I think that I keep vaguely referring to 2014 as a "tough year" on social media (my blog and Twitter) and I'm trying to let go of some of the things that made me feel that way. In fact, I'm working hard to change my focus and reflect on the great things about 2014.
What I do know is that 2015 is off to a good start. Two days in and I feel like, as the title says, I have my groove back.
I did not feel like I was in a groove from September-December, 2014. A move to grade 3/4 this year was a challenge that I wanted, but this class is the youngest I've ever taught (aside from JK/SK in my practicum 11 years ago). I've had a difficult time adjusting my teaching style to the group that I have. I'm the first to say how important it is to "drum to the beat of your marchers", but I've still been using a beat that I was comfortable and familiar with. The Learning Goals that were outlined in my Long Range plans and brain were not realistic for EPCOT Class. I kept comparing what I could do with the Rainbow Eggheads at the END of grades 5 and 6 with what I can do with the Gladiator Snails at the BEGINNING of grades 3 and 4. In addition to my students and I getting used to each other, last term, I also taught a course at the University of Ottawa in the Bachelor of Education program. Thinking about how we all learn in different ways on different days for a total of 60 students (37 adult learners and 23 8 and 9 year olds), getting used to a curriculum that is totally new to me (the grade 3 curriculum!) and creating a university course from scratch kept me VERY busy. I got into a groove with my Ottawa U students and was thrilled to see the hard work I'd put into the course over the summer and throughout the term result in learning opportunities for my students and I. However, I felt like, on some level, I wasn't doing the same for my grade 3/4s. This is due to a number of things:
-the aforementioned problem of unconsciously comparing student work at the beginning of the year to student work at the end of the previous year
-being away from my class A LOT. I had 2 half days away each week to be at Ottawa U. I also had to take two weeks to myself to deal with the loss of a dear friend
-I've never taught grade 3s before! I've taught grade 4s twice, but always in a combined grade 4/5 class.
-I was trying to do the same things I've always done, but change their level of complexity
-I felt like my students and I weren't really a team, weren't really speaking the same language. We really, really liked each other, but I was feeling like a broken record, repeating things over and over, and I was having trouble seeing if I was helping them to learn and grow
-we were doing a lot of things, but not producing or creating enough authentic and meaningful work, or I thought that the volume of what we were creating was not enough
What's changed in 2015? I was rested! Well, not exactly rested, but refreshed. Over the break, I spent HOURS organizing my home office/library/closet and now have a great space to think and work that isn't me slumped on my couch with the TV on. I had an incredibly one week holiday in one of my all-time favourite cities, New York with some of my all-time favourite people, my husband Captain Handsome, by sweet and up for anything (even my weirdest whims and fancies) brother and his girlfriend, who we collectively refer to as Charbar, and someone who I wish I could clone and keep with me at all times, my friend Liz. Right before the break, I listened to a great episode of my favourite education podcast, EduAllStars
and learned about Jenny Buccos
and her Project Explorer
. I got to meet Jenny in NYC and am so totally inspired by her, her project and how I can use it in the classroom. Finding a new resource that I hadn't used before and could figure out for THIS class exclusively has been exactly what I needed. I've been reading the book "He's the Weird Teacher"
and I feel like the author, Doug Robertson,
lives in my head. So much of what he says is what I think, but communicated in a clearer and funnier way. If you read this blog, you'll know I've challenged myself to respond to each chapter on here. In my drive back from NYC, I spent most of the 8.5 hours quietly thinking and planning. I rarely take time to be quiet and think. Consequently, the moments when I can not multitask (shower, driving) end up being super thoughtful, creative times. I have a terrible memory, so recorded lots of audio notes to myself during the drive (yes, Siri helped me to be hands-free!). I relished having the time to get my brain on track for the new year.
Getting back into my classroom yesterday, I was thrilled to see the Gladiator Snails happy (but sleepy!) faces and get TONS of hugs. That's one of the huge perks of grade 3/4 students. They hug you A LOT. They're ridiculously sweet. We started the day off beautifully, everyone fell right into their routines, following the rules and routines we have painstakingly created together through weekly collaborative Class Meetings, and working diligently on their Chromebooks, telling me "How Do You Feel Today?". We all had lots of stories to tell, a new Muppet to meet and a level of comfort and safety that I didn't realize we had established. We did a "Snowball Fight" where we all wrote four things about the break (a special visitor, the best part, a gift given and a gift received) and crumpled up our papers and had a controlled wild "Fight". Students took turns reading the papers that landed near them and guessing whose stories they were telling. We spoke about what good listening looks like and practiced facing the speaker! We are starting Guided Reading groups with non-fiction books my amazing colleague and Scottish BFF helped me select before the break. Students looked at the front and back covers and made predictions about the books. We were happy to be reunited with our class pets, the degus, Speedy and Caine, who seemed thrilled to be back in their cage/mansion instead of their holiday aquarium. I actually took time to eat lunch (which my thoughtful and brilliant teaching partner brought in for me!) and talk to colleagues. I rarely leave my classroom, and spending 40 minutes on a couch was brilliant. I might do that again! Yesterday was a really good day.
Today, however, I felt like I had my teacher costume on. I felt like I was in the groove. I think the kids felt it too. It was a high energy, busy day. But we were almost always on track. We were speaking the same language. As it turns out, others can't necessarily understand our language, but that just shows how far we've come and the culture we've created together, without me even realizing it. Here's what
our groove looked like:
-I make my Daybook accessible to the whole class. They have links on it that they use during the day and two students post the schedule from it each day. This gets rid of A LOT of Time Sucker Questions ("What are we doing next?" for example!). Students are using the Daybook without reminders now.
-The students are getting so comfortable on their Chromebooks that they've nearly eliminated the need for me. The first several weeks with the Chromebooks, I felt like a head-off chicken, running around, troubleshooting. They've suddenly taken "Ask three, then me" to heart and are seeking and providing help (GRACIOUSLY no less) to their peers. In fact, at one point today, a guest teacher, a support teacher and a student all worked together to solve a problem
(together, they figured out how to create a hyperlink!).
-After exploring Project Explorer as a class and then individually or in small groups, I've discovered that the students are as engaged as I am and I will be using Project Explorer in ALL subject areas as our main resource for the next month and a bit. As an Experimental Prototype Class (of Tomorrow), this is one of the most innovative things we've tried this year. It's a new challenge for all of us. In case you don't know, I like challenges! They make my brain whir. I like when my brain is whirring.
-I generally dread teaching Gym with this group. They LOVE to play games, but resist skill building. I don't like whining and complaining and in my brain, Gym has become tied to complaints. Today, I didn't give anyone time to complain. We were all on the move the whole time. Every little face was red by the end. We used our time and the space in the gym to explore the cardinal directions. I called out "North!" and students had to find it. After we figured that out, it was easy to find south, then west and east. This is helping us out for Math and Social Studies, but shh...I like to trick the kids into being taught! We all gathered in the middle of the gym, saying that it represented Ottawa. Students then had to figure out where to go with different interactions "Hop to where Nunavut would be!", "Bear crawl to where bears live in BC!", "Fly to Florida!". We talked about how east and west determine time zones and how north and south determine temperature. We acted out what mangrove trees in Malaysia do - they grow roots out of the mud, they suck up salt water and filter it. Students were on the move, excited, problem solving and suggesting challenges. Not a single complaint. Not a single piece of equipment. By the end, I was buzzing.
-To keep the good feeling going, I told my students that I had made them reservations at a special restaurant called "209". It's very exclusive. The food is prepared in a kitchen that resembles a coatroom and comes served in colourful boxes and bags. This restaurant has strict policies for customers. They play lovely mood music, but diners are expected to enjoy their food with their senses (taste, touch, smell and sight) and focus mindfully on their delicious dishes. We moved quietly and quickly through the halls and were pleased to see all the seating available in our
-I played "Mood Music" (the Youtube playlist I made for the beginning of the year)
and spontaneously, all the students joined in to passionately sing "Brave". Swoon. As a class with on set in stone rule: "Be Brave", I'm so happy to see it's becoming our anthem. After a few verses, I reminded the diners to eat mindfully. Watching them sway to the music while eating. Double swoon.
-I actually went to the washroom and took some breaks in the staff room when the students were at recess.
-The awesome grade 6 Leadership Club Exec showed up without a reminder for a meeting (that, shh...I'd forgotten about!) and we planned for our Free the Children workshop on Friday.
-We had a totally organized and efficient Mystery Skype with a former student who is on holidays in Uruguay (he contacted me over the break to suggest it).
-Students eagerly and effectively reflected on videos they'd selected from Project Explorer on a collaborative Google Doc. We only had to put our hands up twice to undo some formatting mistakes!
-Students figured out how to get from Ottawa to the country they are learning about on Project Explorer, they even figured out how to map a flight path on Google Maps, learning the directions, the distance, the length of time to get there and the price of flights! Students were using atlases, globes, the class map and digital tools to solve problems.
-We finally had our Hour of Code, which students have literally been BEGGING for. They were AWESOME. My coding skills are basically nil, but the students helped one another to problem solve and persevere. We've decided to have a Cozy Coding Day - PJs, stuffies, blankets and coding ALL DAY!
-A school goal is to make learning more transparent, and I posted new "Learning Goals" for us today. We reviewed them a few times in the day and students self-assessed their performance with our red-light to green-light air scale (if you're totally on track and at a "green light" of understanding, you hold your hand up high; if you're totally stuck and at a "red light", you hold your hand down low; "yellow light"s in the middle). Students even connected their learning.
-Students are understanding and excited to name our new friend, our third class Muppet. This Muppet is ungendered. We know that they like to go by the pronoun "they" instead of "he" or "she". Students have created Google Docs to generate names. We'll decide on one tomorrow. Our new friend looks great with Norman (our green Muppet who doesn't know Math) and Hedwig (our purple Muppet who is shy about reading). We even discovered that our new friend, being orange, has something in common with their friends - they are all secondary colours!
-We are spotting out our own Time Sucker Questions and not asking them. Phew. Saves me a lot of time and breath!
-Here is what some of the Gladiator Snails learned today
-I smiled A LOT today. I didn't even have to try to do it. It was totally natural. It felt pretty good.
-I have some pretty awesome colleagues and friends at my school. Several gathered in my room after school to chat and share stories and ideas.
-I kept to my resolution to do school work for only an hour after school. I left at 3:30. That almost never happens.
I may have had my teacher costume on before. People may have thought I was doing good things with my class. I didn't feel it.
Today, I did.