Monday, September 29, 2014

Start with the 'WHY?' - Should Technology drive the curriculum or vice versa?

Day 28 of the 30 Day +TeachThought blogging challenge

Which should drive our learning and teaching - the curriculum or all the amazing new technology we now have within our grasp?  I have very strong views on this...

Technology is there to support and enhance learning and teaching and our curriculum.  If we are using tools merely because they are the latest 'cool tool' but they do little to enhance and improve learning and teaching then, in my opinion, they are not an effective addition and will have little impact.


Be clear about why you are using a particular tool and why it will change the teaching and learning.  Your students should also be clear about this when they are choosing tools for their learning.  If they or we are not able to clearly articulate our thinking and state the WHY, then it's not the tool to be using.  If it doesn't improve achievement and learning, choose something that will.  Sometimes it can be that 'simple' - and that complicated!

Technology should enhance and improve what we do.  It should never be an add on or addition.


We read and hear a great deal about our students being 'Digital Natives' and that we are the 'Digital Immigrants, terms developed by Marc Prensky.  We need to be very careful about these assumptions. During my research, I wrote a literature review on this subject.  If we make assumptions that all our students are confident users of technology and therefore know much more than us then we are, in my opinion, treading on very shaky ground.  Yes, our students are skilled in the use of tools, but try getting them to explain their choice of tool for learning and this is where it becomes interesting.  Many can't, unless we give them the skills to be able to relate the tools to their learning.  We can also then let then teach us the technical skills we may be lacking.  Shared and reciprocal learning is powerful learning.


The SAMR model gives us a way to change our thinking and use of technology in a purposeful way.  If we are just swapping writing in a book for using a Word document to publish then we, and our students, are missing out.  However, everyone needs to start somewhere and many teachers are not confident with using technology in their teaching and learning.  These are the teachers who need our support and encouragement.  Sometimes being told that they 'must use' technology without being shown the 'how' and 'why' are where we get it very wrong.  This is where professional learning and communities of practice are so important if we want to make sustainable changes.  We all have to start somewhere.  Don't be afraid to let the students do the teaching too!

Technology integration is incredibly important in order for our students to participate in the world.  Maybe it's also time to stop talking about preparing our students for 21st Century learning and life - we've been in this century now for 14 years.  Maybe it's time to move from these phrases and focus on the teaching and learning.  Tools on their own may not necessarily change learning and achievement but tools used to enhance learning and teaching can, if the WHY is clear.  We are doing our students a disservice if we don't do this.
How to use the SAMR model for classroom tasks.

Check out the SAMR model explained by students!


Who Needs Weekends and Holidays?

Day 27 of the +TeachThought blogging challenge

My first year teaching was 1999 and my weeks looked something like this...

Monday - Friday:  Arrive at school by 8am, work all day, including through lunchtime, leave school around 5pm or earlier if my son had sport, have dinner, start working again, finish at about midnight, bed, then up again at 6am to start all over.

Weekends - sport with my son but I could multi-task if his games were at the school grounds and then mostly preparation for the following week with breaks to spend time with my son.

I took this career so seriously and wanted to give the best I could to my students - I still do -  but I was missing out on time for me and also for my son.  I was a single parent so I should have been more aware of this.  I'm very lucky he's turned out to be such an amazing young man whom I'm incredibly proud of but...

This 'routine' which was exhausting, went on for many years.  I started to question it, however.  The more I reflected on what I was doing and the more aware I became of the lack of balance I began to realise that if I kept going at this pace then everyone would miss family, my students and school and also myself. There's nothing like a reality check for you to realise that by leading a more balanced life and taking breaks and holidays, you actually become a far better teacher - and learner.  A colleague taught me this when I moved from a large college back to a primary school.  She is a teacher whom I admire immensely and she was managing to be a 'super teacher' in my eyes, had a fantastic family and is also a very talented artist - who was still managing to create beautiful works of art and be an amazing teacher.  I paid attention and had many discussions with her.  I learned so much about balance and how to get there.  Not always easy when you are a perfectionist.

So how am I doing 15 years down the track from that first year?  Well... I reflect on this a lot and know that I probably have a way to go on the balance aspect of my practice but I'm a work in progress and I try to participate in as many activities as I can because I know that a more balanced life makes me a better person, and a far better teacher / co-learner and leader for my staff and students.

I'll keep reflecting and working on that...


Saturday, September 27, 2014

My 3 Favourite go-to sites for help/tips/resources in my Teaching

Day 26 of the +TeachThought Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge!

This was a really hard post to write because we had to choose 3 of our 'go to sites - only THREE!!!!  What a challenge in itself.  I've cheated a little with Twitter and Facebook pages but I firmly believe in being creative.  (You're possibly not buying that...)

TeachThought / Edutopia
I have been a fan of TeachThought long before my involvement with curating the Facebook page and my role in developing a community of practice, both voluntary roles.  I love that both TeachThought and Edutopia provide me with resources to challenge my practice and give the bext possible learning experiences for my students - and also for me.

Kathy Schrock
I first stumbled across this amazing educator when I was at University studying to become a teacher.  I think it was around 1997.  She has been one of my consistent 'go to' resources for all things education and I couldn't even begin to count the times I've gone back to her site for resources, etc.  Highly recommend that you take a look.

Twitter / Facebook Pages

This is my 3rd choice- even though there is more than one on here.  I'll stretch it even further and call it my social media resoure... ;-)

The Innovative E - Everything eLearning in Education
This is my own page on Facebook but it's where I keep track with the resources from all the different sites so that I can share them with others.  It's a curation tool for me.  I also use ScoopIt to curate resources on a range of topics including Digital Storytelling and Google Tools.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

What learning trend captures your attention the most and why?

Day 24 of the +TeachThought Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge

There are so many trends in education these days and over the years I've seen many come and go - and come back again!  Sometimes it feels as though we are on a pendulum and we swing from one extreme to the other instead of valuing the 'good parts' of what we do and using them to support and extend new ideas.

I think, for me, one of the most powerful 'trends' at the moment is the pathway we're on to involving our students more in their learning and flipping the classroom.  Learning is a partnership and is created through discussion and collaboration.  The motto below, created by my 8-10 year-old students sums it up for me:

"We are all teachers and we are all learners in our learning environment."

The students were adamant that they didn't want the word 'classroom' in there, they wanted 'learning environment.  Their reasoning was that learning doesn't just happen in the classroom; there has to be the connection to the local and global world.  These were students who were locally and globally connected. They connected to people with expertise for our Inquiries, worked with students globally through ePals and shared their learning from outside of school with all of us through their blogs.  The result of this was that not only were they incredibly connected to the world around them but they were also highly motivated to succeed in their learning.  For some, this had not always been the case.  They were also strong on owning their environment and learning.  I was very proud of them for this.  It was 'OUR' environment.

For the past few years my students have been 'anytime, anywhere' learners who blog at any time - not just at school, who are giving and receiving feedback to their peers, and also to me, and they are communicating and collaborating through Google.  The sense of pride I get when I see discussions about learning happening at all hours and at all times, including weekends and holidays is the biggest reward a teacher can have in my opinion.

I'm just beginning to explore Google Classroom and Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and really want to spend a lot of time seeing how this can take my students to the next level... Stay tuned!


The Importance of Involving the Community - Locally and Globally Now and in The Future

Day 23 of the TeachThought Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge

I think there seems to be a theme running through many of my posts and it centres around blogging!

Over the years I've used many different ways to connect home and school because the learning partnership is so crucial for students' success and confidence.  I've held parent information evenings for eLearning, reading, writing and maths, etc but one of the best ones was the one almost completely organised by my Year 3 students - 7 year-olds.  It was an Inquiry evening built around their Inquiries for the term.  A lot of food was involved and also a lot of ICT. (This was back in 2000).  It was so successful and gave parents an insight into the power of Inquiry.

While I love these opportunities, I wanted something that was more regular than phone calls home or emails to share positives.  These are still important to me but I needed more.  This is where the blogs came in.
The classroom blog became a source of information and communication for parents with many of them saying that it was the first time they really felt in touch with what was happening in their child's learning.

With a change in giving homework to Prep for Learning, there was also a shift in parent participation.  Parents were starting to get involved in the discussions that lead to 'at school' learning.  Something important was happening for us and it really opened up the lines of communication.  We also posted videos and links to daily learning, photos from the day and links to help parents understand what we were doing and why.  This was particularly valuable in maths / numeracy which is very different in many areas and in the strategies taught from when parents were at school.  It helped parents feel confident in asking questions and supporting their child's learning.

One of the most powerful ways I've involved the global community in our learning has been through ePals If you haven't looked at this yet, I highly recommend it, along with Skype In The Classroom.  Both of these tools will help foster collaboration and connections and the shared learning that is created across the world is real and relevant to our students.  ePals has many ideas for structured and less-structured learning and it is a completely safe environment for students and teachers to learn in.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

PLN - aka Powerful Learning Network

Day 22 of our TeachThought Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge!

What does your PLN look like? What does it do for you teaching?

My research for my final part of my Masters is all around changing teacher professional learning to make it more relevant, connected and sustainable through Communities of Practice.  The journey to this research focus started when I began to develop my PLN online through Twitter and Facebook and face-to-face through my colleagues back in 2007.  I was frustrated with the way we seemed, as teachers, to be moving very quickly from one professional learning initiative to another with little chance to embed changes, examine our practice or sustain the learning and changes.

Many of the long-term projects we were involved in were incredibly valuable but difficult to sustain once they were finished and we moved on to the next one.  There had to be a better way to sustain the excitement we'd built up and the changes we'd made.  We also needed to be able to have a way that supported new staff into these changes or they would be easily lost.

My PLN had been the source of sustainability for me.  New Zealand educators are fantastic at creating and sustaining online PLNs so I've taken this idea along with my learning about Communities of Practice and turned it into my research.  Ownership of the learning is key and leads to motivation, excitement and engagement about learning.  These ideas are adaptable for all ages, especially our students but that's a whole other story, and research focus!

So what does my PLN look like?    
It is everything to my learning and teaching.  Some people might be surprised by the inclusion of my students but they are an incredibly important part and a conversation a few years ago when we were setting up their individual blogs taught me a valuable lesson.

We were adding their individual blogs to the sidebar of the class blog and they asked why mine wasn't on there.  I said to them that I didn't think they'd need mine on there and that they may not understand what I was writing about.  Not my smartest assumption.  Their reply, (they were 9 and 10 year-olds):

"We might not understand it all the time but you're a learner too and it should be on there."

This was so true so it is on there and quite a few of the students are still followers of the blog and I receive comments / questions from them.  The power of Student Voice can never be underestimated.

My initial research on Communities of Practice for teacher professional learning has lead to the following presentation.  It's just initial research at this stage but I want to change what we do and how we learn and our PLNs are a powerful way to do it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Students reflection on their learning - Powerful ways to engage and promote reflection

Day 19 of the +TeachThought Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge!

Reflection on learning is a powerful tool for all of us - students and teachers alike.  It's how we can make changes to improve what we do and what we know.

I've been teaching for around 15 years and have always used reflection as a tool to improve learning and teaching.  Choosing the 3 most powerful ways this can happen wasn't as easy as I thought it would be, but here are my favourites:

  1. Blogging - combined with face-to-face discussion and questioning, feedback.
  2. Journals - written - this was in the days before we used online tools.  
  3. Indidual Learning Conferences combined with journals - usually between individual students and me.
The easiest part of this was choosing the most powerful one and it stands out a mile..

I've been blogging now for around 7 years - both for my own self-reflections and for student-reflection.  It really is one of the most powerful tools I've ever used for changing practice, being clear about the what, why and how of my practice and when applied to student learning it helps them to become reflective as well.  The impact on student achievement and parent engagement is incredibly powerful.  It is crucial that the skills of giving feedback, knowing what makes an effective blog and blog post, etc are carefully taught to the students in the beginning.  The importance of digital citizenship can't be underestimated when blogging.  Respect for others' ideas and opinions must be valued and emphasised at all times as must knowing your audience.

Blogging continues to be one of my most powerful tools - not just for self-reflection but also for writing.  It provides a real and relevant audience for the writers with the chance of receiving feedback to improve learning and achievement.

For reasons why we blog which some of my younger students wrote please read Room 14 Learning Journeys - this is my old classroom blog but it still has many great resources on it.  

Blogging gives everyone a voice - no matter what their ability - and it's particularly good for quieter students who may be reluctant to speak up in class or who may take longer to consider their thoughts and ideas.

Blogging teaches students - and teachers - how to give constructive feedback but we need to teach the skills first.  Students and teachers need to know and understand how to coach and what effective feedback is.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching? Explain.

Day 21 of the 30 Day TeachThought Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge!

This collage shows some of the things that I'm passionate about. These are all things I bring to school in some form whether in my role as a teacher or as a mentor or in a leadership position.

  • Flowers and Gardening and Appreciation - class gardens, plants and flowers in the classroom. Gifts of flowers to staff.  Cards dropped into pigeon holes or on desks to show that I value what they do - students and staff.

  • Cooking / Baking - sharing food with students and staff.  Shared lunches, dinners for staff...
  • Running - love being able to run again.  It's a great challenge and I've shared this with the students and staff.
  • CanTeen - important to do something for others, to give a little.  CanTeen is a New Zealand organisation that supports young people with cancer and their families.  I've run the Round the Bays for them and will run the Auckland Half-Marathon for them in November.  Raising as much money as I can.  As much of my learning and teaching as possible encourages students and teachers to make a difference.
  • Photography - another passion and one that students always seem to love.  We tell stories through photos and digital storytelling - great way to grab your reluctant writers and readers.

  • Fun - having fun when you're learning - even when it's hard work - is so important.  Keeping a sense of humour helps you cope with anything.  It's a Habit of Mind - Finding Humour!
  • Summer - favourite time of year when we can learn and teach outside.
  • Art, Art History and Cardmaking - in these days of a very full curriculum and assessment requirements, it's important to value and foster the arts so that we don't lose creativity.
  • Reading and Writing - lifelong passions and I love sharing this with others.  We share books throughout the day and I write when the students are writing.
  • Kayaking - sometimes it's nice to be able to escape and take time to get lost in your thoughts.  The school day is so busy and full-on.  It's important to take time out for students too.
  • Travel - experience new things and not being scared to do so - important skill for all of us.
  • Challenges - face them head on.  I've learned this in the past year and my students shared a lot of the journey with me - they were a huge strength.  I hope I showed them that you don't give up and you find humour in any situation.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What describes my teaching?

Day 18 of the +TeachThought 30D Blogging Challenge!

I've written about this before but I believe in it so strongly that I'm not worried about sharing it yet again. This motto was created by my class and I a few years ago.  The students were aged around 9 and 10 years-old. It's become my driving force or mantra and I absolutely believe in it.  I am a learner alongside my students.

I don't have issues with sharing learning or 'retaining control'.  I never expect that I should know more than my students.  Yes, content knowledge is important as is curriculum and teaching knowledge but these are ever-changing things and we, like our students, need to be able to adapt, construct and reconstruct knowledge and understanding.  This is why I love what I do!  It's the chance and opportunity to learn something new, to be exposed to new knowledge and create knowledge in our learning communities and environments.  That's what makes what we do so exciting!  Trust and respect are key.  I never demand respect from my students - I have to earn that too.  (I do demand good manners while earning their trust, however!)  It's all about mutual respect and trust and a whole lot of fun and reflection.

I'm not the 'sage on the stage' nor am I the 'guide on the side' - sometimes I'm both, a balance and mix of the best of both I hope.  My students are also the sages and guides.  I'm a student, facilitator and lifelong learner alongside my students.  I need to know the 'right' questions to guide curiosity but sometimes the most powerful questions will come from the students themselves.  I'm a reflective practitioner and I expect my students to be reflective also.

This is a true community of practice and it's not limited to a specific age group.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Superpowers in Learning and Teaching - OR...Bring in the Clones...

From Krissy Venosdale (Venspired) - one of my teaching 'Superheroes!'
Wow!  Where would you start with what you would like for this one??!!  I read a post earlier about being invisible so that we could get to know our learners without them being influenced by our presence - this is something that I like very much and it was my initial thinking too.  That would give us so much insight so that we could meet our students needs.

I'd also like to be able to clone myself so that I could have one of me for every student and teacher for the whole day. Now THAT would be something!  Imagine what we could achieve together.  In fact, I think this is the one I'll stick with as I always give 110% to everything I do but sometimes feel that it's not enough - that I didn't spend enough time with a particular student or group of students or a teacher.  I am my harshest critic so this would make life a little easier!  (If cloning can even be classed as a superpower!)

I think if we are teachers, we all have superpowers.  That's just who we are and we do it because we love it so much.


Day 16 of our +TeachThought Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Most Challenging Post to Write...

"We are all teachers and we are all learners in our learning environment."

We're at the halfway point in our 30 Day Te@chThought Blogging Challenge for our Reflective Teacher month and this just might be the trickiest post to write.  There has been lots of discussion on Twitter that suggests that this is true for many of us.

As teachers we are just not good at stating our strengths.  We don't want to brag and yet we are so good at encouraging our students to state their strengths and the things they are proud of.  Weird, very weird.
We should be able to do this too - and should be proud of our strengths.  So...I'm sitting here typing and guess what??  It's so HARD to be able to do this!!  I'll give it a go though as I don't ever expect my students to do something that I wouldn't do.  It's also a great challenge as I apply for a range of leadership positions.

I love helping my students find their passions and become excited about learning.  It's crucial for me to know my students as individual human beings - what are their passions, hobbies, what drives them and how can I use this to help them become intrinsically motivated learners?  This is always my goal.

The quote at the top of this post was created by my class of Year 5/6 students back in 2010 and it became our motto.  It's something I've held onto ever since and I'm always quoting them.  I encourage and expect my students to be able to share their knowledge with others - no matter whether it's other students or parents and teachers.  I love being able to learn alongside and with my students.  For me, this is one of the key reasons why I do what I do - and love what I do.  There is no fear of 'giving up control'.  We share the control.  It makes for a fantastic learning environment which is incredibly respectful and fun.

I've had my hair dyed red by students, set up the silliest April Fool's probably get the idea.  I love to laugh and learning, while sometimes hard and challenging, should always have a sense of fun to it. School camps have always created an environment for some serious learning - and serious fun.  There was one year where, six months later, I was still removing breakfast cereal from my pack!!
Don't take yourself too seriously and you can go a long way.  We take our learning very seriously but there's always, always a sense of fun and enjoyment too.
I'm passionate about learning and teaching.  It excites me and drives me to constantly strive to be the best I can be.  My students need and deserve this.  I am as passionate today about what I do as the day I began training to become a teacher.  If this ever changes then it will be time for me to leave the profession.  My students and school deserve nothing less than passion for what I do.

From the first day I entered University to train as a teacher I've been passionate about the use of technology to impact learning and teaching and to help all our students achieve no matter what their skills, talents and abilities.  I'm also passionate about keeping up with best practice so I'm always reading and researching to make sure that I am able to provide the best learning and teaching for my students.  I also have a very large global PLN which I rely on to challenge my thinking and ideas and expose me to new thinking.

This probably ties in with #4.  I'm constantly reflecting on what I can do better.  Student voice and student data is a major part of this too - it drives me to reflect and alter my practice where necessary so that I can meet the needs of every individual student to ensure they have the most successful year possible.  This is what drives me and what I am incredibly passionate about.

#reflectiveteacher 30 Day +TeachThought Blog Challenge

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Day 14 - The Importance of Feedback for Learning

There is feedback and then there is effective feedback.

Feedback has always been a strong area of interest for me and in 2011 it formed a large part of my research for one of my Masters papers.

Student voice is key for me - in terms of being able to provide feedback that improves student achievement but I also expect feedback from my students to improve teaching and learning.  We've used our blogs over the past 6 years to improve our achievement but it's also crucial to teach those skills to our students.


How will my teaching change in 5 years?

"We are all teachers and we are all learners in our learning environment."  

A wonderful motto created by my Year 5/6 students a few years ago.  We learn with and from each other.

I'm a passionate user of technology but only if it impacts learning and teaching in a positive manner - if it adds to what the students and I do.  If it doesn't and I can't justify its use to do this, then I don't use it.  My classes have been largely paperless over the past 4 years and I know this will continue into the future.  This is a given when thinking about how my teaching will change in the next five years - it will continue to be a focus.

I will also continue to develop my passion for connecting my students to the real world, both locally and globally, something I've tried to always do over the past 15 years I have been teaching.  My goal is to be able to help and support other teachers to see how powerful this learning and teaching can be.  I want them to also be able to share the learning and teaching with their students - to not be threatened by handing over some of the 'control' to their students.

This may be with me still in the classroom or it may be in other positions...I'm still working on this.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Current Top Tech Tools

From Teaching and Technology 

I'm a huge fan of technology to change how we teach and learn but I always start with the 'Why' of using it.  I need to be able to clearly articulate how it impacts learning and teaching in a positive manner and why I'm using it.  I need my students to also be able to do this.  If one of us can't, then it's not a tool we need to be using.

We start with the learning and then look for the tool to support what we are doing or trying to achieve. We also focus on using the SAMR model of technology use so that it is changing our learning and teaching us skills for the future.

Over the years I've tried so many different tools.  Some I still use regularly while others have been exchanged for more effective tools.  The tools I've chosen are those which I've consistently been able to use with my students of all ages over the past few years and which can be adapted to meet changing needs - both for the students and myself.

My top tech tools that impact learning and teaching are:

This is still my favourite blogging tool.  I've used many others but love the simplicity and ease of use of this one.  Great for students and new bloggers.  Huge benefit that it links in with all things Google.  Blogging has been the single most powerful thing I've done with my students in recent years in terms of creating and sharing learning and giving and receiving feedback.  Blogging gives our students an authentic audience.

If you want to motivate writers - including the 'reluctant' ones, then you really can't go past this.  It's a wonderful tool for digital storytelling.  Beautiful artwork - all free to use so you don't have to worry about copyright - that stimulates the senses and the imagination.  Great for all ages.  Completed writing / books can be shared and / or embedded.  Easy to use.  Completed work becomes a virtual storybook.

I am such a fan of Google Apps for Education (GAFE), Google Classroom - just starting to explore this and everything else that can be linked to create anytime, anywhere learning for my students and also for me.
This has been one of the most powerful suites of tools I've used in my teaching career.  It's been a way of creating online communities where collaboration and creation of new knowledge is to the fore.

I love this application for sharing learning and giving and receiving feedback.  Feedback can be given by typing in your response or recording your response.  It incorporates images and text as well as sound.
Can be used on mobile devices too  - great for quick recording on the go and sharing learning.

This is software that my class and I had a part in designing.  It's a video tool which has so many different uses - only limited by our imaginations.  It's point of difference is that it incorporates a rolling teleprompt feature which is absolutely fantastic for building student confidence - great for students learning another language too.  The completed videos can be uploaded and embedded in a variety of places or, if under 1 minute, you can attach supporting documents for sharing through email.  Fantastic for assessment too!

Day 13 @TeachThought blogging challenge  #reflectiveteacher

My favourite part of the school day and why

Day 11 of our challenge!

Thinking about my favourite part of the school day is really difficult.  Generally it's any part where there are challenging discussions happening, where students have gained confidence to share their thoughts - and challenge the ideas of others.  It can also be those moments where a student sees another student needing help to understand a new concept so they patiently explain and support for as long as needed alongside me to make sure that someone else can have the understanding that s/he has - that's incredibly special.

It can be those moments in the playground where a group of students encourages someone to join in.  Seeing someone pulled into a new group of friends and made to feel welcome warms my heart as do the moments when you see a student stand up for someone or something they believe in.  It could be that they are doing the right thing and not allowing bullying to happen in any form, or it could be when they stand up for themselves because someone has judged them in some way...and been wrong.

I love the times when we're all sharing books and can't wait to recommend them in our Literature Circles groups.  To hear the excitement about books, especially from those who were not so passionate about reading in the beginning is simply magic!

Every minute with my students - even in the 'challenging' moments...these are my favourite times of the school day.


Friday, September 12, 2014


Day 10 already!  I'm a little behind as yesterday I went with my partner to Government House where his father received his Queen's Service Medal (QSM) for his amazing commitment to the New Zealand Fire Service over the years.  It was an incredibly special day and we all got to meet the Governor General who is the Queen's Representative in New Zealand.

So, onto the post...

5 Random Facts About Me

  • I can still do the splits - even at my age...
  • I've been told my impersonation of Frank Spencer is pretty top notch - check out the link.  (Completely mad British comedy character from the 70s).
  • I've flown a glider.
  • My Year 8 students dyed my hair bright red - from blonde - a few years ago while on school camp.
  • I was originally going to become a doctor.

4 Things From My Bucket List

  • Travel to as many places around the world as I can
  • Run a marathon (hopefully completing my first official half in November)
  • Complete my Masters (2014) 
  • Begin my Doctoral Studies - hopefully 2015

3 Things I Hope For As An Educator This Year

  • Returning to education in an 'official' position by the end of the year.  Currently I'm completing my Masters and also working for TeachThought, etc.
  • That we begin to understand and see the value our teachers have for our students.  The students and parents often see and understand this, but we need the wider community and the 'powers that be' to also acknowledge this.
  • That we can grow our TeachThought online community into something very special and form a community and supports, grows and encourages each and every member.

2 Things That  Made Me Laugh Or Cry As An Educator

  • There are too many to name in this category.  Every day there is something special.  On memory that stands out though, is a very special young man I taught who went away to have surgery when he was about 7 years old.  While he was being operated on he had quite a major stroke.  His recovery was expected to take many months but, with his determination and also his wonderful mother's determination, he was up and walking soon after.  The day he returned to school, still in his wheelchair, but got up and walked towards me will be a day I will never forget.  He remains one of my greatest inspirations to this day.

1 Thing I Wish More People Knew About Me
That I am now completely deaf in my left ear and I'm not being snooty or ignoring you - I just can't hear you so you need to either be on my right side or tap me on the arm, pull my hair or something to get my attention.  :-)


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Biggest accomplishment no one knows about...

Day 9 of our Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge!  I've been inspired and challenged by all the blog posts I've read to date - that's just what Beth and I wanted out of this challenge.  Creating a vibrant online community for +TeachThought is also my goal and role.  It feels like we're finally getting there!

I thought a very long time about this post.  There have been many things I've achieved in teaching that no one really knows about.  I could write about those or I could write about something that is happening at the moment and is probably my biggest challenge - and battle - to date.  It's also very personal and I've kept much of it to myself.  If I can achieve this then it could well be my biggest accomplishment yet.

Teaching and learning mean everything to me.  I hope that if I'm known or recognised for anything at all then it is for the way I've given everything I can for my students so that they can find their way, their passions and follow their dreams.  I hope that my passion for what I do is clear and evident in everything I do and say.

That's why the current challenge is so hard.

Last year I was diagnosed with a major brain tumour and the expected outcome following surgery was not altogether positive.  One day I was in the classroom - August 14 to be precise - and the next day I was in the Neuro ward at Auckland Hospital being told that I hadn't imagined the weird symptoms I'd experienced for 10 years, that I had a Vestibular Schwannoma - cool name aye.  It was a benign tumour but was starting to press on the brain stem and had made me almost completely deaf.  To add insult to injury, it was evident on a scan from 2011 but had been 'missed'.  To cut a long story short "Arthur" needed to come out but there was quite a large risk in the 8 hours of surgery and I would also be completely deaf, may have severe balance issues and one side of my face could most likely be paralysed.  Oh great - that's all??!!

Surgery was on September 20, 2013.  While I was now completely deaf, I stunned them all and had absolutely no other side effects apart from some balance issues and went home after only 3 days - instead of the expected 7.  I'm stubborn and determined.  From here the battle began.

I thought I could return to school within a few weeks but was very knocked about by the surgery and really struggled to adjust to being deaf in one ear - you'd think it would be simple.  Not quite like that I found.  I couldn't give my school a definite return date so I did the right thing and resigned.  I was so angry and frustrated that I couldn't just return.  This is a very hard thing to explain to people.  They really don't understand and I can fully understand why.  My brain is absolutely fine - in fact my almost photographic memory has returned, (very helpful!!).  I look and sound fine but...

It's now a year down the track.  I am fighting to return to what I am so passionate about and looking for a suitable position either in leadership or consultancy and I know I will get there.  In the meantime I have the TeachThought online community to develop and I continue to meet some fantastic people online and in person.

When I do, it will be my biggest accomplishment in teaching.  Just to return to what I love.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Unexpected Value of What's In A Desk

Day 8 of the +TeachThought 30 Day Blogging Challenge for Reflective Teacher Month and I have to say that I'm feeling pretty humbled and privileged to be sharing this fantastic teaching journey with 80 passionate educators.  When Beth Leidolf and I started talking about a blog challenge a while ago on a Twitter Chat I was running for TeachThought I honestly didn't think we would have the response we've had.  Even if we had only had 2 other teachers join us it would have all been worthwhile.  80, currently, is fantastic and we know the connections made are going to be so important in creating a useful, motivating and trusting community through +TeachThought.

So, back to the question at hand - What lurks in my desk drawer?  For many years I didn't have a desk - we turned it into a writing hub for students to use.  This was one of the best things I ever did.  I was hardly ever sitting down anyway.  In my last school, while I did have a desk, (it was part of the environment and expectations), I still used it very little and it was generally taken over by groups of students - great workspace for them.

This post isn't so much about what was 'in' my desk as what was on students' desks at the beginning of each term and what it lead to...

At the start of every term I always wrote an personalised message to every student, always including something I was proud of them for and encouraging them to set goals in a particular area for the coming term.  (If we had student desks at that time, the notes were left on the desks for them before they moved the desks to where they wanted to sit).  It's something I've done since I started teaching in 1999 and I've done it for all age groups.  It takes such a long time and one term I decided that maybe I could put my time into another area for the students, that the students, while they liked the notes, wouldn't particularly worry if the notes weren't there.  This was the year I had a Year 8 class, (12 - 13 year-olds).  Well, I certainly got that wrong.  The first students arrived and started looking around the classroom and then started giving me odd looks.  I think it was the beginning of our third term together.  Very puzzled looks ensued and a certain amount of muttering to each other.  Of course I had to ask what was wrong - while I was welcoming them to Term 3.  They were not impressed.  "Where are our notes?  You always write us notes."  I replied that I didn't think they'd miss them that much and that I wanted to put energy into other areas for them.  The disappointed looks - and a few comments - said it all and the message really hit home when many of them opened up their desks and showed me all the previous notes, including the start of term ones, that I'd written that were now selloptaped to the inside of their desks.

Guess what I did that night...yes, I went home and wrote 32 notes - and also apologised for the lack of a 'welcome back' note.  Something else curious happened.  I started getting notes from the students put all over my laptop, in my desk, etc.

Sometimes we underestimate our wonderful students and we make assumptions about what is important to them.  It showed me just how important it is to our students to be treated and understood and  respected as individual human beings.

This is the most valuable item I've ever found in a desk.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Classroom Environments

Day 5 of the +TeachThought 30-Day logging challenge already!  I'm loving sharing ideas with everyone and reading thoughts on a range of topics.

This was at the beginning of the year and we were just creating our learning environment together

As I'm not in the classroom at the moment, I've included photos from over the past few years.  My favourite classroom environment was an MLE - Modern Learning Environment - created a few years ago at a primary / elementary school where I was the Deputy Principal.  We got rid of the desks and used flexible learning spaces, cushions, tables, ergonomic chairs, ottomans, etc. Students were able to store their personal property in tote trays and there were still a couple of desks for students who work better sitting at one, but it was completely free choice.  I've always had the philosophy that students, no matter what age, are able to choose where they want to sit - that they have the right to do this but that freedom of choice / right comes with responsibilities.  We created these responsibilities together - focusing on work, allowing others to work without being distracted etc.  If I was allowing / expecting this to happen, then I also had the right to move them if they were not respecting the guidelines we'd created as a team.

Start of year without all their learning on the walls yet

I've always had flexible learning spaces but they were somewhat limited by the use of desks.  I noticed when learning and teaching in this different environment that the students were far more focused on their learning. Initially I believed they would gravitate to their friends to work and, yes, they did in the beginning.  That soon changed and they were working with a far wider range of classmates than they would have if they had been sitting in desks.

Awesome learning on camp

Outside the classroom is just an extension of our learning environment and we often work and learn outdoors - and go on camps!  For some students this not only connects what they are learning but it also helps them to increase their concentration and focus.

One of the best things I ever did was to get rid of my teacher's desk.  I was hardly ever sitting at it anyway as I was always working with students so we turned that into a writer's corner.  We also had science areas, maths areas, art, etc.  I'm still looking for more of these photos and will edit the post when they come to light.

Solving maths and logic problems


Friday, September 5, 2014

What Do I Love Most About Teaching?

Day 4 of the +TeachThought 30-Day Blogging Challenge!

Learning and teaching are everything to me but at the heart of what I do is always my students.  That's the way it's been since I began in my very first classroom in 1999.

I love the 'aha!' moments, when all those puzzle pieces fall into place for a student who has struggled and persisted.

I love the so-called 'challenging students'.  For me, they've never been challenging; we just haven't found out what inspires them, what makes them passionate about learning.  That's my job - to help them find that and then run with it!

I've loved the moments on school camps, and there have been many!  (Including my Year 8 students dying my hair bright red one year - that's a story for another post!)

I love it when I see students who were previously disengaged and unmotivated want to learn and want to learn even more.  That's what I love the best.

I love seeing students succeed as they move through life.  I don't know how many times I have had to explain to people I talk to that when I talk about 'my kids' and their achievements, that I mean my students - I don't actually have that many children!  Yes, they're my students but they're more than that.  They're important individuals and human beings whom I respect and care for and am always so very proud of no matter how big or small their achievements, inside or outside the classroom.

My Year 5/6 students created a motto a few years ago and I've always held it close - "We are all teachers and we are all learners in our learning environment."  This is so true and so important.  I learn as much from and with them as I can teach them.  That's powerful.

So...what do I love best about teaching... my wonderful students of course.


Improvements and Feedback

Day 3 of our +TeachThought blogging challenge! (I had a computer meltdown so I'm a day late with this one!).


I'm not in the classroom at the moment but that doesn't stop me learning and having a thirst for knowledge - (when do we ever stop learning?!) or from being heavily involved in education.  I'm always after feedback on what I can do better, what I can improve on.
This past year has been a little different for me in terms of what I usually do.  I'm using this 'time out' to finish my Masters and work with teachers to develop their eLearning programmes in their schools.  I've also been incredibly fortunate to become involved with the TeachThought group and am responsible for helping to build a strong online community of practice which is where the blogging challenge comes in, in part.

I need and expect feedback from the teachers I work with as this is how I can be a reflective practitioner and improve on what I do.

The one area I want to improve in and develop is in how I work to develop a community of practice that encourages ownership, motivates people to belong and creates a community of collaborative, reflective practitioners from around the globe.  For this to be successful I will need critical feedback about what is working and what improvements I need to do better to make this learning community work for every individual in it -not just for the majority...for everyone.

This diagram explains it well...

Professional learning for teachers is changing.  One and two-day courses do not, generally, provide professional learning that is sustainable once we're back in the classroom.  For professional learning to work it needs to be timely, relevant and challenge us to always strive for best practice so that our students can achieve to the highest possible level for them individually.  We learn best in a community where we can share our practice, our thinking and beliefs and challenge each other's thinking to be the best we can be.  Trust, mutual respect and collaboration to create new knowledge are key.  I firmly believe that communities of practice - particularly online communities which are limited to time and place and that can be accessed any time, any where, are the future of professional learning for us.  Instead of professional learning being 'done to us', we are in charge of creating and sharing our own learning as a powerful community.

Below is a video of Etienne Wenger, one of the developers of the communities of practice theory, explaining what it is.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Day 2 of the TeachThought Blogging Challenge - 1 Piece of Technology I Want to Incorporate This Year

There are so many tools out there but I always start with the question of why?  If I can't articulate that a tool will make a change to my students' learning, then I would have difficulty in justifying its use.  It is simply just a 'cool tool' or the latest new 'must have' tool, but if it doesn't impact student learning in a positive manner, I won't use it.

I start with the SAMR model of adapting technology for learning and teaching - to see how it fits and how it can be adapted through the levels.  If I'm using it to just replace something else, for example using Word to replace writing in a book, that's okay but it needs to do more, it needs to reach the 'Redefinition' stage - to create something new that may not have been possible previously to having this tool.  Kathy Schrock has fantastic resources on the SAMR model and all other things tech.  I've been folowing her since about 1998 and can't recommend her more highly.

One tool I really want to explore is actually a suite of tools - Google Apps for Education and Hapara and now Google Classroom!

Check out the presentations below and see why these tools can make such a powerful change in learning and teaching.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Goals for the coming Year - Day 1 of the 30-Day Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge from Te@chThought

It's the first day of spring here in New Zealand.  The start of new beginnings and experiences and new goals.

I'm really excited about this challenge that Beth Leidolf and I are running in conjunction with TeachThought. We wanted to encourage teachers to reflect on their practice as that's how we can make a difference in the lives of our learners.

Although this is a 'beginning of the new school year' challenge for the first post, I'm thinking about my goals for the remainder of this year and looking towards the new school year here for 2015 here in New Zealand. If you've read my previous post then you'll know that I've had some 'interesting' challenges over the past year.

So, what are my goals for the rest of the year?

  • I want to complete my final Masters' paper - coincidentally it involves online communities of practice so I may bug you with survey requests if that's ok.  All anonymous - designed so that I can be certain of what I need to be doing to help create motivating and engaging online communities - my passion and goal for teacher professional learning.
  • 5 months after surgery I ran the Auckland Round the Bays run and in November will run my first official half-marathon - the Auckland one.  This is my next goal and I'm really nervous about it but I always tell my students to take a chance, to push themselves and try something outside their comfort zones so I wouldn't be much of a role model or mentor - or lead learner - if I didn't take my own advice.
  • Returning to school - learning and teaching are my passions.  I need to be back in that environment.  I really want to get back into a leadership role so I'm applying for positions at the moment.  Fingers crossed.  My goal is to have a new position by the start of 2015.  I can't wait!
  • My final goal - at the moment - is to help create a vibrant community of learners through the TeachThought organisation which I'm very lucky to be a part of.  It has to be an engaging and motivating community that is owned by everyone in it.  Where people feel confident to contribute, question and discuss all things education and share resources.