It has been a long, arduous journey from September to the end of June and we are just weeks away from closing the chapter on another academic year. I am going to relive the last ten months of a fictional elementary school teacher.
A group of twenty plus disconnected, diverse individuals arrived in your classroom with a variety of needs beyond their academic status. Through careful planning, creative thinking, endless commitment and tremendous flexibility you were able to to:
make each child feel welcomed and loved
create a learning community
develop the confidence and self-esteem of your students
help them move forward in all academic areas
taught them the power of being a team
provided off campus, intramural, choir, club and athletic opportunities for them
offered them a high five to celebrate and emotional support when needed
in some cases provided food to meet their basic needs
laughed and cried with them
believed in them enough to provide tough love
wrote reports, called parents, attended meetings
organized assemblies and spirit days
created Individual Educational Programs
purchased necessary materials for your class and students
spent endless hours beyond your school day
gave up personal and family time for your students
helped develop future global citizens
attended a variety of professional learning opportunities to help in your journey toward best practice
you have sacrificed personal health for your class and school
please continue this list with anything I have missed
THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! On behalf of students and parents everywhere, you continue to be a part of one of the most rewarding and important roles there is. You are a teacher!
I would also like to take this time to thank ETFO for the opportunity they have given me to be a part of the Heart & Art blog for the last 5 years. In that time I have had the wonderful opportunity to learn from many talented people. I have had comments shared with me that reminded me how proud I am to be a part of this profession. Finally, I have become a better teacher as my blogging has helped me reflect on the day-to-day work in my classroom. I am making this my last blog and challenge the many talented and inspiring teachers in ETFO to join in and share the expertise that lies within you and your teaching. THANK YOU!
I am for sure aging myself here, but for those of you who may not be familiar with this figure of speech it is used to describe a person who is good at many skills but a master of none. That is the best way to describe who I am as a teacher and how I have evolved over my career of learning to be a better teacher.
Far too often we think that in order to use a strategy or tool in our classroom we have to be an expert at it. We don’t! As a teacher I have to be familiar with the content, the methodology and/or the necessary steps but I do not have to be a master of it. I am going to talk specifically to my personal Achilles tendon of teaching, the ARTS. I am in no way a musician, yet I can share my passion for music, lyrics and the powerful messages found in music. I can learn and teach to the curriculum expectations of my grade. I can partake in professional development opportunities to expand my skill set and knowledge. Even after all that, I will still not be an expert as compared to a music specialist.
My greatest accomplishment in the arts has been my work on understanding drama as a teaching tool, learning dramatic content and implementing it into my program. I have never been on stage (other than as an elementary student at Christmas time). I have never been a part of any formal dramatic theme, other than helping clean up after a school event and yet drama is one of the most successful components of my program these days. Each year my team and I take a group of highly volatile behaviour students and put on a formal dramatic presentation that we travel with to various schools within my board to share. We are currently in mid production of this year’s play.
Like in almost anything I was not comfortable with as a teacher, the students’ skill set, passion and innate ability to learn took over and I was just left to facilitate their growth. The second message is that when you share your expertise with your colleagues (collaborative planning) the saying that no one person knows more than all of us holds true. I am writing this for all teachers to understand that is it okay to take risks, it is okay to make mistakes in your classroom and learn from those mistakes and it is certainly okay to be a jack of all trades and master of none.
I remember my first day of teaching as if it had happened yesterday and not 32 years ago. As my journey of teaching continues, there have been countless scenarios that have occurred that brought a smile to my face, made me cry, challenged me, taught me and humbled me. Those are the moments that inspire me each and every day I enter my classroom. About 13 years ago a very passionate and visionary principal I worked with started our year off by giving each teacher an empty box. She then went on to describe how it is up to use to fill that box with memories, moments in time that are like treasures not to be lost or forgotten. Ever since that time I have kept a memory box.
This box is filled with magical moments that I have been a part of in my teaching experiences with colleagues, students and/or their families. There are letters, cards, toys, photographs, trinkets, phone call summaries, thank you cards, trip mementoes, amazing accomplishments of individual students as well as class accomplishments. What goes into that box is anything that reminds me just how precious and important my efforts are and that no effort is wasted. I take the time to go and revisit my box in moments of self-doubt, challenging times or just when it seems that nothing is going right. After just a few moments of revisiting these wonderful experiences I can raise my head and once again forge on filled with confidence and positive energy. I look forward to the day (not too far in the future) when I can stop, reflect back on a career as I take the time to go through each item in my memory box, piece by piece, story by story.
I hope you take the time to stop and smell the roses in your everyday teaching and life. Make a pledge to start your memory box in 2017. Happy New Year!
It’s too late. Whatever you wanted to share or teach in the classroom will have to wait until next year. I’d have liked a little more time. Was this the case for you too? Fortunately, a return date is just around the corner. Conversely, time away from routines can also restore mind, body, and spirit.
A break like this provides me with time to think about teaching and other pursuits. Usually, it’s catching up with family, over-caffeinating, reading, and blogging. With the school year already 40% complete, our time off serves as both restorative opportunity and cathartic challenge.
This December’s end, I wanted to reflect like it’s June. Think of it as part of my own personal development. I am trying to make sense of things now – in the moment. A resolution, pep talk, or plan of action if you please. This means there are a lot of questions to which the answers are either too simple, or underdeveloped.
Did I miss something? Could I have been more supportive? Did I make the curriculum come alive with relevance for my students? Did they have enough challenge, motivation, and opportunity to learn? Did I prepare enough? Did I assess too little? Too much? Did I give my students opportunity to succeed? Was I supportive to my colleagues? Did I give everything I could? Was my work-life balance maintained?
I am sure the answer to each one of the above questions could be yes. Even the one about work-life balance.
Questions like these pervade my thoughts. I’m cannot be alone as a reflective practitioner in our profession. So how do you reflect at this time of the year? How are you de-stressing? Are you able to turn off your teacher brain for 2 weeks? How about checking your email or assessing student work?
Do you think that this changes over a career in education? After 8 years in the classroom, I am trying to see each season with fresh eyes, but still struggle with disconnecting entirely. Saying goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017 will see me sharing, reflecting, learning, and unlearning as part of a process crucial to a professional pursuit of progress. How about you?
Keep the conversation going. Please share, respond, or retort.
I love hearing about your journey and heart for the art of education.
As I reflect back on my teaching career I have come to understand how appreciative I am of the amazing teachers and administrators that have impacted and helped shape my life both as a teacher and a person. Everything I am as a teacher, everything I do as a teacher, everything I have is a result of the sharing that was done with me throughout my years in the classroom.
There are times when you do not know how to show your appreciation and saying thank you seems so inadequate. As a very wise principal (and now a good friend) once said to me, the best way you can show your appreciation is to make use of the advice given to you and pay it forward.
This post is going to be about paying it forward. I am going to share with you two of my most successful teaching units and two of my most cherished books that I use year in and year out. If you read this blog, I am going to then ask you to pay it forward by sharing in a response to this blog or via other social media options two of your most tried and tested teaching strategies, units or themes as well as two of your favourite books that you use in your classroom. Together we will pay it forward.
This book has been a part of my teaching for almost fifteen years. It is the book that starts my class off from Day 1 each September. The power of this book is in the multiple messages that can be drawn from the words and texts. The two main benefits I reap from this book are that everyone can read, reading is going to be fun and it kick starts my focus on drama for the year.
This book is part of who I am and my passion for the outdoors. It is the story of a 13 year-old boy who is lost in the wilderness and has to rely on himself to survive. This is a powerful book to hook children into the outdoors as the author creates a picture that transfers my students into the setting where they re-enact the main character. We culminate this book with our ‘Hatchet Day’ at a local outdoor education centre and then do a compare and contrast with the movie version ‘A Cry In The Wild’.
Poetry is a powerful form of writing and the success I have had with reluctant writers has been very inspiring to me. The power of this genre comes in the multi-faceted approach one can take with it. Poetic language does not have to follow grammatical rules, which allows reluctant writers to focus on meaning through word selection. I often use the outdoors as the theme behind our writing as we bring our experiences into the classroom and on to the paper. We culminate with a poetry recital where they invite guests to hear their writing.
Team building is a non-stop, five day a week, always on my mind approach that I take in my room. I de-emphasize competition and focus on common goals. ‘We’ is the pronoun that runs through the heart of my classroom. We enter into our year as individuals and from minute one we focus on coming together for a common good. The diversity and differences in our room becomes our strength as we celebrate and benefit from the shared expertise and passions in our classroom. This is accomplished through character education, books, songs, games and most of all face-to-face interactions such as eating lunch together.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and I now ask you to pay it forward.
Underlying An artist was preparing to paint one day. First, she stretched and secured her canvas over its wooden frame. The artist continued by arranging her brushes, planning a colour scheme, and then by setting up her supplies. Finally, it was time to ponder her subject forever to be captured in a moment of time and occupied space – where her vision would be on display in pigment, oil or acrylic for evermore for all to enjoy.
The artist could already see her finished masterpiece. As if the picture had miraculously painted itself. Without anything left to imagine, conjure, or deliberate she began.
Un-(der) inpired It was all right there in living, er um, cold dead colour. All she had to do was slather it onto the wintery whitewashed space in waiting. She pulled out the widest brush in her kit, dipped it into the first colour, white, and painted a perfectly straight line across the top of the canvas. She dipped her brush again and repeated, the same thing over and over, with the precision of her first strokes until she has covered the entire canvas. She felt satisfied, but did not have time to admire her work for long. There were 29 more canvases to cover just like the first one. She smiled, sighed, dipped her brush, and started on the next one. Yet, with a pallet of colours and brushes at the ready, the artist only knew how to paint with a single brush and to use white paint to do her work.
Under pressure Does teaching ever seem like this to you? Do educators feel they are asked to paint blank canvases everyday, but are only given one wide brush and a single colour to work with? I wonder whether that is how some teachers have come to feel when a learning system is imposed on them which expects students to be taught to the test?
Teachers plan and prepare their materials to deliver a lesson much like the artist in the story above and in the end are expected to use the broadest brush and one shade of paint. What may be more disappointing, is that many only have time to paint one coat before feeling they have to move on.
Underwhelmed I am not a huge fan of the traditional textbook. In fact I have called them “knowledge coffins” in the past. When traditional textbooks are at the centre of the instructional day, there is little option for learners to explore beyond its pages. Yes, it’s all in there, but at what cost are other things and ideas being left out?
First, consider the cost of purchasing texts/licenses per class. Math books alone can range upwards of $1500 to $2000 for a class set per subject. What happens when the curriculum gets revamped like what has recently happened in Ontario with the French(2013), Health/Physical Education(2015), and Social Studies(2013). Could the money schools, boards, and government pour into photocopies and textbooks be used to provide Chromebooks for every student instead? Imagine the cost savings in paper alone. If we did this, every learner from K to 12 could be equipped with a productivity and research tool for the classroom at their fingertips? And, at home too if WiFi is available.
I am a fan of adaptive and hands on learning environments. In the classroom, I want students to have a voice in how and what they are being taught so we can democratize education. I believe all educators possess the means/ability to transform and tailor their instruction to suit their students. What they need now is a safe place to do so and that’s an issue of system and school leadership.
To paint a portrait of the future, educators need to use the prescribed curriculum as a pallet filled with colours that is not limited to a paint-by-number task. However, many are afraid to use other, less traditional brushes and materials to paint their masterpieces because the outcomes might not look resemble or match work gathering dust on the walls.
Yes, there are things to be taken from the past, but the world outside our classrooms has not remained fixed in space and time. Neither should it remain static inside. The classroom must become a vibrant and connected place where students have access to, and be able to contribute to a world of knowledge.
This requires courage to happen. It requires time for others to understand, accept, and embrace. It doesn’t have to look perfect. The mess is an important part of the process.
Ask yourself what or who inspires you to take chances as a learner? What new idea(s) would you try in your classroom if you knew you couldn’t fail? Start by giving yourself permission to change things up in one subject area, and then go from there.
I’ll be here to chat if you want to talk more about how we can change the portrait of education to a landscape of creativity, differentiation, and encouragement.
Life is so busy that it sometimes takes an overwhelming effort to make time for yourself, let alone remembering all the sacrifices that have been made that allow us to live in such a free country. Yet we must and we must teach our children so they understand the why of remembering and not just the act of remembering.
Every year we make a concentrated effort to bring the community and school focus on Remembrance Day. Teachers and students put together emotionally compelling presentations to honour the generations from our past that made the ultimate sacrifice to make Canada the country it is. As part of our daily commitment to students we must commit to educating them not only about the world events that lead us to November 11, but also the small, day-to-day acts that make their world safer, healthier and provides them with a seemingly endless list of opportunities.
Take the time to have classroom discussions about the role of police officers, firefighters, physicians, crossing guards and any other key individuals that impact their life. Write letters of thank you and deliver them to those individuals or organizations. As a teacher (and key role model for your students) model for them on a daily basis how remembering can be demonstrated in such small ways as simply saying thank you.
Finally, as a teacher who has been in the profession for over thirty years, I must say thank you to the generations of colleagues before me. They spent days on the picket line, sacrificed family time and were the target of public scrutiny in order to make my profession what it is. I am blessed to have job security, benefits, peace of mind knowing my wife is treated equitably as a teacher and that my working conditions and student learning conditions are constantly being protected. This was not always the way for teachers.
As an adult learner, you know what your strengths are as well as what your next steps should be. You understand you current lifestyle, the demands of family and friends as well as the other components that are a part of your busy life. Self-guided professional learning allows you to continue to enhance your classroom pedagogical practice and curriculum knowledge at a pace and focus that is specific to your needs.
There are so many learning options available to ETFO members. It starts within your local federation where your professional learning committee is already at work planning out opportunities for members to continue to enhance their best practice. Talk to your committee, find out what is being offered, put forth suggestions that they can look at or better yet, get involved in this committee.
The next main area that provides a treasure trove of learning opportunities is our provincial organization. If you go to the provincial website (http://www.etfo.ca/Pages/default.aspx) and search under the subsection professional learning you will find a wide variety of options that are offered by our provincial team. The scope and sequence of the options available ensures there is something for everyone. The provincial office also provides equitable access from a geographical standpoint.
Whether it is AQ courses, Summer Academy, one time workshops, workshop series, provincial or local book clubs, or just gathering together as same grade colleagues and having professional dialogue on a topic, find what you need and seek to grow as a teacher each and every day. One of the most rewarding facets of teaching is when students and teachers can continue to grow side-by-side.
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.
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.
What is it? Where do you buy it? How much do you need? Who is responsible for it? Several weeks ago I was part of a re-opening ceremony for a former school that I had taught at in the 90’s. That once old, archaic building had been transformed into an architectural state of the art learning environment. As I watched special guests, children and their families and community members arrive you could hear the oohs and ahs as they entered and saw the amazing interior of the school. If you have ever bought a new home, a new car or anything new, you know the excitement that comes with it.
This is where my post shifts gears. It was not the shiny new building. It was not the posh interior that I was in. It was not the formality of the ceremony, nor the speeches, nor the prestigious opening ceremony that had impacted me. What struck me that night was the immediate feeling I had as I entered the building of being a ‘Wildcat’. It had been almost two decades since I was a part of that staff and community. Yet, that feeling of belonging, that feeling of loving to be there and that feeling of comraderie immediately overcame me. Of course the culminating event that cemented that feeling was when a friend and former colleague lead the entire crowd in the long-standing Wildcat cheer. The building erupted into an atmosphere that resembled a pro sporting event.
When I went home that night still on an emotional high I sat and pondered why I had not had that feeling in such a long time. What was it? What caused it to resurface? I have been in many school settings over my career and not every place created that kind of feeling. According to Wikipedia, school spirit is defined as the emotional support for one’s educational institution. There is no curriculum to create it. There is no instruction booklet on how to teach it. There is only the passion and commitment that the teachers bring to their classroom and school.