Because of a Teacher

 

This past September, I had the opportunity to read the book Because of a Teacher through a Facebook group I joined in the Fall. The group was geared toward Health Habits and Mindfulness for educators. I needed to make some changes for the better. Distance and Hyflex learning kept students challenged and growing; it took a toll on teachers and their work-life balance.

Teachers who never had a chance to sit down in the regular classroom found themselves sitting at a computer in the remote classroom. Weekends found teachers sitting at the computer uploading schedules, links, and work. The truth is that since March 2020, I got into the habit of spending my Sundays at the dining room table, working on my weekly schedule, and uploading it to my class blog.

George and Paige Couros ran the six-week program on Facebook. The book Because of a Teacher guided our weeks in the group. It is full of heartfelt stories about the impact teachers make in the lives of their students. The stories remind teachers how valued they are and the importance of their work with children.

The first week Paige asked us to share what we were looking forward to that week. I shared that I was looking forward to an upcoming event at work. Teaching is my passion; my work-life balance starts to blur. I knew I needed to plan fun activities to look forward to throughout the week. I started taking fall hikes in Gatineau Park, went apple picking, and enjoyed lunch on outdoor patios with my family. Lucky for me my older children were happy to spend time with me on the weekends.

 

Each week we read a few chapters of the book Because of a teacher and reflected on questions that related to our personal and professional lives. Reading these stories made me grateful that I chose to teach as my profession. It was the perfect book to read.

George Couros started a Mindset Monday podcast to get us to reflect and start our week on the right foot. I listened to the Mindset Mondays podcast while I drank my coffee in the morning. Each podcast had me reflecting on life in education, and I loved it.

Developing healthy habits was a primary focus of the Facebook group, yet I couldn’t seem to start an exercise routine. George shared his healthy habits. It was then that I thought maybe I could do it too. I decided to exercise in the morning. A colleague at school told me that she would text me in the mornings to help keep me accountable. It was just what I needed. The neat thing is, Lianna Krantzberg is a former grade two student who is now my colleague at school. Each morning we would text each other and cheer each other on to the workout. It felt great to exercise before school and accomplish something before getting to school. Healthy habits started to take form, and work-life balance equalized.

Teacher parent conferences led to my own memorable Because of a Teacher moments. My teaching team met with each set of parents and had meaningful conversations about our students. The parents were appreciative and shared how much their children loved coming to school. As a teacher, I can tell you how much this means to us. Our compelling why for teaching is always for the children. Moments like this fill hearts and keep teachers teaching.

I have to say that since the beginning of the pandemic, parent-teacher conferences have become so special. I seem to have had the nicest parents in my classes. Perhaps both parents and teachers have been more authentic with each other? Parents have been so appreciative and have shared how much their children love school. We have even heard that some students wished they could come to school on weekends.

A quote from a parent

” One of the silver linings of the COVID experience is that through distance learning, you each entered your students’ homes and brought the school community closer to become an even tighter knit family. That was no small feat, and it was with your dedication and care for your students such a warm, supportive online experience was created. Thanks again!”

Notes and pictures from students make us smile too!

                                       

My school, the OJCS, is full of incredible teachers. We have been through so much in the past two years. We have encouraged, supported, and laughed with each other. I know there are Because of a Teacher moments happening all the time. I think our school and schools everywhere should celebrate their own # Because of a Teacher moments. It would be the perfect follow up to Teacher Appreciation week.

Because of a Teacher is filled with so many beautiful stories. Reading this book made me appreciate being a teacher and filled my bucket.  I looked back on my own # Because of a Teacher moments in my career. This book led me to the Facebook group, which led me to develop healthier habits. Most importantly, this book reminded me that I impact the lives of my students.

I encourage teachers everywhere to read Because of a Teacher.

 

The Global Impactor Program

In December 2020, I discovered that I would become part of a Global Impactor Cohort. Dr. Marialice Curran sent me an email to tell me that she would be putting me into this cohort. It was the day before Winter Break started, and I was so excited to hear this news.

The cohort headed by Dr. Marialice Curran consisted of mentors and mentees: and the soul mission was to connect with others globally and show students how to use tech for good. The meetings started on the first Friday in January. It was interesting to meet with other educators and learn about the Global Impactor Program. We discussed the five pillars of digital citizenship and how to inspire students to become good digital citizens by incorporating them into our classes. There were educators from Scotland, Kenya, Kuwait, India, and the United States. The first meeting flew by, and I found myself looking forward to the next meeting. 

We were all given free subscriptions to the Belouga platform. Belouga.org is a web-based educational platform that connects classrooms around the world. The platform has so many informative videos to enhance classroom teaching. Founder and CEO Evin Schwartz showed us how best to use Belouga in our classes and connect.

We met each Friday and took part in learning something new. Each meeting had us thinking about something else. There were enthralling guest speakers who taught us the importance of mental health, play in the classroom, learning through e-games, coding, and the value of Minecraft in the classroom. The best part of each session was how we all learned alongside each other. It also helped me get through a strict lockdown in my city and distance learning in my school. I was so happy to connect with fabulous educators around the world. 

We met with our mentors and talked about potential projects for our classes. Since my class was launching their blogfolios, Marialice suggested making a Public Service Announcement with my students. We shared our projects with the larger group. Marialice created a DM Twitter group for the Global Impactor Cohort. This DM group allowed members to send links to upcoming talks, events, or podcasts. I found myself enjoying learning about coding with students and listening to informative podcasts in the evenings and on weekends.

A favourite session was learning about the value of play in the classroom, even the third-grade classroom. Jess Amato showed us how to alleviate stress by playing quick and simple games with students. Even a 5-10 minute game could be beneficial and build community. After this session, I brought Madlibs into my virtual classroom, and the student loved it. Playing this game for a few minutes a day added laughter to our class. I secretly enjoyed how my students were reviewed nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. 

Eric Kussen of the Same Here foundation talked with us about the importance of mental health. It was a talk that stayed with me the rest of the year. Good mental health is vital at the best of times. It became even more crucial during the second period of remote learning for my students in April; the lockdown was so strict in Ottawa, Ontario, that parks were off-limits for children. I jumped at the chance to take part in the #Same Here Mental Health Awareness Month on the Belouga Platform in May. My class participated in a talk with Dr. Marialice Curran and students in New York. We talked about things we did for our mental health to cope with lockdowns and remote learning. 

Another connection I made was with a mentor Dene Gainey, an educator from Florida. He had written a play,  Diversity: It’s Not Just About You, It’s About Us: Together We’re Better. I decided that my classes would read it for our reading sessions. The students loved getting their parts and becoming the different characters in the play. They loved coming to virtual class and doing read-throughs of the play. The best part was when Dene and I got our classes together over Google Meet. The students introduced themselves and the characters they played. It was nice to see the students discuss the parts they had. Dene kindly answered all my students’ questions about being a playwright and writing. He inspired my students that a couple of them started to write a play.

 

My Global Impactor project was to make a public service announcement on making good comments on blogs. My class had launched blogfolios (digital portfolios/blogs), and this project was the perfect way for my students to help others learn how to make comments. I thought a trilingual public service announcement would help my students practice the three languages they study at school. The class had lots of fun writing and recording it.

I was so happy to be part of this Global Impactor cohort. The global connection and the inspiration of teaching students to use tech for good were just what I needed in a year of Covid and remote learning. Special thanks to Marialice for being such a positive leader and mentor. You have inspired us all to make a global impact! 

Teaching Grade 3 in 2020-2021

As term 3 begins I am taking a moment to reflect on the year in Grade Three so far. Time sure does fly when you are having fun. I cannot believe that I have already spent six and a half months with my classes and this is the first blog post I have written about being their teacher. The truth is I love teaching both my classes and I am doing all that I can to make sure they have a great year.

I have learned the importance of authentic tasks for students and teachers alike. Returning to school in September with covid restrictions in place was a challenge. I wondered how to get my students excited about learning as they sat in rows and worked independently. Oh yes, and not be worried about Covid either!

Science was the answer! I switched my teaching units around and started the year off studying soil. I could get the children outside, get them moving, and give them a chance to get fresh air. Little did I know that it would be the start of such a terrific year. The whole class got right into learning about soil, and well, we found a worm.

 

The learning then took a turn, and we started reading and researching about worms. We couldn’t believe how much they helped soil. We collected worms and started a worm compost. I was brave enough to hold some worms and not pass out, and the children loved it. We then dove into growing plants from kidney beans, and the children were excited. My students who found it challenging to sit still during class were fully engaged and loving learning.

Students who hadn’t loved school in the early grades suddenly wanted to learn and didn’t want to miss a class. Authentic tasks are the answer! I presented global math task challenges for students to complete. I connected with a fellow educator in Tennessee, and we got our classes together for a Mystery Number game. The students loved it, and they were completely engaged. The students also worked on Global Math Task challenges that Heidi Samuelson posts each week.

We had zoom calls with students in Tel Aviv, and we talked and learned from each other. We took part in a global Livestream event at the DigCit Summit: the students took turns talking about digital citizenship. My students also took a research project they worked on and shared the information with a class in Taiwan to learn about Ontario cities. All these tasks and projects have been authentic and have enriched the teaching and learning in my class.

I had learned that relationship is the key to getting students excited about learning. It was an important lesson that I took away from distance learning in the spring. I had started the year off trying to build those relationships as quickly as I could. The truth of the matter is I thought we would be in school for a few weeks, and I had to get to know my students fast. I am grateful that I spent 15 weeks in the class with my students before we had a month of distance learning.

I have been working hard to teach my students about digital citizenship over this year. Launching student blogfolios have been the next logical step in learning about being a good digital citizen online. It is crucial to teach children how to use the internet safely and learn about digital footprints at an early age, especially in this world of YouTubers and Tik Tok videos.

My students need to learn the same lessons about posting on the internet. I have watched how engaged and motivated the students are when they work on a blog post or connect with another class. I am excited to see how they will put greater effort into their work and pay special attention to detail. I believe the quality of the written work will improve and the students will work harder to edit before they publish a post. The students are reading classmates’ posts and making comments. It is so much fun to see the children connecting in this way. Perhaps some grandparents will even read a post or two and comment.

 

I also believe that the blogs will give my quieter students a chance to share their voices and shine. Blogs will also be a perfect place for students to own and enrich their learning. Students will reflect on their learning, document it, and make their thinking visible.

STEM challenges are inspiring students to be innovators and problem-solvers. We are working on a global Public Service Announcement with the Digital Citizenship Institute to teach people how to make good comments on blogs. We are writing a song about peace for the global World Peace Song Project. The Global Act Aloud will have us showing off our acting skills. We also working on a kindness initiative.

In this year like no other, my main goals have been to get the children excited about learning, connecting globally. It is safe to say that we are having fun and learning so much in Grade 3. I am excited to see what the rest of the school year has in store for us.

Student Blogging and Blogfolios

Student blogfolios was the main goal for my class this past year. I felt that the quality of writing and learning in each subject would improve through the use of blogfolios. Just a couple of weeks before the school year ended, students finally launched individual blogfolios. The students got a chance a customize their blogfolios and learn how to post their work. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to be part of the excitement myself. I also found it to be the perfect way to end my year with these students and to learn alongside them.

It was around this time last year that I attended the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston with four of my colleagues. I came home inspired by all that I had learned at the conference, and I started a blog. As Silvia Tolisano explained to us in her workshop, if I wanted my students to reflect and think metacognitively about their learning, I needed to do the same. I started the blog and pretended it was my secret online journal. I wrote about how I would start my year. I also wrote about my hopes and wishes for teaching this group of children. It was also the place where I could document my learning and professional growth.

Two years ago, my PGP( professional growth plan) was to improve the academic skills and engagement in learning by having the students become guest bloggers on the class blog. My colleague Faye and I had similar PGPs, and we both started our work by teaching our students in grades three and four, respectively, all about blogging during the 2018-2019 school year.

Each class started by making a paper or google docs blog post and sharing it with their classmates. The students gained skills such as researching, putting thoughts into their own words, the importance of copyright, and using copyright free pictures. They also learned to read and make appropriate comments on their classmates’ blog posts, all while becoming good digital citizens.

The students also became guest bloggers of the week on our classroom blogs. I thought they would take ownership of their learning through this venue, but to be honest, they didn’t. My grade four classes did take part in the Edublogs Student Blogging Challenge. They loved getting comments from other students and teachers in other parts of the world. It made a difference when they realized other people were reading their work. They also loved visiting other blogs, making comments, and interacting with other students. I had hoped they would become motivated and engaged in writing their weekly guest posts. The students didn’t get as excited as I would have liked.

My original goal was to start blogfolios at the beginning of the year. We then hoped to launch in March before our school year changed course. Luckily we did launch before the end of the year, and what I observed and learned in such a short time has inspired me to make blogfolios an integral part of my teaching regardless of the grade I happen to teach.

The students’ writing did improve through the use of blogfolios. They paid attention to spelling, punctuation, and the quality of their writing. At the beginning of distance learning, we wrote persuasive essays. For many children, the assignment proved to be challenging. It took a lot of effort and encouragement to get them to write an essay. A few children wondered why they should write an essay when no one would read them. Writing speeches for public speaking proved to be difficult as well.

I then let the students write a blog post of their choice, and I told them it would go in their blogfolios. The students had the freedom to choose their topics. Something amazing happened; the students started writing and writing any chance they got. The writing flowed, the blog posts were interesting. Competitive skiing, Minecraft, and Electricity were a few of the topics. The amount of writing doubled and tripled, the quality improved as well. I got to know my students in a whole new way and to see what they what made them passionate. The thought of other people besides their teacher reading their work excited them too. The students presented their blogposts to the class and answered questions. Everyone was engaged and interested in what their classmates had written. These students needed to end of the year and remain excited about their learning.

We had a whole group discussion reflecting on our writing from persuasive essays, speeches, to blog posts. I told the students that I had noticed how excited and motivated they were when they asked to work on their blog posts, we talked about how much more they were writing as well. The students reflected how they found it so much easier to write about subjects that interested them. You don’t have to do as much research you can write about what you know. They talked about how they wanted to share what they were interested in with others. Writing for their blogfolios seemed effortless and came so naturally to them.

The students received their first comments, and they were thrilled that someone read their work. They were happy to reply. They also started to write in French and Hebrew too. I am pleased that they will get a chance to continue putting their work into their blogfolios and documenting their learning throughout the years. My hope is the students take even greater ownership of learning in a few years. I am excited to see where this platform can take them.

As for myself, I will be back teaching Grade 3 classes again. I will positively be setting up blogfolios for my students, having them do blogposts, learn all the skills, and take part in the student blogging challenge. I look forward to helping my students document their learning, think metacognitively, and share their voices with an authentic audience. I believe that the students will learn so much and be able to push the boundaries of the traditional grade three curriculum. Stay tuned! The 2020-2021 school year should be an exciting one.

Why do some students thrive in distance learning?

 The Sky is the Limit

This post has been a long time in the making. I intended to publish in the Spring, for the #BlogginThruIt challenge. If you have read my earlier post, you would know that I was quite busy teaching my classes during distance learning.

My students all did a great job with distance learning overall. Sure there were some challenges along the way, but for the most part, students rose to the occasion. Some students thrived during this period. They excelled in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in the physical classroom.

Focus and attention in the regular classroom presented a challenge for some students. I saw the same children paying attention, completing assignments, and participating actively during distance learning. They worked harder, met with success, and gained greater confidence as a student. One student had the quiet at home to read and focus on a chapter book. He started to love reading and was proud of his accomplishments. Another student found it easier to look at the teacher more on the computer screen and was not distracted by friends.

Quieter students also thrived during distance learning. Their voices were louder through blogs, speeches, and projects. They were quite expressive readers and took a more active role in class discussions. Three of my shy students gave eloquent speeches and made it to the public speaking finals. They also found it easier to reach out and ask questions through google hangouts.

Students with anxiety found it easier to be at home and concentrate on lessons through Google Meet. The day to day stresses of being in a noisier classroom and interacting with more extroverted classmates was gone. They found it easier to reach out to teachers and get individual help when needed. They also connected more with their teachers.

Student voice and choice took on greater importance. Genius Hour, Stem Bingo, and Blog post challenges let the students take their learning into their own hands. They loved the freedom and unstructured time in the afternoons to pursue subjects and projects that interested them. Some students learned about coding, 3D architecture, stop motion animation. One student worked on putting electricity into his treehouse and building a go-kart. Another student coded a raptor into a Minetest( Minecraft like) game.

There was one student in particular who had distance learning challenges. His mother was worried if he was ready for Grade 5. This student decided to make his drone for his Genius Hour project. I met with him individually to discuss his project. He told me how he had ordered motors and wires. He told me how he had learned about electricity and how he was thinking about designing the propellors. His older sister arranged a meeting with a friend studying engineering to help problem-solve drone building. As he talked and reflected on his project to date, he stopped and told me,” I have learned so much already by working on this project.”

Our class had also made a connection via Flipgrid with students in Taiwan. The children made videos to learn about each other and our different countries. There was one student in my class who had been attending Chinese school on weekends to learn Mandarin. This boy took the opportunity to practice his Mandarin and make bilingual videos to share with the students in Taiwan. He also took the time to learn and create a Stars Wars-themed bilingual video for May 4th. This global connection provided him the perfect venue to personalize his learning through these authentic tasks. The students in Taiwan loved learning and practicing their English with us.

The majority of my students become more self-directed. That is not to say that we didn’t have our challenges at the beginning with Roblox or watching Youtube videos. Some difficult conversations with parents and students took place. The students realized schooling came first, and they were in charge of getting their assignments done. The students became adept at navigating the schedules following the links and sharing their completed work.

Students took advantage of the unstructured time in the afternoon to pursue their interests in writing stories and blog posts. It is funny how much harder they worked on assignments they chose themselves. Some students wrote epic stories, and some worked with a partner to create a terrific blog post. The quality of the work improved as the students became self-directed and owned their learning.

Distance learning allowed the teacher greater freedom too. I had the time to personalize programs so students could extra help, a small group lesson, or enrichment. The key was to keep all of the students busy and engaged. In the physical classroom, I always had someone or many students needing help. In distance learning, I could offer more individualized teaching during office hours or in the afternoons. I could send a quick message to a student on google hangouts while continuing to teach the lessons.

I will be reflecting more on how the students thrived in the Spring and will embed these lessons learned into my planning for the upcoming school year. All students should have the opportunity to thrive and reach for the stars each school year. It is my job as a teacher to create the environment to make this happen for my students.

 Update December 6, 2020
I chose remote learning for my own quiet 13-year-old this fall. She has focused on her learning and has been able to reach out to her teachers. I am happy to report she is thriving in virtual school.

I have been teaching in the classroom for the last 13 weeks. I have made a point of connecting with my quieter and anxious students a little more. I check in with them more frequently throughout the day and give them a chance to share their voice. I am happy to report they are thriving as well.

Relationships Matter in Distance Learning

It has been two weeks today since the school year ended. I find myself reflecting on the school year and the distance learning portion of the year. All of my students did a terrific job of adapting to learning from home. I am a big believer in developing strong relationships with students at the best of times. I acknowledged the importance of developing relationships in a reflective post earlier this year. I think it is even more important in distance learning. Students need to maintain contact and relationships with their teachers and their classmates. All relationships matter during this uncertain time. It was such a gift to spend more time with students and talk to them individually. I have loved seeing all the pets and siblings the students have talked about throughout the year.

                                                       The School Day

I was lucky to see all my students throughout the day. Our school, the OJCS, offered a full day trilingual program online. I taught both my classes virtually in the morning. My students learn French and Hebrew and English. Half of the day consisted of live online lessons for each language. The afternoon schedule allowed for more self-directed learning with Art, Gym, and Genius Hour. I had the opportunity to work in smaller groups and one on one with students during the afternoon. I helped students with reading, practice multiplication tables, and work on math problems step by step. The opportunity to meet with students and talk to them individually was valuable. 

                                                                   It takes a Village

Good relationships with parents also play a vital role in the teacher and student connection. I have always worked hard to maintain good partnerships with parents. This pandemic brought the parent-teacher relationship to a new level. Parent-teacher conferences took place in the evenings during the first week of distance learning. My grade-level team and I met the parents in Google Hangouts and spoke about the children. We saw parents in the dining room, living room, and the bedroom. Looking back now, I realize how crucial to meet at that point to maintain and strengthen the partnerships we had established earlier in the year. The conferences were relaxed and so meaningful. 

 Parents became trusted and respected partners in this journey. They gave us valuable feedback on the distance learning schedules during Phase 1 and Phase 2 of our program. They were patient with us as we learned to make Google Meets and have learning materials ready to print on Sundays. 

During the first few weeks, I received some emails from parents letting me know their child was having a tough day or needed extra help with an assignment. I took the time for a virtual visit to talk about rough days, and made the time to offer additional help in the afternoons. Time was also set aside for afterschool meetings to discuss challenges students were facing with distance learning. I was able to personalize, enrich, and modify programs for my students. One parent told me that her son shared that he felt the teachers cared about him and encouraged him, which made him want to do better, which in turn made him love school.   

 Parents became trusted and respected partners in this journey. They gave us valuable feedback on the distance learning schedules during Phase 1 and Phase 2 of our program. They were patient with us as we learned to make Google Meets and have learning materials ready to print on Sundays. I am so thankful for the open communication, collaboration, and support that we received from our parents.

   

                                                            Classroom Community  

My teaching partner and I worked hard to create a supportive and engaging classroom community this year. We took extra care when our classrooms became virtual. The students learned how to reach out through google hangouts to ask questions or let us know if they were having any difficulties. Google hangouts turned out to be the perfect way for my quieter students to contact me. I think they reached out to me more in distance learning than they ever did in class. 

Students were able to message me directly and let me know they didn’t understand part of a lesson. They didn’t have to ask a question in front of their classmates. I had the opportunity to get to know my quieter students on a whole new level. There were times when a few students stayed behind at recess so they could talk about their parents (doctors) working and dealing with COVID-19. I needed to stop and listen to them. Strong relationships mattered so much. Students know if teachers care about them, and it makes all the difference. It means a lot when teachers take the time to listen to them and help.

I made sure that there were also opportunities for students to work with a partner or small group in google hangouts and continue to maintain friendships with all of their classmates. Math Olympics, math escape rooms, and small group projects had students working together and having fun. Laughter and excitement filled computer screens. Classes came together for speeches, celebrating special holidays, and taking part in weekly live-streamed Kabbalat Shabbat from our school Facebook page.

 I was amazed by the kindness and care the students showed each other. I think many of them realized what a unique and challenging experience this was. We had many honest and open conversations about distance learning and how to handle the challenges. My students encouraged each other, helped each other and listened to each other. Some of my spirited students in the physical classroom were more focused during virtual school and showed great leadership with their classmates.

 

                                Creating a school-wide community

The school did a terrific job of going forward with all of our scheduled school-wide events online. We had the pleasure of welcoming grandparents from all over the world for virtual Grandparents’ Day. We spent a beautiful morning with them. Our Maccabiah games( Sports Day) went on as planned: our teams loved completing their goose chase missions. Each team consisted of students from across the grades. They spent time learning a song and special cheers.  

 

A virtual talent show was held one night for the 4th and 5th-grade students and boy what a night it was. The students showcased hidden talents, and some families got in on the action and performed together. It was so neat to see so many smiling faces in the little boxes on my computer screen and see the positive comments in the chat in the Google Meet. One student told me that she would only perform if I did, so I did. I signed up and performed a song with three of my colleagues. It was a perfectly imperfect talent show, technical glitches, and all! 

We came together for the public speaking finals, and end of the year assembly as well. These moments of being together helped make our school and class community grow stronger. I can honestly tell you that the students, my teaching partner, and I were not ready for the school year to end. We all lingered in our Google Meet after the final bell rang on the last day of school. We just weren’t ready to say goodbye to each other yet.

 

Global Connection

This post was originally supposed to have been published in early March right around the time our report cards were due. According to my PGP(Professional Growth Plan), I was to share out my plans for my global connection projects for the rest of the year. I was so excited about the plans and projects that I had in store for the last term of the school year.

My projects had my students launching their blogs, taking part in the Student Blogging Challenge, writing, and recording, a trilingual song for the World Peace Song Project. I also wanted my students to make a connection with students in Taiwan through the use of Flipgrid. My culminating and final project of the year was to have the students make their podcast about one of the UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) that they were passionate about. I had been teaching my students about the SDGs through the use of picture books and novels this year. These projects were meant to personalize learning for my students, give them a voice, hopefully, let them shoot for the stars. I envisioned my students taking greater ownership of their learning and excited about the whole process.

I postponed writing this post, I was busy with report cards, I was busy with Innovation Day, I was busy with life. On March 12th my life changed, my teaching job changed, and my plans and projects were put on hold. My colleagues and I started planning for distance learning at our school. I vividly remember my teaching partner looking a little scared during one of our virtual planning meetings on March 13th. She looked at me and asked if I thought we could do this, and teach from our computer. I was confident that we could pull this off and that our whole school would function beautifully online.

Many of our teachers had taken part in big school initiatives over the last two years with No Tosh and Silvia Tolisano. Our teaching and learning practices had changed. The OJCS became more innovative and more aligned for teaching 21st-century skills. We were so ready for this moment, our head of school, Dr. Jon Mitzmacher was almost giddy with excitement for the moment of transitioning to an online school. I was excited to start teaching this way as well. I had prepared my students well over the last year and a half. They could work online and share google docs, they had attended research workshops, and could locate information on the internet. The students had learned about blogging, copyright, hyperlinking, and digital citizenship. I remember feeling so thankful for putting so much time and energy into my professional growth over the last two and a half years. I was ready to leap online learning as well.

As I update this post after five weeks of teaching online, I am reflecting on my experience with global connection and my teaching practice. My projects have been put on hold except for one, connecting my students with students all over Taiwan via Flipgrid. I had met an English teacher from Taiwan through #GridPals in February, and our students starting connecting on March 12th, our last day at school. The students kept making videos and got to know each other during our first weeks of distance learning. One of my students surprised us all by speaking English and Mandarin in his video and holding up English and Mandarin speech bubbles he had written. The students in Taiwan were so excited to see this bilingual video. I was thankful that I had met Jyun De Lee. He helped me navigate my way in the first few days of distance learning.

I have also had the good fortune of making another global connection with Gali Lev Ari, a teacher in Israel. A chance post on Facebook brought our two classes together. It has been amazing to watch our students in zoom meetings talk about their lives and distance learning.

I am hoping that my students are getting a sense of how they are part of a larger global community and how meaningful connections can be made even during a pandemic. I know that I am grateful to be connected to a global teaching community. Some questions remain about my other teaching projects. Will my students ever get blogs? Will they make a song for the World Peace Song project? Will they ever record a podcast? Only time will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

Owning the Learning

I have the lofty goal of getting my students to really take ownership of their learning this year. My students owned a great deal of their learning in Grade 3. It is amazing to watch students immerse themselves in a project and work hard to learn as much as they can. I find children work harder, enjoy the process more, and dare I say learn way more this way. Classroom management is much easier as everyone is too busy and engaged to misbehave. Sometimes students even stay in at recess just to continue working. It is so much fun to teach in a class like this.

I had the opportunity to really own my learning when I worked on my professional growth plan two years ago. I worked harder and learned so much more than I did during past teacher evaluation processes. I got up early to watch inspiring Ted Talks, read books and changed my practice in the classroom. I learned along with my students and had the best time. I can tell you that it is incredibly satisfying to grow in this way.

This past year I had the opportunity to let my own daughter own her learning. She was having a challenging time in math class and was getting discouraged. I brought up the idea of dropping the math class and taking the math class online. My daughter would be in control of learning the content and completing assignments and tests independently. My husband initially thought it was a crazy idea to do such a thing during the graduating year, my daughter did have to get into university.

I am happy to report that my daughter loved taking ownership of her learning. She worked harder in this course than any other and even started tutoring a friend once a week. She got an excellent mark in the course, earned three scholarships, and is ready to study Neuroscience this Fall.

Taking ownership of one’s own learning is best for students and teachers alike. We can all reach for the stars when we own our own learning!

 

 

The First Five Days

Inspired by the BLC’19 conference I attended in Boston I decided to listen to a podcast with Alan November discussing the First Five Days of school. Fresh from the conference with so many ideas swirling around in my head I kept thinking of the First Five Days talk by Alan November I saw last October. I remember being upset at the time because I had not started the school year the way Alan November talked so passionately about. I vowed that this year would be different as I listened and took notes. It is all about Relationships, Risks, and Responsibility.

Day 1  Ask Questions

Day2  Search &Organzie Find your own answers

Day 3 Responsibility

Day 4 Be Problem Designers

Day 5 Global Collaboration

To get ready for Day 1 I will work on researching and getting comfortable with open-ended questions. It was surprising during a workshop session on Learner Driven Inquiry that most teachers ask too many closed questions. I will be looking to https://rightquestion.org for resources and ideas. I love how Alan November talks about starting off with no content and having students formulate questions will be engaging and motivating for them as no judgment will happen during this phase. Students of all abilities will be excited to formulate questions and work with a partner to look at questions to prioritize the top 3 questions. I cannot wait to start off the school year in an exciting way. This should be awesome!

Getting started!

I cannot believe that I have finally mustered the courage to write my first blog post that focuses on my learning. I have been talking about it all year but have kept pushing it out of my mind until today. A fellow teacher, Josh Ray replied to my email the other night and encouraged me to document how excited I am about all that I learned at the Building Learning Communities in Boston

A wonderful presenter at the conference Silvia Tolisano suggested that if teachers want their students to use blogs to document their learning the teachers should document their own learning through a blog. She also asked me point blank if I was going to challenge myself this summer as I read the Documenting 4Learning book for summer PD.  A little secret about me that if someone does challenge me I always go for the challenge. The problem is that this challenge seems scarier than most as I am a pretty private and quiet person in a professional setting.

I have been a teacher for thirty years and I am happy to report that I am so excited about learning and starting the school year. I never thought that I would be so excited in year 30 but I am!