Back to Teaching

I love that when I feel like sharing, I have this space to come to. No matter how long it’s been since I’ve decided to post, or how long it’s been since I’ve felt like I had anything useful to share, I can sign in, type away and publish for the world to see. Pretty cool, actually.

I’m back to teaching. Finally. Long story short, I became very, very ill last year in February and it took me months to get “better”. I put quotations around that word because my health improved steadily from about May onwards and, depending on who you talked to, I was better in June, or better in July, or better in August, or better in November. According to me, I’m still getting “better” because I’m continuing to improve my fitness level and haven’t yet reached the overall health goals I’m aspiring to. This is partly because it’s been too darned cold for the last 2 1/2 months to run outside (my go-to for getting in really good shape) and partly because the illness in the spring knocked my fitness levels way lower than they’ve been in awhile so it’ll take some time to get back to where I want to be.

Anyway, I should return to the ‘back to teaching’ story. I worked from September-December as a TTOC (teacher teaching on call, more commonly known as a substitute teacher) in the three schools in my little town and only started back in my classroom at the beginning of January. Now let me just say that, 20+ years into my career, to be a TTOC going in to all the classrooms K-12 in my town for four months was a very interesting experience. I stole…oops…borrowed many good ideas from my colleagues. I met almost every kid from the age of 4 to 18 in my community (many of whom have one or two parents that are my former students!). I learned so much about teaching and learning and the community and schools and leadership styles and kids that I don’t think a hundred blog posts could do the experience justice. Would I rather have been in my own classroom for those four months? Yes, absolutely. Did I make the best of the situation anyway? Yes, very much so. It was a good overview of the profession, of the system and of students. It brought perspective and depth and understanding. I didn’t realize how muddled and foggy my viewpoint had become.

One reason it was a good four months of learning and growing is that I found a way to fit my professional learning and work into my new philosophy on life. One of the contributing factors to my illness and to the fact that I was out of a regular classroom position for 9 months was that I needed to give my head a shake and make some major changes in my life. I’m hoping to share that journey in some way soon but for now I’d just like to say that I’m glad I got sick. I’m glad I went through one of the worst times of my life last year. It was a good thing for me. A very good thing. I think, in retrospect, that I was so far off the path of where I am supposed to be heading in life that I was lost, running in circles, way off in the distance far from where I should have been. Or maybe it was more like I was crashing over a waterfall. Oh! Falling over a cliff. Or maybe all three. Regardless, I was completely lost and my priorities were all messed up. I had to claw my way back to health one day at a time and rebuild my outlook on how to live the life I want to live. I had to find my way back to the path I was supposed to be on one step at a time. And patience with myself is not a strength so there were some good personal life lessons along the way. Looking back I realize that the experience was empowering and where I’m at now feels right so I believe the chaos and crash were necessary to set me straight.

But I digress. Again. No surprise, really, if you know me…

As I was saying, I’m back to teaching and I’m fortunate to be working with a lovely class of grade seven students. I was, admittedly, a tiny bit worried that after all the time off and all the time out of a regular classroom position that I’d forgotten how to teach. Or that I’d forget what to do. Or that I’d not be well enough to do it. But with my new outlook and new approach to life (which of course includes a new approach to how I fit teaching and work into my life) the last four weeks have flown by and they have been excellent! I love the job more than ever. And that’s saying something because those of you who know me, know how much I’ve always loved teaching kids every day. But it’s even better now.

It’s kind of crazy to me how much I’ve changed and how much my approach to everything has shifted. I think there were some who doubted my resilience and my ability to get back on track. But those people don’t know me very well. People who really know me aren’t surprised. Concerned and keeping an eye on me to make sure I’m still getting “better”, yes. Surprised at how well I’m doing and how far I’ve come? No. Those amazing people make up an important part of the reason why I am doing so well. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. But that’s another part of the story for another day. I’m not surprised I found my way back to the right path but there are still moments of disbelief, if that makes sense.

 

To the end of the earth

I’m feeling thankful, grateful and mentally energized in a way I’ve never felt before. And hopeful. Very hopeful. I guess that’s a good place to leave this story for today. Hoping each of you finds a reason to be thankful and grateful in the days ahead. Thanks for reading!

Photos above used with permission, accessed January 27, 2017 from, www.publicdomainpictures.net/pictures/70000/nahled/forest-path-on-a-misty-morning.jpg, https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3126/2551405230_c97a6000e6_b.jpg and https://www.flickr.com/photos/31457759@N00/32336204/

New in the ECC This Year: Multimedia Teacher Introductions

I spent my Saturday morning searching for distraction. My husband and son left for a day of travelling for team sports and, because I can’t go today, I needed to distract myself from feeling sad and disappointed that I’m not on the road with them.

I decided to check out something that I knew would distract me and cheer me up: the multimedia teacher introductions created but the ECC team that we are sharing with students next week.

Sitting here now, after watching those introductions, I am so impressed!! What a great way to start my Saturday morning! It’s obvious that each teacher put a huge amount of thoughtful, purposeful effort into creating amazing multimedia files. What an awesome introduction for the students, and what a powerful way to role-model citizenship in this digital age. The kids are going to love the intros! We will most likely embed the files into our online hub, which is a moodle site at the moment, but if you’d like watch my video, it’s here on our ECC vimeo page.

There’s so much I could write about the process of creating my teacher introduction. I’ve never done anything like it. First, I am thankful to have learned a great deal about Quicktime, Keynote, and iMovie. I’ve worked with all before, but I’ve never created a multimedia file with embedded video clips and voiceovers like this one. It was a new level of multimedia learning (and frustration – oh the frustrations!!) and I’m glad I pushed myself to do what I set out to create in the first place. Yesterday morning I was ready to give up and play it safe. But then I was at school, working through this on my prep, and at recess, and when I realized my students were interested in what I was going through and they kept asking questions, and kept trying to help me problem solve, I knew I had to push through and figure it out. And I did. Late, late last night, but I did. I’m going to thank my students for that extra motivation.

After watching all the introductions this morning, I’m also humbled by the wonderful group of teachers in the ECC team this year. Those introductions are awesome. They exemplify pure teacher passion to do well, to share and to create an important piece to start building the relationships within our unique learning community. And even though we are all at different levels in our comfort levels with technology, everyone pushed to try something new and make it work. I’m so impressed, and I’m so excited to work with this team of dedicated educators who aren’t afraid to take learning risks themselves. And the content? These people are super interesting! I can’t wait to talk to them about what they put in the videos!! And if I can’t wait, I’m guessing the students will be excited to meet them too. Even deconstructing the many layers of excitement the teacher introductions will create (are already creating) in the ECC is the type of complex engagement that seems to me to be unique to this project. I’d never seen anything quite like it until I was a part of the ECC.

While we’ve always done teacher introductions in the ECC to start our year, the multimedia teacher introductions are a new idea that was proposed by Jen when we met in the summer. We had originally planned to do a live video connection between all five classes and have a gallery walk around the room with the teacher introduction files loaded up at five computer stations around each room. I had envisioned looking at the video conferencing screen to see five classes of kids eagerly rushing from station to station, laughing and talking and waving at the video cameras as they moved around and actively learned about the five teachers from the introduction files. Jen also had the idea to create a Jeopardy type game for kids to participate in after watching the introductions to see how much they could remember about each teacher. We had planned a fun, active, hands-on, multimedia, connected lesson to start the year.

In reality, things are working out a little differently, which is often (usually?!) the way at the start of the school year, especially with all the technology we depend upon to connect and learn in the ECC. There’s always that need to be flexible as a teacher, yes? At this point, only four sites can connect at once with the good quality of video conferencing we are used to and we are hoping that the tech department can work their magic and find a way to make that work with all five sites at the same time. The SD #74 tech department is a vital part of our extended ECC family; I can’t even begin to express my appreciation for all they do to keep us up and running the majority of the time.

So, in the last few weeks, after numerous emails, we decided to complete the teacher intro files as planned and share them as best fits our classes next week. I hope we can still do the Jeopardy lesson idea as I think that would be a great way for kids to communicate their learning. We’ve also decided to give the students the challenge of creating a classroom introduction next week and I’m super excited to see what happens with that too.

It’s neat to see the ECC unfolding in a whole new way this year! Thanks for reading!

This post was also shared on the ECC collaborative blog here.

Relaxed and grounded in a state of being uncomfortable

        As I near the end of a summer filled with thoughts of overarching themes in the education system, as I ‘cook’ my thoughts and my learning from the culmination of my graduate coursework, and as I continue to read and engage online with virtual colleagues who constantly motivate and inspire me, I noticed a shift in my mental mindset this week as I planned and prepared for the start of the school year.
        At times I feel relaxed. Maybe it’s because I’m teaching the same grade for the 2nd year in a row. That’s a favourite because I’m finished with the hectic pace of teaching something for the first time (I’ve been a first year teacher five years of my fifteen year career) but while the situation is familiar, it’s also relatively new because it’s only the second year so the inherent excitement of novelty is still attached.
        Other times I feel very grounded. I do feel a certain, new confidence in myself as an educator. The Masters degree allowed me to find a solid theoretical and methodological basis for not only who I am as an educator, but also why I teach the way I do. I am more sure of what’s important to me and my ever-evolving pedagogy. I feel my ‘peeps’ with me, bolstering, offering support, adding to my life’s work.
        And then, at times, I feel unsettled, uncomfortable. As I plan, I notice that I am engaging in the planning process in an entirely new way. After fifteen years of teaching, I’m doing things radically different;  if that’s not transformative learning then I don’t know what is.
        What’s different? I’m faster. I’m able to use social media to ask experts questions and get almost immediate answers. I’m able to find excellent, relevant resources quickly. I know myself better so I’m able to sift through and discard the irrelevant with much more certainty.
        But it’s more than that. I think in a different way. I have a heightened awareness of the different layers of thinking in everything I do whether I’m talking with a colleague or planning a math unit. I have a clearer sense of what I think to be important and I am aware that the kids needs are much more in my mind as I go.
        It’s exciting and a little unsettling at the same time. I am excited about the start of the year. I can’t wait to see the students next week. I know my passion to work with children and help them along in life is an strong as ever. The tricky part is, as I wrote in an earlier post, that after my MEd learning I need to learn how to walk differently as I move through my classroom, my school, my home, my community. That’s the part I’m still adjusting to. And it’s uncomfortable. But that’s okay. That uncomfortable feeling only means I’m still learning and that is a state of being uncomfortable that I’m pretty sure I can handle.

Imagery: iEllen by boeke from Flickr.com

My First and Greatest Teacher – My Mom

I’ve been saving this one for today.

Many educators write about their role models – those amazing people who we aspire to be. I’ve read many posts by teachers who want to acknowledge and pay tribute to those wonderful people they respect and admire. There is always at least one person that inspired us to follow the career path that leads into the classroom.

For me, that person was my mother.

I loved school when I was little.  I was a quiet, shy, little girl and I found everything about school very easy. I thrived with kind and caring teachers. I remember sitting at my desk looking out the window at the rainy day beyond with a feeling of safety and contentment.

I also learned at home, as all children do, but my experience was different from most. My mother returned to finish her teaching degree when I was seven. My younger brother and I became her ‘guinea pigs’ as she tried various teaching strategies, etc. on us before trying them with her students. I remember sitting at the kitchen table doing art projects, science experiments and various other activities with her.

Mom earned her degree, chose a grade two position in a small town and we moved there the summer before I entered grade four. Unfortunately, my school experiences during the next two years were almost the exact opposite of what I had previously enjoyed. I was the ‘city slicker’ and excluded by my classmates from the start. The only happy memories from school at that time are focussed on academic successes.

Many years ago, as a student teacher, I completed an assignment based on my memories of school. The purpose of the assignment was to make connections between early learning experiences and the emerging belief system we were developing as new teachers. At that time, research reminded me that the learning methods widely used when I was a child involved sitting, reading quietly at a desk, and learning by writing answers to questions in a text or workbook and rote learning.

I remember thinking that that didn’t sound like the kind of classroom that would create a love of learning! It certainly wasn’t what I had envisioned for my future students! Where did my concept of what a classroom should be like come from? 

I love active learning and getting my students involved. I am passionate about helping them discover new interests. I was confused about my success as a child in what I now perceived to be a stale learning environment which didn’t resemble my beliefs at all. Perhaps I had been successful largely because I was well behaved, a strong reader and an independent learner? At the time, I was also perplexed by the fact that although I strongly disliked school after moving, my love of learning continued throughout my intermediate years and beyond. It did not seem to make much sense. 

It was at that point that I realized my love of learning and my teaching style came from my mother.

Through that assignment years ago, I came to the important realization that my most cherished memories of learning were when I learned with my mother. I have many happy memories collecting shells at the beach, finger painting at the kitchen table and hours spent reading with and to my mom. I also realized that my varied interests, from science experiments, to a love of literature and a passion for art were the result of her influence. She had always taken an interest in my likes and dislikes. With gentle and caring encouragement, she helped me to follow my dreams, however varied they were, and no matter how often they changed.

I love learning in general and in a variety of ways and in a variety of subject areas thanks to my mom:  my first and greatest teacher.  She was the reason I wanted to become a teacher and she, as a mother and as a teacher, shaped my beliefs about teaching and learning. Her equivalent of a value statement, which was always at the front of her daybook, is incorporated into my teaching philosophy. She continued as my mentor throughout teacher training and during those first few years at the start of my teaching career. Her support was priceless.

My teaching remains completely student-centered and I still prefer active, hands-on learning largely because of her. I have a strong personal background and an intense passion for a variety of subjects because of her. Now I gently encourage my students to pursue their interests and discover passion in life, as she did with me. If I can be half the teacher she was, I’ll consider myself a success.

My mother was an educator for 22 years and was a master of her craft. As good as she was at teaching (and she was excellent), she was a better mom. She died six years ago, a slow, painful death from a horrible disease. I miss her so much, and in so many ways, sometimes grieving as a daughter, other times wishing I could consult with my teacher-mentor/mom. Her immediate effect on my teaching and my life is gone, but her influence is firmly woven into my teaching, my learning, my everything.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. This one was for you.