Sunday, September 17, 2017

Exhausted but Worth It

The week before school was spent moving into a smaller class space within the same school building and begin setting up for the new school year. I quickly realized that I needed to purge resources that were both dated and to make room for new materials. Going into my 21st year of teaching, I can confidently say two things: one, I have a whole lot of stuff, and two, I still get butterflies in my stomach in the days leading up to the first day of school.
During this week, I called all of my students' parents and invited them to visit our class space in the making. Yes, I know... it's summer vacation but knowing that several of my students anxiety is intensified in the days leading up to and including the first day of school, I have found this small get together to be both calming and productive. Throughout the week several students came by for about an hour to set up laptops/chromebooks, materials for centres, and co-plan a cooperative game to co-lead during the first few days of school.

I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting my students for the new school year during that last day of school of 2016-2017. During our short time together, they shared feedback: a space that they would be comfortable in as well as productive; they opened up about their apprehension towards using technology as a tool to share and monitor their own learning; and they hoped for opportunities to learn outside of the class/school building.
This invaluable feedback took our class space from being bare and overloaded with furniture to an open space with flexible seating and comfortable workspaces. We already have four excursions planned during the first few weeks of school ranging from visiting our local Public Library to visiting our local city parks to exploring STEM activities at YouthSpark. Students apprehension towards our class learning experiences leveraging technology is beginning to decrease as we discuss why we use certain tools to share, research and build upon our learning. They were excited to be introduced to our class Blog and class Twitter account @McM_MsT. Students were particularly nervous yet eager to the introduction of Google Classroom to access assignments, provide each other feedback and the ease of finding their online work.

The first day of school, students arrived with smiles as they met up with friends in the school yard.

Our morning began with us being locked out of our classroom (wink, wink) when I realize that I have mistakenly placed my keys in the BreakoutEDU box. The students were up for the challenge of solving “Oh, The Places We’ll Go” to retrieve the keys! Why would I do this on the first day…. for FUN of course. This was an opportunity to let the students know that I will make mistakes and will ask for help from others. What I needed from them was to work as a team to unlock the box for the key to our class space reveal! It was wonderful watching all 26 students working within their teams to solve the puzzles and piece together clues, each team taking turns to unlock a lock from the BreakoutEDU box. What I saw was teamwork, I heard words of encouragement and this all made me even more excited to begin our learning journey together.

On Thursday evening, #tdsbEd Twitter chat (co-moderated by Larissa Aradj and Arianna Lambert) was abuzz with how many educators set-up their class space and established class routines around student voice, choice and needs. This reaffirms the value of building upon the feedback and revisiting student needs to create a space that is safe and promotes creativity. Check it out in the archives Your Learning Environment.

At the end of the first week of school, I make a phone call to all my students parents sharing one cool things I learned about their child and inviting them to our Curriculum Night.  I have done this for many years and when I read this, among many other ways to invite Parents into the class community in Kids Deserve It by Adam Welcome & Todd Nesloney; it just reinforced that need for positive connections between teachers, students and parents.


Several other icebreaker activities were held throughout the day, co-lead by a student in the class. Students also completed a questionnaire based on George Couros’, Five Questions to Ask Your Students To Start the Year allowing me to better understand my role and their needs.

As the days go on, we continue to establish our routines and guidelines based on trust and respect. We have begun discussions around a Growth Mindset, our flexible seating guidelines were created, we used Tribes to design posters for our 4 Class Agreements: Mutual Respect, Right to Participate/Pass, Attentive Listening and Appreciation/No Put-Downs. As we continue to build our class community, students designed Motivational Posters to the question: “What does success mean to you?” These will decorate our walls and inspire us throughout the school year. Over the next few days, students will design our bulletin boards with messages for Growth Mindset and another focussing on You Matter statement (inspired by Angela Maiers).

I truly believe that investing the time to build a class culture of trust, respect and community that students will feel safe to take risks, go on learning adventures and produce some amazing pieces of work that they have received feedback and reflected on with pride. Yes, there will be ongoing reminders and refreshers of all the community building throughout the school year... but this far outweighs back-peddled, minimizes power struggles and focusses on the well-being for both students and teachers.

Our class Curriculum Night was a success as students offered tours of our class community set-up, centres, materials & equipment use and shared how we model positive social interactions. Building a positive partnership between my students, parents and myself is an integral part of students recognizing that we are all in this learning journey together.

What better way to end the week than participating in the International Dot Day activities! Colouring pages, building drawbots and a Dot Day BreakoutEDU!
I can’t wait to see what the rest of the school year brings!

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