Learning is....
Planting a seed in our brain... learning to water, nurture and grow it.... so we can live on the fruit of our learning and plant more seeds.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Mid-Year Reflections

Last week I was scrolling through Twitter and I came across a link to George Couros' blog post, 4 Reflective Questions for the End of the School Year.  While it may be drawing near to the end of the school year and summer breaks in the northern hemisphere, schools in the southern hemisphere are approaching the mid-year of our school year and trying to stay warm and dry as our winter truly begins to kick in.

However, reading through George's blog post, I thought these four questions would be valuable to use to take stock as I approach the middle of the year as line in the post, "we move forward not only be looking to the future, but learning from the past", is something that I've held to through my teaching career.

The four questions are:

  1. What did I do well this year?
  2. Where do I need to grow?
  3. What things will I challenge myself with next year?
  4. How will all of these answers impact the learners I serve?
So now, as we begin Week 6 of Term 2, I shall reflect on these four questions.

What did I do well this year?
  • I have established relationships with each individual students.
  • I have established relationships with their parents.
  • I have grown my relationships with my colleagues.
  • I have turned a really ugly classroom space into a bright, welcoming room which reflects and celebrates the learning we are doing.
  • I have set a high standard for the learning in our class.
  • I have, with the students, set an expectation for how we will behave and the promotion of the virtue of kindness, the attitude of it isn't a problem if we can fix it and the go-forward belief of we can do better.
  • The reading programme, Reading Tumble, poem of the week, Newsbook, fitness, writing, art, buddy reading and read to aspects of our programme are going great and we are building up our mathematics programme and topic learning.
  • I make sure my students leave every day with a positive word from me.
Where do I need to grow?
My time management is always going to be my life-long challenge.  Some days I nail it... others I don't.

What things will I challenge myself with for the second half of this year?
Note that I have modified this question from the one George asked.  And I've narrowed it down to these:
  • Embed the maths programme better - routines, groups, activities, expectations.
  • Do better at giving out the kindness hearts to reinforce kindness in our class.
  • Keep the learning fun and engaging but meaningful.
How will these answers impact on the learners I serve?
I would hope that the following would happen:
  • An organised teacher.
  • A happy teacher.
  • An ability to be responsible for increased aspects of their own learning.
  • Being engaged in the learning and making contributions to how the learning happens.
  • Being happy with school and being in my class.
  • Succeeding in learning.
Maybe you too can use these questions to refocus you on the second half of this school year.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Survived Term One - Reflection on teaching Year Two/Three Combo for the first time.

Eleven weeks.  That's a long term.  And I was doing well until Thursday of Week 11 when I got to school and realised I had made a big mistake going to school because I was actually sick.  So I didn't make my goal of a 100% attendance at school for Term One because the last day of term I was at home feeling yuck!!

But it does give one the opportunity to reflect on the term.  It was big and full of firsts and differences for me, and while I feel success in some areas, I feel there are a whole pile of "can do betters" in other areas.  I really sound like any teacher when I say that.

So here are my reflections....

Setting up the classroom

This was mammoth.  I compare what the class looked like at the beginning to now and I can physically see a huge difference.

Early January 
Before Auckland Anniversary Weekend

The day before school after my colleagues removed stuff from the room I didn't need and my brother had solved a few things.

Waitangi Day, Week 2 of Term One, it was starting to look like a classroom.

You can see I had my work cut out for me.  My class was in no fit state to start school on day one.  But now it looks great.  Not as great as it can, but I am making progress.

Classroom routines and relationships

Classroom routines and relationships really go hand in hand.  You can not establish routines without building a relationship with the learners, and you can not build that relationship without the boundaries of routines.

The students in my class are a lovely bunch of students.  They (usually) have manners and love to learn, but I've found it a challenge because they are not good listeners, I keep forgetting some of them are still five years old, I'm not used to teaching this level full time every day, my expectations were so high.  Note that a lot of my challenges are down to me - my expectations, my experiences, which became my greatest barriers this term.

I do not have everything in place at the end of the term within my programme I expected to have.  My reading and maths programmes are not consistent yet or where I want them to be.  Our newsboard, oral language, poetry, buddy reading and homework programmes are running well.  Our inquiry learning is interesting.  Our art is pretty darn good.  And writing is coming along well.

What we do have are expectations about how we will look after our class and each other.  We have a class that celebrates kindness.  We have a class who knows that I expect high standards and will not accept a half-pie job.  We have a class who can expect to be hugged when they achieve what I want them to.  We have a class who is taking note of what is happening n the world around them and starting to state their opinions with their own reasoning.

Classroom environment

At the beginning of the year, I had no tables or chairs for my students.  I did have a teaching table, a couple of shelves and drawers, a class library shelf and two teacher stations, a tote tray trolley, but not tables and chair for students.  I had no maths equipment either.

We ended up having to borrow tables and chairs from another school until things started to arrive later in February.

Our new tables, shelf and tote tray units have changed our class.  It's also changed how I have the student's books and personal belongings kept.  Thanks to the recommendations of colleagues on the NZ Teachers Facebook page I purchased those buckets for $2.78 from Mitre 10 Mega to house our different books and those sturdy bins for the pencil cases.  The bright tables changed the look of the room too.  I'm still waiting on the principal to decide on the chairs, because most of these are borrowed, so I do have a mix-match of chairs currently.

But the big change is in the art and work displayed around the room.  I truly believe that a classroom should reflect the learning that has been going on within it.

This was using a writing template from Twinkl. 
Writing and drawing about our best friends.

After our caretaker had put up the wires.

Added some writing and pictures in response to a poem about a pet banana.

Our holiday stories and art finally on display.

Pictures and writing in response to Gavin Bishop's books for NZ Readaloud.

More holiday stories and art.

More responses to Gavin Bishop books.

Balloons made in response to the Balloons over Waikato festival.
We had a few balloons floating over the school and the village that week.

On the coat hangers are the children's workings about the attributes of 2-D shapes.

It feels great to look at all the work completed and know we have achieved all that in eleven weeks and they did their very best and worked to my high standards.  We also have a backlog of a few things to achieve yet.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Setting up my class for 2018 - Big Learnings!!

One of the things I've missed out on since the NZ Teachers page started on Facebook was sharing photos of my class set up at the start of the year with others because I had stepped out of teaching to do relieving, study and other work for a while.

This year I have had a big challenge.  I am teaching Year 2/3, a combination that is new to me.  I have also been setting up in a prefab that has not seen life as a functioning classroom for a few years.  I thought I would knock this out of the park.  But it has set me some hurdles to overcome and taught me a valuable lesson.

This is the state it presented itself to me in the second week of January when I popped in to move my gear from Room 5 to Room 7:

You may note the PMP equipment in the room.  This is what the room has been used for for several years.  However, due to two other classes being renovated from term one, this gear will be in storage for a while.

This area has been of particular concern to me:

You will note the state of the hessian on the wall and the wall behind peaking through in places.  That was always going to be a challenge.  The whiteboard was also in a hideous state with marks on it and bits stuck to the board.

In other posts I've talked about making friends with the caretaker and how this relationship can be very valuable.  Well it has paid off, because we worked together in the last week of January to get the majority of the PMP gear out of my class and over to Room 10 where all and sundry are stored.  Then we brought over a few pieces of furniture from Room 10 to Room 7; some drawers on wheels and a bookshelf.  The caretaker had already kindly put two teacher stations in my room another teacher did not want rather than pull the ones out of Room 10.

He then tackled the problem of the whiteboard with thinners.  He had all the bits off the board that were stuck on and now it is as good as new.

I had also been to my lock up and got a car load of resources and put them in the classroom.

Then I began to pull off the hideous brown hessian from the walls to reveal more hideous brown hessian and a tacky 1990s attempt at painting the hideous brown hessian yellow.  You can also see that when they replaced the old blackboard for a whiteboard they have left some rather hard board there.

But as I pulled down the hessian, I struck a problem.  A winner electrician had put several crucial fittings over the top of the stapled on hideous brown hessian.  So I had to stop that project.  I had to call in my very tall brother who is an electrician who can remedy this situation for me.  It required a level of greasing and teared faced emojis via text message that may haunt me.

Sadly my classroom is so old school it does not have a heat pump.  Last summer the last two classes were fitted with heat pumps and the fans were culled.  But it seems this one escaped the cull.  It is now my new best friend.

Behind it is a rather old school heating system.  I am going to have fun figuring out how to work that.  Does it still work?  The former DP says it does.

The days leading up to school starting were in the middle of a heat wave.  With the temperature topping 29-31oC outside, you can kind of imagine the temperature inside the prefab.  Sweat was literally pouring off me like a waterfall and I was going through frozen water like there was no tomorrow.  My new best friend, the fan, just couldn't cut the mustard.  And I was achieving nothing at all!!

My big learning curve has been:  I can not do everything!  I know, it surprised me too.  I particularly do not cope well it seems when there is a heap of stuff in the room that will not be needed in my room and which should be elsewhere.

Sad to say there was a communication:action breakdown, and I had a bit of a mental crisis over it.  Luckily, at times like these, this is when your fellow staff members come to the rescue.  One person recognised I had hit the wall over the unwanted equipment and went to get help.  Within half an hour the unwanted equipment was removed from my room and a few tables, a shelf and a tote tray trolley appeared.  The tables and tote tray trolley are very important because the new ones ordered for Room 7 had not arrived yet.

Anyhow, my brother, the electrician came and he fixed up a few electrical fittings so we could take off the remainder of the hideous brown hessian, fixed a shelf to the wall and installed the data projector for me (which was also a big help to the principal who was run off his feet!).

I then nipped into David's Emporium, got 10m of lime green eco cloth for $25 and a lovely off-cut of a light blue and white cotton Pacific material, and then I came back to attempt to reinvigorate the room.  At nine o'clock the night before school this was pretty much what my class looked like - except for the wall between the whiteboard and the shelf was 90% covered.

The principal set up a sound system for me and then kicked me out for the night.  😉

I have to say I was a little heart broken and disappointed.  I felt the room was not inviting.  I felt the most disorganised I had ever been.  Children and parents came into the room the next morning and it looked terrible.  It was a massive teacher fail in my opinion.  But the parents and children were very kind.

Every day over the next few weeks I have worked to make it a more inviting space and make it feel like a proper classroom.

But I had no tables and chairs for the students.  Over the first week we worked in a very flexible learning environment moving from one end of the carpet to the other.  Then I arrived at school on the 5th of February to find a delivery from a neighbouring school of temporary furniture.  The children and I were stoked because it meant we had tables to work on.

I was also very keen to get some children's work up, so I went in on Waitangi day and turned one wall into a writing display, as you can see below.

However, my area below never looks that tidy and I am working on ways to fix this problem.

Every week the walls have evolved.  At the end of the third week I had some stories and pictures, which are pictured below, about best friends that evolved from our poem of the week and the fact one of the students was leaving our school and community to move up north.  I photographed each picture and we made a card with photos of the pictures for the boy to take with him as well as a whole class photo.

My maps keep moving about the room depending on what I am doing with a space.

In the fourth week of term our new tables arrived from Furnware along with a shelf.  The children and I love the bright colours and how it has changed the dynamic of the room again.

And when a pay week swung around I was back off to David's Emporium to get the wires for displaying artwork.  I had primed the class up to grease up our caretaker with cheesy smiles, fluttering eyelids and a mega amount of pleases.  He told them only if they did fabulous artwork (which we will soon have some to go up).

With all these changes, I was digging through my boxes of teaching stuff and pulling out what I needed when I rediscovered it.  The children and I have been looking at the weather each day and these weather cards from Green Grubs are awesome as they are in te reo Maori and English.

Our school wide theme this term is Turangawaewae and this is still an area that is underdevelopment.  But one of the cool things we have used to explore ourselves is the Birthday Graph from Twinkl which is really bright and cherry and I've also used some of their resources around Waitangi Day, presenting our class treaty and some back to school writing.

It is so good to get my things out and use them and some of these are staples in my class like the De Bono Thinking Hats and some te reo resources I got years ago from a church group who came to my school when I was down in the King Country to sell to us.

And yes, that is a visual time table from Sparklebox, but I think it has been the best one I've come across.

The black and white writing is a piece about ourselves from Twinkl and the coloured writing is a response to a poem of the week about a pet banana.

And still my area is a mess!  😞

Last year I started the hearts to catch people in acts of kindness.... and I've instituted it into this class too so they can be recognised and celebrated for it.

And the maps have moved again....

I finally unpacked the big plastic containers the other week and found this wonderful lot of vobcabulary which fits in with our Turangawaewae theme.  We will have some kids looking into these words.

And in the meantime our new tote trays also arrived which was also very exciting.  Every child has a fabulous name tag with their Class Dojo icon on it.

But I still faced a massive issue in that we created traffic jams whenever they went to get their books and they couldn't fit everything in their tote trays.  So I reached out to the NZ Primary Teachers Facebook community and they came back with some solutions that would work for us.

I went to Mitre 10 Mega and purchased a number of buckets for the princely sum of $2.78 for putting books in and each bucket is labelled with the appropriate name of the books that should be in them.  I also purchased two other boxes for pencil cases.  This has proved a game changer in time management and storage issues.

This last week or so we have been putting up our work on the wires so the caretaker knows that we can follow through on a promise.  We do have an issue with slumpage, so he and I will be problem solving that over the next few weeks.  Below you can see our finished holiday stories and pictures.

These are the pictures we have drawn in response to the Gavin Bishop Readaloud being done by many Year 1-3 classes throughout New Zealand.  We read the books Rats, The Three Little Pigs, The Horror of Hickory Bay and two stories from the compliation Taming the Sun Maui and the Sun and Kahu and the Taniwha.

I really felt this display needed a title.  Last year I used a lot of different lettering I downloaded from a website called Instant Display, so I pulled out one of each and used it to create this title.  It is also where I got the title for my Turangawaewae wall from.

I am working on a display area for accumulating our hearts under the Super Acts of Kindness By Us I am promoting.  I've got the area started, but I still have a bit more work to do on it.  This area is a work in progress.  I got the bunting tassels on sale at The Warehouse the other weekend.

So the room is beginning to look more like I want it to.  Our routines are not fully in place yet.  I'm going mad on Twinkl sourcing appropriate resources for this age group as most of my stuff works best at Year 4 up.  But that is another blog post.

Essentially my big learning curve has been that having the support of others helps me make the room the best it can be. This is not a solo effort - and now the students are producing writing and artworks it looks even more amazing and feels like the classroom it should be.