School’s out Friday

Two things made me smile this week (in fact, there were more than two, but these two made me really smile.)

This made me smile tonight.

And earlier this week, this made me really smile.

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These are the moments that keep me in this game. I had another like this today, when a Mother of one of the students in my class came in to tell me how much her daughter was enjoying my class, and that whatever it was I was doing, it was working, because she was coming home talking about the class and the things we had explored.

It’s been a good week all round. I presented to staff earlier in the week and it was well received, and I feel like I’m making some inroads in terms of staff understanding the need to integrate technology into their classroom practice. Yep, good week all round.

The sun has made a welcome return to Melbourne. I’m going to make sure it’s a good weekend too. I hope it treats you well too. Enjoy 🙂

School’s out Friday

Thanks go to my good friend Helen for recommending Tim Minchin’s Occasional Address when he accepted an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Western Australia. Listen to what he has to say about teachers. If you’re pressed for time, here it is in print.

6. Be a teacher.
Please? Please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Just for your twenties. Be a primary school teacher. Especially if you’re a bloke – we need male primary school teachers. Even if you’re not a Teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it.

(You can read the rest of the transcribed speech here. Great for an English class!)

It made me think about those of us who are career teachers, and not just teachers for our twenties. It’s a hard gig being a teacher – there’s an unrelenting pace to the school year and the fact that it’s a job that continues well past the final bell means that it pulls on our families and our ability to pursue facets of our life that we’d like to pursue eg; the exercise that Tim is such a strong proponent for.

BUT, the rewards of the job are beyond measure…

Today was my last lesson with my Year 9 Language of our Times students. I’ve had a wonderful year with these girls, exploring ideas around communication in today’s world and utilising Project Based Learning methods of teaching with them. At the end of the lesson they hugged and thanked me. Ahhh…such rich rewards…for them, and me.

So yes, be a teacher.

Enjoy your weekend. I intend to. 🙂

Do you interact, connect and delight?

The above presentation from the Inbound marketing conference is worth  a look. Some of the best minds in marketing are imparting their message in easy to grab messages that may resonate with you. They do for me anyway. I read my fair share of marketing blogs, largely because I find the message marketers are imparting today can connect with what we as teachers are trying to do in classrooms with a student population that I think is different to the one I encountered when I first entered teaching in 1988.

In 1988, you could walk into a classroom and establish a presence by commanding respect. I saw plenty of teachers who used fear as a tactic, and to be truthful, in my early days I did what many young teachers do – I mimicked some of the behaviour of senior teachers who employed tactics like that to control classrooms. Kids might not have liked it, but they pretty much accepted it, as did many of their parents who would sometimes tell teachers I worked with that they had their permission to give their kid a good clock over the ear if they messed up in their room! I could see pretty early on though that establishing relationships with my pupils based on shared respect and mutual understanding was far more effective, and far more enjoyable. What really helped develop my skills was becoming a parent. When you start to see your students through the lens of the parent perspective your empathy quotient kicks in and everyone benefits. At least, that’s what I would hope would happen. No guarantees there.

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Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah were responsible for the above slide. When I look at this and think of education and the students I teach today, I can draw some parallels. In my classroom I am interacting and connecting all the time, and I try very hard to delight my students by finding interesting material that can draw them into the learning experience. My teaching in 2013 is more about personalising the learning experience rather than asserting control and authority. When I think of the best learning experiences from my own education, it was the teachers who worked this way who had the most impact on me too.

Their next slide echoes true for me also. Maybe it’s always been this way.

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Ring true for you?

The road less travelled…the difficult conversation

When you’ve been a teacher for a long time, there are two paths you can follow. You can remain in the classroom and be responsible for the classes you teach. There are pluses and minuses to this path. The pluses are that you are fairly autonomous . Yes, you’re often working with a team of teachers, but when all is said and done, you control the environment you teach in, and if you’ve established a climate conducive to learning in your classrooms, this can be a very positive experience.  The minuses are that you carry a heavy teaching load, and you have to deal with the correction load that follows suit.

The other path is to take on managerial responsibilities, be it as a Head of Faculty, Head of Year, or other roles that remove you even further from the classroom such as Deputy Principal. With these roles come the responsibility to manage people. Quite early in my career, I took on the role of Head of Year and did this for three years or so. For the most part, I managed the pastoral care of students, and spent my days working with kids and parents. Of course, I worked with teachers too, and sometimes I was pulled in different directions as I felt the need to support staff, but could see occasions when it was their actions that were contributing to the issues they were having with the children they taught. In more recent years, I changed tack and became a Head of Faculty, and am now Director of ICT and eLearning  – roles that have required me to directly manage staff who report to me. It’s these managerial roles in schools that often present us with the dicey subject of the difficult conversation.

No one enjoys the difficult conversation. You’re often agonising over it in the days preceding, going over what you’ll say again and again, rehearsing it until you’re wrung out like an overused dish rag. The nervous energy saps your mental acuity for anything else as you anticipate every  possible outcome. You prime yourself and spend time doing what my mother used to say, “worrying about something that will probably never happen”. Over the years, I think my managerial skills have sharpened, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still find the difficult conversations just that – difficult.

Last year, at the Creative Innovation 2012 conference (click on that link to see the YouTube channel hosting 21 of the keynotes from the two days) in Melbourne, I was lucky enough to hear Steve Vamos speak on just this topic. His no nonsense, grounded in common sense ideas really resonated with me. I especially love his recount of his experience as a 19 yr old working at Liquorland – the lesson he learnt from someone who knew how to hand out advice while maintaining a person’s dignity has guided his interactions with people ever since. My suggestion is you listen to the seventeen minutes and take in the message. If you are managing staff, in schools or any profession, Steve’s ideas about feedback and respect will ring true.

Day one, term three – that heavy feeling is back

Last week, I took a bit of time out and laid off the social networking. In fact, I don’t think it’s social networking at all, I think it’s professional networking. Let’s face it, would I be doing this if I worked as a landscape gardener? Maybe I would, but I’m not entirely sure about that.

I felt good about things while I was having the downtime; I was on school holidays and enjoying time spent with my kids. That heavy feeling left me for awhile, and I was a better person for it.You know, someone who was relaxed and smiled and read a paper book.

Today, the heavy feeling is back. First day of term three, and I feel a tad overwhelmed already. Not for any particular reason, just because I know what lies ahead. All of the expectations and stresses associated with the teaching profession. When you’re a teacher, I think there’s always that feeling that there’s something more that needs to be done. You don’t leave your job at the door; it’s with you, niggling away, telling you that you should be looking for better resources, or updating that wiki, or re-reading that text, or forward planning to ensure the service you deliver is top notch. It sits on your shoulders and doesn’t allow for full freedom of movement.

Pretty grim, huh. Makes you wonder why we do it.

I’ll tell you why. It’s because, despite the weight, there are some pretty wonderful things that can happen when you have the privilege of working with young people. They can make your day with a smile, a kind word, an expression of appreciation, and especially when they share a moment from their lives with you. That’s why we do what we do, and when the kids from my school return to classes on Wednesday, it’ll all come flooding back to me why I choose to work at a job that doesn’t end when I walk out the door at the end of a day.

The rewards are there, but it’s not easy. I kid you not, I think I’m working harder now than I ever did, and I hear the same story from plenty of other teachers out there. I don’t quite know how our profession is going to address this. We need good teachers, really good teachers, who can inspire and motivate the next generation. We don’t need burnt out teachers who leave the profession, because that job that leaves itself at the door is a far greater temptation than the one that’s sitting on your shoulders and weighing you down.

OK – day one rant is over. Sorry for laying that one on you. Just needed to get it off my chest.

Thanks for listening. I feel better. : )

dy/dan – a young teacher reminds us of home truths and shows us how.

I’ve recently discovered Dan Meyer,  a young teacher sharing his first years of teaching on the Web. His blog makes very interesting reading and viewing; he has recently recorded a series of videos detailing his experiences thus far; he cleverly, and with expert film-making flair, demonstrates the effort he puts into his teaching and shows us the creative techniques he employs to make the teaching of maths interesting for his students.

I admire Dan; he shares. I’ve always liked teachers who share. They are often the natural teachers, the ones who have abilty to convey meaning and who aren’t afraid to learn alongside their students. In a recent post Dan has shared his entire Geometry curriculum with his readers and encourages people to share it with others. There should be more of this in the teaching profession; we are all reinventing the wheel in our own schools over and over again. Why not work together, collaborate, share. Demonstrate the kind of risk taking with our learning that we expect from our students.

Tomorrow I’m going to be engaging in the learning process with my students. We are having our Year 7 students create digital stories that will capture the experiences and memories of past students of the school. Some of these stories go back decades. It promises to be very interesting and memorable for our students. I’m nervous about the technology and the possibilities of things not going well but that’s part and parcel of the learning journey we’re on. I know I’m going to learn a lot in the next couple of days and so are my students  -we’re in it together.

Dan’s latest post ‘The First Fortnight’, talks of dealing with the difficult student who demands attention. He provides some pretty good strategies that young teachers could pay heed too. What I like most about the post is the last paragraph;

I’m also realizing with this new group of students exactly how tight last year’s class and I became, and something else which is nice to realize and never a guarantee: that the time we spent together wasn’t meaningless.

A good thing to realise. The connectedness you have with your class at the end of a year is a special thing; I’m feeling it now with my Yr 7 group. I’m already pondering the wrench I’m going to feel when I have to relinquish them to someone else. They’re a special group of kids; the work they have produced of late has been outstanding. Their creative stories have blown me away. Can’t keep them forever though; they’d get sick of my stories and need exposure to the ideas of others. I will miss them though.

Do yourself a favour and take a read of Dan’s blog; well worth the visit.