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Friday, 19 July 2013

Being Reflective Practitioners

"If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow..." - John Dewey

I'm currently reading "Instructional Rounds in Education - A Network Approach to Improve Teaching and Learning" by Elizabeth City, Richard Elmore, Sarah Fiarman, and Lee Teitel.

 I actually picked the book up over a year ago because I was intrigued by the title.  As you may know, before going into Education, I was a nurse, and nursing rounds were a huge part of our practice.  So I wanted to know how the authors proposed to use the "rounds" process in the world of Education.

I just wished that I had read the book BEFORE this past school year. Why?  Well, this year, for the first time, I experienced our School Effectiveness District Review process.  This process is mandated by the Ministry of Ontario.  I actually learned so much going through this process, not just about the practice of teaching and learning, but also about human nature, relationships, and the pressure associated with feeling like you are "under the microscope."  I also witnessed the stress teachers experience with the advent of change.

Going through the review process gave the majority of the us the impetus to move our practice forward at a faster pace than we might have otherwise.  That was a good thing.  It also helped us to be much more reflective in what we do, why we do it, and the impact we have on student learning.  I just wish we didn't have to go through a "Review Process" to behave this way!

The first thing that we had to do for the Review Process, was determine a Problem of Practice.  I'd have to say that this was the most difficult part of the whole process. We used our classroom assessment data along with our EQAO data to determine what our Problem of Practice is.  What was interesting was how many people took issue with the term "Problem of Practice".  Many didn't like the insinuation that there WAS a "problem".

This is where Instructional Rounds in Education would have come in handy.  It paints a clear picture of what a "problem of practice" is.  Had I read it before going through the Review Process, perhaps I could have helped alleviate some of the tension.  From my current understanding, a Problem of Practice does not reflect bad teaching.  It simply reflects a need in the school.  For example, we realized that, in general, the students in our school have a very limited vocabulary.  We started there.  But as we continued to reflect, we also realized that the students in our school have difficulty comprehending texts. We wondered, was the reason they had trouble comprehending because their vocabulary was so limited?  Or was it a bigger problem?  Was it that they couldn't make inferences?  Were they having trouble visualizing?  Or is it that overall, they lack background knowledge?  We also noticed that in our Junior Division, our students had trouble solving rich, multi-step math problems.  Should we focus on Math?  Or was the issue with the Math problems actually related to a reading comprehension issue, they couldn't understand the questions?

It was really great to notice the change in the conversations in the hallway.  Teachers were having discussions about teaching metacognition, whether they should do it explicitly in the beginning of the school year, or towards the end and whether or not we were using a common language for Math instruction.

After determining our problem of practice, (we decided to go with reading comprehension), we had to develop an "If... then" statement about something we were going to change in our practice to meet the need we wanted to address.  Again, it would have been helpful to read Instructional Rounds in Education first because it helps outline how to do this.  It defines the "If... then" statement as a "Theory of Action".  Eventually, (it wasn't until JANUARY!) we finally came up with our statement.

The next step was for everyone to participate in professional development so that we could successfully implement the teaching strategies we outlined in our Theory of Action.  The interesting thing I learned from reading Instructional Rounds in Education is that, according to the authors, just because teachers plan together and receive the same PD, it doesn't necessarily follow that what will happen in their respective classrooms will be the same.  After observing classrooms, it became evident to the authors that teachers interpret and implement what they have learned in different ways.

Enter "Intentional Interruption: Breaking Down Learning Barriers to Transform Instruction" by Stephen Katz.  Katz describes the barriers we have as teachers to learning.

I could see all of these barriers in action this year at my school.  It is so hard to get past them.  We tend to look at something new, and say "oh, I'm already doing that, I just call it something else", and not really take the new learning seriously. The other thing I hear most often "that wouldn't work with the students I have this year".

Why is change so threatening?  Why are we so reluctant to teach differently?  These are the questions I hope to tackle this year.

Since we only came up with our Theory of Action in January, and then we had to have PD, we were still novices at implementing the new strategies by June.  We haven't even had a chance to reflect on whether or not they have had an impact on student learning.

As a school, we won't be reviewed again for another five years.  That is just too far away.   It is so important that as educators, we reflect on our practice regularly.  We need to look at our teaching practices critically.  What impact did we have on student learning?  Not just most of the students, but ALL of the students.  Which group of students were we not successful with?  What adjustments do we need to make next?

This seems natural to me.  Maybe that is because of my nursing background.  As nurses, we were each the Primary Care Taker for 10 - 13 patients on the ward (depending on the unit).  As the Primary Care Taker, we were responsible to make decisions about the care for our patients.  Although I had 10 patients, and they all just had some sort of surgery, their needs were very different, and they healed at different rates.  We met weekly to discuss each patient's progress.  If someone wasn't progressing at the rate we thought they should, we worked together as a team to come up with different strategies of care. No one took it personally, no one thought it was a reflection of their nursing practice if someone didn't recover at the predicted rate.  We weren't reluctant to try new strategies - new dressings, new medication pumps, new protocols for healing; we were willing to try anything to be successful, and we documented DAILY the impact of what we did on patient recovery.  We charted the patient's "complaint", our observations, our plan of action, and an evaluation of the impact of our plan.

I think our students deserve that same quality of care, that same reflective practice.  I hope in September, at the first staff meeting, my school will begin by looking at their Theory of Action again and recognize that as a theory, we need to determine what evidence exists, if any, to validate it.  What adjustments need to be made to the theory? How will we dig deeper in the coming school year?

I leave you with the following video that I find so inspirational.  It is time to move from an Industrial Model of Education to a 21st Century Model of Teaching and Learning.  That means we have to be reflective practitioners, practitioners that can define our practice and the impact that we have on student learning.  In the video, Mr. Lichtman says we need to be self-evolving learners and in doing so, we teach our students to also become self-evolving learners.  We can't be afraid to let our practice evolve along with the world as it continues to change at such a rapid rate.  Watch the video - be inspired!

Liebster - Loving All of Those Blogs that Keep the Learning Going!

Liebster: Discover New Blogs

Thank you Sheri Edwards at What Else for including me in your nominations for this fun award. It is a great way to recognize those of us who are “smaller” bloggers —  with fewer than 200 followers. What a great way to help us to connect!  I am thrilled to be included!

Liebster Nomination Rules
1. Link back to the blog that nominated you.
2. Nominate 5-11 blogs with less than 200 followers.
3. Answer the questions posted for you by the nominator.
4. Share 11 random facts about you.
5. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
6. Contact your nominees to inform them of their nomination.

Well, I'm not sure how many followers each of these blogs have.  I am still so new to all of this, I don't know how to find out!  But these are some of my "go-to" blogs that I find myself checking out again and again!

My Nominees:
1. Aviva: Living Avivaloca
2. Rick McCleary:  Mr. McCleary's Musings
5. Laurie: Global Grade Threes (classroom blog) Professional Ponderings (Professional Blog)

My answers to Sheri's questions:

1. Why do you blog?
To reflect on what I have learned.  I have always found that in writing, I think.  I don't really write for an audience, but I admit, knowing someone else might be reading what I write pushes me to think harder.  

2. What’s the most important thing a teacher can do for his or her students?
The most important thing a teacher can do for his/her students is build a caring relationship with them. If you build a mutually caring relationship, everything else falls into place.  You will know that child as an individual and do your utmost to help him/her succeed.  The child in turn will trust you and feel safe to take risks. 

3. What’s the most important thing a teacher can do for his or her colleagues?
Same thing, build trusting and caring relationships so that you can help each other grow as professionals.

4. If you could change one physical thing about your classroom, what would it be?
No teacher desk! No student desks!

5. Describe one of your most memorable classroom experiences.
Dancing on the desks with my students after a math test that every single child got an "A" on.  I really believe that if you tailor instruction to a child's needs, everyone can succeed.  

6. What memorable experience do you hope your students have?
No individual memory, I want them to remember how much fun we had all year learning together.

7. How many students/teachers do you have at your school?
There are 285 students and about 14 teachers.  

8. What is your favorite classroom use of technology?
Oh, that's a toughy! I think I'd have to say using the iPads to make movies.  It encompassed so much learning, from researching, writing scripts, filming, editing... they used the iPads for every portion of the video making, and were so engaged.  Every child felt needed and a part of something big.

9. Who/what is your teaching inspiration?
I have many teaching inspirations, but I'd have to say that Twitter has been the biggest inspiration for me this year. 

10. What is 1 teaching goal you have for this school year?
Well, I am moving into a new consulting role.  My number one goal this year is to inspire teachers to open up their classrooms. 

11. In six words, what is your teaching philosophy?
Know your students as individual learners.

Eleven Random Facts About Me
1. I am married to the kindest most patient man in the world
2. I have three adult children who make sure my head never gets too big
3. I have two dogs and a cat who always remind me that it is good that I am here on this earth 
4. I just bought a new Mac and I'm LOVING IT!
5. I love to swim, I think I was a dolphin in a previous life
6. I love to read, read, and read some more, anything, anywhere, any time
7. I believe knowledge is meant to be shared and questioned
8. I love walking on snow that crunches
9. I've learned you can take the girl out of Montreal but you can never take Montreal out of the girl
10. AT 93 years old, I still think my Grandma is cool
11. I'm an extrovert that could easily become a hermit because of the Internet

Eleven Questions for my Nominees'
1. Why did you go into teaching?
2. What do you love most about your job?
3. How do you use technology in your class or school?
4. How many students attend your school?
5. If you could change one thing about Education, what would it be?
6. What do you do after a bad day? 
7. What is one of your proudest moments in Education?
8. Whose blog are you always excited to read and why?
9. What is one of your professional goals for next year? 
10. What is your favourite inspirational quote for Education?
11. Why do you blog?

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Making Shift Happen - A Time For Reflection

It is July once again; a time for reflection.

This past year has been the best year I have ever experienced in my teaching career. This is due in large part to the learning that I have experienced this year and the teaching networks I have been a part of. I am more aware than ever that while we are often the only adult in our classroom, teaching is not by any means a solo pursuit, it is meant to be something that is done in community.

The entire paradigm of teaching has shifted. No longer is a teacher the impart-er of knowledge and information; a teacher is now a role model for learning. More than ever this year, I developed a learning stance, and became the chief learner in my classroom, and that made the year fun and exciting for me, and learning a contagion for my students.

Creating strong learning networks that I could go to for advice and ideas was really important to me this year. I am so grateful to all of the very excellent Grade Six teachers in our board that lent me their ears!  I am also grateful to my friends in other boards who acted as objective listeners to my sometimes fantastical ideas. And lastly, I'm extremely grateful to all of the incredible educators I have met in my virtual network via Twitter, Google+ and ETMOOC.

Today I started tutoring a 12 year old boy in Math.  I asked first to look at his report card, and saw that he averaged about a 67% in most subjects. In the Learning Skills section, I noticed that it was stated he needed improvement in "Self-regulation" and "Independent work". I pointed this out to him and asked if he has trouble focusing and paying attention.  He said "Not really". I said "is your class rowdy and do the students fool around a lot?" He said "Pretty much". I asked him to describe a typical Math lesson. He described a class where the teacher taught the lesson at the front of the room for the first half hour, then assigned the questions in the text book for the second half of the period. He mostly ignored the lesson and the questions while he socialized with his friends.

I asked what part of Math he found most difficult, he didn't even hesitate before answering "percentages". I asked him to complete a Proportional Reasoning Diagnostic from our Ministry's Closing the Gap on the Math Gains website. It was apparent he didn't understand the relationship between fractions, decimals, percentages, rates and ratios. We started with factors and multiples, quickly moved to numerators and denominators, then equivalent fractions. I was amazed at how quickly he caught on.  Within one hour he was solving rate problems by converting to a unit rate.  So why didn't he learn all of this in school?

It is no longer okay to teach the way we were taught!  For so many of our students, (I would argue especially our boys), it just DOESN'T WORK!

Although I've had an excellent year in the classroom, and am well aware that I still have so much more to learn, I am leaving the classroom for a temporary hiatus to go back to the Curriculum Department. Hence the name change of my blog! I am going to attempt to Make Shift Happen! We classroom teachers need to change the way we are teaching so that we reach the students most at risk in our classrooms. Every child has a right to succeed and it is our duty to make sure that that happens. I'm hoping that I can support teachers in making that shift happen in their classrooms.

I'm scared though, scared because I know how teachers feel about enforced PD and enforced "Professional Learning Communities". My blog post and the comments that ensued on the PLC vs the PLN (Professional Learning Network) were an eye-opener for me. My challenge this year will be to find a way to be a co-learner with my fellow teachers and support them in making shift happen. I am really hopeful that I can inspire and motivate my colleagues the way I have been inspired and motivated by my PLN. I think the key elements are voice and choice, I just don't know yet how to ensure those elements are embedded in my work with teachers.

I will once again welcome your ideas and opinions. Your comments and emails will be more important than ever to me on this portion of my learning journey.