2011: A Year of Change

2011 marked a time of upheaval, new possibilities, and transformative change in my personal and professional life. As I begin my third year of teaching,  I believe I’ve finally found my educational niche, my calling. While I still don’t know where my journey is taking me, I know I’m heading in the right direction.

So, what were the events & experiences that defined my year?


1) The Class “That Never Was”

This traumatic episode at the beginning of my school year is one I have no desire to repeat – ever. Yet, this event turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me at the time.

The diverse teaching role I took up afterwards proved to be a valuable learning experience; an opportunity to take risks, and develop my skills and expertise within a real-world school environment.


2) My experiences with Personal Learning Networks

My experiences with building, writing about, and presenting on Personal Learning Networks are perhaps the most rewarding of my year.

It is hard to fathom how my early friendship with “Sir Clive” (@clivesir) ultimately had such an incredible impact on my personal and professional life; yet my social networking and engagement with the online education community opened up a whole new world of opportunities, and took me to places I’d never dreamt of. 

It feels like forever, but in literally one year after discovering Twitter and PLNs, I’ve:

  • Found my voice on a global stage, earning the respect of my peers and colleagues around the world.
  • Presented online at two international global conferences, and written several influential blog posts – which helped me rapidly expand my online network
  • Made and met new friends whom I would never have met under ‘normal’ circumstances.
  • Collaborated with teachers across 6 continents, leading the creation of the Global Classroom community
  • Found a source of inspiration, support, and mentoring like no other.


3) The realisation that I’m not alone.

As a relief teacher, it is hard to develop long-term collegial relationships, and I’ve often struggled to find people who understand and appreciate my work with ICT and global education. Yet, as I’ve blogged on several occasions this year, I no longer feel alone and isolated in my profession. 

This year has had its glimmers of hope and opportunity. At the start of the year, I found someone who believed in me; who went out of his way to ensure I could experiment with ICT, and fought on my behalf in the complicated mess that was my contractual situation at the time. Ultimately, he talked me into the situation which enabled my involvement in Global Classroom; an opportunity for which I am extraordinarily grateful.  

Now, as my year draws to a close, I no longer feel alone. I may not have my own class, yet I have built rewarding collegial relationships with teachers all over the world. By seizing this year’s opportunities to experiment with ICT, I have changed the way I teach, and the way I learn. I now have contacts all over the world, and I am grateful for their support, inspiration, and appreciation of my work.  

In 2012, I will continue my search for a school where I’ll have the opportunity to learn, grow and innovate. I’m confident that I’ll eventually find it. I’ve built an extensive digital footprint showcasing my work, and I’m open to offers.


4) Building Global Classroom

As I look back on the extraordinary events and opportunities afforded by Global Classroom over the past few months, I am still astonished by my integral role in creating what has become a global learning community.

In the space of a few months, we launched a range of #globalclassroom projects, were nominated for an Edublogs Award; and I even found myself skyping with the Indian Finance Minister to co-inaugurate the The Learn English Online Project! But for me, it is the connections and friendships which mean the most.

We’ve created something bigger than ourselves, a community impacting on the lives of teachers and students around the world. I am truly proud of our efforts, and look forward to seeing where it takes us over the months, and maybe years, to come.

So, another year in the life of an educator draws to a close.

Here’s to 2012. May it be a better, rewarding, transformational year.

 

Every Student Has a Story


As a new teacher, it is so easy to get all-consumed with the teaching.

Yet, it is important to remember that we are teaching students … we are teaching children.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Pink Sherbet Photography


Some of my students, my “little characters”, are not easy to teach.

Some make me laugh, some make me cry. Yet, I enjoy working with, and teaching every one of them.

 

I believe in building bridges with my most alienated, challenging students. I invest significant time and effort in building trust and mutual respect. I try to find that connection, that one little thing we have in common … and I’ve learnt “that from little things, big things grow”.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m preoccupied with my own teaching and learning, but today I received a powerful reminder about the foundation of my teaching practice.

A student told me her story.

It wasn’t an easy story to tell, and not an easy story to listen to. Yet, it was a first step, a little breakthrough …  from which, I believe we can move forward.

Every student, every child has a story …

But as teachers, do we take the time to listen?

Am I a ‘Techie Teacher’?

I’m a young teacher with a passion for ICT and modest technical skills; and I’m starting to question how my ideas are influencing my classroom teaching practice. 

 

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cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by austinevan: http://flickr.com/photos/austinevan/2296270551/



 

I’m a teacher.

ICT and Web 2.0 are part of what I do

  • I see myself as a classroom teacher using ICT to extend my teaching practice beyond my classroom walls.
  • I want to teach my students how to share, learn and communicate with a global audience.
  • And I’m more than happy to share my ideas and expertise with interested colleagues.
  • But, does this make me a ‘techie teacher’?


I’m not a ‘natural’ with ICT

  • I enjoy using technology, but I’m not a ‘digital native’ … I’m primarily self-taught.
  • I’m a learner too, drawing upon the collective wisdom and experience of the teachers and ‘techies’ in my PLN.
  • I’m taking significant professional risks, often stepping out into uncharted territory; and
  • I’m learning from my mistakes.


What I do is not “amazing”

  • ICT, Web 2.0, and global projects aren’t the exclusive realm of young, tech-savvy teachers.
  • Effective ICT integration is something that any teacher can do with the appropriate collegial support, mentoring, and training.
  • I’m learning how to encourage and support other teachers’ forays into ICT & global projects, and I believe this can only improve our students’ learning and engagement.  

 

I’m starting to define myself as a teacher, as a learner, as an inquirer.

And, I’m not alone …

It’s Something Special – My Blog Turns 1

A Relief Teacher’s Journey was established a year ago today.

It grew out of a desire to share my experiences and learning as a new teacher. I wasn’t sure if blogging was for me, but 66 posts, and nearly 4 800 hits (from 108 countries) later, I’ve found my voice … and an audience.

It’s time to celebrate a very special blogging birthday.

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Flickr CC Image: Ѕolo http://www.flickr.com/photos/60648084@N00/2234406328


A Relief Teacher’s Journey is a reflection of my skills, interests and growing expertise as a new teacher. It has become an empowering medium for me to reflect on, and share my personal and professional journey with my colleagues and new friends around the world.

I’m not an expert teacher, but I’m proud to say that I’m an teacher blogger. I no longer feel alone as I start out in my chosen profession, for this blog has opened up a whole new world of opportunities, learning, and global friendships.

Blogging has made me a better writer and a better teacher. It has given me a voice … on a global stage.

So now, as I look forward to another blogging year, I wonder where it will take me?

‘The Class That Never Was’

On the first day of my school year, I was appointed to my ‘first class’.

Yet, as I explored in A Teacher’s Story, this position was destined to last a mere six days.

In this post, I share my memories of Room 11, and the lessons I learnt in those six hectic, stressful, yet wonderful days.

It is a tribute to my students, and the class that never was.

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My apologies – this is a rather long post.


Getting Started

Being appointed on the first day of school is no way to start a class. This was an intensely stressful time, as I worked to translate my ideas about classroom organisation, curriculum planning, and behaviour management into reality. I sincerely hope and pray I’m never called upon a job on an hour’s notice ever again.

Nevertheless, I was able to learn a great deal about establishing a new class.

 



Determining my Classroom Organisation

My classroom was a small physical teaching space; and unfortunately, this limited the extent to which I could arrange it to my liking.

When arranging my space, I needed to consider the location of my desk, students’ desks, and storage tubs. When I arrived, the desks were positioned in rows facing the front; an arrangement which a) I dislike and b) I found extremely difficult to navigate (walking around the class). 

I wanted to establish a central floor teaching space where students could sit, and rearranged students’ desks accordingly. This arrangement was changed three times in response to classroom dynamics, as I had to separate several conflicting personalities. These photos show my final, workable arrangement.

 

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I was also able to create and laminate a class visual timetable (schedule), as well as my students’ personalised nametags for their desks and supply tubs. Sadly, I never got a chance to use these labels for real – they became my parting gift to my students as we went our different ways.


Lessons Learnt

  • Consider student dynamics when creating seating plans – and don’t be afraid to change plans if they aren’t working
  • If space permits, I’d use a horseshoe seating arrangement with my next class.
  • An empty classroom & bare walls can be quite confronting! It is important to establish student work-displays as soon as possible.
  • My laminated visual timetable & student desk labels were an excellent idea. The students loved the personalised nametags, and I think they helped give them some ownership of the classroom space.
  • In time, I’d like to bring in cushions or an old couch for silent reading. Realistically, there was no space for these here.
  • I also realised the need to develop a recording system to keep track of students’ contributions of classroom consumables – those tissues are worth their weight in gold!



Developing our Classroom Rules & Expectations

 

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Faced with a wide range of ability levels, personalities and challenging behaviours; classroom management in Room 11 was always going to be a challenge.

It took me some time to learn how to manage the ‘dominant personalities’; and to conform to school expectations regarding the use of extrinsic rewards (sticker charts and prizes) and classroom management forms.

I’m no fan of extrinsic rewards, as I prefer group reward systems. I had contemplated the idea of establishing a whole-class reward time on Friday afternoons (jokingly called the “Friday Free-for-All”), for students demonstrating good behaviour during the week. I would like to try this with my next class; for based on my relief observations, 30 mins reward time can make a huge difference to class morale and behaviour.

In these early days, I spent a great deal of my time learning about my students; building positive relationships and sharing a little bit of myself (including my horrendous sense of humour). I put a few photos and funny cartoons up alongside my desk (to cheer myself up), and made a point of learning students’ names (no easy feat!). This would later prove “time well spent”.

 

Lessons learnt

  • This experience was a valuable opportunity to implement my management approach, which I have blogged extensively about in the past (see The 3R’s of Effective Learning Environments and My Jigsaw Approach to Classroom Management)
  • I realised that I have sound classroom management skills (and an ironic sense of humour) which stood me in good stead as I worked to establish my classroom community.
  • This was the first time I’ve ever negotiated classroom rules, taught routines, and established my behavioural expectations – and the process worked well. I was surprised at how quickly students began to settle and bond as a group. 
  • I also realised the importance of adhering to whole-school classroom management plans – whether I particularly like them or not!

 

Looking Back

Teaching Room 11 for those 6 days was a transformative learning experience. It was one I had to undertake, and I know I am now much better equipped to establish a new class in the future.

Yet, so many good things came out of what was, at the time, a deeply traumatic event. So many opportunities to learn, grow, and connect. I have no regrets, no ill-feelings. But I will never forget my Room 11, the “class that never was”.

Well, It’s My Story …

A few weeks ago, I was invited by Edna Sackson (@whatedsaid) to share my story about why I became (and remain) a teacher. Overcoming my reservations, and with Edna’s support, I wrote A Teacher’s Story, which was guest posted on the ‘What Ed Said’ blog on May 28, 2011.

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If you haven’t seen it, you can find it here. (It was also picked up on the ‘Success in the Classroom’ blog here).



An unexpected response

To be honest, I was taken aback by the level of interest in my story. I received some heartfelt comments and supportive feedback from around the world, which I have permission to share here.

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Thankyou

If there is one message that I’d like my readers to take away from A Teacher’s Story, it is this: If new teachers are to remain in the profession, they need to feel supported and fairly treated by their colleagues and employers. Too many new teachers feel isolated, stressed, and alone, and before I discovered my PLN, I was once one of them.

We live, we learn, we grow. Why should we leave?

Thankyou for your feedback and ongoing support.

 

Today, I Lost A Bet

Today, I had a reason to smile.

I’ve spent the last four weeks teaching a Year 6 class at my old school. I’m a relief teacher, but I’m part of the furniture. In these few weeks, I’ve helped run a global project, and learnt a lot about myself and my students. I’ve loved the opportunity to treat a class as my own, even for such a short time.

Now, I have several students, mostly Indigenous, for whom school attendance is a significant issue. One charming young lady usually turns up about 1-2 hours late every day, … let’s call her Ann.


Yesterday, I made a bet.

Ann was literally jumping ‘up and down’ wanting to be the official ‘school bell ringer’ for the day, a responsibility recently delegated to our class. I had to point out that turning up each day between 9.30AM-10.30AM wasn’t a good start.

So I made a bet that if Ann “could actually, just possibly, turn up to school before 8.40AM” [i.e. on time], she would be our bell ringer. If she didn’t turn up, I’d give the job to someone else.


I lost.

I walked into school at 8.15AM, a little bit wet and keen to see the outcome of my little wager … and who was the first person I saw as I entered our undercover area?

A triumphant, wet and beaming student, beside herself with anticipation.

I fell over. Not literally, but close enough. This was quite an achievement.

While I made a big deal of “moaning” about losing my bet, I will never forget this moment. I’ll never forget that triumphant smile .. my little victory.

I’ve had some sad, stressful times as a teacher. But these are the little  moments which make my job special.

These “little victories” are what teaching is all about.

The Four Stages in the Context of my Teaching Practice

Stage 1: Moving from Blissful Ignorance to Recognising Stark Reality

When I started teaching, I thought that my experiences in my final year practicum had prepared me for managing student behaviour as a qualified teacher. My first week of relief teaching proved that I was wrong.

I attended my first Graduate Teacher Module with literally two days teaching to my name. At the time, I was heavily focussed on curriculum planning for literacy and numeracy, an area in which I was most definitely “consciously unskilled”, and had little time to think about classroom management.

Some disastrous relief teaching experiences over the coming months marked my remarkably swift transition from Level 1 to Level 2 on the “Conscious Competence Ladder”, as I realised just how unskilled I actually was. This was indeed a most “uncomfortable” and extremely stressful period, as the development of my classroom management skills became a matter of survival.

In June 2009, a review of my strengths and weaknesses revealed my significant issues with: 

  • Gaining student attention, without raising my voice to excess (to be heard over the chaos)
  • Being fair and consistent with classroom discipline (particularly with ‘resistant’ behaviours)
  • Establishing my personal expectations for student behaviour.
  • Establishing a broad repertoire of graduated consequences, particularly for dealing with prolonged, more serious misbehaviour.
  • An overreliance on humour to defuse classroom management situations, which tended to aggravate cheeky behaviours (A big thankyou to the CMS consultant who pointed this out)
  • Establishing a repertoire of relief activities, games, and time-fillers for various year levels, helping to keep students on-task and interested on unplanned relief jobs (with no work left)

Moving from Level 2 into Level 3: Developing my Classroom Management Approach

Over the next three to four months, I made behaviour management a priority goal for for my personal professional development; engaging in widespread reading, collegial discussions, work-shadowing, and reflective writing. I particularly benefited from working with the DET Classroom Management Strategies (CMS)Trainers, where I observed teachers’ model lessons, and talked with the assessors about my developing management approach.

While working in Stage 2, I learnt one of the greatest lessons I ever learnt as a relief teacher. Through my observations of experienced teachers, and discussions about their behaviour management approach, I learnt that my colleagues were the greatest professional learning resource I was ever likely to meet, and that asking for help was not a sign of weakness.

One of the greatest resources I picked up on my relief travels, through about 13 schools at that stage, was a CMS PD handout,  based on excerpts from Barrie Bennett & Peter Smilanich’s Classroom Management: A Thinking & Caring Approach.

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I used this text’s detailed explanations of the “Theory of Bumps” and explicit strategy descriptions to guide my journal reflections and goal setting for experimenting and evaluating new management strategies. Over time, I documented improvements in my use of attention signals, managing transitions, use of graduated consequences, and efforts to win over my most troublesome students.

One journal entry from July 2009 brings back some interesting memories, as I recorded my reflections on my “ghosting” behind misbehaving/off-task students and standing there until they noticed my presence. I remember reading over my notes from Graduate Module 1, wondering if this approach was too frightening for the students. I was starting to realise that some students HATE surprises, and I was worried that it might provoke an unintended and perhaps violent reaction, despite my intention to lighten up the situation with a mock-serious ‘look’.

With several students commenting that I was “scary” or “evil”, due to this aforementioned practice, I decided to position myself in the offending students’ line of sight, and soon abandoned this potentially negative practice.

Working in Level 3: Noticing a significant reduction in my management challenges

Returning to relief teaching in February 2010, I began to notice a significant change in my classroom management approach.

  • The student-teacher relationships I had worked so hard to foster in 2009 had led to a positive reputation amongst my students, and I was surprised by the level of enthusiasm I received in a variety of schools
  • I had clear expectations for student behaviour and attention, and wasn’t afraid to sit the class down and explain them
  • While continuing to express my ironic sense of humour, I was increasingly able to flexibly move to direct, explicit management strategies when the situation required
  • I was increasingly using a variety of management strategies, flexibly changing my approach to suit the particular student or class I was teaching.
  • I was finally starting to master my use of non-verbal and non-verbal techniques, and was improving in my management of lesson/class transitions

My increasingly confident management approach, accompanied by my experimentation with the use of instructional strategies to liven up boring relief activities, led to a marked reduction in my classroom management challenges – both inside, and outside the classroom.

In March 2010, I reflected on several classroom/playground incidents where I was able to effectively respond to medium to high level management challenges. I have decided to share some journal excerpts here:

I had a major management success recently which I managed to effectively deal with an emotionally unstable student’s outburst (screaming) in class. By the time the Deputy Principal (walking nearby) looked in to see what had happened, I had the class working normally with the student in question given space behind me to calm down. She had a nasty shock – and so did I.”

I did have one situation where I felt of my depth, where I had to deal with a Year 4 student verbally threatening and assaulting a fellow student. My initial priority was to remove the protagonist from the situation, and then talk to the victim. To complicate matters; however, the protagonist kept returning to dish out more, and thankfully a more experienced teacher was able to provide assistance. While I didn’t perform poorly in the situation, I have drawn some positive lessons which will help me deal with similar situations in the future.

Today, (11/3/10), I was placed in an extremely challenging Year 4/5 class at [school removed]. While the Deputy Principal assisted with several severely challenging students, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself keeping the class under (reasonable) control for nearly a whole day. I experimented with having students sitting on the mat at the day (and when introducing some activities), establishing my signals and behavioural expectations. I borrowed this technique from another relief teacher, and I strongly suspect it helped establish my control over the class.

Moving into Stage 4: Redefining my Self-Development Priorities

As I write this post in early Term 3, 2010, I feel I am finally starting to move into Stage 4 in the development of my behaviour management skills. While I am still working on a few niggling issues (e.g. controlling student movement between classrooms, working out tailored management steps for particular students), I have become a more confident and effective classroom manager in sometimes challenging relief situations.

I am now moving my professional development focus from managing student misbehaviour to developing my instructional skills, learning how to translate a teacher’s daily work-pad / relief notes into meaningful learning activities. Having recently engaged in a variety of professional learning workshops at the Professional Learning Institute’s Autumn and Winter Vacation Schools, I am now working to translate my broad professional knowledge into my relief teaching practice.

Experimenting with Year 6 Reading

A good example of this changing focus was a Year 6 reading lesson I taught earlier this week, when I was asked to “read through a [dense and wordy] information sheet about the Australian Gold Rush with students, and have them answer the comprehension questions on the back in their reading pads”.

While in the past I might have literally followed the teacher’s directions, I decided to experiment with encouraging students’ practice of the ‘scanning’ reading strategy. I asked the class to read the questions on the back of the sheet, and highlight paragraphs / sections of the text which would help them answer them.

After allowing time for silent reading & highlighting, students shared information from the text which they could use to respond to the questions. Before moving on to the writing component of the lesson, I asked if someone could explain why “I asked them to scan the text”. Asking one of my most challenging students to share his idea, I was shocked when he correctly and succinctly answered that it allowed him to “get the gist of the text without reading everything”.

I personally took a lot of personal satisfaction out of this session, as I have finally started finding opportunities to clarify & develop my literacy teaching practice following my engagement in First Steps professional development seminars. I will be exploring this changing focus in more detail in a later post.