Innovation

Ask And You Will Receive

Last night I posted about Single Subject teachers and I asked the question:

How might we all move toward a more open system of schooling in which the boundaries and delineations that divide us, did not exist?

This morning, the single subject teachers at my school got an email from our head of primary:

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Everything is a two way street. If single subject or integrating teachers want to be included and more than an “add on” they also have to do their part in making this happen. What I appreciate is that the need for holistic inclusion has been considered and is already part of “what we do”.

What systems do you have in place that show all teachers are a vital part of each child’s day? How do you purposefully plan for collaboration?

Learning, Mindset, Teaching

All The Single Subjects

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The lone single subject teacher…

The majority of my teaching career, I have been an upper primary classroom teacher. I am always interested in new things so I have also spent time as an Elementary Art teacher, a technology integrator, and now, a Design teacher. I have mad respect for the homeroom teacher in a PYP school – or any school for that matter. Our job is demanding, hectic, consuming, and typically incredibly rewarding to see growth in our students “up close”. I also have the same respect for single subject teachers. In many cases, teaching upwards of 15 different classes across all grade levels is “typical”. Hundreds of kids coming to you for short bursts, with masses of energy.

My last class of the day, today, they were big. They were energetic (loud!). They were that special kind of giddy that kids get at the end of a long day at the beginning of the year in their first class with a new teacher. They didn’t know me. They are trying to impress each other. They are without their homeroom teacher for an hour.  It’s the potential perfect storm.

The class was chatty. The class was jovial. No one was misbehaving but they were definitely searching this new learning space for boundaries. I know how important those first impressions are and I wanted to keep them enthused but also respectful. The class was successful in the Lego Challenge, Round One, and moved into Round Two (groups). This was more challenging. And then time was up. Almost. And things started getting “excitable”. Almost.

So I had the kids return to their spot, and this is what I told them:

I started teaching when I was 21. I taught sixth graders who were closer in age to me than their parents were and I loved it. Most of my time teaching has been as a homeroom teacher and of that time, I have loved grade five the most (true story). I love your independence, I love your excitement, I love your frustrations. I love that it is hard, but funny, exhausting and exciting. I know what it is like to be a fifth grade teacher.

BUT.

I don’t know what it is like to be your fifth grade teacher, yet and I don’t know what you are like as fifth graders, yet. What I do know is that you get a say in that. You, by the way you speak and work and interact with each other and with me, you get to have a say in who you are as a group. When I look at you, I look at each person but you are also a group of people. Your actions help me to form an opinion. I get to see the respect you have for yourselves, your learning space, your classmates.

I look forward to our next lesson and learning more about who you are.

The kids were quiet. I think they were listening.

Single Subjects are an amazing place for students to grow and learn. We often provide an authentic opportunity for ATLs (Approaches to Learning) to be developed and we get to see the kids in, potentially, a whole new light to their homeroom. But how do we really harness the power of specialist teachers? How do we ensure everyone is included?

Classroom Teachers: How do you work with your single subject teachers?

Specialist Teachers: How to you build relationships as a single subject teacher?

 

Today left me wondering…

How might we all move toward a more open system of schooling in which the boundaries and delineations that divide us, did not exist?

Innovation

Reflection: LEGOs

My previous post, Start With Kindness…And Then Legos outlined the plan for the first lesson with students in the Design Pit. I have done this lesson nine times now. Six to go. And it has been really interesting.

Here is what I have learned:

  • Kids don’t mind working on their own but some will almost always ask if they can work with a partner

  • Kids form really strong attachments to things that they make even when that “thing” is from a cup of lego randomly scooped from a box

  • If kids don’t want to work together or in a group, they won’t

  • Kids are seriously creative

I thought this challenge would be more about the creation of the thing – and to a degree it was when kids would tell animated stories about why they built the thing they built – but it was definitely more about the how kids work rather than the what kids can make. I learned a lot very quickly about the kids in each class and the dynamic of the class as a group. I heard some very clear statements from people both pro and anti working cooperatively, and I saw the power in keeping hands busy with little need for talking when it comes to having a large group of English language learners in the class.

This was a successful starting lesson despite it not heading entirely in the direction I had anticipated. I hope it set the groundwork for a little insight in the wondering, risk-taking, making, working together and having fun that will be Design Class this year.

Would I recommend this: yes. It definitely gets kids active, engaged, talking, and it is self directed enough to allow you the freedom to join in or roam at your leisure. I didn’t push the thinking routine as a “let’s stop and do a thinking routine” but just embedded the ideas into the questions I asked during the lesson.  Overall, a successful intro lesson for the year and would be an equally successful hour in a homeroom class too.

Creativity, Inspiration, Kindness, Organization

Start With Kindness…And Then LEGOs

We just had our first elementary school faculty meeting to kick off the new school year. We did the usual housekeeping, updates, and messages but that came second. To begin, we started with a message rooted in kindness.

We were reminded by our Head of Primary, Marina Gijzen, that first and foremost:

  • You are an advocate for students.
  • People are the first priority.
  • Assume the best in everyone.
  • Be willing to generously dole out grace and be gracious.
  • Take care of each other and yourself
  • Be willing to ask for and accept help

Finally, we were reminded to Be KIND. To “throw kindness around like confetti.” And we were challenged to remember that we will never regret choosing kindness.

Our job is to treat our students with love, with hope, with empathy and compassion, to challenge them, and to inspire and be inspired by them.

This message this morning was powerful. It could have started with a joke or a cartoon or a game about holidays but instead it started with a genuine message of kindness. It was authentic – I have been on the receiving end of so much kindness here already – and it really set the tone for what I hope will be an amazing year ahead. I am grateful.

As I begin preparing for the year ahead and for our students to arrive on Thursday, I want to ensure they leave their first class with me with that same feeling I had when I left the faculty meeting: that they are an important part of something special. To that end, I have designed the following Lego Challenge for all my students. I know they are going to want to touch and look and explore on day one (two students have just walked in while I am writing this and they are touching EVERYTHING) but I don’t want the first class to be about everything they can’t do. I also want to get across the ideas of iteration, collaboration, and communication.  Here is the challenge:

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Photo by Philippe_Charpentier on Flickr
  1. Take legos from the tables and build something that represents you. It could be a model of something or something abstract. It could be in your favorite color or many colors. It is a symbol of you.
  2. Put finished models on the table. Gallery walk and talk. What do you see? What do you think?  What are you wondering?
  3. Partner up with another student. Using ONLY the lego pieces from your two models, create a new model that represents the two of you.
  4. Put finished models on the table. Gallery walk and talk. What do you see? What do you think?  What are you wondering?
  5. Repeat in groups of 4, 8, 16 until we have one model that represents us as a group. All of the models from all of the classes will be on display in the Pit Window as they are created.

 

My friend and former colleague tried this out with her new leadership team. She tweaked the idea to suit the leadership scenario but reported back that by all accounts it was really successful. She didn’t do as many iterations as I will have to do (although we have small classes of around 16 so it shouldn’t be too bad). If you have done this kind of challenge before and can offer any suggestions, I would love to hear them! If you would like to do this challenge with your kids, please do! I would love to see your creations. Stay tuned for pictures of our models!

 

How are you starting the new school year?

 

 

Design, Play

Yes or No?

In a meeting yesterday we talked about the idea of saying no. Specifically saying no to technology when it is not needed, not appropriate, or time for something else. It was a good message of balance and of responsibility and of boundaries.

Today I read an article about saying yes. Specifically saying yes when saying no won’t kill you or harm you, when it will allow choice, when it gives kids the option to try something they have been thinking about, and when saying yes just makes things more fun.

Let Your Child Make Mistakes is a great read in how to help your child develop skills and behaviors that will serve them well as they grow into adulthood. It isn’t about being entitled or spoiling but about learning through being given the option to try something.

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My AMAZING new work space!

We are about to start a new school year. I am sitting in a gorgeous new workspace that is filled with all kinds of things kids are going to want to touch and play with. I am reading Responsive Classroom for Music, Art, PE, and other special areas and I am working on how to frame my introductory explorations in a way that includes more can’s than can not’s and more yes’s than no’s. The urge to touch is real! I want to embrace that.

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“Let’s do this!”

 

How do you empower?

How will you begin the school year in a way that actively involves your students?

21st Century, Communication, Digital Life

What’s Up With WhatsApp?

Note: This post was written by me and was originally posted on all Grade Four class blogs at my school following inappropriate use of WhatsApp group chats by a small group of fourth grade students (outside of school hours but impacting life in the classroom). I chose not to provide a link to the Harvard issue as the nature of the inappropriate use by those students far exceeded what is necessary for a fourth grade student to know about. If you are curious about that event, look here


What’s Up With WhatsApp?

cultureAt MIS we hope to empower our students to make good choices. Every choice made, both in and out of school, is a chance to show people who you are, what you believe in, and what is important to you.

We know that technology is powerful. We also know that educating our students on appropriate use of technology is just as powerful. We believe in developing responsibility through education instead of banning technology through fear.

With that said, we are also mindful that the interactions that occur between students outside of school via technology, have an impact on what happens in our classrooms during the school day. Specifically, this is happening with some students via group chats on WhatsApp.

Are there regulations for WhatsApp?

Let’s start with looking at two key points from the terms and conditions that are agreed to by WhatsApp users:

Age. You must be at least 13 years old to use our Services (or such greater age required in your country for you to be authorized to use our Services without parental approval). In addition to being of the minimum required age to use our Services under applicable law, if you are not old enough to have authority to agree to our Terms in your country, your parent or guardian must agree to our Terms on your behalf.

Legal and Acceptable Use. You must access and use our Services only for legal, authorized, and acceptable purposes. You will not use (or assist others in using) our Services in ways that: (a) violate, misappropriate, or infringe the rights of WhatsApp, our users, or others, including privacy, publicity, intellectual property, or other proprietary rights; (b) are illegal, obscene, defamatory, threatening, intimidating, harassing, hateful, racially, or ethnically offensive, or instigate or encourage conduct that would be illegal, or otherwise inappropriate, including promoting violent crimes; (c) involve publishing falsehoods, misrepresentations, or misleading statements; (d) impersonate someone; (e) involve sending illegal or impermissible communications such as bulk messaging, auto-messaging, auto-dialing, and the like; or (f) involve any non-personal use of our Services unless otherwise authorized by us.

In a nutshell:

  • you need to be 13 or have parental permission to use WhatsApp
  • you may not use WhatsApp to send messages that are obscene, say things that are not true, are trying to make someone feel bad, are lies.

There are many examples of people who have been in chat groups and who have violated agreements such as the one for WhatsApp, and the content of their group chat has been made public. This is embarrassing for these people but more than that, it has cost them in other ways: the most recent being students who had their acceptances to Harvard University revoked after posting inappropriate content on a group Facebook page for incoming students.

Be Internet Awesome

There is a new online curriculum called Be Internet Awesome.

The parts of this program that relate to appropriate use of services such as WhatsApp are: Be Internet Kind and Be Internet Smart. Full details of the Be Internet Awesome program can be found here in the resources section.

Be Internet Awesome is a self-paced, game-based approach to reinforcing awesome behavior on the internet. We should not need a separate code of behavior depending on if our interactions are online or in person. As our children are becoming more active on the internet we need to ensure we are guiding them in a way that educates them to make better choices.

Make it a Family Affair

A family commitment to safe digital citizenship starts with a conversation at home and is reinforced with a pledge to practice being Internet Awesome—smart, alert, strong, kind, and brave—when online. Consider working through the Be Internet Awesome program as a family. It is never too late to make a change to the way we do things.

If you have any questions about appropriate use of the internet or how to build an ‘internet awesome’ culture within your family, please reach out – we would be happy to hear from you!  Please contact your child’s homeroom teacher, Junior School Learning Technology Teacher, Junior School Assistant Principal, or our Junior School Principal.


 

How do you handle misuse of technology/internet by students? 

As I left school today, I was talking with a parent who doesn’t have 4th grade students but children in higher and lower grades. I was explaining about this issue and another parent chimed in, “See! I told you Grade 4 was too young for a phone!”.  This really bothered me. I don’t think age determines whether or not you should have a phone. I think we have to remember we are not just “giving them a phone” – we are handing them 24/7 anytime, anywhere access to EVERYTHING. If it were “just a phone” – a device to make calls on – there wouldn’t be an issue. There has to be education that comes with getting a phone and how “the phone” is used by parents will have a huge impact on what kids think is and is not ok. A colleague with small children suggested that simple things such as seeing parents plug their phone in to charge outside of their bedroom or in a shared space and not taking it to bed would be a simple step to model for kids before they even get their own device.

What also surprised me was that the another question was “Were they sending messages at school?”. I explained that the messages were all sent and read outside school hours but the impact of these messages was playing out in the classroom: distracted students, students not wanting to work with each other, withdrawn students upset at the content of the chat. This seemed to genuinely surprise the parent I was talking to. It is possible she was going to ask why we were getting involved if the messages were not happening on school time – I don’t know. What I do know is that we have to work WITH parents to help kids navigate their online world. We can’t have two sets of rules for home and school and it can’t be a list of “things that you can/can not chat about”. It has to start with a big picture understanding of choices, respect, and who we are. What we believe shouldn’t change between home and school. Our beliefs should run through everything we do and reflect the person we are and this includes online behaviors.

If you have thoughts as a parent or teacher (or both!) or have links to other sites that promote responsible internet use, I would love to hear about them in the comments below.

Leadership

Choosing My Fuel

Imagine you are a car. Your school year is the journey you are about to embark on. You need fuel in your tank to keep you going. What are you going to choose to fill your tank with? What is going to serve as your fuel? What will drive you on?

Seth Godin wrote an excellent blog post on this topic of “choosing your fuel”. Essentially, he outlines narratives (light and dark) that can serve as fuel as we push on to do our work.

I am in a phase of moving on from one school to another, one role to a new one, one life to a whole new experience. Seth’s post really made me think about ‘what I want to marinade in’. I love that analogy.

What am I going to immerse myself in?

What am I going to allow to seep into who I am?

Here is my game plan moving forward (thanks to Seth) of the fuel that will push me forward in my work in the coming months:

Fueled by becoming a better version of myself:

This is a personal one. In the last four years I have moved continents, had two children, changed jobs, and am on the move again to a new continent and new role. It is a lot of change and I have chosen to reserve very little time for me. This year, despite the changes in location and role, I want to ensure more of a balance and more time devoted to becoming a better, kinder, more patient, healthier version of myself.

Fueled by Connection

I want to be fueled by connectivity. By the idea that we are all connected and that in being connected, ideas are amplified. I want to see this evolve in the day-to-day by making connections with those I work with IRL, and I want to maintain and develop my connections to people and ideas online. I also want to establish connections with the students at my school. I want to make sure that the connection is not a one-way path of me pushing ideas to them, but a dual carriageway upon which we build a connection that sees me supporting their ideas, questions, and wonderings.

Fueled by Generosity

This might seem in contradiction to me wanting to take time out for myself but I also want to make sure I am balancing that with the concept of generosity. I want to ensure I am giving freely of my time in a way that serves my own needs and the needs of others. I think I am really lucky to have the PLN that I do, but I also know that I have done my part in generously sharing my ideas and resources which (hopefully) inspires others to do the same and thus, we all win. I fear if I lose that spirit of generosity I will lose a large part of what brings me joy and satisfaction as an educator.

Fueled by Possibility

I am very interested in being fueled by possibility. I love the idea of starting from a “How might we…?” mindset and moving forward from there. So often, I find myself looking through the lense of problems rather than possibility. Of what is not possible rather than what might be. While I realize that everything is not possible, many, many things ARE very possible, and that is how I will position myself in the year to come.

Fueled by Professionalism

This last one is interesting to me. I think we (as teachers) are professionals in a profession – and yet, sometimes, we don’t act that way. I am not choosing the fuel for others, but for myself, I want to strive harder to embody a professional demeanour. I am not always putting my best foot forward, I don’t always choose the best choice, I don’t always respond in the most appropriate manner. And I know that. And I want to change that. So I am writing it down here in order to help make it so in the real world (not just up in my head).

This post was not easy to write. I know there is a lot that I do well and a lot that I have to work on, and I could easily ignore the latter and pat myself on the back for the former. But then I would be fueled by avoidance, fueled by ego. I prefer to be fueled by the challenge of change.

What is your #fuel?

As I finished this post, I was reminded of the story of rocks, pebbles, and sand. A great reminder for us all as we set our priorities and choose our fuel for the future.

Approaches to Learning, Communication, PYP

Needs-Based Planning

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I recently saw this graphic on Twitter. Posted by Bethany Hill , it was retweeted 48 times and liked 71 times, so obviously it was resonating with an audience.

I have been thinking a lot about communication and how we communicate. I was also thinking about how we communicate through things like our unit planners and the ideas we choose to focus on in our classroom.

Over lunch today, a colleague and I were discussing the idea of planning units based on observed needs of the students at our school. It just seemed to make sense to us. What if we were to observe our kids and identify things that stand out to us (both positive and negative) and build units of inquiry with those things embedded in them? What if we were to consciously plan to help kids address issues that continually arise within and across grade levels?

Sometimes it can seem like the issues that arise have to be put aside because of time or other things that need ‘covering’ but what if the issues were the thing? How might we plan differently if we started with the needs of our kids in mind?

In reviewing the Program of Inquiry, I would suggest we answer these sorts of questions:

  1. Are there needs not being met?
  2. What social skills do our kids lack?
  3. Do our kids have multiple ways to communicate?

What other questions should we be asking? Lets move beyond “vertical and horizontal articulation” and ensure the things we are choosing to focus on in our classrooms are reflective of the students in front of us.

Inquiry, Learning

Find Your Water

I read a great post by Kath Murdoch on Getting Into The Habit Of Inquiry. The post has so much to offer that you should read it in its entirety if you are or aspire to be an inquiry focused teacher. As I read it, I couldn’t help but connect Kath’s ideas with those of David Foster Wallace. I believe Kath has “found her water”. Living life through inquiry is something as natural to her as living in water is to a fish.

This is Water-David Foster Wallace from alexander correll on Vimeo.

What I particularly appreciate about Kath’s post is that she doesn’t just say, “Oh, I couldn’t teach any other way – lucky me!” and that’s it. She gives some great advice on how to develop your own skills and strategies to becoming a stronger teacher.

My favorite advice? Include your students in your learning process. Can you imagine yourself saying this to your class:

Hi everyone! I was doing some reading over the last few days about questions and asking good questions, and about giving you time to think about and answer questions. I have learned about this thing called “wait time” which means I have to stop talking and let you talk! I have written down some reminders to myself to help me learn and I would love your help too in reminding me to let you talk!

Maybe that is a bit cheesy? I don’t know. But I do know that we expect our kids to articulate their learning goals. Why not show them authentically what this looks like? Why not also show them that you are learning too? That in this classroom, we are all learners – and actually show them what that means.  What if we dared to let our kids know that we don’t know it all, that we are always learning and changing our perspective on what good teaching and learning looks and sounds like? What if we acknowledge when we slip back into old ways and share our struggles with learning?

What if we were all learners?

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Kindness

An Extraordinary Life

This post was sitting in my drafts folder. When I heard Amy had passed away, I went to write about her but instead just watched this video. I have said before that the key trait I want in a teacher for my children is kindness. The second, is that they are always learning. Amy embodied both of those things with an understated elegance.

How do you want to be remembered?