Me a Leader – What??

Before the IMMOOC experience many of my colleagues have told me that I am leader. Even my principal has given leadership roles at my school – Technology Coach, Division I Literacy Lead, and Mentor Teacher. My internal response to them was this:

I always think all the things I do are just part of my job as a teacher and who I am as a person. I am always willing to share, welcome others into my classroom, and talk about all the exciting things that I am doing with my learners.

During the Week 5 Live session, Shelly Burgess and Beth Houf brought up the idea that anyone, in any position, could be a leader. After this statement was made, I started to think that, maybe, I am leader in my school and district.

This newfound perspective of myself made me do a little informal research and reflection. The word leader is defined as a person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country. Nope – I’m not this kind of leader. I associate this type of leader with someone in an administration role or Superintendent. So what kind of leader am I then?

The word leader comes from the word lead, which can be used as a noun or a verb. In total, there are twelve different meanings of the word lead. After reading the following definition, I have decided this could fit with how I view myself as a leader.

lead – to show (someone or something) the way to a destination by going in front of or beside them

In my leadership role, I don’t command a group, rather I show someone the way by modelling innovation. I take time to work alongside my colleagues and push them to try things that are new and better. George talks about how savvy leaders are constantly re-inventing. I know I am always reflecting on how to improve my practice and never teaching the same lesson twice, always re-working and innovating to make it better.

Through my informal research, I gathered that a leader is someone who inspires others to such a degree that others would go above and beyond, not because you have to, but because you want to. Leaders encourage, guide, coach, empower, and respect. They are role models who excel, risk takers, and innovators. I’m too humble to say that I have these qualities, but I will say that I strive to be a person who exemplifies them.

Great leaders work together and push one another to do new and better things for our learners. I love talking about the Innovator’s Mindset with my colleagues. We have our own impromptu #georgetalks throughout the day. My one colleague sent me a quote from the book that has become one of my favourites:

“We only get better when we find those who truly elevate us. Look for mentors who will push you to come up with better and brighter ideas and be that person for your followers. Leaders are meant to unleash talent by bringing their people’s strengths to life, not ignoring them.”

She ended the text with a simple: Thanks! 😊👍

After receiving the message, I finally saw myself as a leader.

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Focusing on Learner Strengths Through Voice and Choice

School can be full of many frustrating experiences for learners. They can develop a negative mindset, rather than a growth mindset, and come to hate their schooling experience. George Couros suggests that teachers shouldn’t focus on learner’s weaknesses, rather focus on their strengths.

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Finding learning experiences that allow learners to have voice and choice is crucial. While working on my Masters program, my friend Karla Holt (@karlaholt) introduced me to the idea of Universal Design for Learning. We used these principles to make an eBook for Alberta’s Grade 2 social studies program. The book gives all learners access to the content and they are able to have voice and choice while working through the book. We even built in assessment tasks that offer voice and choice. After introducing the book to my students, the learning experiences in my classroom were transformed. Students were no longer completing prescribed tasks in the way I wanted them to, but unleashing their creativity to share their learning in new ways.

The year I “launched” my eBook, I had a student in my class that was a striving reader and writer. She would have had difficulty accessing the text if she was required to read from a print book and would have had equally as much difficulty writing out sentences if she was to complete traditional paper-pencil tasks. With voice and choice options, she was able to listen to the content and make videos to share her learning. Since she was able to use what she loved – technology and videos – her confidence was off the charts. The learner she left my class as, was a completely different one than who came to me, all due to her learning experiences being focused on her strengths.

Our job as a teacher is simple – to help each learner become the best they can and feel good about themselves. That’s the easy part, the actual doing of the job is the hard part. Teaching isn’t a cookie cutter job that is the same for everyone, it’s about building relationships with each learner, finding out what they love, giving them opportunities to develop their strengths and build confidence, and encouraging them to be their best. A HUGE job, but one that I love doing everyday.



Empowering Learners Through Self-Assessment

After a long week of finishing assessments and writing our Communicating Student Learning documents, or report cards, I was struggling to find something to write about for the last post in the three blog post challenge for IMMOOC. As I was finishing Chapter 7 in The Innovator’s Mindset I got to the section on 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom and had my AHA! moment when I reached # 7, Self Assessment. This year my district has taken on a big assessment project with Sandra Herbst guiding our thinking. Something as simple as self assessment seems like a no-brainer, but over the past nine years, I’ve attempted it so many times, with little to no success, until this year.

That change has happened with Sandra’s guidance. She stated that we need to help students understand quality and proficiency by co-constructing what is important or what matters in their learning. This gives your learners the language they need to guide their learning and self assessment.

My students and I have co-constructed writing criteria twice so far this year, once for personal narrative writing and once for non-fiction writing.

At the end of each term, I had my students find evidence in their writing of what they were doing well and what they were needing to work on. This year was the first year that I actually felt my students new their strengths and where they needed to grow. In fact, as I reviewed their stickies, they were spot on with their strengths and areas of growth – report card comments were done!


Classroom Teacher vs. School Teacher

George talked about the idea of the school teacher vs. classroom teacher during the Live session this week. After the session, I took time to reflect on how was I working towards being a school teacher. I find self-reflection difficult because I’m often too hard on myself, so in the beginning, I could hardly think of any great examples. I know if I asked my colleagues they would have given me a long list of items that would exemplify how I’m a school teacher. After a few days of reflection, here’s my list of how I’m being a school teacher:

  • sharing ideas with my colleagues, on my blog, and through Twitter
  • seeking out other colleagues to get ideas and tips on how to help the learners who are struggling in my classroom
  • sharing students with my grade group partners during our Guided Reading time so the students who need interventions can get it
  • initiating  a Grade 2 PLC across the district
  • sharing positives and celebrating successes with teachers about previous and current students
  • greeting the students at the school, not just the ones in my classroom

In the School vs. Learning comparison, George states that learning is social and should promote that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner, so why do some teachers carry out their teaching career as a school teacher? Why do some teachers view helping each learner become their best as a competition?


Building Relationships and Trust

My Superintendent believes that every child deserves to be greeted by name every day. I also think that building relationships and trust with my students is essential from day 1. Each morning I start the day greeting my students at the door (and those who pass by my classroom) and finish by saying good night to them in the hall. This year, I started Morning Meeting with my class. My students greet each other in various ways each morning. They all know how to do a proper handshake and make eye contact. After our greeting, each student has time to share their thinking and be heard in the classroom. Finally, we have some fun building relationships with a short activity or game. Earlier in the year when my class was asked to share what made them happy at school, about half my class responded, “Being greeted by my classmates.”.

Other relationship building activities:

  • Me Boxes at the beginning of the year, inspired by Christine Quong (@c_quong)
    • Each student has a special day to bring in their Me Box and share about themselves
  • Class Brain, also inspired by Christine Quong (@c_quong)
    • Students complete a multiple intelligence survey to find out their strengths and areas in which they need to grow. Students help their classmates grow by strengthening each other’s areas of need.

Relationships built from trust in my classroom have lead to my students having a new found confidence and being empowered to try new things and make mistakes because they know their classmates will be there to support them.


Taking a Risk With Student Surveys #IMMOCC Week 2

At the end of Chapter 3 in The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros asks you to consider, “What risk might you take to change learning experiences?”. After hearing both George and Pernille Ripp speak at my Teacher’s Convention in February, I have been toying with the idea of asking my students what they don’t like about our classroom. I have often asked my students what they like about our classroom, but never have had the guts to ask them what they don’t like, because I find criticism hard to take, even from a group of Grade 2 students.

Well, after this week’s readings and YouTube live session, I finally figured I need to take the risk of surveying my students about what they don’t like in order for me to reflect on what is not working and what needs to be changed.

I was unsure of the kind of response I would get from a group of seven and eight year olds. I had my students write what they liked on one side of a card and a ‘yuck’, or what they don’t like, on the other. I asked them to not put their name on the card, but five or six of my students ran up to me to share their cards. The kids who ran up to me with their cards wrote things like this:

Things They Like
‘Yuck’ Things

I decided that these cards weren’t helpful in my reflection process, but it’s always nice to know my students like their teacher and that they wouldn’t change anything! A few did tell me that they didn’t like home time as they wanted to stay at school since they like learning so much.

I did receive some cards that were able to give me some more feedback on what’s working and not working.

Things They Like
‘Yuck’ Things

I can see that my students do enjoy choice in activities like Daily 5 and they enjoy blogging so a wider audience can be a part of their writing. From the responses of what a few of my students are not enjoying, I can see that I need to innovate on how we practice our spelling words and do word study. Even though this was done anonymously, I do know who wrote Writer’s Workshop, so I know that I need to work with him on developing a passion for writing. I am going to need to reflect over the next few weeks on how to help this student to learn to love writing, considering I already offer choice in what they can write about and each student works at their own pace. Any suggestions on how to innovate in writing and word study would be greatly appreciated!

This morning I was a bit nervous to read what my students would tell me, but now that I’ve asked them once, I think it would be easier to hear criticism when I do this again. I also think the more students were asked these kinds of questions, the more focused and helpful their responses would become.


Embracing Change #IMMOOC Week 1

The second round of #IMMOOC started this week and to say the least, I left the YouTube Live session feeling invigorated, motivated, and inspired. There were so many great thoughts and ideas that I couldn’t wait to share with my colleagues.

The idea of embracing change has been at the forefront of my mind for awhile now. In the past, I have felt like I have been judged for doing something different from other teachers and colleagues. The statement made during the live session that you aren’t the problem if someone feels uncomfortable about the good stuff you are doing, made me realize I could let go of all my past feelings of guilt for not always using whole class teaching with booklets and themes. I finally was able to accept it’s about showing others the way of change and doing what’s best for your students – thanks George!

Along with teaching my own Grade 2 class I also have a small amount of time to visit classrooms as a “technology coach” and collaborate with the classroom teacher to integrate technology, voice, and choice into their lessons. Some teachers have been more reluctant to embrace change than others. Over the past couple of weeks, one teacher in particular that I have been working with has started to shift her thinking and has become inspired to try “new stuff”. I’ve really enjoyed having conversations with her, guiding her, and supporting her in her journey.

In my own classroom my students are constantly bringing up questions, wonders, and ideas and we sometimes get “sidetracked” with great thinking. After reading a book titled ‘All About Robots’, my students had their newest idea – a Robot Contest.  When this idea was first brought forward, my initial thought was, I have no idea how to do this! I relayed this idea to my friend and she suggested to ask my students what they want the Robot Contest to look like. After she recommended this, I thought “Why didn’t I think that?”.  Our Robot Contest planning will start next week and, needless to say, I can’t wait to ask them what a Robot Contest entails and work through designing and implementing it with them.

On a final note, after school yesterday, I was excitedly sharing with a colleague about Monday night’s session and just before our discussion wrapped up, I told her that I was proud of her for changing her Twitter profile picture to her real picture and pointed out how she wouldn’t have done it in the past. She replied by saying that because of me, I had pushed her to try new things and made her excited to innovate with her class. This small comment made me realize that if you only reach one person, the uphill journey of embracing change was totally worth it.