What Will Be Your Teacher Legacy?

This week during our staff meeting, our admin had us discuss with a partner about our best and worst teacher; their name, qualities, and why we felt how we did about them. It was a moving discussion, in the fact that both memories brought very strong feelings for staff. It was very easy to remember our favourite teacher, their name, and why we loved them so much. However, it was equally as easy to name our worst teacher, and the things that he/she did to make life in his/her class miserable.

After our discussion, we came back together as a large group, and shouted out the qualities of each. What made our favourite teacher so great, and what made our worst teacher so horrible. Here’s the list that we compiled:
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This can be a powerful activity to do with your students as well, only instead of having them reflect on the negative, you can pose the question, “What kind of teacher do you want?” It’s great to do as a first week of school activity to see what your group of students need and value.

I think as teachers we need to remember that we have the ability to makes a student’s life great or miserable. We can show them we care, are invested, accepting, and value them, or we can humiliate them and be inconsiderate. Ultimately the choice is yours, but as teachers, I believe we have the obligation to show students a consistent caring and positive classroom environment. I want to be remembered for that. How do you want to be remembered? What will be the legacy that you leave behind?

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Everyone Needs a Hand

Did you know that “In any given year, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness,” (Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2014). January 28, 2014 marks the fourth year of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign. It’s an opportunity to start a discussion around mental health issues, reduce the stigma associated with them, and offer support to those who need it. #BellLetsTalk was evident all over social media, especially Twitter. Here are some of the tweets people were sharing:

Being a teacher, we are immersed in classrooms that can be filled with children and adolescents with mental health issues. Some are more obvious than others, but each case is unique in itself. Do you feel that you have the knowledge and training to support these students? If not, what do you do to learn more?

Today, the Toronto School Board pledged to create mental health teams in each school in their district. As report by The Star here are some of the standards that they have pledged to uphold.

Requiring all schools to have a mental health team.
Training and professional development for all school staff on youth mental health.
Increasing the number of schools with programming that raises awareness about the stigma attached to mental health issues.
Increasing the number of partnerships with agencies/charities that provide mental health programming,
Better informing parents about their children’s emotional well-being.

This is such a great step in the right direction to create an awareness among society, but also provide educators with the help and knowledge that they need to be effective in the classroom with all students. I believe as teachers we do our utmost best to ensure inclusion in the classroom, but at times without the background knowledge it can be difficult. Thank you to those who go out of their way to learn more, and thank you to the Toronto School Board for taking this step, leading, and encouraging the rest of country to do so as well.

Who Needs a Dictionary When You Have Google?

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“I don’t even understand why we have dictionaries. All you have to do is type a word into the internet and boom, you know what it means.”
“I know, right? It’s so much easier. Any time I don’t know a word, I just type it into my app and it tells me.”
“So true! I wonder why they even made them.”

This was a conversation that I overheard today as my students were eating their snack. I of course had to jump in on the conversation to find out more about how great google or apps are and how obsolete dictionaries are becoming. I asked the group of students a few questions more about how they search for words and how they look words up, and they responded, “You just type in the word and it tells you the answer right away.”
“How do you know it’s right?” I questioned.
“It’s the internet!” They responded, synchronized, as if planned and rehearsed.

It is interesting to think about the children that are growing up these days and the technologies that surround them. With a click of a button they can easily find answers to questions that would have taken us minutes or even hours to find. Is this a better way? Some would say yes, and I would agree. Why spend all that extra time when it seems our time is always limited? Why spend hours when you can find answers in seconds?

This had me thinking about how we use technology today, and if it is limiting our skills or improving them. In terms of the dictionary, without it do kids know how to organize things alphabetically? Are they able to use guide words to help them? These are skills that I would deem important, but are they? When do we use alphabetical organization today?

I often flip and flop in my mind between fundamental skills that technology inhibits, but the ease and access to things that were never possible prior. In order to gain a benefit in one area do we have to sacrifice something else? Or is there a way to balance?

As educators, I feel that we each have enough knowledge and pedagogical skills to make our own decisions. If a target is in your curriculum, obviously you need to cover it, but I suppose the extent into which you delve is your decision. I think we need to remember that some skills are important to us, because it is the way we learned and in the era we grew up in. But things are changing, and children are adapting. I believe it is our duty to adapt as well.

Children of the Social Media Age

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Arriving home about an hour earlier than normal, I ventured out on a walk with my lovely dog. The bells must have just gone and the students dismissed from their day of school, as the pathways and sidewalks were filled with chatty children. A group of energetic girls, I’m guessing somewhere between grades 6-9, approached me asking me if they could pet my dog. I said yes, as my dog was mauled with loving hands, and we chatted a bit about their day.
One of their friends from afar shouted out, “They already started the conversation!”
“Started the conversation where?” one of the girls replied.
“On Facebook,” the boy yelled in return.

After spending a day discussing technology, and having my head “in the cloud” I decided to probe a bit more. I asked the girls if they were on Facebook, to which they all sarcastically replied yes, looking at me like I had five heads. Questioning them what other social media sites they were on gave me a list of most of them: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc… I inquired which was their favourite, and of course that was way too hard of a question for them to answer. They had different reasons for each site and used different sites for varying purposes.

The conversation was quick and although I had many more questions to ask them, they had to carry on to not miss out on their Facebook conversation. As I continued on my walk, my mind filled with many questions. I think as educators we are always thinking about the safety of kids, and I couldn’t help to do the same thing with these girls. Kids are so quick to learn new technologies and are able to master them with ease, which to adults, can be misleading. Although they know how the technology works, and can navigate through it, do they know how to use it safely? Do they know that with one click of a button their lives could be changed forever? Do they know, at such a young age, that they are responsible for creating their own digital footprint? Do they know how to create a positive one?

I believe more than ever that we need to teach children how to responsibly use these new technologies. Most likely they aren’t receiving this information from home, so they need someone to share it with them. This can be overwhelming to an educator, but I have a list of resources to help you out! In the last year, our educational technologist (@SalimaHudani), introduced us to a fantastic site called Common Sense Media. It is filled with K-12 resources organized in a cohesive way to teach digital citizenship and literacy. It’s a great starting place. As well, Media Smarts provides ample teacher resources, directly linked to Canadian provincial outcomes. Here are a few other sites for teacher resources on digital citizenship:
Digital Citizenship Resource List
Cable in the Classroom
BrainPop

The world can be a scary place, but I think it always has been, it is just a different kind of scary now. We have the chance and opportunity to keep our students safe, through knowledge and education. Will you embrace it?

You’re More Than Just a Teacher

Teacher and elementary student walking down school hallway

Heading out on supervision at lunch recess today, a young girl in my class approached me and asked if she could walk with me. Our conversation went something like this:

“Ms.Petley, do you mind if I walk with you today?”
“Sure!”
“Ok, so what do you want to talk about?”
Pondering for a few seconds, I responded, “How about how great life is?”
Looking puzzled she answered, “But my life isn’t great right now.”

Those words broke my heart, and of course, I had to delve deeper into the situation. I asked her what was making her life not great and she talked a lot about home and how her family is always busy and never has time to spend with her. How they are always yelling at the younger kids, especially her cousin, who never listens and is always rummaging through her room. She also was having issues with wearing her glasses, about how initially she loved them but now would rather not wear them.

Although to some these could seem like minor things it reinforced to me how there are numerous outside factors going on in children’s lives that they have no control over. Who knows if while writing her math test, she was thinking about what would happen tonight with her cousin? In many cases, we do not even know these things are going on. I was lucky enough to have this student approach me.

In October of 2012, I attended the Character Education Partnership conference in Washington, DC. There was an excellent speaker there by the name of Hal Urban who really spoke to me. His words about developing relationships with students is crucial for any teaching professional. In his book, Lessons From the Classroom, he said the following:

“Good teachers start teaching at the door. It was the most important thing I ever did as a teacher. It was also the simplest, least time-consuming, most enjoyable, and most energizing thing I ever did as a teacher.”

Building a strong relationship with students can be challenging. Start simple. Start by keeping a checklist of each student and say something positive to them each day. Start by saying hello and asking each student how his/her day is going. Let them share their news. Be available for them. Be present. Something so small could make all the difference in their lives. They need that connection. They need to know you care.

“The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important.”
~John Dewey