Monday, March 2, 2015

Teaching Is Teaching

This year, my husband and I are the coordinators for our parish's Marriage Preparation course. This means that we handle all the administrative duties associated with the classes as well as organizing teaching responsibilities and resources. We have many new mentor couples working with us, a new pastor, and actually a new course. (After much reflection and conversation with our priest and the other experienced facilitators still on the team, we significantly revised the structure and content of the classes we offer at our church, to better match what is taught throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto and to better serve our participants.) This has been a bit nerve-wracking for us - we were bringing in so many changes for the very first time and we prayed that everything would go relatively smoothly. However, as James and I planned for the upcoming class we'd be leading (on Intimacy), I realized that teaching is teaching, regardless of the age of the students.

1) You have to prepare.

I know some teachers say they no longer write lesson plans once they've graduated from teachers' college. I still do. For my school-age students, I review my long range plans and what I taught previously, and decide what I need to cover, how I will cover it most effectively, and what materials I'll need to make it happen. The same is true for the Marriage Prep course and the engaged couples enrolled. I read the background material we were given when we took our Marriage Preparation Facilitators' course, consider the main ideas, the best strategies for conveying the information, and ready the handouts and activities.

2) You have to make it interactive and engaging.

One of the biggest changes we made to the Marriage Prep course was to involve the participants more. The previous course was good but involved a lot of lecturing and lengthy Power Point presentations. It was very "sit n' git". Now, there are a lot more tasks that the couples are asked to do together and a lot more time is allotted for guided discussion between them. I aim for this sort of chunking in my full-time job as a teacher. I try hard not to talk for more than ten minutes before asking students to say or do something.

3) You aren't the only one with responsibilities, but flexibility is key.

When the engaged couples registered for the course and on the first night, we provided them with a syllabus outlining the course dates, times, topics and conduct expectations. This is part of what we wrote:
To successfully complete the Marriage Preparation Course, participating couples must:
·         Attend all six sessions together (make up sessions are needed for missed classes – contact one of the facilitators to arrange)
·         Pay course fees prior to the first day of class
·         Demonstrate active involvement, attentive listening, and respectful conduct
The course facilitators wish to make this an educational and enjoyable experience for all so we will:
·         Attend sessions together and offer make-up classes for those who cannot attend
·         Begin promptly, end on time, and provide lessons, resources and snacks (except on the last night = potluck buffet!) to nurture participants physically, mentally, and spiritually
·         Demonstrate active involvement, attentive listening, and respectful conduct
We deliberately tried to make the teacher norms match the student norms. In the past, it was pretty lenient about punctuality and absences - attendees could miss a session without penalty. However, we realized that every session had important content that we didn't want them to miss. Offering make-up classes was a new extra layer of work, but it was worth it. This is similar to my regular students. We want them to show up, ready to learn. We realize that external circumstances might make it difficult, but it's our job to help students catch up on misunderstood concepts and missed lessons so that there are no holes in their understanding.

4) You try your best but there's always room for improvement.

When I reflect after school on how the day went, or when I reflect with my husband or the team on how that evening's class went, there are always portions that I'd love to re-do. The very first night of the 2015 Marriage Prep course, James and I forgot to bring pencils! Thankfully the parish office had a few we were able to borrow. Whether or not we were the ones to lead the session, I always notice something that could have been done differently - the pacing, the phrasing of directions, the activities assigned, the specific questions used with the small groups during the book talks, etc. This is the same for my lessons with my students.

There are a few differences between teaching 4- and 5-year olds media literacy and teaching adults about sexuality and spirituality (less formal evaluations and fewer worries about classroom management, for example), but many of the essential portions are the same. I hope that the engaged couples AND my students learn a lot while they are with us.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Leadership as shown by Candy-grams and Collaboration

Allow me to brag a bit about the incredible team that is this year's school Student Council.

The Student Council at my school has been insanely busy lately. I didn't start the year intending to help run the Student Council, but several students approached me in the fall, begging me to be the staff liaison. I've taken the role on before, and I know how much work it takes. I also realize that it is often the students with the fullest schedules that gravitate to student council positions, with grand ideas and large plans but not always the time or ability. Without curbing their enthusiasm, I had to caution them that it is a tenuous and fragile idea of democracy that they represent, and that the powers they have to make changes and start initiatives have limitations.

The team of ten students, representing all the junior/intermediate classes, have accepted the limitations but it has not stopped them from getting involved. In February, the Student Council decided to sell Candy-grams for Valentine's Day as a charity fundraiser (for Plan Canada). Together, we arranged the sales schedule. The response from the student body was overwhelming! Students lined up with large bills in hand to purchase copious amounts of candy for themselves and their peers.

What impressed me was their positive energy and devotion to the task when it came time for the less-glamorous task of wrapping and sorting all of those candy-grams. To give you an idea ... we spent $169.50 in supplies and brought in $414.80, making a $245.30 profit. We sold our candy-grams for 25 cents each (5 for $1). That's a lot of lollipops! We gathered on the first Friday of our two week campaign and stayed until after 5:00 p.m. wrapping. On Wednesday, February 11 (the final day of sales), we stayed until 6:30 p.m. and some students didn't even want to go home when their parents came to collect them because they were determined to finish.


Sorting candy-grams into class piles

Some younger students did not seem to understand the concept of a candy-gram and handed in their slips the day of distribution. I was impressed that our Student Council members were willing to give up the candy-grams they received so that these other students would not go without their candy present.

The week after the Great Candy-gram Distribution, on Wednesday, February 18, 2015, the intermediate representatives of the Student Council were invited to the local high school for a Leadership Conference. The Council members continued to impress me. Some of the junior division members protested the conference, claiming that it wasn't fair for only the Grade 7-8 members to get an invitation. I liked that these students felt empowered enough to object when they perceived injustice. I relayed their objections to the host school. It may not change anything, but our younger council members will definitely get their chance to participate in a couple of years.

I was so proud of the group I brought to the conference. They were models of active leadership. The high school Student Council had arranged several fun activities to get participants to consider topics like teamwork, initiative, trust, and clear communication. During the reflection stage after each event, I was delighted to see how often it was the students from my school that raised their hands to speak and share. Four feeder schools attended the conference and although I'm obviously biased, I felt that our students shone brightest. (I think it also helped that their staff liaison participated in the given tasks - is it coincidence that the two supervising teachers that did not sit on the sidelines checking their phones were both teacher-librarians? Interesting observation!)


Playing around with the high school mascot

Trying to find the link - blindfolded!

Pick up bean bags, avoid pylons, only with directions from the team!

I took dozens and dozens of photos, and I'm sure my students got a bit exasperated with me, but I couldn't help it - I was (and still am) so proud of the initiative, hard work, collaboration, and joy that my Student Council demonstrates time and again. Well done Nathan, Mandy, Nicole, Nancy, Shukri, Shamrita, Hamrish, Brandon, Aaron and Kaavia!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Kindies, Social Media & Social Faux-Pas

I notice that I've been writing a lot about my school's kindergarten classes lately. In January, I documented our exploration of 3D printing, and in December, I described how my kindergarten lesson bombed spectacularly and what I learned from it. Fantastic things are happening in other classrooms at my school, but because I do not have any collaborative partner time in my schedule this year, I only get to learn about these wonderful learning experiences second-hand as I steal a few minutes to chat with my colleagues. Our kindergarten ECEs are required to accompany the students to their "specialist classes" (music, computers, library, dance, drama, and media) and because of their presence (and their phenomenal skills as educators), we've done such incredible things and grown so much. I wanted to reflect on two such examples from last week.

1) Social Media

Flabbergasted and speechless. That's what I was after the amazing ideas by the young students of K2 and the seamless connections Jennifer Balido-Cadavez made to integrate lessons from the home class into the specialist class. This class has an extra adult, who is taking courses and has her practicum time with the group. The wonderful thing is that the extra adult is Kitty, the leader of our former Early Years Learning Centre site and a lovely person in her own right. Mrs. Cadavez had the students tell me about the engaging heart-related lesson Kitty had organized and especially about the student-initiated request for us to Tweet the photos Mrs. Cadavez had taken! I threw out the original ICT lesson I had planned for that day and Mrs. Cadavez and I co-ran a short mini-lesson that was chock-full of great learning!
  • Math = we discussed how many characters we were allowed to type in a Tweet and calculated how much space our original message might take (including spaces and punctuation)!
  • Language (Writing) = we talked about "editing" our Tweets to make sure that it wasn't too long and that people understood what we were saying.
  • Language (Media) = we considered how our audience becomes bigger when we use social media because posting a photo in the school means our students see it (~300 people) but posting it on Twitter means all the followers of our Twitter account (and those of the people who retweet) will see it (~1000 people).
  • ICT (Digital Citizenship) = when a student asked why they couldn't have their own Twitter accounts so they could retweet, we had a chance to explain age limits and how we respect our students' privacy by avoiding photos that show our full faces.
Mrs. Cadavez sat down with the student volunteer to craft the tweet and their insights were incredible. This was the tweet.

The student ensured they wrote "toy needles" so that readers wouldn't get the wrong impression. How incredible is that? 4 followers favorited it and 3 retweeted it, spreading the good news.

2) Social Faux-Pas

Okay, maybe social faux-pas isn't quite the right word. However, I know that there was some social awkwardness as Frances Traikos, the Early Childhood Educator (LTO) in K1 was pushed to the edge of her comfort zone during our media lesson last week.  John Watson, owner of Tap Labs, a fantastic MakerSpace in Ajax, gave our kindergartens an incredible challenge. Design a monster or alien. Everyone will sketch their ideas; we scan and send them to John, who will upload the images to the Tap Labs Facebook page and the picture with the most likes on Facebook will have the monster recreated in 3D and given to the artist! We are super-excited about this challenge, even though it's not easy.


After my lesson introducing this idea bombed with the third kindergarten class - I realized that I didn't model enough, tried to cram too many ideas into one class, and was terribly distracted by the delivery of school council sponsored candygrams that period - I was determined not to repeat my mistakes. I asked Mrs. Traikos if she would be willing to show the students how to plan and draw the front, back, and side view of their imaginary monster. I believe she felt uncomfortable but she was the perfect person to demonstrate. Her think alouds mirrored the student experience so well: "Wow, this is harder than I thought!" As she wrestled with how to put her ideas to paper, she provided strategies for the students: using your own body as a template, to consider how things would look, and talking it through. She also demonstrated a shift from a fixed mentality to a growth mentality: "I'm not a good drawer" / "Hey, this is looking pretty good! All I need to do is ..." Mrs. Traikos showed the students how to handle a challenging task with perseverance, despite the level of difficulty. I think sometimes we model a task to the class that we don't find hard, and when we do that, the students don't get a sense of how to handle adversity.

The results of Mrs. Traikos' example? So many MORE students grasped the idea of the 3 pictures being of the same creature but from different viewpoints. I dragged one child to the office to show off her work because it was so creative and demonstrated she understood the concept so well. If I remember, I'll scan it and share here.

Our third kindergarten class does not have an ECE, due to the size, but thankfully the classroom teacher is interested in supporting her students' learning wherever they are. She and I talked about what I failed to do in the lesson and she offered to reteach the concept to her students, incorporating it into her math unit on 3D solids. Thank you to ALL our FDK educators, for making learning at my school so current, relevant, and fun.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Pondering Professional Learning

This past weekend, I had a lengthy chat with Cal Armstrong (@sig225), Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99) and Lisa Noble (@nobleknits2) on Twitter about Professional Learning. A few days prior, I had spent over an hour responding to the Ontario College of Teachers' survey on the topic. Since January, I've been taking an Additional Qualification course on Mentoring. This year is also my scheduled Teacher Performance Appraisal. It's pretty clear that professional learning has been on my mind.

This is just a slice of what we discussed on Twitter (we didn't hashtag the conversation, unfortunately).


There was a great side-discussion on what "counts" as "learning" according to the Ontario College of Teachers, the pros and cons of using badges, and AQs. This was just my tweet record of some of the discussion:



Here was the "push my thinking about AQ" quote:

 This is my first AQ course I've taken since I completed my Masters of Education graduate degree in 2010. That doesn't mean that I haven't been busy learning between 2010-2015, but that the types of learning opportunities I've engaged in haven't been the kinds acknowledged with an annotation on my College of Teachers record. Thanks to that Twitter conversation, I'll probably start a section on my wiki (http://mzmollyTLsharespace.pbworks.com) on what I learn each year.

What influenced me to take this AQ, the first since 2008? As I wrote in my Online Course Journal,
I took that amazing TDSB workshop on mentoring at the urging of MJ Huh, VP at Macklin and a former teaching colleague of mine. I never thought about formal mentoring. I've carved my own time out (e.g. used my open partner time to go to someone else's school to help them understand the TuLiP [Teacher Librarian Planner] for doing lesson plans) and it would be neat to formalize and analyse this. I like evidence-based practice and this would fit so well. I thought it would be wonderful to officially mentor other teacher-librarians.
Does it relate at all to my upcoming TPA? I can't deny that it influenced my decision. I've enjoyed the experience so far. It's been wonderful to have time during the instructional day to reflect and discuss. I don't think that's a prerequisite - Lisa Noble noted in the Twitter discussion that the particular attitude is common among some educators, that learning should not occur on their own time but that release time must be provided - but it can be nice when it happens. I'm learning quite a bit and having "courageous conversations". There are times where I feel discouraged and times where I feel inspired. It's reminded me that it's tough to be a student sometimes - sitting at a table for extended periods, attentively listening as best you can. Having said that, I don't regret taking the course. I've received some good resources (lots of books) and had some great discussions. The pair of photos were taken January 29 regarding reciprocity between mentor and protegee.



Although I like my AQ, I think the most powerful form of Professional Learning is the type you adopt for yourself. I realized this as I think back to what I wrote on the OCT survey about the most powerful or influential professional learning moments I've had - and I cited my four years working with GamingEdus and the wonderful, self-chosen PLN with Liam O'Donnell and Denise Colby. Thank you to everyone, from Karen & Jennifer leading my AQ, to Liam & Denise exploring through our TLLP, to Cal, Andrew & Lisa on Twitter, and everyone in between for pushing my professional learning, be it formal or informal, credited or self-directed.