Mirror, mirror….

One thing that I have come to value more over the past year is the importance of incorporating time for reflection. This is crucial not only for my students, but also for myself as a teacher.

Reflection is about allowing and encouraging individuals to vocalise and discuss the events which have taken place, to think out loud, to suggest solutions they may have discovered and to perhaps pose more questions that they now have. It is a guided practise and one, that when done by skilled educators, has the potential to transform both the learning and culture within the classroom.

As a busy classroom teacher, time is often our nemesis. There is rarely enough time to cover what we want to, so it can be tempting to not bother to try and fit yet another thing into each lesson. However, reflection is not the element to omit! Without an opportunity to revisit what learning has taken place and why the learning was necessary, it can make the entire activity somewhat meaningless. Reflection allows learners to discuss their thoughts and interpretations of the activities, to make connections to their real lives as well as to prior learning, and to begin to pose hypotheses about what future learning they are still yet to uncover.

As a teacher, reflection of our own practice is just as crucial. It requires few resources other than our own observations and honesty, but it can be incredibly powerful when the effort is made. It may not always pretty, and perhaps this is why some educators don’t incorporate it into their schedules. However, reflection reveals incredible insights into the synergy (or lack thereof!) between our lessons and our learners.

Reflecting on your own teaching practice can be as simple as deliberately evaluating our lesson goals compared to our student outcomes. It can also take the form of written notes, peer observation, or even student feedback. The next step is to ensure that whatever revelations are exposed are used to inform your practice – what have you gained from your insights?; what was the purpose of your teaching?; do you need to make adjustments to improve your students’ understanding or mastery?; how does this influence what you will do next?; and so on.

There are a myriad of ways for educators to establish and maintain a reflective practice, as well as methods to encourage and build a classroom culture that celebrates student reflection. Perhaps, however, the most important component is to just ensure that it actually gets done.

Happy teaching!

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Lifelong Learners

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As an educator, we need to be armed with a hefty toolbox of resources, including our own skills, knowledge, strategies, experiences, behaviours, and opinions. We also need to be able to breed motivation when children seemingly have no desire to learn. We are sometimes challenged to inspire boys and girls with engaging learning opportunities that are relevant to their everyday lives, and we must be able to create welcoming and encouraging learning spaces that are tailored to suit their needs in order for them to take risks with their learning.

Most importantly, I believe we need to instil the belief that learning doesn’t end. To become lifelong learners is something that we all must preach and practise. I feel this is particularly important as an educator as we are the ones fortunate to be involved in the learning experiences of so many children year after year. We lead by example, and for those of my colleagues who have reached the ‘end’ of their most recent learning journey, I implore you to keep the momentum going throughout your professional practise.

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(Longworth & Davies, 1996, p. 22)

Immerse yourself within an inspiring community of professionals and continue to widen your network (virtual and otherwise) as the years progress. Give back to your community and share what you can with others, whether that be encouragement and support right through to your professional advice. Most of all, remember that we are a part of the largest group of professionals on the planet, so you are not alone! You just need to keep moving forward, as both a teacher and a learner.

Happy teaching!

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This post is dedicated to a cohort of educators who are preparing to cross a virtual threshold this evening as they submit their ideas, suggestions, and hopes for future learning spaces. If their experience in discovering the possibilities of learning spaces in education was anything like mine, then the past several months would have been eye-opening, challenging, inspiring, and worthwhile. Good luck to everyone with your future endeavours, and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your experience.  

LONGWORTH, NORMAN, and DAVIES, W. KEITH. 1996. Lifelong Learning: New Vision, New Implications, New Roles for People, Organizations, Nations and Communities in the 21st Century. London: Kogan Page.

Student wellbeing and learning spaces – is there a connection?

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As an adult, it is hard not to make comparisons between what school life was like for ourselves as children versus today’s students. I’m of a vintage where I still have vivid memories of the smell of freshly printed copies of worksheets (albeit, I was inhaling toxic spirit fumes that had lingered on our purple-printed papers, but that’s beside the point!). However, there are aspects of our school days that stay with us into adulthood, and beyond. Some good, some great, and even some that may be downright awful. One thing I don’t ever remember being taught about in primary school was the importance of my own emotional and psychological wellbeing. We certainly covered general physical health to some degree (e.g. exercise, nutrition), but I can’t recall anything extending beyond that, even in my high school years.

So, what has changed to make this become necessary today? Firstly, I am a huge advocate for explicit teaching and discussion about wellbeing. I am of the firm belief that children who feel secure, calm, (and ideally happy) are much better suited to be engaged in their learning versus children who are not. The current Victorian Curriculum has numerous links to student wellbeing, both physically and emotionally. Many include topics that we as teachers will be covering include things such as analysing our own emotions and how they can influence our decision making with friends and family. Many schools now have Wellbeing Programs in place, along with Wellbeing Staff members.

Concerns about our students’ mental health today is real. The statistics are alarming. The 2015 Australian report of The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents states that in Australia approximately one in every seven children and/or young person has experienced a mental health disorder in the last year. Rates for depression, self-harm and thoughts of suicide among teenagers is particularly worrying, with approximately one in ten indicating they have engaged in self-harming behaviour, with three quarters doing so in the past 12 months.

In a class of 30 grade 5/6 students I taught last week, we discussed the everyday pressures they face. Extra tuition outside of school, extra-curricular sporting/artistic/music/language classes, scholarship tutoring. In this Grade 5/6 class alone, we ran a survey and more than 70% of students had some kind of activity scheduled for every weekday after school. Furthermore, there was no child with less than three weekday outside-of-school commitments, whether that be before or after school care, sports, tutoring, or tuition. On top of that, the days they had off were often spent rushing around for their siblings’ activities. (As a parent of four kids, I know this feeling all too well – “Quick! We don’t want to be late!”, “Hurry up! It’s time to go!”).

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Our children today lead busy lives, which isn’t to say that we didn’t when we were children, but with the onslaught of constant online connectedness, I think we have failed to pass on the gift of being switched off and just being a kid. I am not trying to romanticise the olden days of my youth – there were plenty of times I would complain of being so bored with nothing to do! But, I had an opportunity to be bored, to not be rushed somewhere every day, to slow my pace and to just be. How many of our students today can say the same? 

With the Australian Government committed to provide strategies to focus on prevention and early intervention of mental health issues, it is no wonder that we now see it filtering into our curriculum. And although some of the statistics are for children who will have left the primary school system, I feel it is important that we equip them with knowledge and strategies (and even support services) before that point.

Since I am not a therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or the like, it is highly unlikely that I am going to be directly involved in the ongoing counselling of my students, other than to offer immediate crisis support if and when necessary. However, there are things that I can do to empower my students, and that is where learning spaces fit in. We are aware that children have different preferred learning styles, but they also have preferences for the spaces in which they learn. These spaces can vary from day to day, and from task to task. The important thing is to ensure you provide options. Allow students a little bit of independence to make responsible choices about where they are choosing to learn. Of course there are consequences if they misuse your trust, but a student who is already under pressure and possibly trying their hardest just to get through the day is going to be more inclined to do so when provided with an activity that matches their learning style along with a learning space that innately appeals to them. 

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As an educator, part of our role is getting to know and understand the children in our care. We need to be able to support them with guidance and boundaries in order to prepare them for the real world, but it is possible to do that while still honouring them as individuals. Offer spaces where they can learn somewhere other than at their desks. Provide tasks where they can choose how to convey their learning. Develop scaffolding so that working as part of a group doesn’t become the sole responsibility of one child. Plan for lessons that provide interaction with people within their community and beyond to broaden their understanding and their horizons. But most of all, create a safe, welcoming, and nurturing learning space where they can be themselves and where they will be supported while they learn the skills to look after themselves as well as others.

Happy teaching!

Practise what you preach!!

As educators, we are constantly asking our students to try new things, take risks, make mistakes, bounce back, and try again. And we do this for good reason. We know that growth is achieved through challenging and extending our learners. But, (there’s always a ‘but’), why do we so often find ourselves reluctant to do the same thing ourselves? We are educators and we know what steps need to be taken to achieve new skills and knowledge, but when it comes to putting it into practise for ourselves, somehow we suffer from stage fright and aren’t quite sure we can do what we are asked to. Why is it so uncomfortable to try new challenges and take risks ourselves when we are the cheerleaders for these growth mindsets in our own classrooms?

I have wondered whether this is because we are comfortable with the status quo and therefore don’t believe the reward (ie. new skills and knowledge) is worth the risk (ie. failure, embarrassment, time ‘wasted’)? However, even when the learning is connected to skills or knowledge that we want to master, we are often still reluctant to try something new.

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As adults, particularly as educators, we are accustomed to being the ones that guide or initiate the learning and challenges. We are not necessarily the one with all the answers, but we are certainly seen as the ones in charge. And it can be unsettling to loosen that grip on our own self-image and change from master to novice again. However, in order to continue our own development, it is crucial that we actually put into practise the learning behaviours that we preach as it is virtually impossible to achieve new growth following our old patterns. (There’s a reason there is a very famous quote about this phenomenon – you are not alone in being hesitant to take risks or trying something new. And neither are your students!)

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As an educator who was recently involved in a lot of professional development, I have a newfound respect for our ability to continually challenge, upgrade, and sometimes totally reinvent ourselves. That isn’t to say that the process was always easy (spoiler alert – it wasn’t!). But, it was absolutely worth it. I didn’t always master everything. I certainly didn’t always master things on the first go. I had to let my guard down, be prepared to enter the area so many of us avoid at all costs – a liminal space – unknown territory.

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However, just as we expect our students to evolve and attempt new challenges, we, too, need to be willing to do the same. As an educator, when it is our turn to try something new and your inner voice starts to whisper words of self-doubt and express a fears of failure, this is your chance to put on your best teacher voice and be your own best support. What would you say to your students if they shared the same worries and concerns with you? You would tell them with confidence, patience, and belief that they should just have a try, that you would be there to support them, and that you knew that they would come out the other side having achieved some element of new learning.

So, when you are in the position to extend your own skills and knowledge, remember to be kind to yourself, but never sell yourself short. Flip the knee-jerk panic reaction that you may be personally experiencing and treat it as if it was coming from one of your students. Be supportive of your own learning, lean on those around you who can guide you, and just have a go. You may just amaze yourself with what you are capable of.

Happy teaching!

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A moment to reflect

For the last few months I have been fortunate enough to be involved with a group of enthusiastic educators whilst researching the place and contribution of learning spaces in education.

The research and learning that has taken place could not have been possible without the collective input of my peers. They have provided me with ideas, solutions, and motivation when at times I felt challenged. I can also wholeheartedly say that without the guidance, support and facilitation of one particular member and leader (thank you Adam Staples) none of this would have been possible.

Our research over the course of the last 4 weeks specifically has focussed on a topic that is not easy to digest – the Syrian refugee crisis. At many times, I found myself questioning the lack of humanity that people are capable of, and wondering what on earth I could do to make any improvements for such an enormous problem.

However, out of this I have come to develop a new sense of gratitude and inspiration. Gratitude for all of the unearned privileges I have been reminded that I have each and every day. But also extremely grateful to know that my children are going to be fortunate enough to be educated by the types of teachers I have come to know within this research group. The group of peers I have worked alongside are inspired, committed and passionate educators. They have approached each and every aspect of our research with determination and perseverance. They have inspired me with their ability to to create holistically-sound programs to meet each child’s educational and developmental needs.

As this experience together comes to a formal end, I am thankful for the changes they have afforded me, for I have a new outlook and perception of just what I can strive to achieve for myself and my students. And I am proud to know that the future of education within Australia (and beyond?) will be influenced by them.

Happy teaching.

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As the saying goes, don’t judge a book . . .

This week I have been involved in discussion about the Syrian refugee crisis and what role education will play for refugees, both now and in their future.

The future of many refugees is uncertain, to say the least. But, it is important to remember as educators to avoid presuming that because someone is a refugee it means they are uneducated.

There are many types of education, both formal and informal. As a refugee, reliable and regular access to formal education may certainly be interrupted (or in some cases, non-existent). However, it is also possible that many of the people being displaced are in fact educated professionals – teachers, accountants, medical professionals, and so on.

Although an “everyday teacher’s” direct contact with educating refugees may be remote in many settings around the world, it will be a teacher’s job somewhere to welcome, support and educate a refugee student when they join their class and school. And it is for those teachers that I post this reminder, even though this applies to everyone you will come in contact with as an educator.

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Happy teaching!

 

References

Image 1 (2014). Retrieved from http://hollymueller.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/digilit-sunday-online-collaboration.html