student passion = teacher passion

It is already dangerously near my weeknight bedtime (which I have been trying to faithfully follow this year with much success so far!), so I am going to try and make this one quick, but still jam-packed with the good stuff. 🙂

  1. I’ve been known to beat myself up over not posting more often on my blog. I’ve also been known to state outright (on this very blog) that I would like to post more regularly and often. One day a few weeks ago, when I was feeling guilty over not posting, I realized that this bad habit needs to stop. And by “bad habit,” I mean feeling guilty, not neglecting to post on a regular timeline. I love my blog because it is a place to share my passions, and if that means only posting when the mood strikes and I have something important or interesting to share, that’s great! There is no point churning out irrelevant posts on a set schedule. So, my promise is no longer to post once every two weeks, or once a month, or once every (insert measure of time here), but rather to post once I get an idea that I am excited to share with all of you. 🙂
  2. Upon returning to my blog after a summer of hiatus (I’m trying not to feel guilty.. haha), I realized that my last post in June perfectly connects to my main topic tonight. In summary, I talked about trying to bring passion into my prep subjects I teach in the afternoon by building relationships with students and taking time to get to know them amidst the somewhat controlled chaos that is “teaching out of a cart” (although the cart, in my case, is merely metaphorical, and not literal).
  3. And now on to my main topic (thanks for sticking with me through the preamble)… It must be the gloomy, rainy weather (heads up, I’m going to be honest and vulnerable here), because I came home tonight feeling deflated. After an amazing ECE conference this summer, I am feeling more passionate and willing to try new things in the Pre-K half of my job than ever! However, my prep subjects were getting me down. I became a teacher because it is my passion, my vocation, my calling and I couldn’t shake the feeling that teaching prep subjects, jumping from classroom to classroom, and  attempting to build meaningful relationships (and expectations) with 100+ kids was an overwhelmingly insurmountable task that did not bring me that passion. I couldn’t help jump on the pity train and count off the reasons why my prep subjects were the source of all my problems. After some wallowing, though, I started to ask myself what I could do to help bring my passion into these subjects… and I came up with a plan.
  4. I love Pre-K so much because it is the optimal learning environment: each student is consumed in learning that is MEANINGFUL and FUN for them. There is no teacher at the front of the room, droning on, telling students what to learn or how they will learn it. Students are co-creating knowledge and determining the direction that the learning will take. Now, if only I could bring that kind of learning environment into my upper elementary classes… Oh wait, I can! (and wouldn’t you know it, by some stroke of fate, “developing more student-driven teaching practices” is my Professional Development Goal this year).
  5. So, I think, starting next week, I will be scrapping MY plans and have a serious discussion with students about them taking charge of learning that they are interested in. Think Genius Hour meets emergent curriculum meets inquiry project? Gulp. If it sounds scary to you, it’s even more scary (albeit exciting!) to me – as a meticulous planner and ‘thrives off of organization’ type. But, if it gets the students excited about learning, then it gets me excited about teaching them helping them discover curriculum for themselves.
  6. In closing, I want to acknowledge that my younger sister is currently going into her pre-internship year the U of R (my alma mater <3). Seeing how excited she is, and thinking back to when I was just a pre-intern, is what pushes me to continue growing and finding passion in my practice. I would hate to disappoint pre-intern Kara by griping about my job (which, really does rock).

 

What brings you passion in your teaching?

How do you make learning meaningful for students?

Have you done inquiry/emergent curriculum/Genius Hour with your students? Tell me about it!

 

Well, my teaching tribe, wish me luck!

-KKF

 

 

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graduation vs celebration

Pre-K gradAlong with the end of the school year, June also marks graduation season. I have seen posts and photos of Pre-Kindergarten/preschool and Kindergarten grads all over social media the last week or so, and it prompted me to examine my beliefs and views on graduation ceremonies in ECE.

First, I felt guilty for not having a formal graduation ceremony for my Pre-K class, especially because the two preschool programs in the community had beautiful and elaborate decorations and programs for their students and family members. Many of my friends and colleagues are also involved in early learning and they, too, were busy planning songs to perform, power points to show, and speeches to share. Was I cheating my students and their loved ones out of an important milestone and experience?

My viewpoint then shifted, in order to defend my lack of a Pre-K grad. I was ready with an arsenal of justifications for opting out. I thought things like…

  • my students are already students within the school, only moving one classroom down within the same building (while the preschool programs’ students will be new to the school, so their graduation ceremony is marking the end of their time at their EY establishment)
  • the Pre-K teacher before me didn’t have a grad ceremony, and neither does the K teacher at the school
  • my cooperating teacher in internship (who taught Kindergarten) didn’t have a graduation ceremony
  • I have some students who are moving to Kindergarten next year, and some who will be returning for a 2nd year of Pre-K

From there, I began to question and reflect on what exactly a ‘graduation’ meant to me. After some thought, I came to the conclusion that, to me, a graduation is intended to mark the end of a significant portion of one’s life in education; it is a finale.

Based on that definition, here is where I have some qualms with a Pre-K or Kindergarten graduation:

  • I view Pre-K and K as the pivotal introduction to formal education in a child’s life; it is the beginning of their journey as a learner in our school system. It seems counterintuitive to have a ceremony that marks the end, when it is really only the start of their adventure in education. Donning the cap and gown in Grade 12 or the final year of university signifies the end of a student’s time in that establishment; it simply doesn’t make sense for Pre-K and K students to wear the same outfit when they are not leaving us quite yet.
  • I assume that Pre-K and K graduations originally came about because these two programs are viewed in a different light than the ‘traditional’ school set up, especially because Pre-K and K were not originally part of the school system, an entity all their own. I think it is problematic if finishing Pre-K or K is viewed as entering the ‘real’ years of schooling. Certainly, Pre-K and K are, in and of themselves, set up and run much differently than the numbered grades beyond. However, this mindset minimizes the importance of early learning and the strategically designed environments and learning that takes place there.
  • I can still remember one of my favourite university professors telling an anecdote of visiting a local elementary school in March and seeing bulletin boards covered in (you guessed it!) leprechauns. She went on to explain how disappointed she was in this, because the leprechaun creations had no meaningful tie into learning. They were created as merely a craft to fill time. That story has stuck with me ever since, and I vowed to avoid ‘crafts-for-craft’s-sake’ or ‘time-fillers’ at all costs in my practice. In the same vein, I see Pre-K/K grads to be an event for the sake of having an event to some extent. Similar to how teachers feel obligated have their students create Christmas, Valentine’s, Mother’s and Father’s Day trinkets simply because it is EXPECTED, early years teachers see posts of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” themed decorations, toddler-sized caps and gowns, and adorable graduation songs and feel pressured to keep up with the Joneses [Exhibit A: the second paragraph in this blog post]. While I wholeheartedly believe that the early years are a time of utmost importance and growth in a child’s life, and they should be documented in order to be remembered later on down the road, I feel that the commercialized, cookie cutter Pre-K/K graduations can be merely a photo opp to put into a picture frame with no authentic connections for the child and their loved ones.

Now, if you are a proponent of early years graduations, I’m surprised you’ve made it this far, because you surely have a few choice words, points of view, or arguments to share after I singlehandedly shredded EY grads to pieces. But stick with me just a little longer, because this is all coming to a culminating point, I promise.

My biggest takeaway from my inner reflection on this topic is that we have to, ultimately, ask ourselves:

Why am I REALLY having this ceremony/event? What is the purpose?

We have to take a critical look at if the ceremony we are planning authentically celebrates students and their learning, or if it is simply an opportunity to tout the cuteness of 3-5 year olds in caps and gowns (which I cannot argue IS, indeed, cute).

And so, here is my suggestion of a substitute to a “graduation” ceremony:

Celebrations of Learning

Hosting a ‘celebration of learning’ event ensures that the most important factor of ECE – the students and their journeys as learners – is sitting centre stage.  This format also allows for so much flexibility and personal tailoring to truly fit the needs of your ‘clientele.’ In its most basic form, a celebration of learning is a time for students and their loved ones to come together to share pride in the learning that has taken place over the course of the year.

While I didn’t host a year-end “Celebration of Learning” this year (because this idea is brand-spankin’-new), we did have a final Family Day, where students and their family members hopped onto the school bus and drove 15 minutes to Ruby Lake, the local regional park. We enjoyed a day of exploring the playground and shoreline, eating fire-roasted hot dogs, and each other’s company.

Photo 2017-06-23, 9 32 34 AMPhoto 2017-06-23, 10 46 48 AM

I did make an impromptu thank you speech to the families for their support and involvement in their child’s learning in Pre-K and sent home a book of “Learning Stories” I had collected for each student over the course of the year, but I am already crafting plans for what I would like my ‘Celebration of Learning’ to look like next year…

Rather than sugar plum fairies, I have visions of a Memory Walk dancing in my head. While it would certainly require a lot of paper, ink, planning, and work, I would LOVE to print pictures from each month of the school year and then hang them up in chronological order on the walls of the school hallways (along with quotes, observations, student artwork, etc.) for students and their parents to walk through. Think self-guided tour/art installation/giant documentation panel! It’s a literal walk down memory lane!

Check in with me in a year’s time when, hopefully, I will post about what kind of “Celebration of Learning” actually transpires.

  • What are your thoughts on graduation ceremonies for early years students?

Until then,

-KKF

spring has sprung

And spring has brought with it some new adventures. 

1. I have been feeling a lot more motivated and energetic with the warm, sunny weather. This has led to getting up earlier, being productive, and even going for walks after school! 😊

2. Seed planting in Pre-K. We planted some mystery seeds on Monday. Hopefully I can keep them alive until they sprout into grass. The students all made guesses on what the seeds would turn into and my favourite answer was: “A chomper plant!” We are checking in on the seeds every morning to see if there is any change, and I am hoping that something will happen quickly so they don’t lose interest.

3. Puddles. Giant puddles. Our whole Pre-K playground is basically a puddle, thanks to a lovely little valley between two trees in the middle of the yard. Thankfully, it has dried up a lot this week. At first, I was fairly adamant that students could not play in it when it was topped with ice, as it was slippery and could result in someone falling through the ice and getting soaked. However, the sunshine has worn me down and I now allow the students to explore the water to a point. Unfortunately, a wagon mishap today led to 2 students taking an unexpected swim. Yikes!!!! That was a teacher panic moment when I heard terrified shrieks and turned around to see the wagon sinking and 2 students half-submerged in water. The joys of spring. 😳 Check me for grey hair, please. 

4. I have received my timetable for next year. I am teaching all of the same things, and am picking up Health and Music for Grade 4. If our class numbers stay the same, I will be teaching approximately 140 students next year! That is more than 1/3 of the school population. It is sure to be another busy year full of some learning curves, but I am excited for the new adventures and learning. If you’re curious, that brings my teaching assignment to:

-Pre-Kindergarten (mornings) 

-Grade 6 Social Studies 

-Grade 5 Health and Music 

-Grade 4 Health and Music 

-Kindergarten Dance, Drama, and Music 

5. I am still keeping up with weekly blogging!!! (Again, all credit to the weather)

With Easter break right around the corner, I find it hard to believe that there are less than 3 months of school left now! 

That’s all I have for now. Until next time, 

-KKF

patterns and promises, patterns and promises

The past two days have been a whirlwind in the Kindergarten world. Today was school pictures, which meant that, for the first time, I got to see all 30 of my students in one day! Things went surprisingly smooth, considering one class of K’s didn’t even have regular school today and had to come to the school specifically to get their pictures done.

My pattern unit in Math is progressing extremely well. I am so impressed with how quickly my students have caught on to the concepts and how easily they can spot patterns around them in their daily lives. I was tickled pink when a student came up to me at Meet the Teacher night on Monday and told me she found a pattern in her bedroom at home – it’s great when students are interested in what you are teaching them OUTSIDE of the school walls.

The latest lesson we did was all about manipulatives! I set up three different centres for students to rotate through, at which they copied a pattern using different types of objects around the classroom. The hands-on work was obviously a good fit, as the students had minimal problems staying on task or doing their assigned jobs. I was preparing myself for the students to be distracted and disruptive, but they were focused and showed effort. I really enjoyed this type of lesson – it was lively and fun for myself and the students! “Never a dull moment” is becoming a theme for my internship – and I love it!

Here are a few photos I snapped:

Making small, big, small, big patterns with buttons.

Making small, big, small, big patterns with buttons.

Cut up construction paper is a cheap, quick, and easy way to make patterns. The students made a more complicated pattern with these: orange, orange, yellow, purple.

Cut up construction paper is a cheap, quick, and easy way to make patterns. The students made a more complicated pattern with these: orange, orange, yellow, purple.

Students copied patterns with whiteboards. One thing I didn't anticipate was students having trouble with drawing triangles. Note to self: Only use very simple and easy shapes, like circles, lines, X's, crosses, smiley faces, etc.

Students copied patterns with whiteboards. One thing I didn’t anticipate was students having trouble with drawing triangles. Note to self: Only use very simple and easy shapes, like circles, lines, X’s, crosses, smiley faces, etc.

Here is a copy of my lesson plan: Lesson3Pattern

A big realization I had this week is that I need to let go of my mental image of an ideal, perfect classroom. After teaching this lesson for the first time, I felt that it was rather chaotic. When reflecting on my lesson with my cooperating teacher, she kindly pointed out that it was a successful lesson and that “this is what Kindergarten looks like.” She is absolutely right – Kindergarten is messy, and noisy, and all-over-the-place, and full of hands-on exploration. It can definitely look and feel like chaos, but as long as meaningful learning is taking place (which I have discovered is pretty much ALWAYS happening), you have to let go of the idea that all of the students will sit nicely at their desks and do exactly as you originally pictured. This is one of the best things about Kindergarten – I am always surprised at what students will bring to the table and how differently they will view a lesson than I do.

It is going to be a continued learning experience for me as I keep being introduced to what exactly a Kindergarten class looks like.

Also this week, I covered a lesson that I am extremely proud of and excited about: a Treaty Ed/Social Studies crossover all about Promises. Here is the lesson plan: PromisesLesson

I was extremely impressed with how well the K’s watched the video book (link here – “The Promise” read online) and discussed its main elements in detail. They had a much deeper conversation than I expected going in. They also sat for an extended period of time in the talking circle – maybe this was increased stamina due to a change of scenery (sitting in a circle versus all facing one way)?

The students then made their own promises that would help to keep our classroom a safe and happy place. They then illustrated them. Here are a few samples:

books promise

follow rules promise

What a cute (and smart) promise!

What a cute (and smart) promise!

play w friends promise

Notice the cowboy hats - too cute!

Notice the cowboy hats – too cute!

Today, the students went outside for Phys Ed (as the photographer was in the gymnasium). They soon noticed an abundance of lady bugs and, in true Kindergarten fashion, we quickly grabbed some handy bug houses to collect them in. Emergent curriculum makes its first appearance in my internship: we are going to have an observation centre and a KWL/mini-inquiry lesson on lady bugs tomorrow! All I have to say is: Thank goodness for teacher librarians! We let her know (at the end of the school day) that we were looking for books about lady bugs and not too long after, she magically appears in our room with several options (fiction and non-fiction to boot!). I will be sure to snap lots of pictures and post about our lady bug inquiry soon.

Until then,

-KKF

fear of failure

I don’t remember very much about my year as a Kindergarten student. One day in particular, however, remains very clear in my memory…

We had just come back from winter break, and the teacher wanted us to draw a picture of something we had done while school was out and accompany our picture with a sentence. She created an example on the board for us to see, drawing a picture of someone with figure skates on their feet and wrote “I went skating” below. 

Everyone quickly set to work on their masterpieces. After pondering all of the activities I had engaged in over the break, I isolated a moment of walking through the mall with my family, and drew a picture of myself holding hands with my dad while shopping. When it came to writing my sentence (which, as Kindergarteners, none of us had mastered; we were simply expected to try and fabricate something that resembled letters and words underneath our drawings) though, I faltered. I noticed classmates going up to the teacher’s desk to show her their work, and she would neatly write what their sentence was attempting to say beside their scribbled “words.” 

Maybe it was the perfectionist in me showing up at a young age, but I just couldn’t bear to have the teacher correct my sentence. I had no idea where to begin in order to write “I went shopping” on my drawing and I can still remember how anxious I felt about my incapability to write my activity coherently and correctly. So rather than making an attempt and risking being wrong, I simply altered my picture to be my father and I in a skating rink (all it took was some blades on the bottom of our shoes and colouring the floor of the mall an icy blue) and meticulously copied the teacher’s “I went skating” sentence underneath my picture. Problem solved. 

Strangely enough, I remember feeling SO guilty for this. I had never gone skating over the break; I was lying! Perhaps this exact situation sticks out to me even more because some mementos from my class’s time capsule were dug up in about Grade 5 and my peers and teachers marvelled at how good my writing was in Kindergarten. The guilt came stabbing back: I hadn’t written that on my own; I had merely copied the exact words the teacher had written on the board. Though I didn’t know what plagiarism was back then, I still realized that, innocent as it was for a Kindergartener, I had still not truly been to credit for the work others found to be advanced. 

Now, as a pre-service teacher, I wonder about what made me just so nervous to be wrong at the tender age of 5. I don’t want my future students to fear giving an answer in Math class like I always did, hoping and praying that it would be right, and feeling crushed if, by some cruel twist of fate, it wasn’t. I want my students to know that mistakes are a vital part of the learning process, and that they learn so much more through being wrong than by always being right. I have no doubt that my fear of failure has moulded me into an accomplished student, but I don’t want this to be the case for my students. Rather than getting right answers in order to simply avoid being wrong (like I did), I want them to fully feel that being what society labels as “wrong” isn’t wrong at all. I want so-called “failure” to motivate them to realize that they are now one step closer to finding success. Maybe we should scrap the words ‘wrong’ and ‘failure’ altogether; in my classroom, there will be no “wrong” answers, but many different paths in order to reach deeper understanding instead.

Do you have any thoughts on how our education system may push students to be afraid of having the “wrong” answer? Did you feel this pressure as a student? What can we, as teachers, do to combat this problem? 

a hard pill to swallow

You know you are an Education student when the things you learn in your classes trickle into your everyday life and, no matter how hard you try, you cannot stop critically viewing the world in a different way than before. Talking about differentiated instruction and meeting all students’ needs, no matter how diverse, definitely played a big part in how I reacted today.

Since I am a firm believer in learning from my mistakes, I thought I would share this half-failure, half-success story with all of you. Honesty is modesty.

Today, I headed into my In-School Mentoring like I do every week. It was just another day, getting to spend an hour with an energetic, happy-go-lucky, easy going Grade 5 student. Contrary to my plans, though, things went a bit awry.

In true teacher fashion, I usually prepare a list of activities that will fill more than the allotted 60 minutes, just in case. Usually, my mentee likes to draw, so I decided that we could do pointillism pictures (and felt confident that that would take up a fair amount of time, as they are a fairly time-consuming medium).

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My mentee had no complaints about this, and we set to work on our creations. About five minutes in, however (when all I had managed to draw was a line of waves across my page), my mentee was finished an entire picture, as his personal spin on pointillism was not to cover the entire page with close-fitting dots (like in the picture above), but to make a more spread-out style. I began to feel slightly uneasy at this point, as I thought that these pictures would take at least half an hour or so. I asked my mentee to create another pointillism picture, and challenged him to try a more detailed drawing this time. This was clearly not interesting him, though, so I ended up suggesting a different, impromptu activity: 3D hand drawings.

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I hoped that this would be more interesting for my mentee, but it was to no avail. As soon as my mentee made a small error in his drawing, he completely closed himself off and wouldn’t say a word (which I had NEVER seen him do before – he is the most talkative, ambitious, fun loving kid). This is when I really started to panic. I knew that I would have to think on my feet and change my plans FAST to turn this session around. We ended up spending the rest of the hour (which was another gruelling 30 minutes of me grasping at straws to keep my mentee entertained and responsive) playing a table game with cereal box goals and crumpled up paper balls/pucks. Thankfully, he kicked my butt in this activity, which really helped to boost his spirits and re-energize him, and I think that we ended on a good note.

I can’t help but feeling that I let him down in the first half of our time together, though. I was perfectly content to do my pointillism and 3D hand drawings, and was secretly hoping my mentee would enjoy these activities too and spend enough time on them so that I could finish my drawings. I’m glad that I realized things were going off the rails when I did, and that I averted a crisis that would have been more difficult to fix had I waited a bit longer, but I can’t help feel disheartened, as I have never seen that response from him before.

This truly was a great learning experience for me, though. As teachers, it is our job to identify which methods are working for our students, which methods aren’t working, and ways that we can adapt things so that they DO work. It is scary for me (a meticulous planner and organizer) to have to improvise and utilize my ‘quick thinking’ skills, but it is also fulfilling to succeed at something so far out of my comfort zone.

I do also realize that, as a teacher, every day students may come into your classroom in a bad mood or mindset because of something that happened at home that morning or on the playground with their peers. There are a lot of outside factors we cannot control, so we simply have to do our best to make things as smooth and bearable as possible. At the end of the day, we can’t beat ourselves up over what went wrong; we have to realize what went right and plan a way for things to be improved for next time.

An optimist through and through, I am choosing to congratulate myself for handling the situation the best way I knew how and finding a way to lift my mentee’s spirits. While potential failure for a perfectionist like me is a hard pill to swallow, the side effect is a realization that education isn’t about being perfect, but working hard to become the best teacher possible and viewing each mistake as an opportunity to learn.

technique doesn’t make a teacher

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This is the image that many people will automatically think of when they hear ‘teacher.’ But is standing at the front of the classroom, lesson plan in hand really capturing the breadth and depth of the teaching profession?

This week, I read an article (I included the link at bottom of this post) by Parker J. Palmer titled “The Heart of a Teacher.” Although this piece had many memorable messages, the one phrase that I connected most with was:

“good teaching cannot be reduced to technique”

As my peers and I are now approaching the end of our second year (and therefore, the halfway point in completing our degree), I feel that there is a slowly rising panic inside of many of us because we have not had very much explicit instruction or practice regarding how to lesson plan or actually teach a class.

This quote really made me rethink the imminent importance of learning these things. You can have the best lesson plan in the world, but will it truly matter or make a difference if you don’t know how to incorporate social justice and anti-oppressive practices into your teaching practice? Are you actually fulfilling your job as an educator by merely planning activities for children to learn from if they are never relevant to students’ lives and real world issues?

So, to my fellow future teachers: take a deep breath and realize the merit of the strong foundation being built for us. We are challenging and reshaping our personal beliefs and ideas about teaching; we are understanding the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion in our practice; we are questioning the constructed ideas of students, teachers, classrooms, and schools that our experiences as students have created and perpetuated.

When we came into this program, perhaps we viewed lesson planning and organization of learning experiences as the sole duty of a teacher, but I think now we all realize that our future careers are much more complex than we may have originally believed. Rather than worrying about when we are going to learn the ins and outs of managing our own classrooms, focus on what’s important about what we are learning right now and what we have already learned in the program. I think that a teacher who is in tune with their inner values has already mastered a large portion of being a successful educator. All the rest will come with experience (which, don’t worry, we will get A LOT of in our next two years as pre-interns and interns).

For now, just enjoy the journey – and don’t forget to look back at how far you’ve already come.

-KKF

http://www.couragerenewal.org/parker/writings/heart-of-a-teacher