January 7, 2008 was the first day of my first teaching job in Vancouver. I graduated with my B.Ed in 2007 and started working towards my Master’s right away. After being away from the school setting for a year, I realized the best place to learn what I needed to learn was to actually be in the classroom. In university the message had always been, ‘Take whatever job you are offered and then figure out how you’ll teach it.’ I followed this advice and spent the first 6 months of my career covering a grade 1 Hebrew class maternity leave. I was definitely less than qualified to teach this class, but I took the job and did the very best I could.
I continued to wear many hats with various names in the first 10 years of my teaching: Morah Melissa, the Hebrew teacher, Mademoiselle Melissa, the French teacher, Ms. Melissa the P.E, Gym, and Art teacher, the Tech Integration Specialist, Ms. Anders, the grade 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8 teacher, and now finally, Mrs. Thompson, the grade 5 teacher and Teaching and Learning Coordinator.
No matter what the students have called me, and no matter what I have taught, I have always striven to be the expert in one area for both my students and my peers: learning. Looking back, I can’t believe how far I have come, yet at the same time, I still feel like a novice with so much to learn.
This year in particular feels like one where I have stretched myself and will continue to push myself to learn. There are moments (many, actually) when I feel overwhelmed by all the ideas floating in my head, the to-do lists, the trials, and the errors. I’m sure this feeling isn’t new, and I wish I had something to look back on to say, How did I do this before? And so this post was born! It may be 11 years late, but better late than never!
What have I learned so far this year:
- DOCUMENTING OF, FOR and AS LEARNING IS IMPORTANT – for myself and for my students! (Thanks, Silvia) This is one that I know in my heart, that I have felt for a long time, AND have not yet figured out how to best do it. I have started to write a few blog posts on this blog, as well as on my class blog, and I have also amped-up my use of Twitter to connect and build my PLN. I’ve participated in some chats, shared ideas from my own classroom, crowd-sourced for myself and for my colleagues, and never stop feeling excited when I have a new notification about someone acknowledging something I’ve shared! But I definitely have not been doing all this as much as I should be. Fortunately, my Head of School, Jon Mitzmacher, has a blog where he has documented his own blogging journey, and I have learned from some of his first posts, just how far I can go. I have now made a commitment to myself (and added it into my calendar) to blog at least once a week. I know that this will only enhance my practice as a teacher, and will allow me to continue playing the role of the lead learner. Knowing that this is a direction we would like our students to start following, I must take the time to figure out just how to make it a priority so I can then help them as they learn to find the authenticity and value in documenting their learning.
- PERSONALIZED LEARNING IS IMPORTANT – it’s not necessarily easy to do at first, and I’m not great at it yet, but I am committed to figuring it out! I started by trying to understand who my students were as learners, and to help them to understand themselves to know exactly what they need to be successful. It was important for me to first build an environment in my classroom where students knew that being “different” was actually normal, and that fairness has absolutely nothing to do with being equal. This info-graphic from Brookes Publishing really helped me explain the concept to students in a way that made sense to them. Next, it was about creating opportunities in my classroom where students had more voice. I attempted to make Must Do, May Do lists in my math class, but after listening to these videos from Learning Personalized (this site has been a wealth of information for me throughout my learning journey as a whole), I realized that as the teacher, I still had too much of a role in what the students were doing. I am definitely differentiating, which is important, but students still do not have as much of a say in WHAT they learn, and HOW. The closest I have come has been introducing Genius Hour to my class, and they LOVE IT. Even though they know we only do Genius Hour on Wednesdays, they ask on a daily basis if we can do it during class. Today my students earned a class party as part of our Gotcha! reward system (I’ll have to write a post about this soon) and guess what they chose to do during their free time?…work on their Genius Hour Projects! They are interested, motivated, self-directed, reading, writing, creating, documenting and reflecting (on flipgrid) and *gasp* learning!
So where do I go from here?
I need to stick to my blogging goal. Not just for now, but for always.
I need to continue building my own understanding of what personalized learning looks like, sounds like, and feels like. I need to find out what I am holding onto from more “traditional” teaching or what the system I work in is holding onto, so I can better understand what needs to stay and what can go to make room for personalized learning. Math really seems to be the class where I am struggling the most. I imagine letting go of ‘teaching by the unit’ has something to do with it, but I need to research more, try more, fail more, and crowd-source more. I can imagine nothing better than students coming into every class, every day, with the same excitement and enthusiasm for every task as they currently do for Genius Hour. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve been successful…and I can’t wait!