning opportunities not because I am a sucker for punishment but rather because I fully understand the benefit it will have in my growth as a professional educator.


New Role, New Class, New Challenges

 

This post comes from our Learning Community 7 Teacher, Jessie Krefting, who rejoined our school team in January after her first maternity leave. It is never easy transitioning back into school life after spending time at home with your new baby; however, it is particularly challenging when returning part way through the school year. I am grateful to Jessie for sticking with this difficult transition and working hard to find balance in her new role as mom.

Reflection on 2012-2013 School Year

The past six months have been the most challenging in my 9 years of teaching and I have taught everything from grade 2/3 in a small northern community to non-academic high school courses to grade 6 in a small school in the western most part of our school division. Admittedly, after these last few months, my confidence in my teaching abilities has been shaken but I know that it will be revitalized again. I knew it was going to be difficult to come in half way through the year but I don’t think anyone could have anticipated just how difficult it was going to be.

I have heard from a few people that they knew about me before they ever joined our staff and prior to this year, I took it as a compliment. Now however, I wonder if they heard about me for the wrong reasons. I know that sometimes students are just not willing to give someone different a chance when they feel that their previous teacher was a perfect fit for them. In some respects, I think a few of the students were determined to dislike me no matter what I did or said. This was apparent last week when a teacher overheard a few of my more challenging students say that I wasn’t going to be their teacher next year because I couldn’t handle them. I had not told them that I was pregnant as I was concerned that it would give these few students even more reason to mistreat and disrespect me. Unfortunately, someone else shared my news with them and when these few heard, they let out a cheer. It hurts to think that I was unable to win these few students over but I also know that I have won over a lot of the students and their parents in the classes that I teach and I try to focus on those victories because one can’t win them all.

I also knew that coming onto a new team half way through the year was going to be a challenge because they had already had four months to work with one another and to solidify their relationships. I can remember Melissa giving me a huge hug in December and telling me how glad she was that I was going to be a part of team. She has also shared with me that I have been her rock of sorts and have helped to support her when she wasn’t sure how to handle certain situations. When Jenna found out I was pregnant, she commented that she could only call me her partner for a little longer and that made her sad. I was hesitant joining this team being that I was the one with the most teaching experience and I was worried that I was going to be doing the majority of the work (as that had been my previous experience) but I have enjoyed my time with this team. I feel that we have all taught each other something over the last six months. I have appreciated Melissa’s “rose colored glasses” approach to students. She is always looking for the best in the students and it can be difficult, after a few years of teaching, to not become jaded by the constant demands of both parents and students. I have also appreciated Jenna’s enthusiasm and Brad’s technological savviness and willingness to share this knowledge. I look forward to watching this team of young teachers grow and thrive in the coming years.

Over the course of the past six months it has not all be negative. I have had a few students ask me why I became a teacher and I have shared with them that I have a passion for learning and want to share this passion with my students and colleagues but that I don’t feel that I have done a good job of that with them and for that I apologize. These students have, in turn, shared with me that they are happy I am there. Those students have made it easier to face each day and again, these are the students that I try to focus my energy on because I know that they need me to be at my best each and every day. Another highlight came from a mother of a student who was stunned when I shared her daughter’s work with her via email. She thanked me for taking the time to share with her daughter’s progress. (I look forward to being able to use Google Docs more in order to do this kind of sharing as I think it is so important especially with older middle schoolers whom aren’t necessarily eager to share their strengths and weaknesses with their parents and guardians). Another highlight came from another mother who has emailed me a few times to thank me for keeping her constantly informed about what is happening in LC 7B and 7C and sharing what we are working on in class. I know that there are some parents who are not happy with me but I also know that there are parents from this year and years passed, who are thankful that I am/was their child’s teacher and that is who, again, I have tried to focus my energy on.

I have also been trying to find the balance between my new role as a mom and my role as a teacher. Before kids, I had a lot less patience for little things but when I returned from maternity leave, I felt that I had developed a significant amount of patience as a result of becoming a mom and I have tried to maintain this with my students. Before kids, it was easy to come home in the evening and continue working after supper. Now, I want to spend as much time with my husband and my daughter as I can and by the time she is in bed for the night, I am exhausted. (Does that get easier?) I have relied on Rilla and Christy to share with me some of their tricks for balancing home and work and I am grateful to them for being my sounding boards. I try to use every spare moment I have before 4:30pm to get my work done, whether it is marking, planning or writing report cards and IPPs but at the expense of my relationships with my colleagues. As a result, I have been making a conscience effort to go to the staffroom at least 2 times a week so that I am able to reconnect with my colleagues and to remain balanced.

These past six months have been challenging to say the least but they have also given me some food for thought in regards to what I will do after number 2 is born in November. Do I come back part way through the year or do I come back in September? Am I really capable of teaching anything above grade 7? ( I think I am but that this year was not a good measure of my abilities). My goal from here is to take what I have learned this year and keep it in mind the next time I come back from a maternity leave. I think the next time around, I will be more prepared for what to expect and have a better handle on how to deal with things. (I have also heard that when you have more than two you are more eager to get back to work. Haha!) I also want to take my experience and support those that are also coming back from a leave of absence because I understand just how challenging it can be and I want to be someone else’s support system and sounding board like so many have been for me.

 

Teacher Reflections on Relationships, Collaboration and Growth

Raeann Richardson is one of our Learning Community 5 Teachers. This was Raeann’s first year at Greystone but it was not her first time teaching at our school. Raeann was a student teacher with us at Greystone a couple of years ago, she moved to Calgary last year to teach, and then returned to Edmonton this past year. I knew that she would be a perfect fit for our school community after watching her in action as a student teacher – I was absolutely right! No wonder her teaching team speaks so highly of her – she is a dedicated, collaborative teacher AND learner.

My Year’s Reflection

Over this past year I have experienced, grown, and learned so much. It is difficult to articulate my experiences thus far, especially from what I knew then, to what I know now.

When I first entered Greystone this school year, my focus was relationships. Making meaningful relationships with my students was number one for me. I spent many thought out moments taking time to observe and react to who my students were as people. They are all so different, coming from special families, experiences, loves and hates. Before I could figure out so much of what else was going on around me, I needed to first know the little people I was working with and helping to build and grow as good citizens. By encouraging meaningful conversation and feedback within the classroom, I was able to gain an understanding and appreciation for the diversity we all represent. I wanted to build a foundation of trust and care between each student and myself. By creating a warm and loving classroom setting, I believe each child knew they could land and feel safe within our shared setting.

My next transition of learning was within my immediate group of coworkers. This had been the first time I have worked so closely within a group for a consistent amount of time. My only other similar experience was working with other students within study groups, or for projects at the University. Prior to this year, I had taught Kindergarten within a very isolated setting, with little to no collaboration or feedback from peers.  I was very excited to work amongst such wise and experienced teachers. I felt, and still feel like, an open book with mostly empty pages, ready to be filled with knowledge and realization of the profession. As this year has progressed I have taken much wisdom from each team teacher in a variety of ways. They added many pages to my book of knowledge, and I am so grateful for that. Together we experienced successes, failures, joys and frustrations, knowing our goal was what’s best for the students.

Today, I have come to a place where I feel energized to grow and experience so much more. I am ecstatic to have the opportunity to continue at Greystone!  To have the opportunity to continue to further my relationships with my students, and build on the unity my team teachers have created is wonderful! I feel like this is just the beginning of what I have to accomplish and experience. This school has provided me with the beginning framework that is current and critical in the way we should educate today’s citizens. The family of Greystone has made me think, wonder, reflect, grow and strive to want to do great things. I truly believe I am the luckiest developing teacher to take part in what thinking Greystone has to offer. I want to always grow and develop and never stay stagnant in what I do, or how I live. I believe this is only the beginning… and I cannot wait to experience what there is to come.

Raeann Richardson

June 2, 2013

Looking Back on a Teacher’s First Year

Jenna Wilkins is a first year teacher who works with students in our grade 7 Learning Community. Very early in her career, Jenna demonstrates a deep understanding of how to make learning meaningful and memorable for her students – she has a very promising future ahead of her!

Professional Growth Plan Reflections 2013 – Jenna Wilkins

*I had big dreams when it came to putting my reflection into some sort of jazzy video or Prezi, but that is next year’s goal!

 Wow…where do I even begin? Reflecting on your first year of teaching is kind of like cramming an entire PhD thesis into a tweet or for those who are maybe not Twitter savvy yet; an encyclopedia into a postcard. I feel like I could have written a book every week, not only to remember all of the hilarious moments that middle school kids provide, but because I feel like I have learned so much over the course of the year it is almost overwhelming. Yet, overwhelming in the most positive way possible! Thus, I have tried my best to capture my exponential learning curve through my expanded thoughts organized under a few cheesy catch phrases, so I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

“If I could go back in time…”

Whenever you tell a fellow educator that this is your first year of teaching, without a doubt the majority of them launch into a similar speech that starts something like this:

“If I could go back to when I started teaching I would tell myself all these things not to do or how to do said things differently.”

I am a strong believer and advocate of open, honest reflection because I believe it will keep you accountable as an educator to push yourself to better practice, which in turn provides better, learning opportunities for our students. Obviously, I am so grateful for all of the advice and wisdom that I have received during these countless conversations (I have probably borrowed several of the ideas!!!) but I don’t want to get stuck thinking within those parameters. Reflecting is vital, but to me reflecting is different because it is something malleable and fluid. Consequently, I believe that this way of thinking takes us back to an almost solid moment in time, which seems to me almost detrimental because it takes away the uncertainty. I always want to reflect and grow but I don’t ever want to regret the chances that I have taken because that is when my best learning has happened. Being able to experience the emotions and growth that come along with the challenges and successes in your first year of teaching is something that I am thankful I didn’t miss. Clearly changing, adapting and progressing your teaching is something I hope to always be doing, but I never want to be thinking within the framework of trying to eliminate risk because when I take risks, I feel like I learn the most.

Jump with 1 and 1/2 feet in…not 2! (Goal #1 & 2)

I have learned in my first year that although teachers are all “YES” people (and lets face it, especially first year teachers!) you do need to find balance. There are a million opportunities to get involved and I am so grateful that I was given the chance to participate in several different events. I loved being involved in extracurricular activities, school-wide events and committees as well as PD trips etc. because of the tremendous learning I have encountered and the connections I have made with students. I would encourage every single new teacher to get involved, especially if it is out of your comfort zone (me coaching Volleyball is a prime example!!!) because you are able to connect with a variety of students further building the sense of community in our school. Also, the new lens in which I got to see our students is invaluable. I didn’t say, “jump with 2 feet in” is because it is very easy to become consumed with school. I wanted to do everything but I knew that I would not be at my best, therefore would not be the best for my students on a daily basis. I coached volleyball and journal games, helped with the dance program and active lunch, as well as piloted a 1-to-1 iPad project and participated in several PD opportunities. Each of these afforded me positive growth but I needed to maintain my balance in order to be the best for my students, so I always referred back to this analogy as I was thinking about another project to pile on…jump with 1 and 1/2 feet in!

Get Your Shine On! (Goal #2)

In my search for my identity as a teacher I have learned several important lessons when it comes to “getting your shine on!” When you are new, you are CONSTANTLY looking to all the amazing role models in the building and just hoping to pick up some tricks along the way. I found myself watching A LOT (sorry for everyone who found me lurking around their rooms…haha) I found myself being the observer of the relationships my staff has with our school community, how they deliver engaging lessons, how they plan collaboratively for inquiry projects and how they deal with adverse situations and I began to think. I questioned all of my actions during the day. I thought about how someone else in the building might handle the same situation. How had I seen them do this last week? Why wasn’t it working the same way for me? Then, a little cartoon light bulb appeared above my head.

I had to get my shine on.

You may ask what that means and I came to the conclusion that it was my catch phrase to capture personality and expression.  I was not willing to give up my personality and who I am in the classroom regardless the situation. I am by no means saying my way of doing anything is the right or best way at all. What I mean by “get your shine on” is that we expect our kids to share and celebrate their unique personalities with us and each other and I needed to let mine shine through. Creating my identity as a teacher was important because I wanted to create a positive learning environment for my students. Letting students see who I was and that I am not good at everything and that I make mistakes and that I have weird little quirks too only strengthens our classroom community because it fosters a safe, accepting environment. I am happy I felt confident enough to “get my shine on” and show my students it is good to celebrate who you are!

Smartest Person in the Room is THE Room (Goal #1)

I kept hearing this phrase at the ConnectED Conference and I couldn’t let it go. I truly believe that my accomplishments, successes and overall exponential growth this year is a direct reflection of the people I am surrounded by. I constantly use the resources around me to further my learning about something that is near and dear to my heart because I know it is the best way to learn for our students and I believe I need to push myself to understand, experience and reflect upon the inquiry process before I can transfer this passion onto my students. As one of my professional goals, I wanted to begin my journey with inquiry-based learning and I believe I am on my way, mainly because of the support and opportunities I was afforded this year. I had the privilege to learn alongside the most amazing staff and learning community team, as well as connecting with fellow colleagues and experts outside of our building.

In order to begin my journey of inquiry my LC7 team was able to connect and work closely with a mentor from the Galileo network, which helped guide our first inquiry with all core subjects. Also, getting the chance to be a part of the ConnectEd conference, touring the Calgary Science School and connecting with so many like-minded educators only reminded me how much I have to learn about inquiry and the process the encompasses the assessment, feedback and reflection. In addition, I was involved in two different book studies and participated in Design Team, which both provided me opportunities to reflect on and learn more about the inquiry process and how I can implement inquiry into our classroom.

All of this has taught me that I have a long way to go on my inquiry journey and there are so many smart people to connect with when it comes to developing effective, innovative and engaging inquiry projects for our students. We have challenged ourselves next year to start off the year with “Inquiry Bootcamp,” in order to teach our students all about inquiry: why we do it, the importance of the process, the overarching questions, the perseverance needed and the deeper learning required and gained.

PLAY (Goal #2)

I know this is not new or profound but, never underestimate the power of play, no matter what age. Sometimes I think as we get older and when we teach older students we (I am totally guilty of this!!!) forget that they need some time to be silly. Unfortunately, some of our students come from a home where laughter is not the norm and I find myself really trying to put a smile on my students faces each and every day because sometimes they just need a place to be a kid. I have had some of the most touching and memorable moments with my students this year during times when we were just playing.

Say No to Status Quo (Goal #1)

This catchphrase relates to goal #1 because I realize that I am part of something special. At GCMS we believe this catch phrase wholeheartedly and I cannot be more excited to be a part of the trailblazing. I know that I am in a place where no one is complacent because we know that in order to continue to meet our students needs and provide them with the most effective, passionate and innovative education we need to “say no to status quo.” Collaboration at Greystone allows us to challenge each other and challenge the system, which makes me so hopeful and enthusiastic about where we are heading.

After my attempt to cram a PhD thesis into a Tweet, I leave you with one last cheesy catch phrase that I heard a couple of weeks ago and I thought there was no better way to sum up a first year of teaching:

“I am just fixing the plane as I fly it!”

Thank you does not even come close to encompassing how grateful I feel to be a part of the Greystone community. I know without a doubt that my first year of teaching would not have been as successful if it was not for all of the amazing role models I get to work with each day. I am so looking forward to next year and all the learning that will surely accompany the opportunities I have been given. Have a great summer everyone, we deserve it!!!

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