A Learner's Journey

July 4, 2014
by 34mk2012
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What my students think…

Recently, whilst exploring the flexibility and usefulness of Google Forms, I used one to seek feedback on my teaching and our classroom from my students. What a great, easy way of getting feedback that was easy for the students and me! What did I learn from this …

What works well:

My students like the use of Whole Brain Teaching to engage them in their learning, especially the ‘teach’ instruction, which apparently allows them the opportunity to ensure they know what we are focusing on, explaining this to others to confirm they are on the right track.

My students enjoy the enthusiasm I bring to my role in the classroom, from my gestures to my voice! Good to know that my antics are valued!

My students perceive that I love teaching. This feels like such high praise and I am delighted that the love I have for my job is evident in the way that I engage in my classroom. They also commented that I care about their learning – this was wonderful to read because it is SO true!

My students experience learning as dynamic and fun. ‘Fun’ came up repeatedly and I am pleased that the effort and creativity I put into my teaching helps my students to enjoy their learning.

Even better if:

I had time to spend one on one with each student every day. This would be fantastic and is a mighty challenge. I hope that I do engage with each student individually each day although what I think they are after is something more lengthy. This is valuable feedback and something I can try and be more aware of.

Several students commented on wanting more group work. I find this a little surprising as we do work in teams a lot but we could certainly do it even more. There was an even split amongst the students of wanting to choose their own groups and  having groups chosen for them which was interesting.

My favourite; “It would be even better if Mary went to less meetings, but I don’t suppose there is much you can do about that.” Out of the mouths of babes … 

The best thing about being in 5/6 MK:

Overwhelmingly, there were two key themes here. The students are really happy with their teachers and I believe Krystyna and I are a very balanced and effective team. The students also acknowledged the respect, trust and care that exists within our classroom. Many students commented on feeling accepted in the room and always being able to get help when needed. They commented on the non-judgmental tone of the classroom and on how well everyone got along. As a teacher, reading this, my heart swelled! It is this exact atmosphere that allows students to take risks with their learning and feel supported as they do.

This exercise in seeking feedback has been immensely valuable to me as a teacher. Certainly it has been affirming of the way in which I try to operate as a co-learner within our classroom and use energy and creativity to engage the students. But it has also challenged me to try and squeeze out some extra moments of one on one time for every student, not just the ones who so overtly need it. Not to mention the meetings …

What kind of feedback have you sought from your students?

 

September 25, 2013
by 34mk2012
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Aitsl’s 360 Feedback – an initial response

AITSL recently offered principals and teachers holding leadership positions the opportunity to participate in the 360 Reflection Tool process. I jumped at the chance! This involved me filling in a questionnaire and writing two narratives, one about my school context and one about how I perceived my strengths and challenges. I also asked each member of the leadership team and my current and former level leaders to complete the questionnaire. This involved both a scale rating in response to statements and the opportunity to write some anecdotal comments.

My initial response to receiving the report from AITSL was one of excitement –  I could not wait to find a few moments to sit and read it through quietly. There were two things that stood out for me as I read through the graphs and comments:

I was significantly harder on myself than were my colleagues. I have observed this same phenomena when students write self reflections or self assess their work and I am frequently commenting to them that they should not be so hard on themselves!! It is interesting that we seem to find it so difficult to really acknowledge what we are good at.

When I read the areas for improvement, it was confronting in some ways and I did reread them several times! Interestingly, when I decided to compare what the group had identified as my areas of challenge, they were virtually identical to the areas I had identified for myself. This made the groups’ comments far less confronting and I realised that it is actually a very positive thing to know that I am perceived by my peers in a way that aligns with how I see myself as a professional.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will digest the report further and mull over the opportunities it has presented me for learning and improvement. Stay tuned for another post … AND … if the opportunity to participate in 360 Reflection comes up, I would heartily recommend taking it up.

 

 
photo credit: aguscr via photopin cc

April 28, 2013
by 34mk2012
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AITSL Self Assessment Tool: Professional Engagement

This is the second post written after completing the AITSL Self Assessment Tool for teachers. This post is my reflection on the section of the tool titled Professional Engagement and my areas of strength and areas for development. For me, this  really prompted me to think about how I see myself as a learner and how am I enabling and supporting the learning of my colleagues. 

Areas of Strength:

6.3L Initiate and engage in professional discussions with colleagues in a range of forums to evaluate practice directed at improving professional knowledge and practice, and the educational outcomes of students.

As part of a dynamic 5/6 teaching team this year, I have many opportunities to engage in collegial discussion about how to improve learning opportunities and outcomes for our students. Sometimes these discussions are data driven, using the data collected to plan a pathway forward for our students. Other times, these are idea sharing dialogues where each of us can contribute our thoughts, resources and plans for discussion and consideration. As the Religious Education Leader in our school, I believe it is my role to provide opportunities for staff to engage in rich, collegial discussion and have worked hard to build this into every meeting that I lead. In planning meetings, this discussion may take the form of personal reflection on the ‘big question’ we are using for inquiry with our students. The discussion may other times be based on some professional reading I have shared, or on specific issues such as the integration of ICT into our RE units. I have posted about the development of our ‘culture of dialogue’ previously. This has been a worthy pursuit as a leader and staff now value these times as opportunities to build knowledge and gain from the insights and experiences of one another.

7.4L Contribute to professional networks and associations and build productive links with the wider community to improve teaching and learning

Many of the connections built in this area have come about through my PLN on twitter which has afforded me opportunities to participate in twitter chats (#teacherwellbeingchat #summerbookclub #ozprimschat), attend TeachMeets, exchange ideas and resources and ask questions. I am hopeful that I am able to contribute to the professional growth of my twitter PLN as they do over and over again for me.  I am a member of the Executive Planning Team for the Eastern Region Religious Education Network and have had the opportunity to have input into the Professional Learning offered to the network and be a presenter on several occasions. My students have also benefited from my twitter PLN as we are now participants in initiatives such as quadblogging which not only build connections for the students, but also for me as a professional.As written about in the previous post, I am currently exploring a partnership with LLEN and continue to work hard to maintain our school’s integral links to our Parish and wider local community.

Areas for Development

6.1P Analyse the Professional Standards for Teachers to plan personal professional development goals, support colleagues to identify and achieve personal development goals and pre-service teachers to improve classroom practice.

One goal that has come out of completing the Self Assessment Tool is my intention to address the Professional Standards for Teachers on this blog. I would like to set up a new page where I can keep a record of how I am meeting the Professional Standards, highlighting the areas of focus for me each term. I would love for each member of our Leadership Team to complete the Self Assessment Tool as I believe once  completed, the possibilities for future learning and development become so much clearer. This may give the team  the impetus to start using such a tool with the staff and committing to Personal Learning Plans for each staff member. This will build a pathway towards more personalised learning for the staff, something we strive to achieve for our students but not often for ourselves!

7.1G Maintain high ethical standards and support colleagues to interpret codes of ethics and exercise sound judgement in all school and community contexts.

At Holy Spirit Community School, our ethical stance comes directly from our Vision Statement which opens with the quote from Galatians which calls us to live out the fruits of the Spirit in every aspect of our lives:

“… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  Galatians 5:22

Whilst this quote obviously has a very specific context, the values it espouses are ones that many people would aspire to in their interactions and relationships. This is very challenging in any context, but particularly in a school where so much diversity exists. I think it is vital that our Vision Statement is placed before all of our community regularly, to remind us of what is of value to us, to challenge our decisions and behaviors and to guide our policy making.

Once again, the Self Assessment Tool has provided me with much food for thought as well as some concrete actions I would like to take to further my own learning and journey as a professional educator. I can highly recommend the process as both affirming and challenging and would love to share in some other’s experiences and reflections.

Stay tuned for the next post coming soon on ‘Professional Practice’.

February 10, 2013
by 34mk2012
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Taking our parents along with us

Once a fortnight, I meet with a great group of women, my Mother’s group. We have been meeting every fortnight since our eldest children were born over 13 years ago. This week, the topic of much animated conversation was the use of iPads in schools and Challenge Based Learning. I have to say it was a hard gig defending both of these !
In general, the conversation revolved around the issue of time management and how teachers manage the use of the iPad in class for educational purposes. The majority of the students are at schools which have used iPads 1:1 for quite some time now and the mums were particularly concerned about the amount of game playing and messaging or skyping going on in the classrooms (and at home).  The general feeling was that students driving their own learning and taking ownership for it was great for the small minority of students who are motivated and bright but that for the vast majority of students, it was simply an excuse to do as little as possible and waste time. Challenge based learning was also viewed in a similar way.
WOW! I was unsure where to start beginning to defend either the use of the iPad or CBL. I have never used CBL in my own classroom in a formal way so I decided to tackle the iPad issue as best I could. It seems to me there are a few important considerations that schools have to make in implementing these, or any other device:
  • any device is only ever going to be as good as the teacher who is planning for its use. iPads, laptops, netbooks etc are only a TOOL to enhance learning and the use of them needs to be embedded into the planning and delivery of the curriculum. This is challenging for teachers but a most important facet of enabling contemporary learning in our classrooms.
  • we need to communicate our purpose and intentions for the use of these devices in our school to parents very clearly, and often. Although education has changed immensely over the past few years, many parents are not aware or abreast of these changes and how modern classrooms facilitate the learning for students. It seems that many parents expect or assume that apart from using Word/PowerPoint or Publisher, things are pretty much as they were when they went to school. We must help parents to understand new pedagogies and current educational thinking so they can support teachers and their own children as they learn in new and different ways.
  • managing devices is difficult for many parents and they are unhappy that schools requiring iPads or other devices are adding to that difficulty! One mum was delighted that her son’s school required the laptop to be left at school each night as it was one less thing to manage at home. Whilst managing devices and their access to them is definitely a matter for parents in the home, parents may appreciate the opportunity to have conversations around how this may happen. I know from experience with my own family there are many issues to consider, and having the chance to share ideas and strategies can be helpful.

From a teacher’s perspective, I have found having a classroom blog a powerful way for parents to have a ‘look inside’ the classroom and see the learning that is happening. Being able to share videos and photos quickly and having students guest post about particular lessons, sessions or experiences has helped open the lines of communication between home and school and given parents an insight into what their children are actually doing at school.

It is so important that our schools have the support and understanding of the parent community so that learning and engagement can flourish. In this time of great educational change, we have a lot of work to do to enable parents to feel like they are part of the learning of their children. We must take as many opportunities as we can to share what is happening in our classrooms and with our students, so that our parents can feel confident that their children are being well prepared for living well in this rapidly changing world of ours.

How have you supported parents in their understanding of current pedagogy and educational practice?

What strategies have been successful?

January 26, 2013
by 34mk2012
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A calm start …

 
At Holy Spirit Community School we are fortunate enough to begin every school day with meditation. This has been a whole school commitment for the past five years and I imagine most staff and students could now not imagine starting the day without it. There is many a morning where the sound of the soothing music that brings calm and quiet with it is like a balm, soothing, healing and relaxing. We all know how hectic that first part of the school day can be, greeting students, answering parent queries, helping to find the lost jumper, sorting out notices, before school duty – the list is endless. But once that 8.55am bell goes, the school is transformed and the whole tone is changed.
 
Working in a Catholic school brings a particular context to our meditation, that of Christian meditation. But inherent in this, is the notion of connection to our deepest selves. This connection can be nurtured and nourished regardless of a school’s faith tradition and can only benefit students, staff and the wider community. In the world as we experience it, there are many pressures, ideals and voices competing for our attention and taking regular time to stop, be still and listen to our inner selves can be an opportunity to make our meaning.
 
At Holy Spirit, daily meditation begins with an announcement over the PA and some words of wisdom, reminding everyone what we are about to do and some strategies that may be helpful (as I am the speaker of the words, I am hoping they are words of wisdom!) We then listen to meditative music for approximately 2 minutes. This time is invaluable for settling the students, moving on any straggling parents (or inviting them to stay) and creating the quiet and stillness. The music is generally instrumental and comes from a wide variety of different cultures. Sometimes it may link to a particular season/time of the year eg: indigenous music for NAIDOC week, Christmas music during Advent etc. Then comes the true meditation – the silence. It is recommended that students remain silent for 1 minute for each year of their age but in reality, most classes are probably silent for between 2-4 minutes. The silence is ended by the ringing of the chimes and daily prayer commences.
 
The practise of mediation is well embedded in our school and most students and staff are very comfortable with the process. However, this year, we are going to visit some elements of meditation, particularly the use of a mantra as a way to calm the thoughts and images that pop into our minds as we meditate.
 
There are some excellent resources available on the web for people wishing to know more. 
Christian Meditation for Children and Contemplative Life have great resources and information. I have prepared a PPT for our staff to revisit the important elements of our whole school meditation program (see below) and found the book A Child’s Way: How to teach and practice Christian meditation with children written by Jeannie Battagin very useful.
Do you see a place for meditation in your school or classroom? How might it work? What might the benefits be?
 
 
 
 

January 7, 2013
by 34mk2012
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Things to come …

Well a new year is here and it will no doubt bring with it many new challenges. I am moving to a new level, 5/6 having taught 3/4 for the past three years. I am ready for the change and looking forward to seeing ‘what comes next’ for the students I have handed on over previous years.

Here are some commitments I am making for this new year:

  • continue to explore the purposeful use of ICT as a tool within my classroom. I am most interested in the opportunities ICT can provide for students in terms of the ways they can express their learning. I am keen to pursue the use of desktop computers and mobile devices for the creation of knowledge and understandings that can be shared.
  • pursue the use of classroom blogging as a means to more connected learning for my students. My class signed up for quadblogging last year via www.quadblogging.net and this was a great experience in building connections with students in other countries and having an authentic audience to share with. I would also like to explore ways of getting parents more on board with blogging.
  •  I am commencing a MOOC in mid-January which will be a completely new learning experience for me. This MOOC explores the use of technology in education and you can follow on twitter using the following hashtag #etmooc OR sign up yourself at www.etmooc.org
  • As I have completed my Masters now, I am going to engage in professional reading around the topics of the collaborative classroom, creating a positive learning culture and leadership within schools. I already have a stack of books on my list and will add to it with recommendations from my PLN on twitter.

So, I will stick to four commitments that I think are achievable rather than adding the myriad of other options floating around my mind. Watch this space to see how I go …

 

 

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