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Reflections of the School Year – Student Written Reports

As the end of the school year approaches, with teachers busy with final assessments and report card writing, and students anxious to enjoy the nice weather and their last month with their class mates, it is a great time for self-reflection, self-assessment and community building in the classroom.

Similar to the awesome self-reflection activities that Carmen has done with her students, an activity that my students have really enjoyed was writing a report card for a friend and presenting it to the class, as sort of an ‘exit speech’ that reflects the events, learning and memories during the school year:

1.  Have the students select their own partner, groups of 2 or 3, and give them a list of curriculum and subject areas to brainstorm ideas about the partner that is being interviewed.   (*Click here to see an example)

2.  Give the students some free time to interview each other and  record the ideas and memories for the ‘report card’. (I connected this with the  interviews that the students did at the beginning of the school year to learn about each other).

3.  Later, send the students to individually write a short  ‘report card’ about their friend, using the brainstormed ideas.

4.  The partners are also in charge of creating an ‘award’ for their classmate.  (In my class, they were given free rein to create a ‘statuette’ or a symbol using whichever materials they could find along with a an  explanation for why the student was getting that ‘award’) . The results were creative and the sentiments were funny, personal and touching.

5.  Hold a ‘graduation ceremony’ in the classroom, where the students present their partner with the report card (read aloud) and their ‘award’.  If the students are not in grade 5 or 8 (and changing schools), the ‘graduation ceremony’  could just mean that the students are ‘graduating’ to the next grade in school, or graduating from your class. Either way, it is a fun spin on an end of year celebration, and its individualized for each student.

The students really seem to enjoy this activity- it allows them to reflect on their relationships and highlights of the school year and they have fun sharing about what was unique to them or their own experiences.  The students laugh as they recall events that happened during the year, and also being reminded of their certain tendencies. The classroom vibe is light, fun, creative, reflective and honest.

Carmen’s idea of a report card for the teacher, by the students is a great follow up to this activity, and something I will try in the future.

For me, when listening to the ‘report card’ presentations, I am able to learn about the things that stood out to the students about their school year- their successes, strengths, social growth and even pet-peeves. Not only is it a reflective piece for the children, it serves as a reflective piece for me as well -learning what the students loved, didn’t love, and what learning they would remember and carry on after the final school bell  at the end of June. This opportunity of self-reflection is a fun activity for the students and  provides me with another opportunity to hone my own art of teaching and  learning as well!


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My Continuum of Professional Growth – An Attitude of Gratitude

Over the past couple of months, I have had the privilege of teaching in numerous schools and classrooms throughout the TDSB as a daily occasional teacher.  I have been the ‘new kid at school’ so to speak, meeting new principals, other teachers and more students than I can count.  The greatest benefit to meeting these new people and working in different classrooms has been being able to witness and learn from the great practices that are going on in the classrooms throughout the board, and taking these ideas with me as something that I might later implement in my own classroom.

In my conversations with other teachers, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be doing this.  Some teachers were hired straight from pre-service, and developed their programs using the knowledge that they gained in pre-service and through the support of the school and board. One thing that I (and many new teachers that are navigating daily occasional teaching and LTO’s) have, that many experienced teachers did not have, is the opportunity to see and practice the other great ideas, lessons and systems that are going on in other classrooms. Some of the teachers that I have met in my day-to-day encounters expressed that feel that they ‘missed out’ on daily occasional teaching and getting to see great ideas from other classrooms that they could later experiment and make it ‘their own’. I have been fortunate to learn from so many of the great teachers and classrooms that I have taught in as an occasional teacher.

Referring to the ‘Continuum of Professional Learning and Growth’ in Chapter 8 of The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning (ETFO, 2011), I have reflected on how I have evolved through the stages of the Continuum of Professional Learning and Growth. The stages of Orientation and Beginning Practice in my first year of teaching as a full-year LTO were challenging and rich in new learning. Taking in a multitude of information and making sense of how it applied to myself as a teacher was an intense and rapid learning curve- one that has resulted in a steadfast commitment to my own learning and improvement as a teacher.

Over the last couple of years in my continued work as an LTO, I have journeyed through the examination of my own practice, working to find the right fit of strategies that can be used for planning, managing my time, establishing an organizational structure, developing lessons, developing community in my classroom, utilizing school and professional supports, and the list goes on. For me, the Examination of Practice is the ongoing reflection that I do to help me identify how I can best serve and lead my students, and improve my practice.  I feel that this is something I will never, and should never, stop doing for as long as I am an educator because it plays a large part in my commitment to being a better and more effective teacher. I have worked alongside great experienced teachers who make this a part of their daily and weekly practice, so that they can make improvements and adjustments daily and yearly. This is probably one of the things that contributes to how great they really are! I have taken note and learned so much from them.

Now, as a daily occasional teacher, teaching in other teacher’s classrooms, I get to observe, practice, and execute the great ideas that I haven’t yet learned or seen over the course of my teaching journey. It is inspiring to see the creative approaches to classroom management, community building, collaboration and so forth, seeing the things that I can later experiment with.   Having such exposure, and the opportunities to Experiment and Apply are helping to inform my teaching identity and style (on a course to establishing my Embedded Practice), and I am grateful for having these opportunities.

There are many ways in which a teacher can arrive at opportunities for new learning, experimentation and application.  We can collaborate with one another, attend workshops, take courses, read books, follow online blogs and we can also poke our heads into each other’s classrooms and find out what is going on ‘in there’. I have been fortunate that my teaching journey has led me to poking my head into many people’s classrooms, and learning from other teachers through my occasional teaching.

I am also thankful for the opportunity to write for this blog, where I can intentionally share my knowledge and practices with other beginning, experienced and occasional teachers. Intentional Sharing of Knowledge and Practice is located on the end of the Professional and Learning and Growth continuum (p. 122); I am able to do this now through this forum.  This is just the beginning for me in the early stages of my career, but sharing knowledge is embedded in my practices as a teacher and as a colleague and it will continue to be a large part my approach in wherever my teaching career takes me.  The other loggers have also broadened my perspectives, I have been mentored by their posts and they have helped me to identify other learning opportunities and priorities that will inform my embedded practices.  Thank you! This year has been another vast learning opportunity, and I feel it is only just the beginning as I continue to navigate the challenging, rich and rewarding path of teaching.

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Communicating Forward: Supporting our students’ learning journey

Having been in a different school every year, I have been able to see the different ways teachers wind down their school year and transfer information forward to subsequent teachers.  I do my best to observe and adapt to the different end-of-year practices so that I am effectively adapting to the school culture, and continuing to hone my teaching practices.  In some of the LTO positions that I held that started in September,  I experienced firsthand how communicating with last year’s teacher and communicating information forward about the students can help prepare a new teacher for meeting the students’ needs from the get-go, in September. The sharing and transferring the knowledge a teacher has about his or her students at the end of the school year to the following teacher can be as simple as passing along a reading assessment, a writing sample or even a students’ journal that would give a glimpse into the student’s life of the previous school year.

I have benefitted from good communication practices in several of the Long Term Occasional positions that I held and had started in September.  One example that stands out for me was when I was beginning as a Senior Kindergarten teacher, I was given a file from the Junior Kindergarten teacher which revealed her own learner background summary on her students from the previous year as well as an outgoing assessment performed on each student (a self portrait, printing their name, letter printing with markings showing whether they could identify the letter, the sound, and number printing).  In reading those files, I was able to get a picture of where the students left off and where some of them were developmentally.  That information allowed me to get an idea of my classroom profile and where I would need to begin in my teaching with them (for example, based on their printing, I could get a sense of a student’s fine motor skills, letter identification, from their drawing, I could get a sense of where the student was developmentally). Having that information before even meeting my students also gave me a starting point for what I would diagnostically assess them on at the beginning of the school year (which was great learning for me, as I was new to teaching kindergarten).

It was through this experience that I learned that communication can continue and be transferred past the end of one school year, into the next and that the transfer of this information can provide teachers with a more comprehensive picture of their new students.  While teachers can access previous report cards and schools maintain the Student Ontario Student Record (OSR) folders as a record of the students’ learning history, having additional access to a tangible student work sample can fill some of the blanks and prepare the new teacher for continuing to meet of the students’ specific needs from the very start.

I am sharing this learning as some ‘food for thought’ for my fellow teachers to view the finishing of a grade in June as a pause in the students’ learning journey before they move onto their next chapter, a new grade the following September, and an opportunity to continue supporting the students as they progress by communicating forward information.  By passing the detailed information that we worked diligently to maintain, forwarding student information to the next teacher we can benefit our students and help each other prepare continuing to meet the students’ needs as well.

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Using Positive Reinforcement for Persistent Misbehaviours

Recently I taught as a daily occasional teacher in a special education, mostly behavioural classroom.   This was my first experience with the kind of group of students where correcting misbehaviours and classroom management was critical to getting through the day safely and working to complete the regular teacher’s goals for the day.   As a daily occasional teacher, I felt some apprehension knowing that an already challenging class could be even more challenging for a new teacher that is out of their familiar routine, but was prepared to face the challenge to the best of my abilities.

One thing that I noticed upon entering the classroom, was that the teacher had laid out a daily behaviour log for each student.  It was broken down into time blocks (corresponding with entry, class periods, recess, lunch and exit) and it included a rubric consisting of levels 1-4 (which corresponded with expected behaviours for each level).    When going over this student information, I recalled reading in Chapter 4 in the Heart and Art of teaching about positive consequences – reinforcing positive behaviour that is consistent with creating a learning focused classroom environment.  I decided that I would begin with this approach to set a positive tone to the day.

When the students entered in a less than orderly fashion, I commended two students for their ‘Level 3 ½’ entry,  and mentioned that their classroom teacher would be pleased to learn of this when I make my notes at the end of the day.  I saw a smile as one student was particularly pleased that I had noticed. The other students overheard, and while some students chose to continue with their off-task behaviour, a few others took their cue and directed their behaviour towards positive praise.   In commending those two students, I also gained two helpers who were inclined to assist me in the classroom routines (i.e., getting out the nametags, advising me who should not be taking washroom trips together etc.).

If you take  look at the Venn Diagram on page 59 of Heart and Art (Students Who Rock, Students Who Are Deciding, Students Presenting Challenges) , I  would say that the class demographic was made up of ‘students who are deciding (on their behaviour), and students who ‘presented challenges’.  With positive reinforcement, I think I was able to encourage a few of the ‘students who were deciding’ to be a little more helpful and focussed, and in this I feel that I averted some additional behavioural challenges that could have existed.

While it was a challenging day, I found that approaching the students initially with kindness and praise sent them a message that I knew what was expected of them, and that I would follow through with the regular classroom culture of behaviour tracking, reward and consequences.  While not all students in the class ‘bought in’, I do feel that using a positive-reinforcement approach increased the potential of the  students wanting  to be successful, and decreased the ‘us Vs. supply teacher’ mentality that some students can develop.    This is an approach that I think many teachers already use in their classrooms, but I hope that it serves as encouragement for occasional teachers to employ in any challenging classroom environment.

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Teaching Music When You’re Not a Music Teacher

I did not have a very extensive musical education as a student. I could tell you that every Good Boy Deserves Fudge: and FACE are some things to remember when you are reading notes.  I may not have an extensive musical background, but that’s not to say that I can’t teach music:

I truly do appreciate music. I like a variety of melodies and enjoy paying attention to lyrics, instruments, beats and rhythms of songs, and I believe that discussing an appreciation of music can be educational and fun for students and the teacher. From time to time I incorporate this kind of music appreciation into my classroom, and now that I am daily occasionally teaching, I find it an excellent back pocket idea for instances when I am called into teach Music for the day or when I have some time and need to settle an active class.

I found ‘music appreciation’ to be successful with the students that I was teaching, because they like to sing and they can move to the rhythms. Music has also been shown to improve cognition in younger students: http://alumni.news.yorku.ca/2011/10/27/york-study-verbal-iq/?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=ExactTarget&utm_campaign.  And let’s be honest, it’s fun to just groove out sometimes.

In my planning, I identify a genre of music (e.g., Jazz), read up on its history, instrumentation etc. and after playing some music for the students, we just discuss it. My I phone is very helpful- I can YouTube some music and Google additional information on it and play it for the students.  We talk about how it made us feel and what we liked about it or didn’t like.  Later, we learn to sing the song, we analyze the lyrics and research the genre some more through media literacy (e.g.,  I’ve had the students learn more about Jazz styling by exploring websites like  http://pbskids.org/jazz/join_the_jazz_band.html.)

I hope this gives some beginning teachers some inspiration to make the most out of music instruction, even without a formal background in it. Good luck!

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Classroom Management and Tips for Daily Occasional Teaching

It’s funny to me that when I tell people that I am ‘supply teaching’, I am often met with statements along the lines of “Well that’s pretty easy, you don’t have to plan, and you basically just watch the kids for a day.” At this statement, I usually scoff and reply with “Do YOU remember what you and your classmates were like when your teacher was away?”. This is usually met with a chuckle and a “oh yeah, I see what you’re getting at.”

I think we can all recall a time in our years as students, when the absence of the regular classroom teacher was met with the idea that there was a free pass to try to get away with what you normally couldn’t get away with when the regular classroom teacher was around.  Kids being kids, this scenario still often rings true: students, knowing that an occasional teacher is only in for a day and is not familiar with the rules and routines, will try to push some boundaries.  For me, when teaching as a daily occasional teacher, this is where classroom management and foresight are paramount to having a successful day. I have started my daily occasional teaching assignments, and in preparation, I read Chapter 7- Preparing for or Being an Occasional Teacher (Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning). I found the practical ideas from Connie were helpful in getting my head around teaching in someone else’s classroom for the day, and in being proactive in anticipating the turns the day could take.

In addition to the good ideas already mentioned in the book, I start out my day with my own bag of tricks. My daily bag is equipped with my desk bell, a whistle (in case I am teaching gym), a book of fun drama activities and a few picture books that are appropriate and liked by many age groups. Along with it, I try to think of a follow up activity that can be used if the teacher hasn’t left any plans or when work is completed and we have an extra chunk of time (for example, plotting the beginning, middle, and end of a book, writing in the point of view, creating an alternate cover page for the book).

For the older grades, I make sure to write Ms. Perrin’s Expectations on the board for the students to see right when they enter into the classroom.  My expectations follow along the lines of:

  1. Be respectful of your classmates and teacher
  2. Raise your hand and wait your turn to speak
  3. Ask for permission to use the restrooms or to leave the classroom
  4. Be kind and do your best
  5. Let’s have a great day together!

I find that taking this little step sets the tone for the day.  The students immediately know who I am. They understand that my expectations are probably similar to their regular teacher’s expectations, and that I want to have a positive day with them. Once the students are settled, I take a few minutes to introduce myself and share a little bit about the grades and schools that I have taught in. This way, the students (hopefully) view me as a teacher (and not as some grown-up impostor who has taken over the classroom for the day).  I also take a minute to inform the students of my strategy for getting their attention (ring bell, clap sequence) and what my expectations are for when I use the strategy (stop what you are doing, track the teacher).  With these expectations already established, the students are aware of what being successful and being unsuccessful looks like in terms of their behaviour.

Another thing that I do for most grades that I teach, is if the student’s desks aren’t labelled, I will have the students create a personalized name tag that reflects who they are (and maybe include 3 things that they would like to share with me or the class).  I find that this is a great community building exercise, that lets the students know that I am interested in learning a bit about them, and it helps me to call on the students by name from the beginning of the day. A few minutes spent at the beginning of the day establishing community and guidelines, help me to set a tone that is conducive to us all getting along and  doing what we need to do.

I find it most helpful to envision what I want my day to look like, then think about the things that need to be established in order for that to happen.  If you’re starting out as a daily occasional teacher, or are struggling in getting the students ‘on board’ in your teaching assignments, referring to p. 115-116 of Heart and Art is a good place to start. Hopefully my tips will also help some beginning teachers to have a smooth, well managed day of teaching too. Best of luck!

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Saying Goodbye…

Last week, my Long Term Occasional assignment ended.  Leaving a classroom three quarters into the year creates some mixed reactions from both students and me, their teacher. Part of me feels a little bit of sadness, knowing that I will miss my students, new colleagues and familiarity of the school I worked at, but I also feel a sense of  a renewed resolve, to continue getting to know new schools, and developing other collegial connections that could lead to a permanent contract. Mindful of the upcoming ‘goodbye’ and end of my contract, I did my best to prepare my students for the transition of me leaving and make it a meaningful and positive experience for them.

Throughout the school year, I collected pieces of student work and filed them away. During the last month of my contract, I was hard at work afterschool and evenings, glue-stick in hand, creating a scrapbook of each student’s work. These pieces consisted of writing pieces, crafts, drawings, photographs, math activities that showed the students’ progress.  I can’t say that I loved the hours of sorting and sticky fingers that were associated with the task, but I knew that the end result would be worth it. The final addition to their scrapbook was a photograph of me with each student and a ‘goodbye’ poem.

On my last day with the students, and before we had our ‘goodbye’ party, I settled the students and spoke to them about ‘reflecting on our learning’. I encouraged them to recall how some of them struggled with spelling their names at the beginning of the year, and many didn’t know how to read yet or spell many words. I reminded them of the many hours we had spent together at school, how they persevered and had accomplished so much.  I then sent the students off with their scrapbook to look at and reflect on the learning and fun that we had done throughout the year.  It was interesting to hear some students share their reflections:  “Look, Ms. Perrin, in September I didn’t know that my R’s were facing in the wrong direction”. “Why didn’t I finish a lot of my work? Oh yeah, I wasn’t good at focusing so well then”.

Many of them were excited to see a personalized photo of themselves with me, and I was happy to have given them something that demonstrated their learning, and something that they could reflect upon and remember me by.  I believe that I have given my students a meaningful ‘goodbye’ as demonstrated by the enormous hugs I received, thoughtful cards and requests to come back and visit. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have touched my student’s lives in some way, and am equally grateful to have learned so much about Grade 1, from my students.

I’m certain that my next step of daily occasional teaching will bring forth different stirrings of emotions and experiences and it will be inevitable:  a lot of learning will take place. Wish me luck!

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Colleague Collaboration and Leaving a Teaching Assignment

In just over a week, my LTO (long term occasional teaching) teaching assignment will be over, I will say good bye to my lovely Grade 1 students and surrender myself to new students and the world of unpredictable daily occasional teaching once again.  Leaving a classroom, just like starting up a classroom, is a process that requires planning, communication, organization, and it is a process that is seriously benefitted by collaboration.

In my school year start-up planning, I was mindful of the kind of student-information that I would need to have on-hand to transfer over to the returning teacher. In my planning I made sure that information on students, timetables, assessments and the like were all clear, concise and put together in such a way that anyone could make sense of the information.  I started this when I created learner background forms back in September (with parent information, information on allergies, caregivers etc.), which were placed in a divided binder where the students’ progress report, report card, IEP’s and parent communication records would later be added).  This process of having to later transfer student information was also in mind when I created student files with examples of student work and diagnostic testing for an informative ‘at a glance’ of each student, that could easily be passed on to a new teacher.

In the month leading up to the ‘transfer’, I took inventory of the classroom supplies that the new teacher would need for the upcoming months and made sure to place my order so that the class was short on things that might come in handy (fresh glue, markers, erasers, pencils). I also made sure not to over-order knowing that the teacher might want to order supplies in June for the upcoming 2012-2013 school year. I made sure to return books to the library and return any borrowed resources to other teachers in the school. As a child I was always told to ‘leave a place in the same, or better,  state as which you found it’, good advice for any teacher, whether they are changing classrooms, leaving from a leave, leaving after a day of supply teaching or leaving a long term occasional assignment.

I have also been in touch with the returning teacher, and we plan to meet next week, when she will observe the classroom routines, meet the students and we will also have a chance to go over some of the planning and she will get a sense of where I will be leaving off. I have also emailed her my day-plans template, week at a glance timetable and class list, so that she does not have to re-invent the wheel, and so that she can focus on other priorities such as getting to know her new class.  She also knows that she can contact me with questions once she returns to work.

I know that a lot of what I am doing isn’t actually required of long-term occasional teachers, or of contract teachers who are going on leave, but I believe that teamwork and collaboration are positive and essential practices for any teacher. We teachers  are not required to meet, or to share our personal ‘creations’, to share our units, resources, ideas, or hand over our ‘intellectual property’, but we put so much of ourselves into our work to benefit our students, why wouldn’t we share if someone could add to it and make it better? Why wouldn’t  we divide the labour so that more attention can be given to an area that needs it? Or Why wouldn’t  we lean on one another and be a team so that we restore ourselves from time to time and take turns leading the charge?

I have been in teaching situations where I was given little, or any information on how to program my classroom, which resources to use, how to order supplies, establish systems or routines (teaching under these circumstances can be quite challenging, a trial-by-fire learning experience that is never forgotten), and I have also been in teaching situations where harmonious team work, sharing and planning was the norm (which had an even more positive impact on my experiences as a teacher, my learning and on the kind of things the students and I were able to accomplish in the classroom). Perpetuating a practice that supports teachers, inexperienced and experienced, that allows them to succeed and in turn assist the students succeeded is just another reason why we teachers should do our best to help each other out.  Whether we are moving classrooms, going on leave, leaving an LTO behind, or leaving a classroom after supply teaching for a day, I hope this post helps us all be a little more mindful of other ways we can be more positively collaborative and communicative with our colleagues.

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Staying on Top of Your Professional Profile

It’s that time of year again.  Its report card and parent-teacher interview time, but also for eligible to hire teachers without permanent contracts, long-term occasional teachers, and occasional teachers it’s about the time to re-apply to boards for hiring for the next year. It’s an important process because if we don’t do it properly and on time, our livelihood as teachers could be compromised the following year.

While the process of re-applying is not new to me, I still find it a little bit stressful because of the timing of it (coming off of the holidays, assessment/reporting) and the importance of being able to stand out and be up to date, and reflective of my accomplishments as an educator.  After teaching all day, taking courses in the evenings, report writing during evenings and weekends, the gathering of materials for applying to boards ( which includes cover letters, resumes, references, OCT information, teacher-appraisals from pre-service teaching) it is a big undertaking, as is updating the information and properly uploading it as per the board’s format.

I understand the challenges that a lot of beginning (not-permanent) teachers go through this time of year, because I experience it myself.  This is the time of year that I need to be acutely attuned to my students’ learning (their assessments, class room lessons, report-card writing, preparation for parent teacher interviews) and I also have to be concern myself with my own learning/accomplishments and securing future and more permanent (or at least, predictable) employment.  Having been through this a few times, I am learning how to be smarter about keeping my professional portfolio up to date so that I am able to focus on my work in the classroom and my other commitments. I have gotten into the habit of updating my resume every couple of months, including more recent workshop experience, teaching experiences and taking away information that may be redundant or outdated so that I don’t have to sit and stare blankly at last year’s resume contemplating what to add.  I also make it a point to contact my  references to ask their permission and briefly discuss the work that they can comment on. I keep scanned copies of important teaching related information and cover letters for easy access and easy uploading.

While I don’t love the process and the timing of having to reapply to boards annually, I understand its function for being up to date and retaining people who are committed to becoming teachers. As a result of my learning how to manage and keep up to date with my professional profile, I have enjoyed the varied experiences of teaching in different grades and different classrooms, and I hope that other ‘new teachers’  find my tips helpful in making the hiring process a little less difficult.

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New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year!!!

The New Year is a great time to reflect on the previous year and to set goals and resolutions for the year ahead.  I spoke to my students about New Year’s resolutions and shared some of my personal goals for school and for myself at home. I felt it was important for the students to see that setting goals help to make a person ‘better’ and that it is no different than the practice and work that they put in every day into their learning.  The message was not lost on them, and they were enthusiastic to prove that you’re never too young to start goal setting. In fact, I think that my young students really understood the purpose and value of goal setting because they grow, learn and improve so quickly (for example, in learning how to read).

Together the students came up with their own definitions of resolutions and we discussed the purpose and value of articulating a goal and coming up with a plan for meeting that goal.  Then, we all took turns sharing one resolution that pertains to school and one that pertains to home life.  The students then wrote about their goals for display in the school.  This week I will be sending a copy of the students’ resolutions home with them to serve as a reminder and a discussion point for parents in helping their children achieve their goals.

Click here to see some pictures of this activity from my classroom.

It’s important to strive for improvement, whether it is for the benefit of work or school, but also as busy teachers,  for achieving health and balance, which I will be working on  myself in 2012.