30 Million Words

Recently, I caught part of an interview Nora Young did with Dr. Jill Gillkerson, on the CBC radio program Spark.  The interview was about a vest that children up to the age of three can wear that records and measures the types of conversations parents and young children are having throughout the day.  The data is then given to parents to motivate them to increase interactive talk with their babies and toddlers.  As Dr. Gilkerson pointed out in the interview, “Research has shown that talk in early childhood, in the window from zero to three, is the single most important factor that drives both brain development and kindergarten readiness.”

The interview related much of the same information that Dr. Dana Suskind wrote in her book Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain.  It seems that research is repeatedly showing that the best thing parents can do for their child’s future success is talk to him or her.  Personal evidence from spending my days with kindergarten students supports the thesis, and proves that the unequal exposure to spoken words is often a deficit that’s difficult to overcome.

So, how do we get the word out to the young parents who need to hear it?  The people most in need of the message probably aren’t listening to documentaries on CBC, or reading a lot of nonfiction.

I’ve long thought that, in my province, it would be valuable for the education and health ministries to work together more closely.  Very few parents miss their child’s regular immunizations.  Is there a way to incorporate having a teacher on hand, working alongside the nurse, so that when parents have to wait the 15 minutes following the immunization, some parent education around talk and reading can be taking place?  Can parents go home with their updated immunization records, and two or three new songs and games to play with their toddler?  Could a new or gently used children’s book be a “treat” for each child who gets their needles?

Or, should parent education about talking with your child begin much sooner?  Eighteen years ago, my husband and I dutifully attended prenatal classes, as most people do.  We learned quite a lot about what to expect with labour and delivery, but had no idea how to bathe our daughter when we got home (I know, it’s embarrassing how ill equipped two professional people were to care for a baby!!).  Should a little more education, including information about the importance of talking to your baby, be given during these prenatal classes, so that parents are as well-equipped to deal with the nurturing of babies after they go home as they are for the actual birth?

I haven’t met any parents who don’t want what’s best for their child.  We all need guidance and encouragement when we’re raising children.  Having more parent education about the importance of interactive talk with babies and toddlers is an important area we need to focus on in order to maximize brain development, and maximizing human potential.

The Best PD

As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been taking an ed psych class for the past month.  One of the unexpected positive consequences of it has been the collaborative problem-solving time I’ve had to spend with colleagues in my school.  As I’ve worked on collecting data and developing a functional behaviour assessment and positive behaviour support plan to help a student who is not in my classroom, I’ve had the privilege of observing the teachers who work with her on a daily basis.  I love seeing how different people approach situations and topics, the cues they give, their mannerisms, hearing their comments and explanations, and watching how the whole package they bring to teaching works.  I can’t express how much these short observations during the past three weeks have tweaked my own practice.

And then, as serendipity would have it, two stories about the value and power of teacher collaboration landed in my Twitter feed and mailbox for my Sunday reading pleasure.  In “Tapping Teachers’ Intrinsic Motivation to Develop School Improvements” , Katrina Schwartz describes how team coaching among triads of teachers in a former school region in Melbourne, Australia was a large part of improving teaching and student achievement in that region.  In A. J. Juliani’s blog post for today, he comments that “we know teachers learn best from other teachers”, and offers a creative solution he has come up with to keep making that happen, in spite of how difficult it often seems to carve out teacher collaboration time.

Sharing and collaborating with colleagues is powerful professional development.  And so I have questions for myself:  How do I encourage it in my building?  Do I make my classroom open and welcoming for colleagues to drop in?  Am I able to accept coaching without taking it personally?  Am I willing to give coaching in a way that the other person will hear the spirit of it?  Can I be that leader, that change-maker?

I’ll try.

 

Changing Behaviour

I’ve been taking an ed. psych. class this past month.  Its focus is on functional behavior assessments and positive behavior support plans, and in amongst the lectures and assignments and reading, this is one of the things that has stuck out for me:

The plan’s effectiveness is determined by the extent to which it results in change in the behavior of the staff and family implementers; and to which those changes in the behavior of staff and family result in change in the behavior of the person receiving support.  (Functional Assessment and Program Development for Problem Behaviors, O’Neill et al.)

This isn’t new information, but how often do I as a teacher get stuck in the trap of thinking it’s only the student who has to change his or her behavior?  Probably more than I’d care to count.  Its been a good reminder to me that change of behaviour doesn’t start with the student at all.  It is up to me, as the adult, to become pliable and change what I’m doing and saying, my actions and reactions.  My behaviour needs to change before I can consider expecting a student’s actions to become more acceptable.

It reminds me of the Haim Ginott quote I always keep near:  “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom.”  I must remember to change my behaviour in order for those around me to change theirs.

What I Wish My Students Knew

Last week as I was scrolling through Twitter during breakfast, I saw a tweet that suggested asking students to write about something they wish their teacher knew.  I don’t remember who the tweet was from, but like so many tweets and blog posts, it gave a germ of an idea to take into the classroom (talk about pd in your pjs!).

My students (grade 7/8) were intrigued by the idea, but had lots of questions beforehand.  Could they write about what they wish all their teachers knew, or just me?  Would I be looking at the responses, or was this something they could write and keep private?  We established that they could write with any or all teachers in mind, and that sharing was optional.  Writing began in earnest.

While the students were writing, I did as well.  This is what I shared with them:

Something I wish my students knew is that I think about them all the time.  I lie in bed at night worrying about their problems.  When I’m on holidays and see something that I think one of them would find interesting, I say, “I wish ___ was here to see this!  He/she would enjoy it.”  I hear or read something, and I think, “I can’t wait to tell the kids!” My family knows my students’ names because of the stories I tell. 

Sometimes, my students drive crazy, with whispering during reading, talking when I’m talking, or the clicking of Rubix Cubes.  Sometimes, they make me so proud that I have tears in my eyes.

I wish my students knew that they’ve left footprints on my heart. 

This was such a positive relationship building activity.  This is the third year I’ve taught some of these students, and they still found it surprising that I think of them outside the classroom.  They wanted details – when do I feel proud?  What stories do I tell my family?  They basked in the idea of being thought of beyond the school environment.

It was a good reminder to me to tell the people in my life why they’re important to me.  It’s easy to assume that your students know you care about them.  Saying it out loud makes them feel valued, and made me feel good.

The First Week of the Year

Getting back to school after the Christmas break is always a little challenging – it’s dark, it’s cold, and I’ve become accustomed to reading and drinking tea at a leisurely pace in the morning.  That being said, I couldn’t have asked for a better beginning to January.

On Thursday, our first day back, my lovely teacher-librarian (recently re-titled “instructional team coach”) had planned a “book tasting” for my grade 7/8 ELA class.  In the morning, I helped her transform the library into a restaurant where students would enjoy an appetizer, three main courses, and a dessert, all consisting of different genres of books.  The students were thrilled to be able to sample a variety of books that were new to them, in a relaxed and engaging atmosphere.  The table talk as students worked their way through each course was excellent!  As the wait staff, the teacher-librarian and I provided the tables with a new course at regular intervals, then arranged that each student would take home a doggy-bag containing a favourite book from the tasting.  I am so thankful to work with someone who is willing to plan such a special event that inspires my students to begin a great new year of reading!

On Friday, my kindergarten students returned to school full of excitement and information about the recent holiday.  It never fails to surprise me how much older the youngest students seem after only a two week break!  There were some rough patches:  two weeks is a long time to remember some of the routines, such as where the agendas go after they’ve been stamped, or how to sit on the carpet!  But there were some golden moments too, such as sharing and re-enacting the book The Mitten, and observing how well students understood and followed the new centres expectations I had set out.

Also on Friday, a former principal and dear friend sent a touching email about how much she appreciates that we stay connected.  It was inspired by a Daily Café Friday Tip she had read on the topic, and I was flattered that she sees me as someone who “fuels her fire”.  The fire fueling is reciprocal – I can always count on her to send me interesting ideas and articles, and to challenge me professionally.  She’s one of those people who makes me want to do more and be better tomorrow than I am today.

Quiet mornings at home are a pleasure, but getting back to school helps me realize how blessed I am to work in a profession that gives me personal and professional fulfillment, and allows me to work and collaborate with some exceptional educators.  They, and the students, consistently feed my fire, and encourage me to strive to be a better teacher.

Here’s to 2017!

Taking the Leap in 2017!

I blame George Couros.

An interesting tweet came across my Twitter feed last year, and I followed him.  That original tweet was quickly followed by other thought-provoking ideas tweeted and blogged by George, and pretty soon I felt compelled to read his book.  So much of what George wrote aligned with my beliefs about education, and the book provided a good pep talk going into September.

I toyed with the idea of starting a teacher blog and reflecting publicly, and it terrified me!  There is no part of my personality that seeks public attention.  A very select circle of close colleagues ever hear my personal reflections and beliefs about education.

But George, and the brilliant people he re-tweets, wore me down.  I kept reading that blogging is great, cheap professional development (I love professional development!  I love cheap!), and that the process of professional reflection in a blog can only strengthen classroom practice.  Teaching in a small, rural school, I don’t have the luxury of grade-alike colleagues in the same building.  Developing a professional learning network through blogging is an attractive and straight forward method of sharing with colleagues in similar positions.

That brings me to today.  I’ve decided to take the leap and join the “30 Days of Blogging” challenge, initiated by A. J. Juliani.  In the next 30 days, I commit to writing 250 words a day, and posting once a week.

And so my personal blogging journey begins.  But the blogging won’t be limited to me.  I met Alec Couros at a presentation he gave in our school division in the fall.  Guess what I’m doing after I post this first blog entry?  Setting up student blogs, based on his emphasis of digital literacy for students.

I wonder if Mrs. Couros knows how persuasive her boys are?