Monthly Archives: January 2015

What do I do that makes a difference in my classroom, and is this the ‘best thing’ I do?

At the start of every school year, and then at the start of every term, I create self-awareness and ownerships of students’ learning by undertaking a ‘Are You Ready?’ routine.  I place a piece of masking tape on the floor and ask students to answer this question as I pose it to them.  I say: “Good Morning Chris, are you ready?”, when Chris responds, “Yes, I am”, I ellicit further information and say: “But what is it you are ready to do?” At this point the child is forced to pause and reflect.  I will give prompts if necessary and I might guide them to an area of learning I have conferenced them on previously.  I might tell them, I have seen their attitude to handwriting improving lately, or, maybe that they have slipped on their spelling homework.  In this way, the student can see a path forward and they might/will say: “I am ready to try harder to make my letters sit on the line when handwriting”, or “I am ready to practise my spelling words every day”.  This technique is all about goal setting, and it is specific.  If a child says, “I am ready to learn”, they are turned around and asked to join the back of the line while they think specifically what they can do to work on their learning today.

I often revisit this technique during the school term to ensure children do not forget that learning is for them, and as such they should understand they can make decisions around their path. I also remember what children have said and reference their statement during the day, “Well done Chris, I can see how hard you were concentrating on forming your letters during Handwriting to achieve your goal”.

Just as I enter the classroom with an obvious and deliberate intent, I am fostering the same capacity in each and every student.  Furthermore, just as we code-switch to enter over the threshold into a church, a hospital or a library, the same can be said for a classroom.  It is not just ‘where one goes when the bell rings’, it is ‘where change happens’, or more precisely, where the changes happen that students are working toward.  There is always progress in my classroom, and it is always as a consequence of saying those three little words: I AM READY!

Different but Similar

When I met Guy I was finishing off a Graduate Diploma in Education and fully expecting I’d follow the ‘natural path’ and teach commerce or business subjects (the nature of my undergraduate degree) to secondary students. I was not in the least bit jaded with my previous profession but I was wanting to know one thing – could I teach? I had three boys, at that time aged between 7 and 10 and I had been a hands-on parent, fully embracing opportunities to read or to go on excursions or even be co-opted to school council. By nature I am analytical, but with a little intuition thrown into the mix, I began to think I ‘could’ be suited to this thing called teaching. So began my journey to retrain and move into education. What I wasn’t expecting though was my detour into Primary teaching. That was Guy’s unknowing hand, guiding me toward this life of storytelling, embracing my inner child and letting go of my preconceived notions of turning my brain to mush (so sorry fellow Primary teachers out there).

When I was assigned my Prac placement into Guy’s classroom I originally thought it was a typical country school – you know the kind, good kids, nice parents, just cruise through the day. Hmmm, was I wrong. Guy might have come across to the infrequent observer as casual but he did an impressive job camouflaging his skilled guidance with casual banter. Guy would take those kids out for one of his many games, every day, sometimes twice. I pondered this frequency and even reflected in my journal that I thought this was at the cost of ‘core learning time’. So, off I went with his blessing to conquer the primary classroom, one educational theorist at a time. It took me about three years to get it. Guy wasn’t being ‘easy’ on those kids. He was rewarding their effort. Guy had his students working at least 12 months in advance of their age, in some cases one boy was two years ahead. When he was instructing, teaching, guiding, supporting his manner was calm, patient and kind. This isn’t ‘casual’ – it is teaching with heart. I have used his pedagogical tutelage daily as I teach my students, particularly his maths lessons. But it was only after finding out for myself that his manner was what made it all work. He was educating the mind, the spirit and the heart of those kids and for that anyone of them will tell you he was the best teacher they have ever had. Ditto, the same for me! #youredustory #best teacher

Making the world a better place

This week’s #YourEduStory blogging challenge asks the question how will I make the world a better place.  I often ponder the demise of a society who seem to genuinely care about one another less and less on a personal level.  I know this is not true for everybody but I do fear that the balance of people who give up something for somebody else is dwindling.  I will accept that we do live in times where natural disasters invoke an outpouring of sadness around the world, and most often a ‘reaching into one’s pocket’ to provide a donation.  This certainly does occur, but the point I wish to make is that these are ‘big ticket’ disasters, mass mourning, global grief.  What about the small things?  Are we still feeling charitable toward our fellow man? Do we give in a small way, either through actions or words to just one person, one stranger during our day?  Or is it simply too easy to criticise these acts and label the person as a ‘creep’, a ‘wannabee’ or simply a ‘loser trying to make friends’.  Why is this the case, why has society turned toward skepticism instead of gratitude and appreciation of small but worthy deeds?

I have recently understood the power of helping someone who needs you.  I was tutoring a little boy today as I have done so weekly for about a month.  His parents felt he was not well understood by his classroom teacher and his confidence and perception of himself as a ‘learner’ had fallen away.  He is a vibrant, intelligent little boy who has been diagnosed and (sadly) labelled, ‘that ADD boy’.  His energy was difficult for his teacher to manage and consequently her patience had waned.  So, it has been my great honour to have encountered this little boy and his family in my life. He is positively a joyous child who can engage me with his verbal storytelling and show me absolute care and consideration when I come to his door. He is polite, agreeable and willing to try anything I suggest.  And yes, his writing and spelling skills are low and the time he spends with me is precious to him and his family as he begins to re-learn things in an environment where he feels safe to take risks.  The way I see it, I am this little boy’s Coach, someone who gives him the time to work at things that are often hard, but not insurmountable.  Someone, who has the patience becuause there is not the pressure of a busy classroom, nor the demands of a busy teacher.

When I was leaving today, as with most previous sessions I’ve spent with him and his family I watched as his mother was overcome with emotion. At first I tried to dismiss it thinking I was making her feel better when I said, “Oh, don’t worry about it, we mothers are emotional basketcases when it comes to our kids”. But she continued to tell me how much I meant to them and their little boy and how grateful they were.  She then recounted her own journey and said she wished someone like me was around when she was at school as she had similar problems with learning but there was no-one to understand.  I said to her that I am only doing what I was trained for, but she disagreed.  She told me I was doing far more for them than a ‘job’, she insisted that I was changing their lives.  Absolutely no ego in this post, only a feeling of humility for being granted this opportunity to help people, help people overcome challenges, help make them able to live in this world with confidence and no regrets.  I guess in this way I am making the world a better place, even if it is one child at a time.

Belief, my word for 2015

As part of the Edustory Blogging Challenge I have been asked to come up with a word, one word, that will inspire me in 2015. This task was actually not as difficult as it first sounded, narrowing the field down to just one singular word that provided the most gravity when said out loud, or simply whispered. Belief – my friend. To say that it is important to believe in oneself is an almighty understatement. And that’s the problem, there is simply not a switch. The, ‘ok let me get this belief thing happening, I’ll just go over here and switch this thing on, whola, I’m believing in myself!’ If only it could be so simple. Instead, we must endure ongoing questioning from ourselves, “Am I doing this right?”, “Should I just give up and do something else?”, “Who really cares anyway?”. Hmmm, to overcome these voices and to really back oneself requires a quality called Grit, the very close relation of determination. The word grit conjures up a ‘dirtier’ version of determination, by definition you know you are going to get your hands dirty if you are a ‘gritty person’. Angela Duckworth defines grit as: perserverance and passion when working toward long-term goals. She also says it requires strenuous effort over a long time, despite failures, adversity and plateaus in progress. Wow, what a downer that last bit is! It certainly sums up teaching at times – plateaus in progress, most definitely. My new best friend will be stamina, stamina to motivate myself, stamina to toil away at my goals, and stamina which is fuelled by belief. Even when the inner questioning threatens to erode my confidence I am going to look at my word, stop, breathe and know that when everything else disappears I still have my self, I still believe in myself, I have belief.

What shapes us

My grandfather was a self-confessed mischief-maker, but I would challenge this label and suggest that in his later years he was a merry-maker. I think this is characteristic of his natural tendency to find ‘trouble’ but always with the best of intentions. After he retired to a life of ‘going bush’ by day for reasons of sentimentality, but coming back to town nightly to have a ‘well-earned’ beverage under the shade of a back-yard monster of a tree, his mischievousness waned but could always be coaxed out with the plea of a ‘tell us another story Pop’. ‘Pop’ was essentially a storyteller, and his mischievous youth provided most of the fodder. So, I started to question whether at the heart of every relationship are the ‘stories’ and the ability to tell a story was the key to communicating with more than words, but with heart. I say this because my connection to this man, my love for him, ran very deep. I was totally enthralled by his ‘presence’. And at the centre of his presence were his stories.
Storytelling has been said to be an ‘art’. Or one in the midst of telling a story is said to be ‘crafting’ their story. I question this ‘art and craft’ definition. I think if we elevate storytelling to this position we risk having children believe they can be and are storytellers from the minute they open their mouths. In making the the notion of storytelling less ‘superhuman’ and more about the everyday we seize the opportunity to instil a self-believe in our storytellers of the future. And we definitely need to develop these skills in young people today. The current generation of children are undoubtedly inwardly focused on the device in front of them. By encouraging a BYOD or 1:1 laptop learning environment we have created a situation and predominance of communication via a screen. As educators (and parents are the primary educator in a child’s life) we need to model and value telling stories. Some of us have been lucky enough to know someone, possibly ‘The Storyteller’ of our family, maybe another significant adult in our lives, but that person was able to engage us through the simple use of words and story. We need to continue to do this ourselves and open the door to the beauty and promise that comes with telling a story to another person. This isn’t a gift, it’s not Art, nor is it craft… It’s life.