A sense of community …

The new school year started on Friday. I used to find the Friday start a little odd – what was the point of just one day? – but now I really value it. In just one day you can begin to establish the foundations of a positive class community – through fun and shared experiences – without students (or teachers!) getting too weary early on. We all leave school content, have the weekend to rest and then return for our first full week, ready to sink our teeth into learning. Many students on Friday told me that they felt nervous, but excited about the day. We even coined the term, ‘nervexcited’ as a way to explain our feelings of the first day of Year 4. All those nerves and the high level of excitement take up energy, so it is lovely that students are able to get a taste of life in Year 4 before a weekend to recharge.

The first day in 4D was a high energy one, filled with lots of community building tasks such as:

  • A game of ‘Categories’ (kind of like musical chairs but with different categories called out) to learn about one another and what we all got up to over the holidays.
  • A couple of picture story books (‘Wherever you Go’ by Pat Zietlow Miller and, for a bit of fun, ‘Dirty Dave the Bushranger’ by Nette Hilton and Roland Harvey, a favourite of my brother’s when he was young)
  • An inference game, inspired by this blog post, where the students made inferences about me, their new teacher, based on the clues in my evidence bag (What can you infer about Miss Davidson based on this hiking boot, book, dog lead etc?)
  • The ‘Coded Hundred Square’ Maths challenge, which required lots of teamwork, persistence and flexible thinking.
  • The ‘Spaghetti and Marshmallow Challenge’, which required even more teamwork, persistence and flexible thinking. Both these challenges gave me a fascinating insight into the teamwork skills, use of different strategies as well as each individual’s level of persistence.

But, whilst building a sense of community in the 4D classroom was awesome, my favourite part of the day was when students and parents from the last two years popped into 4D to say hi. Throughout my teaching career, whilst I have been chasing new adventures and new experiences, I’ve moved schools a lot.  One of the things that I really missed was being a part of a school community. On Friday, I had the beautiful feeling of feeling really connected to the school community. It was a lovely moment, the feeling of making new connections and rekindling old connections. It makes me excited for the year ahead and I’m looking forward to maintaining that sense of connection within the community throughout the year.

How do you build a sense of community in your classroom?


Confessions of an introverted teacher …

I often get asked how I survive as an introverted teacher.  To tell you the truth, I had never really thought about it until a few years ago when I came across the wonderful book, ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’.  Prior to this incredible book coming into my life, I knew that I had often come across as being aloof and somewhat anti-social at times.  This book changed my thinking and really helped me understand myself as a social being.  The bottom line is … Yes, I enjoy socialising but it drains me.  I need peace, quiet and solitude to recharge.  Which is somewhat at odds with the teaching life.  Each day is spent with 24 little beings who all want a piece of you.  Also, the teaching profession is moving more and more towards a collaborative model.  Which is fantastic for the learning of students but energy-sapping for an introverted teacher.

Just last week, I stumbled across this fantastic article, ‘Reimagining School for Introverted Teachers’.   It gave me a few ah-ha moments and inspired me to reflect upon some points about being an introverted teacher in an extroverted teaching world.

Introverted teachers need time to think.  It is difficult for introverted teachers (perhaps anyone?) to be put on the spot to come up with their best thinking.  Introverted teachers appreciate a heads-up on the topic of conversation in a meeting so that they can prepare their thoughts before being asked to contribute.

Introverted teachers do their best thinking alone.  During collaborative planning, I never come up with my best ideas.  I come up with my best ideas when I am walking the dog, taking a shower or driving to and from school.

Introverted teachers need solo work time.  When I am not teaching, I need time on my own to get tasks done without interruption.  Pernille Ripp writes about an unwritten policy that her school has – if a teacher’s door is shut, it signals that they are working and don’t want to be disturbed.  Imagine how productive introverted teachers (well, any teachers) could be if this was the case.  Don’t get me wrong, I am interested in hearing about your weekend or discussing the great movie or book you’ve seen/read, but when you interrupt my work time, you interrupt my flow.  Let’s have that chat later.

Introverted teachers should be allowed to work on some professional development activities alone.  Time spent reading, pondering and discussing is excellent PD.  Whilst I enjoy formal PD opportunities, they drain me.  I much prefer to read and discuss with small groups of like-minded educators.  Professional reading groups are a really enjoyable form of PD for me.  This summer, Pernille Ripp’s Facebook book club has been fantastic – read and think about the text, jump online and contribute to the discussions.

Introverted teachers need quiet time during the school day.  When we don’t spend break times in the staff room, we are not being anti-social.  We are recharging quietly and preparing for the next teaching session.  For me, it’s a quiet cup of tea whilst thinking about the previous or the upcoming lesson.  Or, at lunch time, a solo walk around the block enjoying 1o minutes of movement and sunshine.

So, my answer to those who ask how I survive?  As much as I can, I implement the strategies that I know work for me – taking a walk, closing my classroom door, quiet professional reading and thinking – at school.  Outside of school, these strategies seem to work:

  • I try to leave work at work.  I don’t check email or correct work at home.  If I work at home, it’s the reading, thinking and writing work.  The stuff that I enjoy and recharges me.
  • I meditate daily.
  • I do yoga several times a week.
  • I exercise daily, even if it is just a walk with the dogs.
  • I don’t overschedule my social life.  I leave time on the weekends for me.  Time to be by myself and recharge.

I prioritise these things because I know I’m a better person to be around when I do.  These things recharge me and allow me to be the best I can in the classroom, with the students, where it matters.

Are you an introverted teacher?  How do you ‘survive’ in an extroverted school environment?


Summer reading, Summer inspiration …

We are in the second half of the summer holidays now and it’s at this time that I begin to turn my attention towards school again. Not towards the mundane administrative aspects of school but towards the big stuff. Ideas for curriculum. Ideas for how to make my classroom a better place to be, both for students and adults.  Goals for improving myself as a teacher.  Inspiration from my favourite professional development sources – Twitter, education blogs, books by my favourite educators.  All those things that would be nice to do during the term time but there just never seems to be enough time or enough mental capacity. This year, I’m finding inspiration and ideas from the following sources:

  • ‘Creating Cultures of Thinking’ by Ron Ritchhart. This book serves as a reminder, a refresher, an inspiration about the importance of creating a culture of thinking in the classroom. I am dipping in and out of this book, with the hope that I’ll find a group of equally nerdy Cultures of Thinking educators to form a mini book club to read and discuss the ideas in this book together.
  • ‘Embedding Formative Assessment’ by Dylan Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy. I have been a big Dylan Wiliam fan since I first read his article, ‘Inside the Black Box’, many years ago. This book is the follow up to ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’ (very similar titles as you can see) and offers excellent tips for, as the title suggests, embedding formative assessment in your classroom.  Developing a broader repetoire of formative assessment strategies was a big focus for me in 2015 and I finished the year satisfied with the progress I made.  In particular, I was happy that many strategies became a habitual part of my practice.  These, I’ll write about in another post at some time.  In 2016, I plan to focus on Learning Intentions and Success Criteria as I want to work on making these more visible and accessible to students. I want to make them an integral part of the learning in my classroom.
  • A couple of John Hattie articles about mindframes, as these eight mindframes will provide the structure for the regular breakfast group I attend with educators from a variety of schools from around Melbourne. Over the past few years, I’ve dipped in and out of Hattie’s work on Visible Thinking but haven’t spent much time exploring the mindframes. They intrigue me and Hattie always challenges one’s thinking.
  • ‘Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students’ by Pernille Ripp. This book has provided an interesting professional development opportunity over the summer, through the development of a book group on Facebook. What an incredible opportunity; to be able to read and discuss a professional text with so many amazing educators from all over the world. It’s kind of like a Global Read Aloud for adults. Each day, a new discussion question is posted to the closed Facebook group and already, I have picked up so many new ideas for the new school year and had my thinking pushed to consider different perspectives. It also makes me feel grateful that Australia doesn’t have such a heavily mandated education system as seems to be the case in America, although, at times, it feels like it is heading that way.
  • Back copies of Educational Leadership, the ASCD publication that I subscribe to but often don’t find the time to read during the term time. If you are not familiar with this publication, I can highly recommend it. With a basic membership (at about $100 a year for shipment to Australia), you receive eight copies of Educational Leadership, a magazine with a different focus for each issue. These holidays, I’m catching up on issues about questioning, data and emotionally healthy kids.

The holidays provide a wonderful time to sit, reflect and spend time doing the school related things that energise me, which, unfortunately, I often don’t have time for during the term time. I’m hoping to make these things more of a priority in 2016.

Which are your favourite professional texts for inspiration?