Partnerships

This past week allowed me an amazing opportunity to work with a very committed and compassionate group of Early Childhood Educators. They are part of ETFO and as such are able to partake in a variety of services that are offered including workshops. The topic of this session was on poverty (Why Poverty? is the official name for the provincial workshop). So on a Monday evening in the month of June, twenty ECE staff showed up after a full day of work to talk and discuss the topic of poverty.

At first I was quite nervous, as I had never facilitated a workshop for anyone but teachers. Over the two hours that we worked together the titles faded away and we just became a group of like-minded people who were seeking ways to help level the playing field for the children in our care.

Then it happened, that aha moment where the idea of partners and partnerships became very real for me. So on my drive home from Hamilton I began to ask myself where else could I find partnerships? Who could also partner with me to enhance the educational experience of my students? The answer was astonishingly simple. I need to look no further then the staff room in my school. I just needed to look with a different lens in order to see the amazing wealth of talent that exists within each school (Child and Youth Workers, Educational Assistants, Early Childhood Educators, volunteers).

Yes, right before my eyes existed a wealth of ideas, passions, skill sets and people who chose a career that focussed on helping young people be successful. The task is to work on bringing them all together, to create an environment that values each person, their profession and not their title. This approach is alive and well in our Kindergarten programs. How do we transfer that to our entire school? How do we bring support staff and teachers together in workshops to learn side-by-side?

I highly encourage the readers to please share their ideas or current practices on how to best create, maintain and foster growth in these types of partnerships. In closing, I would like to thank the Early Childhood Educators from Hamilton who helped me experience the power of a partnership.

Allies

The word ally is typically defined as a nation or state cooperating with another for a military purpose. As with most words it of course has been expanded for many uses but retains the meaning of being on your side. So the question I ask you today is, as a teacher who are your potential allies?

From the minute I enter into my school I have an amazing opportunity to make allies, get people to support the work I do with my students, school and community. Allies are everywhere but like countries you must take the time to build up relationships to develop those allies. When you do that, they will be there when you need them most. I am going to talk about several key allies that I have in working with my students and how without them there are many things I would have much greater difficulty accomplishing.

The first ally is of course the parent(s) of my students. Let’s be honest, we both really want what is best for a child even though we may not agree on how to accomplish that. From the moment I know a child is going to be in my classroom I reach out to families to try and start building that working relationship. It starts with a simple call home the week prior to school welcoming them and their child to my classroom. It continues on with my first Weekly News letter home by asking them to brag about their child as they know them best as well as asking them to prioritize two goals they would like their child to accomplish this year. This helps sends the message they are a part of the formula to create success for their child. I continually update them with sunshine calls home, weekly news updates, inviting them to attend events in the classroom and any other way I can include them or make use of their expertise and assistance in my room. Of course not every parent becomes my ally or totally agrees with every decision I make. There will be some parents who just won’t or don’t engage in your efforts. This work I put into recruiting parent allies always pays off with some very strong relationships that are there when I need them most.

The second set of allies I work hard at creating are with the school support staff such as our office manager and custodial team. These are key people who are the heart and soul of the school and can be there to support me in many situations when I need the help. One of the most unique request I made of our custodian was to have our front classroom door taken off so my class could create a drawbridge door for our Medieval Times study. Needless to say I had to have a strong relationship with that person to make and receive such a request. Our office manager (and every office manager) is the heart of the school. He/she is the first and often last person everyone sees when coming to our school. That role is so important and my class spends time on a regular basis showing how we appreciate the work she does. That time and effort has helped me many times over the years when I need a last minute request or forgot some important deadline.

The final ally I want to talk about is a community-based position. My class spends time doing service learning projects and as such we need to have people who trust that I can take a group of 8-11 years old out into the community and perform projects that enhance our community. I have worked a lot with city environmental personnel who over the years have come to value and trust our staff and the request we make. There are community agencies and people who can also become a potential ally for you.

As I began to change the lens upon which I viewed my classroom I began to see more and more how many potential allies (support) I have available to me. I do not have to do this on my own. My educational team continues to grow as I grow relationships and take advantage of the opportunities they can provide me in supporting my students and my professional growth. Allies do not just happen, you must work at creating them.

Positive vs Negative Student Balances

When you look at your bank account you work extremely hard to ensure you always have a positive balance. By having a positive balance you are able to pursue so many options in how you may use that surplus. When you are not able to keep a positive balance, you become very limited in the options you have and may in the worst circumstance go bankrupt.

I look at each and every child and each and every family in that way. I start in September with a zero balance as I am just opening up that account. From the first minute I interact with each child as well as their family, I am either making deposits or withdrawals. Each and every positive statement I make, word of encouragement I offer, inflating vs deflating statement said, either builds that account or reduces that account balance.

When a conflict occurs (and it will) you are now having to look at the account you have created and will make a withdrawal as you help that child understand the choice they made and how to learn from it. If you have a built up a strong, positive balance with that child you are able to make that withdrawal without having any ill effects on the relationship that exists between the both of you. If it is a call home in regards to a negative scenario that occurred at school, the family’s reaction will be either supportive or defensive depending on the balance you have established at home with the parent(s).

I use a variety of tools to help foster a positive balance. The two most effective for me are ‘Sunshine Calls’ and rephrasing my comments when I react to the day-to-day events that unravel in my room. In a sunshine call I am truly just trying to send a positive message to each family about their child. It can be as simple as a comment about a great writing effort that occurred today, how their child read aloud for the first time in front of his/her peers or what a positive decision they made not make a small problem bigger. Over time I can actually hear the change in how the parent reacts to me once they recognize their child’s teacher is calling. Within a few months, the calls home are very sociable and appreciated by the family.

The second strategy took me a while to develop. I had to literally think about how and what I would say when events occurred. First I had to examine my approach and found that my initial comments were deflating or withdrawing from that account balance. For example if a student made a mess, I would say, “ You need to be more careful and not make a mess”. This type of statement always puts a student on the defensive. I am learning to rephrase my comments to be able to send a message but not put a student on the defensive. I now say “ Are you okay, accidents happen to everyone. How can we clean it up?”

A very unintentional but amazing benefit of this approach was that I was modelling for my students each day how to be respectful to each other in the way they communicate. Soon, this type of positive communication becomes the norm of the class. There are less and less conflicts between students simply due to the way they learn to communicate with each other and the people around them.

 

Dear Teacher

This is an open letter to all teachers across the world no matter what your role. This past summer I was part of a campaign entitled ‘Project Hero’. Teachers and students from across Canada wrote to teachers in Sierra Leone celebrating the extraordinary courage and resiliency they demonstrated during the Ebola crisis in their country. My team and I were able to hand deliver over 300 letters to teachers from all regions of that country. In continuing with this campaign, I am sharing a letter from me to teachers around the world.

Dear Teacher,

What words describe a hero? One might say kind, super hero strong, courageous, resilient, compassionate, generous, self-sacrificing, trustworthy, gracious, fearless and loyal (only to name a few). Each and every day you demonstrate these altruistic characteristics in so many ways that make a difference for the students you are entrusted with.

Yet, your tireless efforts are not celebrated in books, movies or on the television. Your efforts are not worthy enough to make the evening news or local headline. There are precious few times when even a thank you is shared. That is what makes you a hero. You are not seeking public fame. You are not trying to get unlimited likes on social media and you do not seek out recognition of any kind. You simply do what you do because it makes a difference in the life of a child and ultimately the world in which we live in.

I have had the honour of being a teacher for thirty-one years and am ready to start another voyage in the life of a group of children. I am honoured and humbled to be in such a noble profession working with heroes like you each and every day. I wish you the best in this school year and will say thank you in advance for the many, many heroic acts you will carry out on behalf of children around the world.

Humbly yours,

Michael Beetham

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDVECWcYtjc

P1060687   PS – please share this video with a hero you know

– this is the moment some of the Sierra Leone teachers

received their letters

Classroom Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions are a time-tested tradition in which individuals make personal commitments to improve in some aspect of their life. I have used this activity in my classroom for over two decades and find it to be a wonderful, fun tool in helping both myself and my students set goals on how to make the most of their academic year.First and foremost I model this activity for my students by reflecting on my first four months of the school year. I determine what went well and what do I need to do to further enhance the success of my students. I set personal resolutions in the following areas:

  1. Continue – what practices are going very well and should continue in the new year
  2. Improve – what practices have not went as well as expected and what do I need to do to improve that area of my teaching
  3. Experiment – what new area or tool would I like to start to experiment with in my day-to-day practice

This year my resolutions are going to be to continue with the use of technology as an alternative option for demonstrations of learning. I will improve in my area to both understand and apply the concept of sensory accommodations in the room (especially around noise). I will start to experiment with social media and how it can become an option for my classroom pedagogy.

For my students it starts with a discussion around New Year’s Resolutions and how it is a part of their life. Most often they talk about how the adults in their life make resolutions around quitting smoking, losing weight or exercising more. The conversation shifts to what the purpose of a resolution is and why people make them. I pose the following question, ‘Should only adults make New Year’s Resolutions?’. Of course their answer is always no. That leads us to talking about the types of resolutions that children might make. It always generates a very rich discussion about how we are individuals with different strengths, different needs and different lifestyles. That focus in itself is a key vehicle in which our group comes to understand and accept the uniqueness of each other.

The final product that is used by my students is a graphic organizer that will focus on four different areas of their life. The first is personal health. What do they need to do in order to be healthier (exercise more, less screen time, eat healthier)? The second focus is on happiness. What will they do in order to be happier in their life? The third area is academics. What do they need to spend more time on in order to be successful? The final component will be on friendships. How will they be a better friend or seek out more friendships? For the month of January we review these resolutions every Friday. After that we look at them every 2-3 weeks and finally in our year-end celebration we examine how successful we have been in reaching our resolutions. Over time I have had the students put them in a time capsule that is opened up much later in the year as well as having them take it home and share with family or a close friend. Whatever way they are used, it is an enjoyable way to start the new calendar year off.

Tortoise Brained Learning and Students

In my last post I focussed on the philosophical belief that quality vs quantity of professional learning is a more effective way of enhancing pedagogical practice. What does that mean for my classroom instruction? As I grow to understand the presence of different learning styles in my class, the presence of multiple intelligences and the wide variety of learning rates it forces me to re-examine both the long term and short term planning that I set up.

In the earlier part of my career my long-range plans were reflective of an efficient way to ensure that all of the curricula was covered. This I now refer to as curriculum planning and not student centred planning. As my understanding of differentiated learning and assessment grew, so did the need to adjust the way my planning unfolded. What I had experienced was a short-term understanding of content and when that topic was revisited months later there seemed to be a regression in the level of understanding of my students. That forced me to ask myself as to how well they had really learned the content in the first place.

Through years of experimenting with both my long range planning and unit design there arose two aha moments for me. The first was the need to revisit big ideas (overall expectations) through a spiralling curriculum. This means that I would chunk the content into more manageable pieces and revisit the content several times over the course of the year (quality vs quantity).

The second profound understanding was in time management and how do I accomplish the ability to revisit overall expectations with so many demands on the school day. Thus came the desire to increase my skill set in integrating learning across a variety of curricula. The following is a direct reference from the 2006 Ontario Language Curriculum:

In cross-curricular learning, students are provided with opportunities to learn and use related content and/or skills in two or more subjects. For example, teachers can use social studies reading material in their language lessons, and incorporate instruction in how to read non-fiction materials into their social studies lessons. In mathematics, students learn to identify the relevant information in a word problem in order to clarify what is being asked. In science and technology, they build subject-specific vocabulary, interpret diagrams and charts, and read instructions relating to investigations and procedures. All subjects require that students communicate what they have learned, orally and in writing. Their studies in the different subject areas help students develop their language skills, providing them with authentic purposes for reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and representing.

Needless to say, this is a spiralling learning experience for me as I continue to help my students consolidate the learning that they are a part of each and every day.

Sharing Your Passions Early and Often

When you are passionate about something, whether it is spending time in the natural world, cooking, art or music your excitement is palpable. It is also contagious. I have used this belief for the last three decades in my teaching practice. Every September my initial plan for developing a learning community and establishing relationships with the new collection of young learners is designed around those areas that I am passionate about.

My personal passions that I bring into my classroom centre on movement, life outdoors and literacy. Through these three vehicles I engage my students from the moment they enter into my classroom. I teach them that you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy moving, to have fun through games and play. I spend as much time in the outdoors using the natural world as a springboard to the curricula we will journey through over the next 10 months. Finally, my love for reading is shared through a treasure of wonderful, engaging books that bring learning to life for my students. My favourite book to start off my year is ‘YO! YES!’ (written and illustrated by Chris Raschka) as it helps set the stage for the type of community our classroom will strive to become.

This is not a drill. We are live.

Dawn of new year.
Dawn of new year.

It’s the first day.
I’m alone in my classroom.
Wow! It’s so calm in here.
And why not? It is nearly 2 hours before the first bell of the new year.

Why do I feel so excited? Yet, at the same time like butterflies are barfing in my stomach? 

We’ve all thought about it, dreamt about it, and for many, myself included, stayed awake the night before thinking about it. Our first day. Albeit,  only for a moment, or as part of lifelong “professional reflection”, the first day of school evokes feelings of anticipation, excitement, fear, or fearcitement (my word).

Did I set my alarm? Am I dreaming? What will my students be like? What about the parents? Will admin be stopping by our class? Is everything organized? Did I pack a lunch? Where’s my coffee? What if they don’t like me?

If you’re experiencing anything from self-doubt to euphoria to start the year, take heart; you’re not alone. Whether this thought life is old hat or brand new for you; congratulations you’re a teacher. For many entering the classroom for the very first time, it is the culmination of many years of hard work and dedication to our profession.

In this new era, just landing a job is worthy of celebration in Ontario. So when you get a moment, set aside some time to take it all in.

It seems like only yesterday. I recall being there 2 hours before the first bell. I recall the faces of students and parents meeting the “new” teacher outside. I recall the first big breath taken before entering the classroom. I recall the sense of accomplishment knowing I survived. Moreover, I recall this where I began to thrive.

Thinking back on the excitement from my first days of school; I  appreciate how they have led to personal growth, professional friendships and constant learning.

So take some time and enjoy the moments that can only happen on a first day of school. Take time to watch the parents who are seeing their child off for the first time. Take time to notice the student who is standing off to the side trying not to make eye contact. Take time to be still and appreciate the world of difference you are about to make in the lives of your learners. Take time to get caught up in the excitement, and let it carry you through that first day.

Enjoy every moment. I know I will too.

Will

Mike Beetham

The Power Of The Circle

The circle has many historical references probably none more meaningful as the significance to the traditions of our First Nations’ People. It is a very powerful formation as it represents the importance of each and every person in the group. There is no start or finish to a circle as well as representing the cycle of life for both nature and humans. I use the circle in my classroom for all classroom discussions, meetings and as a morning check in and day end check out.

During circle time the students are facing each other, taught how to demonstrate a good listener position and become more engaged in each and every discussion. The key message the circle sends is that each and every person in that circle is important and valued  for their ideas, who they are and the voice they will share with the rest of the group.

My first month of school is the time when the circle is introduced and the procedures that will be used during circle time. It is like any other beginning of the year activity, it requires a lot of work and consistency in the beginning. I use a variety of adventure based programming activities to further support the concept of how powerful the circle is in our physical education classes.

Over the course of first term there is a gradual release of responsibility to the point (at this time of the year) the circle is lead most often by the students. It becomes a tool for everyone in the room and not just the teacher. Last week a student asked to have circle time so that an issue that had taken place during the fitness break could be addressed and resolved.

Many times I am asked how do you use the circle in a classroom full of students, desks, support material and other classroom materials. My best answer to that important question is that if there is a will, there is always a way to make it work. Through both creative classroom design and the establishment of effective routines, the transition from regular classroom to circle formation can become seamless. I highly encourage you to research more about the traditional circle and how it may become a strategy in your classroom.

Bulletin Boards – Teaching Tool, Art Gallery, or Wallpaper?

Every classroom has bulletin boards, some have one, some have 10! It all depends on the space you have and how you plan to use it. It is easy to set something up with plans for it to change or evolve, only to find that 4 months later you haven’t touched it, taught to it, or even referenced it!!

In my experience, Bulletin Boards end up falling into 1 of 3 categories: Teaching Tool, Art Gallery, or Wallpaper. Some bulletin boards are a blend of two or even all three of these categories. It is important to make the most of the space you have on your walls, while being cognisant of the fact that many children find too much stuff on the walls to be distracting.

When planning your walls, make sure you check with health and safety regulation, as many school boards have a maximum percentage of walls space that can be covered to stay within the fire regulation. So before you hit pinterest for some great ideas, make sure you are even able to cover the space! In my classroom, I have 5 large boards that cover almost every space that isn’t blackboard, windows or doors. The space that the bulletin boards cover is actually above the maximum percentage I can have covered in paper!! So I can’t paper back my boards as it is a fire hazard.

Many teachers like to paint their boards so they look crisp and clean all year. Again, double check with health and safety, as it is often an issue as it adds weight to the board which might not have been considered when mounting it. Especially if you are the 10th person in the classroom to paint them because the previous colours didn’t suit anyone’s decor!

Once you have established what your health and safety guidelines are, you can start to think about what is going on the walls. Ask yourself a few questions before you put something up there.

1. How will this help the students? While a Word Wall CAN help students, if you slap it all up before school starts and casually refer to it from time to time, it is not a useful tool and it is just wallpaper. Make sure you teach to it. Make it with the class and do it organically!

2. Is this something we need up for more than just today? If you only need it for the immediate future, don’t make a whole board of it. If you want to show off student work, I find the hallway is the best place for this type of thing. It gets more “traffic” from other teachers/students/parents, and it isn’t a distraction to learning. If you do need it for more than just today, you may want to ask a few more questions before you decide where to put it!

3. Do I need to put it all up right away and on my own? As teachers, we hate to look or feel like we aren’t organized, prepared, and ready to go! I recall as a young teacher, putting up bulletin boards before the first day of school. Yes, sometimes I taught to them, but generally they were just wallpaper. Many of us are guilty of putting up the whole word wall kit the day we get it! It just looks so pretty when it is done! Put it up gradually, and with the class! This will make it a more meaningful teaching tool. As teachers, we like everything to look complete and not “in progress” – but having the word wall with just 3-4 words up in September is what your students need!

4. Am I done with this? If you aren’t using it anymore, and the kids aren’t, take a picture of it and take it down! The more “stuff” you have on your walls, the harder it is for students to find what they are looking for. If you don’t need it anymore, take it down!

5. Are the kids using this? Even when you read the research, do the work, cut, past, laminate, and put up a beautiful board, the kids may not respond to it and it may not be useful to them. If you put up a board for math showing single digit addition strategies to start off the year, if they have all mastered it by December, they probably aren’t using it anymore. We have a tendency to keep things up in lieu of blank space to avoid looking like we aren’t accomplishing anything as a class! If they aren’t using it, take it down, or teach to it more, modify it, model how to use it. If after teaching to it more, they still aren’t using it – TAKE IT DOWN!!

There are thousands of blog posts and pinterest boards dedicated to amazing bulletin board ideas. Before you put one up, make sure it is actually something you need, that will get used, and that you install it in such a way that the students know how to access it.

There are great blog posts about what to do with your bulletin boards when you are done. My personal favourite is to snap a picture and create a bulletin board binder. That way, if there is still one of two children in the class that still need that bulletin board, they can go to the binder and look at it all year long! It will also serve as a nice reminder of how they looked if you end up needing to recreate it another year!