2016: The year I allowed myself to be a student in my own classroom

As the school year comes to a close and staff and students are counting down the days until summer, I’m also counting the days until I get to set foot into my new learning space this September at École Sage Creek School. This year more than any other, I’ve taken greater risks, allowed my students to lead and have grown in ways I would have never even imagined. From flexseating, to Hangouts, to coding, to Seesaw, to Twitter, to blogging and vlogging, I have become a better teacher for my students. On top of that, I have become a better learner because this year, I allowed myself to be a student in my own classroom. This was the turning point for me. 

Being a student in my classroom has allowed me to better understand and define my role as a teacher, to practice empathy and to show my students that there are times when things don’t go as planned. Being Type A, I always wanted to micromanage every.single.detail. of every.single.moment in my classroom. Now that I’ve come to realize that placing the power in the hands of my students is where learning soars, I’ve learned to let go of the small stuff. I used to want to be the sole leader- now I adore being a co-leader, a collaborator and a co-constructor in the classroom with my students. It’s impossible to believe we can solely rely on ourselves to be able to do it all. As much I’d like to take the credit for taking these steps forward, it’s all thanks to my village. There’s an entire community of people who have shaped me into the teacher I am today. As I continue to read and reflect, I’m at peace knowing there will be many more (students, colleagues..) that will influence the teacher I will become years from now. I also find relief knowing Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. constantly has incredible educators hot off the press! I’ll always have a book in hand and a few more waiting on my nightstand! On Twitter tonight, I came accross Rex Ferguson-Baird and I found what he said to be true : “It takes a village to raise a child but it takes a Community to be a village”. This supported the very message I wanted to pass on. Everyone needs a village, not just children.

I’m a life-long learner. I’ve said it before, and I’ll never stop saying it. I love learning. It’s the main reason why I never stopped taking university classes once I got my Bachelor of Education degree. I thought I would have had enough when I completed my post-baccalaureat degree in counselling, but I still felt I needed to learn more so I enrolled in the Master’s program, specializing in Inclusive Education. Learning from and with others is my thing. I used to say if I could get paid to take university classes to continue  to learn and grow, I would earn my living that way. What I didn’t realize at that time, was that I was already doing just that.

Allow me to explain.

A number of years ago, I used to think that I could only learn from attending university. I thought and was brought up to believe that this type of education was considered superior to any other form of learning. Was I ever wrong! Although I would never want to alter or take away my formal education (I value what I’ve learned and take pride in what I’ve accomplished), there’s so much to be said about spending time and learning from people who make you better- whether it be in person, on youtube or from the comfort of a good book.

Last summer I got my hands on Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and it was the spark that fueled my fire. Throughout the entire read, I wanted to be a student in his classroom. That had me thinking about whether or not my students wanted to be in their classroom. After reading The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros and Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz, I joined Twitter, read blogs and I was hooked. These high profile authors who had such an impact on me were educators who started out just the same. Today, they spread their message to better the system, to spread their passion, to make a difference… and are they ever making a difference!! Simply put, they are amazing, brilliant and what I aspire to become. Even though these authors are Education Gurus, at their very core, they remain teachers and still have those same everlasting qualities. They are kind, caring and compassionnate. They’re human and that’s what makes them so incredible. The people I have connected with through PD and my PLN/PLC are also outstanding. They are my village and my community. Because of them, I am learning more than ever and funny thing is, I am getting paid for it! I’m learning in my classroom with my students everyday as I put into practice what I’ve learned in my spare time.

img_3019.jpgI came accross a picture of dominoes and it reminded me that perspective is so powerful. Some may look at these tiles and see they are falling, crumbling, failing to withstand the pressure of others. For me, this image represents the very opposite. Each domino is standing strong and has a purpose. In a circle, they form one unit, a community. When someone in line falls, there is always someone within reach to catch them, support them and help them get back up. There is always someone to lean on and learn from. That’s what community is. You don’t give up on one another, you don’t all fall down. You help one another get back up and become a stronger unit… and that’s the mentality I plan on having this September as I welcome my 23 new community members into their village.

Everyone needs a village. I’m grateful that in the past year, I feel that I’ve found mine.

 

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When Two Worlds Collide

At École Sage Creek School, both the French Immersion and the English programs are colliding, something that’s happened only once before in our division. When I applied for a teaching job in this dual track school, my friends who previously worked in one had many comments to share with me, some positive, and others not. But deep down, I knew this would be a different situation. I felt it would be different. ÉSCS would be a teaching and learning opportunity like none other I had ever experienced. When I thought of these two worlds colliding, I can’t deny that at first, I wondered how challenging it would be to maintain the integrity of the French Immersion program in a dual track school. I constantly worried about interactions in the staff room or learning commons and how I didn’t want to upset, insult or exclude anyone. I worried about my students having to learn a second or third language in an environment that didn’t allow them to be fully immersed. I worried about how all of our expertise and big ideas would fit into one building. How could all of our voices be heard? Thinking of having these two programs colliding led me to an old clip from Seinfeld. I haven’t always been a fan of the show, in fact at first I couldn’t stand to watch it, but when I met my husband – 15 years ago now –  we used to watch it early on in our relationship as teens (before life happened and we had kids). Low and behold, the oneliners and characters quickly grew on me and seeing how much my husband enjoyed watching the show, I couldn’t help but watch it with him. Even now, as he reads my post and watches the clip, his laugh still gets me! In this episode, George’s “two worlds” are colliding (his friends and his girlfriend) and he’s devastated. Nothing great can come out of his two worlds colliding. See SlapstickGuru2’s YouTube video below.

When I think of our two worlds colliding at ÉSCS, I know we won’t combust, we will strive to work as one unit. The staff has only met a handful of times and in the few interactions we’ve had (only four to be exact), it’s clear to me that we are all focussed on building one learning community and one school culture. One where learning will take flight and we’ll lead by innovation and collaboration. This was evident in our first meetings when a teacher I had met once before took the time to share the division’s reading and writing continuums with me so I could better be prepared as we planned in our respective teams. It was also confirmed when we toured our building for the very first time last week. What a masterpiece!

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After our walk through the school, teachers had the rare opportunity to decide where their second home would be (as all the classrooms are different in size and in function). As neighbourhood teams, we’ve also been emailing back and forth constantly, sharing materials and creating resources, offering suggestions, providing feedback, voicing our opinions and knowing how to dance – when to push, when to pull.  The same is true with same grade levels in both programs when it came to idea sharing, placing classroom orders and creating our supply lists. It was incredible how we were communicating through email, text and phone calls to get our lists completed over the weekend. It was a daunting and overwhealming task but this collaboration piece was critical to ensure we’ll be well equiped when our doors open this fall. As individuals, I sense that we are all open and excited to trying new ideas and firm on continuing what works best in each of our classrooms. Collaborating takes time. An awful lot of time, but I firmly believe that we were able to reflect a little deeper and make decisions that were clearer while we get to know who we are and who we are working with. Although there is still so much work to be done, we are well on our way towards making incredible cohesive learning spaces come together.

As I walked though the learning commons and our classrooms to get a feel of what our space will look like and feel like, I imagined our students using these spaces together to develop their 21st century skills along with their soft skills. I could see them collaborating, discovering, trying, failing and finding solutions. I could almost hear the buzz of students questionning, negotiating, celebrating and tinkering. The feeling I had when I walked through those doors is one I won’t soon forget and I just can’t wait to witness the students’ reactions as they walk into their learning spaces this September.

Unlike the Seinfeld video, I assure you that if I start using your lingo, it’s because I love your creativity and I am inspired by you. When I’m in the staff room and you’re looking for a place to sit, I will pull up a chair for you to join. If you offer me to join you at lunch to grab a bite to eat, I will take you up on it. If I come to school dressed in a puffy white pirate shirt (if you’ve watched Seinfeld, you’ll understand), please note that I am so inspired by Dave Burgess and that I am not impersonating Jerry Seinfeld (I mean, I LOVE the show, but I don’t love it THAT much!). When we give ideas and people a chance- we may surprise ourselves- just like me learning to love this sitcom. And lastly, even though the West Wing is forbidden in Beauty and the Beast, ÉSCS’s West Wing is open to all :).

We’ve been told time and time again that this process wouldn’t be easy but it would be worth it. That statement couldn’t be more true. Although there will be some courageous conversations to be had and difficult decisions to be made, the result of having these two worlds collide will be out of this world!

Comfort Zone Quotes - A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but n

 

Brain Train

Since reading Sheila Vick’s  post on teaching kids about the brain and self-regulation, followed by Annick Rauch’s post on how she followed up these lessons with different breathing strategies, I found it necessary that my grade ones follow suit. The brain is so complex and I immediately knew I wanted my students to better understand how their brain works in terms and visuals they could understand. The earlier they can name their own emotions and identify how they are feeling, the earlier they can develop their own tools and techniques to self-regulate. Subsequently, they’ll be able to do the same with others who are struggling and will be able to offer them help and support. It’s a true lesson in empathy because we all know there are times where we are all overcome with big emotions. We must not add fuel to the fire. Giving the students the proper vocabulary to use during these times is essential for them to be able to verbalize their feelings and begin to understand them.

My current school uses Diane Gossen’s Restitution to build school culture. Each class follows a set of monthly activities to determine each individual’s needs and together, we create an environment based on trust and understanding that is always solution- focused. This month’s task was a lesson on the brain and I knew I wanted to blend Sheila’s lesson on Big Brain, Little Brain and introduce Siegel’s hand brain model to what we were already doing in our school. Siegel's hand brain model

After our Big Brain, Little Brain lesson, I gave each of my students a Tootsie pop. This sweet treat was a great way to have students see the prefrontal cortex as the Big Brain and the amygdala as the Little Brain. It was a clear visual to them that the soft, dark, chewy center (amygdala) was malleable and could be molded to interpret or misinterpret information that could cause a person to “flip their lid”. The hard, clear candy shell was a perfect representation of how the Big Brain can think clearly and can reason with the amygdala to make good decisions. Two heads are better than one. Both the Little and Big Brains have to communicate effectively to work together and they cannot do so until we are calm and can think logically.

Inspired by these posts and videos as well as Caelin Phillipot’s bulletin board, my class decided to make a video of their own calm down strategies to use when they “flip their lid”. They were full of ideas…and making this video allowed them to understand what they can do to regain control of their bodies and minds and get back to thinking with their Big Brain. These are such important lessons to learn. It’s a no-brainer that these need to taught! 😉

Merci Annick, Caelin et surtout Sheila de votre partage et de vos connaissances!


My Motto Moving Forward

Coming back from our École Sage Creek School Staff Retreat yesterday, I had a lot running through my mind. Just like our two feeder schools are currently packed, so was our two day agenda. We had a lot to uncover (thank you Brian Aspinall for putting a whole new meaning to this word). Everything from updates, questions that lead to more questions, decisions, data and do’s and don’ts were discussed. Although we couldn’t finalize everything, there were meaningful connections made within the entire staff and we could truly feel our school’s vision come to life.

At one point in day two, magic happened. Everyone was sitting in a circle as we shared our expertise and passions with our crew. It was so incredible and empowering to be in a room, surrounded by passionate people who have such a broad range of talents, experience and expertise to share. I immediately imagined ourselves in the school and thought to myself – wow, not only are our students in great hands, but so are we as a team when it comes to onsite professional development. Each of our strengths are valued and all of our passions are welcome. This immediately made me think of a passage  from George CourosThe Innovator’s Mindset as to what we want for our students.

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Thank you Tara Martin, for starting BookSnaps. Here’s to my first one!

When we have voice and choice as to what and how we learn, we are resilient, risk-takers and invested. Everything becomes authentic and has a purpose. What more could we want for our students? Just like Brian Aspinall said at the Connect 2017 conference, “All children can achieve if given a fair chance in learning.” I agree wholeheartedly with this statement.

Although there are still many unknowns and that we still have many more discussions to have and decisions to make until we open this fall, one thing I am convinced of is that we all agree that we are here to do what is best for our students. In regards to my motto, what is best for our students is what is right. Will it be perfect, no, that’s an unattainable ideal. Will it be messy, absolutely. Will it be easy, not a chance.

The students who will be walking in their building next year are the reason why we’re here. As George Couros told us at our April 7th PD, “Don’t forget who you serve”. Their thoughts, interests and passions matter. They will leave at the end of grade 8 knowing that they have learned and put into practice all the skills they will ever need to be successful – whatever their definition of that word may be. They will feel confident, creative and connected. They will leave knowing they’ve left a mark on the school and have made an impact on their school community. They will leave with a sense of pride and most importantly, purpose. They matter. People matter. As Marc Poirier and Harry Bell mentioned, “It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it.” So worth it! Change definitely is an opportunity to do something amazing!

As I close this post, I noticed I was mentioning some of my mentors who have influenced me and who have shaped me into who I am today as an educator and learner. People from all walks of life, who have different approaches and different passions. Each one of them has contributed to my growth and has pushed me to take risks. As we move forward as a team, I look forward to having at least 36 more mentors (and 600 or so students) to look up to and who will continuously push me to become a better version of myself. At École Sage Creek School, I believe our students will feel much of the same. Being inspired by many, while being allowed to stay true to themselves. ♥

Connect, Coding and Karaoke 

Last week’s experience of attending the Connect 2017 conference, was a powerful one. Meeting Brian Aspinall and going to Fair Chance Learning‘s Ignite Niagara Event was so inspiring. The passion and energy filled the room. I was already following Brian Aspinall on Twitter so seeing him and meeting him in person made me dig deeper into what he’s been doing especially in regards to computational thinking. This brought me to his Carpool Karaoke EDU Edition which encouraged me to make my own, because I too like to be silly and I personally feel that as a teacher, I sometimes take myself way too seriously. It’s far from perfect, unedited and definitely mediocre in comparison to Brian’s karaoke, but hey- I had fun with it. For the record –  Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody could not have come at a better time! It was NOT planned (obviously) because I had NO idea what the second song was, but lucky for me, most things I wing turn out alright! I couldn’t have planned that better myself if I could- and those who know me know that (most times) I’m a planner.

Here’s to my first official vlog post! Thanks Brian, for making me laugh, learn and live a little.  What other risks will I be taking this year?!