Archive for Community Building

It Takes a Village … to Build a Playground!

As anyone who has ever been involved in imagining a new playground at a school can attest to it is a marathon, not a sprint!

Several years ago the parent fundraising society – F.O.G.S. (Friends of Greystone Society) began the journey to build some new playground structures at Greystone. They envisioned a place that students in middle years would want to play on, be active, visit and enjoy for years to come.

Then came the planning, the budgeting, and the fundraising, oh the fundraising. Casinos, bake sales and everything else you can imagine went on in order to make the vision a reality. Many families contributed to these fundraising opportunities, and without the support of fundraisers and the community, this playground would never have become a reality.

Now we’re on the homestretch — the building phase. We have had some incredibly dedicated organizers and volunteers who have come out and put in hours of organizing and back-breaking labour in order to create a new play structure for GCMS. We have also had the support of numerous local businesses through donations and discounts that have made this project possible.

The build dates have been postponed from time to time, the weather has been chilly, the ground has been muddy — but the playground is coming together with the help from so many members of the GCMS village. It is going to be so wonderful to see our students being active and playing on the new equipment, that wouldn’t be there if not for the committment and hard work of the community.

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Reflections on Creating a New Music Program – Mat Pechtel, Music/French Teacher

Thanks, Mat, for sharing the learning from your year!

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This year has been a whirlwind of activity and learning. I feel like this year has flown by, and I have had many challenges, successes and failures throughout the year. Having never taught purely music before, I didn’t really know what to expect coming into this year with the task of starting a music program. I went to a wonderful PD in August that was all about teaching elementary music, and that was a HUGE help, not just for the resources I received from it, but to get myself into the mindset of a musical educator, including gaining confidence in my singing abilities.

The beginning of the year was a little bit chaotic. The music room was occupied by 2 grade 5 classes as they waited for the portables to be completed, so I was traveling class to class with my computer and speakers, trying to sing songs with students and teach them musical concepts. Doing this in their usual classroom space was very challenging, especially for the students in grade 7, who had not had “music” class since they were in grade 4.

Once I moved into the music room, things started to feel like a real musical space. I left the space wide open, with no chairs unless they are needed, and have tried to create a welcoming environment where students are able to express themselves musically without judgement. The acoustics in the room are wonderful, and I am able to hear every voice in the room while we are singing. Having a dedicated musical space has also helped students with their musical learning, as they aren’t in their “usual” classroom, and are instead in a space filled with instruments, posters, and things that are all focused on one thing: Music.

After doing primarily singing and working with dynamics for the first few months of the school year, we were lucky enough to order a class set of Ukuleles for the music program, and a few weeks after returning from Christmas Break, we began to learn the Ukes. I chose Ukes for the playing portion of the instrument for a few reasons. Firstly, I play the Ukulele and had used it in the music room before to accompany songs we had sung. Secondly, I feel that recorders are overused in music classrooms and don’t really translate into future learning unless the student decides to join the school band and play a wind instrument. Ukuleles are easy to pick up and learn, inexpensive (many students have purchased their own and bring them to class), easy to maintain, and are something that students play outside of the classroom. Not to mention 30 ukuleles playing at the same time is much more tolerable than 30 recorders.

My biggest challenge this year was developing effective ways to assess student growth. Music is a very performance based subject, and I don’t think that paper and pencil tests on musical concepts is the best way to do it. I would rather students demonstrate for me their understanding of a concept through singing or playing, than be able to write down that they know that “forte” means loud. I began to record videos of every class singing various songs, and have used these as my assessments of each student. During class time try to listen to every student as they sing or play, and have the video as evidence for the future. Also it is a great way for the students to have instant feedback on their singing and playing, because we are able to watch and listen to what they have done seconds after they finish the song.
Assessing Ukuleles has been a little bit different, as they are starting from scratch in learning them. I would teach a few notes or a song to the students, give them time to practice and then they would come play for me when they felt they were ready. No “playing tests” or anything, just showing me what they were working on so I could track progress. I ensured that I saw every student at least once every 2-3 classes, and then could track their growth throughout the term. By the end of the Ukulele unit, I had students lined up waiting to play for me, some even multiple times per class, when they figured out a part of the song we were working on. They really surprised me and bought into the music program, taking ownership of their own learning in the musical environment.

Overall, this year I have taken chances, made mistakes, and grown in many different ways. This year has reinforced my love to teaching, and music, and I am looking forward to taking chances and growing the music program at Greystone over the years to come.

Good-bye to an Incredible School Community!

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“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
– Lao Tzu

An inspirational teacher, colleague and friend shared this quote with me a few years ago and said that it spoke to the kind of leader I have been at Greystone Centennial Middle School. This, for me, was the ultimate compliment as it so accurately represents what I believe strong leadership is all about.

As the last days of this school year wind down and I think about leaving the school that means so much more to me than just a place where I show up to work each day, I do know that it is the right time for me to go. I know that my work at Greystone is done, I know my aim is fulfilled and I hope that this amazing school community feels that they all contributed to what we have created together and that they can proudly say “we did it ourselves” …because they did!

I am grateful for an incredible opportunity that came my way when I was selected to be on the Administrative team that opened Parkland School Division’s brand new Middle School. We were invited to dream big and create a place that believed in the promise of our young adolescents. This was to be a school that was responsive to the unique developmental needs of this age group. Our ultimate goal was to design a place where teenagers felt a sense of belonging and would be intellectually engaged in important, meaningful learning. This was definitely no small task we were undertaking. We were filled with excitement as we designed and built a school community from the ground up. “Greystone Centennial Middle School…built on a dream, powered by an Inferno.”

Ten years later, we have learned so much. We have taken risks, made mistakes, improved and grown. We have questioned old ways of doing things, we have tried new approaches, we have faced tragedy and we have continued to move forward and get better. We have not stood still; we have not stopped challenging each other and our work, all in an effort to get it right for our kids.

Through it all, we have learned lessons about what is really important…and that is, none of us is in this alone. There is so much energy, opportunity for support and ability to innovate, when we work together – when we draw on the unique strengths that each of us brings to the school community.

This school community has taught me so much about resiliency, compassion, patience and continuous learning. Daily, I am reminded about how blessed I am to be doing what I love with people I love – a huge shout out to the staff, students and families of Greystone Centennial Middle School. I know you will continue to serve as a shining example for what it means to be a school community that provides everyone with a place to belong, a place that inspires curiosity and a place that holds high expectations for deep, relevant learning.

Once again, I am grateful for the next incredible opportunity that has come my way. I am looking forward to continuing with my own learning as I explore my new role as Parkland’s Divisional Principal of Innovative Leadership and Learning. I know that I will be leading and learning alongside some amazing people and I can’t wait to see where our work together will take us.

Greystone Hosts Our First Learning Day

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We stepped outside of our comfort zone at Greystone as we opened the doors to our school and our classrooms for a day of learning together last Friday. Our students and staff “walked the talk” of making our learning public, transparent and meaningful as we invited educators from our School Division and beyond to co-create a day of shared learning. Fifty teachers, administrators, district superintendents moved in and out of our classrooms talking to our students and staff about how learning is being made purposeful, deep and intellectually engaging at Greystone. We shared our practices and asked for feedback around the following topics:

– Formative Assessment through feedback loops, co-creating criteria, sharing learning intentions
– Thinking Strategies including Questioning, Socratic Circles, See-Think-Wonder, Chalk Talk and Debate
– Inquiry Projects that embed the Alberta Education Competencies
– Team Teaching
– Innovation Week
– Teacher Collaboration and Planning Time
– Flexible Block Scheduling
– Looping
– Alternative Classroom Design & Flexible Groupings of Students
– Mindfulness
– Bring Your Own Device Initiative

The day included sharing and conversation from our guests, too, as they joined and/or facilitated informal “EdCamp Style” discussions in the afternoon.

The highlight of the day was definitely our students! Our guests shared feedback with us about how well our students were able to speak the language of their learning as they described the work they are doing and the purpose behind it.

Congratulations to our Greystone Family for creating a day of memorable learning for each other and our guests. Thanks to all of our guests for joining us. Here are a few tweets from the day:

Creating our #bestyearever at Greystone

This past week we brought our school community together as we held our first assembly of our 2014-15 school year. All 700 students and staff gathered in the gym, just before we headed out on our annual Terry Fox Run, to celebrate an amazing school start-up. We shared some images of our students and their learning from the month of September. Looking forward to creating our best year ever with our Greystone School Community.

Greystone Begins the Best Year Ever

A Staff Retreat to focus on how students can take ownership of their learning through formative assessment practices, reviewing how to build a community of learners through developing class and learning community agreements, and welcoming over 660 students to our school community this year has been exciting – and it really could not have gone any better. We have had an amazing start-up. We have been tweeting some of our stories from the first few weeks of school – here they are:

 

 

 

The Best Day of My Life

 

This song..I can’t get it out of my head! I can’t help but have the “best day of my life” whenever I hear it. It must have been playing before I headed to work on the last day of school with students this year. I really did have one of the “best days of my life”. My #1 highlight from the day:

 

The Greystone School Championship Challenge

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One of our most amazing students in grade 9 has been supported by both staff and an incredibly accepting and unique group of students since he began his time with us at Greystone five years ago. When he began grade 5, his mom was deeply concerned about his ability to be successful with so many students in such a large setting as her son faced many challenges and became overwhelmed very easily. Five years later, we celebrated his last day of school at Greystone by supporting this student to plan and carry out his dream of participating, with his classmates, in a race he designed himself – The Greystone School Championship Challenge.

This grade 9 student drew up the design for the challenge course and with the non-stop support of our amazing Educational Assistant who has worked alongside this student for the past two years, the event was set to take place. Posters for each station were made, prizes for the finishers were purchased, helium balloons for the starting line were dropped off by our Educational Assistant’s mom and the special trophy, which had been engraved with the name and date of the event, were all ready. The student’s teachers and classmates all took part, either supporting the big race from the sidelines or participating in the event themselves.

The biggest highlight…watching this student have “the best day of his life” as he crossed the finish line and received a trophy for the event. Those of us who had the privilege of watching the presentation of the trophy shared in the magic of something that brought sheer joy to this student and were able to be a part of the “best day of his life”.

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What is most impressive is how this student has not only been accepted, but he has been celebrated in our school community for the very special individual he is. His strong finish at Greystone, both in his big race and also in his learning during his time with us, is a tribute to not only this student, but to all of the members of our school community for their commitment to his success. Awesome!!!!

Other highlights from the day included water wars and time spent enjoying each other’s company outside of the school walls. My favourite comments from students and staff included how much they appreciated ending the year together in such a fun way and how this kind of finish to the school year made everyone feel such mixed emotions about leaving for the summer…happy for a holiday, but sad to see the end of this awesome school year together.

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Looking forward to experiencing many more “best days of my life” with our Greystone School Community when we are back together in September.

Happy Summer!

 

 

The Power of Professional Learning and Communication

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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

Communication Goal

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.

Reflecting on The Courage to Teach

 

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Raeann Richardson looped up to Grade 6 this year with her group of students from Grade 5 last year. In addition to learning new curriculum this year, Raeann also decided to take on an additional learning challenge by team teaching in a large open space in our Media Centre. Raeann and her teaching colleagues provided a highly engaging, caring and compassionate learning community in their shared space. Students amazed me with their dedication to learning, their self-direction and their collaborative way of learning together.

Professional Growth Plan Reflection 2013-14 ~ Raeann Richardson

I recently began reading “The Courage to Teach”, by Parker J. Palmer. This was a book given to me by my incredibly inspiring leader and mentor, Carolyn Cameron. When meeting with her throughout the school year, she had recommended I read this book as it corresponds with my way of reflection and thoughtfulness. So far, I have really enjoyed Palmer’s way of describing education. He says that it is at its best, not only when there is intellect, but when we involve an emotional and spiritual way of reflection to our practice. The question “Who is the self that teaches?” Palmer says to be the most pivotal question for the sake of learning. I cannot help but agree.

I believe ongoing learning can only occur first by a way of relationships. I remember hearing a lot of this idea when I first arrived to Greystone. I understood it to be true; however, after spending two connected years with my group of students and colleagues, I truly believe and live this statement every day. I believe a “good” teacher shows willingness for connectedness. “Good teachers… are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves”, was stated by Palmer. I have never agreed with something more. I see the importance of this idea each day as I stand in front of the class, as I interact with students on a variety of emotional levels, as I act as a role model, friend and teacher; I do my best to reflect in what is a healthy, stable, meaningful connection with my students. Only then, can the real learning happen. As we know, teachers are not only present to feed the curriculum into the brains of our growing population, we are here to foster skills which will help our students live happy, complete lives, in whatever path they may take. No longer do we live in a world where the path to University and a “happy”, ”successful” way of life is through memorizing arithmetic, and historical facts. Instead, people are increasingly becoming successful through a number of routes, all based on unique and diverse skills and characteristics.

I am so happy to work at a school where it is believed that each day our job as educators is to foster such skills as: critical thinking, comprehension, risk taking, collaboration, reflection, synthesizing, creating and communicating; as these are the real building blocks to lifelong learning and success. My colleagues and I have collaboratively built successful learning tasks for our students to engage in, where they have further developed these skills we hold as vital. I have watched my students grow immensely through my two years spent with them. They have amazed me in countless moments, where their skills have reached new levels, and their emotional security and enthusiasm is inspiring.

As a young, developing professional, I feel greatly motivated and enthralled in the complexities of this career. I am excited to be where I am, and look forward to the continued learning opportunities and challenges ahead. “The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and student and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, require.”

Lessons Learned from the Year

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Brad Arndt looped up with his students from grade 7 to teach them in grade 8 this year. Brad also decided to enter into a team teaching situation this year with a colleague. Together, these two teachers created a highly engaging, responsive and flexible Learning Community for our students. It is awesome to see Brad embracing different opportunities in his own practice in order to provide students with the best possible learning environment.

PGP Year End Reflections from 2013/14 ~ Brad Arndt

My professional growth is something I take very seriously. I feel professional growth is an important area of focus for a few reasons. One, I think being a great teacher means building strong, important relationships. Two, I understand that effective teachers engage students in deep meaningful learning and; three, I believe, most of all, that the best teachers turn students into engaged, ethical, empathic citizens. Indeed, these are no small feats! Therefore, reflecting on my professional growth is never an easy task for me.  I have a perfectionist streak and tend to be fairly critical of myself when I look back over the year.  However, for this reflection, I want to keep the ideas positive. I want to focus on the accomplishments of the year and what those accomplishments have taught me. I want to reflect on how my successes may have brought me just a little bit closer to being one of those teachers who has significant impacts on students long after they leave the walls of our building.   In order to do this effectively I have separated this reflection into three areas. First, I will discuss the things I felt went well for me this year.  Secondly, I want to focus on a few of the lessons I learned from those successes this year.  Finally, I want to touch on the things that helped me learn all of those valuable lessons.  In the end, I want to be able to make the learning experiences of the past year more engrained and concrete for myself.  

A Few of the Things That Went Well This Year

 

After thinking about the individual successes over the past ten months, I quickly realized that they fit into three categories.  The first success I want to touch on was the success I had with team teaching and collaboration.  Team teaching and collaboration with good teachers might be one of the best and most effective learning tools I have come across in my professional development; however,  it can also be a risky form of learning. When the idea of working in a team teaching environment was presented to me, I had a number of fears. You have to be comfortable with the idea of being exposed as a teacher. You have to know how to handle feedback (yes, both the good and the bad) and you certainly have to be compatible in teaching styles or you might be in for a very long year.  However, if you can get around those challenges, you will be in for a exceptionally rewarding year as a teacher.  The discussions I have had this year regarding best practices in teaching were not always easy, but they were always informative.  At times opinions can vary drastically, but we always managed to keep the personal and emotional feelings out of the conversations. We managed to keep the discussion and debates focused around ideas.  I can’t even count how many times the discussion ended without a clear understanding or resolution of conflicting ideas, only to go home, reflect and come back the next day with a clearer picture and understanding of each other’s point of view.  This debating, discussing and reflecting process is exceptionally informative and I really enjoy the challenging and stimulating team environment it creates.  Overall, I feel this is such a great learning experience that I would recommend that all teachers work in team teaching classrooms at some point in their careers.  There are also a number of other benefits to team teaching that add to the success of this experience.  The students really benefit because they have two adults providing perspectives, feedback, and differing teaching styles.  This maximizes the learning the students can achieve.  It also means the number and frequency of check-ins are significantly increased.  The workload is shared for so many of the day to day management and organizational tasks teachers face. Finally, there are the sanity breaks of getting to touch base with another adult throughout the day.  It’s refreshing after talking to thirteen year olds for the majority of the day to have another adult to talk to in your classroom most of the time.  Ultimately, team teaching is both highly efficient and an exceptionally powerful learning tool.

 

The second success I want to reflect on and share is the success I feel that I am having in my math classes.  Mathematics has been a significant part of my teaching assignments every year that I have taught. While my education background is primarily in the sciences, I am finding some really great and exciting growth in my numeracy classes.  This year I have tried various groupings in math classes, both early in the year and then again with our levelled numeracy groups for the second half of the year. During each of these different situations, I have noticed an increase in the level of student engagement and student growth in mathematics.  These benefits have come from a wide variety of students.  I have a group of eighth grade students who have a history of struggling in mathematics. They have started to have some success and a change in attitude towards learning math concepts.  I have a group of high achieving eighth grade math students who have responded to more challenging material with engaging and passionate discussions about how and why specific math ideas work or don’t work.  Many of these discussions allow for the students to see that there are often multiple ways to work through a math problem and therefore, they are developing a deeper understanding of the topics being covered. After seeing some of these successes, I have, of course, reflected on why I have been seeing these changes in the students’ attitudes towards mathematics.  After considerable reflection and discussions with other amazing math teachers I am starting to think that there are three reasons I am seeing this success in my math classes.  The first is something I have being working on from my very first year of teaching.  I have been trying to focus on delivering math ideas from multiple perspectives.  I have been focusing on the why and how the steps in a math process work, along with a heavy investment in modelling math concepts with visual and tactile representations of the step by step processes.  I really feel that this is giving the students multiple ways to access the concepts and to take their understanding of mathematics deeper.  Secondly, I have made a very conscious effort to provide helpful feedback and check-ins very regularly in math classes.  I am almost never at my desk during class these days. I am floating around the room having meaningful discussions with students.  Students are seeking these discussions not only with myself but are starting to turn to their peers to get help.  After teaching math for four years I am finding I have a strong grasp as to where students are likely to make errors when learning new concepts, and I am able to catch these mistakes early on or, in some cases, avoid them altogether by using well timed feedback and discussions. The third thing I have found that has been helping me find success in mathematics teaching is the attempt to make more of my lessons have a practical application, or be more authentic or real life.  This allows the students to become more engaged in the concepts.  These types of lessons take a fair bit of work but even just a few of these lessons make a difference to the students in my class.  I feel like, while I haven’t done as many of these types of lessons as I would like, I have been attempting to have at least one or two per topic studied.  Connecting the learning to something practical helps give the concept meaning for the students.  Even a small amount of this type of application makes a difference to students’ interest and engagement.  

 

The third success I want to highlight is the extra curricular and special events that I took part in with the students this year.  Some of my favourites include: Sun Run, Rabbit Hill Ski and Snowboard Club, Marmot Basin, Challenge Day, TWOS (Body Worlds exhibit), Skills Canada, Track and Field, and our LC 8 fundraisers for our year end Jasper trip.  All of these events are critical to building meaningful relationships with the students I teach.  These relationships transfer into the classroom and help the students develop Citizenship and Social Responsibility.  Furthermore, these events help students find a little more enjoyment in coming to school.  It is in these moments that I see the biggest smiles, the best attitudes, engaged excitement and even some really great learning.  These are the memories the students will think of when they remember the middle school years later in life and I am proud to be a part of so many of them.  I also love these experiences because it allows me to share my passions, and curiosities with the students. They see me getting “nerdy” about something and hopefully they see that it’s good to be yourself and it’s okay to be curious and interested in many different aspects of life. I like to think it is these types of activities that build the engaged, ethical, empathic citizens I talked about at the beginning of this reflection.  

A Brief Summary of the Lessons I Learned This Year

 

  1. The importance of relationships and collaboration for growth

  2. The importance of feedback for growth

  3. The importance of reflection for growth

If you take a quick look back at these three lessons that I have learned this year you  will quickly realize that all three apply to both professional growth and to student growth.  I have learned these things from the positive experiences I have had over the course of the year.  In the past, I may have focused on my shortcomings and what those have taught me. However, I really enjoyed the process of focusing on the positive a little more this time around. I feel like the lessons are as important to my growth, maybe even a little more important than the lessons I learned from focusing on the negatives.  

    4. The importance of focusing on the positive!

A Brief List of the Tools That Helped Me Learn These Lessons This Year

  • Team Collaborators  (LC 8 Team, GCMS Team, Design Team, and PSD70 Team).  

  • Really Great PD Opportunities (Google Summit, Convention, IDEAS Conference – especially the Ewan McIntosh workshop, wow)

Online PLC’s (Twitter, TED, Zite, Edutopia and Te@chthought)

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