My students may feel this way sometimes. I am often pushing them to try things that are new and challenging. I ask them to embrace discomfort, and it stands to reason that I should challenge myself this way, too. We've been very open about this process-oriented philosophy in my class this year; borrowing from the great people at the Telus Spark's SHIFT Lab, we give ourselves a "high-five for failure." That's a time when we tried something new and it didn't work, but we're celebrating the risk we took, and we know that if we keep trying, we'll get better. It's been inspiring to see students jump in and try things, and shrug it off and keep trying because of this mentality.
To be perfectly candid, I have a tendency to try too many things. I'm excited by complexity and by new opportunities and ideas. This is my third year in this school, and here is an overview of new things I've tried, either with students, or in terms of my own professional learning, each year:
- First time teaching in a country outside the U.S. Although it has many similarities, Canada's culture and vocabulary are both different enough to offer a learning curve.
- First time teaching P.E., art, and French as a second language
- First time teaching Alberta curriculum for Grade 5
- First time teaching in a Primary Years Programme school, which comes with its own systems and language
- First time navigating Exhibition, a gigantic celebration of learning for Grade 5 students in PYP schools
- First time teaching in a school that my son (also in Grade 5) attended
- First year with a new, in-depth report card
- First time supporting individual use of student blogs
- First time supporting one-to-one student iPad use
- Organized a walking field trip to the local library to encourage summer reading
- First year in the Creative Writing Certificate program at the University of Calgary
- Joined the Concept-Based P.E. committee, which changed the way I think about P.E. instruction
- Also joined the Professional Learning and Communication of Student Learning committees
- First time facilitating a Community of Practice group (it was about differentiated instruction)
- Began using Twitter regularly to exchange ideas about teaching and learning
- First time partnering a 9-week student teacher
- First time I felt like year-long math instruction followed a useful, logical order
- First time I implemented dedicated Creative Exploration time outside of gifted instruction
- Our grade team implemented three-way conferences between parents, students, and teachers
- Started a current events presentation assignment for students
- Organized a week-long guest artist visit from the Young Actors Project
- First time writing a novel draft in one month
Year 3 - September through December
- Facilitated a Community of Practice group about reading and writing instruction
- Joined a district cohort for the first time: Future Writers, which supports students in speculative fiction writing with an environmental lens
- Co-coordinated a Lunchbox Talks session, in which community members joined our students for lunch and polite conversation about community improvement
- In conjunction with our school's Maker Movement, our class did a string art activity with nails, wood, and hammers. 22 kids. At the same time. With safety goggles. Have you seen me use tools? But I digress.
- Used standing desks and tables, rather than dedicated student desks with assigned grouping and seating
- Facilitated a book club for upper grades in conjunction with our school's Battle of the Books program
- First Mystery Skype
- First time using Google Classroom as a learning management system
- Completed Creative Writing Certificate course work
As I look at these lists and consider all the other things that I was already doing (reading and writing conferences, systems for class jobs, collaborating extensively with my team to plan units of inquiry), I realize it's a bit overwhelming. I need to be selective about what experiences and activities I plan for students so that they are as meaningful as possible. I also want to continue to be open to new ideas and experiences, both to model that quality for students, and to continue to find a variety of avenues for different students to be successful.
To that end, my goal for the 2016 year is to reflect about new things I try with students, including the follow-through pieces. I've defined five priority categories of instruction to help maintain some focus about where we'll spend our learning energy.
1) Reading and Writing - students need to read more and write more to do either successfully
2) Problem-Solving and Number Sense
3) Citizenship - to me, this includes international mindedness, social skills, and self-awareness
4) Inquiry and Reflection
5) Risk-Taking: hands-on experiences, the arts, creating products in various formats
While some important learning concepts, including health and wellness, French language instruction, and specific concepts from science and social studies are not prioritized on this list, I think it addresses crucial learning for students. If it's not a helpful list, or if some weeks of new things or follow-ups are lackluster, I'll take my high-five and try again.
What do you hope to see in your teaching and learning in 2016?