#TeachforThink

Just a very brief post today, simply to say that I will not be posting article as I am off to a Teaching for Think Forum, to be held at St Leo’s Catholic College in Waroongha.

I do not plan to live tweet from the forum, so that I can focus on what the speakers are saying and take some notes. I do plan to post a review tomorrow afternoon though, so keep an eye out for that. There may be some live tweeters at the event, so keep an eye out for #TeachforThink on Twitter. 

I wish my teacher knew…

Every successful individual knows that his or her achievement depends on a community of persons working together.
-Attributed to Paul Ryan

I stumbled upon this article via Facebook today, and it is so powerful, beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time that I felt it had to be shared.

Colorado Teacher Shares Heartbreaking Notes From Third Graders

Kyle Schwartz teaches third grade at Doull Elementary in Denver.

Schwartz encourages other teachers to use the same lesson in their classrooms.

Although she says her students are a pleasure to look after, the educator of three years adds that many of them come from underprivileged homes.

“Ninety-two percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch,” Schwartz tells ABC News. “As a new teacher, I struggled to understand the reality of my students’ lives and how to best support them. I just felt like there was something I didn’t know about my students.”

In a bid to build trust between her and her students, Schwartz thought up a lesson plan called “I Wish My Teacher Knew.”

For the activity, Schwartz’s third graders jot down a thought for their teacher, sharing something they’d like her to know about them.

“I let students determine if they would like to answer anonymously,” she says. “I have found that most students are not only willing to include their name, but also enjoy sharing with the class. Even when what my students are sharing is sensitive in nature, most students want their classmates to know.

“Some notes are heartbreaking like the first #iwishmyteacherknew tweet which read, ‘I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework.’ I care deeply about each and every one of my students and I don’t want any of them to have to suffer the consequences of living in poverty, which is my main motivation for teaching.”

Blown away by her class’ honesty, Schwartz shared some of the notes on Twitter using the hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew, encouraging fellow teachers to employ the same lesson with their own students.

The tweets and photos of notes from other schools came pouring in from around the world.

“I think it caught on so fast because teachers are highly collaborative and freely share and explore resources,” Schwartz says. “In the end, all teachers want to support their students, and #iwishmyteacherknew is a simple and powerful way to do that.

“Building community in my classroom is a major goal of this lesson. After one student shared that she had no one to play with at recess, the rest of the class chimed in and said, ‘we got your back.’ The next day during recess, I noticed she was playing with a group of girls. Not only can I support my students, but my students can support each other.”

Schwartz says she also hopes her lesson can help her connect students and their families with the proper resources they need to live comfortably.

—————–

The lesson here is about trust and community, and building strong relationships between students and between the students and the teacher. There is so much potential for interpersonal learning in this simple movement, powerful relationships can be built on the back of this. Of course, there are going to need to be ground rules about how students react, with some silliness, but if you have a strong relationship with your class already, this could help to solidify it even further.

I encourage you to not just read this article, or the original source article that I have copied into this article, do not just look at the #iwishmyteacherknew search results on twitter. Share it with your friends, your colleagues. share it with your students and ask them if they would like to do the lesson together.

It may change the dynamic of your class, and it may take a dysfunctional class and help to sync it together. Those unruly students, the ones who are rebelling against life because they feel that no-one is in their corner? This could potentially turn them around when they see how you and their peers react and become supportive after there is a more general awareness.

I would love to hear from anyone who plans on doing this, and how you implemented it.

As always, thank you for reading.

Leaving your mark on society

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’.

-attributed to Dan Rather

One of the reasons I decided to teach was the excitement of the moment when the dots are joined for students’ between their prior knowledge and a new understanding. Knowing that you can make such a big impact on student’s life is hugely rewarding in itself, but also rather daunting.

I was going through Kid President’s playlist on Youtube, and found a video that captures this feeling. A year one teacher, Mrs Flexer, had been teaching in the same school for forty-one years, and was retiring. Some colleagues wanted to send her off in style, and through Kid President, arranged for a variety of her former students to come back, including one man from her very first class. Many of them speak on camera, and tell how she affected their lives, and you hear one of them state that they put their success down to her. It is an incredibly touching moment, and it puts things into perspective, to know that in five, ten, twenty, forty years time, that there will be people who will still remember your name and the impact on your life.

What do you want your students this year, to say about their time with you in ten years?

The Primary Teachers Journal Club

It may sound like some sort of advanced Breakfast Club, but it is actually a new online professional learning network, aimed at pre-service teachers, and those teachers wishing to keep stay involved in academic discussions.

I first saw hashtag some time ago, and was curious about the concept, so I followed the hyperlink to Charlotte Pezarro’s blog, where I read this”

In this section, I hope to present interesting journal articles for discussion by pre-service, newly-qualified and established primary teachers. I will be limited to articles that are accessible without subscription; but there are plenty that are worth reading and pondering. Along with the reference, title and abstract, I will post some questions to scaffold the discussion. These questions will help us to reflect on the article, but by no means are you restricted to responding to these questions; feel free to ask your own or discuss any other thoughts you had while reading the article.

The first article put up for discussion was a recent one written by Gert Biesta and published in the European Journal of Education earlier this year. The title, “What is Education For? On Good Education, Teacher Judgement, and Educational Professionalism” was one I was intrigued by, and the questions that were prepared for it were sure to generate some robust discussion.

Unfortunately, I ended up not being home to take part in the discussion (for reasons outlined here) and have had read the Storify of the discussion (available for reading here), and I wish I had been involved. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for the next one. I recommend that you have a look and get involved. It will be professional development of a slightly different nature.

Why is it respectful?

Respect, like trust, is a two-way street. If you’re not willing to give it, then you definitely don’t deserve it.
– Attributed to Nishan Panwar

All through my own primary and secondary education, teachers were referred to as either Miss [Last Name] (regardless of whether they were a Miss or a Mrs), or for the men, as Mr [Last Name]. The same went for any adult that did not require some sort of familial moniker, such as aunt, uncle, grandma, grandpa etc. That was just what was expected, because, we were told, it showed the teacher or adult respect. Now, as a teacher, I find that the same naming conventions still apply in all the schools that I have been asked to teach, and I find myself asking why?

Why do students need to refer to me as Mr Mitchell, in order to show me respect? Students can certainly be disrespectful when referring to me as Mr Mitchell,  as I am sure that any secondary teacher can attest to, so why do we force our students to be so formal with us?

This thought randomly though whilst I was working on the series of blog articles reviewing the FutureSchools conference, and I made a short tweet about it, asking what message this sends to our students about respect, and the mutual relationship that we share with each other in the classroom. It is an issue that I believe should be talked about, and I would very much like to hear other people’s opinions on this topic.

The only place, and I hesitate to call it a place, that I’ve heard of students being referred to by their family name is at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizadry, where right from the beginning the students are referred to in writing and in speech, as Mr or Miss [Family Name], whilst the teaching staff are referred to as Professor [Family Name]. This is deemed, according to naming conventions, as showing respect for the other person.

If we demand to be called by our family name, and I’ve never come across a teacher allowing otherwise, as a sign of respect, should we not be showing the same level of respect that we demand for ourselves to our students? Respect, we are told after all, is a two-way street. Further to this point, when successful teaching requires strong teacher-students relationships in the classroom, what message does it send to our students about our level of respect for them when we only refer to them by their given name?

Again, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

FutureSchools ClassTech Conference Review. Day 2 Session 4 – the Maker revolution for learning

“Nothing beautiful is forced”
– Gary Stager

Gary Stager’s presentation was one of the presentations I was particularly looking forward to, for a whole range of reasons. He was recommended to me as a ‘must follow’ on Twitter and as someone who was at the forefront of pushing for a move towards combining curriculum and practicality through doing by one of my professors in the final year of my undergraduate degree. Accordingly, I followed him on Twitter it is an interesting read. Gary is certainly not someone who is backwards about coming forwards, and can be highly dismissive of ‘education revolutions’ that are often touted, even amongst many other educators who are seen as being ‘heavyweights’ in the education world. I have not had the pleasure of a deep dialogue with Gary, and so I cannot speak to his thinking behind his dismissal of many educational theories. That said, his presentation was highly engaging, and Gary was clearly full of energy and passion. Gary did plug his book Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, co-authored with Sylvia Libow Martinez, which I bought a copy of and which Gary kindly signed for me, and having read the first chapter, it’s a book that gets the brain excited to change the pedagogical practices used.

Gary opened by describing computers as laboratories for expression and by saying that “young people have a remarkable capacity for intensity, we need to leverage that or it manifests as boredom,” a sentiment that I think most teachers will have seen at some point over their career. Gary quoted Seymour Papert, who said “when ideas go to school, they lose their power” when saying that the maker community has had it with school. Given that kids are the ones at the centre of the maker movement, where they have genuine choice, agency and power, and are being valued and appreciated for their skills, thinking and ingenuity, this sends a strong message to educators that our pedagogical choices are stifling our students.

Paul Hamilton said in his presentation that “[y]ou don’t start the creation of a new amazing building with a tool. You start with a design. So why on earth would you start the creation of an amazing learning experience with an app?” Gary echoed this sentiment by saying that “[…]it would be irresponsible to build a pen around a student. We need to use the materials of the environment.” He elaborated on this by commenting that when the same skills are required in the physics laboratory, as are required in the arts studio, the design room and the English class, then the lines between the discipline have been obliterated. This destruction of the traditional demarcation between the scholastic disciplines is not possible if the disciplines continue to constrain their students within specific, formulaic pens.

Educational institutions have overvalued learning with our heads and undervalued learning with hands and hearts, according to Gary. To demonstrate this point, or rather, to show what can occur when the constraints are removed, Gary played us a Sylvia’s Super Awesome Maker Show video. I’ve not been able to find the specific one that Gary showed us, but the below is one of the videos on the SuperAwesomeSylvia YouTube Channel.

Sylvia’s energy and passion is indicative of those involved in the maker movement and demonstrates that programming can go from digital to analog, or soft copy to hard copy as the programming takes place in the ‘soft copy’ or digital environment and is then turned into a hard copy when the code is activated in it’s physical; construct, whether that be a robot of some description, or some other device constructed by the maker.

The quote by Gary in the above image stunned me, until I thought about the current trend of helicopter parenting, where our students’ lives are often scheduled for every minute of the day, and that often they are short-term events such as play-dates, extra-curricular classes, and often for very short amounts of time. At school, students are told to learn in discrete blocks of time, mathematics is half an hour today, spelling is fifteen minutes, science is another half an hour and so on, and there is still very little use of discipline/curriculum integration, or sustained sessions where the students have the opportunity to dive deep into a skill or concept. The isolation of the curriculum subjects from each other also makes it hard for students to learn how to transfer skills and conceptual knowledge across the disciplines into various applications, both within the academic disciplines and the real-world applications.

This is another area in which the maker-movement is seeing great success, where skills and concepts from a range of disciplines are brought together to solve problems, with students getting their hands dirty in the actual problem solving process, as the problems are real ones that they need to be solve, as opposed to contrived ones that many teachers, myself included, either make up themselves, or pull out of a textbook for the purpose of learning how to find the length of the hypotenuse or other such ‘problems.’ These are contrived problems because the answer is already known, meaning they are not real problems, they are tests to check for students ability to remember how to apply a specific formula to a specific type of question. Gary reiterated this point when he commented that “[…]students learn a lot of vocabulary without any context.”

Gary continued along this train of thought, saying that not only do schools have a “sacred obligation” to introduce students to things they have not seen before, but that as teachers, we cannot teach twenty-first century learners if we have not learned anything this century. Unfortunately there are still a lot of teachers who have not gotten on the twenty-first century train, and still require all learning to be done on paper and written by hand. Whilst there is certainly still a place for paper and handwriting, there is more and more, no reason why much of what we do with students and their output, cannot be submitted digitally, whether it be via e-mail, Google Docs, video submission, or one of the plethora of digital submission options.

I’ll leave you today with two powerful comments that Gary left us with, to close out the ClassTech conference stream of FutureSchools Expo 2015.

“Every time you have to engage in an educational transaction, ask if there is more they can do and less you can do to give your students more agency.”

“Those of us who know better, should do better. If we won’t stand between them and the madness, then who will?”

My next article (perhaps the next two or three, depending on how much I write from my notes) will be a review of the Masterclass I attended, lead by flipped learning pioneer, Jon Bergmann.

As always, thank you for reading, and please leave a comment. I would love to hear from anyone who has successfully incorporated a makerspace into their pedagogy, or their school, and how you went about doing so, the hurdles you overcame and the opposition you faced, and how you won the naysayers over.

Planning for Learning: The Teacher’s Program Part One

One of the core tasks of a teacher, one that must be completed before any teaching can, in fact, happen, is the completion of the Teaching Program. The contents of the Program often varies from school to school, and even from stage to stage and year to year in its requirements, but in its simplest form, and the form I prefer, it should simply be a plan for learning for that year or term. Whatever your school’s requirements for the Program, it should contain some basic elements and ideally have a simple structure, such as below, which is how mine is laid out:

  • Vision
    • Teaching Philosophy
    • Class Analysis
    • Explanation of special Program
  • Planning
    • Overview of Curriculum
    • Timetable
    • Scope and Sequence – Integrated Unit
    • Scope and Sequence – Numeracy
    • Scope and Sequence – Literacy
    • Daybook / Weekly Plan
  • Monitoring
    • Continuum Tracking (Literacy and Numeracy Continuum)
    • Assessment Records
    • Learning Plans
    • Class Groupings

Within most schools, some variation of the above, with more or less information/detail will be required, but this, I think is a fairly sensible and succinct program format and will be the basis for the next few posts, forming a mini-series on Planning for Learning.

The first thing to consider when setting out to create your program is what is its purpose? What are you trying to achieve, other than to conform to any required policies? It should of course be noted that a teacher’s Program is a legal document, and can be (and I’ve been advised, at various times has been) entered into Court as evidence in legal cases but it is not, nor should it be, why you write your Program.

There are a number of reasons for writing a Program.

  • It encourages you reflect on, and to articulate why you teach and how that is reflected in how you teach.
  • It demonstrates that you know your students and how they learn through the Class Analysis and Explanation of Class Programs.
  • It ensures that you have thought about, planned, and programmed for learning at an overview level (the timeframe may vary from one to three years, personally I’ve come to like a two year overview), at the term level, at the weekly level, and then at the session or daily level for each key learning area.
  • It encourages you to be specific about how you will monitor, track, and record learning outcomes for each student across the weeks, terms and the year to ensure that you can provide timely feedback to students and their parents both formally and informally.
  • It encourages you to be specific about how you will cater for individual students learning needs through Individual Learning Plans, Behaviour Management strategies and how and why different class groupings will be utilised.

Programs can be daunting. I have seen Programs that are lever-arch folders, full to the brim, with every lesson, every resource or idea seen, permission slips, multiple scope and sequences, out of date, useless and irrelevant information, and have been told that it is a “working folder.” My issue is that if it is a working folder, it should be up to date, and concise, and should reflect why you are writing it.

My view of a Program is a single folder for a year, broken into four terms with dividers. Each of the three sections (Vision, Planning, and Monitoring) should be present within each divider, reflective of that term. If you want to keep a resource folder, by all means do so (and I do), but don’t keep it in your Program folder, or your Program becomes a massive paperweight that is difficult to navigate and use. Your Program folder should contain your program, and your resource folder should contain your resources.

Of course, once you know why you are writing your Teaching Program, it can be rather daunting to sit down to a blank screen for the first time as the cursor winks mockingly at you on an empty page. I personally keep each specific document within my program as a separate word document to make editing and updating quicker and easier. The first, and arguably the most important section, particularly for a beginning teacher, is the Vision segment.

Why?

The first component within your vision is the most important aspect of the entire Program: your Teaching Philosophy. This is a very personal document, as it should be an explicit accounting of why you are a teacher. It doesn’t matter necessarily what the reason is, as I said, it is a personal document in as far as why you teach is a personal reason, but you need to be honest with yourself about why you turn up every day. I’ve written previously about why I teach, and when I first wrote it out, I took it to my Supervisor and said to him, “this is why I teach, but it doesn’t sound ‘right.’”

I was used, at that point, to thinking in an academic, or more specifically, university assignment frame of mind, which tends to frown upon personal opinion and ideas. It does need to be edited to sound professional after you have made your first draft, it is not about having the right reason for teaching, is about having your reason for teaching. That said, you can certainly make a personal vision of why you teach sound academic, and being able to speak and write in fluent Academic-ese is a great skill to have, particularly if you are of the progressive research-based and practice-driven frame of mind, but you still need to be honest about it.

You will likely take more than one attempt to distil why you teach down to an honest reason. My first draft Teaching Philosophy contained clichés and platitudes such as wanting to make a difference for the future, wanting to give back to society, loving working with children, and enjoying teaching children. These are all reasons why I have chosen to pursue a career of pedagogical practice, however, in and of themselves, they are not the reason why I turn up every day with a smile on my face. Accordingly, they don’t appear in my Teaching Philosophy.

You may be stuck wondering now how to write your Philosophy. You may very well never have seen one (as a fun and interesting exercise, ask your colleagues when the last time they updated their Teaching Philosophy was, or, do they have a formalised Teaching Philosophy). There are many different formats that can be used, but none of those that I have seen are conducive to honest articulations of why you teach.

My Philosophy is structured around three simple premises, and indeed, these are the specific headings that I use to organise my Philosophy:

  • Why do I teach?
  • How do I teach?
    • Overview of how the why drives the how
    • Behaviour Management Strategies
    • Classroom Ecology (this encompasses both the physical and emotional/academic/mental)
    • Planning and Assessment Methodology
  • What do I teach?

This format, if done honestly and rigorously, will naturally cover the majority of the AITSL standards that we are now required to conform to, and will do so in an authentic and easy to read manner.

Once you have articulated your Teaching Philosophy, it is important that it remains a living document, and changes as you and your circumstances change. Why I teach at the moment, married with no children, is different to some of my colleagues who may be single with or without children, married with multiple kids, on the verge of retirement, or in the prime of their practice, and how I teach and how they teach will therefore be different. When it comes time for my wife and I to start a family, the why I teach, I would expect, will change, and how I teach may change accordingly. Your Teaching Philosophy should therefore not be written and filed, never to be looked at again. It should be the subject of reflection on a yearly basis or as circumstances make appropriate. It may not change each year, but it forces you to re-examine and stay engaged with your personal vision for the role and purpose of education and how and why you engage with it.

The class analysis is the second component to the Vision segment of the Program, and is one that does need to be completed yearly, and also needs to be updated on a term by term basis. The class analysis should contain a basic overview of the class; the gender split, the year split, the gender per year split (if a composite class), any general diagnoses and any other general information relevant to your class as a whole, and then delve into more specific information about your individual students.

This section should reflect your understanding of your students and how they learn and may contain information such as their preference for learning styles (Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences), ESL information, specific topics or areas of interest that can be leveraged to increase engagement, or areas of particular disinterest. It should be an analysis of your students and thus will change from term to term, as your knowledge of them grows. At the beginning of term one, you may be working from what you know of them from conversations with their previous teachers, but your knowledge will rapidly grow, and I this should be updated fairly early within the year, and then each term.

The Explanation of Special Programs is an area that you write nothing, little, or a lot about. This section has to do with programs that are specific to your class and not the whole school. For example, my classroom at the moment is running a 1:1 BYOD trial, which is not present in any other class in the school, and accordingly, this program is detailed in my ESP. Some examples include BYOD programs, thematic classrooms (i.e. a classroom is driven by a theme such as performing arts, sports, science and technology around which literacy and numeracy are based), specific literacy or numeracy programs that are in place such as L3, Focus on Reading, Mathletics or anything else that is appropriate. If you have a Special Program in your class, you will know what it is.

That is a brief overview of the first segment of the Teacher’s Program, looking at the Teaching Philosophy, the Class Analysis and the Explanation of Special Programs. The next post will focus on the Planning segment of the Teacher’s Program, and will look at how I program, why I think it works and how to cover the incredible amount of content we are required to, succinctly.

EDIT: The next article in this series is available here.

Why do you teach?

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
– Attributed to William Arthur Ward

First of all, I apologise for being tardy with getting this blog entry up far, far later than I said I would. I spent the second week of the school holidays at a football (soccer) tournament as a referee coach, mentoring and coaching young referees, and as much fun as it was, I came home on the Saturday before Term started, and was asleep by 8.30 that night, and didn’t wake until 10 the next morning. Then it was headlong into my Internship in a Year 5/6 class. This coming week is my third week, and I absolutely love it so far. I’ve got an excellent CT (classroom teacher), who is incredibly supportive and challenges me to justify what I want to do in a lesson, not to discourage me, but to help me focus on what the specific purpose of that lesson is.

Moving along.

As you read this post, I’d like you to consider why it is you teach. What makes you get up every morning, get to school at 7 am for a 9 am start, and leave the grounds at 5 pm, when the students all left at 3 pm? For what reason do you do this?

I promised last time that I would post my teaching philosophy, which was partly about making myself accountable for actually writing it, and partly about opening up dialogue on this topic. We were told that we had to write a teaching philosophy for our internship portfolio for university, and that it should reflect why we teach and what we believe about teaching, but beyond that, there was no guidance. I have never seen any practicing teacher’s philosophy, and so had no benchmark or starting point and so asked my CT about his. This led to a long conversation about the purpose of a teaching philosophy how to write it, how to structure it, and what it should be about.

From that conversation came the realisation that it is an incredibly personal document, that should be revisited regularly (my CT said he goes back to his at the beginning of each year) as our lives, and therefore our reasons for teaching, change regularly.  I have adopted the same structure for my teaching philosophy as that used by my CT as it makes sense, and helps to make it a real document to me, as opposed to a useless of piece of academia, submitted for an assignment and then consigned to the dustbin.

It is based on three questions, which form the document structure. The first section is headed “Why” and is an answer to the question “why do I teach?” The second is informed by the first, and is headed “How” and outlines how I will teach. The third section, “What” is what I will teach, and is mandated by the syllabus documents we are all required to work within.

I thought I knew why I teach. However, when I sat down to write my philosophy, I found myself writing a series of clichés such as “I like working with children, all children should have the opportunity to succeed, I want to make a difference in the world” etc. Although I do agree with those statements, they are not what compels me to teach, and makes me excited to be going down this career path and they felt hollow when I put them on paper. I knew inside myself what the real reason for my desire to teach was, but have always felt that it was not right/rigorous/academic enough, and so have always shied away from using it on those occasions when the question of why I want to teach comes up.

When I made that comment to my CT, he nodded and said that that is the reason why it’s a personal teaching philosophy, and not an academic assignment. It has to be something that we as teachers can look at on those days when we want to headbutt a brick wall and that will make us smile and remember why we do this. It should be personal to each of us, and so will be different for each of us and it will then influence how we teach. S/He who teaches for money teaches differently than s/he who teaches for a desire to create change in the world.

This, then, is my first draft of part one of my teaching philosophy. I am still working on translating the why into the how in such a way that it makes sense on paper.

Why Do I Teach?

I teach for two reasons. I had two amazing male teachers in my own primary education. Both were strong men whom I looked up to, as both had a strong presence, as they were encouraging of my strengths and chiding of my weaknesses, pushing me to work on them. They were men who were able to work with all of my peers, challenging each of us at our own academic level.

My three younger siblings on the other hand, across their combined eighteen years of primary education, had a total of one year with a male teacher, and the difference that that year of a strong male influence every day at school made on my sister and her self-confidence in dealing with her brothers and in talking to other male, non-immediate family members, was tremendous.

My youngest brother needed a strong male role-model as a steadying influence and to provide guidance on interpersonal skills in the day-to-day situations at school that a father does not have access to. I teach because I want to be the positive male role model for those students who otherwise may not have one.

The second reason that I teach is due to a love of learning and discovery, a love that was instilled by my family, but nurtured by my primary school teachers. It is that love of learning, the desire to know more about areas of interest, and the excitement of the moment when the dots are joined between prior knowledge and new understanding that provides the second reason why I teach.

I would love to hear from other teachers as to how you set out your teaching philosophy, how you utilise it, and even just why it is you get out of bed to teach every morning. This is my first draft, and I’m still working on cleaning it up to make it more academic sounding, but at the same time, if it’s a personal document, do I need to?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.