We often don’t take the time to stop, pause and appreciate the positive moments we experience. Last Friday afternoon, I was covering a Prep class at the end of the day. We were all packed up and ready for home with just a few minutes to spare. Instead of rushing out the door to the parents, we sat back down on the carpet together and answered one simple question…
What was one thing that made you happy this week?
What was remarkable was that every boy identified something different from literacy groups to outdoor play, read alouds, excursions, learning new mathematical concepts. Every time a boy was called upon to speak, his eyes lit up with excitement about being able to share their happy moments.
As educators, we often are rushing to the next meeting or marking an assignment or planning for the next lesson or making a phone call to parents. It’s a busy job. But perhaps we need to take those few moments at the end of the week or day or lesson and think about opportunities to share our gratitude and positive moments.
Today, it was seeing the Year 3s belt out their musical song and dance at their last rehearsal before we move into the theatre with smiles on their faces. Another moment was the 8am start on duty with a Prep student and his Year 2 brother running across the oval so they could say hello while waving frantically.
So take a moment...
What made you happy today?
Different situations provide us the opportunity to stop and reflect on who we are as educators, what we believe in and what we want for our students.
This is what I believe in...
Positive Approaches to Leading
Cultivating a Community of Caring
It is with great delight that I am able to share the relaunch of my website. While living in Singapore, my blog and website afforded me a platform to reflect and document my current practice, values and beliefs about education as a classroom teacher and education technology coach in an international school. While engaging in continuous education for my Masters of Education (Information Technology) & Masters of Education (Educational Leadership), it allowed me to reflect from more of a theoretical perspective on current best practices in education locally and globally.
Over the past year, I have experienced a multitude of situations where 'Courageous Change' was necessary from moving countries (then cities) to changing schools and changing professional roles. These opportunities have continued to shape who I am as an individual personally and professionally. It is my hope that this website can once again be a source of comtemplation and sharing with a focus on teaching, learning, leading and caring.
Little moments make a difference. Simply put, it doesn't have to be the grand gestures that make people feel valued but rather the ongoing small positive actions that cultivate a culture of care.
Say Thank You
Educators put themselves fully into their roles. Whether it's spending long hours making lesson plans or preparing meetings, events and interviews, it is important to stop and acknowledge their great work. A quick thank you shows others you care and appreciate their efforts and the things they do to make your life easier or better. Hearing a thank you from someone helps you feel valued within the school community and you are more likely to offer your assitance again. Say thank you to those who hold the door for you or take on an extra yard duty when someone is sick or share a great idea or book with you. Expressing gratitude shows appreciation towards others and returns their kindness back to them.
Send a Card
One of the things I have done this year is ensure I send a birthday card to each staff member. I add all birthdays into my calendar at the start of each year to ensure I don't miss anyone and then each week spend a few minutes hand-writing a note wishing my colleagues a wonderful year ahead on their birthday. It is something I picked up from a previous principal who used to message staff on their birthdays. It always meant a lot to me that he had taken the time to send a greeting.
We've also distributed cards (and a little treat) to wish our teaching staff good luck at the start of the year. By starting the year on with a positive note (literally and figuratively), it can help to shape the direction of the culture of care.
Get Personal, Ask & Listen
Communities are built on relationships. The stronger the rapport, the strong the relationships. In our professional lives, we need to make time for the 'personal' and remember the human element within our roles. Spend time asking colleagues about their weekends, their children and their interests. Remember to stop and truly engage in the converations by listening rather than feeling obliged to return with an answer. Rather, just listen and appreciate your colleague sharing with you.
Acknowledge a Job Well Done
Whether it's telling someone they've presented an amazing assembly to congratulating someone on completing a c,ourse, telling someone their accomplishments are visible and recognised provides them with the acknowledgement and reassurance of their work. An authentic and honest compliment can go a long way to build rapport and community.
"Use your smile to change the world. Don't let the world change your smile"
A smile is contagious. When others see you smile, it is hard to resist smiling back. The more you smile, the more others around you smile. A smile and a positive attitude can leave a lasting impact on others. It also positively impacts your own life by boosting your mood and reducing stress levels.
Make Things Fun
Just because it's called 'work' doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself while doing it. Find little moments in the day to excite youself amongst the marking and paperwork. Stop and chat to children on the playground and hear about the world through their eyes, visit the early year classes and get down to their levels or find a way to express yourself creatively through an artistic medium.
Explore ways to make certain parts of your job more enjoyable. One way we've done this with our staff meetings is by beginning with five minutes of fun - some kind of simple, yet fun activity to bring laughter and smiles across the room before getting ibto the operational components of the meeting.
Find the Good
Above all, find the positive in every situation. Explore ways to learn and grow. Laugh at your mistakes. Challenge your thinking and celebrate the small wins along the way. Being positive can have a profound impact on those around you. Not every day is going to be perfect, but it positivity can be present.
Technology has really changed the way we teach. As technology becomes more prevalent in education, its impact on education continues to evolve. No longer are we teaching in traditional ways or focusing on traditional technology tools, rather how we can use the best tool for the best possible learning experience and expression of our students’ knowledge (ACARA, 2012). ICT is constantly changing and adapting and education must find a way to continue to adapt to it yet have a state of constant for our students at the same time. One way to do this is to focus on the transdisciplinary skills such as creating, communicating, collaborating, building knowledge, managing their tools as the students of today prepare for the unknown jobs of tomorrow.
Working in an international school, I find myself with a plethora of technology resources easily accessible to me. However, I know that back home in Canada I would not have the same luxuries in the public and Catholic educational systems. This would make me believe that it would be a similar experience in Australia. I wonder how teachers are finding the ACARA guidelines if they don’t have the resources to implement the ICT capabilities across the year groups and subjects effectively. On the flip side, are schools with an abundance of technology really impacting the teaching and learning in the way we hope it would? If some schools struggle with not enough technology, is it possible that at times the other end of the spectrum of too much technology occurs in some classes?
The ICT capabilities in the Australian curriculum (ACARA,2010) are similar to the International Baccalaureate ICT skills in the PYP. The ACARA ICT capabilities consist of 5 capabilities with a continuum across all year groups through 6 levels. The capabilities include:
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2012, March) Draft Shape of the Australian Curriculum - Technologies. Retrieved from: http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/Draft_Shape_of_the_Australian_Curriculum_Technologies_paper_-_March_2012.pdf
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2010). Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Capability. Retrieved from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/generalcapabilities/information-and-communication-technology-capability
International Baccalaureate. (2011). The Role of ICT in the PYP. UK: International Baccalaureate.
Technology has become a vital component of our everyday lives and changed the classroom environment. With easier access to information and the ability to connect globally, classroom walls now expand well beyond the school’s physical boundaries. However, with instant information and connectivity, this also creates increased distractions and challenges, leading to a greater need to focus on digital citizenship with our students.
When our phone buzzes or we hear a ‘ding’ indicating a message, it is likely that both kids and adults alike reach for their phones to respond. It is rare that we stop to think about our relationship with our technology and the many notifications, interruptions or distractions that technology generates impact our environment and our daily lives. As teachers, we need to be cognizant of the purpose of technology in our classes and ensure we model a balanced approach to technology use inside and outside of the classroom. It is important to have an awareness of when devices are enhancing creativity and learning, and when they are hindering development.
Mindfulness is one way to develop an awareness of ourselves as individuals. We do this by taking time to refocus, breathe and evaluate our current needs. Mindfulness is about bringing awareness to the present moment you are in. It can be practiced informally through sitting quietly and meditating and breathing, or through more formal mindfulness routines that focus on being aware of certain aspects of your body or environment. Mindfulness is becoming more present in classrooms to begin the school day or refocus after a break as a way to reconnect with oneself.
The Benefits of Mindfulness in the Classroom
Mindfulness benefits students in many ways. It allows our bodies and minds a break from screens and devices. As students focus on themselves throughout a routine, they provide their eyes respite from screens, while providing their body with the ability to realign from potentially poor posture and relax tension throughout their muscles.
Students learn techniques to help manage and regulate their emotions, allowing them to feel less stressed and reactive to situations, creating a greater sense of calm within. This allows students to develop coping skills with their emotions. When students have greater self-awareness through mindfulness, they are also more likely to be compassionate towards others. The focus on socio-emotional learning, skills and student wellbeing through mindfulness allows students to develop a greater ability to focus and concentrate during their lessons.
Technology Applications that Support Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to always mean putting away our devices completely. There are many resources available online and in the app store to support introducing mindfulness into your classroom. Here are four that will help you integrate mindfulness into your daily classroom with lessons, breathing and easy-to-use resources right away:
Student Developed Mindfulness Routines
As the school year progresses and students become more accustomed to mindfulness as a practice, there is the opportunity to move beyond the apps to have your students create their own routines and develop ownership over the mindfulness in their classroom. This presents a variety of learning opportunities for the students:
Allowing for student voices to become a part of the mindfulness program increases engagement and participation. Mindfulness positively impacts the culture and climate of a classroom by supporting student wellbeing, encouraging balance, breaking from digital screens and allowing students to have more awareness of themselves before they continue going about their day.
*Originally published on Education Technology Solutions: https://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2017/11/mindfulness-meets-technology/
This summer I climbed Mount Rinjani in Lombok with a close friend of mine. To put it bluntly, we both are not much of the exercising type and we showed up with our running shoes and a few items in our backpack ready to take a stroll up the mountain. Little did we know what we had signed up for. We didn't know what lay ahead, the challenges, the mental game and of course, sore muscles. The 3 day trek that seemed almost impossible at times almost got the best of me and I thought I wouldn't be able to keep going a few times.
The physical exhaustion kicked in at 3am as I was literally taking baby steps up the gravelled trail where I would take a step forward and slide a bit back down. Without proper shoes, it was a struggle to move forward as I felt the world pushing back at me. It felt like I was doing all this work and yet getting know where. So what was the point of even trying?
At about 5am, I could see the top in the distance but the vertical climb was not something I mentally ready for yet. I almost just stopped to say this was a good enough view. But then a layer of sun started to rise at the horizon and the fire inside began to illuminate as well. The only thought in my mind was that I was going to make it to the top and that there was nothing anyone could do to stop me. The only one who could stop me was myself, and I wouldn't let that happen. I had set out on this journey to make it to the top, and that is where I planned to end up.
And so I pushed on with my brain cheering my physical self on with my head down, looking only where I needed to go next, focusing on the now. Every once and I while I looked up from where I was and could still see my goal in the distance. So again, I forged on.
Finally, as I pulled myself up, there I was at the top looking out at what I had accomplished. I could look back and see the hard work and dedication, the tenacity and drive and the mental willpower to achieve my goals. I could see ahead the volcano surrounded by a lake that was surrounded by mountains and just stood there enjoying the beauty that was there.
To me, this is my educational journey. I'm a long, long way to the top, a long way from where I want to be as a teacher and future career aspirations but nevertheless, I'm still moving forward. Some days you travel farther then others and some days your feet are just sliding in gravel.
As a teacher, there are so many other components to your job than just being a teacher - communicating with parents, staying current on best practice, collaborating with peers, meetings, paperwork, report writing - the list goes on and on. You can have days where your class just drives you a little crazy or you're dealing with girl drama or students using technology inappropriately. You can have the wind and the rain pushing against you as a teacher - but yet you keep moving forward.
The best part of my day is just standing where I am, no matter where I am on the mountain and enjoying the view. I see how far my students have come from the day they first come to my door, and I know they have a long way to go until I can help get them to their own mountain top in June. I love the smiles I see on my students faces when we spend the last five minutes dancing or when a student helps another one down the stairs who is on crutches. I love watching the students laugh as they play tag in the playground or succeed at a challenging task. Their resilience to the obstacles sets an example for us all. Their caring nature shows us how to support each other along the way. Their ability to take risks sets an example of how we should be in our own lives. They are the reason that you keep pushing yourself forward to be better each day.
The bumps in the road as a teacher are always going to be there. The one thing I've learned is that you may never make it to the top of the mountain any day soon but it is possible if you keep moving in the upward direction. But most importantly, you don't have to be at the top of the mountain to enjoy the view - your students are right in front of you.
According to Prensky, digital natives are “native speakers of digital language”, while a digital immigrant is defined as those who didn’t grow up with technology and had to learn/adapt along the way (2001a). But are these terms still relevant with the constantly changing and evolving uses of technology in the classroom? Technology has become an expected area of understanding for teachers as part of the overall best practice, similar to good classroom management being expected in all classes. While I would be more considered a digital native by Prensky's terms, I know people from all ages who are very competent using technology.
I believe the idea of digital natives and digital immigrants is very outdated in my international context. If we consider our students to be digital immigrants now, what will our students be in 50 or 100 years? Are these terms even necessary? Our school is a 1 to 1 laptop school for both teachers and students. It is essential that all students and teachers embrace the use of technology when appropriate for teaching and learning. The idea of digital natives and digital immigrants is erased and replaced with terms such as growth mindset and fixed mindset becoming more relevant for integrating technology. In a previous post, I focused on the importance of expanding our knowledge by problem solving, resiliency and pushing boundaries of personal understanding with an emphasis on growth mindset and not labelling individuals as digital natives or immigrants (MacLean, 2015).
We should be encouraging our teachers and students to be open-minded and willing to learn regardless of the medium. We should be encouraging our students to be risk-takers, to make mistakes and to learn from them. Having a growth mindset, allows us to be open to new challenges (which could be technology for some).
Our current school policies do not lend themselves to the terms digital natives or digital immigrants. Rather, again, there is an expectation of teachers using technology only when appropriate for best practice and students using technology as a resource only when it enhances their learning.
21st Century Learner Or Just a Learner
As a teacher, it is my role to facilitate learning for students by helping them develop skills and conceptual understandings that can be transdisciplinary and transferred into any avenue for their future. Students need to learn to be good communicators, creative and critical thinkers, collaborative, with an ability to be self-managed, engaged and passionate about learning. These skills can be developed through a multitude of learning experiences in both formal and informal settings. In addition, being reflective needs to be combined into this learning process as well.
Again, I truly believe that the label of a 21st century learner is now irrelevant. To me, it is just being a learner. We want our students to develop skills to be lifelong learners, now and always. It is not something that is restricted to only the 21st century and many educators understood the importance of teaching transdisciplinary skills before the 21st century and will continue to after the 21st century.
From an ICT integration standpoint, I use the 6 ICT in PYP skills as a way to fuse effective technology implementation into the curriculum where necessary. These include: creating, collaborating, organising, communicating, investigating and developing a digital citizen (The role of ICT in PYP, 2011). In order to be effective using any technology tool, students need to develop the finer skills associated with these to be successful. There are so many collaborative tools that exist, but it is more important for students to understand how to use group roles, taking turns, respectfully disagreeing and having healthy debates than how to use Padlet or Google Docs. Students need to learn how to build on others ideas while giving credit and not feel that someone is stealing their idea. These skills can be taken out of the technology world and applied into other real world experiences, which makes the learning meaningful and long lasting.
Through an inquiry-based, constructivist teaching model, students can develop their curiosity for learning and learn the skills to find the answers to what they want to learn. When passion and enthusiasm is involved as a learner, the learning really is limitless.
The role of ICT in PYP. (2011). International Baccalaureate. UK: IB.
MacLean, E. (2015, November 20). Digital Immigrant or Native? Growth Mindset More Important [Blog]. Retrieved from http://emilymacleanmed.blogspot.sg/2015/11/digital-immigrant-or-native-growth.html
Prensky, M. (2001a). Digital Natives, Digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5).
Without relationships, you can not learn. For me, you can't be a great teacher without developing a personal connection. There is so much depth to our students that on any given day something just might not be sitting right with them. This could impair any learning that would hopefully take place during a lesson. However, when students know they have a safe and secure environment with a teacher who actually cares, they are more likely to open up and work through whatever is going on to allow the learning to then take place.
When I think back to my favourite teachers at school growing up, it had nothing to do with the content they taught me (though I’m sure they were amazing at teaching) but rather how they made me felt. Just like in any relationship, it is the small things that make a difference and remembered. My ninth grade teacher not only showed up to a funeral of a family member but she also remembered every year throughout high school. My fourth-grade teacher helped me understand what it was like to overcome challenges and be resilient. My ballet teacher would sit and talk after a class about everything in life just because she cared. Not only were these meaningful conversations and experiences for me but this also translated into how we interacted inside the classroom. These are the teachers who have taught me most about what it is to be a teacher, how to teach and how to be a person you can be proud of.
Through reflection, this reminds me of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Students need to feel safe, to need to know that harm will not come to them and that they are allowed to be who they are without laughter directed at them. Our students need to be able to come to school feeling warm, clothed and with food in their stomachs. Our students need to feel like they belong to a community where individual differences are celebrated. Our students need to know that their teachers care. As students develop their basic needs and their self-esteem is boosted, it is then that the student is able to let their guard down to learning.
In the Durham District School Board in Canada during my student teacher practicum, I assisted with a morning breakfast club for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds who may not have had another opportunity to start the day with a bit of food. These kinds of programmes within schools not only help to satisfy the basic needs of students but also helps to build the relationships with the students. When a student sees a teacher coming in early to make sure they have food there is this unspoken mutual respect that instantly appears. Even further when a teacher can then sit down beside the student and have a conversation with them before school. No longer is the teacher seen as just the teacher but more of an equal which allows students to break down barriers and develop a sense of comfort.
I currently work at an international school so things like a breakfast club will never exist at my school. However, even while a student’s home life might have some of the lower needs taken care of, students still need to feel safe and cared for in order to be able to learn. So much of my job revolves around pastoral care and well being of my students. One of the things I have done in my class for the past two years is have a weekly email programme as part of my writing programme. Students are required to write an email to me each week through their student accounts about one of the given topics or anything else they may wish to share. This has allowed students another way to feel comfortable talking to me about things that are happening at school and in their life. Sometimes it is not always easy to have conversations face to face but with the barrier of a computer screen, you can learn a lot about the person on the other end. I have had my students write to me from everything from homework issues, fights with classmates, the death of pets, best friends leaving the country, grandparents that are ill and much more. Would these conversations have come up inside the classroom? Maybe, maybe not. But what I do know is that having the dialogue through email made my learning environment a safe space for any conversation whenever they needed it. Even in the summer, I still sometimes get a few emails from my students showing me that to them, that connection was important to them and in helping them grow.
It is not good enough to just be a teacher who knows the curriculum if you cannot connect to your students to deliver the content in a meaningful way. The only way you can learn what will be engaging for your students is if you take the time to get to know them.
If you are interested in reading more about the email programme I implemented, please feel free to view the following resource I created:https://www.sites.google.com/site/msemilymaclean/gmailhome
Huitt, W. (2007). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [August 10,2015] from, http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/regsys/maslow.html
Think about the titles that are used in your current workplace to describe formal leadership roles.
What practices do such titles privilege and value?
Job labels help to support an understanding of role responsibility and provide clarity for the community (Gunter, 2004, p. 21). The higher your label, the more leadership responsibilities you are known to have. Formal leadership labels often provide a clear identity to a person in the role. Many of the more formal leadership labels are actually more managerial responsibilities associated with them. The labels of roles denote a sense of where a person lies within the school hierarchy. In my current setting, the hierarchy begins with the Head of School, the Head of Primary/Secondary, Assistant Heads, Division Coordinators, Year Level Coordinators, Teachers, Teaching Assistants. This seems like much quite a distance from the top to the bottom at times.
Which practices are marginalised or less valued by these titles?
Teaching Assistants are often seen as ‘less valued’ in the Asian context as there is a large ‘helper’ culture. I don’t believe this is seen by the teachers or even the school. However, students and parents can expect the TAs to ‘pick up after their child’ more.
Another area of labelling that has seen a change is our single subject teachers. Previously they were labelled as ‘specialist teachers’ in Primary. While they have expertise in one area compared to the homeroom teacher who does general subjects, the label of ‘specialist’ was having a negative connotation. Therefore the change to single subject allowed for a more specific label to accurately reflect their roles.
What sorts of identities are produced by these labels as ‘manager’, versus ‘leader’ versus ‘principal/head teacher/ director’ etcetera?
We don’t use the word ‘manager’ except in the business office suggesting a more business approach to the school’s resources and finances. ‘Leader’ suggests much more of an inspiring approach to change rather than a ‘manager’ as the person who implements clear tasks and paperwork.
The word Principal to me suggests the person with ultimate responsibility for the school. This person is responsible for outlining the school’s vision and finding effective ways of implementing positive change within the school. They also have a number of managerial tasks to do on a day-to-day basis. It can be hard to not get ‘bogged down’ with these tasks instead of being visible in the school at times which can affect the subordinates as followers.
At times labels may be oppressive to the person in how they want to be viewed within an orgnisation.
What are the political/economic/local conditions that may have led to these labels being adopted in preference to others?
The local community often reinforces these labels even more so than the educators within the systems. Parents and other community members have their own ideas of what these roles mean based on their experiences in their own workplace. The labels will likely continue to change to reflect the image and ideals the school wants to project to the community.
What are the ethical implications of these kinds of labels being adopted in preference to others?
There can be some tension between the idea of what your label is and what your role is.
In an international setting, culture plays a large role in the implications of labels (Gunter, 2004, p. 34). Each culture may have a different interpretation of the label. This can cause tension between schools and parent/ student communities. Culture may also reinforce hierarchies within the school.
Gunter, H. (2004). Labels and labelling in the field of educational leadership. Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education, 25(1), 21-41.