Trying New Things

For many teachers September is essentially a “New Year” celebration.  New students, new work clothes, new daily planner, new schedule…even if you’re a seasoned teacher September is still a fresh breath and rush of everything new.  It’s exciting!

So when is the last time you actually tried something new yourself?  When is the last time you were vulnerable enough to step outside your very cozy comfort zone and be a brand new student at something?

I feel like every time I try something new I rediscover what it means to be a student and a teacher; and while it’s never a comfortable experience to try something new that I’m not instantly good at it’s always worth it.  This year to supplement my 14 middle/high school dance classes I teach each week I decided to sign up for my own dance class.  My intentions for registering for my own class are a mixture of selfish reasons and professional development reasons.  Selfishly, I want someone to teach ME to become a better dancer, and professionally, I know my learning will definitely play a role in my teaching.  So on Tuesday evenings I now partake in an adult hip hop advanced level class and it’s hilarious, guys.  I am not the most natural of hip hop dancers…my body would much rather be holding perfect posture than poppin’ n’ lockin’, BUT! I’m doing it. It’s SO much ridiculous fun.

This is what I learned in my hip hop class last week:

  • it doesn’t feel cool when everyone is watching you and you don’t know what the heck you’re doing
  • it’s much better to perform a new skill in a group of 4 than going it solo
  • a good playlist with a solid beat makes advanced hip hop (and almost all other things in life) much more tolerable/enjoyable

I already knew these things before I signed up for the hip hop class, but I was gently reminded of them as soon as I stepped foot in the studio.  So as I struggled my way through the class I thought of my students and I thought of how exposing dancing in front of mirrors is while a crew of unfamiliar people are present.  How’s that for a dose of vulnerability?!

Because I am living the path of being vulnerable on the dance floor I think it will make me better at inspiring this vulnerability within my students.  I teach a wide range of abilities this year; some students have never done a dance class ever, whereas others dance 15+ hours a week, but what I’ve discovered in a week’s worth of getting to know them all is that there is always more room for digging deeper despite the level they’re at.

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My daughter is also trying things new to her right now.  From this image you’d likely think gymnastics is her ‘new thing’, but it’s not…we practice every night in the living room. For her, being in large groups of other children is new.  Before her rest today I whispered in her ear, “I am so proud of you for getting out of your comfort zone and being in that large group of kids – it’s not always easy to work with other people.”

I love how much embracing and experiencing my own insecurities teaches me about the teaching profession.  I love how putting myself in the “student position” makes me a better teacher almost instantly. And I love how hard my advanced level hip hop class is, despite the fact that I am most certainly the odd one out! I have much to learn.

What is your newest thing lately? How is it impacting your work as a teacher? Join us in conversation in the comments!

Karley

Teach it Tuesday: New Year, New Plans

As this new year is off and running I though I would follow up on last years RESOURCE post with some of the new things that I’m planning to try this year. Currently I’m starting up a grade 6 class but jobs haven’t been filled yet in our district. I’m feeling a bit jaded with the job process this year… well a lot jaded to be honest. BUT I’m feeling very excited and enthusiastic to get going with this school year and I have lots of exciting ideas that I want to try out!

Advisory:
Along with trying Karley’s Fika and Feel Good Friday regulars. I’m going to bring back the Thursday Thought Blocks, and I’m excited to add in two new things this year. Growth Mindset is something you’ve all been hearing lots about for the past couple of years. This year I’m going to dedicate an Advisory block once a week to learning about growth mindset and practicing some of the essentials. The other new thing I’m going to do is dedicate a few minutes each day to a guided meditation practice with my students. I’m hoping with the regular practice students will start to internalize the practice and we can be calm (well as calm as middle schoolers can be) to start the day.

Language Arts:
I have heard about the Global Read Aloud for a few years now but have never been in the position to actually take part. I don’t know what grade I will be teaching yet but I’m really leaning towards doing Pax (unless I get grade 8). Has anyone else participated in this before? Would love to hear some feedback!

Math:
After taking Jo Boaler’s online course this summer most of my focus for planning has been in math. I’m going to start off the year using the Week of Inspirational Maths lessons and I really can’t wait! I think this will be such a good way to introduce a year of working differently in math. I’m also keen to start the Collaborative Math Teams approach in my classroom and I’ve signed up for the course. I just really hope that I can find someone else to do this with me at the school I end up at – It would be great to have a partner to run things by!

Since I don’t know what else I will be teaching yet in terms of Science/Socials/French/PE I haven’t done too much planning in other areas. I would love to hear about some of the exciting things you are planning on trying this year! Let me know in the comments.


Meaghan

Guest Post: Math Teams with Nikki Lineham

We are very excited and honoured to have Nikki Lineham guest post for us today.  Nikki is a brilliant and masterful teacher in our school district; she specializes in teaching math using pictorial, symbolic and concrete methods, while keeping the learning process creative and engaging for both students and teachers.  Meaghan and I have worked with Nikki in various Pro D sessions and we have also both used Nikki’s math resources (available through her website Educating Now) in our respective classrooms.  Thank you, Nikki, for sharing your knowledge and passion for teaching math with us here on Tale of Two Teachers!  We hope all our readers enjoy Nikki’s post.

Firstly, I want to thank Meaghan and Karley for inviting me to be a guest blogger for Tale of Two Teachers; I’m honoured, as I have a boatload of respect for these two dedicated teachers and I love reading their posts and empathizing with their journeys. Although I’ve been teaching for 15 years, I still feel like I have so much to learn and try. This is one of the reasons why I love my job so much; I have the opportunity to try out new strategies and approaches that I read about. Not only that, but because I work with several teachers, I can try out these ideas in many classrooms, using trial and error to make the lessons so much better. Rarely do I ‘nail it’ on the first try, and having the opportunity to refine multiple times each week (sometimes even in one day) allows me the chance to share what I know really works with other educators. This is the approach I took when learning how to set up and use collaborative math teams in math classes. Trust me, there was a whole lot of trial and error before we figured out the recipe for success.
The reason that I’m so passionate about these math teams is that I saw, first hand, in multiple classrooms, how powerful of an impact they had on both teachers and students; teachers were so inspired by the level of student engagement and learning and they had time to better assess and meet the needs of their students during class time and they felt less exhausted after lessons.  I also feel very strongly that we ought to be focusing more on competencies (as we see in our new curriculum) rather than solely on the content, as we have been conditioned to do. When students are in these teams, the roles are assigned (based on Complex Instruction) and criteria co-created, students become deep thinkers, collaborators and excellent communicators. Here are some of my observations from the classes I had the privilege of working in.
In a grade 6 class, I was blown away by the questions that the students started asking after a few weeks of working in teams. Because of all the work we did around creating growth mindsets and developing criteria around the competencies, students changed from ‘doing’ math to thinking about math (they were also still doing math). They started asking questions like, “When does infinity start?” and, “Are there such things as negative fractions and decimals?”. Students became curious and excited about learning how the math worked and how numbers were connected. One lesson, when we didn’t give the students any methods for multiplying decimals, but rather asked them to make predictions and explore in their teams what it means to multiply decimals, they were literally begging us to teach them the method (how often does that happen?!).
In a grade 8 class, after about two months of working in teams, when we moved into learning about rates and ratios, we literally didn’t have to teach a single method of solving. Students used their math reasoning, communicating and conceptual understanding to solve rates problems based on what made sense in the given contexts; the students could clearly explain their procedures. This proved to me, once again, that if students have conceptual understanding they can develop procedures, conversely, if students have memorized procedures (without really understanding them) and then they forget the procedure or rule (which happens all the time), they have nowhere to go.  When students get stuck like this the learning stops and they become entirely dependent on you, or someone else, to show them the procedure again. To be honest, we gave them the problem on rates as a way to prime their brains for learning the procedure, not expecting them to actually solve them without learning the procedure. Yet again, my expectations were surpassed.
After watching in amazement how these teams transformed students into mathematicians, I wondered, ‘Why on earth aren’t we all doing this?’. One thing I realized is that, generally speaking, teachers tend to be control freaks and giving up control to allow students to struggle and problem solve on their own is a tough transition (but so worth it). Teachers are also incredibly busy with the gazillion other tasks during their days and it’s challenging to find time to frequently read articles and books. I did read a few articles and books on how to use these teams and still had a lot of trial and error, so it wasn’t a quick and easy change to make. This is why I spent my summer creating a course on how to use these math teams so that it can be easily done by any teacher. If you are interested in learning more, please join me for a free webinar that will give an overview of how to use the math teams and if you really want to dive in, then sign up for our 12 part course that provides detailed day by day support on how to set up and use these teams in your classroom.   We have a number of teachers signed up and taking this course already and are offering you an opportunity to sign up at a 25% discount (use code: TALEOFTWO). Course registration closes at the end of September.

Cheers!
Nikki Lineham

 

The Heart Of It

Here is the heart of it…

Last year I was waiting. The year started off with me being a substitute teacher while I was waiting to head off on my travels. I’ll admit it substitute teaching has never brought out the best in me. I don’t have the relationships with students that make me want to be a great teacher, and I happily leave at the end of the day to get home way earlier than if I had a contract. I remember telling someone that substitute teaching was the best for work/life balance but in my case that is really not true because there is very little on the work side of that scale. Enthusiasm went out the window after week one. I was waiting. Waiting for my travels. Waiting for a “better” job.

When I returned from my travels I headed straight back into the classroom, by straight back I mean that I returned on a Wednesday and started teaching full time on the Thursday. I neglected my work life balance here again but the scale had tipped the other way. My home life was suffering because I chose to dive into a classroom and everything that entails, right after I had been off traveling with friends for 5 weeks. It wasn’t fair to my (now) husband and it wasn’t fair to myself.

After the winter break I entered in to some of the toughest teaching times I’ve experienced. I talked about it a bit and I wrote about it but I wouldn’t say that I really ever dealt with it. During these times I was put in the place of defending what felt like every decision I made as a teacher. My confidence took a big blow but I never acknowledged that part of it. Instead I was back in the waiting game because I knew I had a way out into a different job. A new job meant a fresh start, or so I thought. But by ignoring the healing I needed to do I wasn’t setting myself up for success. Within the first few weeks I had that familiar drowning in work feeling – trying to deal with a new school, new grades, new students, and new colleagues. Again I switched into this “waiting mode” by deciding that I could make it to Spring Break and then start anew after.

Little did I know that after Spring Break I would break my arm, need surgery, and be out of the classroom for weeks. Again with the waiting. And then it was June and the craziness of end of year hit. This is probably the time I enjoyed most out of the school year, but I was still in that waiting stage. Waiting for summer. Waiting for my wedding. Waiting for a break.

No, it wasn’t all bad. I really loved both my classes and made strong connections with lots of students and families. I enjoyed experimenting with the new curriculum. I got to travel and see more of the world, and experience that change in mindset that comes with it. I planned my wedding that was a perfect love filled and fun day.

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Well since you asked I’ll throw in a photo…                 Oh you didn’t ask?

So what didn’t work? What did all that waiting mean? It meant that I was not being mindful. I was not living in the moment. I was not fully present for all those moments in my life.

With this in mind, and the fact that I am heading into a busy year with my Masters starting this weekend. By making some important commitments to myself I feel ready for the year and I’m so excited for all the learning and growth that lies ahead. This year I am making a commitment to wait less, process more, and be more mindful:

First, I will listen to constructive criticism from the people I respect, and ignore criticism that is meant to harm.

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Second, I will find ways to be happy in the job that I am in. Through good and bad times there are always ways to be happy – a connection with a colleague or a student, a creative teaching idea, an extracurricular, etc. (And no, I don’t have a job yet but I will! Positive thinking, positive thinking!)

Finally, I will practice yoga and/or meditation regularly. Focusing my mind always helps me to live in the moment and be present for the people that matter most.

Here’s to a year filled with mindfulness, love, and lots of laughter – We can do this together, teachers!

Meaghan

 

The “No” Girl: A Balancing Act

Meaghan and I decided that this year, along with our reestablished commitment to blogging with our authentic voice(s), we needed to figure out where we were at on our own personal blogging and teaching journeys.

My personal challenge this year will be to remain a “no” girl.  That is, I vow to say NO to most things asked of me.  No thank-you, I won’t coach that team. No sorry, I probably won’t make it to that extra-curricular planning meeting.  And, no, I won’t go in to school on weekends.  Let me be clear in saying that almost always I ask and expect myself to do these things.  I am a pleaser, a doer and somewhat of an extremist so if a colleague or my administration asks extra of me this year of course I will professionally consider doing the work, but not before weighing in how the “extra” will impact my family life.  Saying “no” is going to be my secret to balancing work and life this year. Thankfully I have my almost-two-year-old to remind me (quite often) how exactly to say it…noooooooo!

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I dabbled with this “just say no!” work/life balance strategy last year a little bit, but I wasn’t entirely successful because I was still an academic teacher who had just come off an excellent year of maternity leave.  I felt stuck as the “do it all” type of teacher that I am, while having a tiny daughter at home to care for.  Mad props to all you working parents. I learned a lot last year and even though I taught and was paid for .6 FTE (three full days a week) I actually worked full time (3+ hours per night at home after my daughter went to bed, even on my days off). Somehow I still managed to exercise and read for pleasure. I don’t want to cram all this in anymore; it isn’t a truly pleasant way to live, to be honest.  When exercising starts to feel like a chore, I know I’ve gone down a slippery slope.

This year, and years in the future, will be different.  After a lot of thinking and debating I have decided to say NO to the classroom for a few years. Instead I’ve chosen to delve back in to the amazing, exciting and fun world of being an exploratory teacher.  A few weeks ago I was offered a (part-time) continuing contract teaching middle school dance and drama and I immediately accepted the offer.  For me, this contract will allow me space.  Space to be the mama I want to be to my incredible toddler.  Space to exercise well. Space to cook and plan healthy meals.  Space to spend time with my family.  And space to take a dance class of my own!  While being an exploratory teacher is no joke (we teach every single student in the school over the course of the year!) teaching dance/drama will totally alleviate the workload because for me teaching dance is second nature.  The sheer joy I find in (teaching) dance can not be matched.  This part-time continuing contract is an incredible gift to me and I plan to do great things with it.  I’ll be working in a school that has never had an established dance program (that I know of), so one could say I am essentially starting from scratch!  While being an exploratory teacher will not be the duration of my entire teaching career, it definitely will play a prominent role for the next five years or so.  I am so excited to see what these next years have in store!

I am in my final year of my 20s and I’m finally learning to say NO to most things so that I can say YES to the things I actually want to do.  Heck, maybe I AM getting wiser with age!

Karley

A Story We’re Living

We have been discussing the direction our blog will take for a while now and this year we have made a commitment. Our commitment is not to just blog more, but to blog with a return to our authentic voices.

What spurred this decision? It started with a conversation we had with a colleague in the spring. He thanked us for sharing honestly on the blog and that prompted us to think about how our honest sharing has changed over our time blogging. When we first started blogging we wrote about very personal and professional stories with very little fear of our audience – mostly because we thought our parents would be the only ones reading. Both of us have felt that we have drifted away from this authentic voice over the years. Partly because the line between personal and professional can be a little bit scary on a public forum, and partly because it is often really difficult to share these stories. Elizabeth Gilbert expressed this struggle perfectly in her request for privacy during a difficult time:

“I trust that you understand how this is a story that I am living — not a story that I am telling.”

In response to this same message, Glennon Doyle responded, “Please let the world offer.. no advice, no platitudes, no criticism, nothing but love and gratitude for living and loving and hurting aloud – so that we can see how it’s done.” When we choose to put our stories out for everyone to read there is a lot of trust that goes with that and a lot of risk. But with this risk, this vulnerability, comes a real voice that breeds connection and growth. The best gift of blogging is connection and the more authentic our voice remains the stronger these connections will be. Of course there are stories that will be reserved for our loved ones, but we are committing to sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of this teaching life.

We choose to share our stories.

We want to share our stories.

We love to share our stories.

So our commitment this year to you, our readers, is that we will return to authenticity in voices and our posts. We promise to be honest, truthful and vulnerable and, in return, we hope that you will choose authenticity and vulnerability with your own stories.
BreneBrown

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It’s Not Goodbye, Just See You Later

Unfortunately welcoming summer brings with it some tough goodbyes. We met up today for a quick catch up outside of school after saying some tearful goodbyes to our amazing coworkers this year.


We have plans to bring back our blog bigger and better next school year but until then have a great and well-deserved break wonderful teachers! Thank you for everything you do for these amazing children in our lives.


Things I Meant To Blog About…

When life gets busy blogging often falls to the back burner. Here are some of the things I meant to blog about over the past few months.

Rube Goldberg

We wrapped up our simple machines unit with a Rube Goldberg day. The kids planned, designed, and created some fantastic projects in our school’s Makerspace. Watch this video if you want some amazing project inspiration!

The one with the can and the light switch actually worked really well!

The Best PE Game

I found this online one morning when trying to plan a quick lesson for baseball… Now I can’t find the link for the life of me but basically in teams of 3-4 students line up and you spread hoops out all over the gym the first student in line runs and stands in a hoop. The next student throws them a ball or beanbag and if they catch it with two feet still in the hoop they bring the hoop back to their team. The team with the most hoops at the end wins! Super easy and can be easily adapted to many sports.


Rock the Salish Sea

Our school had the most incredible opportunity to work with Holly Arntzen and Kevin Wright to perform the “Rock the Salish Sea” concert. It was an amazing experience for the students and the show was absolutely incredible. Very proud teacher moment!


City Hall Visit

To wrap up our unit on government, we went on to City Hall and had a Q&A session with Mayor Lisa Helps. She was so great at answering all the kids questions (even the cringe-worthy ones!) and after they gave the students a snack and let them sit in the counsel chairs. It was such a cool experience for my students and some of the questions that came up were just incredible – I love watching them learn outside of the classroom.

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And now back to paper writing, report cards, and field trip planning… Happy June everyone! We are almost there.

Meaghan

Math: The Struggle is REAL!

I have struggled with math for as long as I can remember.  In high school I was the one who attended grade 11 and 12 math help three mornings a week and still shed tears over it every other day.  Throughout my prerequisite math studies for my B. Ed. I failed a stats course (the only class I’ve ever failed…too bad it cost $300). Upon handing in my final exam I was certain I did not pass my Math 360 course, which used to be a mandatory B. Ed course at UVic.  My life has been filled with many frustration filled math related tears and over time I have grown to strongly dislike math.

I am proud to say that the times, they are a changin’ over here in Mrs. Alleyn’s math world and that is largely to do with Nikki Lineham’s fantastic math website, Educating Now. Nikki is a brilliant middle school teacher leader in our district; Meaghan and I are both fortunate and grateful to have had access to her website through our respective schools.  Nikki’s site is a business, and therefore runs by paid subscription, so I won’t divulge the inner workings of her lesson I’m blogging about today, but I do want to share how the lesson went for my grade 8s.  I also want to share how Nikki’s work has turned me in to a more confident math teacher, which is something I never thought I’d ever be!

Today in math my grade 8s and I were working on the concept of “preservation of equality”, that is: “What does the = sign really mean?” My class came up with all kinds of answers to this question, but not a single student was able to tell me that the = sign actually means to BALANCE both sides of the equation.  I was so pleased that no one was able to tell me that = means “balance” because it meant I had found a weakness in their understanding (and, my own understanding, if I’m honest!) We then worked with the concept of a scale/teeter totter and I ended up holding various objects in my hands, arms outstretched, pretending I was on one end of the teeter totter and Charlee, my 1.5 year old daughter, was on the other end.  We talked about what would happen and came to the conclusion that because I am obviously heavier than Charlee, the teeter totter would launch Charlee high in the sky.  We then discussed what might happen if Joel, my husband, joined Charlee on the teeter totter.  Obviously his added weight would raise me into the air.  We then discussed how we could even out the weight between my family on the teeter totter and decided that if Charlee came to my side, perhaps she and I would balance Joel.  It was so interesting to me to use my family in the analogy because I had never thought of the = sign this way before.

Let it be known that my grade 8 class has a very wide range in mathematical competency – I’m talking a range from about grade 4 to grade 11.  I think the best part of today’s lesson is what came next…

After some more work with numbers and teeter totters and balancing my grade 8s set out to complete their learning task, which was to create five questions solving for x, while using the teeter totter concept to help them answer their questions.  Check out the differentiation that occurred once my students let loose:

Are you freaking out as much as I am freaking out over how awesome this learning task is? My struggling learners were able to use the teeter totter to help solidify what the = sign means; therefore, bringing them to a deeper understanding of algebra. My very advanced learners were able to differentiate the task to meet their level of ability, while still being challenged by the pictorial component (let me assure you, my strongest math students are rock solid when it comes to doing math in a procedural manner, but they do struggle when they need to show their work conceptually, as you will notice above).

As I sit here writing this post I am in awe that I taught this lesson today.  I keep thinking, “I did this!? I understand this!?” Today’s lesson was a huge learning experience for me and for many of my students.  I was not taught math like this, but our redesigned math curriculum calls for concrete, pictorial and symbolic representation of student learning, which is why I am so grateful for Nikki’s lessons and teachings.  Nikki’s work has certainly made me a more confident math teacher.

P.S: Meaghan and I, along with a handful of our teacher friends, plan to take Jo Boaler’s new online, self-paced math course this August.  Click HERE to check it out and let us know if you want to join our math posse.  We are certainly interested in collaborating about math over the internet with our international teacher friends and readers!

Note: Tale of Two Teachers is in no way financially affiliated with Educating Now. We simply love their work and both use it regularly in our respective classrooms.This post was written with permission from Nikki Lineham, teacher in SD61 and part of Educating Now. 

Karley

The Truth Is…

The truth is I cannot wait until summer.  My students cannot wait until summer. The other day I overheard one student commenting to another about how there are 20 something school days left and when she caught my eye she said, “I mean, we love you Mrs. Alleyn…uhhh…” My reply was something along the lines of, “I get it, I get it…love you guys too…uhhhh…”  We are all just done.

Most days by the end of dinner hour I look like this:

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Teaching and parenting simultaneously is border line insane.  These days have been long and yet…short.  These days have been trying and fulfilling all in one.  These days have been incredibly frustrating and completely triumphant within five passing minutes.  I feel as if I’ve been on an educational roller coast since November (when I finished maternity leave) and I am so so so ready to get off this ride for a while.  I’m ready to be just a mama and not a teacher for a while again and I feel guilty about that.

Last night I couldn’t fall asleep when my head finally hit the pillow.  I started thinking about all the school and blog things I wanted to do this year that didn’t happen.  I started going down the “you’re not smart enough” path.  I went through some the areas in my teaching practice that could use some polishing (marking and prompt feedback, math planning and a concrete end to our science unit).  This pattern of negative thinking is familiar to me so I was not surprised that my mind went wandering there, especially following a fun gathering with some brilliant and very skilled teacher friends (Meaghan included) whom I love deeply, but often compare myself to because their standard of work ethic and professionalism is so high.  Eventually I fell asleep.

I woke up this morning thinking that next year I’ll have a year’s worth of being a working mama under my belt, and while I have no idea where or what I’ll be teaching next year (yet) I already know of some things I plan to do differently.  I’ll share these things on the blog once I feel ready, but until then…I am holding on by a thread.

High fives and all the props to all you teacher parents out there.  On those days when you feel you rarely get a moment of silence know that it’s because you likely DON’T ever get a moment of silence; therefore, force yourself to take a deep breath and turn off all the sounds.  This works for me most days!

Karley