Jenna Wilkins is finishing the second year of her teaching career. She has been working with our Learning Community 8 students this year after teaching the same group of students last year in grade 7. Jenna’s non-stop energy and enthusiasm for learning with students and colleagues along with her commitment to “unlearning” traditional practices in order to engage her learners is inspiring!
Professional Growth Plan Reflection 2013-14 ~ Jenna Wilkins
I know this feeling probably only intensifies as you continue on in your teaching career, but, wow, I honestly CANNOT believe this year is over already! Sometimes you hear people talking about “time flying,” but this year I truly began to understand the feeling firsthand. As I sit and reflect about this year of learning, I cannot help but have a bit of nostalgia. Although I am still very early in my teaching career, I can definitely see how “time flies!” I am finding myself being able to look back on the amazing memories our Learning Community has created together that sometimes, in the business of daily life, you often forget to cherish. That is not to say this year has gone without its challenges, but as always, those challenges were learning opportunities and I have used these challenges to grow as both a teacher and a learner.
As I sit and reflect about my learning this year, one of the prominent and recurring themes that continues to shine through is my first experience of looping with students and the incredible relationships you form. Spending two years with students truly allows relationships to flourish and as our learning community comes to the end of our loop I can reflect firsthand on the benefits I have experienced. Beginning the year already knowing our students and having our students familiar with our teaching styles and expectations was something so positive. Our students came back to school with a peace of mind and readiness to learn because there was a comfortability and sense of community already established. I know looping is not a new concept at Greystone, but I am guessing my fellow teacher nerds who have experienced looping with students understand what a positive effect its has on student learning. Further, I have been able to grow with my students and see their progress as learners and as they develop into young adults, which has been by far one of the most positive experiences in the past two years.
Consequently, we had our students complete a Citizenship and Social Responsibility reflection and self assessment, since we are fast approaching that wonderful report card deadline, which we have had our students do faithfully since Report 1 of Grade 7; but this one was different. We had a meaningful discussion with our homerooms about the importance of reflecting on how each of them has changed, grown and developed into the young adults they are today and let me tell you, some of their responses had me grabbing for the tissues! I always knew relationships with students were important, but when you get that rare glimpse into a teenager’s life and truly see the connection you have established, it reminds you why you come to work everyday! A few glimpses into the mystical teenage brain:
“I think over the last two years I have tried harder on my academic work and started to care more about school and how it affects my future career. I have learned to care more about friends, family and teachers and to respect people and help them with their problems. I have become more independent and do more what I think is right than what others think is right.”
“I have improved a lot/drastically since Grade 7 and I am very proud of that because it is always better to improve than to get worse! I have made a couple of bad choices but I have learned from them. I feel like I have to be very responsible because we have to be good role models for the younger grades and encourage them to make good choices.”
“My best memory would probably be the first day of Grade 8 when we all just came back and had so many stories to share and hear about. It was amazing just coming back to the same people who you haven’t seen in so long.”
“The last two years of school been the best years of my life. I’ve had some teachers that are fun, but serious. The teachers have been caring and I feel like I have learned a lot and not just school subject, like math, but on how to be a better person even when having fun.”
“I have realized how much I have grown as a person and how compassionate, kind and helpful my teachers and peers have been. I have also noticed that I have been asking for help a lot more now, which will help me down the road.”
“This is by far my favorite and best class I have been in! I love this class, whenever I am in a bad mood they can change it. They are like my second family.”
“I value teamwork and I have learned that in group projects you can’t just have one person do all the work and everyone take credit. Before, I liked to take control of the group and do everything but now I’ve realized that everyone needs to contribute.”
“When I have gotten into trouble I have learned to be honest and tell the truth and I usually take responsibility for my actions when I have done something wrong.”
“I’m not really sure how to start, it’s been an amazing 2 years. I’ve noticed growth as a person and as a citizen, I’ve had 2 teachers who genuinely care about what’s best for me. I haven’t always been the easiest to work with because of my ego, I guess you could say, but I’m working on it.”
Next, as I reflect on our teaching assignment and new space as the year began, I am only beginning to realize how much team teaching has benefited my practice and the learning of my students. First and foremost a major shout out to my “work husband” Brad Arndt…a.k.a. B.A., Bradley, Shelly Cooper, Arndties or any of the wonderful nicknames we have accumulated throughout the year! All jokes aside, Brad has taught me so much this year and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work so closely with him over the past two years. I knew this year was going to be different, challenging and very exciting as we took a risk neither of us had embarked on before, but I am so happy we gave it a try! Team teaching with Brad really forced us to be transparent as educators but in turn allowed us to give and receive some of the most beneficial, yet informal, feedback to each other. Being open and flexible pushed us to be better teachers and learners. Watching Brad throughout the year reminded me to always stay present with your students, as it is always easy to get caught up in the day-to-day business of “school.” Brad always found time to just be with our kids and I found myself observing such positive interactions in our classroom community. Although it took some figuring out, Brad and I found a good balance of collaboration in our new space, drawing on each other’s strengths and expertise and always allowing the other to roll with an idea when necessary. Our collaboration was constant, consistent and always striving to do what is best for our learners. We were able to support each other to take risks and most importantly, value and celebrate each other for who we are as teachers, not being afraid to be ourselves. Pushing ourselves to be better teachers only benefits our students because we need to the best for them and we do that by continuing to learn in the presence of others. Obviously when it comes to change, I think it is only human to have some mixed feelings about our “work divorce” for next year, but I know I will always take with me the lessons I have learned from B.A.!
As I reflect on our journey of inquiry this year I cannot help but be drawn to two very different projects that somehow managed to achieve some very similar things. Both our Horrible Histories (Humanities) and Rube-Goldberg (Science) inquiries challenged our students to develop skills and push their learning above and beyond. We witnessed students deeply engaged in the process of inquiry; asking critical questions, providing feedback, using evidence to support their claims, showing determination and perseverance, infusing technology into the process and so much more. Although we had some success in inquiry this year I am looking forward to continue to build my knowledge of what effective inquiry-based learning looks like in the middle school classroom. In addition to several PD opportunities, I did some nerding out and read a couple of books about student engagement, critical questioning and inquiry-based learning. Next year I am hoping to continue to work with my team to always be thinking about how to intertwine inquiry-based techniques with what we already do at Greystone.
As always, I thank my lucky stars that I landed on this amazing little island we call Greystone. Each and every day I learn from my team and my students and I couldn’t begin to think of a more supportive and rewarding place to share my passion of teaching. Wilkins OUT! (That one is for you McLean!!!)