Category Archives: Taking Risks

2018: A Year of Reflection

Although I don’t write nearly as often as I’d like to, it is something that genuinely helps me reflect on myself both personally and professionally. Same goes for photography. Last year, I chose an intention to help guide me in my daily life: to simplify. Now, those who know me well know that I very frequently struggle to make decisions that relate to myself and my goals. I will often over-analyze a decision until, quite frankly, there is no decision left to be made for one of the following reasons:

  1. time ran out
  2. something out of my control made the decision for me
  3. I decide that decisions are too difficult and it was a silly idea in the first place – maintain status quo

Ultimately, this process leaves me feeling frustrated and limits how many new challenges I take on in my personal life.

Having a conscious intention in 2017 helped me make some decisions that I may have habitually over-analyzed. For example, I became much more dedicated to my yoga practice; this is something I have always had the desire to do but have always struggled to maintain in a consistent way. I would often find excuses why I couldn’t attend class or couldn’t practice from home. “I don’t have the time/money/energy to do _____________” is fairly common language in our society and I definitely fell prey to this thought pattern. While I have always understood on an intellectual level that we make our own choices in life, thanks partly to my intention, I am finally starting to internalize this in a meaningful way. I started to ask myself “Do you want to practice yoga?” and if the answer was a yes then I made it happen. Eventually, this led to it becoming a more important aspect of my life, and then I reaped more personal benefits, such as an increased sense of self-awareness, the ability to actually relax, and a healthy way of managing my anxiety. The intention to simplify also helped me accept that, at this time, yoga is more of a restorative practice for me than anything else, so I have stopped pressuring myself to attend certain types of classes and am trying to focus on what makes me feel good.

Having an intention certainly didn’t apply to every decision I made every day – unfortunately, I am not that focused or dedicated – but it did help me decide to become much healthier, more grounded, more focused on my personal interests, and to take on a new challenge in my career. I was also more willing to forgive myself if I slipped up in any way, which made my daily life much more enjoyable.

Although I definitely did not stick with it in 2017 like I did the previous year, the #photoaday challenge is another great tool that helped me reflect retrospectively on my year. Rather than selecting what I felt were my best photos this year, I chose nine that represent important people, moments, and connections in my life. This process helped me realize what a rich year I had despite feeling disappointment over cancelling a big trip abroad.

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#photoaday2017 #bestnine @beverley_bunker

From left to right, top to bottom:

  1. Connecting with my dad about photography
  2. Having fun in nature with my students
  3. Celebrating my best friend’s upcoming wedding with delicious food and wine
  4. Spending time at “the lake” in Ontario both before and after my father-in-law passed away
  5. Pushing through intense anxiety during a mountain hike in the desert
  6. Greater confidence through traveling alone… for the first time in a long time
  7. Visiting my mom in Ottawa
  8. Attending my first yoga retreat on a beautiful island with a good friend
  9. Something to remind me of the day we said goodbye to my father-in-law

Tools that help us reflect in some way are so important. These two worked well for me in 2017 and I have some ideas about what I’d like to try this coming year.

My intention for 2018 is to find joy; whether this means looking within or reaching out to others, I am looking forward to whatever this coming year has in store for me. What do you intend to try, change, or explore in 2018?

A New Chapter

This past spring, I made the decision to leave the classroom and try something new. I accepted a new role working with Teacher Candidates in the B.Ed. program at the University of British Columbia. While I will continue teaching Intro to Teaching and Learning Core French as I’ve done for the past couple of years, I am also be coordinating the Social Emotional Learning cohort. This means I am responsible for teaching Inquiry courses, embedding the theme of SEL into our cohort throughout the year, and acting as Faculty Advisor for a group of Teacher Candidates.

When I made this decision, I felt nothing but excitement. What an awesome new challenge! However, while saying my goodbyes in June, I started to second guess myself. By the time summer was in full swing, I was sure I had made a mistake… What was I thinking? I love my kids! Knowing that I wouldn’t return to my school or to any classroom in September made me very emotional.

Most of us enter the teaching profession because we want to make a difference in the lives of kids and I was no different. Those pre-teen years in particular come with a lot of angst, social awkwardness, and sarcasm that I secretly love. Those years are when I felt most disconnected from adults in my own life, so I’ve always wanted to help those who are looking for a positive role model and a bit of empathy while maintaining the facade of nonchalance and grown-up-ness. Little people in big bodies who just need to know they are loved…

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However, having met my group of Teacher Candidates this week, I am feeling much more optimistic. They are a wonderful group of people who, like all of us, are in this to make a difference in the lives of kids. Their hearts are in it and they are authentic, intelligent, compassionate people. I already feel like I am getting to know many of them and I haven’t even had to give up my addiction to bad jokes and sarcasm!

I can tell that it will be a fantastic year of learning and I know they will all make a difference in the lives of kids. I can see the potential for far reaching impact in this new role and that is exciting. I can also see that I am going to learn so much from them. But most of all, I can now see that although I may not have a physical classroom this year, I have met my new “kids.” And I couldn’t be more excited to see where this new adventure takes me…

The Importance of Modeling

When I was explicitly teaching language every day in French Immersion, modeling was a no brainer. It’s how we developed oral and aural language skills as well as conceptual understanding in various curricular areas. I still use explicit modeling when teaching Core French because it has become second nature to me in a language context. However, lately I’ve been reminded of the importance of modeling in all areas of learning.

Kids – heck, all people – need to see others lead by example. This means modeling how to problem solve, how to make healthy choices, and how to be kind and compassionate. It means taking risks ourselves in order to show our kids that mistakes are not a bad thing. It also means being authentic… because kids know when we don’t mean it.

Social emotional learning is complicated; there are so many factors that influence our lives and those of our kids. It can sometimes be difficult to model compassion, patience, and empathy when we aren’t feeling particularly compassionate, patient, or empathetic. However, these are qualities that will help our kids grow up happy and healthy; help them build strong relationships. Society needs to stop assuming that kids “should know” how to be respectful or kind. If we don’t show them ourselves, how will they know what it looks like?

So be brave, make big mistakes, and model the reactions and strategies you want to see in our kids. We tend to fall back on behaviours that are most familiar… so let’s make kind, compassionate, and empathetic more familiar. And when we mess up, let’s admit it. Model honesty and resilience.

Communicating Student Learning: My Personal Journey

Three years ago, I wrote a post entitled Why I Hate Letter Grades. I figure it’s about time I write an update on my adventures…

In the fall of 2013, one brave soul (@BronwenHowden) decided to join me in the ride that was our district’s Communicating Student Learning pilot. We were two teachers in one of five schools that term to design our own report card template. We jumped on board very quickly and fumbled our way through implementation in first term. It was a very sudden shift for the community and in hindsight, there are many ways we could have communicated more clearly. However, we learned a great deal, and by second term, we were using feedback from parent surveys and a focus group to make changes to our template. By third term, we were finally gaining confidence in our methods of communicating student learning. While we knew all along that we were working to design assessment that promoted growth and learning, it was finally becoming more widely accepted in our community and we had evidence from students to support the shift that had taken place.

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cc Photo Credit: liquidnight via Compfight

We continued revising and using our template the following year alongside digital portfolios with Fresh Grade and approximately 8 more teachers and tons more schools in the district. We felt our confidence grow as we were more able to articulate our rationale for the changes and more students and parents began to see the benefits of assessing in alternative ways. Parents having access to ongoing communication of learning via Fresh Grade was hugely beneficial, and we referenced these learning samples in our CSL anecdotal assessment. We decided to maintain this formal paper communication in addition to the portfolios throughout the year, as we had already changed a lot in a short period of time, and it put many parents at ease. However, we did make some significant changes to our template, such as removing formal reporting of individual subject areas (other than Literacy and Numeracy) in favour of more cross-curricular approaches to learning and including personalized learning plans for each student. We also focused on improving the quality of our ongoing communication with parents.

Bronwen and I came out of that second year feeling there was no way we could ever return to the “old ways” and confident we could now move away from report cards altogether. Although there were a million and one factors that influenced our decisions throughout those transitional years, there were five main principles consistently guiding our practice:

  1. Formative Assessment
  2. Competencies
  3. Student Conferencing
  4. Self-Assessment
  5. Ongoing Communication with Parents

Experiencing this transition as educators provided us with the time we needed to truly explore what quality assessment looked like in practice. Looking back, we can see that learning intentions and criteria guided all of our assessment, students were involved in the learning process through co-creation of criteria and regular self-assessment, and we were focused on developing competencies through content knowledge. We improved our communication with parents through the use of Fresh Grade, email updates, class blogs, social media, and conferences. One on one conferences with students lasting 15-20 minutes every term were invaluable. It was a lot of work – we had to completely rethink how we structured our days – but somehow it felt like less work than before, as it all became so much more meaningful. We knew our students’ strengths and challenges inside and out. Even more importantly, so did our students.

Now in a new school (and desperately missing my original partner in crime!), I have finally made the complete shift to communicating student learning through Fresh Grade. I don’t think anyone can argue that it is valuable to have regular updates about their child’s learning, but change will always be difficult. I remain focused on quality assessment in my use of Fresh Grade, as it is not really about the technology, but a shift in mindset.

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cc Photo Credit: SevenSeventyFive via Flickr

There are numerous Surrey Schools educators who have already put together guidelines about the what, why, and how of digital portfolios, so I will refer you to to their brilliant work. You can find links to many of them in Elisa Carlson’s blog post here. What I have done is put together a few key pieces of advice, educator to educator, for those who are moving toward ongoing communication of student learning for the first time:

  • Be transparent! Students and parents need to know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how they can be involved. Let them know you are learning alongside them but also share resources to help them understand the transition. Ask them what they want and highlight connections between their input and best practice.
  • It’s all about the learning! If you are doing significantly more work than your students, STOP. Portfolios are not about including as much as humanly possible, but providing quality assessment of key learning throughout the year. Students should absolutely be involved in the process, no matter their age, and assessment should be moving their learning forward.
  • Learn to embrace change! Change is not meant to be comfortable but it should be meaningful. Don’t try to do the same thing in a new way; if you’ve committed to using portfolios or other alternatives to grades, you’ve committed to being a part of the change. It’s ok for your communication to look different… it should.
  • Be prepared to listen! Not everyone is ready for change at the same time. Focus on strengthening relationships by finding common ground. Actively listen to those who disagree with you. Take feedback for what it is – a learning opportunity. Remember that parents, teachers, and administrators all want what’s best for kids.
  • Find a partner in crime (or several)! Together, we are better. Collaborate. Share. Question. Collaborate some more. Support each other along the way.

I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore multiple ways of communicating student learning in my district. It’s been an amazing journey that I would not trade for anything. What are you doing to ensure quality assessment and communication of student learning?

CSL, Fresh Grade, and the draft BC curriculum provide me with so much flexibility in designing meaningful learning opportunities for my students. You can check out my visual presentation entitled “Redesigned Curriculum in Action” here as a sample of some things we do in Division 3.

Why My Comfort Zone is Not Important

Kids are amazing. Without fail, they exceed our expectations whenever given the opportunity to try something they’re interested in at school. Without fail, they step up to the plate and help each other learn in these instances so no one is left out. They usually do this when we have managed to shift their perspective of school from this thing they have to do every day to make it personally meaningful and relevant to their lives, passions, and curiosities.

This year, I’ve tried to have my kids learn things that make me uncomfortable. One example is coding. Not knowing where to start, we participated in the Hour of Code using tutorials from Khan Academy (available in French). The first experience was amazing for some and frustrating for others; however, they were all engaged in problem-solving and most were collaborating with a partner. Even though I know absolutely nothing about coding, I thought “Good, we tried it! I think we may do that again sometime.” What I learned 3 weeks later when we came back to it again was that the experience had sparked a passion in several of my students that I didn’t even know was there. One girl is pursuing coding daily in her spare time as part of her Genius Hour and thinks she may want to be a software developer. Another group of boys is trying to design their own video game using Scratch. How powerful is that? All because I was willing to give something that is outside my comfort zone a try.

It doesn’t take much effort, only a willingness to be the one without the answers. What have you tried with your kids lately that makes you uncomfortable?

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cc Photo Credit: Finn Vargas – Deviant Art