Building professional capacity through teacher collaboration and online learning

ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students. ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Internationally, professional educational bodies and teacher federations in the United States, Britain, and Canada, for example, advocate for learning communities and the teacher collaboration that supports it (American Federation of Teachers, 2011; Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, 2011; General Teaching Council for England, 2003; National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2004; Ontario College of Teachers, 2006).

In Ontario, the Ontario College of Teachers’ Professional Learning Framework specifies that “Learning communities enhance professional learning. The professional learning framework encourages collaboration. It supports ongoing commitment to the improvement and currency of teaching practice as an individual and collective responsibility” (Ontario College of Teachers, 2015, p. 23).

Further, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario defines learning communities as “A group of education professionals who share common visions, values, and goals, and work collaboratively using inquiry, experimentation, and innovation to improve teaching and student learning” (2015, n.p.). The federation supports teachers’ involvement in learning communities when teachers’ participation is voluntary, is based on collegiality, respects members professionalism and autonomy, is supported with funding, and contributes to teachers’ professional growth (Weston, 2015).

The push for promoting teacher collaboration has gone from teachers simply meeting as a group to the hierarchical restructuring of schools in which learning community organization has become embedded in the educational landscape (Gajda & Koliba, 2008). It is important  to note that when collaboration is forced on teachers through administrative bodies, it can morph into managed or “contrived collegiality” (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012, p. 119). An example of this would be when administrators control teacher interactions through managerial meeting agendas, lists of working groups, and data teams (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012). Ideally, through a nonjudgmental collegial lens, collaboration should be focused on the developing, planning, and assessing of teaching practices to meet students’ needs (Lortie, 1975/2002).

Available research suggests that teacher identity norms impact teacher collaboration (Hargreaves, 2010). However, no large-scale quantitative data have been collected to investigate the relationships among teacher identity norms and teacher collaboration. In other words, there is no research that captures how teachers’ identities are implicated in the move towards a professional collaborative culture. “The research is clear on the importance of teacher collaboration in building collaborative communities (Achinstein, 2002; Gajda & Koliba, 2008; Hargreaves, 1991). What is not known is the connection between the way teachers work, the way they collaborate, their identities as teachers, and their identities as colleagues” (Weston, 2015).

In 2015, my research brought some light to what promotes and what suppresses teacher collaboration. Using quantitative research methods, my research found that the data indicated two clusters of teacher identity norms. The norm cluster of innovation, interdependence, and cooperation showed positive correlations with collaboration and the norm cluster of conservatism, individualism, and competition showed negative correlations with collaboration. The data showed that teachers highly valued collaboration as part of their teaching practice but did not always experience it in their school setting. “The analysis suggested that if schools reinforce norms of innovation, interdependence, and cooperation, collaboration will be nurtured. Further, the data showed that if norms of conservatism, individualism, and competition are continued in school cultures, then collaboration will not be sustained. As a broad educational reform agenda, teacher collaboration is used (a) to support school cultures, (b) to change teaching practices, and (c) to implement policy-based initiatives (Weston, 2015).

On a personal note, it is through my collaboration with my colleagues that I grow most in my teaching practice. Currently, I have the opportunity to work with two colleagues who also teach my classroom program. This means that they have a similar base of knowledge in teaching the Empower program in our Contained Communications classrooms. As this teaching role can be very challenging, I often rely on my colleagues experience to deal with academic, social, and emotional challenges I face with students’ success. It is also important to note that we also share students so we can compare our similar challenges with a particular student. Some days I just need my colleagues to listen to me, while on other days I need advice and suggestions for changes in practice. I provide the same opportunity for my colleagues to talk to me about their challenges or just listen. Some days we commiserate together (tissue is sometimes required).

As my research suggests, our interdependence in supporting each other builds our collaboration. Further, with regular cooperative support, we become more effective as teachers and less stressed as we can reduce our apprehension about the challenges we face with our students. In providing supplementary suggestions and resources allow each of us to become more innovative in developing new strategies that work to increase our students capacity to read and write.

Within our group’s culture, it is because of this opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues that I have developed further in my effectiveness in teaching students with significant learning disabilities. In our collaboration, we build our students’ ability to become literate lifelong learners.

How does building online collaboration differ?

As of December 2020, it’s been almost a year since I’ve started teaching synchronously online (and face to face). I’ve been reflecting on how student and teacher collaboration differs. As I reflect on my experiences with online learning, I realized the core foundations of collaboration are not much different … it’s just  the forum that’s changed. Of course, participants must deal with technical issues and and learn about synchronous Online Etiquette (i.e. when to “raise” your virtual hand, who get to speak next etc.) In an online setting, participants are still people building relationships with each other. As each online group is a unique as its participants, their online culture will also be formed based on its member’s needs and interests. As an on line teacher and instructor, I realize that it is even more important to reach out to colleagues for support as the process of collaborating via a screen can be very isolating.

I don’t have all the answers yet and I continue to learn more each day. I welcome any tips or feedback as I will learn from this too.

As always,

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

References

Achinstein, B. (2002) Conflict amid community: The micropolitics of teacher collaboration, Teachers College Record, 104(3), 421-455.

American Federation of Teachers. (2011). Teacher development and evaluation. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/issues/teaching/evaluation.cfm

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. (ETFO). (2015). Professional Learning Communities, Retrieved from http://www.etfo.ca/SupportingMembers/Employees/PRSMattersBulletin/Pages/Professional%20Learning%20Communities.aspx

General Teaching Council for England. (2003). The teachers’ professional learning framework. Retrieved from http://www.gtce.org.uk/documents/publicationpdfs/tplf_commit_ptplf0603.pdf

Hargreaves, A. (1991). Contrived collegiality: The micropolitics of teacher collaboration, In J. Blase (Ed.), The politics of life in schools: Power, conflict, and cooperation. (pp. 80-94). London, UK: Sage.

Hargreaves, A. (2010). Presentism, individualism and conservatism: The legacy of Dan Lortie’s schoolteacher. Curriculum Inquiry, 40(1), 143-154.

Lortie, D. C. (2002). School teacher: A sociological study (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1975).

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (2004). What teachers should know and be able to do: The five core propositions. Retrieved from http://www.nbpts.org/UserFiles/File/what_teachers.pdf

Ontario College of Teachers. (2006). Standards of practice. Toronto: ON: Author.

Ontario College of Teachers. (2015). Professional learning framework for the teaching profession, Standards of practice. Toronto: ON: Author. Retrieved from https://www.oct.ca/public/professional-standards/standards-of-practice

Weston, D. (2015). Investigating the Relationships Between Teacher Identity Norms and Collaboration. Retrieved from https://dr.library.brocku.ca/bitstream/handle/10464/6191/Brock_Weston_%20Deborah_2015.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

Triggers and Habits in Teaching Part One

Dreaded Seating Arrangements

Almost every teacher I talk to says, “I have a really difficult class this year.”  The difficulties identified are most often tied to “behaviour” issues.  In my experience effective classroom “management” can be connected to dynamic programming and developing solid relationships with students. Many of us go to things like Class Dojo or incentive programs to “manage” behaviour and some have their merits.  However, they might “manage” behaviour, but does it help student to learn to self-regulate?  I understand that there are students who have behaviour safety plans that can provide challenges and I do not mean to downplay the effect that even one student’s behaviour can have on an entire class.  However, there are ways in which we can have small tweaks in our triggers and habits in teaching that will have a positive outcome on developing a community of learners.

So what is a trigger?  A trigger in psychological terms can  used to describe sensations, images or experiences that re-visit a traumatic memory.  It can also mean to make something happen very quickly; a reaction.  It is also referred to as an event that kicks off the automatic urge to complete a habit.*  Habits are seen as something that people do often or regularly.  Habits can even be unconscious behaviours and sometimes difficult to stop.  What do triggers and habits have to do with teaching?

Over the years I think I have become more self aware in the classroom about my own triggers and habits.  It is easy to continue to do a routine in a classroom simply because it is something that we have always done. Even when we have sound pedagological reasoning, it can be difficult to change or cease a habit. For example, for many years I put names on the desks of students before they entered the classroom on the first day of school.  I don’t really know why I began this habit.  Besides a wedding, some kind of gala or a reservation at a restaurant, I get to choose where I sit every day.  It is a fairly important life skill.  I’m not going to find my name on a seat on the city bus.  Once I recognized that this routine was purely out of habit and was “triggered” by the first day of school, I decided to change it up.  On the first day of school with a grade 4-5 class, the students came into the room and sat wherever they wanted. I admit that this made the perfectionist in me who loves order, routine and habit rather uncomfortable.  I had some students sit in groups, some in pairs and some on their own.  Then we had a class meeting about how they had felt when they entered the room and had to make their seating choice.  There was talk of anxiousness, sweaty palms, heart rate increase, fear of missing out and for some it was no big deal.  I decided to create a google form to survey the students about where to sit in the classroom, how often we would change it up and who would decide.  The results of the survey were fascinating.  Some students wanted me to choose where they sat and wanted to have that same spot every day for 194 days.  Some never wanted to “sit” in a group but wanted to be a part of it during group work time.  We came up with a plan that each Monday the students would choose where to sit for the week and the students who wanted a regular spot would be able to keep it and the other students would respect their choices without question.  We also had some extra choices for seating that students could go to if their choices for that week weren’t working out.  The students gained incredible insight into self-regulation.  I heard things like, “I sat with Gracie all week and we’re such good friends, I didn’t get my work done so I’m not going to sit with her next week.”  or  “I don’t hang out with Olivia but I know she is a serious student so I’d like to sit with her in a group.”

It isn’t easy to be self aware while we are trying to keep our head above water, collect permission forms, listen to announcements, adjust our day plan for the assembly that was announced, deal with a parent that wants to chat in the hallway AND teach curriculum.  I GET that…however, being aware of triggers and habits and making small tweaks to our teaching behaviour can make a big difference in our classroom community.

*106:Triggers-The Key to Building and Breaking Habits, Chris Sparks, 2018

 

Daring Classrooms

I state the obvious when I say that teaching is a demanding job.  If you are reading this, you are most likely a teacher and this is not news to you.  I’d like to highlight a resource that feeds the soul of a teacher (and quite frankly a human being) while also providing some strategies for integrating that soul feeding into your classroom practice for your students.  Wait, what…that exists?  It is a website from Brene Brown called Daring Classrooms.  If you haven’t heard of her yet, you can find “The Call to Courage” on Netflix and/or her Ted Talk on Vulnerability.  She is inspirational in leadership, in life and in work.  Here is a snippet from her #DaringClassrooms website:

“Teachers are some of our most important leaders. We know that we can’t always ask our students to take off the armor at home, or even on their way to school, because their emotional and physical safety may require self-protection.

But what we can do, and what we are ethically called to do as teachers, is create a space in our schools and classrooms where all students can walk in and, for that day or hour, take off the crushing weight of their armor, hang it on a rack, and open their heart to truly being seen.

Teachers are the guardians of spaces that allow students to breathe and be curious and explore the world and be who they are without suffocation. Students deserve one place where they can rumble with vulnerability and their hearts can exhale.

And what I know from the research is that we should never underestimate the benefit to a child of having a place to belong—even one—where they can take off their armor. It can and often does change the trajectory of their life.

Teachers: Everyday should be Teacher Appreciation Day. I am so grateful for you and your willingness to show up and create brave, safe spaces where our children can learn, grow, and be seen.”

Some of the short (8-12 minute) video resources from Daring Classrooms include:

How do we avoid the pressure to please?

How do teachers manage oversharing?

How do we help parents understand failing as part of the learning process?

Does the word “disappointed” shame students?

In addition to the video resources there are free downloads for resources, parenting the classroom and daily life.  There are pdfs that you can print out for working with students.  My favourite one is the list of core emotions.  Sometimes when students have triggers they can’t always name or explain the emotion that caused the trigger in behaviour.  Being able to learn about the names and the definitions of core emotions is helpful for students to self-regulate.

Every year in a classroom brings new challenges.  In fact, every day in a classroom will bring on a new challenge.  I hope that as you lead your own #DaringClassroom you will find this resource helpful and that it may feed your teacher soul.

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.

Something’s Old, Something’s New

I am at a new school this year and so I am once again learning new routines of the collective culture of the school community as well as the various cultures of the individual students. We have a big crop of Junior Kindergarten students and a handful of Seniors. So far, it is rolling merrily along. Yes, some little ones have had tears, especially a few of the ESL students whose separation anxiety is immense, and a few 3 year olds who are understandably confused about just how long they will be away from their families, but all in all, I think our crews are really coming together in a very happy way.

Last year, in the French Immersion senior kindergarten program at my previous school, the students alternated between a day of English with my colleague and a day of French with me. We were the ones who switched classrooms while the students remained in the familiar setting of their own classroom. We felt that the transition each day was far easier for us than for a whole group of 5 year olds, especially since the classrooms were down the hall from each other. It may have been easier on the students, but there were many times I was in room 3 and something key to the lesson I was teaching was down the hall in room 2…I have a hard time keeping track of my stuff as it is without constantly being on the move! Nonetheless, it worked rather well and it certainly cut down on the organization of the students’ belongings.

This year, in a different setting, my English colleague is right across the hall from me – in 2 giant steps I can knock on her door. Like last year, we, too, alternate a day of French Immersion with a day of English. We have named our two groups of students after trees – birch and maple – and on the bulletin board between our doors (we are at the end of a hallway) there are 2 arrows – one pointing to my room and the other pointing to hers. We switch the pictures of the trees each day so that students and their families know which classroom to go to, should they arrive late and miss our entry from the school yard.

I love having my own classroom again. I am able to concentrate on the one language in the signage and messages I post, and I am able to use all of the (limited) wall space for a French word wall, student work and our inquiry board (“Mur des merveilles”). Also, any resources in the room are mine or the school’s to be used for the French Immersion classroom. Perhaps the biggest improvement is the fact that I don’t lose stuff (as easily…). While there are the many positives, there is still the fact that the students can find such daily transitions very confusing – “Is my hat in this classroom or the other one?”, however we anticipate that that will improve as time goes by and the routine becomes more fluid.

At my previous school, only the teachers moved each day while the ECEs stayed with the students. This year, our principal has set up our program so that the teacher and ECE stay together while the students switch classrooms each day. His belief is that the ECE/teacher team is the most important relationship, and can only properly develop when both individuals are working side-by-side each day. I am very lucky in that I have a great relationship with my ECE – we have similar philosophies regarding every aspect of the program and we share a respect for each other’s knowledge and experience. I know it is not always the case and have heard of some extremely challenging relationships in the kinder program that would understandably make for a difficult year, but I can see myself learning a great deal working with my new teaching partner.

One thing we are still trying to hammer out is regular planning time involving all the kinder colleagues; teachers together, ECEs together, teacher and ECE together, and finally, both teachers and ECEs together. Not an easy thing to coordinate, but an important one. At the moment, we do what we can and we actually make it work, catching a few moments to chat, or grabbing opportunities to stay a little longer after school from time to time. The close proximity of the classrooms helps considerably, as well as the fact that, although the activities, projects and teaching style may be unique to each educator, we still work within the framework of the curriculum. There is always room for improvement, of course, and I expect that things will change down the road as the need arises, but at the moment, I feel as if it has been a pretty smooth start to the year.

Kindergarten at a Thousand Miles an Hour

As I slump in a chair at the end of a day teaching kindergarten, I remind myself that, although I feel overwhelmed at times and unsure at others, I am learning each day. I was placed in this position without having any previous training or experience as a kindergarten teacher. I remember feeling very intrigued at the time my principal and VP suggested the switch from grade 3. I could have refused but instead I accepted the challenge. Now I cannot imagine teaching anything else. I’ve been a teacher for over 25 years, but not a kindergarten teacher. Kindergarten is a whole new ball game. Did I mention that it is a fast game, too? It feels as if the school year has slammed into the Christmas holidays and will continue to gather speed in January.

 
After four months, I am beginning to feel a teensy weensy bit more confident with the planning and activities in the classroom. Although we share and co-plan, I like to ask my ECE counterparts for their opinions about something I have planned because they are the ones with the years of training and experience at this age level. I may have a general theoretical notion of how and what may work, combined with my personal experience as a mother of two boys, now grown up, but really, that does not amount to much compared to what the ECEs bring to the planning table and to the classroom. It takes a team that respects and effectively collaborates to make a kindergarten class run well, and I feel privileged to be part of such a team.

 
And the kinder classroom is so very different from the grade 3 classroom where movement and noise could regularly be brought to a minimum during a learning period. My English counterpart often uses the term, “Birthday party behaviour” to describe behaviour we seek to curb in the kindergarten classroom – the kind of free-for-all party atmosphere usually experienced at the end of a birthday party.

It is an apt description. All the more so since the set up for a well-run kinder classroom feels rather like hosting a birthday party as you plan and prepare enough activities to keep the attendees interested, focussed, and engaged, and you circulate to make sure everyone is happy. Imagine hosting a birthday party for 27 five year olds every day… no other grade quite fits that description.

 
As we gallop along, trying to tie up loose ends, follow through on planning, assessment, evaluation, meeting the curriculum, and contacting parents about behaviour, speech issues, and hearing problems, the only thing that remains constant is each young student – little beings who need to play and explore, and whose emotions are so immediate. They are going at their normal, five year old speed when they come to school each day and we are trying to keep up with them. No wonder I am exhausted at the end of the day.

Occasional Teachers As Partners

In my classroom an Occasional Teacher is referred to as a Guest Teacher for many reasons. The most important being that the person who arrives that day is first and foremost a teacher. That individual is a qualified teacher who is there to help students continue on their daily academic journey. They are not there to keep students busy nor are they there to just supervise for the day.

It is very important that in my plans I both value and allow that incoming expertise to be shared with my students. Of course I have developed plans that will be a continuation of what is going on in my classroom but have left instructions that are open ended and allow the guest teacher to be able to adjust them based on the needs of the students they are working with as well as the expertise and experience they bring into our classroom. In that way, my students are able to enjoy and share the uniqueness of each teacher they work with.

My experience has taught me that one of the worst things I can do is to set up the guest teacher for failure or classroom management problems by assigning work that is not relevant or connected to the day-to-day academics that are occurring in that room. My students need to know that each and every task they are working on is important to their overall growth and academic success.

I truly enjoy the day after a Guest Teacher has been in my room and the students remember their name, tell me something personal they learned about that individual and are eager to share the work they completed. That type of response provides very valuable feedback about how well my students are transferring the classroom agreement to all individuals they come into contact with.

 I want to tell Occasional Teachers how important your role is and how much I appreciate the time and effort you put into my students. Thank you for everything you do as partners to contract teachers.

The First 20 Days of School – Connecting with Students is a Great Place to Start

Teaching is always new! With a new group of students, fresh reflections on practice and the opportunity to start from scratch, as it were, the start of the school year provides teachers and students alike the opportunity to create new beginnings every year. Knowing this, what might some important considerations be to make it a great start? Chapter One of The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning: Practical Ideas and Resources for Beginning Teachers highlights four important themes for success: connecting with students, passion for teaching, attributes-based approach and importance of school culture. I would like to focus this reflection on the importance of connecting with students within the first 20 days of school as a means to establish an authentic relationship with students that fosters trust and inspires a willingness to take risks within a safe learning environment.

Renowned poet and author Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This profound sentiment holds true for teachers and their relationship with students in that when students feel respected, safe and cared for, the experience of learning is enriched. The following are five practical ways for teachers to build authentic connections with their students at the start of the school year:

1. Be authentic. When teachers model what it means to be an authentic learner – mistakes and all, students are then encouraged to take risks without fear of reprisal. Let your model of authentic learning influence students to do the same. This form of transparency sets the tone for fostering meaningful connections between teachers and students.

2. Ask students about their needs and listen. Validate student voice by positioning them as the experts on themselves. Invite students to share their learning needs and the things that you could do as their teachers that would support their success and commit to doing them. Conducting multiple intelligence and attitudes and dispositions surveys are great ways to begin the dialogue for students to articulate how you can support their learning and their level of self-efficacy.

3. Explore student interests. As teachers we all need to cover the curriculum but viewing the curriculum as a launching pad as opposed to a landing pad can invite student’s interests to take centre stage in the teaching and learning process. Ask students about their interests and find creative ways to invite further inquiry into them while exploring the curriculum at the same time.

4. Learn the students. In addition to the information that can be found in student records (i.e. OSRs), commit to learning more about your students in meaningful ways. Pronouncing student names correctly is important way to let students know that they are valued. Challenge yourself to learn at least five non-school related facts about each of your students. This can help to build a positive relationship and validate their experiences outside of the domain of the classroom. Finally, being aware of students personalities (i.e. introverts, extroverts, etc.) will inform how to relate to them as well as setting the conditions of the classroom experience.

5. Invite to student voice by fostering a reciprocal relationship with your students. Nurturing a collaborative learning environment for students does not merely mean giving students the opportunity to collaborate with each other, but it also means positioning students as collaborators with you. Partner with your students to design the learning space and learning opportunities. This fosters student ownership in the teaching and learning experience and empowers students to be meaningful contributors to the class. When you invite their voice in classroom decisions, ensure that it is validated by action on your part. Leveraging positional power in the classroom creates space for a more meaningful connection between students and teacher.

As teachers we are in the business of supporting students success. Fostering meaningful connections with students goes along way in promoting both student achievement and well-being. When students know that their teachers authentically care about them, their willingness to learn will support their ability to do well. Starting the school year with students in mind will set you on a solid foundation for building upward. Make it a great start.

Building Support Without a Team

There are many challenges associated with being a planning time teacher. Your group of students is constantly changing, you often teach a variety of grades and subjects, and you have a very limited time to teach the students what they need to learn. I feel the biggest challenge for many planning time teachers, however, is the fact that they don’t belong to a grade level or division team at school. This requires planning time teachers to be quite creative when building communities to continue their professional learning and growth.

Over the past week or so, I went around to all the planning time teachers at my school (Music, French, Gym, Drama/Dance) and asked what they do to build a professional community.

Music
In Peel, we have a teaching and learning community of music teachers called JEMMS (Junior Elementary Music Makers). This group of teachers sets up mentorships and offers workshop, but primarily they are just an email distribution list to which you can ask any question. Every day in Peel, some music teacher who is at a school by themselves has a group of people that they can ask about resources, special education in music, management, performance groups or any other question that they might have. Check to see if your board has one, or start a list yourself!

Gym
In speaking with our gym teacher, I discovered that she feels that tournaments are a great way to start building a community of gym teachers to consult with. She also feels that networking at the annual gym conference gives her a community of teachers she can rely on.

French
Our French teacher is not a new teacher, but fairly new to teaching core French. With a new curriculum and a new assignment, she has headed to Facebook to build that community of teachers to help with lesson ideas, selecting resources and getting French savvy. The Facebook group that she belongs to is “Ontario Core French Teachers”. In addition to working collaboratively together, one of the members of this group also leads a live question and answer period for French teachers once a week.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many other social networking sites have sections for Music, French, Drama, Gym and Dance teachers. It is a great way to build connections provincially or even globally.

Drama/Dance
Our drama/dance teacher sits on the executive of the Peel Elementary Dance and Drama Association. Associations can be an amazing way to get some access to new resources and incredibly knowledgeable teachers. If you feel like you are too inexperienced, volunteer to be the secretary treasurer or a member at large. I guarantee you that the time you volunteer will be given back to you through new ideas, resources and great professional dialogue.

Overheard in my Ontario Classroom…
Last week one of my grade one students informed me that he was having a horrible morning and that it was truly the worst day ever. When I stopped, bent down to his level and asked him why, he informed me that his sister had cut her finger at the breakfast table this morning and he felt very sad for her. Can you imagine what our world would be like if everyone had that much empathy for each other?

Adjustments in September

 

With all the plans we make for those first days and weeks in September, it is worth being open to making adjustments, for your benefit and the benefit of the students. Here are some examples of how I have adjusted the environment and the program in the first few weeks:

  • I have changed the layout twice. We were pleased to get 6 rectangular tables and 1 round table in the second week, but have rearranged them twice to suit the needs of the students. This means that there are two sets of tables put together seating groups of up to 12 students who like to work together, and one table seats only 4 students who require more personal space. I planned for an even distribution of students per table, but am responsive to their different requests regarding space and collaboration.
  • The area carpet was originally placed in one corner of the room for community discussions and knowledge building sessions. The students enjoyed these talks, but found it hard to get close when we are limited with only two accessible sides to the carpet for rows of chairs behind those who are seated on the carpet. So, I moved the carpet to the centre of the room and it connects to the small carpet area of our class library. Now there is less movement of chairs as students turn to the centre of the room for discussions and use the extended space of the class library to sit.
  • We took a Multiple Intelligence survey to get to know our own learning strengths and the strengths of all the students in the class. We continue to consider these and reflect on them by referring to graph compiled in the class to remind us.
  • I finally typed out my schedule last Thursday. It took me that long to juggle our literacy block and periods for Science and Social Studies with withdrawal for ESL and special education support. I have added 15 minutes of literacy to the end of our day when we review our agendas with a poetry cafe allowing dedicated time for the reading, sharing, and writing of poetry.
  • We introduced “Minutes for Mindfulness” each afternoon. After lunch and a transition for French class, some of the students had difficulty settling for a full-class discussion regarding our inquiry topic. I asked if they wanted to try some mindfulness techniques, and a new student shared a website/app called www.calm.com that his teacher used last year. This adjustment not only helps the students, but I benefit from the 2 minute relaxation exercises as well!
I am sure our class will continue to grow and change. Allowing for adjustments to your best made plans is necessary to be responsive in your teaching practice – and everyone will benefit.