Summer Plans

It’s summer! 9 weeks may seem like a long time, but between weddings, trips, and prepping for next year, I already know that these two months are going to fly by. In order to make the most of it, here’s what I’m putting into motion:

Setting a weekly focus

I have been following ANGELA WATSON‘s blog for a while and she wrote a post not too long ago called 6 SIMPLE STEPS TO THE BEST SUMMER EVER. I’ve followed her advice to create an end of summer vision and to assign a focus for each week. My three main goals are to (1) have my long range plans completed and an intro postcard/letter sent out to my students; (2) have a morning routine in place to maximize my day and ensure I have time for devos; and (3) have meal plans created for September. This week, my focus is on getting to know my curriculum expectations. I’ve taught all these subjects before, but I’m really hoping to do something a little different this year that allows for more authentic, integrated learning.

Explore something different every day

It’s easy for routine to become monotony when you have a toddler. So, we’ve committed to trying or visiting something different every day. Living in Kingston and in this part of Ontario, there is tons at our fingertips that we haven’t even scratched the surface of. We’re starting local, but we will definitely branch out as the summer goes on and as we venture to other parts of Ontario and North America. So far, we’ve visited a BERRY FARM, taken Andy to his first splash pad, and attended STORIES IN THE PARK. Tomorrow we are heading to the MUSEUM OF HEALTH CARE.

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30 day fitness challenge

This last endeavour is three-fold. One, I have not been going to the gym nearly enough, and my diet has been subpar. Plus, throwing out my shoulder when I wiped out while cycling has been a disincentive to any sort of physical activity. Two, we are heading to Bermuda at the end of August. Three, I am teaching 4 classes of phys. ed. next year. In summary, plenty of reasons to get into shape.

At the heart of it

I recently finished reading George Couros’s THE INNOVATOR’S MINDSET. It challenged me to think more deeply about why and how I do the things that I do, and to consider the small and big actions that I can take to bring about innovation in education.

I’ve always been someone who has loved learning. Conferences, professional reading, twitter, RSS feeds…I soak them all up. I’m keen to implement new ideas and to change things up as I learn. But something that’s been gnawing at me for a while now is this disconnect between my theoretical understanding of education and my day-to-day lived reality. I have these ideas brewing in my head, but I find that I so often lack the skills to bring them to fruition. And when I do begin to implement them, why is it that the results are so often different than what I had envisioned?

Reading through the book, one quote in particular struck me:

If you want to see the effectiveness of an educator, you do not look at what the teacher is doing but at the learners whom they serve.

And behold, the reason for my disconnect. In evaluating my own effectiveness, I have focused so much on what I’ve done, rather than on the children I work with. In my rush to transform myself into what I thought was a great educator, I completely forgot my reason for being. For that, I am deeply saddened.

Thankfully, the story does not end there.

I’ve known for a while that relationship-building is something that I struggle with (which I mentioned not too long ago in THIS POST). Some might say that I’m in the wrong profession if this is the case. However, I’m optimistic that this quality is something I can develop more each day. And I endeavour to do just that. George Couros reminds us in his book:

…we make a connection to the heart before we make a connection to the mind.

Here’s to striving for more of those heart connections.

The Trouble with Separation

In early February, as I was starting to think more about my return to work, I wrote THIS POST about my “education blog”. This being my personal blog, I didn’t think it fitting to talk to much about my work life here. My intention was that I would post all about the things that were happening in my classroom and school on my edublog, and that my learning-related reflections would be there.

But this is where I got stuck.

When I came across a new idea or something I learned, I found myself struggling with knowing where to post about it. Is it too personal for my edublog? Is it too “school-y” for my personal blog? Could I just post the same thing on both blogs? So many of the things that I learn in my work are relevant to my personal life. And so many of the things that I read or experience spark interest across a whole gamut of areas and cannot be contained to just my educator “box”. As much as I wanted to post weekly reflections or things I’ve tried in the classroom, I found that what I really wanted to talk about was learning. In and out of the classroom.

And so, in an effort to more accurately reflect the way thinking and learning works in my life, I’m going to start including my “school” posts here on this blog. Here’s hoping they’ll give you a glimpse into what my day job looks like, and that they’ll add a richness to the conversation that I’ve already started here around this thing called learning.

More podcast love

I’ve talked about podcasts on MANY OCCASIONS. Some of the ones I listed previously, I’m no longer listening to. Others are still going strong. Here a few favourites right now:

MILLENNIAL

I love that this podcast is about navigating life in my current age bracket. Megan Tan shares deeply about the big and little things in her life, and I look forward to each new episode. 

THE LONGEST SHORTEST TIME

It’s technically a parenting show, but it’s actually relatable to everyone who exists in a family. They’re currently doing a few reruns before the next season, but since I only started listening a few months ago, I’m so grateful. Following the story of “The Accidental Gay Parents” right now. A story that is melting my heart. 

ART OF CHARM

So I hear this podcast is actually geared towards men, but I really enjoyed their episode with Chris Guillebeau about finding and pursuing work that echoes with your entire being. I continue to get these inklings that teaching in its current iteration is not what resonates most with my life purpose, but I’m still trying to navigate through what that all means. I know public education is where I want to be, but I don’t see my current classroom as being that learning and thinking incubator that I envision for children. Shall continue to work through this. 

INVISIBLE CITY

So this is a fairly new podcast hosted by Jennifer Keesmat, the Chief Planner of the City of Toronto. I love all things related to urban planning and design (thinking that intersecting this with public education would lead me to what I feel is my maximum impact in the classroom) and have been feeling a dearth of input into my life on this front. Alas, I am soaking all of this in. 

And there you have it – that’s what I’m consuming and chewing on as of late. 

Failure

I have never been good at dealing with failure.

Despite my love of learning and my penchant for creativity, I will be the first person to say that I do not fail well. I take things super hard and I dwell on failures and mistakes for quite a while. I let them fester and take root and bring me down. I start questioning my identity, my purpose, my actions. It’s a vicious cycle.

This past week, I had a bit of a rough day in school. Classroom management has never been a forte, and I felt like I was getting walked all over. By 4-6 year olds. Coupled with some concerns that I had had over Andy’s development, it made for a very emotional car ride home.

But I came to a realization today.

In parenting and teaching, I’ve been focusing so much on me. On my accomplishments, my abilities, my goals and dreams and plans. But what if I started with the kids? With their circles of experience? Instead of success being defined as them meeting this arbitrary goal that I set in my mind, what if I measured it according to the lasting improvement I saw in them over time? I bet it would take a whole lot of the pressure off while also freeing my mind up to actually do great work with them. Hmm…

An aside, THIS was a timely post about What Teachers Can Learn from Elon Musk.

Thoughts on returning to work

Man, that one year of maternity leave flew by.

Though I was mentally ready to return to work, I think emotionally (leaving my sick child) and physically (jet lagged), I was not. I’ve moved into a new position, so I’m teaching kindergarten in a rural school about 35 min from where we live. Due to inclement weather, I was only at work 3 out of 5 days last week. Plus, the woman whose role I’m taking over is still around until March Break. It’s close to being the most ideal situation possible. 

Teaching kindergarten is quite different from being up with the intermediates. My time is spent doing different things, and my attention is and responses need to be sensitive to different needs.  I’m thinking about sound skills and blends and things I haven’t had to think of too much over the last few years. It’s really very refreshing. 

With Andy’s erratic sleep schedule and a higher than usual number of evening commitments, I haven’t had much time to really rest, but it is amazing to see what a difference this is already when it comes to work/life balance. I’m planning more holistically and tying all the subjects into themes, and I know that I’m going to love what the rest of this year has in store. 

Learning about learning.

This past week – and for every week moving forward – Andy has been going to his grandparents’ twice a week for a few hours. It’s given grandpa a chance to get used to having him around, and it’s given me a few hours to get back into the swing of working and studying.

Online courses
I’ve been taking the Ultimate Guide to Design Thinking course on Creative Classroom Academy and am currently developing a unit plan around the Grade 2 Social Studies curriculum of Global Communities. It’s so neat to think about units and lessons through the lens of design thinking, and I’m hoping to have a chance to implement this in the future!

Blogs, Sites and Social Media
I participated in the #tlap discussion this past Monday, and it was such a fruitful time of discussion around the Innovator’s Mindset (which also happens to be a book by George Couros). I’ve been sitting back from twitter chats for a little bit now, but was very glad to be engaged in this one. It also led me down a trail of websites, and now I’ve got some new reading material, including Angela Watson’s The Cornerstone and A.J. Juliani’s site.

Books
In a wonderful coincidence to #tlap, I’ve been reading Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators. It’s really pushed me to think not only about creating an atmosphere that encourages inquiry in the classroom, but also about the way that I will be encouraging a mindset of innovation at home with Andy. Ironically, in an effort to be “more than just a print book”, the text uses the now defunct Microsoft tags to link to videos for a more in-depth look at content. Just goes to show you how quickly technology changes.

Podcasts
And of course, who can resist some good education podcasts. The newest ones I’m following are Cult of Pedagogy and the K-12 Greatest Hits produced by Bam Radio Network. I particularly liked K-12’s recent episode about Uncommon Makerspaces. Such an inspiration to see thinking spilling out into the hallways!

Last but not least, I’ve also really enjoyed engaging in conversation with a friend about the psychology of teaching and learning and what ed reform can and should look like. She’s challenged me to really work on articulating my teaching philosophy, so that’s something that I will also be fleshing out over the next little while.

40.

I write to you from our cozy bed – so late in the week that it’s actually the next week – where I am joined by not one, but two sick boys! Andy has a fever, which may or may not be a side effect of his teething (it’s been bothering him on and off this week) and Kelvin is fighting a stomach bug. Both of them are currently asleep. Needless to say, the canker sore that has been pestering me the last few days is the small fry in this bigger picture. 

  
We are getting really close to the tipping point at which Andy has spent more time out of the womb than in it. It’s been a pretty eventful week for us, full of ups and downs and some big decisions (like deciding not to put Andy into full time daycare until after the summer), but we are really looking forward to the next two weeks where we will be able to just hang out as a family more. 

Andy has been spending more time with his paternal grandparents, so that has freed me up to tackle some of the household chores and projects that have been pushed to the back burner. Like sending out our annual Christmas update. And cleaning those pesky bathrooms. 

  
Our little monkey continues to discover new things about the world. He really likes to stand on his tip toes now and we often find him crawling under and around things…and hanging out on the carpet under the dining room table. 

With only two months left in my maternity leave, it’s time to start prepping for my return to work. Unlike at the start of my leave, I’ve taken a pretty big step back from professional reading (except for blogs) and Twitter chats over the last few months, but it’s time to get back into the groove. I have followed educator and design thinking advocate John Spencer for quite some time now, and he recently launched the Creative Classroom Academy, so I’m looking forward to completing some courses on there (starting with the Genius Hour course). I’m excited but also a little apprehensive for what school/home integration will look like now that Andy is here, but here’s hoping this new perspective will make me both a better teacher and a better mother. 

We head to Toronto again tomorrow for some family adventures. Hoping our sick little clan is feeling more up to it tomorrow!

24.

Biggest news of the week – Andy is sleeping through the night! Like true, 10 or 11-hour sleeps. And this came after two nights of pretty atrocious sleeping, so it was particularly amazing. I credit the softness of the fleece blanket we laid down over top of his sheets for this change.

Come to think of it, our sweet boy has been particularly sweet lately. He tries to talk to us often and has been doing this funny thing where he sucks on his lip and it makes a smacking sound. Kelvin really likes it when he clamps down on his gums in a way that flattens out his jaw. It’s kind of hard to describe, but it’s super cute. He actually does it a lot when he’s eating. Maybe it’s his way of keeping the spoon in his mouth.

Unlike last week, this week was jam-packed. My sister and mom came up to watch Andy (so thankful!) so that I could get a few things done. He was so good with them. They took a lot of pictures of him. Like this one.

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I had mentioned earlier that I joined the board at our local library. On Tuesday, I travelled with my fellow board members to see some of the branches. I loved driving through Frontenac, taking in the scenery, and meeting the staff and patrons who frequent the library out this way. The rural branches are typically smaller than the urban branches, but I am encouraged to know that the residents in these neighbourhoods have access to all the same wonderful holdings I have. I also got to see a lot of the elementary schools that are in the northern part of the school district that I work for. What a treat!

The next day, I presented for the very first time at a conference organized by our school board. It was a little nerve-wracking, but a really great experience. I’ve been using this app called Notability for virtually all my organization needs at school. It’s the one app I feel like I can really get behind and champion, and so I did! The folks at Ginger Labs were super helpful and even gave me some access codes so my participants could try it for free :) Best thing about that day? I won half a day of release time for future tech learning!

On the homefront, we are looking for a new rug for our living space. We recently ordered this rug for our dining area, and are keeping our eyes open for a thicker, more colourful rug for the living room.

Also, some amazing videos from around the inter web: Ikea puns and Raising Robot Babies

Teaching Well

For quite some time now, I’ve been following Maureen Devlin’s blog. She’s an educator from Massachussetts (going on 30 years of teaching next year!) who posts often and challenges me to really act on what I value in education. I have had the privilege of actually connecting with her on twitter, and I know she will continue to push me (and so many others) to become a better educator.

I recently discovered her Summer Study site, and though I am not teaching in the state of Massachussetts, the pillars of their Education department still resonate with me. I plan to work my way through the 33 elements of teaching excellence and post my thoughts here.

As Maureen always says…Onward.

Living on One Dollar

Living in North America, we often forget how fortunate we are to be in our current situations. We have clean, running water. We have food and shelter. We often have stable sources of income, and most of us have a means to make it through each day. But for so many people in the world, that is not a reality.

Kelvin and I have a bad habit of watching Netflix through dinner, and today was no different. It was a very fruitful time, though. Instead of watching Top Gear or Friends or Once Upon a Time, we watched this documentary called Living on One Dollar. The notion of wealth has been at the forefront of our minds lately – our church is going through a sermon series on it, we are reading multiple books around the idea of wealth and living a more radical life, and it just seems to be a pervasive topic of discussion – and so it seemed fitting that this caught our attention.

The documentary really held our attention, and it made us think long and hard about the luxuries that we have, and the means that people have to go to make ends meet. We were introduced to these amazing individuals who, despite making around $2 a day, have such big dreams and big hearts. They love each other and their community, and give so freely of the little that they do have.

I’ll be heading off on maternity leave in 3 weeks, but this is definitely something I want to introduce my future classes to. I want to look at poverty and micro financing and encourage my students to think bigger. Beyond just their own personal experiences and the daily problems they face.

And of course, with all of this comes the question…what can I do to help?

Year End Surveys

Tomorrow is the last day of school. It is surreal to think that I will have made it through my first year as a home room teacher. It’s been a truly rewarding experience, and I’ve been blessed to have had such wonderful students and a wonderful team around me to work with.

The end of the year is always a time of reflection (more so than any other time…though of course reflection should happen frequently). In order to hear what my students thought of the year, I had them fill your some surveys as to what they enjoyed about the year, what I did as a teacher that was effective or not effective, how I could better help them. I really appreciated that my kids were candid with me, and I intend to take all of those comments to help me frame the next year that I have with them.

These were some of the things that came up repeatedly:

the good
– organization
– neat classroom
– teaching a variety of strategies to solve problems in math
– pushing and challenging students
– the real game (a pathways planning tool/simulation where students were assigned a profile and learned real life skills including budgeting)

for improvement
– pacing – I move too quickly and students can’t keep up, especially in math
– more one-on-one support
– assessment – my students want clearer expectations, and more feedback, more often; they also want overall grades (whereas right now I provide rubrics and assign marks in each category)
– consistency of assignments and making sure students have enough time to work on them
– making the probability unit count

That gives me lots to think about, and also shows me that I need to be more creative in the way I plan and deliver my lessons. Lots to think about and do over the summer but I am very excited!