Learning to Question

I recently attended a VATE PD at my school as part of the “Best of both Worlds” project that connects primary and secondary schools within the area, in order to develop shared literacy practices.

The PD was short and simple, targeting one key skill that teachers could apply within their classrooms. By focusing on one skill, it did not overwhelm teachers and make them feel pressured to apply everything they had learnt during the PD.

The focus of this session was “Thick and Thin” questions- they can be referred to as “open and closed” questions, as well as “inferential and literal” questions. We were asked to define these two types of questions, after attempting some of our own.

The next day I decided to use it with my Accelerated Year 9 class along with my team members who had also attended the PD. We used George Orwell’s 1984 as the passage to read aloud to the students. They were asked to write down “I wonder…” questions about the passage they were listening to. They weren’t told the name of the book or the author. Being an accelerated class, we had already worked with the students on previous occasions to develop their questioning skills. They wrote their questions in their Writer’s Notebook (as part of our usual fortnightly creative writing lesson). I let students know that I would take some photos their questions, expecting many to object. However many were eager to share their questions.

Student 1

Student 1

 

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Student 2

 

Students were asked to share their questions with the class- everyone was eager to talk about the different questions they came up with. We collated the shared questions on the board and noticed the variety of questions. Some made links to President Snow (we studied The Hunger Games film in Term 1), whilst others wanted to know who had written it. The students will study Animal Farm next term, so they were interested to learn that the passage was from another of Orwell’s books. 1984 is not part of the curriculum, but we used it to see what links they could make. Many wondered if the book was based on the television show “Big Brother” and were surprised that it was the other way around.

Questions shared by students with the class

Questions shared by students with the class

We went through the definition of “thick and thin” questions with them after this activity, encouraging them to look at what other questions they had asked. To extend the task, we then gave them instructions to choose a “thick” question that had been shared and write an answer to the question.

The task was simple to run and worked well, given that the class are consistently taught critical thinking along with content and are encouraged to question “why” in all their subjects.

I will run this activity with my mainstream/transition EAL students in Year 7, next term and teach them how to develop their questioning skills. It may not be an easy task, but with enough scaffolding, they too should be able to make links to the text they are studying and ask “I wonder” questions.

*Apologies for the slightly blurry images- didn’t realise it until after the class.* 

Managing Teacher Stress

 

In one of my earlier years of teaching, I remember one of my team members turning around and telling me that I could do the work at home because I didn’t have a partner or children of my own. She on the other hand had 4 kids and a husband, so she wanted me to stop my current meeting and meet with her, because I didn’t have the same commitments and she needed to get home to her family. All the teachers who heard her were horrified at what she said. I was too, but as a young teacher I thought that maybe she had a point. After all, I didn’t really have anything else “important” to do at home. Whilst working with her, that comment always lurked at the back of my mind. It was easier to avoid confrontation and just do the work at home.

However bringing home work on a regular basis and just continuing to work was not a healthy choice for me. It soon began to affect my health. In the last few years I’ve struggled to find a balance. I am a teacher but I often forget that there is more to me than just being a teacher. When I’m stressed, I let go of everything that I enjoy doing. Blow Up (2006)                                                                                                     Thomas Riggs via Compfight

 

Last year, I fell into the same habit again. At one stage, I was struggling just to go to work. I didn’t want to go in. I felt pressured at work and was unable to complete the work on time. My teaching started to suffer- I would go into class tired and irritable. I felt like I was unable to distance myself and just focus on my students. However I’d usually find that after some time, being around the students made me feel relaxed. I would work with them and just enjoy being with them. The minute classes ended, I would lose that sense of being in the moment and slip back into the vicious stress cycle.

This year I’ve promised myself that I can’t continue to have my life revolve solely around work. I need to focus on my health and to enjoy life outside school. I used to love going to dance classes- 4 hours of pure bliss, where I didn’t think about anything except what the next step was going to be. Losing concentration meant that I would find myself on the ground and probably pulling my dance partner down with me. In order to dance in heels, I had to shut my mind to everything else. It was tiring but I was happy. I need to get back to dance classes but I need to work on my health first.

Going on fortnightly photography walks is a step in the right direction for me- I love taking photos. Meeting other photographers allows me to improve my own skills. I get to explore Melbourne city more regularly. I’ve wanted to take photos since I was young and going on these walks on a weeknight, will help me create a balance.

I need to remember is that I need to have a balance- not just for my health but also because I need to take time to enjoy the things I like doing. It’s my promise to myself- one that I intend to focus on more often.

#YourEduStory Week 5: How do you cope with the stress of being an educator? What do you do to avoid “teacher burnout”?

Focusing on the 2016 School Year

Every once in a while, when I’m cleaning out my papers, I like to look through my Teacher’s memory journal- a place where I collect letters and cards given to me by students or staff with a special message. This journal is important to me because it helps me remember why I am a teacher. I’ve only been teaching for 6 years, but at times when I feel like I haven’t accomplished a lot, this journal tells me that I’m wrong. I find that reading through it helps me recall the good times I’ve had in the past 6 years and the students I’ve taught. Reading the journal again two weeks ago, made me think about the new school year and what I wanted to focus on. It is a good reminder of all that I have achieved so far and how much I have learnt in the past 5 years at my current school. I came so close to quitting teaching after my first year, but my experiences in the classroom since 2010 have firmly reinforced my decision to be a teacher- I couldn’t think of anything else I would enjoy doing.

Keeping in mind my #oneword for 2016 “Create”, my first goal aims to create opportunities to get to know my students not only as learners, but also as individuals. This year I will have 2 new groups of students to get to know. The first will be the new Year 7 students, who I met briefly in 2015 during their Orientation day. The 2nd class will be my year 10 English class comprising of 50 students from across the 7 houses. I will only know 3 or 4 as they will be from my 2015 Year 9 class. In addition to the new classes, I also get to teach the Year 9 students in my house, who I have taught since Year 7. I like to get to know all my students – my aim is always to learn names within a week. Throughout the year, I try to get to know each individual student- what they like, their hobbies as well as how they learn. As a teacher, it is important to me to know that, as it allows me to tailor the work to suit their needs. I like to sit with groups of students during the lesson, not just to help them with the work but also because it gives me the chance to talk to them about what’s happening in their lives. This has been a useful technique as my students feel more comfortable talking to me whilst I sit with them, than if I were to stand constantly in front of the classroom. Outside class, I will often initiate a conversation with them about a book they are reading, or chat to them in the yard. Getting to know the students in my class is always a priority, so creating those opportunities to learn more about them is an important goal for me. It allows me to connect with them and show them that I’m willing to learn about what is important to them.

My other goal is to work with 2 senior English teachers to improve my teaching practice. Before this year, I have always been a junior English teacher, but I want to start teaching senior English. Whilst I have taught 2 Year 10 classes, with the changes to the VCE English and EAL study design, this has brought about a restructuring of our Year 10 English curriculum to fit in with the demands of VCE English and EAL. With the help of my mentors, I hope to improve how I teach English at the junior years, so that I can develop the necessary skills of my students that will allow them to tackle senior English. Although I have been teaching for some time, I feel that I need to work with other English teachers outside my team in order to strengthen my own capabilities.  This will become part of my appraisal process, but one that I’m eager to start, as I feel it will make me more confident in teaching senior English.

One of the main things I want to focus on this year is my teaching. Whilst it is a big goal, I want to ensure that I’m fully engaged in every experience. I need to be more prepared for my classes, in order to develop a positive learning environment for my students. I don’t want my focus split on a variety of responsibilities. Whilst being a leadership role is a good learning experience, I found that it divided my attention. It was difficult to put in 100% for everything I was doing, as I was also worried about what else needed to be done. This year is one where I will do what’s best for me- that is teaching my students as that’s what I love to do. I want to focus on that- my students are important to me.

#YourEduStory: What are your three most pressing goals between now and the end of the school year? @bjornpaige

 

As 2015 gives way to 2016

2015 was a year filled with many challenges both at work and in my personal life. It was a year of new learning opportunities and growth. I enjoyed participating in the Bastow Emerging Leaders’ Impact program, as it helped me develop my skills as an emerging leader as well as learning to have the difficult conversations. As well as studying, I was given the chance to put my learning into practice as the English Learning Leader at my school.

The leadership role was more demanding than I expected and at times I was stressed out and struggled to cope with all the responsibilities. This put more pressure on my personal life and I often forgot to look after myself. All my energy would be spent at work and I would come home so exhausted that all I was fit for was bed. I continued pushing myself even when I was tired or sick, yet it didn’t seem to be enough. I ended up stressed and unable to cope. I pushed away concerns for my health, forgetting that I needed to look after myself.

Throughout the year, I became better at writing down my thoughts. Whether it was on my blog, or as part of my Writer’s Journal, writing helped me clarify my thoughts. It also helped me verbalise the ideas swirling around in my head. Participating in the #YourEduStory challenge made me think more about what I did on a daily basis. Instead of just trying to adopt every new idea I read about, it helped me think about the “how” and “why” –  it made me think about what motivates me to learn and how others learn. As I continue the #YourEduStory challenge in 2016, my aim is to not just read others’ posts but to comment on their writing. After all that is what I’m trying to teach my students– whilst they can have a face to face conversation about their blog posts, I don’t often have that opportunity with my colleagues at work. By commenting on other educators’ blogs, I can start conversations about a particular topic. It will be a good way to challenge my own thinking about about education.

2016 

My #oneword for 2016 is “Create”. I deliberated over several words like “resilience”, and “discover”. In discussing it with my friend, she pointed it out that it was a good action word to adopt for 2016. In pondering over it, I realised that she was right. I need to be more proactive in my approach in 2016. I can’t wait for things to happen or for my life to change by itself- I need to work towards it. Only I can make my life better or change things that I do not like- no one else can do it for me. Whilst “believe” was a good word for me in 2015, I need a more action-inspired word for the new year.

I need to create a life for myself that is healthy- both physically and mentally. I need to focus on my own well-being as this will allow me to be a better teacher. I can’t give my students my best, if I don’t look after myself. As a teacher, I can’t count the number of times where I’ve given up my lunch break to help my students, or said yes to a project that takes up more of my time. I enjoy working with my students and participating in school activities, often at the cost of my own well-being. I need to have a better work-personal life balance, otherwise it is a detriment to my health.

So here’s to 2016 being a year where I create a lifestyle that allows me to continue seeking new opportunities for learning and growth, whilst establishing a healthy home and work balance. I encourage you to think about your #oneword that will motivate you in 2016.

This post is based is a response to:

  • 2015 #YourEduStory topic: Most of us are somewhere near the end point of the school year. Reflect on the 2014-15 school year. What went well? What didn’t go as well? What changes are you going to make for the 2015-16 school year?
  • 2016 #YourEdustory topic: What is your “one word” that will inspire you in your classroom or school in 2016?

Blogging with Year 8 Students

Unit of Work: Writing Folio using a Class Blog

This year I had the opportunity to blog with my accelerated Year 8 students. I started the blog with them last year and decided that I wanted to make it a regular part of our class. We used the Global2 platform (hosted by Edublogs) as it is a DET approved blogging site. With the help of tutorials from Edublogs, I started incorporating blogging into our English classes. It was a trial to see how it would work in high school as well as teaching them how to be responsible digital citizens. With the help of a google form students submitted topics that we would use throughout the year. They chose the word length and style and all got credit for their topics. Every Friday, students would complete 1 piece of writing that would have to be submitted for review.

topics

 

What students learnt

Using Creative Commons

My students were already creating content and publishing it online, so I wanted to teach them to be responsible Digital Citizens. Students learnt how to use Creative Commons and where to find them. My teaching team and I spent a few lessons teaching them about Creative Commons and showed them how to find images that they could re-use without breaching copyright. Every term, we would revise the concepts and reiterate the importance of Creative Commons. I also included a page on the blog about Creative Commons licences, so that they could read through the information. If students submitted work that included an image that didn’t have a CC licence, they were asked to remove it and find a new image before it could be published. However I realised at the end of the year, that many still struggled with the concept and that I would need to continue to reinforce it next year. Most students simply accessed Compfight widget (through Global2) or PhotosforClass (widget on the class blog) to find images for their posts, as those were the sites we used most frequently in class.

CC images

What are Creative Commons and where can you find them?

Self editing

By providing students with an audience apart from their teachers, it made them more accountable for their learning. It also helped students learn from their peers – by reading their friends’ work, they could see how others had interpreted the topic.The creative topics allowed them more freedom in expressing themselves – they could interpret the topic in anyway. It made them think about what they wrote- many students started to regularly check their work for errors and see how they could improve their writing skills.

Improved writing

Student comments: “Has your writing improved?”

Peer Feedback

Students were taught to not only reflect on their learning, but to also provide each other with feedback. Since they regularly interact online through social media, it was important to teach them how to respond to the comments of others. By providing their peers with feedback, it gave them an opportunity to remember what they had learnt at school – it helped consolidate their own learning. It also provided them with a chance to respond to their peers’ comments in a positive manner. This was a tough skill to teach and not all students were able to put this into practice.

Student comments: "Did you comment on other students' posts?"

Student comments: “Did you comment on other students’ posts?”

What I learnt

Since I was determined to use a class blog, I needed to be flexible with the process of implementation as it was the first time that it was being used in my English class on a regular basis. I needed to support my team members during the implementation as well as providing ongoing support throughout the year. They were not familiar with Global2 blogs and needed to know how to use the blog features in order to help our students who would often lose passwords, have difficulties with posting or forget to keep up with the work.

Our teaching team had to work individually with students to help them stay focused. Whilst students were working during class, on other units of work, we would speak to students individually and provide them with 1:1 feedback and help on their Blog posts. This practice was set up with the help of another teacher and implemented by the entire team, as it allowed us to cater for each individual student. Throughout the year, as my team members became more confident using the Global2 blog, they helped me review the Blogging unit on a regular basis, identifying issues as well as supporting the implementation process. At times, it was difficult to allocate a lesson to writing, due to other interruptions to classes. This would have an impact on the students, as many would forget to complete the weekly task. By providing them with 1:1 support, it allowed us to identify students who would struggle to write independently.

The best part of this unit was discovering budding poets, philosophical writers, researchers, graphic artists as well as those who held a power to draw you into the world they had created with their words. By allowing students to interpret the creative topics in their own way, they were able to let their imagination run wild. Often they struggled with the word limits given or with certain topics, especially those who enjoyed writing, because they had to limit what they wrote. In the feedback they provided, they wished they had some weeks where they could choose their own topics. I can certainly see that I could have given them that opportunity especially in Terms 3 and 4, once they had become confident with using the class blog. Many students have now started using Wattpad, to share their stories with others on a more global basis. As a teacher, I will not have to wait to see them publish their writing in the future- they are already sharing their stories for others to read.

teacher support

What can your teachers do to help you with developing your writing skills?

Rethinking Student-free Days

In Australian schools, the 1st day of the school year is usually student-free.This allows us time to hold our meetings and plan what we are going to do. In addition we have 3 other student-free days to use throughout the year. Sometimes my school uses 1 of those days at the start, to give teachers 2 days to prepare for the term.

I would like to see my school use those 2 days differently. Our 1st day starts off with a keynote address by the Principal team followed by a series of meetings. Sometimes we are lucky if we get an hour or 2 to prepare for the term. If we only have 1 day, then it just adds pressure to the teachers. I often wish our staff meetings would be more interesting, rather than sitting through an entire list of important dates and events.

I would like to see the following happen:

1. Keynote address by the Principal– focus the address with a key phrase for us to adopt for the year. All the important dates/events should just be emailed out. One of our principal team this year encouraged us to challenge ourselves this year and push ourselves out of our comfort zones. Keep it short and simple, in order to make the message more meaningful. At the end of the address, welcome new staff members.

2. Divide staff into PLTs (Professional Learning Teams) across subject areas– this will allow us to start of the year with goal-setting. I feel this will allow us to decide our focus for the year- what would we like to achieve this year. It provides us with the opportunity to support each other in our learning. At school we create our PDPs (Performance and Development Plans) with our house leader and it doesn’t get shared with other staff. By doing this in a PLT, we can support each other to achieve our goals. In these teams, we can have team building activities as well as staff sharing what they’ve done over the holidays as a way to get to know each other.

3. Short meetings- with our Domain staff as well as House staff: This could be used as an opportunity to disseminate important information.

4. Plan with our teaching teams: It is important that we get some time to plan together as a team. Since we teach in teams of 3 especially in 7-9, we need to be given time to plan activities. Often we have new staff members, or teachers we haven’t taught with before. Giving us the maximum amount of time will allow us to be better prepared for our students.

Depending on whether we have an extra curriculum day, the 1st day should not be taken up entirely by meetings. If there is a 2nd student free day then we could have the following:

  1. Year level subject planning meetings – these should start at different times as teachers can teach multiple year levels.
  2. Subject/Domain leaders meetings- this will allow us to set our goals for the year.
  3. More team planning time.

 

Update:

If you would like to re-think your school student-free days or staff meetings, check out Chris O’Neal’sRe-thinking Staff Meetings” suggestions.

 

Image: William Heinrich from Flickr. Image has been modified.

 

YourEduStory: How do you spend the first two days of the school year?

Learning through reading

I often see educators on Twitter sharing their reading for summer and last year I bought a few recommended books to read. However when it came to summer time, I was too busy spending my time exploring Paris, walking in the snow in Turku and Engleberg. I left the Australian summer and was enjoying winter in Europe. Whilst I did have an opportunity to read, I took a break from “educational” reading and simply read for pleasure.

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My summer reading included “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban” by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai. This book shares the story of a young Pakistani girl who dared to continue her education despite being threatened by the Taliban. She shares her experience of being shot at, just because she was determined to continue her schooling. It is an inspirational book about the challenges she faced. The book makes me think about my own days of schooling. Like Malala, I too am from Pakistan. My parents wanted me to receive a good education and they made many sacrifices to ensure that I did. I was lucky that apart from the civil unrest that would shut down the city of Karachi on numerous occasions, I was able to attend school. My school wasn’t shut down by the Taliban. It is saddening to think that whilst in one part of the country, most girls are able to complete their education, whilst in places like Swat valley girls like Malala had to deal with their schools being shut down. Her determination in the face of the threats is admirable and I’m glad to see her story being shared with the world.

I feel that this book should be part of anyone’s summer reading. It is a powerful message of a young girl’s story of how she was determined to receive an education even though she was a girl. In Pakistan, girls from poorer families often don’t receive an education because they are raised to be homemakers and mothers. They are taught that their value is in the home. Even if they are lucky to go to school many of them get married once they finish, as was the case of many of my classmates. They don’t have the opportunity to choose whether they would like to work. Malala was lucky that her father believed she had the right to receive an education.

One of my reasons for becoming a teacher was to help others receive an education. If my family had stayed in Karachi, I would still be a teacher. I am proud that a girl from my country was able to stay strong in the face of so much opposition just because she believed she had the right to go to school.  Many of my own students come from Afghanistan and Pakistan and have suffered a great deal in their young lives and most haven’t had the opportunity of going to school. Coming to Australia is a chance for them to receive an education that they has been denied to them.

This book reminds me that I am one of the lucky ones that received an education in Pakistan. As a teacher, it is my opportunity to give back to my students. I can help them learn and encourage them to achieve their dreams. It doesn’t matter where they come from or what obstacles they face, if they are determined they can be whatever they choose to be and can decide what they will do when they leave school. If a young girl like Malala can stand up against the Taliban and choose to fight for her right to education, then my students can accomplish anything they choose to do, if they believed in themselves and what they wanted.

#YourEduStory: What are the best education books for summer reading?

Put yourself in their shoes

Change can often be a source of fear and stress for people because they don’t know what might happen. When my family moved to Australia, the change of culture, country, people and way of life affected me for many years. I found it hard to cope because I was taken out of my comfort zone and thrown into a new life. Yes I had many more opportunities here, but it was alien to what I had experienced for the first 20 years of my life. I struggled to adjust and longed to go back to the place I called home. Australia had offered me freedom as a woman to live my life, yet I wanted to go back. Why? It is because Pakistan was my home- my cousins and relatives were still there. I had grown up having them around. My memories were there. I had left my grandfather behind. It was a place I felt comfortable and secure, because I knew where I belonged. In Australia, I didn’t know who I was anymore. I just didn’t fit in. I wasn’t happy with the change. It was as if I had to start learning how to live again, just in a new country.

Similarly in schools, resistance to change happens when people are taken out of their comfort zone. They are afraid of not knowing what will happen, they are afraid that all they’ve learnt will not be relevant anymore. Some of my closest friends at school are teachers who’ve taught for 15+ years. They’ve seen the changes come and go. Some have embraced technology whilst others fear it. Their reason is that when they learn how to use technology, they feel “dumb” in front of newer teachers.

At the start I used to get frustrated during school PD sessions when the presenter would start their topic at a very basic level. I wanted it to be at a higher level so that I could take my learning to the next stage. However I soon realised that this was not possible as not every person in that PD session was at my level. The presenter had to start the topic at a level that most would understand. This is what we as teachers do in our classrooms. I had made the assumption that my peers would be at the same level as well and this was not the case.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

Sarah via Compfight

This was reinforced at a recent curriculum day when 3 of us were asked to juggle 3 balls each to demonstrate our ability. Standing up in front of my peers and trying to juggle was not easy. The balls dropped as soon as I threw them in the air. The other two teachers were better than me as for at least 20 seconds they managed to juggle the balls before they dropped. I was out of my comfort zone and realised that if this could apply to my students when they learnt something new, then it also applied to my peers when they were presented with new information.

I’m lucky that my school leaders have recognised this (something that I need to work on as a new leader). In 2014 when we started our Blended Learning Projects, staff that were more comfortable with using technology signed up. At end of the year, the technology leaders held a Learning showcase where these staff presented their projects to other staff. It was a valuable learning experience for those presenting as well as their audience.

This year, when the technology leaders began the project again, more staff signed up to participate. Many of the 2014 presenters  agreed to become mentors to help the 2015 participants . Amongst the participants this year are those who are still learning how to integrate ICT within their units of work.  Many were in the audience at the showcase last year and are going to have a go this year. It gave them more confidence to stand up and agree to participate this year. If they had been forced to do so, they would not have been willing to participate. As 2014 audience members they had the opportunity to see how the presenters had used technology in their own classrooms and realise that they could also try it in their classes.

As a leader I need to have patience and the ability to understand why others are resistance to change. I also know that as a teacher I cater for different learning abilities in my classroom and I need to apply this to my peers as well. Allowing teachers to showcase their work will help others see what is happening and it will encourage them to try it in their own classrooms. Yes at times there will be whole school change that needs to be implemented by all, however if as leaders we realise that whilst some will implement the changes immediately, others will most likely need to see what it looks like before they can try it in their own classrooms. Talking to those educators who are resistant, can also help us as leaders understand the reason for their reluctance and help them start their journey of change at their own pace.

#YourEduStory: Resistance to change is rife amongst educators, how do you combat this?

Project Based Learning Challenge

I have taken a few risks with my Year 9 class because I have taught them since Year 7 and can confidently say that I know all 38 students and their learning capabilities. Other members in my team have changed during those years. I have worked with all the students whether they are at the top of the class or have been learning English for less than 2 years. We have had wonderful aides come in to support my EAL students and they help me tailor the work for students with learning difficulties.

In Term 3 I’m going to try another Project Based Unit with the entire class. In History we will be learning about the Australian explorers, Gold Rush as well Australia’s road to Federation. The students will become the teachers in this unit of work. Last year this group created resources on the Black Death for teachers at my school to use. This worked well with the class and all students were able to create resources that were shared with other teachers. This year I want them to not only create the resources but also to implement them in our classroom. The project is still in planning stages and will be completed by the start of the term.

Rationale: 

My year 9 mainstream students are quite used to work independently in class. Whilst at times, they understand that we need to explain certain concepts to them, they enjoy working together in groups or on their own to complete tasks. They ask for help from each other as well as the teachers when they are unsure of what to do. This allows my teaching team and myself to give struggling students more of a helping hand and individual support. If we identify a concept that they are all struggling, we regroup and explain it to them ensuring that they all understand. On the other hand my transition EAL group comprising of about 12 students rely heavily on teacher support and teacher guided lessons. This means they are often separated from the rest of the class because they need a quieter workspace. However this can mean that they are isolated and their only way of learning is from the teacher. Whilst they do needed more teacher support, I’m hoping that this unit encourages them to learn from their peers as well. I would like my more advanced students to work with my transition group so the barrier between the two can start being removed. The 2 groups sit separately in the class and I’m not happy with that. Whilst I’ve been aware of the situation, I haven’t done much to address it and I feel that it needs to happen now.

How this will work:

Students will be divided into 3 groups, each will be supported by 1 teacher of the team. The students will be in mixed ability groups A topic will be allocated to each group. My aim is that the students will look at a KWL chart ( I might even try the new KWHLAQ chart) to identify what they know about the topic and what they want to know. I’ve also identified key skills according to the curriculum that they need to cover and this will be included in their rubric for assessment of their learning. Students will work together to create a 75 minutes lesson for the rest of the class to teach them about the topic allocated to the group. Students will choose how they present the information to their peers. 

How will this be assessed: 

  1. Self-assessment: students will write a self-reflection as well as complete a rubric indicating how well they feel that they contributed to the task. They will also then identity what skills they need to work on in the following units of work.
  2. Peer assessment: Each group will create a feedback sheet for ‘their class’ to review the information they present
  3. Teacher assessment: Teachers will review student participation, contribution, delivery, presentation skills, group work and content presented.

This unit will run for 5 weeks. It will be a big challenge not only for the students but also for my team members and myself. We will be working closely with our groups and ensuring that all students are able to contribute. It will be more challenging for my EAL students but I’m hoping that they too will be able to help with planning the lesson as well as running it. I would like them to become more confident in trying to complete simple tasks on their own and I’m hoping that this unit of work will give them the opportunity to do so. This is the last year I will probably teach this class and my aim is to help each student develop skills that will allow them to become independent learners.

#YourEduStory: “Describe a time where you as an educator took a risk in your classroom, and it totally paid off. Or, completely backfired.”

Dear Mentor

Dear Mentor

I’m writing this post to you to tell you about #YourEduStory – a weekly blogging challenge that encourages educators to share their teaching stories. The challenge is managed by Jo-Ann Fox (@AppEducationFox) and educators from around the world submit topics for the weekly challenge as well as participating in it. Participants share their reflections via the hashtag #YourEduStory on Twitter.

I decided to write to you because I want to know more about your story. I see you do amazing work at our school and would like to know more about your journey as our technology leader. You became our tech leader whilst I have been at the school and you have worked tirelessly to implement our 1:1 laptop program and integrate technology within our classrooms. You are an inspiration to me. You have had to create this entire program and implement it, despite all the obstacles thrown in your way. It hasn’t been an easy process especially with those who resist change. For others however, like me, it has given us the opportunity to make learning more engaging for our students. You also supported me whilst I was a domain tech leader who didn’t know much about being a leader or how to effectively use technology. However, thanks to your encouragement, I have grown more confident in my abilities.

This blogging challenge has helped me reflect on what I do in my classroom and at school. It makes me think about my actions and helps me develop my voice. It is a good way of articulating ideas that are swirling around my head and gives them an outlet. At times I struggle to write a post on a particular topic because I feel as if I don’t have enough information or thoughts about it. On these occasions I read other educators’ posts in order to read their opinions on it. By reading others’ posts, it allows me to continue my learning. It’s an interesting way to learn about other educators’ teaching journeys and about how they reflect on their experiences.

I know that it is hard to find time to always write on a weekly basis and this term I have struggled a lot with it. However that’s okay and you can always come back to the topics at a later stage. It’s a good way to reflect on your teaching, learning and leadership journey so far. I hope you will consider sharing #YourEduStory.

Hope you have a good holidays.

Lisa

A mid year reflection

I have been an English Learning Leader for nearly 6 months and it has been an interesting journey. There have been bumps along the way and times when I’ve gone “Can I really do this?” However as term draws to a close, I find that I’m “still standing” and I’m stronger than I was at the start. It’s been tricky learning so much as well as trying to keep up with my regular classes. There are 5 main things I’ve learned in the last 6 months:

  1. Making mistakes is okay: It is scary making a mistake with so many people watching but I’ve learnt that it is all part of the growth process. I made a huge mistake, but once I thought over it, I realised that it was a learning opportunity. I emailed those who would be affected and apologised to them. I didn’t hide the mistake but acknowledged what I’d done. Hiding the mistake would have made the situation worse and as a leader I needed to let staff know what had happened. It will make me more careful in the future.
  2. I can’t please everyone: I’ve learnt that I’m in this role to do what’s best for the students. I can keep an open-mind when listening to feedback and I will consult other staff within my domain to see what their concerns are. However some decisions might not please everyone and I need to be mindful of that.
  3. I can’t do everything by myself- I need to learn to ask for help: Being the English Learning Leader for the whole school is quite challenging especially with new changes in the VCE curriculum in 2016. Since I teach junior English, I need to work with senior English teachers on a regular basis to ensure that they have the resources they require, that they are able to moderate student work as well as start implementing the new curriculum in Year 10. I have to ask for their help as I would not be able to do it by myself. Others have also realised that it is a big job and I have been pleasantly surprised by those who have offered to help.
  4. I need to prioritise my work- everything can’t be done at once: My role has many different parts to it- I need to check that the curriculum is up-to-date, that there are resources for all year levels, organise moderation times for senior English, organise exams and SACs; keep track of dates, organise incursions, implement the new curriculum, write subject outlines for handbooks, organise meetings for different year levels, keep track of the English budget not to mention teaching my classes as well as completing a Leadership course. Yes at times it does become overwhelming, but as long as I keep a track of what I need to do, I am able to complete tasks on time. I’ve also never realised the different aspects of the role and whilst at the moment it feels like all I’m doing is administrative work, in a few months I can start exploring other parts of my job. .
  5. I am capable of being the ELL: I often doubt myself and over the past six months, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to do so. However I am also amazed that I’m managing quite well with all the responsibilities.With the help of my mentors and supportive staff members, I can be a good leader. Quite a few people have faith in me, including members of the Executive Leadership team, so I need to believe in myself as well.

mistakes (1)

Difficult conversations

In my 2nd Bastow workshop, the theme was “Leading Teams”. During the two days we learnt that it is important to communicate well with our colleagues. I learnt that whilst certain conversations might be difficult, it is imperative that we have them in order to avoid negativity.

Over the past few months, I have encountered more difficult conversations then in previous years of teaching. The increase has resulted due me becoming the English Learning Leader. The issue for me is that “tough talks” are not easy and this is the way most people would probably feel. I find it especially difficult, because all my life I have been raised to “let it go”, to just walk away from a situation where I’m unhappy and avoid addressing the issue. It was a way of letting the issue just fade away, but it would fester within me. It got to a point that I would always walk away feeling stressed, knowing the situation was unresolved. As a leader, it is something I can’t avoid- I need to tackle it head on.

I teach in a team – each member has a different teaching style and a way of working.Ideally in a team teaching situation each member’s abilities should add to the team’s capabilities and strengths but I find that this is often not the case. If one member struggles with time and student management, this can often impact the other members and their work. They can be forced to carry the team, doubling their own workload and can find themselves doing most of the work. I have often found myself in this situation many times and as I can’t communicate my frustrations very well, this often has an impact on the team relationship. I try to hide my feelings and hope the situation goes away so that it doesn’t have a negative effect on the students . It doesn’t. Students are very quick in picking up tension between teachers and it can affect the harmony in the classroom.

At the workshop, I had to identify a person at work that I needed to have a difficult conversation. In our groups we did role-playing so that we could think about what we would say to the person we needed to have a tough conversation with. For me it was difficult because this has been an ongoing issue, one that I have tried to broach several times over the last 2 years with no change. However I knew I had to keep trying, not so much because it was affecting the way I worked, but because it was having a negative impact on my students.

Communication

During the role-play I realised a few things:

  • I was unable to identify reasons why my team member was not contributing to our planning sessions
  • I was constantly projecting my own assumptions on the situation without taking the time to find out the real reasons
  • I wasn’t approaching the situation with a clear mind- so I wouldn’t be open to what was happening
  • I wasn’t really prepared to listen actively

As a result, I am trying to make sure that the next time I begin this conversation, I am in the right frame of mind. It’s not fair to the other person that I’m coming into the meeting with pre-conceived ideas and judgments. In order to understand their point-of-view, I need to ensure the meeting takes place when I’m in the right head-space, so that it is a proper conversation.

I have a lot to learn about difficult conversations, but I know that I need to be prepared to actively listen to their point-of-view and to understand that they might be at a point when there are many things happening in the background that I am not aware of. By going in with an open mind, we might be able to work together to come up with a solution that can be implemented in order to ensure the smooth running of our classroom.