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.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016


A challenge has been set for the connected teachers of Aotearoa by #EdBlogNZ:

I accept that challenge.  Click here to be part of the challenge too.

My #OneWord2016 is SATISFACTION!

The last couple of years I feel like "I ain't got no - satisfaction" - to quote a famous song.

The first part to getting some satisfaction is to start and finish the year in the same place.  It's to know what is going to happen next week, next month, next term and, hopefully, next year.  Not in a concrete way, but in a settled way. 

Here is the definition of satisfaction:

How I am going to do this and what I am going to do to achieve this sounds very vague, but at the moment it has to be, because things are still up in the air a bit.  But I'm working on bringing things back down to earth - in a good way.  I like to get there on the most windy, steepest, precarious goat track... it's how I've always done it and how I always will, and I just have to go with the flow.  Try and keep up with me during 2016.

And cheers to the other teacher bloggers who have completed this challenge before me.  Your blogs were an inspiration.  So check them out:
  • Marnel van der Spuy with the word fierce.
  • Kerri Thompson with the word punk.
  • Philippa Nicoll Antipas with the word relish.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Advice to beginning teachers... but something all teachers should remember too.

Today a very wise teacher (not me) posted this to the NZ Primary Teachers page on Facebook.  It was so apt for not only beginning teachers, but to all teachers, I wanted to be able to read it again and again whenever I wanted, so I thought I'd blog it, and add a few inspirational memes that I thought backed up the sentiments.
Dear Young Teacher Down the Hall,

I saw you as you rushed past me in the lunch room. Urgent. In a hurry to catch a bite before the final bell would ring calling all the students back inside. I noticed that your eyes showed tension. There were faint creases in your forehead. And I asked you how your day was going and you sighed.

“Oh, fine,” you replied.

But I knew it was anything but fine. I noticed that the stress was getting to you. I could tell that the pressure was rising. And I looked at you and made an intentional decision to stop you right then and there. To ask you how things were really going. Was it that I saw in you a glimpse of myself that made me take the moment?

You told me how busy you were, how much there was to do. How little time there was to get it all done. I listened. And then I told you this:

I told you to remember that at the end of the day, it’s not about the lesson plan. It’s not about the fancy stuff we teachers make — the crafts we do, the stories we read, the papers we laminate. No, that’s not really it. That’s not what matters most.

And as I looked at you there wearing all that worry under all that strain, I said it’s about being there for your kids. Because at the end of the day, most students won’t remember what amazing lesson plans you’ve created. They won’t remember how organized your bulletin boards are. How straight and neat are the desk rows.

No, they’ll not remember that amazing decor you’ve designed.

But they will remember you.

Your kindness. Your empathy. Your care and concern. They’ll remember that you took the time to listen. That you stopped to ask them how they were. How they really were. They’ll remember the personal stories you tell about your life: your home, your pets, your kids. They’ll remember your laugh. They’ll remember that you sat and talked with them while they ate their lunch.

Because at the end of the day, what really matters is YOU. What matters to those kids that sit before you in those little chairs, legs pressed up tight under tables oft too small- what matters to them is you.
You are that difference in their lives.

And when I looked at you then with tears in your eyes, emotions rising to the surface and I told you gently to stop trying so hard- I also reminded you that your own expectations were partly where the stress stemmed. For we who truly care are often far harder on ourselves than our students are willing to be. Because we who truly care are often our own worst enemy. We mentally beat ourselves up for trivial failures. We tell ourselves we’re not enough. We compare ourselves to others. We work ourselves to the bone in the hopes of achieving the perfect lesson plan. The most dynamic activities. The most engaging lecture. The brightest, fanciest furnishings.

Because we want our students to think we’re the very best at what we do and we believe that this status of excellence is achieved merely by doing. But we forget- and often. Excellence is more readily attained by being.

Being available.

Being kind.

Being compassionate.

Being transparent.

Being real.

Being thoughtful.

Being ourselves.

And of all the students I know who have lauded teachers with the laurels of the highest acclaim, those students have said of those teachers that they cared.

You see, kids can see through to the truth of the matter. And while the flashy stuff can entertain them for a while, it’s the steady constance of empathy that keeps them connected to us. It’s the relationships we build with them. It’s the time we invest. It’s all the little ways we stop and show concern. It’s the love we share with them: of learning. Of life. And most importantly, of people.

And while we continually strive for excellence in our profession as these days of fiscal restraint and heavy top-down demands keep coming at us- relentless and quick. We need to stay the course. For ourselves and for our students. Because it’s the human touch that really matters.

It’s you, their teacher, that really matters.

So go back to your class and really take a look. See past the behaviors, the issues and the concerns, pressing as they might be. Look beyond the stack of papers on your desk, the line of emails in your queue. Look further than the classrooms of seasoned teachers down the hall. Look. And you will see that it’s there- right inside you. The ability to make an impact. The chance of a lifetime to make a difference in a child’s life. And you can do this now.

Right where you are, just as you are.

Because all you are right now is all you ever need to be for them today. And who you are tomorrow will depend much on who and what you decide to be today.

It’s in you. I know it is.


That Other Teacher Down the Hall
I wanted to post this here because this last year, despite being an experienced teacher, I was the teacher down the hall with the hall/across the field with the tension in their eyes and the creases to the forehead.  I was lucky that some other teachers saw that and stepped up to be sounding boards.
I also saw it in another teacher across the way, and I tried to be that for her too.
So to those teachers who I worked with in the last two terms of last year, thank you for recognising that I needed your support and providing it.  You demonstrated talanoa.  You demonstrated manaakitanga.  Every little bit counts.

A valuable add on:
I recently had this article pop through my Facebook feed.  It is written by a yound Australian teacher called Tegan Morgan and she has entitled it Advice to grad teachers: 'I made one big mistake you should avoid.'  And so I include it here, at the bottom of this post, 14 months after I originally published the post as I think it complements the earlier part of this post.  Please don't burn yourself out.  We want you in our profession for a long long good time, not a short time.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Class Dojo - a behaviour management tool for the digital child and teacher.

In term three last year I blogged about behaviour management and how I was coming to terms with learning how to speak the language of the virtues.  The Year 4 class I had come into in term three had had a far bit of upheaval in the second term despite the best efforts of my predecessors and senior management to maintain stability, and as a result the class was not the cohesive unit you'd expect half way through the year and behaviour was erratic.

While I made progress using the virtues and building relationships, the behaviour management rewards side was not capturing the whole class.  I had been giving out "Caught Being Good" cards (we called them Tuis - after the NZ Music Awards - to fit in with the class theme), but some kids had lost interest, and others were stealing them from their classmates.  It became a massive effort to collect in the cards and issue the points and add them up.

Before the end of term three I was very despondent with how things were going and I was not enjoying the class, a personal disappointment to me as a professional teacher.

Something had to change.

I had heard of Class Dojo.  I'd seen it talked about at Educamps and Eduignites and ULearn14.  I had been involved in Twitter Chats and Facebook discussions on its merits.

I went to the Eduignite at Hautapu in term three and caught up with @ariaporo22, aka Alex, a high school teacher from Rotorua who is the Class Dojo Community Leader for New Zealand.  We sat down and discussed the merits.  Alex uses it for most of her classes.  She uses it to reinforce the positives and rarely, if ever, used the negative side of Class Dojo.

I also talked to Maria, the teacher in the class next door, who was also using Class Dojo, to get her perspective on it.  And then there were discussions with senior management on the way forward and how we could change the culture of the class and emphasise positive behaviour.

Three weeks before the end of term three I decided to revamp the behaviour management programme for term four and bring Class Dojo in to the mix to up the ante.

At ULearn15 Alex talked me through the set up and how it works over the cocktail event on the first night as we tried some MLE furniture out of size.  We set up an account and a "practise class" on my phone and practised giving and taking points and making new rewards to give out.  We also practised changing the monsters for each student.

The practise run - this was part of Alex's mini tutorial at ULearn15 with me.

Later on, I set up the real account for my class and it was very easy to do so after Alex's mini tutorial.

On the first day of school I sat the kids down and I really wanted to show them the new programme on the ActivBoard.... but in the holidays the school server died and my laptop and the new server were not talking.  So using my phone I showed them the Class Dojo video for the class and talked them through it.

I think the monsters hooked the kids.  They liked the bright colours, the multiple eyes and the horns.


I also focused on the virtues that we needed to use in the class to develop the virtue of Unity - friendliness, patience, responsibility, respect, self-discipline, consideration.  Many of these virtues the children could tell you what they looked like but many students were struggling to demonstrate them in how they behaved.

An example of some of the positive behaviours you can edit.

As Alex suggested I tried to keep the positive side of the tool the focus.  I loaded up the rewards with references to the virtues we really needed to use in the class.  And then I went made on the clicking.

I'm not going to tell you that it solved all my classroom management issues with this class, but the term was a lot better than the previous term.  Those kids who really wanted to learn and were shining examples of how to behave in the class were recognised for their efforts in a very visual way.  They soon led the points tally.  My students who were not shining lights trialled behind. 

That's when I brought in an incentive.  A sticker chart. 

I needed something that was visible when the Class Dojo was not shining on the ActivBoard.  So every time a child got another 50 points, they got a sticker.  After every 150 points they got 15 minutes golden time.  They could use the golden time to use the i-Pads, the computer, play with the class Lego or other equipment, read, or even go outside and kick a ball around.

When the class got to 1000 points (we did this most weeks), we negotiated a game to play outside.

This got my students who were not shining lights moving.  They wanted the golden time.  They wanted the outside game.  You have to love bribery.

The kids often wanted to change their monsters.  I had to limit this to once a week per child and after school, because it could be time consuming. 

Class Dojo has provision for you to link in the families so they can see from home how it is going.  It can also be used to communicate with parents  But as this was my first time and the school had no precedence in doing this, I decided against it.  If I had been in a school with established relationships with parents I may have considered this.  However, some parents had heard about it from their children and came in after school to check progress as their child changed their monster.  When we had Student Led Conferences, some parents commented that their child had made their own accounts at home and ran their own Class Dojo system!

I also kept giving out the Virtues Cards.  Class Dojo sometimes helped me with this because I could go back and check points I had given for a certain behaviour.  I probably gave out more Virtue Cards than before.

These are some of the highlights of using Class Dojo and some things I learned from a term using it:
  • You can change the value of the points awarded.  I kept it at 1 point for everything, but if there is a behaviour you really want to push, you can change the value to a higher point reward and that may be a way to get that behaviour occurring more.
  • I could use it at my computer or from my phone.  That meant I could be taking a reading group on the mat, and when I see Bob at the back of the room working hard, rather than ticking his name on the board or going to my laptop to click a Dojo point, I could do it from my phone on the floor.  It also meant that at assemblies or whole school singing or Kapa Haka, I could give out points for participation or respect or whatever from my phone.
  • When relievers came in (who were usually inhouse relievers at this school), I could open Class Dojo on their laptops and they could dish out the points to the kids too, ensuring the class behaviour management was consistent.  It also meant I could see that some kids were behaving at least every time my laptop or phone dinged!
  • I would use the Random button at the end of the day to let kids go and give them a point for a behaviour.  This was a great time for me to be able to end the day by saying something positive to each child.
  • During the time we were doing Athletic sports rotations and I didn't have my class, I used the Random button to make the students accountable for their behaviour with other teachers.  If a student's name came up, I would asked their peers if they deserved a point and what behaviour they should get it for.  Some students would be honest and declare they did not deserved a point as a result.  If they did this, I would thank that student for their honesty.
  • I also used Random to give out special prizes.  When we had the Tuis I would do a Tui Draw and the students pulled out of the kete would be able to choose from the choosing box (pencils, highlighters, erasers, mini notebooks, rulers, colouring pencils...).  I was able to still do this by clicking on Random.
  • You can use Class Dojo to remind you who is not there!  When we did the roll each morning, we would also do the roll on Class Dojo and the students not there would fade grey so you didn't reward them points.  If a child arrives late, you go into attendance and click their name and they come back bold again.  Each child also gets a point for being at school on time.  You can also label students late if they come in as you are doing the roll.
  • You can award a group of selected kids or individuals or the whole class at once.
  • You can create groups.  I made groups for my reading and maths groups.  If I felt a session went well it meant I could click on the Short Tailed Bats maths group or the Takahe reading group and the children in that group received points.  Any absent child would not receive points.
  • There are a whole pile of resources, like certificates and more, that you can access to enhance the experience.  I have yet to use these.
  • You can check out the statistics for behaviour as a whole class, group or individual.
  • If you have instigated the facility for parent participation, you can post notices, photos and videos for parents to view.  It's called Class Story.
  • There is now a goal feature - that was developed after I made my sticker chart.  Ironic.
  • Class Dojo sends you messages to tell you about developments through the app.
These are some of the things I would like to see Class Dojo do to enhance the tool for teachers and students, if possible:
  • Make it so the students can create their own monster - colour, number of eyes, visible teeth, horns....  I suspect it is already available - but the kids have to have their own log ins to do it.
  • When you click on a child or a selection of children, make it so you can click more than one behaviour or the same behaviour multiple times to reward a child.
  • Allow the teacher to choose different sounds to go with a behaviour so the children can identify the reward by the sound as well.
  • Have a greater variety of icons for the behaviours.  I had icons doubling up, which was tricky visibly.
On the whole, I found this tool helped my class become a calmer group during term four that had better behaviour to enable more learning.  I was able to reward those students who often slip under the radar because you can become too focused on the children with undesirable behaviour.  It forced me (gladly) to look for the positives in a group that I was losing hope in.  Class Dojo enabled us as a class to focus on what was good in our class.

It is easy to set up (plenty of YouTube tutorials if you need them), the app can be used across a variety of platforms and the administrators are regularly coming up with new features.  The use of it in the classroom can be as easy or laborious as you want.