Category Archives: Why

It’s the Little Things

Over the past couple of years, I have often questioned my abilities as a teacher. I have had a lot of rough days and a few occasions where I wondered if I could ever do enough. I think we all end up in this place once in awhile because it is truly a job that never ends and could always be done better. However, I have also been trying to focus more on the little things that bring us joy as educators. There are, of course, many moments related to academic learning that are super special, but it’s not these moments that I find most meaningful and it’s not these moments that keep me in this profession. It’s those little things that are about relationships that really get to me…

paper-1100254_1920

  1. That smile from that kid who just needed someone to talk to at recess.
  2. “Can I give you a hug, Ms. B?”
  3. The moment a child finally opens up to you.
  4. An email from a parent thanking you for your understanding.
  5. That kid who comes to ask you about anxiety after a lesson on mental health.
  6. The student who feels safe enough to share that their grandfather passed away during morning meeting.
  7. “I know you get it, Ms. B. You understand.”
  8. Watching a child develop a new friendship.
  9. Parents who let you know that their child is happy to come to school.
  10. Returning after an absence to: “We missed you!”

There are a million moments that we could reflect upon because we truly do make a difference in the lives of kids. They matter. We matter. Relationships matter.

When we’re feeling down, we need to remember that it’s the little things that matter the most.

Advertisements

2017: A Year of Intention

Last year, I couldn’t choose just one word for the year, so I chose 3 words that would guide me to be my best self: Balance, Strength, and Relationships. I cannot say that it went smoothly… In fact, with some long awaited consistency in my vie quotidienne, it seems I finally had time to delve deep into my personal struggles. Rather than a year full of balance, it felt like a year full of self doubt, overwhelm, and frustration. Side note: I’m sure this is only in part due to my inability to choose a single word…

However, these words also led me to make a few decisions in 2016 for which I am grateful. They were changes that were not sudden, but had a positive impact over time.

  1. Starting a gratitude journal. For real this time. I have successfully expressed gratitude for something daily, in writing, for the past 8 months. This allows me at least one moment of release from my anxiety at the end of each day.
  2. Spending time in nature. I didn’t strictly adhere to my #photoaday2016 aspirations, but the project did allow me to become more mindful of the world around me. Allowing myself permission to take a trip to Maui over Spring Break helped renew my energy and positive attitude in ways I wasn’t expecting. More time exploring this beautiful province reminded how grateful I am to live here.
  3. Devoting more time to friendships. Some people just make your soul feel good. Time outside of our own head can be a good thing. Enough said.
  4. Renewing my love of physical activity. I took rowing lessons, signed up for a barre membership, and even attended a couple of yoga workshops. All of these things have helped me focus on staying healthy outside of the classroom so I can hopefully be healthier in the classroom.
  5. Being vulnerable. This one was much less conscious, but powerful nontheless. Sharing my struggles with colleagues, friends, students, and strangers has given me a sense of freedom I wasn’t expecting. It has allowed others to see me as a whole person rather than the shiny version that I have typically tried to present to the outside world. I am now in a place of heathy contemplation about what really matters in life.

best-nine-2016

@beverley.bunker #photoaday2016

As we head into another new year, I’ve been inspired by the idea of an intention for the year. The idea is that an intention guides us in our daily lives but is more fluid and organic than a specific goal. It can change with us as needed. So in 2017, my intention is to simplify.

I’m not sure what exactly that means yet… but I think that’s ok. I know it speaks to my heart. I believe it will help me be more intentional in my actions, my words, and my decisions. What more can we really ask of ourselves than that?  Intentionalilty is what makes a good teacher a great one.

Wishing you love and joy in 2017.

Oral Language – How and Why?

Oral language development is always a hot topic in French Immersion, or any second language classroom. I can’t count the number of times someone has said to me “I took French all through high school and can’t speak a word!” As a French teacher, there is nothing that makes me more sad or disappointed. What is the point of pursuing language learning if we can’t interact with anyone else?

20140204-211541.jpg

Photo Credit: illustir via Compfight cc

Often we mean well, but there is a lack of understanding about how students best learn a new language. I would like to share my strategies for developing confidence in oral language amongst my Late French Immersion students.

Identify the Learning Intention

If we are not clear about our objective as teachers, how will students know what they are supposed to learn? I’m not talking about vocabulary here, either; I’m talking about what we want our students to be able to do. Try structuring your intention in the form of an “I can…” statement. For example, “I can use passé composé to share what I did on the weekend.” This will help provide you with context in which you can teach the language structure.

Context

Vocabulary taught in isolation is almost never meaningful for students; it relies on memorization and is not representative of any authentic communication situation. Grammar in isolation can be even more troublesome; what is the point of knowing how to conjugate the past tense (passé composé) if we have no idea when or how to use it in a real-life situation? Focus on what students want to talk about in the past: their weekends, their vacations, or what they did before coming to school that day. These are meaningful learning opportunities because students are actually applying the language structure in an authentic way.

Model

This step is so key! Teachers must model the language structure they want their students to learn before they ask students to use it or write it down. This means providing multiple examples along with actions and/or visuals to help cue students’ vocabulary. Using a simple structure repeatedly in context is most effective. For example, I might point to what I am wearing when I say: “Je porte un chandail bleu. Je porte des pantalons noirs.” Obviously the structure you choose to model and practice depends on the level of your students; in our class, we often focus on a specific verb tense or expression (e.g. passé composé or “J’ai hâte pour…”) The key in modeling is to avoid translating in favour of contextual cues and to take reading out of the equation; that can be learned later once the structure is internalized.

Partner Practice

Once we have modeled a language structure in a meaningful context and supported our model with actions or visuals, we can move on to offering students the chance to practice. However, this should be done in a very structured way. I will often share my model and then ask students to share their own personal phrase with a partner. This allows them to practice in a safe way as it does not put them on the spot in front of the whole class.

Once students have practiced in partners, I model a question such as “Qu’est-ce que tu portes?” and call on anywhere from 1-5 students to answer the question. This is the time to correct any errors in the targeted structure.

Developing Independence

Have the class repeat the question, such as “Qu’est-ce que tu portes?” chorally to ensure correct pronunciation. Then allow them the independence to practice the question and answer format with their peers. Inside/outside circles is a strategy that works really well with most students. It allows me the opportunity to circulate and formatively assess students’ abilities very quickly and easily; it also gives students the opportunity to practice the same language structure multiple times to increase

Know When To Intervene… and When Not To

With new language Learners, it is very easy to become intimidated or anxious. While of course the purpose of structured oral language practice is to target specific language structures, we need to know when to intervene or correct and when fluency is more important. If passé composé is what I am modeling, then that is the structure I will openly correct in students’ communication. Correction of errors is necessary and important, but building confidence is even more important! Don’t forget that it’s ok to leave them to fumble through expressing their thoughts as well, as they are developing different skills at different times.

20140204-212312.jpg

Photo Credit: Kris Krug via Compfight cc

How Morning Meetings Have Transformed Our Learning

This year, for a variety of reasons, I decided to try morning meetings with my grade seven students. Every morning, we sit in a circle and one by one, we share how we are feeling that day. We rate our feelings on a scale of 1-10 and provide some reasons why we are feeling that way if we are comfortable doing so. This has been an incredibly powerful experience for me as an educator, as it provides us with dedicated time to listen to each other, builds trust within our classroom, and encourages students to take risks in sharing in a new language. It has also provided us with an avenue for oral language practice. Each day, we target a specific language structure. For example, Mondays are usually practicing past tense as we share what we did on the weekend and Fridays are a great opportunity to talk about “J’ai hâte…” It is amazing how many errors can be corrected when they are class learning intentions. Over time, students have become more comfortable correcting themselves and others as well. We are able to laugh about some of our mistakes while we develop common language understanding. Several initially shy students have come out of their shells during morning meetings! It’s been a wonderful experience that has greatly increased students’ confidence in French. I can no longer imagine not having morning meetings in our classroom.

I believe oral language development is essentially the most important skill we can help develop in our students. Without speaking and listening, they will always lack the ability to communicate meaningfully with others in real-life situations. By targeting specific language structures and modeling oral language on a regular basis, we can help our students open doors to new experiences.

20140204-211828.jpg

Photo Credit: bitzcelt via Compfight cc

Possible: Kids Get It

My last post Possible: A Frame of Mind touched on how we as educators need to shift our mind sets to context in order to inspire change in the system. We must understand our “why” and encourage others to find theirs before we ask teachers to change their practice.

Last week, I had an awesome conversation with my students. I asked them what they liked about our class and what they would like to change about school. Here are some of their responses…

20131028-210008.jpg

Photo Credit: Nanagyei via Compfight cc

I think teachers should be closer with their students. It makes it so much easier to learn when you are connected with your teacher.

I really like how we have a lot of freedom and choice in our class. I’ve never really had this much freedom in school before.

I really like how we learn in different ways like in Math we use manipulatives and whiteboards and iPads. Math is more fun and easy to understand with manipulatives and it’s so much easier to show my thinking on an iPad than on paper.

Sometimes I think teachers forget what it’s like to be a kid. School is so much more fun when your teacher gets to know you and understand you.

I think more teachers should think about the physical space in their classrooms. How a room is set up makes a big difference in how I feel at school and having different spaces to learn is really helpful.

Honestly, I wish I had recorded the conversation because my kids were SO insightful! Their ideas were extremely well articulated and more powerful than I expected. Everyone was engaged in the discussion and wanted to contribute. We talked about making a video this year to share our experiences and what changes we would like to see in education moving forward. It was a very exciting day for me as an educator and a very powerful group activity. They have since asked if we can have awesome conversations every Thursday.

20131028-210245.jpg

Photo Credit: Leonard John Matthews via Compfight cc

We can’t be afraid to have these conversations with our kids. There is so much we can learn from them.

Kids get it. As long as their voices are valued, they will always see what’s possible.

Why I Hate Letter Grades

I hate letter grades.
They are harmful, ineffective representations of my students’ learning.

20130609-223816.jpg

Photo Credit: Bunches and Bits {Karina} via Compfight cc

Those who know me personally know that I’ve always been passionate about assessment. I’ve always thought I had a fairly firm grasp on good assessment practices. I’ve always thought I had students’ best interests in mind by providing ongoing, descriptive feedback and never giving letter grades on projects. This year, we have also explored ePortfolios as a way to document student progress. I spend a considerable amount of time and energy encouraging my students to focus on learning and improving rather than on extrinsic rewards and punishments.

Yet every term, I fail numerous times because I must assign a letter grade in each subject area on report cards.

How is this helpful for students? How does this contribute to passion, intrinsic motivation, or lifelong learning?

Those are the things that really matter to me. I want my students to love learning. I want to inspire them to find and pursue their passions in life. I want them to look honestly at where they are and where they want to go in their learning journey. How can I honestly expect them to do that when all of their amazing progress and achievements are reduced to a single alphabetical symbol at the end of each term? My answer is that I don’t think I can anymore.

20130609-225430.jpg

Photo Credit: SalFalko via Compfight cc

I’ve proposed an inquiry project to my school district that would explore how eliminating letter grades on intermediate report cards in favour of anecdotal evidence, ePortfolios, and conferencing affects student learning. While I feel hopeful that the proposal is a step in the right direction, I have also recently come to realize that we need to create change where we currently have the power to create change. I don’t have control over whether the inquiry project is approved for next year or over our report card templates. Although I will continue to advocate for change in those areas and hope that I am well supported, I am proposing another more manageable shift in practice for the time being. Something I can change NOW.

I know others already do this, so I do not claim ownership of the idea in any way.

Rather than simply involving my students in a discussion about their grades (where they feel they fit on a continuum, why they think they fall where they do) I am going to involve my students in the process of assigning grades. They will decide what they think their grades should be. They will provide evidence from their ePortfolios and projects throughout the year that supports their position. We will have an honest discussion about their samples and their progress and we will come to an agreement about what their final grade should be. I hope this will allow them to truly reflect on where they were and how far they’ve come as well as their strengths and areas in need of improvement. I know that this will actively involve them in a new learning experience.

20130609-224237.jpg

Screen shot of one of my student’s ePortolio pages – “Français”

I know that this is not a perfect system and that we will make mistakes… ePortoflios were new for us this year and are still progressing in terms of reflection. However, I strongly believe that in their current state, grades are harmful to my students’ learning. I can no longer treat them as they’ve always been treated because it goes against everything I stand for in my classroom. Kids feel a lot of pressure from society to perform, and this often causes them to take less risks for fear of “failing.” How will they ever learn to love learning if they are terrified of failure? How can I ever get them to want to think outside the box when they are placed in a box at the end of each term? I want them to be free of boxes and categories so that they can see the light that is learning!

We have to start somewhere. This will be my somewhere.

Do you plan on finding levers for change in assessment and grading? If so, how?

20130609-224648.jpg

Photo Credit: Motorito via Compfight cc

This is obviously not a complete argument against grades. There will be future posts on the “why” of abolishing grades. In the meantime, check out @joe_bower’s blog page “Abolishing Grades” for some great resources.

Inspiring Others to Flourish

On May 11, I was lucky enough to attend TEDx West Vancouver: Rethink Education. It was a very inspirational day full of amazing speakers. However, there is only one that I have not been able to stop thinking about.

20130520-230911.jpg

Photo Credit:
quantumlars via Compfight

Katy Hutchison is an amazing, inspirational woman. Following the murder of her husband in 1997, Katy spent five years waiting for a conviction. Despite her tragic situation, where many would seek revenge, Katy developed a sense of compassion and a desire to support young people who, because of upsetting or unfortunate circumstances, end up making poor decisions.

Katy shared her story of how she met the man who murdered her husband, asked him why he did it, and then, when he began to cry, proceeded to hug him. She spent time visiting him in prison and getting to know him. She remained calm and compassionate. She used her tragic situation to practice forgiveness. She watched him recover slowly and re-enter society. She did what I am not sure many people could do. She gave him a “time in.” Katy is a remarkable woman for whom I will forever have an immense sense of admiration.

Katy now travels the world sharing her story about how her experience has taught her that restorative justice is the most effective way to deal with poor behaviour and decisions. I was very much impacted by her story and I began to think about how her philosophy applies to our education system. Rather than reprimanding bad behaviour, shouldn’t we spend time trying to get to know our students and why they may be making poor decisions? Shouldn’t we try to understand their perspective? Perhaps if all educators were a bit more like Katy, we could help students grow into the people they were meant to be.

20130520-231153.jpg

Photo Credit:
AlicePopkorn via Compfight

Katy influenced me to reflect on my everyday interactions and experiences both with my students and with everyone else I come across in life.

Perhaps if everyone were just a little more like Katy, our schools and our world would be better off.

When did you last help someone flourish into the person they were meant to be rather than what they appeared to be on the surface?

 

Why I Became an Educator

We all have our reasons for becoming educators. Whether it is an inspirational teacher in our own lives, a desire to inspire the world’s future leaders, or a frustration with the school system, any reason that makes us passionate is a good one.

My reasons fall into the third category.

I wouldn’t normally think to share my inspiration to become an educator, but thanks to two wonderful pro-d opportunities with @gcouros today, I am inspired to share my story.

I was always a “good” student. I fit the mould of what everyone thought a good student should be. I listened in class, I (usually) completed homework, and I always had a knack for knowing what would be important in test situations. I found school easy and I also enjoyed it. I wasn’t much of a concern one way or the other.

My siblings, on the other hand, did not fit this mould.

file131249337484

Morguefile photo shared by kconnors

Teachers thought my brother needed discipline; what he really needed was a challenge. Honestly, he was BORED. There was nothing motivating about completing trivial assignments he already understood. So when he didn’t see the point, he didn’t bother.

My sister suffers from ADHD as well as other mental health issues and has struggled with self-regulation all her life (she is also one of the most caring, sensitive people I know). Labeled early on as a “difficult” student, she was never well supported by the school system. Being 11 years older than her, I have always played a sort of mother role in her life, so it has been difficult to step back and watch the lack of resources and innovative solutions time and time again. She is still struggling to get through the school system today.

I chose a career in education because I was frustrated with the system. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of those who didn’t fit the mould. Music Education was my first real passion in university; I thought music would be the way to connect with all those struggling, misunderstood students. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to teach Music, but I will be forever grateful for the creativity and innovative thinking that I developed over the course of that program. I’m not sure that I would be so willing to take risks if it weren’t for exploring Music Education.

I became an educator so that I can reach those kids that other people can’t or won’t. I make it my mission to touch base with those kids who need me most every single day. I like to think it makes a difference. I hope I will always uphold my mission to engage the unmotivated, inspire the uninspired, and encourage those who have lost hope. I believe that our role as teachers is not so much about teaching as it is about listening, loving, and engaging. It’s about developing relationships with our students and inspiring them to want to be the best they can be. Whether they are struggling or needing a challenge, it’s about helping them discover their strengths and their passions.

55

Morguefile photo shared by Scarletina

In some ways, it saddens me that I don’t have a nice little story about an inspirational teacher in my life. It’s not necessarily that those stories don’t exist; they do. But without my frustration with the school system, I likely would not have become a teacher. I likely wouldn’t have the passion for change in education that I do today. For that, I will be forever grateful. As long as kids need an advocate for change, I will always be inspired to be an educator.

Why did you become an educator?