Saturday, November 22, 2014

Family Traditions - Do I Have Any?

Day 22 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

I've been reading through some fantastic posts about family traditions and am feeling a little bit envious!  There really are some fantastic ones out there.  Check out the beautiful cakes, etc on Mrs Slaviero's blog or the very special traditions of giving from Susan Heydt.  

For many years, family traditions in New Zealand for many families, especially those whose heritage is English, Scottish or Irish, centred about traditions brought to this country with our ancestors. We seem to have fiercely hung on to so many of these, particularly the Christmas traditions of our Northern Hemisphere ancestors who are in the middle of very cold winters at this time of year.

This often means we have enormous Christmas dinners with all the trimmings.  Hot meals; turkey, ham, new potatoes, peas, etc., followed by traditional pavlova, trifle and Christmas pudding.  This is wonderful food, absolutely delicious but...temperatures on Christmas Day in New Zealand can reach into the mid-30s!  As for Australia - parts of that fantastic country hit the mid-40s.  (Celsius not farenheit!!)  Yet, we still persisted with this for so many years because it was, and still is for many, an important family tradition, perhaps a link to our ancestors.

We're starting to change and find our own way as a country and create our own traditions.  For many this means a change to this special celebration meal.  Many now head to the beach or at least have a barbecue and relax outside with family and friends.  Much more sensible!

Pavlova - source of great argument between Australia and New Zealand over who created it. For the record, the Kiwis did!  Named in honour of the ballerina Anna Pavlova

What does my family do?  We still have the full-on traditional Christmas dinner and celebration.  I'm grateful for this tradition as it brings us together.  We perhaps need to create some of our own traditions!  (I'm still going to bake the Christmas cake in the heat of November and we'll never let go of the Pavlova though!)

Christmas Cake - one slice is never enough!

A Book That Inspired Me To Be A Better Teacher...

Day 21 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

Today we have to choose one book that we're grateful for having read that has changed our practice.  Only one??!!  Who created these prompts...oh, that's right, we did.  (Note to us - make it easier next time).  Having said that, focusing on just one book has made me be more analytical and reflective about which book, among the many, I've read that has actually made a sustained impact and changed my practice.

A few years ago I moved to one of the best schools I've ever experienced.  Professional learning was the expectation as was sharing practice through the Critical Friends programme.  I learned so much while I was there and I think I've held onto almost all that new knowledge and developed it further to make a better impact on my students learning - and my own.

One of the key books that was being explored by the staff when I arrived was:

Clarity in the Classroom by Michael Absolum  (I reviewed this for the Reflective Teacher at TeachThought community a few weeks ago).  I love the subtitle - 'Using formative assessment, building learning-focused relationships.'  It puts the focus firmly on learning.

What we explored as a staff was implemented in our learning and teaching as part of the Critical Friends programme which included a strong focus on Action Research.  We shared our findings each week and reflected on the changes implemented.  It was obvious to hear a change in our shared language and shared focus and it was also clear to see a shift in student learning and achievement.

My favourite chapters are "Being clear about what is to be learnt"  and "Active reflection about learning."  Both chapters have helped me to be a more reflective practitioner and to be clear about what we're learning and why.  "Why" is a question I ask myself about everything I do and every tool I use.  

The whole book ask questions that help you reflect on your practice to ensure that you are providing the best learning environment for both you and your students.  It provides examples of effective and not so effective practice and has "Try This" prompts for you to explore as a staff and also in the classroom - fantastic for professional learning discussions.

There are so many books which have impacted my practice but this has continued to be one of the most powerful if not THE most powerful.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dear Beth...

Day 19 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

For Beth - always curious

A note for a very important person, friend, partner in crime and valued colleague.

In Appreciation of Beth

A few months ago I was running a Twitter Chat as part of my role of developing an online community of practice for TeachThought.  An educator by the name of Beth Leidolf joined in that day and from then on a crazy partnership/tag team was born.  The power of Twitter!  That particular day, our conversation was all about the power of blogging; not just for our students but also as a way of developing reflective teachers and reflective practice.

From that conversation of 140 characters or less, the first TeachThought Blog Challenge was born. We held this in September and the theme was Reflective Teaching and Learning.  We had so much fun running this; conversations very late at night or very early in the morning depending on what was going on.  The global distance, I'm in New Zealand and Beth's in the US, was nothing.  It's been a great example of what globally connected educators can do - especially when they figure out the challenge of the time zones.  Factor in the time challenge changes of Daylight Saving etc and the fun begins.

We've both made many new friendships and are constantly being challenged in our thinking by the ideas of others.  Beth, you challenge my thinking, keep me on track, have boundless energy and enthusiasm which never fails to rub off on others.  Your knowledge and expertise I value immensely and look forward to many years of friendship and collaboration.\

Thank you for everything you do and for being the passionate educator that you are.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Appreciation of my Colleagues...

Day 18 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

What do I appreciate the most about my colleagues over the years? (In no particular order of value or priority).

  1. Their sense of humour - comes in handy when mine is a little missing in action.
  2. Their knowledge - they help me grow and challenge my thinking and my practice.
  3. Their kindness and thoughtfulness.
  4. For a very few - showing me who I don't want to be as a learner and teacher.  
  5. Their patience - I can be geeky and over-enthusiastic and I know this bugs people sometimes.  I can also be impatient - I'm learning from them to be more patient! I'm a work in progress.
  6. The colleagues who have taught me that you can be a great teacher and still have a life outside of school - this is another one I'm working on.  I have a lot to work on and learn!
  7. Colleagues who have taught me to be a better leader, who have had conversations with me when I've needed them.  I have learned so much and held onto that learning.
  8. The global colleagues and connections I've made.  It's fantastic to get different perspectives on  ideas and thoughts.
  9. I've appreciated that it does not matter how long you've been teaching - you CAN still be as enthusiastic as the first day you started.  

There is so much for which I'm grateful for.  The list is endless and I think is one I'll come back to and reflect on.

Monday, November 17, 2014

One thing that is different from a year ago that I am grateful for

Day 17 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

This is probably the easiest post to write, but also the hardest in some ways.

One year ago I was two months post-surgery for a rather large benign brain tumour - nicknamed Arthur - but it's real name, an Acoustic Neuroma - is pretty cool too.  Surgery took around 8 hours and was completely, and somewhat unexpectedly, successful.  I was one of the lucky ones. The only real side effect from the surgery was the fact that I was now completely deaf in one ear.  I had been losing my hearing gradually for a few years so I thought it would be a piece of cake getting used to hearing from only one ear.  I misjudged that completely!  It's been incredibly hard and for a long time I was pretty certain that I wouldn't be able to return to the classroom as it's hard concentrating on hearing people and students need to be heard and discussions had - that's one of the things I love about what we do.  

I'm pretty determined so I've pushed myself to try and cope with noisy environments etc. and to become very fit so that fatigue is not as much an issue as it is for many after an operation like this. The hardest battle has been convincing people that I am completely fine, in fact better than before the operation when my balance - or lack of it - was a huge issue as was the fatigue and headaches.  I have none of that now and my memory is even better than it was before.  People still hear the words 'brain tumour' though and seem to view it in a different way to other illnesses or cancers.  Even though this was completely benign and I feel great, there is a stigma attached to 'brain tumour' - that's been the hardest battle of all.

I'm in good company with this 'experience' though.  An actor whose work I really enjoy is Mark Ruffalo and in 2002, he went through the same procedure as I did to remove his 'Arthur'.

Arthur's well and truly gone now.  I know that I can manage in the classroom more than ever before, apart from the hearing, or lack of it, being a little annoying.  Watch out when I get my BAHA though - Bone Anchored Hearing Aid.  I'll be hearing on all two cylinders - or ears!!

A year ago I didn't think I would ever teach again.  Now I know I can.  That's the best present ever!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

On Being a Connected Educator and Why I'm Grateful for the Connections...

Day 16 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

Why I'm So Very Grateful To Be A...

Connected locally and globally to inspirational teachers and learners
One way to challenge and push your own learning through different viewpoints
New ideas and learning are created through connection and collaboration
Never alone in this fabulous and challenging profession
Energised by conversation, support, humour and collaboration
Constantly supported to be the best you can be
There to support and encourage others
Energising personalities abound!
Developing new understandings about learning and teaching

Experimenting with new thinking and ideas to improve practice
Depending on your connected educators PLN for insight and discussion
Unending learning
Challenged to be reflective about your practice and clear in your thinking
Articulating practice through additional viewpoints and questions
Thankful and grateful for opportunities and connections
Original thinkers and learners inspire and challenge me
Reflective practice is at our core for the sake of our students

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Tech Tools I'm Grateful For...

Day 15 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

Anyone who knows me knows I have a passion for technology in education and the possibilities it offers both us and our students.  I've been guilty over the years of getting incredibly excited about anything new that I can grab hold of and experiment with.  I still have this excitement but it's tempered by this question:

What impact will this tool have on learning and teaching - what is the 'why' of using this particular tool?

If I, or my students, cannot clearly articulate the answer to this then I am cautious about using a tool or persisting in it's use if we can't quickly answer the question through initial use / experimentation.

I'm excited about the possibilities of Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and Google Classroom and can't wait to experiment more with these as I believe they hold the key to flattening the classroom walls and flipping learning and teaching to allow for anywhere, anytime learning.  I'm still a huge fan of using Blogger as my classroom blogging platform as it's easy to set up and use.  All things Google seem to be my main area of excitement at the moment as it provides a way of connecting learners, teachers, parents and communities, both locally and globally.

Storybird is one of my favourite digital storytelling tools.  It can be used in so many ways to inspire writers - even our more reluctant ones will become excited about it.  I've used this for many years with all levels from Year 2 through to Year 8.  It's been a consistent tool that I can use to motivate and engage learners in reading and writing and also visual language.  Great all-rounder.

ePals is another tool I've used for many years.  Like our old pen-pals, (seems such a long time ago now!!).  I think I first used ePals way back in about 2005 as a way of connecting my students globally and locally.  There are a range of options for authentic inquiries and projects and we added in Skype to the mix a few years back.  We also have Skype In The Classroom now, so that's another tool that can provide authentic learning contexts and connect students locally and globally.  There is huge potential for tapping into experts in their field using this tool.  Have a look at it and see what you think.

YouTube is also one of my 'go-to's' that I'm very grateful for.  Again, you can access expertise through this medium or watch inspirational people share their knowledge.  Creating your own classroom channel also offers another way of connecting with your communities.

ScoopIt is my favourite digital curation tool and I use this as part of my professional learning for resources.

There are so many tools I use for so many different purposes but I'm grateful for what they give me and my students - the chance to connect and provide authentic learning which we can share in real-time with others and receive relevant feedback.