Monday, 12 February 2018

Reaching milestones

Two crazy years of being a beginning teacher, MDTA teacher and part time student has paid off! Last week I was ecstatic to open an email informing me that I am officially a registered teacher! If that wasn't enough great news in one week, I also received an A- for my dissertation on integrated reading and writing instruction. I am super stoked with this result, as I put a lot of effort into setting up the intervention in my classroom, gathering data and drawing conclusions.

I am looking forward to continuing to challenge myself by sharing my practise through Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir.  The site is going live tomorrow and I am really looking forward to putting myself out there and sharing what I do.  Here is a sneak peak at my little introduction video which will be on my Class OnAir page.  Sorry it is not the best quality and location for filming, I had to film on my laptop and it was too rainy to shoot outside! I hope my video will help viewers get an idea of my personality and beliefs about teaching, as I feel that they heavily influence the way I teach and the lessons I create for my learners.  

I am glad to have my beginning teacher years behind me.  Now it is time to refine my teaching and ensure I am doing the best for my learners.  I think that Class OnAir will help motivate me to continue to push myself and get my learners to think critically. 

Onwards and upwards!

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Why "don't smile till Easter" is the worst piece of advice for a beginning teacher

I am sure that every beginning teacher has heard it before.  Don't smile till Easter.  No smiling means that you mean business. It demands instant respect with a hint of fear.  If you appear too human and friendly, it will be way too difficult to manage your students come term two...

While I can see the reasoning behind the mantra, I think it is a terrible piece of advice. It implies that being friendly and smiling is a weakness, and will ultimately lead to an unruly classroom. This is totally untrue.

Clear expectations and routines must be put in place from day one. However, it does not need to be done in an inhuman manner.  Teachers should firstly think about the type of learning environment they want to create.  Want it to be quiet, serious and teacher centered? Then don't smile.  Want it to be inclusive, positive and safe? Then smile!

 If you want to create a safe, inclusive and positive classroom environment, then ask yourself this: how does a unsmiling teacher help this? How will students feel safe to take risks, share ideas and be a part of the learning community if you are demonstrating one of very things that you wouldn't want in my classroom? Is an unsmiling teacher really a good role model for how they want their class to look or feel?

If you want  to create a collaborative, inclusive and positive classroom environment, then be a smiling teacher. A smile means that you are welcoming, approachable and positive. It shows that you want to be there, and that you care about your students. A smile is contagious, and exemplifies the kind of disposition you want your learners to have.  Teachers have the power to set the tone of the classroom, so a smile goes a long way in helping to create a happy classroom. It helps to ease the anxieties that come with being in an unfamiliar environment with new peers. A smile does not mean that you are weak. 

Start the year the way you intend it to continue

Instead of the old "don't smile till Easter" line, here is what that I go by: Start the year the way you intend it to continue. Just because you are not an unsmiling teacher, doesn't mean that you do not have expectations and routines that you expect to be followed. Here are my tips for doing this while still smiling!

1. Give the students ownership over how they want the classroom to run/feel.  Ask the learners what helps them learn, what doesn't, and what kind of classroom would they like to be a part of.  When I do this, recurring themes are collaboration, friendship and inclusivity.

2. Start on day one with purposeful activities. Choose activities that require the types of behaviours you need to help create your positive, inclusive and safe environment.

3. Be clear with your expectations. Set clear expectations regarding behaviour during these activities and use positive reinforcement when you notice that the good behaviours are being used.

4. Whenever student behaviour isn't good enough, stop. Even if it is only a little disruption, or students are becoming slightly less focussed. Don't be afraid to stop the class and remind them when they are not using positive behaviours. Relate this back to the reason WHY it is important (how it will help create the classroom environment they want and help them to learn).

5. SMILE. Share a smile with your learners.  Remember that you set the tone for your classroom and that a smile is contagious.

These steps will help students to understand your expectations as a teacher and will help to create a classroom environment that students (and teachers) will want to be a part of!

I'm going to finish this post off with a brilliant excerpt that was sent to the staff by our awesome AP.

...I have a sneaky suspicion that this kind of teacher would smile on day one!

Thursday, 1 February 2018

New year, new role, new challenges!

After a relaxing summer holiday I am ready to hit the ground running as a third year teacher.  Heading into the year, I feel a lot more confident and relaxed. I have a much better idea of what it takes to be an effective teacher, and how to a better work/life balance.  So after successfully tackling my first two years as a BT while completing my honours, I feel I am ready for some more challenges!

A change in year levels

I have made the move to teaching year 7 and 8s - a slight change from my year 6 and 7s last year. This will bring a new challenge, as we all know that the hormones will be well and truly kicking in... bringing all sorts of lovely things into the classroom! I found that the year 6 and 7 combo worked really well last year. In my opinion, it helped make the year 6s step up and mature, while still keeping the year 7s grounded. Last year there was a noticeable difference in the attitudes and behaviour between the year 6s in room 6, compared to the other year 6s. I treated them like seniors and spoke about them being seniors - despite being year 6. As a result, they really did step up! I loved teaching year 6 and 7s last year but am excited to teach year 7  and 8s. A challenge will be making sure that I am helping the year 8s to grow into being positive role models and proud leaders of the school. The year 8s have a very strong influence on the other students in school, so it is important that the year 8s make positive and responsible choices.

I'm going OnAir!

I also have picked up a new role, taking part in Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir.  I will be recording and sharing a range of lessons which embody Manaiakalani's  'Learn, Create, Share' Pedagogy.  This will offer an authentic window into what happens in my classroom and how I use LCS to engage and extend my learners.  This is something that I am both nervous and excited about. My time in the Manaiakalani Digital Teacher Academy (MDTA) has really helped me grow and become at ease in a digital 1:1 environment.  I have moved from solely focussing on making learning fun and engaging with the use of digital tools, to how I can extend and challenge my students thinking, and really make use of the affordances provided by digital tools.  Being a part of Class OnAir will help me to ensure I am always engaging, exciting and stretching my learners.

My goals

I have a four goals that I have set for myself which I think will help improve my teaching practice.

1. Stick to timeframes

So often I would want to keep teaching a group or subject, even if my allocated time was up.  Sometimes the class would be so engrossed in what they were doing, that I would let the lesson run for longer.  While I thought this was a good thing at the time, some other subjects ended up getting  less attention. This year I would like to try and keep to the timeframes so I see all groups for the same amount of time and also give enough time to every learning area.

2.  Continue to integrate reading and writing

Last year the focus for my inquiry and dissertation was to discover whether integrated instruction led to an improvement in students understanding of audience, and quality of writing.  The integrated instruction led to a significant improvement in students quality of writing and students also loved the integrated activities.  I intend to keep integrating the two practises this year and continue to extend student's quality of writing. Additionally, I would like to see if integrated instruction leads to any improvement in students reading ability. Further, integrated activities will mean I am killing two birds with one stone, which will help me with goal one!

3.  Use 'wait time'

This sounds so simple, but pausing for a second of two is not using 'wait time'.  This topic came up while I was at a Teachers Matter conference held by Karen Boyes.  After asking a question, Karen suggests waiting 7-10 seconds before speaking.  This sounds terribly long and has made me realise that I definitely do not 'wait' long enough!  Students need enough time to stop and think before they can answer a problem, and not enough time can lead to student's feeling anxious and saying 'I don't know'. However, with the use of digital tools such as Nearpod, Mentimeter and Padlet (check out my tags to find examples of how I use these tools), I find I have the opposite problem.  Students start hurriedly writing responses because they like seeing their ideas on the screen, and the anonymity helps them to feel safe.  I think using 'wait time' will help increase the quality and depth of student ideas.

4. Encourage more creativity

Because I am a part of Manaiakalani, I am confident with using digital technologies to enhance the learning process within the Learn, Create, Share pedagogy.  I have also worked hard to empower learners to share their learning on their blog (read here).  This year, I would like to encourage more creativity.  I have spoken before about learners at Glen Innes being unfamiliar with the creation of DLOs (Digital Learning Objects). Most students are only familiar with using Google Presentations, Google Drawings, and some storyboard creators. This year, I don't want to use this as an excuse for not encouraging creativity. During the first term I will ease students into the idea of creating DLOs, but by term two I would like to encourage learners to become more creative when sharing what they have learnt.

I am looking forward to tackling the new year and continuing to become the best teacher I can be!