C21 Teaching Mid-Semester Two Review

It has been some time since I posted a review of C21Teaching.com.au, so there are quite a few articles in this list. I hope the last two terms have been productive and successful for you and your students.

Don’t forget to visit C21Teaching to get the most up to date content.

Pillar to Post

“You have to stick out the toughness of the business and form relationships with the people in it.”
– Attributed to Rocco DiSpirito

It is only week three of term three, and already I feel like I have been battered from pillar to post. I am struggling to get into this term, and a few colleagues across a few different schools have made similar comments, so I know it is not just me. There have been a number of issues early this term which been high on the urgent and important scale, the building project in our scale continues to progress and cause anxiousness amongst many staff members about the changes, there is the ongoing stress of not being a permanent teacher, a number of units of work I am planning for future use, ideas and things that I want to try in my pedagogical practice, our semester two programs are due shortly, and to top it off, Mrs C21’s due date for our first child is only a few weeks away (25th August), but we have been told it is likely to come early given its size (Mrs C21 is terrified the baby will be size of my brother who was 10lb 9oz / 4.8kg).

futurama-fry-stress
A rough representation of how I feel.

I (rather foolishly, in hindsight), wrote late last year that I did not feel like I had had a proper first year out as a teacher, as I was in an RFF position. I should have kept my mouth closed. The conversations have already started about staffing for next year, as there is a huge shift going to occur in the school with the rebuild, a number of retirements this year bringing in different teachers, and a number of temporary teachers, including myself, who are going to be hoping for a new contract, some teachers going on maternity leave, and some permanent full-time teachers hoping to drop back to part-time. I do not envy our Principal his job, especially given that it looks like we are going to be on the threshold of crossing to having enough numbers for another staffing allocation.

 

I was away for the entirety of the first week of the mid-year holidays, acting as a referee coach and mentor, along with eleven others, to thirty-two teenagers at the Kanga Cup Youth Referee Academy, a part of my year that I look forward to, but which is incredibly draining mentally and physically. Week two of the holidays was essentially spent at school, planning with Mrs. W for the term. Of course, two weeks in, having been happy with what I had planned for my literacy sessions, I decided that it was not working the way i wanted it to, and have had to change it again.

Ugh.

Life is hectic at the moment. I am tired, frustrated, have too many things I want to and not enough time to do them in, am not sleeping, am eating chocolate like it is going out of fashion, and have not been able to get engaged with the term so far which is frustrating me a great deal. I have also not been able to get any writing done so far this term, and likely will not for a while.

Take care of yourself, especially in light of the 2015 Principal Health and Wellbeing Report which was published recently.

Education Nation | Day One Session Four | Teresa Deshon

We often use words like loyal, respectful, wise, steadfast etc. with our Grandparents, but not, it seems with today’s generation.”
– 
Teresa Deshon

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

The fourth and final session for day one of the Rethinking Reform stream at Education Nation was rather full, as it contained both the Rethinking Reform and the Digital Dimension streams. Teresa Deshon opened the session by speaking about People of Character – Your Best Self which was a focus on the pastoral curriculum that often appears to be ignored or subsumed by the focus on the academic curriculum and what that looks like at Kilvington Grammar. Teresa began with a series of back in my day… sayings and then related that it often appears as if the character traits and virtues which were taken for granted in generations gone by, resilience, steadfastness, loyalty, persistence etc. appear to be largely missing in the current school-bound generation. This, Teresa commented, was played out in (uncited) OECD data where Australia appears in the top third of many welfare concern issues tracked.

IMG_1783

There are significant issues facing parents in the current age and it feels like, for many teachers, that more and more of what was traditionally the domain of the parent is becoming the domain of the teacher. This has led, Teresa contends, to an increase in the need for socio-emotional skills teaching at schools. Teresa related to the audience the RULER program from Yale University which is utilised in her own school as part of the wider Character Initiative which focuses on explicitly teaching character traits and socio-emotional skills.Capture

Teresa spoke about how there are three climate types and that all three play a significant role at Kilvington grammar and that students are able to utilise to three climates to be their best self. Within the Character Initiative, the focus is on helping students from Kindergarten to Year Six set goals based upon the character trait being explicitly taught that term, whilst in Year Seven to Twelve students, they set the goals based on the character traits, complete quizzes to measure the engagement, understanding, and appreciation of the character traits whilst engaging in an analysis of the character trait as it is portrayed throughout various types of media including news, books, and movies.

IMG_1786

Teresa also noted that in Years Nine and Ten, students had the choice of undertaking the ethical leadership elective subject which focuses on three areas:

  1. Sustainability, resourcefulness and lateral thinking,
  2. Diversity/Celebrating and Respecting Difference, and
  3. Values in Action

It was here that Teresa made a brief reference to a flipped curriculum, and even showed a stock flipped class graphic, however, the terminology was being used in a context that was not flipped learning. Teresa was actually referring to the flip made from focusing on the academic curriculum to the pastoral curriculum as opposed to flipped learning of the type I have written about previously.

Teresa’s presentation timeslot was brief and it went by very fast. There was not, for me, any particular takeaways from the session. There were no tools or strategies talked about in depth that could be applied, but anecdotal discussion of how a program was working in a particular context. The move from focusing on the academics to the pastoral side of things intrigues me, especially when you consider that the academics do still need to be attended to, however, I do agree that the pastoral issues need to be addressed. Teresa’s opening point, about the shift of pastoral concerns being from a parental burden to a teacher burden, is an issue, and I think it goes back to the need to establish the purposes and goals of education, and whether it should include pastoral issues, or whether they need to be the domain of the parent (which is in itself another debate).

As always, thank you for reading, and I would appreciate any feedback you care to offer in the comments below or over on Twitter.

Collegiality and Food

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
― Attributed to J.R.R. Tolkien

There is something to be said for the positive impact that sharing a meal with colleagues in a non-work context has upon your mental state, your happiness, and your stress levels. Term one was eleven weeks long, and by week eight, I was feeling mentally and physically drained. My goal at the start of the year to maintain a healthier balance between work and home life was not going particularly well, and I felt like I was not achieving enough in the classroom.

I and a few other colleagues are what you might term early birds in regards to when we arrive at school to begin our preparation. I am typically in my room at 0600 and the others not long afterwards. Wanting to actually spend some time having social conversations with them as opposed to purely educator conversations, I suggested that we all meet for breakfast one morning at a cafe which is a comfortable five-minute stroll away from school in the last week of the term. There was immediate acceptance and “oh, what a great idea!”

We met up at 0615 on the Wednesday of week eleven for breakfast, and I cannot overstate how enjoyable it was. The food was great and very well priced, and the company was excellent. I learned more about my colleagues over the course of the meal than I have in the last twelve months. We banned any shop-talk and after enjoying our breakfast, enjoyed a very casual stroll back to school in the beautifully warm sunshine, enjoying a nice relaxing and fun start to the day. For me, that short meal changed my mental state. Whereas I had arrived at school that morning a tired and frustrated teacher looking forward to the end of the term, I arrived back in my room an hour later feeling refreshed, invigorated and excited for the day.

breakfast-690128_960_720
Sharing a meal with colleagues can be refreshing. Image retrieved from tinyurl.com/jvbexe4 on 29 April 2016

 

As educators, we underestimate the importance of taking time out to socialise with each other, and get to know our colleagues without the pressures of listening for the bell to the get to class or playground duty, without the hustle and bustle of students knocking on the staffroom door, or the phone ringing, or trying to contact parents, or complete the never-ending marking.

We are looking to get together for breakfast again in week five of this term, before the insanity that is report writing begins, and I am already looking forward to it. If you have not shared a meal with colleagues, make the suggestion that you all meet up for breakfast, or go out for dinner together. When I was on internship, the Stage Three teachers banked all of their release time for a week into one day and took the day as a collaborative planning day. It was incredibly productive, collegial and relaxed. Share a meal and enjoy getting to know your colleagues. It is good for your mental health and you might just have fun.

Finding your mojo

 “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
– Attributed to Michael Jordan

Recently I have been writing about the struggles, the frustration and the challenges that I have encountered to this point in the school year. Yesterday, however, I wrote, very briefly, that something had changed, and that I was feeling much more positively about things. I was unable to expand on what I felt that was as I had to go to a referee fitness test in Newcastle. The good news on that front is that I hit the goal I had set for myself for the test in order to be eligible to be appointed to a particular level of match during the season.

I made the decision on Sunday, after having a stress attack, that I would go to bed, get up early and get started with a clear mind. Accordingly, I was in my classroom at 0600, and I found it to be an incredibly productive two and a half hours until the bell rang for the start of class. I began that day with a better idea of what I needed to achieve in my teaching, which meant that my teaching was clearer and more concise, with less waffle.

I made the decision to be at school nice and early, again, for Tuesday morning, and began teaching on Tuesday with a very clear vision of what I wanted to achieve, how I would achieve it and what I could afford to drop if there were time constraints or unexpected interruptions.

Today, I was again in my room at 0600 preparing for the day ahead I feel like I have turned a corner. The key, rather obviously, is my planning. I have a very clear idea of what I want to get done today, what I can afford to drop if there are time issues, and what the learning goal is for each session., and it is showing, both in my teaching and in the way the students are behaving and engaging with the tasks they have been asked to complete.

Last year, as I mentioned in a previous article, I was tasked with teaching digital literacy skills; skills that I could utilise standing on my head whilst asleep. Having been thinking about it, I believe that I allowed some bad habits to creep into my planning. Whilst I had a program that I had put together, I was rarely looking at it, making decisions about next learning steps based upon what I felt made sense from where the cohort was, how they had coped with learning a particular skill or piece of knowledge, and what fitted around the multitude of interruptions that we were experiencing in the school.

This is not the way to teach. I was utilising the seven-step planning process (that is, planning what you would be doing in the seven steps before you reach the class door) more regularly then I care to admit, and I allowed those poor habits to carry over to this year, in conjunction with struggling to wrap my head around all of the extra responsibilities and tasks that go hand-in-hand with having a class.

lesson-plans-and-aims
Retrieved from tinyurl.com/hjnt48h 24th February 2016

A colleague who habitually arrives at school early each day commented to me this morning that they had noticed I had been in early the last few mornings, and when I replied with how productive I had been finding it, they gave me a knowing grin, and replied that when there is no one else here, there is no onto distract you but yourself, and that having a clear plan can create incredibly productive mornings.

The key, I believe, is that my planning has been more focused. Rather than focusing on what I want to achieve, I am also allowing myself to consider how I will achieve that, how I will check for understanding, what aspects I can afford to drop if we run out of time, or there are interruptions and also what resources I need to achieve the goal.

Today was, for the year so far, the most productive day that I believe I and my students have had, and that was with losing essentially the whole middle session to scripture. Tomorrow is my day off, however, I will be back in here at 0600 tomorrow morning as it is school photo day and if I need to be in here (I do not, of course, but I want to be here for my first school photos with a class of my own), then I may as well make it a productive day.

As always, thank you for reading, and I hope that your day has been as productive and left you with the same sense of achievement as mine has.

The difference a day can make

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
― Attributed to Edward Everett Hale

What a difference a day can make. In my previous article, I perhaps sounded rather more woe is me than I intended. Today, I actually felt like I found traction in my teaching. I got through most of what I planned for my literacy block, all of what I intended for my numeracy block and, unfortunately, none of what I had planned for my science lesson this afternoon due to a guest session about mindfulness from the school counsellor that I had unfortunately forgotten to diarise.

That said, I feel like today was a success and am leaving school happy. I was here at 0600 this morning to achieve that, having left yesterday evening at 1800, and continued to get work done at home, despite planning to relax, but I got there. I am now off to Newcastle for a fitness test, which I mentioned in yesterday’s article and need to leave now in order to get there on time. It will mean another late night and early morning to get myself ready for tomorrow, but I am feeling much more positive as well.

I hope to have time to reflect further on the differences between today and the last few days tomorrow morning, but we will have to see how that goes. Until next time, thank you for reading, and enjoy your afternoon.

Reflections on Teacher Life and Resilience

“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.”
– Attributed to Jamais Cascio

What strategies do you employ to weather the storm that is the beginning of the school year and the mental chaos and stress that it generates? What advice would you give to pre-service teachers or new graduates to set them up to get through the chaos of term one mentally intact?

I have been finding this term mentally and physically stressful, draining and tiring, despite my contract being for three days as opposed to the four days of last year.That said, last year, I was tasked solely with teaching digital literacy skills in an RFF capacity, a role that I think, as I was reflecting last night whilst talking to Mrs. C21st, I took too lightly, as the skills I was teaching are skills that I think I could perform in my sleep whilst standing on my head, and so allowed some bad habits to creep in, in regards to planning for specific lessons.

This year, I am finding that there is so much more to do than what I was aware of from my ITE and even from last year. There are whole facets of teaching that do not get touched upon in, well, not the ITE program which I completed. The actually planning and programming from a scope and sequence that has been prescribed by the school, the administration required on a daily basis including everything from marking, checking books, interacting with parents, staff meetings, committee meetings, extra-curricular activities such as sports teams and debating, reassuring the student who’s struggling to feel comfortable socially that they do have friends, giving your banana to the kid who has no lunch, buying a water filter because the water in the taps tastes bad and on top of everything else, changing numeracy scope and sequences halfway through the term (though when the one that was being used made no sense, I actually do not mind that one, as frustrating as it is), having to prepare Individual Education Plans for any student who requires an adjustment for their learning.

a18b915e63a21e99da65b97ac2b0941a
Retrieved from tinyurl.com/z44hnvk 22nd February 2016

 

In addition, this is also the start of the football (soccer) preseason, which brings its own time requirements, especially given that I am refereeing with a branch that is an hour away.Pre-season seminars, courses to upgrade my Referee Assessor (coach) qualifications, pre-season trial games, an FFA Cup match, training, fitness tests and other meetings have seen me spend about four or five hours just travelling each week, on top of the actual time at the event.

Then there is the chaos that comes about from Mrs C21st now being pregnant, which though  things have been relatively smooth so far, with more nausea than actually being sick, it has brought its own challenges, especially in regards to food and working out what smells set her nausea off. Thus far, it has not been as bad as it could be, with the smell of red meat cooking, chia seeds, and some yoghurts being the main things that set her off, and our (her) consumption of white peaches necessitating the purchase of a fresh bag of six peaches every two to three days.

At the end of my first day of my first practicum back in 2012, in a Year Six class, I was hooked, I had the buzz, the rush of adrenalin that comes when a student has an a-ha! moment and gets it, and I thought to myself that, yes, I was in the right profession. I would be lying if I denied having wondered about the truth of that thought in the last week. Recently, I asked for feedback about pursuing a permanent posting, and Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) commented that I should continue to pursue a permanent posting, as being  granted that would also see me gain access to significant additional funding for mentoring and guidance in planning and programming and early professional development opportunities.

goenglish_com_burningthecandleatbothends
How I feel this term. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/hlsjwn9 22nd February 2016

I think it is fantastic that new, permanently-employed teachers have access to that resource to help gain their footing, and I do remember hearing one my friends from university who was permanently appointed straight out of university, talk about that and how she would be struggling even more than she was, without the time that it gave her to get her head around all of the tasks that were never mentioned during our ITE.

As far as I am aware (and if I am wrong, please correct me!), as a temporary or casual teacher, I do not have access to this assistance. Whilst I understand, from a practicality and management point of view why casual teachers do not have access to it (which school manages it etc), I think it is as important that temporary and casual teacher’s gain access to it in some format, even if only on a pro-rata basis.  I am contracted, for the year, at .6. Why should I not be able to access .6 of the full amount in order to gain some guidance, mentoring and assistance in wrapping my head around everything? Why could a casual teacher with a good working relationship, whether with a particular school or a particular teacher, not nominate that teacher/school to be their mentor, and some sort of agreement is negotiated to provide the assistance to the new teacher?

There has to be a way for this to be better, and more equitably managed. There seems to be a regular discourse about the shortage of teachers and the rates of new teachers that are leaving the profession within their first five years being abominably high. Why can we not seem to come up with a way to put in place, for those new graduates who want it, access to assistance that is currently restricted to one small portion of the workforce?

I have not had one of those days since my last article on that topic, however, I have not particularly enjoyed my teaching lately as I am too busy stressing about getting through everything I have ben told I need to get through. I suspect that my desire to complete my referee qualification upgrade this season will fall by the wayside as it will be the first casualty of the year due to the amount of time that refereeing sucks up.

On the plus side, other than a few nights, (including tonight, but Mrs. C21st is out at a training night), I have done well in not doing work at home when Mrs. C21st has been at home as well. That said, I have been getting to school at around 0630, and have often only left earlier than 1800 due to appointments.

I had a bit of a stress-out last night. I had lost Saturday as I was refereeing an FFA Cup (the assessor was happy, I got a result in regular time, ran just under fifteen kilometres according to my GPS unit, and took just under sixteen thousand steps) and then spent the remainder of the day completing paperwork and reports and going through my post-match recovery program. Sunday we spent in Sydney seeing some family and friends we had not seen in a few months, and it was dinner time when we arrived home. I ended up getting a little bit of planning done for what I need to do, and was in bed at 2030, and then here this morning at 0615, with a fresher, cooler head.

dimensions-of-resilience
Retrieved from tinyurl.com/guodvkf 22nd February 2016

 

Today did actually well. I get through everything I wanted to, except for three activities, and only half of my reading groups.But I think that, despite what I wrote earlier about taking work home, that I will take the night for myself to relax, go for a light run (I have a fitness test tomorrow afternoon) and then an early night.

I do have faith that I will make it through this term, we are, after all, halfway through. I do remember feeling like this when I first started working in one of my previous occupations, and asking my manager at the time what I was doing wrong that I was not getting through my workload each day, and stressing out about it. I do not know what changed, but it did and suddenly one day, I was the one helping others get through their workload. I believe I will get there, and that at the moment I am somewhere in transitory phase between consciously incompetent and consciously competent.

That said, I would love to hear strategies, whether mental or physical, that you use to get through this chaotic time of year.

As always, thank you for reading.  I do have photo of my new classroom to update the header of this blog, I just have not had time to upload it yet.