There are days when I struggle in my job feeling like I'm not being innovative or creative. There are times when I know there is paperwork to be done but I would rather be doing other things and procrastinate. But then there are days where inspiration hits you out of the blue, rerouting your day with time passing faster than you realise.
Most of the time I get my inspiration from our students when they say to me "Can we do_____?" I always agree with whatever it is if they have a good explanation and a plan of how to do it. Then we somehow make it work no matter how big or small it is because when students are invested in a project, they show higher levels of engagement and often create better quality products.
I also get inspiration from things people say. Sometimes it's a few kind words that make me realise that what I am doing is contributing to others learning and it is appreciated. Often those who share their words don't even realise the action that they've inspired. With a clear, purposeful work, the inspiration can push the boundaries of what has begun to further support those it has impacted.
Sometimes I have other teachers say to me, like today, "You should..." and if it's something I value I will likely work towards implementing it. But when I have no idea how to do it, those are the times I enjoy most. The times when uncertainty exists means a challenge to problem solve. Trying to find solutions to problems in an educational setting expands how I think about problems as I look to solve them through the various lens.
Then there are those who tell me I can't do something. Nothing motivates me more than a brick wall that others don't think I can overcome. Tell me I can't do something and I'll do anything in my power to find a way to make it work... and do it to my best ability.
With our students and teachers, it's important to understand what motivates and inspires them to raise their own expectations and go beyond. If you can figure that out, you will be able to foster the positive change that has an impact on its surroundings.
Teaching is a busy job. With so many different responsibilities packed into a few short hours everyday, it is hard to imagine squeezing anything else in...especially something you do just for yourself.
In my new role this year as education technology coach, I have the flexibility to make my own schedule. Originally I thought this would mean that perhaps I might just have a few more minutes to slow down and breathe at any point in the day but in fact learnt quickly that the job meant quite the opposite and my calendar was filled. Busier than I had ever expected or in previous years, I also found myself teaching more. Most days a week I was teaching in some capacity a minimum of five out of six classes with at least an activity or meeting or professional development session or two to lead at lunch, before school or after school. In trying to find the balance, I was finding that I was becoming more off tilter. I was finding it more difficult to complete the other portions of my job while still wanting to be in the classroom as much as I could.
After a week or so of trying to find the root cause and a few discussions later, one of the steps forward I decided to make was to take time each week for myself during the work day. It still boggles my mind that I'm actually doing it but the level of productivity that has evolved from it the rest of the week makes it well worth the dedicated time slot in my schedule.
Just to clarify, time for myself doesn't mean kicking back and relaxing. Rather, blocking out a regular amount of time each week to work on the projects or ideas that inspire me. They may be tasks I just have to get done or something else completely differentI want to explore. Think of it as my 20% time like Google, iTime, Personal Projects, or Genius Hour but for teachers. Time to simply focus on things that inspire a passion and drive even when it gets busy.
On my day off (due to public holiday), I sent the better part of my morning designing a e-Portfolio for my Masters of Education that would be long lasting throughout my entire programme. Each class seemed to ask you to set up an e-portfolio/blog to document your learning in the course but having 8 different e-Portfolios in the end didn't make sense to me. Thus, figuring out a way to map out a design and create what I had envisioned had me captivated and channeling my inner nerd without even realizing I was doing work. This was a project that stemmed internally but was rewarding to know I was setting myself up for success for the next few terms of study. In addition, it got me thinking about how we do portfolios at our school and how they transition between years without one central portfolio to house all e-Portfolios each year. Thus, generate even more learning outcomes than I had initially targeted for.
The first two periods coming into work today were scheduled as office work and administrative tasks that needed to be completed. In that time, I felt more accomplished, productive and motivated than I had the last few weeks during the time in the office. I felt momentum continuing to flow from one day of independent work into other projects and started to make serious headway with them that I got so caught up in doing them, I almost didn't realize it was time to head to class.
This got me thinking. We want our kids to inquire into projects that interest them. We want them to ask questions and find the answers. We give them the time, the tools, the resources, and the support to explore their passions through learning. But how often during the work day do we do this for ourselves? There is always another assessment, report card, meeting, lesson to plan, the list goes on. A teacher's to do list is never complete. But what if you blocked out time during the work day to do exactly what you wanted to explore. Why is it that what we ask of our students we don't always model ourselves?
To be honest, when I schedule the time from now on during the work day, it will almost always be work related independent projects. But because I reframe the work in my mind as time to work on whatever I wanted, I chose the work I felt I wanted to do, not just because they had to get done. Ownership over work truly promotes internal motivation. When mindset changes, so do the outcomes.
I'm looking forward to seeing how 'my time' evolves but it's not coming off my calendar any time soon. I wonder how many other educators actually dedicate time to individual learning in a schedule of chaos. I wonder what opportunities lie ahead in my time. My time is time for my learning, my exploration and my growth.
Feeling The Spark
We’ve all felt it at some point or another - that feeling of excitement when a new project is starting, feeling inspired to try something new and that passion for teaching just can’t quite be contained.
As we begin a new semester, it’s hard not to feel such things. You come back from the holiday break re-energized and ready to go and you jump right back into things with extra gusto. Personally, jump feels like too light of a term here as I have fully submerged myself.
Currently, I am working on a full write up with two colleagues on our Battle 4 Chatz project we did the first semester where we created a game with 7 levels plus a boss level for our space and shape mathematics unit. Using the idea of gamification, we increased student engagement and productivity in a fun way for our Year 5 students. It's sometimes really rewarding to look back on what you've accomplished as a team and then be able to set new targets moving forward. We look forward to sharing our findings and resources once we finish in the coming weeks!
My students are currently driving the inquiry in the classroom with their personal projects and summative marketplace with a recipe book. In just two weeks, I can't wait to see how it all comes together.
In my next unit of inquiry just 2 weeks away, I plan on having my students lead the learning completely by creating their own online courses in groups. This will involve creating all the content in their course through research and then writing or finding creative ways of displaying their findings, creating the assessment tools and developing the layout of their online course. After they have created a course, they will switch courses with another group and beta test the online course while reflecting and providing feedback throughout the entire process. It is amazing me that when the plan is for the students to develop the unit, assessments and fully execute their plan, that it is actually making me plan more than I have for any other unit. I am nervous and eager to see how this goes and look forward to sharing our progress along the way.
I’ve got a few different things I would like to ‘apply’ to in the next month or so as well. With conferences, programmes and even considering masters in about a year’s time, there are lots of different options to consider. Sometimes it is hard to find the balance between all of these things and be patient knowing not all of them to have to happen in the next few months. Each application deserves the attention to detail and time and hopefully, something comes about from some of them. Unknowing the outcome makes the process nerve-wracking but always worth it. Even when you don’t get accepted to something, there’s usually something you can take away from the process.
This year has the potential to be great. It’s just getting started and these are just a few things that have me buzzing right now. I can’t wait to look back this time next year and be in awe of it all.
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.