This post is Inspired by the many educators who accepted Jonathan So’s (@mrsoclassroom) invitation to share the 5 defining moments in their teaching lives. Jonathan has collated them here, and they’re very much worth the read. If you wanted to see a differentiated approach to a task, look no further!
1. Influencers: I’m going to break the rules right off the bat, and say that my first defining moments as a teacher came as a learner, and that had to do with the teachers I was lucky enough to learn from. My pedagogy is heavily influenced by my Grade 13 experience in integrated studies at South Secondary in London, Ontario. This was a multi-disciplinary, scaffolded approach to learning first about our neighbourhood, then our city, province, and eventually country through as many lenses as possible. It involved many of those competencies we’re trying to incorporate today, including communication, collaboration and critical thinking. Final projects were completely passion-driven – I still have the suite of poems I created. It remains my gold standard for what an engaged learning experience can look like, and it was 1985, so it was largely engagement without the “bells and whistles”. Shout-out here to Ian Underhill and Pete Telford, who created and taught the course. Also thanks to my mom and my Grade 5 and 7 teacher, Murray Young, who helped me understand that teaching is about building a community and relationships first, and covering curriculum second.
2. Marrying my husband: A day does not go by without me thinking about how lucky my students are that I married the person I did. I married someone who cheers me on when I’m taking on a new challenge, but is also willing to call me on my need for approval, and who regularly reminds me to set my parameters of what is “enough” in terms of how much I give of myself to my job. He is my foundation, and works to help me find work/life balance, survive through my ADD and (sometimes)self-sabotaging behaviour, and always, always, work on being a better partner, parent and teacher. I am amazed at his ability to work through things patiently with our teenage kids (when I’m ready to throw things), and I often think that he would have made a far more effective teacher than I sometimes am. I would not be able to be a risk-taker in my classroom and professional life, without knowing I had the abiding love of my spouse to come home to when an activity crashes and burns.
3. Becoming a parent: Putting the impact of the arrival of Mr 16 and Mr 14 on my teaching career into words is extremely challenging. It meant that I had less time to give to my classroom, but I also had a richer life experience to bring. I learned what kind of things engaged my own children, and that helped me figure out what might engage my students. When my boys began to attend school, and I started to see the ways their teachers impacted them, I really began to understand how much effect even my smallest action could have on my students, and I became much more aware of the kind of feedback I was giving. I also know (as many of you do) that sometimes I was a less patient parent because I’d been a patient teacher all day, and I love my kids for understanding and surviving that. The boys continue to impact my teaching every day. They share positive and negative learning experiences of their own, they let me bounce ideas off of them, they keep me a little bit in the pop culture loop (I teach Grade 7 and 8). They have made me a better learner, through the things they are interested in, and that has made me a better listener, and a better teacher.
4. AIM: Until the past school year, when I finally took the leap into teaching my own classroom full-time, the only constant in my teaching schedule had been Core French. I would not have been able to do that job for 20+ years without the help of Wendy Maxwell’s Accelerated Integrative Method. When my board opened up a pilot project several years ago, it was a lightning bolt for me – a way to help my Core French kids genuinely dive into expressing themselves in their second language, without relying on machine translations or dictionaries. It also opened me up to using drama, music, and movement more in my FSL classroom than I had before. For the first time, really, in my teaching career, I was hearing hugely positive feedback from parents and students. My students were engaged, my parents were noticing, and it rejuvenated my practice. One of my greatest regrets is that the program didn’t catch on in applied level secondary French – I think it would have made a huge difference. The other big “a-ha” for me through AIM was that I was willing to take on a huge learning curve in order to really make something work. I hadn’t really known that about myself as a teacher until then – and it helped me understand my students more. Many years after that extremely well-done pilot program (un gros bel merci to the late Carole Meyette-Hoag and to Jennifer Sampson), a group of women I met in that PD are still among the teachers I rely on the most for realistic feedback and shoulders to cry on. They were, and continue to be, educational “risk-takers” when it makes a positive difference for their students.
5. Powerful Learning Practice: In the 2011-12 school year, I was given an opportunity that changed me as a learner, thinker and teacher. I volunteered to be part of a board team participating in a year-long, action-research-based inquiry, run by Sheryl Nussbaum Beach (@snbeach) and Will Richardson (@willrich45). I had never done anything like this, and I remember almost bursting into tears at the first session, because I had no idea what was going on (there was a speaker, and a backchannel, and…). I was, in Sheryl’s words, immensely “whelmed”. What I came to learn, over the course of that year, with the help of an incredible community of co-learners, is that being “whelmed” is necessary for a learner like me. I need to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” in order to not get stuck. My experience with PLP introduced me to new ways of reflecting on my thinking, to new people to share with and learn from (a lot), to the whole framework of iterative teaching/thinking, and to really thinking about why I felt driven to effectively integrate technology into my classroom. I started to blog, I started to share my learning about these ideas with my students, I fell into a deep and lasting love affair with Twitter, and I began to seriously think about shifting from Core French to my own classroom, in order to go deeper into critical thinking, in particular. That switch came last year, and could easily be my 6th point. The connected learning I do with my students, the joy I get from my PLN, my learning opportunities attending and presenting at conferences, my willingness to dig into new learning and think deeply about how best that learning can serve my students? All of that had its genesis in my PLP experience and I can never thank the random forces that picked my name to attend enough.
This photostory was prepared by me for my PLP learning cohort.
Like Diana Maliszewski (@MzMollyTL) and Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca), I want to think about “what’s next?”. I’m currently on a teacher self-funded leave year, and I think if I were to reflect on my defining moments in the years to come, this may be one of them. The joy of time – to think, to plan, to write (as I’m doing now), to participate in activities that I simply can’t do, as a teacher with a full-time job – is so beautiful it’s a little overwhelming. I’m passionately interested in ways to help myself and my students make our learning visible to each other and the world, and I’m also really interested in figuring out how to make feedback work effectively, both for my students, their parents and my colleagues. Lots to keep learning about as the path unfolds before us.
Thanks for the writing prompt, Jonathan.
If you’re reading this, and haven’t written about your 5 moments yet, please join the conversation.
Let the sparks fly.