Finding your mojo

 “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
– Attributed to Michael Jordan

Recently I have been writing about the struggles, the frustration and the challenges that I have encountered to this point in the school year. Yesterday, however, I wrote, very briefly, that something had changed, and that I was feeling much more positively about things. I was unable to expand on what I felt that was as I had to go to a referee fitness test in Newcastle. The good news on that front is that I hit the goal I had set for myself for the test in order to be eligible to be appointed to a particular level of match during the season.

I made the decision on Sunday, after having a stress attack, that I would go to bed, get up early and get started with a clear mind. Accordingly, I was in my classroom at 0600, and I found it to be an incredibly productive two and a half hours until the bell rang for the start of class. I began that day with a better idea of what I needed to achieve in my teaching, which meant that my teaching was clearer and more concise, with less waffle.

I made the decision to be at school nice and early, again, for Tuesday morning, and began teaching on Tuesday with a very clear vision of what I wanted to achieve, how I would achieve it and what I could afford to drop if there were time constraints or unexpected interruptions.

Today, I was again in my room at 0600 preparing for the day ahead I feel like I have turned a corner. The key, rather obviously, is my planning. I have a very clear idea of what I want to get done today, what I can afford to drop if there are time issues, and what the learning goal is for each session., and it is showing, both in my teaching and in the way the students are behaving and engaging with the tasks they have been asked to complete.

Last year, as I mentioned in a previous article, I was tasked with teaching digital literacy skills; skills that I could utilise standing on my head whilst asleep. Having been thinking about it, I believe that I allowed some bad habits to creep into my planning. Whilst I had a program that I had put together, I was rarely looking at it, making decisions about next learning steps based upon what I felt made sense from where the cohort was, how they had coped with learning a particular skill or piece of knowledge, and what fitted around the multitude of interruptions that we were experiencing in the school.

This is not the way to teach. I was utilising the seven-step planning process (that is, planning what you would be doing in the seven steps before you reach the class door) more regularly then I care to admit, and I allowed those poor habits to carry over to this year, in conjunction with struggling to wrap my head around all of the extra responsibilities and tasks that go hand-in-hand with having a class.

Retrieved from 24th February 2016

A colleague who habitually arrives at school early each day commented to me this morning that they had noticed I had been in early the last few mornings, and when I replied with how productive I had been finding it, they gave me a knowing grin, and replied that when there is no one else here, there is no onto distract you but yourself, and that having a clear plan can create incredibly productive mornings.

The key, I believe, is that my planning has been more focused. Rather than focusing on what I want to achieve, I am also allowing myself to consider how I will achieve that, how I will check for understanding, what aspects I can afford to drop if we run out of time, or there are interruptions and also what resources I need to achieve the goal.

Today was, for the year so far, the most productive day that I believe I and my students have had, and that was with losing essentially the whole middle session to scripture. Tomorrow is my day off, however, I will be back in here at 0600 tomorrow morning as it is school photo day and if I need to be in here (I do not, of course, but I want to be here for my first school photos with a class of my own), then I may as well make it a productive day.

As always, thank you for reading, and I hope that your day has been as productive and left you with the same sense of achievement as mine has.

Creating Lifelong Learners

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
– Attributed to 
Maya Angelou

In my previous article, I began to write about the classroom ecology and digressed into talking about one of the programs that my teaching partner for this year, Mrs. W, and I have put into place, the classroom economy. In this article, which I am writing on Monday morning, with the sound of a leaf blower out in the playground and cars rushing past on the main road the only accompaniment, I want to talk about instilling a love of learning and ask that you think about how it is that you instill a love of learning in your students. One of the reasons why I teach was the two fantastic teachers I had when I was in Year Five and Year Six at West Tamworth PS. Mr. Davies and Mr. Hawkins were vastly different characters, yet both managed to impress upon me a love of learning.

In Year Five, I had Mr. Davies, short of stature, thinning hair, glasses and a love of challenging us with logic puzzles, including us playing, as a class group, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago? on the class computer. I have no recollection of any particular skill or knowledge which he imparted to us in that year, however, I do remember feeling privileged, that I had been allowed to leave the class for portions of time to go to the school library and research (which likely meant copy from the encyclopaedia) Ancient Egypt, a topic with which I had discovered a fascination for at some unknown point in time prior.

While I was, most likely, merely copying information from the encyclopaedia, I was doing so with the feeling that I had to do it well, and that I had to collect as much information as I could to justify Mr Davies’ decision to allow me this opportunity. I did not want to disappoint him, which resulted in my typing up many pages of text, systematically copied and painstakingly re-typed and then printed out at school. I distinctly recall being asked by Mr Davies what I had discovered so far about Ancient Egypt and being an excited nine-year-old boy, promptly rattled off a string of facts, much of which I suspect I did not truly understand at that point in time.

Whether Mr Davies choice to allow me such unfettered, and in my memory, relatively unaccountable access to the library during class time was good pedagogy I do not think I could answer due to my own bias about the subject. However, it did instill a sense of excitement with learning, which was sustained and repeated on many occasions that year as I learned more and more, as I elected to do Ancient History throughout my HSC years, and which, even to this day, I still feel when I become consumed within a new topic which interests me, and that love and excitement for learning is something that I would sincerely like to impart to my own students this year.

Achieving this will be difficult, however, I am confident that by being excited or passionate and appropriately animated while I am teaching, that by encouraging my students to take calculated risks, trusting in the supportive environment of our classroom, that my students will take their own steps towards becoming excited about learning.

How do you create excitement in your own students about learning?

Learning from mistakes

“Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes its built on catastrophe.”
– Attributed to Sumner Redstone

Sometime as a teacher you decide to try something different from the norm. On occasion it will work, but just as often it does not. Yesterday afternoon I had a Stage Three class for the final hour of the day, straight after recess. The class teacher asked me to give his class fifteen minutes to work on their spelling as they had run out of time before going to recess to get to it, which was fine.

Tuesday afternoon is note day in our school, and I have gotten into the habit of having the notes given out as soon as they arrive, so students put them straight into their bags so that neither they or I forget to hand them out. This works well, and only takes a few minutes. In this particular classroom, packing up the room for the end of the day involves all the chairs being stacked over to one side of the room, and the desks over on the other, the process of which takes some five to ten minutes depending on how messy the room is according to what we have been doing.

I decided, yesterday afternoon, to try changing the order around, and had the class pack up the room for the end of the day before we began the learning activities I wanted them to do for the day. I gave the students the time as requested, handed out the notes and then had them pack up the room and return to the floor so I could give out the next set of instructions.

The class had already started the work set by their class teacher when I arrived at the start of the session, and so I had not had an opportunity to have a conversation with them as a group. Not having seen them since the announcement of the Stage Three Lip Sync Battle, I asked for a general show of hands for who was going to, or who had, entered, to bring the class in after they had packed up the room for the end of the day.

I am astounded at the level of excitement about the competition. Of the class of thirty, only two or three students are not entering the competition, and many are entering in both the individual and the group categories. On top of that, where I was expecting that students would be using only recent songs that they knew, there is, going from the discussion, going to be a broad range of both newer and older songs, with some students indicating they are planning on using songs from the eighties and nineties. This, while engaging the students and getting them excited about their songs, it left us with only about ten minutes in the day by the time I was able to draw them back in.

The learning for me from this is that bringing up something that will get them as excited as the prospect of the Lip Sync Battle should actually be left for a conversation at the end of the session, not at the beginning to draw them in. That said, packing up the room for the end of the day before beginning the learning, in this particular class, works quite well, as we can go through right to the bell with students able to simply put their iPads in their school bags and leave, as everything else has already been packed up.