Who has the Time to Write?

In ten minutes my classroom will be filled with Grade 5 students.  I will spend my day helping my students become better readers, writers, artists, scientists and mathematicians.  I will encourage them to spend time at home after school reading, writing, and studying.  This is where my brain gets stuck for a moment.  I always thought I would be the type of teacher who practices what he preaches.  If I expect my students to spend 20 minutes every night reading, I too should be opening a book and reading.  And yet, especially during the week, I rarely spend any time reading. The same goes with writing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love falling into a good book and spending time writing but… who has the time to do such things?  My evenings are typically filled with preparation for the next school day, making/eating supper, working out and spending time with my wife.  Where am I to squeeze in moments of reading and writing into my everyday life?

Before I started my weightloss journey many years ago (read about it here if you’d like), I had the exact same excuse for not starting: I do not have the time.  What I have learned is that there is always time if you make it. Somehow I managed to find almost an hour, six days a week, to spend time focusing on my health. I need to start making time for reading and writing.  I love these activities and I miss doing them regularly.  It is easy to make excuses why I don’t have the time to do them, but I want to live a life that doesn’t have any excuses.

The bell has rung and students are beginning to fill our classroom with their chatter and excitement for the day. I am amazed how as I do my best to teach and encourage them, they always seem to teach and encourage me.

#FallisComing

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“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”   ~William Arthur Ward

On June 9th, 2014, I accepted my first teaching position and began putting together resources for the new school year. The start of school is now less than three weeks away and my anticipation is building with every passing moment.  I was browsing Reddit.com (as I tend to do every day) when I came across a post in a sub-Reddit specifically geared towards teachers (/r/teachers) that asked the question “How do I be an amazing teacher?”

I have often asked myself the same thing; “what things can I do to be a ‘good’ teacher?” and “what does a ‘good’ teacher look like?”  I did well enough in University so I should be fine… right? Right? This summer I read through a number of first-year teacher books in search of the answers to my questions. One of the most influential of the bunch came from Harry and Rosemary Wong, “The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher“.  This book emphasizes the importance of being prepared and gives practical examples of what being prepared looks like. So, I prepared.  I have lesson plans, unit plans, yearly plans, discipline plans, first day plans.  So… will I be an amazing teacher if I’m prepared?

One of the posts to the question on Reddit put so perfectly what I was missing.  I searched for the post today and was unable to find it so I will paraphrase to the best of my ability (the original was far better):  A great teacher is rarely remembered for their tests, assignments, lesson plans. A great teacher is remembered for their commitment to their students and for investing in their lives.  Being a constant in an inconsistent world and a building a relationship that goes beyond the subjects taught.  OK… so a great teacher has good relationships with their students. That message was made very clear throughout my time at University. Instruction is pointless without relationship.

As with most things in life, I suppose the answer really lies within both answers.  Obviously planning is important. I have been hired to instruct children and the curriculum sets out what they should learn this year. That is my job and to do my job well, I will need to be prepared.  As I think about it now, it is also apparent to me that to have good relationships with my students, I will also need to be prepared. I cannot imagine getting to know the lives of my students if my mind is consumed with all of the material we need to accomplish. Being prepared for the year allows me to spend more time with my students. As an added perk, it also allows be to spend more time with my family.

Another comment on the Reddit post struck me.  It said something to the effect of, and I paraphrase again: Good teachers come in all different packages. Some teachers are hilarious, some teachers are interesting and some teachers are inspirational. You can only be the teacher who you are. Find what works for you and how you connect with kids and run with it. It’s the same message we give to our students… be yourself and don’t try to be someone you are not. Wise words.

I am SO excited to begin my teaching career.  I have been waiting a very long time to teach my own classroom and watch my own students learn and grow. I am not naive enough to think that I will be an amazing teacher on day one.  I know that there will a lot of mistakes, opportunities to grow, and things I will need to adapt and change.  I am so thankful that I have a group of experienced teachers I can ask questions to and seek guidance from. #FallisComing and I can hardly wait another moment.

Techie Teacher Tools

Teaching is an increasingly digital job.  Every day, I see new online tools that claim to make teaching ‘easier than ever’ and will ‘give me the free time I deserve.’   Most of these are, just as I’ve stated, claims.  I have, however, found a number of excellent teacher tools that have helped me be more effective and productive as a teacher.

1. GoAnimateI have used this tool in two different ways; as an engage tool at the beginning of a new unit or topic and as a tool for students to present.  In this tool, users create simple video’s using ‘comic book’ style characters. Once the character animations are set, you are able to add voice overs with your own voice or a computerized voice that is provided on the site.  There are free and paid options available but I find the free option more than enough for classroom use.

2. PowToonAlong the same lines as GoAnimate, PowToon allows users to create quick and easy presentations that look amazing.  PowToon utilizes a simple ‘stick-man’ style that comes across as clean and is very engaging.  I have had one of my students create a PowToon and it helped to elevate his presentation from a simple PowerPoint to something stylized and beautiful.

3. PollEverywhereAn old University favourite, I have used PollEverywhere to help gauge students prior knowledge before starting a new topic.  PollEverywhere allows you to ask multiple choice questions and get quick responses from your students from computers, smart phones, and other electronic devices that connect to the internet.  I have also used it as a ‘no-pressure’ math pre-assessment that lets me quickly see what areas need more attention without singling out students who are struggling.

4. TodaysMeet – It is amazing what can happen when you allow students to communicate with each other over the internet.  TodaysMeet allows you to create a close chatroom for your class.  Students who never raise their hand or seem to have nothing to say during classroom discussions come alive online.  The best part is that you can print a transcript of the chat session, giving you a lot of data for formative or summative assessments.  I find this tool works the best when I ask a large group question and wait to see every students response. I then allow students to respond to what other students have written and a dialogue occurs. 

5. Planboard Planboard is a tool I use everyday.  I have been trying to find an online Day Planner since my first moment in the classroom and have finally found one that work like it should and makes my job easier.   The ability to add classes on a rotation, move lessons to the next day with one click and add standards make this online planner stand out.   The ability to add and track standards take things to the next level.  On top of all this, the support is available all the time and I have literally received an answer to a question seconds after asking it.   This is one tool you definitely need to try out.

6. CCPensieveA pensieve is an ongoing record of what a student is doing.  The online version found at CCPensieve makes recording anecdotal records easier than ever.  This tool is designed to be used with the Daily 5 instructional strategy in literacy, but is also easily used in all other subject areas.  If you want to take your formative assessment to the next level, you need to check this one out.  Just a warning that it does cost $24 – $39 per year but this tool is more than worth the cost.

7. KeepVid Tired of having videos buffer halfway through showing them to your class?  Worried about showing video and the potentially inappropriate ones sites suggest you watch afterwards? If yes, KeepVid is for you.  This tool allows you to download videos from popular streaming sites allowing you to show video to class without worrying.  I love being able to download my videos before a lesson and having full confidence that the video will play as intended.

There you have it; my list of must have Techie Teacher Tools.  The tools listed here have made teaching easier for me and have made me a more effective educator.  If you have any other sites you thinks are a ‘must’ for teachers, please add them in the comments below.

Happy Teaching!!

Classroom Blogging

This semester, I am doing a three-week interning block in a Grade 7/8 split class.  Coming into the classroom in the middle of the school year has been challenging and learning who the students are in a hurry was one of my top priorities. My teaching partner and I attempted to do an activity that introduced us to the students and them to us.  It was interesting and informative, but quick.  Thinking back now, I do not really remember much of what the students told me and they probably remember less about me.

The idea of Classroom Blogging was first introduced to me in my ECMP355 – Introduction to Computers in Education class at the University of Regina.  I decided that I would give Classroom Blogging a chance and set out to set one up for my class.  The first website I tried to use was edublogs.org and at first glance it appeared perfect.  Unfortunately, as I dug deeper into the site, I realized that many of the features were disabled until you ‘upgraded’ to a better version.  I was only teaching this class for three weeks and decided that it would be worth it to ‘upgrade’.

The next site I found was KidBlog.org. This site was perfect.  It allowed me to set up a classroom blog, monitor the posts and comments done by students, restrict access to the site (which I would use until I had the chance to teach my students about protecting themselves online) and it was all so easy to manage.

During class, I had my students sign in and read their first task (a post which I had written earlier). It instructed students to write their own ‘About Me’ page (the typical ‘starting point’ of any blog).  This was originally meant to simply give students a chance to try blogging, feel out the site and try some different things.  What I didn’t expect was to get such and in-depth look into the lives of my students.  Each ‘About Me’ post was filled with interesting facts about my students and I was able to learn so much more about them then I had in the week that I had already spent with them.

When I start my full-internship next Fall, I plan to use a Classroom Blog from the first day.  Blogging allows students who are quiet in person the opportunity to speak-up through their words. I also love the commenting abilities of a Classroom Blog.  Not only does this allow my as the teacher to provide formative feedback to my students, but also allows them to give constructive feedback to their peers.

If you haven’t tried blogging with your class yet, I highly recommend it.

Happy Blogging!

Social Networks as Tools for Connecting

“How can you squander even one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts of our generation? How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?” Seth Godin

“Local Call” by gfpeck

opinions on the purpose of Social Networks vary greatly from person to person.  Some will describe them as a distraction, self-indulgent, pointless or even dangerous.  I can see their point.   Do I really need to know what dish you made for supper and be forced to look at an Instagram of it?  Do I really think that the sporting event I am attending is SO important that I need to share it with the whole world?  Does the world really need to know that I’m leaving my house unattended for the weekend while I’m visiting my family out-of-province?  I suppose the obvious answer to these questions is ‘no.’  I must admit I use Social Networks in these ways, but there is one more way that I use Social Media that has changed (continues to change) the ways I connect with others.

For the most part,  I see Social Networks as a way to ask questions to people who would otherwise not be able to hear them.  On the flip side of that, I also see them as a way to hear the questions of other’s and to help where I am able too.  I will illustrate my point with a story.  The other day, a friend of mine asked on Facebook if anyone had a multi-region DVD player that they would be able to lend him so he could watch DVD’s from England.   It just so happened that I did have a multi-region DVD player sitting in my backyard (don’t ask) and I was more than willing to allow this person to have it.  This was made possible because: 1. He was able to ask the question; and 2. I was able to hear his question and respond.

Photo by: Funky Tee

I guess this is something people have been doing forever through bulletin boards and the like, but these have a limited range in the people they are able to reach.  Social Networks increase the range of my questions AND my ability to see the questions of other’s. As a future teacher, I think one of the most important lessons a student can learn is to ask questions.  Student’s need to be taught that their Facebook and Twitter accounts can be used to help with their homework or with questions they have.  I think to ignore the usefulness of Social Networks is to disadvantage yourself in a world of collaboration and interconnectedness.  Social Networks have allowed me the opportunity to be connected to a number of very smart people related to my fields of study, but have also allowed me the opportunity to hear the needs of others and to respond where I am able too.

Steeped Education

Learning is rarely something that occurs in an instant, but instead over time spent in contemplation, reflection, and consideration. Often times, in my University classes, information is spat out without any thought to how that information is being received or processed by myself or my peers.  To be honest, I learn very little from the majority of lectures I attend (I think I just felt my wallet cringe). Instead, I find myself learning best when I review the information presented in conjunction with writing down different thoughts I am having regarding the material.  I spent years of my post-secondary career cramming for finals and hoping whatever I had shoved into my mind would stay in there long enough to be regurgitated the next day.  This method usually didn’t end well.

Photo By: Astro Guy

I imagine this may occur in a similar way with K-12 students.  Teacher’s have a lot to get through in a given year and may not take the time that is required for some students to process various lessons and material.  I think as an educator I will need to either allow my students the time required to be steeped in the information being taught and to give opportunities for reflection. I look at the tea-bag in my mug slowly infusing the water surrounding it, I think of knowledge being a teabag slowly releasing understanding until the water is forever coloured differently.  I like the idea of  a Steeped Education, where students are slowly infused with knowledge instead of simply cramming information in, only to be thrown-up later on an examination with no real reflection of consideration of how the information they have been taught affects their lives and their communities. As the Tim Horton’s commercial expresses, steeping coaxes out the flavour.  My hope is that through steeping knowledge, I, and my students, are able to coax out understand.  Thoughts?

Why do I want to be a Teacher?

Photo By: Schristia

The road that led me into my decision to become a teacher is one that was/is full of unexpected twists and turns.  When I was nearing graduation from high school, I had been actively involved with my churches youth group and really enjoyed mentoring young people.  This led me to choose taking a Youth Leadership program with the intention of becoming a youth pastor.  My first attempt at post-secondary education did not end all that well (described here), but I still found myself led to work with students. Through a mix of connections and luck, I was able to land a job in Fort Qu’Appelle as an Education Assistant in their high school. This job confirmed that I wanted to work with young people and that I really enjoyed working within the school system.  My past experiences of failure will help (I think) me to connect with students who have always thought they are not ‘good’ at school.  I firmly believe that failure is one of the best teachers and hope to help my students learn through their failures.

Photo By: mlleOO

The first chapter of Becoming a Teacher asks its readers “Why do you want to become a teacher?” and proceeds to list a number of reasons why people choose to become teachers.  One of the exercises in the book shows twelve different reasons why people become teachers and then asks the reader to rate them on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being ‘Very Applicable’ and 5 ‘Not Applicable) as to how relevant these reasons where to their decision to become a teacher. This is how I scored myself:

A Passion for Learning: 1 –I hadn’t thought of this before reading this chapter, but I really do have an extreme passion for learning.  I love having new experiences, seeing new things, and challenging myself to learn something I don’t know. 

Success as a Student: 4 – I had moderate success in high school, but my first experience with post-secondary education ended in failure so I’m not sure this had anything to do with my becoming a teacher.  The success I am currently experiencing, though, affirms that I have made the right choice in a career.

Good Sense of Humour: 5 – Do I have a good sense of humour? That’s really hard question for me to answer.  I guess I think I’m funny at times.  That said, this did not play into my decision making at all.

Positive Attitude Towards Students: 2 – Working as an aide, I loved being able to encourage students who thought they were not ‘smart’ enough to do well in school.  I like interacting with students (even the ones considered ‘trouble-makers’) and love seeing them try their hardest.

Tolerance Towards Others: 5 – Though I would consider myself a very tolerant person, I cannot think of a time I have ever though “Hey… I’m tolerant… I should become a teacher.”

Patience: 3 – This attribute did not play into my choice to become a teacher, but once I had decided to become a teacher, it factored into deciding to be a middle-years (Grades 5,6,7,8) teacher.

Good Verbal and Writing Skills: 4 – I am glad that I have some communication skills, but I think I would have chosen to become a teacher without them.

Appreciation for the Arts: 3 – I like going to the theatre, the symphony, and concerts, but those didn’t play into my choice. I did, however, have amazing experiences with my Drama teachers in Jr. High and High School.

Experiences working with children: 2 – I really like working with young people.  I feel that they bring out some of my best attributes and skills.

Other Teacher’s in the Family: 4 – Though I have other teachers in the family, their choice in a career played very little into my choice to become a teacher.

Encouragement from family members to enter teaching: 1 – The most important people in my life have told me that they think I should be a teacher and I think this played heavily into my choice to become a teacher.

Desire to serve students and the community: 3 – Community is something I want to be able to foster throughout my life, and I think teaching will be an excellent way of helping me to do this.  That said, I didn’t decide to become a teacher specifically because I would get to serve the community and students, but is a perk of my choice.

Photo By: mike@bensalem

Out of the list here, it is pretty clear to me that my choice to become a teacher is most related to my passion for learning and on the encouragement of my family and close friends.  This initial idea is than confirmed and supported by the personality attributes I have and my desire to see growth in young people.  So… I guess that’s why I want to become a teacher.