Reflection as a Tool

The end of the year is a busy time and there is certainly no shortage of things to do.  So, I’m not going to ask you to do anything new right now! However, I want to encourage you to take some time for the most important tool for professional growth that is available to you…reflection.  

Reflecting on our professional life is what allows us to grow as educators.  I realize that most people don’t think they have time to sit down each and every day to reflect on their work, but it certainly would be valuable if you did!  Taking time to reflect about a particular lesson or unit allows for immediate and relevant feedback. In many cases you won’t teach that lesson or unit again for a whole year, what specific information will you be able to remember a year from now?  Taking the time to stop and reflect will cement the ideas you’ve had about how to improve your lesson or unit.

“Hey Bret, that’s a great idea and all but we’ve only got one week of school left, right?”  Exactly, and that’s why I’m mentioning this now. Reflecting takes time and it is something that, if not scheduled, will be hard to commit adequate time to.  So, make a plan now and commit to setting aside 10 minutes at the end of each day or during a prep period. This time will not be wasted, I promise. You’ll begin to see the payoff very quickly.  Taking time to stop and reflect will help you to grow as a teacher and improve the learning experience for your students.

I strongly recommend taking the time to reflect after each lesson and making those notes for yourself to look back on in the future.

Some things you might reflect on after a lesson:

  • What went well with that lesson?  
  • What could be improved?
  • Did the kids have any feedback about today’s lesson (the content:  i.e. it was really hard, really easy, etc)?
  • Did you try a new strategy or activity today?  How did it go? What can you do better next time?
  • Were my students engaged throughout the lesson?  If not, where did I lose them? What can be done to prevent that next time?

As you go through the process of reflecting on a daily basis you’ll improve and it will become second nature.  When it comes time to teach those lessons again you should start with your reflection notes and then look at the lesson with those thoughts fresh in your mind.  Going through this process not only helps you to grow in the future but you’ll immediately begin to grow as some of the reflections will be ideas you can implement in your very next lesson.  

Plan the time to reflect and hold it as sacrosanct, don’t give it up for anything!  I promise, you’ll be glad you did!!!

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Relationships and Adaptability: Tools of the Revolution

Last week we enjoyed videos and performances by our Year 12 students as we got ready to send them off to their next chapter.  As I watched those videos and thought about the high school experience through the eyes of a Year 12 student, I tried to figure out what they felt like they learned in their time here.  I’m sure if you asked them formally they would mention things like Physics or English but those certainly aren’t the things they focused on in their videos.

Relationships.  Without a doubt, relationships were the main focus of each of the six videos shared by the Year 12 students.  They celebrated the strong bonds formed over the last few years. They recognized the ups and downs, rejoicing in the unity of their particular cohorts. The power and strength of those bonds built through hard work and resilience demonstrates just how important it is for the success of students to have strong social-emotional skills.  

Our counselors have recently done a lot of work to help incorporate some of these skills into the every day curriculum.  That work is an essential part of our school’s mission but also to the what we’re trying to accomplish academically. Students who “demonstrate integrity, respect and empathy toward others” and “respond with confidence and reason to an ever changing world” aren’t created by studying a textbook, doing lab experiments or writing research papers.  These skills lie deep within the social-emotional lessons that our students need to learn. Kudos to the work our counselors have done recently to integrate more of these skills and lessons into the curriculum, there is still more to do though and the work must continue.

The other thing that came through in the Year 12 videos, albeit more implicitly, is the idea of being adaptable.  Many of those stories start off highlighting the nervousness of being put into a new cohort, working with different people and being completely out of their comfort zones.  Over time, however, as they learned to adapt and find their place within their new classes, these Year 12s showed an incredible ability to adapt and make the best of the situation.  I see this as more than being resilient. Resilience, while very important, means bouncing back from difficulties and continuing on. What I saw in our kids was more than that, not only did they bounce back but they adapted as needed to continue forward…a very big step!  

As teachers, we can learn a lot from these students.  It’s important to remember just how crucial it is for us to build relationships with our students, who are constantly changing and growing.  Additionally so with our colleagues, developing a program that meets the needs of a diverse range of learners doesn’t happen in isolation, building strong relationships with colleagues creates a positive work environment.  I frequently stress the importance of positive relationships (I would argue they’re the most important thing in a school) and it was interesting to see our Year 12s focus on their importance as well.

Generally speaking, younger people are less set in their ways and more adaptable than their more experienced (older) counterparts.  As we learn, grow and gain experience in the world, it is important to remember the we must remain flexible in our thinking. Being able to adapt is the hallmark of a successful educator.  We are in a professional field that is entering the early days of a revolution, more than 100 years of doing the same thing has proven insufficient for success in education. We, as the leaders of that change, must adapt and grow to ensure the success of our students.  

We’ve got a little over two weeks left and we’ll be doing a lot of celebrating and reflecting during that time.  Take a few minutes every now and again to think about all that our students have learned over the last year. Additionally, think about how we can adapt to improve the learning process for them next year and beyond.  It’s an exciting time to be an educator, the revolution is coming, what will be your role in the process?

Quiet Halls

Last week was a very new experience for me.  Having lived and traveled all over the world, I’ve never experienced anything like what happened in Surabaya last weekend.  Over the years I’ve been fortunate to have lived a rather uneventful life when it comes to events such as sent shockwaves through the community and made headlines around the world last week.  I spent a lot of time at school during those days off, helping keep an eye on IBDP exams, and realized that I’d never spent so much time in an (almost) completely abandoned school building. It’s a rather strange feeling.

Schools aren’t meant to be quiet places, not at all.  There should be students, teachers and staff buzzing about with the excitement of discovery and learning.  Walking the halls with none of those beautiful sounds was rather sad, leaving me with a sense of loneliness that is hard to describe.  I’ve spent plenty of time in empty schools on the weekends, early in the morning, late at night, or even during days off. However, I’ve never spent so much time as I did these last few days knowing that the students should be there with me, after a while the silence became almost deafening.  A loud reminder of why our staff and students weren’t in school…

As we opened the doors and welcomed our students back to school, the halls once again came to life and, at the same time, opened their proverbial arms to embrace our students in a climate of positivity and safety.  It was important to welcome our students back together in an assembly, to acknowledge the events of the past week, and begin the process of finding our new ‘normal’ at school. There is no doubt that we’ve all been deeply affected by the atrocities of May 13 but there is also no doubt that, as a family, the members of Sekolah Ciputra will come together to support each other and move forward.

I’m proud of the way our community has responded and I’m thankful for all of our amazing staff members who’ve gone over and above to ensure that we managed this situation well and, more importantly, we have come out stronger as a community than we were before.

The week started out with tragedy but ended in inspiration, you’ve all inspired me…thank you!

All About ‘The Who’: Truly Knowing Your Students Can Change Their Lives

We spend a lot of time as educators worrying about “the what,” “the why,” “the when,” “the where,” and “the how.”  What am I teaching? What units do I need to cover? What standards should I be teaching to? Why are we teaching this?  Why do we use this textbook? When am I going to fit all this in? When will I get these papers marked? Where is my classroom going to be next year?  Where should my students sit? How do I teach this lesson? How am I going to survive?!?

We’re so caught up in all of these other areas that we tend to forget about the most important piece…”the who.”  Who are our students? Who needs help today? Who has been successful on this task? Who looks like they didn’t sleep well last night?  Who has identified their strengths? Who is having a bad day today? Who…who…who?

The most important thing we can do as educators is build relationships and establish trust with our students.  Knowing them is more important to their success than anything else. More important than the book you use, the lessons you teach, the homework the complete…everything.  You must know your students!! I don’t just mean know their names or favorite color, but really know them as people. Who are they?

With that in mind, I wanted to continue sharing some great resources with you. These four articles, similar to the last few weeks, are things I’ve come across and saved as valuable tools and resources.  Have a look…the last one, in particular, will be helpful in making progress toward getting to know your students better!

The Benefits of Helping Teens Identify Their Purpose in Life

Important quote from this article:  

“In the past we had more of a script for who to be and how to be. The lack of script is a very good thing but it also makes it very hard if students don’t have support,” Senehi says. “This is part of the depression problem [among teens]. If you don’t have a script or you don’t have a place to define it for yourself, you are like a ship without an anchor.”

Why Late Nights Lead to Crankier, More Emotional Teens

Important quote from this article:  

“Getting these kids enough sleep and appropriately timed sleep is necessary for optimal self-regulation,” she says. “If you don’t have enough and appropriately timed sleep, then you’re going to compromise your ability to have these kinds of skills.”

Sometimes Misbehavior Is Not What it Seems

Important quote from this article:

“Sometimes the reason for misbehavior is very different than the obvious and requires a totally different intervention than the usual consequences. It is never easy to determine why children do the things they do.”

These teens saw how poor mental health hurt their peers. So they got a law passed.

Important quote from this article:  

“The problem is that students are doing too much, and they don’t have individuals in place that can help them deal with the stress and anxiety that come with that. A bad day turns into a bad week and turns into a bad month.”

A 4-Part System for Getting to Know Your Students

Important quote from this article:

“Building solid relationships with your students is arguably the most important thing you can do to be an effective teacher. It helps you build trust so students take academic risks, allows you to better differentiate for individual needs, and prevents the kinds of power struggles often found in poorly managed classrooms.”

 

Refocusing on Students

Last week I said that I was going to start sharing interesting articles, blogs and other resources to help you think about how you can grow as a teacher.  This week I want to give you some things to ponder related to the topic “Refocusing on Students”. Aren’t the students what it’s all about?

Most of the articles that I plan to share are things that I’ve linked and saved as I scroll through Twitter, coming back to them later because they’re usually so long. SO…with that in mind, I’m only including two longer articles for those who are interested but I’ve also included some great tweets that are aimed to get the juices flowing. 

So, without further ado…There is a lot of good stuff here to inspire any educator!!

Is it ALL about student engagement?

How do students learn?

Classroom culture is essential…

How can my classroom be more rigorous?

If half your students fail….

Every child has a story

 

How could the way you interact with your students and manage your classroom be improved?  Here are 10 great ideas to begin working on immediately.

 

A great piece about how focusing on the strengths (instead of weaknesses) of an English Language Learner can help them grow

What Happens When Teachers Grow?

I like to argue (let’s call it “debate”) and I like to learn.  Recently I was thinking about how I’ve grown and changed as an educator throughout my career and, thanks to the things I’ve learned along the way, realized that if time-travel was real then I would be able to have some very intense arguments with myself!  

There are topics in education that I’ve changed my opinion on, a full 180 degrees.  In other cases I’ve slightly modified and shifted my views based on things I’ve learned and experienced.  Also, along with my ever-evolving educational philosophies, there are a certain segment of my beliefs that have been strengthened by things I’ve learned.  Throughout my educational career I’ve taken the time to sit down and, literally, rewrite my educational philosophy five different times. It’s very interesting (to me anyway!) to see how my views have shifted over the years.  

I’m sure, if you’ve been teaching for more than a couple years, that you’re able to see changes in your own educational beliefs as well, they’re completely normal and (I would argue) expected.  As educators we are surely life-long learners; when we learn, we change. How has your educational philosophy changed throughout your career? This question should take some time for you to answer.  If you haven’t been sitting down to think about this regularly over the years, then you may not even be aware of how much your opinions have changed. Take some time to think about it…

Beyond nudging you to think about your educational philosophy and how it’s changed (a great practice in and of itself) I want to encourage you to think about why you’ve changed as well.  I can trace most of the changes in my educational philosophy to four different things (in alphabetical order): 

  1. Colleagues:  I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really wonderful educators tracing all the way back to my teacher training program.  Keeping an open mind, watching and listening, and having philosophical conversations with my colleagues has allowed me to constantly learn and adapt my educational practice over time.
  2. Experiences:  Living and traveling internationally has given me the chance to see many different views on all sorts of topics.  Not only have I seen education through many different lenses but I’ve also had the chance to learn about how cultural expectations, languages, and religious and political views can impact a person’s philosophy on education and life.  
  3. Further Education:  Whether masters courses, educational workshops, conferences, online courses, or in-school PD opportunities, I never pass up a chance to learn from someone new.  The experiences of others can be just as valuable as our own. By putting myself in a position to network and learn from others I know I’ve been able to grow considerably.
  4. Reading/Listening:  Teachers and educators have taken the internet by storm.  Between the amount of educational books available to be read (or listened to) on digital devices, the volumes of educational blogs, oodles of podcasts and information on social media platforms such as Twitter, there is literally too much to read and/or listen to.  Digging in and finding interesting and thought provoking educational material isn’t even difficult now days…honestly, if you’re not doing this yet, this should be the first thing you look to do! (Listening to educational podcasts would also be a GREAT way to improve English language skills!!)

From a great article I read a while ago called, Why The Best Teachers Change Their Minds:

“The best teachers change their mind because things themselves change. 21st century learning is, above all else, diverse, interdependent, and formless. Technology, culture, academic standards, assessment forms, and the cost–and format–of higher education all evolve endlessly.”

Of the four different things that have helped me grow so much as an educator the easiest and quickest way to have my thinking challenged is the last one, reading and listening online.  With that in mind I want to start sharing some interesting articles and blogs I’ve read recently. I’ll start this week with an Earth Day inspired set of great articles and videos.  I’m hoping that by having a look at some of the things I share over the next few weeks you’ll be inspired to dig a little deeper and find a way to improve your practice even more 🙂

 

Earth Day: Ending Plastic Pollution

Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 2018 around the world…Earth:)

This year’s focus was on helping End Plastic Pollution.  For those of us who are educators this couldn’t be a more relevant topic; in our lifetimes the amount of plastic created and discarded has grown exponentially.  If we don’t educate our students (the next generations) about the dangers of this epidemic, then it’s very possible that the plastic waste in our world could choke the life out of this planet.  

I want to share some great resources for your (and your students’) learning.  Have a look at these and please find some inspiration to make steps toward, not only ending plastic pollution but also educating our students on how to create a greener lifestyle.

Inspiration:

Check out these videos to better understand what’s happening to our world.

Plastic Ocean (video)

What Really Happens to the Plastic You Throw Away (video)

 

IF They Can Do It, So Can You!

Individuals, corporations and governments all over the world are working to help solve the problem of plastic and pollution.  What are you doing to help?

How This Town Produces No Trash (video)

You Can Live Without Producing Trash (video)

Four Years of Trash:  One Jar (video)

Apple Says It’s Facilities Are Now Powered By 100 Percent Clean Energy

IKEA using mushrooms to create packaging for shipping

Plastic Waste Can Fix Our Roads (video)

An enzyme that eats plastic

Scientists Make Renewable Plastic From Carbon Dioxide and Plants

‘Zero Tolerance’ Plan for Plastic Pollution

 

Classroom Connections

These resources can help educators better engage their students in the fight against plastic and pollution.

Climate Education Toolkit

How Small Steps Can Create Outdoor Experiences in Schools

How Access to Nature During the School Year Can Help Students Thrive (in case you need more evidence for WHY!)

 

The Future?

One final idea about where education could go

Could Urban Farms Be the Preschools of the Future?