Reflections from the Deck

This is the first morning I can sit on my deck and feel as though I have no particular education-related tasks that have to get done . . . 19 days after the last day of school.  I took an intensive summer class at the University of Regina for the first two weeks of summer, and just completed it yesterday.

We haven’t had rain for so long – it’s so dry!

This post could go a couple of ways.  I could say, “Look at how dedicated I am as a teacher, pursuing professional development opportunities during my vacation time!”  Or, I could talk about how meaningful I find the classes I’ve taken in the past year, and how they’ve made me a better teacher and a role model for my students.  I’m going to go with the latter.

I only have one more class to take to obtain the Special Education Educator Qualification I’m seeking.  That makes me happy for the accomplishment, but sad that it’ll be over.  I’ve found the classes both exhilarating and nourishing.  They’ve challenged me to look at what I do through the lens of research and best practices, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with interesting people from other schools and school divisions, as well as pre-service teachers.  Each time I leave a class, I walk away with greater confidence in my ideas and abilities.  Each one of them has made me feel more powerful as a person and an educator.

How do I transfer those intense feelings about learning to my students?  One of the easiest ways I found this past year was simply talking about it.  The grade 7/8s in particular were always somewhat surprised, but also fascinated, that I was still learning (I know, shocking at my age!!).  They’d ask me how things were going, what kinds of questions I was asking and finding answers to, and we had many discussions about what success looks like.  I hope that I provided good modeling for them – that we learn all our lives, that we are always striving to be better than we were before.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Albert Bandura developed his Social Learning Theory.  At its heart, it states that human behaviour is primarily learned by observing and modelling others.  My students need to see me as a model of what learning looks like, whether it’s talking about the books I read, the classes I take, or looking for answers to questions that come up in class.  As always, it’s what I do and the way I react to situations that have a great influence on the young people I work with.

It reminds me of the poem by Mary Rita Schilke Korzan, called “When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking”:

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.