August has arrived and we are gearing up for a new academic year. With it comes a twinge of anxiety and a whole lot of excitement. After all, as educators we never know how far our impact will carry.
At this moment, my mind is buzzing with ideas, to do lists, organizing a combined learning space, memories of previous academic years, and it is just a tad overwhelming. Yet, when I take a moment, and think about those memories, I am reminded of how much I learnt last year.
Being a part of a collaborative learning community led to growth and learning I could not have imagined at this time last year. We began the year in two separate classroom as teachers who shared ideas, and ended it as a Kindergarten learning community, that knocked down walls, both literally and figuratively!
So, how did it all begin? It is probably a combination of many things, but the one that keeps coming back to me is our willingness to say ‘yes.’
Saying yes has not meant that I, or our collaborative learning community did everything that was proposed.
Saying yes is more about being open to new possibilities for the benefit of all learners.
Saying yes is about considering what we can achieve together.
Saying yes is about failure and learning.
Saying yes is about learners’ agency: both educators and students.
In the past year I have said yes to:
working as part of a collaborative team that was able to do more together than I could achieve on my own;
deepening my understanding of how young learners develop number sense;
becoming a Seesaw Ambassador;
writing a blog;
leading PD for my colleagues;
and most importantly of all, our learning community said yes to our young learners.
Our learners discovered their voice and felt valued;
They learnt how to plan and manage their own learning;
They learnt about listening and collaboration;
They learnt creative problem solving skills;
They learnt about failure, perseverance, resilience and grit.
And I’m sure the list could go on. I am reminded of this quote by Mother Teresa that came across my Twitter feed:
Being open to new experiences and learning will have an impact!
As we move towards the end of our academic year, I am in the process of collating data, writing reports and reflecting on the progress of the learners in our class. It is also an opportunity to reflect on my practice as a teacher. A year ago, I was doing the same thing and my reflection left me feeling vulnerable. Though I was working hard, I felt I could be more effective. By admitting to myself that change would benefit my learners, I had taken the first step towards becoming both a better learner and educator.
The first thing I did was to really look at the data. If I could identify my learners areas of strength and growth, it might be a reflection on my own strengths and areas for development. The two areas for development that I chose to focus on were writing and the development of number sense.
And then, I needed to dig deeper. I needed to understand why the learners in my class were not confident writers, nor did they show confidence when working with number. I realized, that though I had taught it, I had not ignited a passion for writing or playing with number. I needed give learners that sense of ownership over learning, so that they felt passionate about learning.
The next steps… the how?
Education is changing. As educators we need to be learners for two reasons. Firstly, as role models for the learners in our care and secondly, to give them the best education we possibly can. So when I felt like I needed to learn more about developing number sense, I looked for online courses and did something about it. I highly recommend Christina Tondevold’s (@BuildMathMinds) number sense courses.
Education is changing. The best ways to find out and be a part of these changes, is by being connected. Initially, I used educational groups on Facebook to keep me in the loop. Now, I am more of a Twitter fan. I find it is incredibly diverse and generally very positive. I share ideas and I get to see what other people are sharing. Reading the blogs of other teachers around the world, inspired me to start this one. Recently, I read a blog post by Adam Hill (@AhillAdam) ctitled ‘Sins to Avoid as Teacher Tweeters,’ that shares great advice about how you can use Twitter to build your Professional Learning Network.
So far, the focus of changing my teaching practice, focused on things I could do myself. However, to truly make a difference, it wasn’t just me that needed to change my thinking, it needed to be a team effort. I realized that collaboration was not just about attending planning meetings, sharing ideas and trying them out in our individual classes. It was about letting go of the culture of “my students in my class” and start taking responsibility collectively. The my learners became our learners.
Through the collaboration within our grade team, we are able to harness our creativity to problem solve together. We take our ideas and build upon them, hopefully making them better. We are open-minded and willing to try new things. Not everything we have done as been successful and that is how we have learnt and evolved as teachers. Combining our knowledge and experience means we can do better for our learners.
The biggest change in my role as an educator has been the shift from my learners, to our learners to we are learners. Our focus this year has been building our learning community. At the center of this is our students, our learners. We need to listen to them and support them on their learning journey, not direct their learning. What does each individual learner want to learn?How can we help them get there? And if educators are there to support learners, then so are their families, thus adding to our learning community. How can we build family partnerships?
By giving learners the ownership of their learning and by keeping their families involved, they have shown an enthusiasm and commitment towards learning that I have not seen before in all my years of teaching.
Finally, if I am truly shifting thinking towards a collective responsibility, then I have a responsibility to share my experiences. I’ll be honest and say that tweeting, writing this blog and leading PD, pushes me well out of my comfort zone. For myself, I do so as a way to clarify my thinking and hopefully get feedback from my learning community. For other learners and educators, I share because I hope I can help others, as so many have helped me.