Laura Robert has just finished her third year with us at Greystone Centennial Middle School. This year, Laura worked with our youngest students at Greystone in Learning Community 5. Laura brought so much to her students and her team this year – her caring, thoughtful nature, her desire to continuously learn and her commitment to collaboration with her colleagues. Laura also spear headed our school’s “We Care Team” sharing her desire to help our students make a difference in the lives of others outside of our school community.
Professional Growth Plan Reflection 2013-14 ~ Laura Robert
At the start of the year I made a goal to develop effective communication with my students and their parents in order to ensure the establishment of positive relationships that would lay a foundation for their learning at Greystone. I wanted to especially focus on the aspects of collaboration and evidence. With so many avenues for communication available I found that I had to adjust my approach depending on the needs of the student or parent.
Many families responded that they appreciated the Remind 101 texting system, notes, letters, agendas, and emails that provided them with general updates throughout the year. Families actively utilized the availability of email to stay in touch, address concerns, or let me know about things my students were dealing with at home. I feel they appreciated how quickly I tried to respond, making myself available if they had a question or concern.
I was able to create a classroom blog that provided families with day to day activities, upcoming curriculum, concepts, or studies, and evidence of the students’ opportunities to learn in class. All of us in LC5 even started to push the envelope further and assist our students in creating their own school blogs where they could journal and reflect on their personal learning. Although I feel this form of communication has some of the greatest potential I do not feel it was as successful as I had originally hoped. After putting a lot of thought and effort into making this an informative tool very few families would make a point of visiting my blog, or their child’s blog on a regular basis. Without an invested audience my response was to spend more time on other ways of communicating with students and parents. I have been planning strategies for improving my own consistency with the blog posting and develop ways to give families more incentive to connect through blogs (focusing on the evidence of learning-shown through their child’s blog posts) and by sending regular links and questions out through our blog for families to go over at home.
The comment based report cards given each term provides students and families with far more than just a vague generalization of their marks. Instead the report cards that we produce pinpoint specific skills within each discipline, and evaluate a student’s level of independent competency in each individual area. I tell my students and their families that the most valuable part of these report cards are the detailed comments. I felt confident that the comments I made for each of my students clearly identified their individual learning. I connected the key words discussed within class (based on our poster “What are we learning today?”) to guide these observations and recommendations. Although these comments are simply a snapshot of the students’ learning, it was an opportunity to communicate with, initiate important conversations, and gain support from many parents who strived to work with me to assist their child in meeting these goals!
Effective communication was especially vital when working with my grade 5 teaching team. Although the idea of working with 6 other very independent and unique individuals (most of whom I had never met before this year) seemed quite daunting, it turned out to be a winning combination! Each day everyone brought everything they had to the table, and invested all of themselves into each other and “our kids.” The excitement of working in tangent with these accomplished teachers who were willing to put themselves on the line, learn something new, or take a risk help me grow as a teacher. We developed solutions for accomplishing tasks more efficiently, and utilizing the team time in our time table by dividing our group into two parts. Communication was especially important between these groups to ensure that consistency was not lost in this gap. Although it was a challenge we established multiple routes of connecting with each other including joint google docs., consistent emails, sharing of resources, and of course the very best…spending quality time face to face with each other. We all seemed to enjoy moments to connect, and would seek out opportunities to get to know each other on a professional and personal level. We appreciated each others differences, and encouraged each other when things were difficult. I believe this positive and trusting relationship among the teachers was often reflected in the culture developed within our pod. The consistency and support for each other provided our students with an understanding of expectations and clear boundaries. Joan, Ashley, Derek, April, Jessica, Luke, and I went through a lot together this year, and working with them (along with others in the school) has made this year one of the best in my teaching career!
I believe that our students are set up for optimum success when there is close communication between families, teachers, educational assistants, administration, and others. In this way there is a community established that works with the student to foster a secure learning environment with plenty of opportunities the student can choose to embrace. I have learned a lot this year about developing individualized routes of communication and support that has established a strong foundation of trust in our school. I plan to continue to strengthen the relationships I have built with my teaching colleagues, my students and their families into the coming year!
Personal Professional Development Opportunity Highlights
This spring I was given the opportunity to attend the Innovate West conference in Calgary at the Connect Charter School. The most beneficial part of this conference was getting to interact with students from the Connect Charter school within their classrooms, and listening to them describe their learning process. It was very exciting to see how eloquently they spoke about their learning, and how they had developed critical thinking strategies. One of our sessions Jeff Couillard led a discussion about how to transform our ideas to opportunities within the classroom. Instead of just generating broad dreams for the future, he gave us planners that could organize our thoughts into tangible plans for implementation. Some of us who attended this session from Greystone have already started to use this guide to structure a program to promote cyber citizenship next year, which could be joined with our health curriculum. Another session I attended was called Pinning down the “unpindownable”: Assessing Creativity. Erin Quinn and Stephanie Bartlett led this collaborative demonstration of how to foster creative ideas, while still coming alongside students and facilitating an open discussion with them to help develop goals for improving their skills. Another notable session I attended was one led by Ryan Siemens and Jen Friske. They described their experience facilitating concept driven (rather than topic focused) curriculum in order to develop more internationally minded students. I felt challenged and inspired by the keynote speakers like Michelle Baldwin, Josh Hill, and Brad Ovenell-Carter…but even more so through conversations with other educators and my co-workers, whose drive to guide innovation and learning was electrifying!
Through our annual teachers convention I learned from a variety of well-versed speakers. One of these amazing speakers was Erin Gruwell (Achieving the Impossible: Become a Catalyst for Change), who teaches groups of students who have been pigeon-holed as “unteachable.” Even as a young teacher she was able to break through the tough exteriors of these inner city kids to help redirect their lives. The avenue they chose for escaping was “The Freedom Writers Diary.” This speaker brought me back to my first teaching job at Bosco Homes Academy working with high school students “at the end of the road.” I remembered the faces of my students who had been hurt by the world, and needed a way out. For a couple of these students writing and art had been their release. I also attended sessions like Shelagh Rogers’ who spoke on mental illness and creating healthier work spaces and Oliver Samonte who provided tools to teach students who spoke English as their second language. I attended the session led by Jesse McLean where he described the alternative classroom designs our school has been exploring, and even though I had seen many of our “softer” classrooms in action, it was very interesting to hear the responses from other interested teachers. One of the most amazing opportunities was listening to Eva Olsson describe her life as a Holocaust survivor in WWII. She spoke on how we each have the responsibility to pass on a legacy of caring, compassion and character to those we teach. She spoke on needing courage and determination to overcome prejudice attitudes. Through her whole talk the audience was enraptured, awestruck, by this tiny woman who had decided that she could no longer be silent about the pain she had suffered, and the message of resilience she was compelled to share. I felt overwhelmed and empowered at the same time, knowing I was truly blessed to learn from these amazing teachers!
I really appreciated the thought and purpose behind our Greystone Professional Development days this year as well! I felt that from the very first retreat kick off, there was a clear goal to develop and foster collaboration and camaraderie between teachers, teams, and administration at Greystone. The planning time we were given was extremely effective in establishing trust, and initiating some incredible ideas we could put to work in our classrooms. One of my favorite PD days at Greystone was when Rapid Fire Theatre group was brought in to work with the staff. This provided us with an opportunity to step out of our comfort zone, and recognize how this often feels to our students. I brought away from this experience a realization that a simple look, word, or even closed body language could put barriers up and discourage a student…or how the opposite could encourage them to take risks! This was the best year for PD because of the fitness and interaction nature of the lunches! The majority of our staff members participated in various unique activities from yoga, Tai Chi, Basketball, to even an enormous omnikin ball game. These are not just “fun” and “games,” but it is time for our staff to connect on a personal level, and develop a community of trust. Although all of us have different experiences and often different opinions, I believe that there is loyalty and respect among our staff that guides the dedicated work ethic within and sense of family within our school.