Saturday, 26 October 2013

Learning from every experience...the good, the bad and the ugly.

My perspective on my life experiences has changed this year. I can't put my finger on when or why but I've altered my mindset. Previously, I reflected on various experiences and said "if only" or "what if?" Thinking this way will not change the reality. I'm trying to view my past experiences in a more productive way and will apply these to my learning and teaching journey. I'm sharing three experiences which I call the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Ugly - I loved Preschool and Kindergarten. When Mrs Murphy sang 'Two Little Apples', her arms would wobble and make me laugh (I don't find wobbly arms funny now!). Mrs Smith looked like your stereotypical teacher of yesteryear; tall and skinny, with glasses perched on the end of her nose. I don't remember learning anything in particular from these teachers, but I remember their kindness and how much l loved attending. They said that I was a leader who sometimes became the liaison between teacher and student. Two years later I was enrolled in the local school where my siblings attended. My first year of school was extremely difficult. The teacher was expecting someone more like my sister. My quiet, introverted, 'ask no questions' sister. I was enthusiastic, outgoing and I did ask questions...a lot of questions. If I had a dollar for every time a teacher told me 'you ask too many questions', I would be blogging from my yacht. 

While my memory of the events of my first year of school is hazy, I remember how I felt. You know that saying, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”- Carl W. Buechner. I cried daily and refused to go to school. I began to lose my hair so it had to be cut short and to make matters worse, I needed glasses. It was a rough year. The following year everything changed for the better. Teachers have a powerful influence on their students' experiences.

Teaching Lesson - Don't compare siblings as each student is unique. The best thing about teaching a sibling is that you have already established a relationship with the parents. Encourage parents and teachers to find the individual qualities of each child and discourage the comparison of siblings. Embrace student's questions as it reflects student engagement. Don't underestimate how influential you are. You create the classroom culture.

The Bad - In high school I was placed in advanced maths. There was a textbook, no talking and a plethora of homework which was marked in class, in front of everyone! You know where I'm going with this...don't you? Why aren't you getting it? No, that's not right. What don't you understand? Needless to say I was 'dropped' to social maths. I went from a 3 in advanced (rating 1-7) to a 7 in social maths and I loved it! I always finished first, so I was 'allowed' to share my thinking with others. I helped those who struggled and we talked about maths. Now this teacher wasn't thought of as the 'best' maths teacher. And while she occasionally looked for the answers in the back of the book, she demonstrated the ideal classroom. She created a classroom culture where you were allowed to make mistakes. Talking about maths was encouraged. If we weren't being assessed, collaborating wasn't cheating. And yes, teachers don't always know everything!

Teaching lesson - Allow students and yourself to make mistakes and acknowledge them. This will assist with identifying misconceptions. Allow collaboration and encourage maths talk. So what about being grouped according to perceived ability? This experience and recent study has me perplexed about ability grouping. I see the benefits of clustering the highly able students but see the detrimental affect ability grouping has on self esteem and self-efficacy. I want to learn more about what research says about ability grouping.

The Good - After my first year of teaching, my Principal asked what were my aspirations. I shared my long term goals with her response; "How can I help you reach your goals?" At the time I thought that it was kind of her but now I see it as a learning experience in leadership. Lead teaching standards states that leaders need to support the involvement of colleagues in external learning opportunities. My principal was not trying to meet a standard but took a genuine interest in my aspirations. Today I see this gesture as a great teaching lesson. Imagine if we said to students or even colleagues, "How can I help you attain your dream?"

Teaching lesson - Support your students and colleagues' dreams and make it genuine.

Learning from the past, looking forward to the future...


Sunday, 6 October 2013

Smart is not what you are but what you can become...

I've been apprehensive about blogging and I've also struggled with identifying why that is. Is it because I don't think I have anything new or inspirational to contribute compared to other more experienced educators? Do I have the resilience to handle disapproval or disagreements from colleagues or educators? Why would people find my postings interesting or effective contributions? 

I watched people tweeting about their subjects taken in senior. Here's the thing....I finished in Year 10 because I was offered an apprenticeship and in my family that was a wonderful opportunity. Students who went onto Year 12 were the smart students who were university bound. That wasn't me...or so I and everyone else thought. 

I finished my apprenticeship, managed a salon and later became an owner/operator. I completed a TAFE course to be qualified to teach hairdressing but never did anything with this. Fitness became a large part of my life and so I became a fitness leader. It was at this time I realised I liked to learn. My husband, Andrew challenged me to get a certain mark for the exams and each time I exceeded it which increased my self-efficacy. He became the first person who truly thought I could do more or be more, if it was what I wanted. Not everyone needs a cheersquad but sometimes genuine support is pivotal.

While parenting my two children, I shared that I really want to teach but thought I wasn't intelligent enough to go to university. Andrew, a university graduate, disagreed and we began looking into it. I was accepted that year after completing all required tests. If I had applied the following year I would not have been accepted based on entrance scores. So I went to Australian Catholic University in Brisbane and completed ten subjects in the first year of my Bachelor of Education. I loved it! I mean I really loved learning!

We were transferred us to USA and I was happy to move as long as I could continue studying. The University New England offered the only external education degree so began my external study. And guess what... I loved that too! I enjoyed connecting with other students on the bulletin board (online chat group) who lived throughout the world. Remember in my schooling era, collaboration was known as cheating. My lecturers commented on how involved I was online supporting others and generating discussions....Go figure! Of course I started a teacher chat group called Teach'n'Talk once university was finished as staying connected was important to meI got on the Dean's list every year and after completing my Bachelor of General Studies/Bachelor of Teaching I was awarded the Dean's Merit Award. So now I should feel smart.....right? 

I continued studying whilst teaching and completed a Graduate Certificate, Masters in Education and recently a Graduate certificate in Gifted Education. After fourteen years of university, I realise I have an insatiable appetite for learning. So now do I qualify as 'smart'? I struggle with the word 'smart'. I believe being told you are smart or not smart can have a detrimental, long lasting affect. Especially when used to describe someone. Dweck's work has influenced my teaching. According to Carol Dweck, one of the worst things we can say to our children is how smart they are and the consequences may extend far beyond the field of child raising.

So why am I blogging now? Maybe a new teacher can relate or learn something from my story? Maybe I will become a more reflective teacher? Maybe my story will demonstrate to politicians and universities that while high grades are important, passion, enthusiasm and the love to learn is just as vital? Other attributes that aren't subjects taught or graded in school or university are empathy, compassion and concern for students outside of academics. If research indicates that effective teachers have the highest influence on student learning, we need to allow all those future educators with their immense potential. Identifying or finding one's passion may not happen until later in life and these people may become our most effective teachers because they possess qualities that cannot be measured. 

Getting smarter everyday...