This past year was ... well... there's a lot of words I could use to fill the blank. It was a year of growth and exploration and I was lucky to have the class that I had who were always up for whatever challenge I wanted to tackle next.
As a relatively new teacher, I still have a lot to learn and I'm doing it the only way I know how - trial and error. The good thing about my class this past year is that with every risk I take, they jumped in and took risks too, pushing me beyond my comfort zone. About midway through the year, I found out I was transitioning into a new role which will take me out of the role as classroom teacher. It quickly began to dawn on me that if there were things that I wanted to try, I better do them while I had the chance.
It's been a little like standing at the edge of a cliff this year wondering if I'd finally slip off when things I tried didn't quite work, but luckily I seem to have good balance (or a class of students holding the rope to keep me from misstepping).
6 Units, 6 Things
1. Podcasting with Audio Effects
2. Home Learning Inquiry Projects
3. Games Based Learning
4. Online Courses
5. Choose Your Own Adventure
6. Photography and Film
Each unit brought new challenges for both me and the students but it kept the learning fun and exciting. Amongst each unit there were always smaller challenges embedded but the overarching theme of presented consistent interest, motivation and growth. We were always having a lot of conversations about the learning and reflecting on where we had been and where we needed to take our learning.
When you are out of the classroom, it is sometimes harder to have those ongoing, consistent experiences when you don't see the same students every day. The challenge then becomes finding the challenge that keeps you excited to try something new when you may not be part of the entire process of learning or see how the students are reacting, developing the idea and pushing it further.
Over my two-week summer break, I had the pleasure of travelling to the New Delhi region in India. This was my second time in India and I had previously only been there for 2 days for the Google Teacher Academy in December. I knew I absolutely loved the food, the culture and adventure that India had to offer, but hadn't realised how much I would be accepted with open arms and such amazing hospitality by the educators I would encounter when I returned. Over my holiday, I was blessed to be welcomed into 7 schools for 7 days of workshops to do some outreach support in local public schools that focused on introducing the Google Apps for Educations tools to teachers and how they could integrate them into their classroom to support their current teaching and learning practices.
As I prepared myself to transition into a technology coach position at my current school next year, I began to realise how different my role would be. Every session was unique, even though a lot of days I was facilitating workshops with the same products. No day was the same and each had its own unique challenges. I very quickly learnt that working with adult learners is a very different experience than working with my nine-year-old students, but yet some core factors stayed the same. The more I facilitated workshops, the more I began to explore how adults want to be supported in their learning journey.
Throughout my time, I constantly was reflecting on my experience and came away from the experience with valuable lessons.
1. Embrace questions.
Sometimes teachers fear the unknown. You can have a lesson planned out one way and a student asks a question that makes the lesson shoot off in a completely different direction - I love that. You begin to learn after a day or two of workshops what questions teachers have, how to reduce the fear of uncertainty for those participating in a workshop but also embrace the fact that you never are quite sure what you will be doing when facilitating workshops. No question is a bad question. When you take the time to listen to someone and walk someone through how they can be successful, you are able to spark more curiosity to learn. Often more questions will come from solving one query - those are my favourite. To see teachers continuously become more excited about what they were doing as they learn each piece of the puzzle is truly a treat to experience. I loved when teachers engaged in asking questions and it made my job easier than trying to guess what they wanted to learn by knowing I was actually helping them meet the needs of their inquiries. I'm so thankful that the educators felt comfortable asking the questions so I could support them. I also loved that the learning hasn't stopped since I left their schools and that the conversations and questions are continuing even though we are now separated by distance.
2. The Internet is not always reliable.
I am very privileged to work in an international school in Singapore where I don't have to think twice about having a consistent internet in my classroom. I know that I can plan a lesson using the computer and I can execute it without the concern of having the internet drop out. But that isn't the case in all schools in India. The internet would drop out at times or even be very limited in some cases. For me, it definitely kept things interesting and forced me to be ready for anything. If the internet did drop, I was constantly forced to evaluate how I could keep the audience engaged and learning without becoming frustrated and give up. I also learnt how valuable it is to have a backup plan. For me, this was having a Google Slides presentation for the various apps that could help walk teachers through the tools at the moment but could also act as a resource beyond my time at their school. I am empathetic towards teachers who work through these challenges every day and yet continue to inspire their students and embrace a world of technology.
3. Repeat the instructions - often.
I've always thought students are better students than teachers. But the level of excitement and engagement for teachers and students can always be high if you go about it the right way. Teachers seem to like to listen and do at the same time, rather than watch, then do. Therefore, a one time demo isn't always sufficient. Just like students, instructions need to be repeated verbally, demonstrated and also have time for teachers to 'do' what they are being shown. When you walk around and support teachers, you have to be ready to repeat, repeat, repeat what you've said again and again while also not making them feel small that they didn't understand the instructions the first time or two or three. Learning is a process. We all learn at a different rate and in different ways. It's our job as facilitators to help find the best way to help our students discover how to be successful in their learning and support them with the resources and means necessary.
4. Patience is a must.
I wouldn't consider myself a patient person, especially outside of my classroom. I like efficiency in my personal life and have always said I use up all my patience each day with my students. However, I found this sense of calm working with teachers that I hadn't experienced before as I walked teachers through different features of an app step by step and having them do it, rather than me. It was almost a very zen experience. Not once did I feel overwhelmed, frustrated or rushed. We just took our time and explored as necessary and flowed onto the next application when we were ready. Some days we focused on one app for an hour and the next day it only took twenty minutes and worked through challenges as they presented themselves. As a facilitator, I learnt that in the face of any challenge you have to stay calm as your 'students' are looking to you for that sense of security and insurance.
5. Stay positive.
The moment you become negative, you will lose your audience - so don't. When you are positive in a room, the energy and excitement levels will go through the roof. Creating a safe environment to learn in allows teachers to the fullest and feel safe making mistakes and growing. Technology isn't meant to be something that is a pain for teachers, even though there is a learning curve. By having a smile on the face and showing teachers you are learning together helps break down their defensive walls against technology. No obstacle can't be overcome and it's important to help teachers develop their growth mindset mentality.
6. Be flexible.
I never really knew what type of school I are was walking into each day, the technology and comfort levels of the teachers or how often the teachers were even using the tools. I very quickly learned that building relationships and engaging in conversations before a workshop began was a sure way to begin to figure those things out. I loved hearing about where teachers were at in their technology integration and how much they wanted to do this, but sometimes just weren't sure how to go about it yet. I became very aware of how to read the audience to know when they were struggling with a concept or when teachers felt like they accomplished a task. I noticed the small things that made a big difference to how I would adjust to my teaching environment. I knew that I had to be open-minded when the direction of the workshop would change without planning and two seconds later I'd be showing a different application I hadn't planned to share that day. I really felt like I had be a chameleon adapting to it's surroundings to meet the needs of the teachers.
7. Have fun
Every one of those 7 workshops were unique. Nothing ever went the same or fully as 'planned'. The only consistency was making it fun for both the workshop participants and myself. I was on spring break after all. But learning should be fun. It shouldn't be stuffy and a lecture from the front of the room for hours and hours - that's not real learning. Students need to be getting their hands messy and trying things. As they make mistakes, they ask questions and problem solve. I learnt to not take things so seriously and when I was faced with my own uncertainty with a question we figured it out together. Technology can be daunting for some teachers but when you create a learning environment that can minimise that fear, teachers actually get motivated to develop their skills. We laughed, we smiled, we had fun, we experienced, we grew - that to me is learning.
By the end of the two weeks, I began to look at the role of a workshop facilitator and technology coach with a new perspective and even more excitement. The experience forced me to think about how educators learn best and reflect on how I learn best too. It also helped me think critically about what I need from others to feel supported and successful in my new role and how I could take that thinking and translate it to help better support other educators. The amount of personal growth in such a short time seemed tremendous to me and I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with over 200 educators from around the Delhi region. This experienced filled me with excitement and has motivated me to continue to push myself further as an educator with a new perspective of teaching and learning. I can't wait to see where my journey takes me next and look forward to learning from every opportunity that continues to unfold.
What Happens When the PD is Over?
We've all been to the most amazing professional development workshops, conferences, weekends, you name it. The ones that just inspire you when you needed it most, gets you thinking about your classroom in a whole new way and excited to start implementing the many new ideas first thing Monday morning at 9am.
Then reality hits - paperwork, attendance, marking, planning, meetings, field trips, after school activities, did I miss anything? As much as we intend to try out all of our new tricks and share them with the rest of our school community, how often does that really happen when you are faced with all of the normal time consuming components of your job?
What I've learnt about all of those ideas that you get beyond excited about don't usually ever happen. I'm as guilty as anyone and I'm the girl who loves learning new things all the time. While I am learning them, I don't always get the chance to apply them.
So here's my suggestion:
1. Choose a couple of ideas.
Just 2 or 3 ideas really that you think you can implement within the next week. They don't even have to be big. When I attended the EdTechTeam Summit in Thailand, I focused on learning what I could about creating websites. It was something I was currently working on for my own personal site so I figured I could build on that. I bookmarked a few resources for selecting colours and creating patterns. I also knew my students would be creating their own sites in about a week's time so it would be something I could show them to do to.
2. Actually do it.
In an hour workshop, you don't always get enough time to figure it all out the first time. So spend a little bit of time on your own walking yourself through the steps. Trial and error is a beautiful thing and I find it's when I work best really. I wanted to become better at creating my own colour palettes using some of the website resources I had used in the workshop and also how to create my own patterns from those colour palettes using Colour Lovers. Some steps you remember from doing it in the workshop, others you have to piece together from when you were trying to listen and do at the same time. Eventually, you figure it out.
3. Do it again.
Repeating something or trying a different way of doing the same thing really helps to solidify the new skill. I played around and probably created about half a dozen or so of colour palettes and then more than a dozen patterns just for fun. Learning happens through exploration.
4. Go back to that list of 2-3 items you wanted to try and try another one.
What else did you love from your workshop? I also liked playing with Google's MyMaps. I had used it before but sometimes you need a friendly reminder of a certain tool before you figure out it's a perfect fit for what's coming next in your unit. For me, that was using it to document different ecosystem imbalances around the world, having students include pictures and
5. Share what you've learnt...even with one person.
Knowledge for the sake of your own personal gain is one thing but being able to share with others is just as important. For me, I shared the website design tools with my students immediately. The first time around, I only had them choose a colour palette with 2-3 colours and then create their website banners using those colours. From there, they could customise whatever they could find in the settings.
6. Then share it again.
Using what you learnt in a professional development session makes you feel like it was worthwhile. After my students had made their websites for their online courses, I pulled 2 students aside for a project for our Head of Primary. He needed to spruce up a website for a workshop he was running. I had the students create a colour palette and make a banner with the colour palette. After that, I introduced them to how to make a pattern for the background of the site and let them have a go at it.
It didn't stop there though. About another week or so later, I met up with a few of the Year 6 students who were working on their exhibition projects and wanted to make a website as part of their action portion. I walked them through all of the same steps from start to finish but along the way added in how you could change the look by using images as a background or creating colour palettes from an image. In addition, I provided them with more websites and options to customise their sites.
By taking one small focused idea from a professional development workshop, I was able to turn the idea into action through practice and practical application with my students. I am still seeing the aftereffects in my classroom of the workshops I attended a month later. This to me is making meaningful connections and creating an ongoing learning opportunity long after the workshop facilitators are gone.
It's not worth overwhelming yourself and setting yourself up for failure when you say you will do 43 new things by the end of the month based on what you might have learnt in an afternoon, day or weekend. What I've learnt is that you really have to make your professional development experiences work for you.
Presenting: I (Used To) Hate It!!
Public speaking - to some, one of the most feared things in the world of education. Whether it is being called upon unexpectedly or having to give an oral presentation in front of the class, it is often associated with anxiety, butterflies in the stomach, panic, uneasiness and, quite frankly. can be terrifying for anyone.
I still remember having to write speeches in grade 3 and present them in front of the class for the first time. What if you forgot what you were supposed to say? What if you had to read from your cue cards instead of doing it from memory? What if people didn't like what you had to say or even laughed at you? What if you didn't want to picture everyone in their underpants in order to calm down and relax?
The one thing I have to say is that it really does get better with practice. The next time I had to present I wrote a speech in Grade 6 about water. The night before the written part was due, I had all the facts together but just couldn't piece it together the right way. I remember sitting down with my mom and her helping me plan out an order that made sense, told a story and would flow. She helped me rearrange my plan to have it unfold as a normal day and all of the different places a person would interact with water. When I got up to do that speech, it was easy because we had plotted out a path that would make it easy to remember and not be stressful. Who would've thought I end up getting to represent my school at the public speaking contest in our city? But it didn't stop. The following two years I was able to represent my school again and again. Each time I gave a speech, it got easier and I became more confident sharing in front of an audience. I began to enjoy it more and it was almost like I was in another world when I stepped on the stage to speak. It also helped that I had my number one fan in the audience cheering me on, my mom.
Grade 9 came and the unexpected happened and my mom passed away to cancer. The public speaking project was something that had kind of become a tradition for us each year. I had to decide if I even wanted to present a speech that year, do the research as normal, and have to figure out some kind of plan that made sense all on my own, with no guidance. So that year I decided to speak about something that I was really passionate about and mattered to me...my mom. I did a speech about cancer, the impacts of it on families and even shared a poem I wrote about cancer the night my mother died. Perhaps it was a way for me to say goodbye, come to terms with what was changing in my life or just do something I had learnt to find comfort in. The lessons she had taught me and the steps we would do together to plan it out were so familiar and comforting even when alone. But after I had done my speech that year, a part of me didn't want to share anymore and the door closed to my voice being heard in many ways.
Fast forward to this year. Encouraged (or rather pushed a bit by others), it was time that I start letting my own voice be heard again. I first co-presented at the Singapore American School who hosted the EdTechTeam Singapore Summit featuring Google Apps for Education back in September. Even though I was terrified and was up all night worrying about it, changing slides and reviewing what I wanted to say, it was easy to talk about something else I had grown passionate about in the last year or so - the use of technology in the classroom.
I went back to my class after that presentation and shared the experience with my students. It was a big deal to me to present at such an amazing conference and I started to wonder how my students felt about public speaking themselves so I asked them for their thoughts. Most didn't like it. They said they never had and it was a scary thing to stand up in front of their peers. They said they felt really nervous when they had to present something, just like me.
So I decided that if my mom could get me to conquer my nerves when it came to public speaking, maybe there was hope I could do the same thing for my students. Presentations became a much more prominent thing in my classroom. First, it was just little things they had found and they shared more after an activity. Then it became students doing a bit of research on a topic before sharing. I was looking for small ways for my students to share their ideas in a safe environment where they wouldn't feel those nerves and fears kicking in.
Finally, the moment that made the biggest impact was when we held a mini exhibition for students to share their independent research projects. We first presented to each other, then to parents, administration and other students into our class to share with. After the event, I asked my students again about presenting and one of the biggest things was that they wanted to present more. It wasn't so scary when they were confident about what they were talking about. It wasn't so terrifying when they saw how proud their parents were of them and their work. It didn't create anxiety when they knew everyone was supporting each other and they had worked so hard that they knew their topic so well. To be honest, they didn't want to stop sharing either. I think we spent about 2 days presenting and my students just kept inviting more people to come - their buddy class, a Year 6, teachers they had last year, administration - they wanted to keep talking about the work they had done and their process of getting to this point.
From there, we began sharing our e-portfolios orally to the class more and talking about what makes a good presentation. My students would give each other feedback about glows and grows and set targets for the next time they were to present. I would actually not provide too much feedback for this but rather let my students help each other grow. Now, it's almost time for parents to come back to celebrate our next end of the unit and it's the students asking for the parents to come in so they can present to them not the teachers saying the parents are invited.
Through all of this, I've tried to continue to present as well each time sharing with my students my own glows and grows as I develop in this area as well. I think my students have a different level of respect when they know you are doing the same thing they are and experiencing similar feelings. Whether it is a small 5-minute presentation or a full hour session, I know presenting is helping me develop in new ways, just like my students. It's something I force myself to do, even though I'd be just as happy listening from the audience. I know as I continue to move forward in my international teaching career, the importance of sharing, leading training sessions and presenting will become more and more a part of what I do.
Public speaking may never come naturally to me - I hate being put on the spot in public, big crowds, being the centre of attention and being put in a position to be easily judged - I'm an introvert, to say the least. But it's easy to talk about things in my career that I am so passionate about - my school, what I do in my class and most of all my students. But just like my students, I'm learning to enjoy sharing more. I can only hope that in my quest to find my own confidence to share my voice again that maybe I've helped even just one student find theirs as well.
January 06th, 2015
It’s true. There is no one I am harder on than myself. So often I complete something or accomplish a goal and only look at what’s still left to be done instead of celebrating what I have done before moving on. It’s something that, when you think about it, is not very ‘teacher’-y of me at all. Where’s the oreo feedback in my own practice? By that I mean, the good, the area of growth and another good comment. I’m always giving my students praise for their work and then guiding them where to go next, and even better than that, usually having the students self-identity their ‘glows’ (great things they are doing) and grows (areas of potential growth for the future).
I am constantly asking my students to reflect. What did you do well? How do you know? Why are you proud of this? What makes this a ‘good’ piece of work in your mind? How can this help you moving forward? Of course, we also have the opposite side to all of that - what do you need to work on, etc. We foster the ability for students to see the good in themselves and others but do we do this in our own practice?
Why does this not happen with teachers?
Why is it so hard for teachers to celebrate their own growth? Is it simply because we are always looking for ways to improve that we are almost blinded by our successes? Is it because we don’t want to ‘waste’ time on a plateau of praise when we could be jet-setting upwards with growth?
Even when we plan with other teachers, often the first thing we think about when we are reflecting on the unit or the part we spend the most time on is how to improve what we did, what didn’t work and how will we change it for next time. The very idea of ‘wow - great unit because of x, y, and z’ is often glossed over in order to get right to the growth section.
I love my Friday afternoon with my kids when we do our Positive Post time where we write notes and deliver them to people in our class and around the school who have positively impacted us or our class. I always try to send one to at least 1 staff member to help celebrate the positivity they’ve spread to me.
This past year I’ve slowly been trying to do a better job at the idea of personal self-reflection with the good things happening in my own teaching and professional life. Twitter, blogging and even presenting have helped with this but it still is something I struggle with. It’s easy for me to see it in others and what they do, but with myself, I sometimes have only one speed moving forward and don’t always look back.
What result would it have in our own teaching practice if we spent more time reflecting on our ‘glows’ - individually and collectively as a staff community? How would this change the culture of the school?
The old saying goes ‘stop and smell the roses’ - so maybe it’s time for us all to start planting more gardens in our own backyards.
When It All Comes Together...
Sometimes when you start out a project, you're not sure of where it will end up. For our personal projects for our inventions unit, this was very much the case. I had an idea of how to go about it. But how it would actually unfold, that was a big question mark.
On Friday, I was a very proud teacher of my students. They showcased their personal projects including their process journals and a variety of ways to present their findings as products to parents, students and administrators.
Before we shared our work with the wider school community, each student had the opportunity to share to their classmates. Was I ever blown away by the level of thought and effort my students had put into their projects. As each student stood up to share their work, there was a very evident sense of pride in their work. They each shared their work with confidence in a way they hadn't done before. They spoke about their research, their findings, their passion for learning.
No two projects were alike, no two students had shared the same learning journey but yet the amount of knowledge and understanding was phenomenal.
I loved seeing the students so excited to share their work with their parents and the parents were just as proud of them as I was. One of my favourite moments of the day was when a mother approached me with teary eyes to tell me how incredible it was to see how much work her daughter had done on the project and how much she had grown through the process. It made my heart warm.
My students are so proud of it that they don't want to stop sharing and we are going to continue to share with our buddy class on Monday.
This project has made me come away with some important lessons:
1. Student choice is a way to get students to buy-in to learning.
When students choose what they learn, how they will learn it and how they will present their findings, they often do more and to a higher quality. When they feel the internal want to learn, it doesn't even feel like work. Sometimes simply giving students a framework is all they need. I told them they had to pick a topic, show their learning process and create a product in the end but beyond that, their learning choices were completely in their hands.
2. Focus on skills leads to better results.
This unit of inquiry, I spent less time focused on content and more time on skills. My students learned about different ways to gather research and the importance of process vs. product. They explored different technology tools and ways of presenting their work. We discussed time management, organization and how others can be critical friends for each others. We looked at making small manageable goals each day and each week rather than taking on the project as a whole. We focused on gathering research questions that drive your learning, rather than just looking at everything. Through all of these conversations and discussions, not once did I say you have to tell me the past, present and future of your invention or why we need that invention or who invented it or when was it invented. While a lot of those things were discovered through the project, so was a lot of other information.
3. An unknown direction can work.
I've always been taught plan with the end in mind. However, this time, I wasn't sure what the end would look like or even what the project would be like week by week or even if it would be a multiple week project. This project became larger than expected and better than expected. It never meant to be an exhibition or a project the students spent hours on. Sometimes its okay to go with the flow and have something evolve as you go. Sometimes I don't have to plan everything (which I feel more comfortable doing) and still know that the final result will work out in the end.
After 5 weeks of learning, it all came together on one day in one room. Everyone left that Friday beaming with pride and excitement. Not every day does what you are doing make sense, but on that day, the final piece of the puzzle as we ended our unit fit perfectly.
There's something to be said about students doing what they want to do. When students are engaged their learning is far superior. My Tuesday was all planned out as usual but I wasn't sure if we were going to be able to Skype another class or not so I simply left a question mark on the schedule for the day. Of course when the kids came in that morning, they asked what the question mark was and I said I wasn't sure yet and we could decide later. What I didn't expect was to be greeted with pleas of doing their 'home learning' work for a period. Of course sticking with the attitude I've taken on this year (Go With What The Students Want), I said sure. Little did I know what would transpire.
Let's take it back 3 weeks ago though before I get there. I had gotten back from my trip to Vietnam and inspired to change up my homework from my visit to a friend's classroom at the International School of Ho Chi Minh City, I decided to try this 'home learning' approach but wanted to take it a little slower the first time round to see what would happen.
The first week I gave my students the question "How have inventions changed to impact our lives?". From there, I asked them what they thought about that question and what they already knew. We decided to focus our question a little bit more individually and each of them came up with an overarching question they wanted to explore. Topics included how makeup changed to impact our lives, food colouring and even refrigerators. Then we explored where we could gather our information from using our new MISO Charts. Media - videos, websites, pictures, books, magazines, etc., Interviews - family, friends, teachers, experts. Survey - what survey questions would gather good data. Observations - what could we see and learn about. It was amazing that the students weren't familiar with resources outside of the internet really. So one of the first things we did was take a trip to the library and learn how to find books using the online catalogue and the dewy decimal system. This week we also brainstormed a list of other questions that would help them answer their larger question.
As we began week 2, we had some serious discussions about our mountain analogy of needing to help everyone get to the top of the mountain but more importantly, the process of getting to the top was more important than actually being at the top. As we explored the topic of process journals, my students explored our DP students Art Books and added postits in it of ideas and strategies of how we could present the information we found in our process journals. This included things like various charts, labels of pictures, timelines, more than one draft, building lists of ideas etc. Then it was time for them to be like the DP students and begin their own journey through the process. We had some time in class but primarily it was something they could work on at home. To be honest, by the end of the 2nd week when we checked in as a class and reflected on our work, I was a little disappointed my students hadn't gotten into more. I thought for sure if they had chosen their topic they would want to learn more about it. Puzzled by it, I decided to forge on and give them another week of exploring their topic with research. I was curious to understand if it was just because this was the first time we were doing it or if I just wasn't putting the right spin on in.
The third week I tried something a little different. I had more checkins daily. Each day we would check in to see what they had accomplished the night/day before in class. I started sharing more of what some students had produced with the class and sharing more about different strategies they could use. Instantly, I had students coming into school each morning wanting to show me what they had done in school so I could show the class their work. I also had students begging me to give them more time in class to work on it. By the end of the week, I was flipped in my thinking and completely amazed by the depth some students had gone into. The students were learning with their parents too asking them question about the project but more importantly sharing what they were learning and developing that home school connection.
So now we are into our fourth week where students have now turned their process into a product and what an array of assignments that have started to take form! We have PowToons, bulletin boards, books, models, presentations, documents, Wordles, diagrams, iMovie, pictures and so much more. The quality of their work has gone up and the students are really excited to share what they've learnt. It also gave me a lot of opportunity to have discussions with students about the presentation of their work. How does the sizes of their titles impact its effect? What about colour and organization? How fast should the speed of text on a slide be in order for the reader to view the presentation/video?
That question mark on Tuesday that barely found it's way into the schedule that day for a period turned into an entire afternoon. When it was time for break, my students just wanted to keep going. When break ended and I said it was time for our Math Battle, they begged to keep going... and going... and going... right until the end of the day. Who am I to get in the way of their learning? Every child was engaged in 2.5 hours of work that they wanted to do. They are learning more than I could have planned for and will ultimately teach each other more than I could cover. They are inspired to research, take notes and then share their knowledge.
Next week we plan on presenting our findings to the class with our final products. My class would like to hold an exhibition and invite other classes in. Again, not something I had thought of at all but will go with what they want and see where it goes. I am excited to see what the final products turn out to be after 4 weeks of hard work from them.
At the end of the day, cancelling a few lessons for the sake of student choice and voice was just what my kids needed. Perhaps what I need more of is just a few more afternoons of those amazing little question marks.
Choosing How You Grow
This year started off quite rocky for me with many personal and professional challenges. I found myself not being at my best and not feeling inspired in the way I normally am and found things that never before bogged me down doing just that.
I was doing what I had to do each day and doing my best to make the students my focus. Feeling a little lost, I was trudging on hoping to find the internal spark that had dimmed a bit.
On a whim, I decided I needed to get away from Singapore and the life it encompasses and travels on mid-break somewhere different than I was experiencing. I booked a ticket to Vietnam to visit some past colleagues and dear friends and wasn't really sure what I was in for. I had no plans, barely had a Visa in time and had thrown a few things in a backpack on the morning of my flight. Little did I know, what an eye-opening and inspiring trip it would be for me personally, and professionally.
Ho Chi Minh City itself was such an adventure and reminded me so much of my experience in China where culture swirled around you and everything became a challenge. I began to realise how much I crave and thrive in situations where I am challenged. It became very apparent to myself that if I am not being challenged, I am not learning to my fullest potential. An interesting thought as a teacher, where my job is to challenge and support students in these challenges every day. It made me reflect in thinking - who is doing this for me? Am I doing this for myself? Am I waiting for others to challenge me? Do I need others to be the one challenging me? I'd say I'm often pretty self-motivated but at times I need someone there as well. As I'm still new to teaching, often I'm just doing what I 'think' is right and not necessarily the best way of doing it. I need others to challenge my thinking.
I visited the International School of Ho Chi Minh City where some of my friends worked and was truly inspired by the teachers and the work environment. In addition, they also had a visiting math consultant which I was able to learn from for the day and a half I was there. It was such an eye-opener to see how other educators do things in other schools. I spent most of my time just watching, trying to take it all in and learn from others. I furiously would scribble down notes as I went and just tried to soak up the experience for what it was. I came away with so many ideas that I instantly wanted to implement in my own classrooms such as the bubblecatchers and the way they view home learning. I know that when I take my learning into my own hands, I get a much richer learning experience. Interesting enough - isn't that what we want our kids to do too?
One of the biggest things I took away was the power of observation. So much of our time we spend worrying about getting paperwork done, marking or a variety of other things that have to get done that we don't make time for the things we should be doing. This year alone, I know I have not been into enough other classrooms to see what they are doing. Yet, I went to another school and that's all I wanted to do. We all have so many amazing things that we are doing but unfortunately, they don't always get shared. I went to Vietnam and was so inspired by the way others looked and acted towards education in a way that was similar to how I feel about my job.
I also recently found out I was accepted into the Google Teacher Academy (GTA)- another professional development opportunity I have taken into my own hands. Last year I was introduced to Google Apps for Education and the GTA and instantly thought it was something I would like to work towards. My first year was all about developing the skills to use them and then I felt this year should really be able using them more effectively before I apply for the GTA the following year. However, something in the summer kickstarted my want to learn more and try for this year. So this past summer, I did all of the online courses that I could with Google and became a Google Educator by doing 5 Google Apps courses and exams and also did the Youtube Digital Citizenship course. From there, I decided I needed to develop my professional learning network through Twitter and began connecting with other educators and sharing what I do in my class. And then tried for Google Teacher Academy. I didn't get in the first time.... or the second time... but with perseverance, the third time did the trick. This is something I wanted to do, learn about and be able to apply to my teaching - not something someone is telling me I have to do.
There is something about having agency over your own professional development that truly adds to the learning itself. When you are choosing to learn, the learning seems to be richer and the excitement and inspiration seems to flow. The question then becomes, how do we best transfer this knowledge into the classes we teach?
We tell our students it's okay to fail. We tell them it's okay to make mistakes as long as you grow from them. We tell them not to worry and that it'll all work out. We tell them you learn more from doing something wrong than doing something right. We smile at our students and tell them to persevere, bounce back and to work through it. We tell them We tell them this when they get a bad grade, don't make the school team, or don't get into the college they want. But what about us as teachers? What about when you go after something just like our students do and you do quite reach what you want?
I make mistakes on a daily basis. There is no surprise there and it's something I really do embrace, usually with a good laugh at that. But sometimes you give something your all and you have those 'oh I really want this' moments and still it is just out of your reach.
This is exactly what happened to me this week. I had applied to Google Teacher Academy in Southeast Asia and, of course, was waiting patiently for a response on the status of my application. I had made a video, answered the questions, shared my resume and was pretty happy with my application overall. Was it perfect? No, there were things I wished I had fixed or changed or added in the end but that's always the case when it comes to the learning process. Then I got the email that informed me this time wasn't my time to be accepted into the programme.
Of course, I was a bit bummed at first. I had that sinking feeling that takes me back to my Grade 7 year when I didn't make the co-ed baseball team at school. It was an opportunity I really wanted to be a part of and felt I could learn a lot from. But I believe everything happens for a reason and it just wasn't meant to be right now.
Sometimes when you want something, you seem to forget about what you already have. If I stop for a second, I see how much I have accomplished already. When I look back over my teaching career, it's amazing to see where I am already and I am so thankful for each opportunity that I've been given. As I begin only my third year of teaching, I've had the pleasure of living in 2 countries, developed my technology skills tremendously and been guided and inspired by fantastic international educators. I've had the opportunity to take PYP workshops, present at a conference, lead training within my school and recently moved into a Year Group Coordinator position. I get to work with students who inspire me each and every day and who bring so much laughter and joy into my life. Never did I think I would have a career that lets me create digital products, foster leadership in others, share my own love of learning and also get to play dodgeball and dance all in the few hours of a workday.
I've really only been using GAFE in my 1 to 1 classroom for a year now and I can't believe the transformation I've had as an educator because of it. Just like I tell my students to do, I'll try again next round. Each time I'll have more experience under my belt, more knowledge of GAFE, and in general, will hopefully be better a teacher than I was before. I am presented with the challenge of using GAFE in my classroom and trying to become more knowledgeable with the tools I use on a daily basis. I will continue to develop innovative ways to learn with my students. I do hope in my professional future that I do have the opportunity to be a part of the Google Teacher Academy and other professional opportunities that lie ahead. An obstacle only lights the determination within more as I continue to focus on making my classroom a positive and engaging learning environment for my students.
No one is ever going to be told yes every time. No one is going to get 100% every single time. No one is truly perfect. Mistakes matter. Mistakes make people develop character, resiliency and a different outlook on life. So failure isn't really anything but finding a new approach to the same problem, a new way of looking at things and just one of many ways that don't work. Failure is just a way of saying a you've still got a challenge to overcome.
As a teacher, I’m never going to be at the top of my game. I’m never going to become a teacher who knows it all and can teach a class in her sleep. I’m never going be the one with all the answers. But to me, that’s okay, because I’m striving to be better. Education is constantly developing with new technologies, research and practice. One of the many ways I develop my abilities as an educator is through my ongoing professional development.
For me, professional development has always been a must in my mind. It does help that I love being the student just as much as I love my job as a teacher. The thrill of learning something new and trying it out in the classroom pushes me forward in my journey. Student learning, engagement and exploration are further enhanced by a teacher who is able to guide and facilitate the learning within the classroom. Sometimes I feel like I finally have one small aspect of my teaching really starting to flourish but there are hundreds of other things I could still develop more.
I’ve always taken extra qualifications and courses and attended conferences. I am completely content spending the day searching the web for new ideas and reading research. Most of my PD is independently driven though I am thankful to have a school that also offers me a variety of learning opportunities. Being the learner instead of the teacher helps me to look at teaching from my students’ perspectives too. If I’m tuning out, why is that? If I don’t want the workshop to end, what makes me so engaged? Asking these types of questions can allow me to become a more effective teacher in my own classroom.
A recent addition to my professional development repertoire is becoming an active member of Twitter. I have found this to be a place where many positive and like-minded educators come together to share resources , ask questions, contribute ideas and participate in chats. Understanding how Twitter operates alone took some learning but now it is a pool full of learning potential and I have created a Professional Learning Network (PLN) that spans the globe. I find it valuable to connect with other educators as I know it is opening the doors of opportunity for my future students as well.
I learn so much from those around me. Being able to watch educators teach and work with students allows me to see how others do the same job as me but in different ways. It is then my responsibility to decide if those methods would work for my own teaching style and students. No matter how long someone has been in the teaching profession, they will always have something to teach you if you are open to learning.
I also learn a lot from my students. So often I ask them how to do something and they are able to show me in a second what it would have taken me an hour to figure out on my own. It's important that my students realise I am not the only 'teacher' in the classroom and that they have a lot of knowledge to share as well. We are all experts in different areas depending on our passions and interests.
I’ve never worked at a place that mandated a certain number of professional development hours though my school does have professional development days and PD funding available to teachers. So many teachers groan and complain about professional development days offered by schools. To think educators would not want free opportunities to learn is mind boggling. Some workshops are more interesting than others but you can always take something away from each session that can be applied to your current practice. I was surprised when I learned it was my professional development record was what helped me secure my current employment. Having an employer who sees value in helping their teachers stay current and grow is an important feature of a school when I look at potential job opportunities.
It’s disheartening when others in the profession don’t feel the same sense of desire to improve themselves inside the classroom. What if that’s all we saw in our students - students who were satisfied with just being the same each day and never wanting more? If our students stopped asking questions, wouldn’t that concern us? It is the same with educators. We should always be questioning ourselves and others to help us develop best practices and new strategies and tools to as an educator.
The moment I stop wanting to learn more is the day I know I need to change professions. It truly is an ongoing process of developing my skills in all facets of my job. No, I’m never going to be the best teacher out there. But I will be striving each and every day to be better than I was the day before.