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. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

In My Teaching Career, I am Grateful to Have Learned...

Day 14 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

1.  "We are all teachers and we are all learners in our learning environment."
Quote written by 8 and 9 year-olds a few years ago.  They taught me a great deal when they came up with this one.  I hang onto it every day.  It helps me remember that we are all sharing this learning journey and creating new learning together.

2.  You are never going to 'catch up' so stop putting pressure on yourself to do this!
There is ALWAYS going to be more to do.  You will burn yourself out if you try to catch up constantly and even worse, try to get ahead, whether it's with planning, or whatever.  Planning, by nature, is an adaptable day-to-day proposition.  That's what is so fantastic about what we do.  Our students' learning changes rapidly, and so does ours.  Are you there for your students? Do you care for and respect them and take time to get to know the awesome human beings they are.  Do you take time out to talk with them?  You could be using this time for planning and paperwork!  Really, though, let's refocus and put the students back at the heart of what we do - focus on them.  Yes, planning is important so that learning needs are met, but letting students know how much you value and appreciate them is key and, for me, the most important aspect of what we do.  I need all of them to know that they matter.

3.  You don't know what you don't know.
You don't have to know everything!  You're not expected to.  You're a learner too - that's what is so cool about what we do.  We get to explore thinking and new ideas and learning every single day and spark that love of learning in our students.  How cool is that??!!

4.  That you need to trust that you are doing the absolute best for your students and that's there's always more to learn to meet their needs.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves - are we doing enough? What can we do better?  Are we meeting individual student needs - both learning and social?  Are we good enough?  We're our own toughest critics, especially those of us who have perfectionist tendencies!  We need to ease up a little.  Often we're so good at boosting and encouraging others.  We need to be our own champions sometimes too.

5.  Connections are key - human connections and passion for what we do.  
You can have all the knowledge and skills in the world, but if you aren't passionate about what you do and you can't connect with your students on a human level and know them as special and unique individuals then maybe this isn't the best profession for you.  If it's all about the grades and assessment then we're missing the point. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Don't Forget to Take Time Out, It Makes You A Better Person...

Day 13 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

I'm going to let the pictures speak for themselves for this post.  I've always been someone who doesn't really know how to stop.  The past year has taught me a lesson.  What if I hadn't got better? I'd never have taken the time to slow down, relax and enjoy life.  Life is too short.  It's a gift we shouldn't waste.  We do ourselves, our families, our colleagues and most importantly, our students no favours if we don't try to find a balance.  It makes us better teachers and better human beings.  I learned this the hard way.  

#reflectiveteacher #edchat

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Few of The People and Things I Am Most Grateful For...

Day 12 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

There are so many people and things for which I am truly grateful for from my wonderful son who has supported me so much to the surgeons who saved my life.  Here are a few of the things that stand out...

1.  The two pieces of documentation below mean so much.  When I went through University I was a single parent and it was a challenge to complete my studies.  Becoming a Fully Registered teacher meant the world to me so, when I had to fight to retain my registration because I'd had surgery for a benign brain tumour I can't explain the fear I felt that I could lose this document that means everything to me.  It defines me.  It is part of the definition of who I am.  Yet again I was fighting to keep doing what I love, but I did it!

2.  The next picture is of the most important person in my life, my son.  He's put up with a lot and supported me through the tough times.  I'm so proud of the young man he's become.

Day before hospital, and my birthday, Sept, 2013

3.  These two are my constant companions - I may get to the 'Mad Cat Lady' stage yet!  Meet Fuggle and Grace.  Fuggle's the one being squashed by her 'sister'.  They are not only great company but provide a lot of humour every day.

4.  Learning - I'm grateful to be able to be constantly learning, to still have all my marbles and more, following 8 hours of brain surgery - I've even got my almost-photographic memory back!  I'm also extremely grateful for being able to finish my Masters this year!  

I know this is a post I will reflect on and add to in the coming days but, for now, these are my main thoughts. I'm already thinking of all the special educators who inspire and challenge me every day to be the best teacher I can be - to make a difference... Might be back to edit this sooner than I thought...

#reflectiveteacher #edchat 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What I Want For My Students...

Day 11 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

There are so many things I want for my students but I think the most important lesson (or is it a gift I want to give them?) I want them to learn from me is that they matter, that they can believe in themselves and have a love of learning.  I want them to always be curious, to question everything and develop their own opinions, thoughts and ideas.  
It's my job, role and responsibility - and goal - to get them there.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Showing We Care...

Day 9 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

These days we are even busier than ever.  I would argue that it's even more important now to stop and take time to focus on all the good things about what we do, about our students and also about our colleagues.  Not just to appreciate the great in others but as a gratitude boost for ourselves.

Below are some ideas that might be a way to show our 'Attitude of Gratitude' to others and create some bright spots in our days.

1.  Leave a note for a colleague to let them know you appreciate them.

2.  Leave a note for your students too.  I always write notes to the students at the start of the year            and start of every term to welcome them / welcome them back, let them know what I appreciate          about them and challenge them to set and achieve their goals for the term.
3.  Leaving small gifts - a bunch of hand-picked flowers, a chocolate / chocolate bar can brighten            someone's day.
4.  Surprise someone by doing the supervision / duty for them.
5.  Bake a batch of muffins for morning tea or for a meeting.
6.  Take snacks to a meeting - fresh fruit, baking, or lollies. ;-)
7.  Leave a message on the whiteboard for the teacher and/or their class in appreciation for                      something they've done.
8.  If it's report-writing time, leave brain food for teachers, or take their class out for a game so they          can have some breathing space.

Just remembering a simple 'thank you' can mean a lot to people too.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Simple Quote That Says Everything...

Day 6 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

The Importance of Liking the Students We Teach and Learn With or... 

"Kids don't learn from people they don't like." - Rita Pierson

When I was thinking about what quote means the most to me there were so many which are profound and deep with great meaning from the one at the top of my blog to all the other ones surrounding learning and teaching.  In the end, like the quote above, it's as simple as this, but also as difficult as this.  I've also blogged on this before and needed to include it again here as this presentation from Rita connected so strongly with my beliefs.

We all have those 'hard to reach students', the ones who seem hell-bent on pushing and challenging you.  I absolutely believe, hand on heart, that they need us the most, even if they're in the middle of telling us to 'get lost', or using similar words which indicate a rather wide vocabulary - not always an appropriate one!  

Rita Pierson was an educator who loved 'her kids' no matter what their issues and challenges.  If I can be half the teacher she was then I will have succeeded.  I hope my students like me because I care about them as human beings, as individuals.  Not as 'the class' or 'the students'.  I want the best for them, no matter what.  I can honestly say, again hand on heart, that in nearly 16 years of teaching I have loved all the kids I've taught, even the most challenging ones.

Sadly, Rita is no longer with us but what a legacy she has left behind in a simple quote.


It's So Hard to State our Strengths But We're Experts at Listing our Faults...

Day 5 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

It can be very confronting when we're asked what our strengths are. We don't like to 'brag' or show off.  We're often incredibly skilled at discussing our faults though - and often at length. Why is this?  We are very good at encouraging our students to state their strengths so why do we find it so difficult to 'practice what we preach'?

The blog challenge this month is all about celebrating what we do and finding the positives.

I'd hope that two of my strengths are resilience and the ability to learn from being wrong.  I've blogged on the last one before back in 2011.  That reflection was triggered by watching a very inspirational TED Talk on the power of being wrong / of failing and I've included the video again because it's always a good reminder for me when my perfectionist tendencies get too out of control!

I think being able to say that you're wrong and learn from mistakes is one of the key strengths we all need.  I know I've learned so much more from being wrong than from being right - not always easy lessons but they've played an incredibly important part in helping me to constantly improve in what I do as a learner and as a teacher.

Resilience is also something I've worked on - and I've not always been very good at this.  I can be oversensitive and take things too personally and I used to find it difficult to bounce back from hiccups or roadblocks as I like to think of them.  I am my harshest critic!  Over the years this has improved and the last year taught me that you need to be resilient to deal with these roadblocks.  I've always bounced back from any challenges but it's sometimes taken a while.  Working incredibly hard on this area has benefited not only me but more importantly - I hope - those around me.

#reflectiveteacher #edblognz

On Gifts...

Day 4 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...
#121 running with the CanTeen New Zealand team in the Auckland Round the Bays,
March 2014, 5 months after major surgery

As a teacher for nearly 16 years, I've been very lucky and spoiled with the gifts I've received. All the usual suspects of chocolates, wine, bunches of spring flowers, art work from students through to the more unusual ones which have included a beautiful painting created by a colleague and given to me when I left a previous school and, at the same time, a voucher for shoes! (They know my weaknesses!)  I've loved and appreciated every single item.

Although incredibly special, there is one 'gift' that stands out among all of them and might be a little unexpected.  It's the gift of health and being well enough to return to what I love.  No matter the times I've thought that maybe there is something else I'm supposed to do in this life, I always seem to be drawn back to what I love the most - learning, teaching and all the wonderful people that make up this sometimes crazy profession of ours.

A year ago, a health crisis found me wondering whether this would spell the end of a career I love and, for quite some time, it certainly looked that way, from the diagnosis through to fighting to renew my Teacher's Practicing Certificate.  I'd fought so hard to get this certificate in the first place nearly 16 years ago that the possibility of losing it due to ill health, even though I'd fully recovered, was an enormous wake-up call! 

To cut a long story short I am now able to return to what I love, convinced the Teachers Council that I was more than fit and healthy and, best of all, I get a second chance at this wonderful profession of ours.  I appreciate this gift because I so nearly lost the ability to choose to return.  I know that I will never take this for granted again.

#reflectiveteacher #edchat #edblognz

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What Makes Me Proud...

Day 3 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

Thinking about the things I'm most proud of was not easy - it's never easy to say what you're proud of about yourself.  I'm proud of never giving up, even when the odds have been against me and I've wanted to quit. (And there have been many odds, particularly in the last year).  I've kept going to finish my Masters, and fought hard to return to what I love the most - education and learning.

I'm incredibly proud of my son and the amazing young man he has become and the way he has such a talent for relating to others.

In terms of my career, I am most proud of my students and the fact that they allow me to be a part of their lives, to know them as the amazing human beings that they are.  I've always said that our future is secure if these incredible people are in charge.  I'm proud of them never giving up, even when they want to - they've always got their head cheerleader, me, standing right behind or beside them, never letting them give up for a moment.  I've probably driven them crazy at times but at least they know I always believe in them.  I love that they've allowed me the privilege of trying to make a dent in this world and leave it a little better than it was before.  I'm still working on that goal.

#reflectiveteacher #edblognz 

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Special Moment in A Busy Day

Day 2 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

Thinking about special moments in the day-to-day rush and excitement of learning and teaching, of new discoveries, students striving to learn new concepts and create new knowledge, conversations that turn into exciting debates and more, I was challenged by this prompt to slow down and find one special moment.

I've got it!

Yes, all of the above is exciting and rewarding - and a whole lot of fun - but one of the most special moments for me is straight after lunch when the students come rushing in excited from racing around and spending time with friends, perhaps participating in sports practice and we sit down to read our class book or share a picture book.  The best times are when we can do this outside.

I love this time because it brings us back together as a group, as a learning and teaching team and it is an example of our love of books and reading.  Even those who are not always keen readers themselves seem to enjoy this time when they are read to and we take time to discuss what we've read. Sometimes this relates to what we're learning / inquiring about and other times it's just for the pure joy of the book and sharing something special as a team.

Magic!  And there's no limit on age either! 

#reflectiveteacher #edblognz

Sunday, November 2, 2014

What's So Great About Being a Teacher?

Day 1 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge.

The best thing about being a teacher... it's simple...
it's the students!

I love the learning and teaching I facilitate with them, their humour, the challenge of helping them find their passions and talents and be the absolute best they can be.  I love that moment when you can see them switch on to learning and become as crazy about it as I am - especially if they were not the world's biggest fans to begin with.

The opportunities to work with amazing like minds who are my colleagues means the world to me as does the professional learning but I always come back to the students.  Why?  Because they are at the heart of everything we do, everything I do.

It's been nearly 16 years since I started in this incredible journey, almost by accident, and I am as passionate about what I do today as I was on the first day at university.  The outside pressures, judgements made in the media and everything other little thing that can cause stress are nothing when you keep your students at the heart of everything you do.

#reflectiveteacher #edblognz #edchatnz