Author: Nycol Didcote

Teacher. Life-long learner. Moving forward with I.D.E.A.S. Innovation.Discovery.Empowerment.Achievement.Self-Reflection

When Doors Open – #IMMOOC Week 1

As I reread the introduction and chapter one for my first #IMMOOC blog post, I came across a section I had highlighted last October when I first read The Innovator’s Mindset, “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing” (p.2).  Not only did this simple sentence with a complex meaning speak to me then, but even more so now, for many reasons.

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Three years ago, I decided to leave my amazing school division (which was my second home) to teach closer to my physical address and my soon to be children’s school, for the sole reason of having more time with my kids. I wasn’t looking for change, but an opportunity came up that would allow me to have more time with them (or so I thought), so I took it. As it was, I was travelling one hour each way to go to work so I was really spending the equivalent of 10 full time work weeks on the road per school year. I was so eager to get that time back and spend it with my kids.

I knew the division I was walking into had a lot of catching up to do, but it wasn’t until I started working there that I realized how much. Knowing I had been doing a lot of good things in my classroom in terms of pedagogy and relationship building, I was shocked at how very traditional this new school and division was to me. I felt I was running against the current and getting nowhere. I felt inefficient and lost some of my drive. I struggled my first year in that environment, but I survived (and yes I mean survived) because I was in it for these 18 kids who challenged my thinking and gave me purpose. Regretting my move and feeling deflated, I was so happy to become pregnant with my third child, because I would have a break from this isolated working environment. I suppose when you work in an environment for so long, you don’t question the way of doing, because that’s how it’s always been. We need time to learn with and from our colleagues, reflect on our own practices and get students involved to make learning relevant and meaningful, for both students and staff. As George Couros states, “There is no end to growth and learning. Schools, more than any other organization, need to embrace a commitment to continuous learning.” (p.9). When we know better, we do better. Some staff members at my school hadn’t had the opportunity to see how things could be different, could be better, could be amazing, because some just do and redo what has always been done.  We need time to discuss, share, reflect and adjust to connect with our students and make deeper learning the new standard.

As I returned to work this past September, I had a better attitude towards my school because I was thrilled to see my oldest child start Kindergarten. I saw her in the halls and at recess. Knowing far too well that I wanted her learning experience to be rich, meaningful and significant, it encouraged me to be more vocal and share what I knew to people who asked about Hangouts, flex-seating, Seesaw, or other projects I had going on. There is so much potential for what learning can be! And what’s most exciting for me as a parent of a child who attends this school is that many teachers are embracing change. They are experimenting with flexible seating, adjusting their table heights, allowing kids to have a voice and choice. This year, a book club among a handful of keen staff members facilitate discussions and reflections on how we are building relationships within our school and developing secure attachments with our students. That connection piece is coming along well!

A few months ago, I prepared my CV, not because I was unhappy where I was, but because I came across a teaching opportunity that I wanted to be a part of, which just so happened to be in my first school division (my first home). I wasn’t looking for change but this dream job presented itself to me as a locked door and I wanted to be able to walk through it. To do so, I knew I had to knock, introduce myself, prove myself and the key would be then handed to me, if I was the right fit. Seeing as this new school, opening in September, represents everything that this book is, I needed to ensure that my teaching practices where still in check, along with my mindset, which has always been do what’s best for your students. When I got the phone call offering me my dream job I was over the moon. I was beyond excited to be part of a team who believed learning is creating not consumption and who collaborated, communicated and allowed students to have their voice be heard.

When I first mention my new move this coming September, usually people respond  by saying “You’re willing to commute to the city again? or “Won’t you miss seeing your kids in the hallways?”. My answer simply put is yes. Actually, since working in my children’s school, I’ve actually missed my commute. It was my me time to reflect on what was happening both personally and professionally. As it stands now, I take my teacher hat off, walk forty steps to daycare and put my mom cap on. I have next to no down time.

I feel this tremendous amount of guilt because I’m leaving my kids behind to pursue my dreams and my professional goals, to seek learning opportunities that will make me grow. After reading George Couros’ recent post Working on “Meaning”, followed by @AnnickRauch’s post, Balance vs. Meaning, I was relieved I wasn’t the only one who had this sense of guilt. Mom’s should be selfless not selfish. Ironically, I believe this move will make me a better mom because of the embedded self-reflection time into my day. Another response I get often is “Oh, it’ll be nice to work in a brand new building”. Yes, but the large windows and fresh paint aren’t the reasons I want to be there. It has everything to do with the learning that will take place there.

Even though my time at this current school was short, I learned a great deal and if I happened to inspire only one teacher to make changes in their pedagogy, that will have an impact on students, their families and the school community. George Couros reminded us all at the very end of the first live episode with A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, it doesn’t matter if you have a million followers or a few. Even if your post has an impact on one person who read it, subsequently you’ll have an impact of 20 something students. We can’t forget the image that one stone will create a ripple effect once it is thrown in water. But to make a ripple effect, the rock has to immerse itself in its new environment. Only then can it make waves.

The choice is in your hands. You decide whether the change will be amazing or not. Ultimately, when it comes to change, we decide whether we knock on the door, open the door, walk through the door, or build the door. No matter what is found on the other side, you’ll learn something new, or at the very least something new about yourself.

Deliver The Good News!

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In 2002, my boyfriend (now husband) was a close-up magician. He could manipulate cards, create illusions and attract a crowd within seconds. As his interest in magic grew, so did his ideas. He decided to buy a snake and bring it with him to all of his shows. Needless to say, when I married him, I said yes to more than just him.

Although I wasn’t too keen on having a pet snake  (her name is Panda), she quickly grew on me. Believe it or not, at first, I didn’t even want to go near the aquarium. But as teacher, I could see how students could be curious, amazed, intrigued and how easy it would be to have her spend time in our classroom and create memorable lessons that would have students excited and motivated to learn. My first year as a teacher, my husband was the one who came to take her out and show her my students. The next year, I had the courage to take her out myself and I haven’t stopped since. I’ve heard comments from parents saying their child was disappointed because they didn’t have the teacher who had the pet snake (little do they know, they get to meet her anyway). Some parents come up to me and say “Is it true?”. Yep.. it is.

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When I read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess (@burgessdave), I could instantly relate to his message. To increase student engagement, we have to transform our teaching and draw students in creatively. Would you want to be a student in your classroom? As Dave Burgess puts it, “Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude” (p.55). This has proven to be true on more occasions than one. It just takes the right hook and you’ve got their full attention.

Bringing in my snake in the classroom has taught me that those somewhat disconnected students come alive when they are presented unique learning opportunities and that I can overcome my own fears. However this year’s learning experience has reminded me to be the deliverer of good news.

I’ve always been one to express gratitude towards others who have helped me or taught me valuable lessons. When someone merits a compliment, I deliver and at this one particular moment, the timing was just right.

You see, every year, Panda comes to stay a short while in my classroom and as always, other classes ask to come to visit her too. I invite them to come when my students are in gym or music class so I can give them the full experience. As I was hosting this one class, one kid in particular was bright-eyed and in awe. Full of questions. Curious as can be. I answered the students’ questions, made them predict her colour and length and explained her needs. This one student, who I’ve spoken to on many occasions on the playground, came to me afterwards and thanked me for letting his class see Panda as the other students were walking back to their classroom. I smiled and said “It’s my pleasure, you’re so welcome!”. The next day, when I crossed him in the hall, he thanked me again. And again at lunch, and again the next day! I thought it was so thoughtful that he’d be so thankful, for this experience must have been very special to him.

A week later, as I was leaving the daycare after dropping off my kids in the morning, I held the door open for this grateful student. He went inside and got his things in order. As I waited for his mom and younger sibling who were further behind to come through the door, I stopped her, asked her if she was this student’s mom and she instantly looked at me worried. I presented myself as the 1st grade teacher and explained how her son had come into my classroom to see Panda and that he had really impressed me with his big heart and kind words. I described to her how every time we crossed paths he would sincerely thank me for letting him see Panda, and that I just wanted to let her know that her son was extremely polite and grateful. Tears instantly filled her eyes and I didn’t know what to say. She genuinely thanked me for the message because her son had recently been written up for a major incident at school, and the positive message I delivered at that particular moment was just what she needed to hear.

Of course, I could have just greeted her, held the door open and carried onto my classroom, but I didn’t because I wanted to deliver my message. The chance presented itself, so I took it and I’m glad I did. Who doesn’t like to have a thoughtful note in their mailbox or to be stopped for a candid compliment? When you have something nice to say, say it. You never know how much of an impact your message may have on someone’s day.

A Vision Worth Living

At a recent meeting, I was asked to consolidate my thoughts in a one page document on what my vision would be for my ideal school. This original piece is written in French and the English version follows.  Please note, writing in English is not my strong suit.

Ma vision pour l’école idéale

L’école idéale, selon moi, est fondée sur l’intégrité et basée sur le principe qu’il faut avant tout, construire et nourrir des relations riches et positives avec la communauté scolaire entière. Le climat et la culture d’école s’enracinent chez les apprenants, de sorte que les élèves, leurs familles et le personnel ont un sentiment d’appartenance élevé envers leur école et ressentent envers elle, une fierté sans pareille.

Dans mon école idéale, la collaboration est mise au profit de tous les apprenants, tant chez les élèves que les adultes. L’action, la réflexion et la communication ouverte sont également privilégiées. Le personnel est ouvert d’esprit, transparent et valorise le développement professionnel. Les membres du personnel partagent leurs connaissances et leurs compétences avec leurs collègues ainsi que la communauté scolaire, de sorte que les élèves tirent profit des meilleures pratiques pédagogiques possibles telles que l’apprentissage par projets, la conception universelle, les Makerspaces, les flipped-classrooms et les student-led classrooms, pour n’en nommer que quelques-unes. Subséquemment, les élèves acquièrent les compétences du 21e siècle en vivant des expériences riches et réfléchies et en recevant de la rétroaction sur mesure. Puisque les relations sont inspirées de confiance, les élèves se permettent de prendre des risques sans se soucier de vivre des échecs, car toute la communauté perçoit ces derniers comme des occasions d’apprendre, d’ajuster et de grandir. Dans cet environnement sécurisant, le personnel aussi se sent à l’aise de prendre des risques, d’essayer de nouveaux outils technologiques et mettent en pratique de nouvelles approches, car le bien-être des élèves est ce qui est au cœur de l’apprentissage. Le personnel est engagé à mieux faire parce qu’il sait mieux faire. Dans mon école idéale, tous les joueurs contribuent chacun à leur façon, afin de former une équipe gagnante, car celle-ci est consciente du fait qu’on est plus fort ensemble qu’individuellement. Dans cet esprit d’équipe, on célèbre les succès et on partage nos défis dans le but de trouver des solutions ensemble.

L’école idéale, selon moi, se distingue des autres écoles en voulant éveiller et cultiver la curiosité des apprenants et d’exploiter le potentiel qui est caché au creux d’eux. Pour se faire, les enseignants sont à l’écoute de leurs élèves et intègrent leurs intérêts et leurs passions au sein de projets valorisants pour que les élèves soient des actionnaires motivés. Dans mon école idéale, les élèves et le personnel vivent des expériences émouvantes. Le transfert n’est pas seulement souhaité lors des expériences vécues à l’extérieur de la salle de classe, mais également effectué dans le cadre de la salle de classe, par l’entremise de projets authentiques qui ont un impact significatif et qui se vivent à l’échelle locale et globale dans le moment présent. Dans mon école idéale, le pouvoir est partagé, mais un leadership  engagé et convaincu sait mobiliser son personnel. La qualité règne et les personnes ne se sous-estiment pas. On se fixe des objectifs, on les atteints et on vise toujours plus haut afin de se dépasser.

Dans mon école idéale, chaque personne qui y est a une voix qui porte, mais ensemble, on chante la plus belle des harmonies. Quand la musique et la mélodie se font entendre, les autres ne peuvent s’empêcher de se mettre, eux aussi, à chanter.

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A Vision Worth Living

The ideal school, in my opinion, is based on integrity and on the principle that we must first build and nourish positive relationships with the entire school community to create a school climate and culture that is rooted so deep within the learners that students, their families and staff develop a strong sense of belonging and feel an unparalleled sense of pride towards their school.

In my ideal school, collaboration is put to the benefit of all learners, both students and adults alike. Action, reflection and open communication are a way of being. The staff is open-minded, transparent and values growth and professional development. They share their knowledge openly with their colleagues and the entire school community so that students benefit from the best pedagogy possible such as project-based learning, universal design, Makerspaces, flipped-classrooms, student-led classrooms, or a combination of these, to name a few. Subsequently, students acquire 21st century skills by experiencing deeper learning and by self-reflecting daily. They become problem solvers, critical thinkers and life-long learners. Since relationships are built on trust, students allow themselves to take risks without worrying about failure because the whole community sees failure as an opportunity to learn, adjust and grow. In this safe environment, the staff also feels comfortable taking risks, trying new tools and putting new approaches into practice, because the students’ well-being is at the heart of it all. In my ideal school, the staff is committed to do better because they know better. All players contribute in their own way to form a winning team. They are aware that they are better together than apart. In the spirit of teamwork, success is celebrated and challenges are shared to find solutions together.

The ideal school, in my opinion, leads by example, fosters growth and challenges conventional thinking. Students’ potential is reached by giving them their voice and allowing them to incorporate their passions and interests into what they are learning. Students are empowered, valued and motivated. Schools are networked and students make a difference at both local and global levels. In my ideal school, power is shared and the leadership knows how to mobilize its staff. Quality reigns and individuals do not underestimate their competencies. They set goals, reach them and aim higher to better themselves.

In my ideal school, every person has a voice that carries, but together, they sing in perfect harmony.  When the music and the melody are heard, others cannot help but sing themselves.

Empathy: Beyond One’s Self

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In my classroom of five and six year olds, my students have the ability to understand and express how they are feeling once they learn the vocabulary associated to their states of well being and emotions. Developmentally, students of this age group are also becoming more aware of  other’s emotions, but just like every other aspect of child development, everyone learns and develops at their own pace.

Every year, I have a few students who are just not there yet for a variety of reasons. At first, they are self-centered and care only about how they are feeling. But as the school year progresses, one of my main objectives is to help them see that they are part of a bigger picture and that their actions and reactions have a direct impact on themselves and on those around them.

Understanding that everyone in the class is equal but different is essential as the year begins. It is critical for them to learn. With my students this year, I used Paul Solarz’s Marble Theory (#LearnLAP) to turn this abstract concept into a concrete activity as he does with his group of 5th graders. Although some of my students may not get it right away, the earlier I introduce it and the more I refer to it, the quicker they develop their empathetic ability. I started the year out with this activity so all studimg_0708ents knew that in this space, everyone is equal, important and that our individual talents are diverse, which in turn, makes us an incredible group of learners. It also allows us to learn many things from one another and enables the students to see that although they may not be the best (add noun here – reader, author, friend, listener..), that they can develop any trait to be the best that they can be. They’re just not there yet* (key word in my classroom!).

How do I do this with my group of five and six year olds? It all starts with them being able use appropriate vocabulary in regards to one’s emotions. Once they can express how they feel, they’ll be better equipped to explain how others  may feel in a given situation, or at the very least identify how they are feeling. This is why throughout the year, I engage the students in a variety of activities to develop empathy in our classroom and strengthen our relationships. One way is through books. Every character has feelings and we discuss, using the vocabulary, how these characters are feeling and acting. Some books have amazing illustrations and story lines that help teach empathy to young ones.TVBD3706[1].jpg

Empathy is developed through socialization which is why in my classroom, those hard to reach and hard to teach students stay in my classroom and don’t get referred to the school counselor right away. To be able to understand what another may be feeling or experiencing, one must interact with others and listen attentively. Here are a few other activities I’ve done with my students this year:

  1. How Full is Your Bucket?, by Carol McCloud. We learn how to be bucket fillers. xrfr12671
  2. My heart is in your hands. I give a piece of paper to my students. They can do whatever they want to this piece of paper. Some fold it, some crumple it and throw it across the room, others tear it or stomp on it. I img_08451wait long enough until they all have marks on their paper. I then ask them to put it in the original crisp condition it was when I gave it to them. As much as they try, they cannot remove the many creases they’ve created. I then tell them that their piece of paper represents their heart. They then understand that every time they hurt someone’s feelings, they mark that person’s heart permanently. Even apologizing doesn’t take the wrinkles out. I put my heart on the whiteboard as a reminder to all students to be kind with their words, bodies and actions.
  3. It’s all about perspective- put yourself in my place. On a poster, I wrote the number 6 (you could use the letters M, b, d, n or bigger numbers for older students).  I have two students stand on either side of the poster so their perspective is different than the person standing across them. I then ask them what number or letter they see. They argue for a while, until they physically walk around to meet the student and look at the poster from their perspective. They then agree that both students are entitled to their opinions and that there is truth to both sides of the poster board depending on what side they are on. I then make them see that it is important in a disagreement to try and understand the other person’s perspective.
    fatp32891Thinking about it now, next year, I would set up a mini debate and separate the class in two teams. One team would be 16 and the other team would be 91. They would come up with points to explain why their number is best. For example, our number is the largest, it represents more, or 16 is easier to count up to and takes less time etc. I could also use the letters u and n and they could come up with words that start with these letters to make an argument. Once they present their points to the other team, I would stop and make them realize, by just turning their card up-side-down that they actually have the same number/letter. It just depends which way you look it. Sometimes, we need to nuance our thinking, because there are more than just black and white answers. There are many shades of grey.
  4. Choose your words (and actions) wisely. When I saw Rosie Dutton’s powerful lesson on bullying that went viral last summer on social media, I knew I had to do this with my students. Check out her video:
    http://globalnews.ca/news/2781692/gone-viral-teacher-uses-two-apples-to-explain-bullying-to-kids/ rwum28251With my students, I did this activity and tweaked it a little. We talked about what a bully is and what it isn’t. I explained to them that we were to do an experiment to see how we feel inside when we are bullied and how we make others feel when we mistreat them. We then passed one of the apples around and called it a whole bunch of names. I actually felt bad for the apple. At first, some students had a difficult time being mean to this apple, because they  know name calling is hurtful. After I told them it was just an experiment, they followed through. One student said a comment that made everyone laugh, and I took the time to tell them that even if they weren’t the one who called the apple that specific name, the fact that they all laughed  contributed to the apple’s bruising. To this lesson, after passing around the apple and calling it names, I replaced the apples in their hands with a mirror. Would you ever call yourself these names? No, so what makes it okay to call someone else these names? It doesn’t. This was powerful. I also made a reference to the students negative self-talk. When they say I can’t (spell this word, draw with detail, find this answer…etc.), they are hurting themselves and not valuing their worth. I go back to the Marble Theory and tell them that with practice and passion, they’ll soon be able to do what they can’t yet* and that we would figure it out and learn together. It is so important students love themselves. We end the activity with a compliment share. They say one thing they love about themselves and give one compliment to the person on their left. I will definitely be doing this activity next year. What was most powerful, was when a student of mine went to the washroom and overheard the “older girls” talking badly about another girl in their class. She came back to me and said “Even though they weren’t calling me names, my heart was hurt because I felt bad for the girl who wasn’t there” (même s’ils ne parlaient pas de moi, mon coeur était blessé pour l’autre fille!!). Empathy in grade 1. I was amazed and my heart was full. Imagine if she had the courage to tell those “older girls” how inappropriate it was to be speaking of someone else that way. This just might be my next lesson…standing up for the greater good.
  5. In my flex classroom, students get to choose where they sit and learn. However in our learning centers each day, I make up the groups to make sure students are building relationships with everyone and to ensure students are problem solving with all students – even those hard to reach and hard to teach students.

It is so important students develop empathy and even more important teachers have empathy – to build on relationships and connect with every student in our classrooms. To truly help our students, we must first know how it feels to be in their shoes. That’s why it is so critical to self reflect on our day, and imagine how our students feel inside and outside of their classroom. When we begin to imagine how it feels to be a student in our classroom, we’ll be able to have much more of an impact and the students in turn will develop empathy because they are living it and seeing it daily in their classroom from a teacher who cares. It comes down to the golden rule: Treat others they way you want to be treated. Be kind. To yourself. To others. Always.

 

Mental health maintenance

I am fortunate enough to be spending the last week of my winter break in Phoenix, Arizona with my family and great friends. The husbands work together, the wives are both teachers and our children are similar in ages. When we get together, conversation is easy, outings are relatively stress-free and we naturally just get along. On Sunday, we boarded our flight and went through the motions of airplane safety and security. When the overhead recording came on, we listened attentively and watched the flight attendants in action while I was reminded, in case of an emergency, to put my oxygen mask on first before those of my children. It’s an analogy I’ve referred to countless times to my dad when he had his heart attack and wanted to shovel the snow, to my mom who has been overworked and to my dearest friends when they needed the affirmation that their needs matter.

On that flight, I was reminded of the importance of taking time for me and want to remind you of doing the same for you as the new year begins. It’s far too easy to get caught up in work, meetings, emails and apps and tell yourself you’ll set time aside for you in your already over-scheduled agenda, knowing far too well that you will probably put it off because there’s one more detail to take care of for your next learning experience, collaborative assignment or project.

Before having a family, my husband and I had all the time in the world to follow our passions and interests. We often laugh at the thought of sleeping in well into the afternoon like we used to do before having kids. The mere thought of being able to do anything you choose at any given moment is hysterical because being part of a family, you know you’re not the only puzzle piece that counts. Although I have always been able to make time to nurture my relationship as a couple, once I had children, my self time sat on the sidelines. Being a teacher is much of the same. You have 20 something students and their families to respond to, which you do with great pleasure, because as a parent you would want the same in return. Not only do you have this group of students who you are directly responsible for, but you may have past students come in your classroom at lunch to share with you their latest news, clubs to supervise, emails to send or meetings to attend. You have deadlines and expectations to meet and in order to do so you sacrifice your “me” time before and after school because you wouldn’t ever allow yourself to not meet the needs of your students/children.

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To be able to have it all and do it all, you have to be on top of your game. To me, that means you are a team player who not only makes goals but sets goals. You step in when a teammate needs help. It’s being able to realize when you need a break yourself and returning to the field after taking a moment to hydrate and catch your breath. It takes an understanding family, supportive friends and a work environment that thrives on collaboration. I work and have worked with excellent teachers who put forth their lives and all of their personal time for their students, who never put themselves first and forget to take the time to nourish and replenish themselves. It’s no surprise that almost half of teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching.

Mental health plays a big part in education. We are constantly tuned into the social and emotional well being of our students and make sure every need is met to the very best of our ability. We ensure that they feel important, valued and know they matter. We make sure they are comfortable in their learning environment to take risks and confident to try again when their first attempt failed. We work tirelessly into building significant relationships with our students that we (sometimes or too often) neglect taking care of ourselves.

With that said, set a goal. One that allows you to pencil yourself in and stick to it. No matter what life throws at you, where you live or what you do there will be some great days to fall back on and others that will challenge you beyond belief. When I feel I’m running on empty, I breathe. I know that perfection doesn’t exist and that the small details are just that, details. I surround myself with people who lift me up. Even on the most difficult days, I always take time to reflect on the positive points and the highlights of my day. They are there, you just have to open your mind to see them. What went well? How did my students contribute to their learning? How did I pay it forward?  When we take care of ourselves as teachers, we are better fit to take care of our students. We can better support them, guide them, inspire them and ignite those sparks of curiosity and compassion to foster learning and i.d.e.a.s.

So regardless of the field you are in, when you’re running on empty and your fuel light is on – fill yourself up. The distance you’ll travel will be far greater, and the time it took to do so will be insignificant in comparison to the amount of time you’ve spent running around in circles, stressed, and unfocused. You’ll be able to move forward efficiently and accomplish much more on your never-ending to do lists. Running on overdrive is too hard for your soul. As I sit here in my pyjamas in the crisp cool desert night with my feet up and a steaming cup of tea at my side, I remember… You can’t pour from an empty cup. My puzzle piece matters to making the big picture come together and so does yours. You’ll be able to return the favor and your team will thank you for it.

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Twitter has me hooked.

If you’re like me, you have a passion for learning. You feel as though you need to be as informed as possible on the latest trends and up to date with how pedagogy is changing to transform learning in the 21st century. This shift in how innovative educators are now thinking and doing is inspiring and motivating. Although I am learning daily and reading more than ever before, I remind myself that it’s a process. It takes small steps in the right direction, reflection, followed by action to make sure our practices are on point and congruent to the times we are living in.

Since November of this year, I’ve been connected globally through Twitter. I know, I know, you must be asking yourself “What took her so long?” … and trust me, I have this thought on repeat inside of my head; but all thanks to my best friend @AnnickRauch, I’m here now and that’s all that matters. You see, I believe credit should be given when merited and the “Get Nycol on Twitter Award” goes to her, and I couldn’t be more thankful and here’s why:

  • I never realized how Twitter could do wonders in my field. The seasoned and forward thinking educators are all on there. In just a few minutes, you can learn something new, ask a question using a hashtag and get answers from others who have tried and tweaked it. It’s effective and efficient. I have yet to read a Tweet on my feed from someone that has a negative attitude or a fixed mindset. You choose who you follow, therefore you surround yourself with others who share the same beliefs and can challenge yours to make you grow.
  • You’re instantly opened to new perspectives and points of view, which deepens your thinking and elevates learning.
  • You feel empowered. All of the people I’ve been following are doing AMAZING things that inspire me to follow suit because I know it’s what’s best for our learners. If they are doing it, so can I. It changed my “I can” to “I am”. 
  • Being influenced by many authors, I’m seeing all of the ideas I’ve read in books put into practice: student-led classrooms, design thinking, flex seating and more. Seeing more examples of how others are doing it allows me to highlight and adjust my own practices, always placing the student in the center of his/her learning. You don’t have to physically be in a classroom to witness all of its greatness.
  • The daily professional development is satisfying and literally at your fingertips from the comfort of your own home or anywhere you happen to be. Once the kids are in bed, instead of catching up on a good show, I’ve been flipping through the pages of a good book, reading someone’s latest blog post or looking at pictures or videos of events happening in classrooms around the world.  PD in your pjs? Yes please!… I mean, who doesn’t look forward to learning in their pyjamas? It’s a monthly occurrence in my classroom!

i-never-lose-i-either-win-or-learnTwitter is a tool I’m still discovering as I go. Similar to when I let go of some of the control and place it back into the hands of my students after I reflect and implement a practice taken from one of my inspirational reads. By allowing yourself to take risks, you reap the rewards. You can’t ever lose, you either win or learn. The same can be said for our students.

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This past month, I seized the opportunity to take part in the online conference #DitchSummit hosted by the incredible Matt Miller (@jmattmiller). It’s just what I needed during my Winter Break. Having watched all of the speakers, I’ve learned during my time “off” and have added some new titles to my Next on my reading list. It’s also quite inspiring to see and hear some of the authors who have influenced my thinking and teaching practices this year, Paul Solarz and Dave Burgess specifically, in action right before my own eyes. I still wish I would have had Dave as my history teacher in high school.

All of this Twitter Talk has me thinking of how I can incorporate this tool into my classroom. I believe all the points I’ve made above are more than enough reason to utilize this tool with students in the classroom. I see young minds using Twitter and it’s impressive. The possibilities are endless. I want that for my students as well while they learn all about their digital footprint. Twitter has got me hooked. I can’t wait to see where this tool will take me next and change another I can… to I am!

At the heart of it all

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Although I express gratitude daily, this past holiday season has me thinking about how grateful I am for every opportunity I have, every ounce of love in my heart and all the “stuff” (what I call “fluff”) we own. With three kids at home and generous grandparents, you can imagine the amount of gifts my children received at Christmas. It makes me sick. Every year, my husband and I ask our parents to cut back because we want our kids to realize what is truly important in this world. How we can help others and the importance of being kind.

As I look around me and realize how lucky I am to have everything I need, I think of those students who don’t have their basic needs met. Whether it be a lunchbox full of sugar (or no lunch at all), not having the proper clothing for our harsh winter weather, or the lack of meaningful relationships at home, I think of my students all the time and how they are spending their break, knowing far too well, that a few would rather be at school learning and exploring with their peers.

I know some students who have built significant relationships at school  who are living difficult situations at home find being on “break” tough. This is true during Winter Break, Spring Break and especially before school breaks for the summer. Sometimes the lack of routine and the unknown causes them to be anxious, because not all students’ breaks are filled with family, friends and “fluff”.

This year, I am lucky to have all of my students’ parents connected to Seesaw. This app is one of my favourite tools to use in class, and my first grade students love adding to their digital portfolios. With the tap of a few green check marks, messages are added, photos delivered, videos uploaded and learning is proven. I’ve always known and believed that building significant relationships and developing secure attachments with our students is critical. Without having their heart, you cannot possibly get to their minds. I believe we are all familiar with Dr. James Comer’s quote “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship”. A person who has influenced me greatly always said, “students won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. These similar messages are also conveyed in all of my recent readings. From Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor Mackenzie, or any of the books from Dave Burgess Consulting Inc., it’s safe to say we (should) all agree with this message. Building positive relationships with students is the root of their success.

I encourage the teachers who read this to connect with their students over break. I have. For the students who are fortunate to have it all at home, send them a message with a hook (I love #tlap)  to have them look forward to what awaits them in class when they return. My hook is a special guest who will be spending a week with us in our classroom (my ball python they’ve been waiting for EVER to meet… but they’ll only know who once they walk through the door)! Whether it be by email, by Seesaw or any other tool you use, reach out and communicate with them. Who knows, for some of your students, you may be one of the few who took the time to truly connect with them in a meaningful way.

I’m on board and in flight.

Here I am, embarking on an adventure. One that is sure to take me to a place I never thought I’d travel. One that will challenge me to the point of pure growth. One to discover uncharted territories, to an unknown destination. This is what propels me forward.

Although I’m not sure who will read my posts or how often I will publish, I believe blogging will prove to be the best way for me to gather my thoughts in one place to witness my growth as a learner/a teacher. People who share my beliefs in what education should be and how we are making it so, will understand why I use the word learner. After reading The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, I came to realize that blogging would be a great medium to express and document my thought process and deepen my own learning, while sharing it with others who think alike. By writing for an authentic audience, we deepen our thoughts and ideas and bring self-reflection to a whole new level. By reading other blogs, I’ve learned greatly and have become inspired. I’ve become empowered to try new things and to take risks…. blogging included!

Before I delve into my thoughts and write my next posts, allow me to present myself and give you a sense of who I am and why I’m doing this! I am married to the person I was meant to be with. He listens to my crazy ideas, loves my enthusiasm when I share something I’m truly passionate about, and allows me to be me. Together, we have three children who make us want to be better and do better. Although being a mom is what I love, I was a teacher first. This year, I am responsible for facilitating learning for my 15 first graders. These 6 year olds keep me on my toes and I constantly question and think about how we are learning and what we are learning to ensure we are becoming the best version of ourselves, while being efficient in doing so. Self-efficacy is one of my great interests and happens to be the subject of my research paper as I complete my Masters in Education.

As I start blogging, I’m excited to put my I.D.E.A.S  on paper. In the many books I’ve read in the past year, I find acronyms to be quite popular. I’ve always loved mnemonic techniques to better remember information. I.D.E.A.S in elementary stands for Innovation.Discovery. Empowerment. Achievement and Self-Reflection. I believe learning should be innovative. As George Couros says, “innovation is a way of thinking that creates something new and better” (p.19). I believe students and adults should learn and discover new ideas and information about things they are truly passionate about. I also think that students need to be empowered and have a voice as to what they are learning and share their learning with others. Although there are set backs to learning and failure is a part of the process, achievement is important in my classroom because when students stretch themselves and try again after failing to succeed, they achieve a sense of pride and success like to other. These achievements are celebrated because they have worked so hard to get to where they are. Last but not least, self-reflection is an essential part of growth. As George Couros cited John Dewey in The Innovator’s Mindset, “We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience” (p.112). I couldn’t agree more.

I believe learning should envelop other qualities too, such as creativity and collaboration. These are among those that resonate with me to the core of my physical being. I know I’ll get to these in later posts, but in the meantime, thank you for baring with me and being patient as I learn to use this new tool that will allow me to have my thoughts (mostly) in one place. Even though I am organized, I look forward to having all of my notes and reflections here, rather than on sticky notes, in margins of books and in journals.  I am grateful for the visual memory I’ve been given that allows to me remember where I saw it, when I read it and where it was on the page! I can’t wait to see where blogging  will take me both personally and professionally. Thanks for joining me while I share my stories and my thoughts on education.

Learning together to grow together. Lets do this!

Nycol