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The Things that Matter

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of a Japanese-style Lesson Study cycle centred around Algebraic Thinking. I’ve enjoyed it for a number of reasons:

  1. Having time to consider big picture questions as opposed to putting out everyday fires
  2. Delving deep with my colleagues on a topic of interest
  3. Observing my peers in their classrooms and having structured debriefs afterwards
  4. Being required to reflect

At our very first group meeting, we read an article that introduced us to the Japanese lesson study model. One sentence stuck with me: “Lesson study can also strengthen the belief that improvement in teaching is possible.” It seems simple at first, but I found the sentence profound, because it also implies that there are specific steps that can be taking to improve your instruction and pedagogy. You may have heard that people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in 5. By considering and implementing a targeted, continual improvement plan, we really should be able to see tangible changes in our teaching practice. 

That same article also encouraged us to think beyond the curriculum and what we are expected to teach. It opened up the conversation to questions like “What kind of people do we hope our students will become?”, and how do we support that in the way that we teach. It gives us a chance to reframe our limitations and responsibilities to better align ourselves with the goal of education, not just schooling. 

As the Lesson Study draws to a close, I find myself pondering how this experience will change my practice. Without a doubt, it has solidified some collegial bridges that I’ve built over the last year, and has given me a new structure within which to consider my professional development. I can only hope for more great things to come in the future.

The Curriculum

The Curriculum

This last month of blogging (almost) daily has been a time of great reflection for me, but it’s also been a time of great discomfort – of seeing gaps in my teaching and sometimes feeling at a loss to close those gaps. Something that I have enjoyed immensely over the last few weeks has been the connections that I’ve made and the people that I’ve discovered who share my passions and interests. It really helps that most of those people are further along in the process of constructing their ideal classroom environments than I am.

Yesterday, in the #ONedMentors radio show, there was some discussion about this notion of the curriculum, and whether the curriculum supports or hinders student learning. In conversation with a fellow teacher in our building, it’s become clear to me that I need to rethink the curriculum and what its application looks like in my classroom. He has encouraged me to frame everything I do around something that I’m passionate about (design) – the lens (or lenses) through which I see the world – and to help my students develop the schema and language around creativity that will reach across disciplines and fields. As I embark on this journey, with some reading material from him, and some modules from the lovely folks over at the MIT media lab, I have hope. Hope that students’ imaginations will be sparked. Hope that connections will be made. And hope that our classroom and school will become a place where students are constantly learning.

Confidence

Confidence

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to talk briefly with Shauna Pollock (@misspollock), author of Creating Classroom Magic. I got the book in the mail just before March Break and I’ve been loving it so far. I have always had an affinity for all things Disney, though I didn’t appreciate his knack for dreaming and experimentation until I was quite a bit older.

Something that Shauna wrote in Chapter 2 really resonated with me:

…teachers need to have confidence in their ideas and follow their passions even more than they care about what others think or say…Sell your dreams and make them come true.

I have always been a bit of a people-pleaser, and by the sounds of it, it’s not uncommon for teachers to allow others’ opinions or perspectives to affect our confidence in our pedagogical choices. As I continue to grow as a teacher, this is something that I find happens to me a lot. I spend time making certain decisions or changes, but can very easily doubt my choices when I receive pushback or questions from others.

I wonder – what will it take, and what does it look like for me to build confidence in my ideas and passions?

Hard Work and Technique

Hard Work and Technique

My husband and I really enjoy watching “The Mind of a Chef”. The season we are currently watching features Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef and owner of Prune, a restaurant in NYC. Something that I love about watching chef/foodie shows is seeing each chef’s dedication to food and mastery of their craft. I am mesmerized by watching Rene Redzepi in his food lab or out foraging for ingredients. I am equally enthralled by Jiro Ono’s precise handling of fresh fish in his three Michelin star restaurant in a Tokyo subway station. There’s a philosophy and technique that chefs develop with time, and seasoned chefs have a signature that they can stand behind.

This causes me to wonder – does this translate to teaching? What does it mean to master the art of teaching? Is that even possible? What are master teachers doing? Do they even exist? As I reflect upon best practice and continual teacher improvement, I find myself pondering what I need to put in place to systematically improve my practice. How do I stay true to my philosophy of teaching while crafting the best learning experience possible for my students?

And what about hard work? Gabrielle Hamilton didn’t start out wanting to cook. She wanted to be a writer, and took food-related jobs on so that she could make ends meet. She talked about putting long hours in at the restaurant and feeling too exhausted at the end of the day to go home and pursue her writing (She mentioned 20+ hour work days. How is that humanly possible?) In the end, she did manage to do both. As awestruck as I was, this also made me feel supremely guilty about the complaints I sometimes make about the amounts of work I take home. If anyone knows what it means to work hard, it’s a line cook.

As I learn more about other professions, I am constantly amazed by the parallels I can draw between other fields and teaching. To all the chefs out there, you inspire me.

To rubric or not to rubric?

During the #ONEdMentors radio show tonight, @jkervs (who happens to have been my grade 8 teacher!) mentioned how using rubrics can sometimes impede on creativity. It’s ironic, though, because – for some reason – many think of rubrics as this golden assessment tool that can do no wrong. How timely this conversation was, as I just assigned a summative project today…with a rubric on the back.

There are many advantages of using a rubric. Students can see clearly what the teacher is looking for, and can compare the rubric with their own product. They are also easy to mark, because the descriptions are already built into the rubric.

There are also some disadvantages of using a rubric: You can see exactly what the teacher is looking for…so you’re not encouraged to think outside the box. Or perhaps the student does something amazing, but it’s not fully correlated with a component of the project so doesn’t command any evaluative significance.

I wonder – when have you used rubrics? When have you intentionally chosen not to?

Redesigning Schools

Redesigning Schools

As was reflected in my posts, I spent quite a bit of time over the March Break reflecting on the notion of school. I was really interested to see what my students thought, so yesterday morning, after some post-break catch up, I invited them into the conversation.

We started off with a free write about school. These pieces ranged from stream of consciousness ramblings about different subjects to outpourings about their anxieties around school to philosophical commentaries on the progression of schooling throughout history.

Next, we engaged in a SWOT analysis of schools – looking at strengths (what’s going well), weaknesses (what isn’t working), opportunities (things they would like us to try), and threats (barriers or challenges to redesigning school). They came up with such great ideas, and it was also interesting to hear how some things fell into multiple categories. We’ve already implemented some of these ideas, including getting active more, and having mini “Study Hall” periods (we have these weird 20-minute blocks after recess 3 times a week and this ended up being the perfect use for them). A few other ideas are in the works – doing some cooking and getting into the community more. You can see our SWOT board in the picture below.

The cherry on top came right after morning recess. Before March Break, our class did a spoken word analysis on Prince EA’s Can We Auto-Correct Humanity?. That prompted one of my students to check out some of his other videos, and she spent the March Break rehearsing his piece I Just Sued the School System!!! (yes she memorized the entire thing). She performed it for the class, and even put me on the stand as part of the act. Powerful beyond belief.

I’m not sure where this journey will take us, but I am beyond excited to be embarking on this little experiment with my students.