Educational Theory, Professional Development, Recent + Research-Based, Technology

Looking to 2020: New Year's Teaching Resolutions!

With a new year comes new opportunities to reflect one the year, which many do with a look towards health, habits, and perhaps even new gym memberships (go for it!). Why not do the same in the classroom? In January, I wrote about how teachers can use the new year as an opportunity to re-evaluate classroom norms, habits, and goals. As we round out the year, let’s take a look at what we can reflect on and look forward to as teachers in the new year. What will I be doing? Check out my 5 resolutions!

Audit My Classroom Library

Library Audit BINGO, created by Dr. Katherine Fishman-Weaver; from Edutopia

Dr Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, faculty at the University of Missouri, recently created a brilliant Classroom Library Audit BINGO, as featured on Edutopia. The audit itself addresses common problems in classroom libraries and is an invaluable, even fun, resource. Fishman-Weaver’s BINGO game is especially helpful for any teachers who feel intimidated by the grand task of ensuring they have representative and inclusive libraries.

Expand Classroom Inclusivity

It’s 2020, and dialogue has changed significantly. Things on the news become more and more raw, real, and scary and include difficult topics, such as consent, racism, homophobia, violence and terror, hate speech, and more. Our students are witness to these things daily, from the news to YouTube to all sorts of social media platforms, and beyond. While it’s ultimately up to each family to decide how, when, and in what manner they talk to their children about the real, raw, and scary, as teachers it is a disservice to ignore these topics. At times, however, it’s challenging to know where to begin. The most trusted and courageous resource I have found is Teaching Tolerance. This website includes easily adapted lessons, learning plans, student tasks, teaching strategies, learning plan tools, film kits, and posters on a wide range of topics for grades K-12. My resolution is to use 1 resource per month from Teaching Tolerance.

Experiment with Apps for Inquiry

Just a small sampling of the TONS of games and resources available through the Goose Chase app.

Confession: technology is not intuitive for me, particularly when it comes to using apps. I find I’m always a bit clumsy with respect to how to best incorporate apps into the learning, rather than have the app take over the instruction and learning entirely… though I’m learning sometimes this is okay, too (for example, MathGames or RAZKids). I’m going to challenge myself this year to get comfortable and plan a lesson around ONE app, and go from there. (I like setting goals I know I have some hope at achieving!). The app I’m thrilled to try is Goose Chase: an interactive, customizable scavenger hunt app and one that is easily adaptable and lends itself well to discovery, student-directed learning, and inquiry. I was introduced to the app as an online Learning Design student through the Harvard Extension School, and I loved it! I’m particularly excited to dive into the full Game Library that Goose Chase provides, which includes topics from Christmas wreath coding (cool!) to English language learning to ecology to field trips, and seemingly everything in-between!

Practice Responding Over Recreating

As mentioned in my November post regarding B.C.’s curricular overhaul, Indigenous knowledge and philosophy are critical pillars and lenses for learning and teaching. One of the key learnings for me in navigating and re-calibrating my positionality in response to these curricular changes has been the notion of responding to, instead of recreating, cultural practices, traditions, and art. My resolution in this regard is to continue to challenge my lessons and applications of the First People’s Principles of Learning, particularly in the way of how students can respond to art, stories, and lessons. Specifically, I’m creating my own essential question: What is the most valuable, meaningful, and authentic way students can connect to their own and other’s cultures? Luckily for me (and all B.C. teachers), there is the First Nations Educational Steering Committee (FNESC), who have SO generously provided extensive lesson plans and classroom resources addressing this very need. B.C. Ministry of Education also has some excellent resources to help guide me on this question.

Learn!

This one may seem like an obvious one, but too often, teachers can get bogged down in the many day-to-day details that go along with loving and wanting the best for our students and their learning…that we forget to take a breather and look around. My goal/resolution there is simply to keep my ears perked and stay curious about new ways of teaching and learning. All of our students are so beautifully unique, and any expansion of our pedagogical toolkits can only help everyone. Recently, I’ve been diving down the rabbit hole of Whole Brain teaching...which seems great and also quite controversial (is this not true of everything to some degree?). To be honest, I don’t know much about it! If you do, what should I know?

  • What are your teaching resolutions for 2020?
Curriculum, Professional Development

Reflections on Updating Teaching Credentials, BC's New Curriculum, and the Philosophy of the Perfect Stranger

Earlier this year, I became an official Permanent Resident of British Columbia, having spent the last several years travelling internationally for my career in global education and prior to that, as a classroom teacher in Colorado.

My move to Canada coincided with a relatively recent curricular change across British Columbia, one that arguably moves B.C. to more appropriately prepare learners for the 21st century and incorporates a more progressive definition of learning and the processes of learning. The changes in the curriculum include philosophical and structural changes, as well as the language used throughout (ex: Assessment AS learning vs. Assessment OF learning).

I cannot speak to the previous curriculum, however, I’ve become quickly acquainted with the new curriculum this year. {As a noteworthy aside, my teaching experience and credentials were not recognized by B.C. Teacher Regulation Branch, and I have been in the process of undergoing teacher certification through the University of British Columbia (UBC). At first, admittedly, it was a tough pill to swallow returning to school for another Bachelor’s degree in a subject I already have a Bachelor’s and Master’s in, however, I am very grateful the for the opportunity to have this extended and personalized professional development. I am thoroughly enjoying being on the student end of things again and highly recommend the Teacher Education Program at UBC. We could all use a professional tune-up at someone point in our professional careers!}

But– enough about me! Let’s talk curriculum.

When I moved to B.C. and became involved and connected in education circles, I often heard references to “the new curriculum,” but struggled to find a fully comprehensive document that gave quick, digestible information about the specific changes. The most helpful article I came across that spoke to (and answered!) my questions was a blog post from the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning at Vancouver Island University. The post details the 5 major changes of B.C.’s new curriculum and these include the following:

  • 6 Core Competencies [photo 1]
  • Concept-Based Competencies [photos 2 & 3]
  • Graduation Assessments (for Secondary)
  • Competency-Based Assessment (aka- Assessment as Learning)
  • Aboriginal Knowledge and Ways of Knowing

{For a slightly more comprehensive but still easily digestible resource, the B.C. Teacher’s Federation also put out a very helpful, easily navigable online magazine detailing the 2016 curriculum changes in depth. Check it out!}

Overall, all of these changes support inquiry-based learning and prepare learners how to think and problem-solve versus simply memorizing information and/or having success on exams. The shifts move students towards processes of learning, rather than the assessment of learning. The curricular changes align so well with my teaching philosophies, and what I’ve been equally impressed with is the freedom with which teachers can and do practice this curriculum.

Photo Courtesy of FNESC.ca

The most important learning I’ve engaged in this year has been unpacking what it means to decolonize curriculum, particularly through Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation initiatives. I have also seen what it means to open up a curriculum that includes different ways of knowing, particularly Indigenous knowledge and the First People’s Principles of Learning. This year has been particularly intense in a necessary way, as I’ve been exposed to and un-learned many structural and systemic ways of thinking that have been (and continue to be) oppressive and marginilizing, particularly to Indigenous Peoples. Two things have opened my eyes and served as guides for me with respect to how I can teach with more permanent social justice lens: the First People’s Principles of Learning (seen in the photo on the left), as well as as the notion of the Perfect Stranger.

The FPPoL are deeply embedded into the B.C. curriculum… and make so much sense for all learners, young and old, and regardless of cultural background. Included in these principles are philosophies on sacredness of knowledge, intergenerational learning, and cultivating a deep reverence for living things. Perhaps my favourite principle (though, they all resonate with me) is “Learning takes patience and time.” As teachers, so often, we are trying to fit everything in– every standard, every big idea, every assessment and then sit back and hope our students “get it”… when in reality, the concepts and ideas we introduce may not be able to take root until our students have more, different, or alternative life experiences. And that. is. okay. It is beautiful, in fact.

In addition to the FPPoL, another major (positive) disruption in my thinking came from Dr. Susan Dion, who is an Associate Professor of Education at York University in Toronto. Dion uses the phrase “perfect stranger” to describe the “safe” position many non-Indigenous educators can take when asked to teach from an Indigenous perspective (as the B.C. curriculum requires):

his position, a perfect stranger, allows teachers and actually all Canadians to be off the hook when it comes to thinking about Aboriginal issues, thinking about Aboriginal people, or the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. There was a desire to distance themselves from the issues and to say, this has nothing to do with me. 

Dr. Susan Dion, from https://vimeo.com/59543958

Dion’s words spoke to me and make me wonder if and how I have written something off as being irrelevant to me, or deciding to use my positionality at the expense of someone else who did not have the voice nor advantages I do. Definitely give Dion’s video a watch. It is an essential message for all educators.

  • What is some of the most impactful professional development you’ve undergone?
  • What does it mean to be a perfect stranger to you?
Professional Development

5 Most Important Things I Learned from My Graduate Program

vasily-koloda-620886-unsplash

No, no… you most certainly do not have to call me Master Teacher Sara.

But if you insist… ok, fine! I’ll allow it 😉

Other than the obvious perk of having your students (and more perhaps satisfyingly, their parents) call you “Master,” pursuing a graduate degree in education has a wealth of benefits, in addition to its sacrifices. I’ve shared my journey and some reflections on the process here, focusing principally on the greatest lessons I unearthed in the process.

The Stats.

After four years of classroom teaching, I made the decision to head to graduate school to pursue a Master’s of Education (MEd) in International Education. I chose Endicott College’s program ultimately because it provided face-time with classmates and professors over the summer in Spain and Switzerland, as well as spring and fall online sessions, which afforded relative freedom and autonomy to continue working throughout my 3 years (3 summers + 2 fall terms + 1 spring term). The program was reasonably affordable and comparable to most MEd programs.

The Sacrifices.

Before sharing my distilled list of wisdom, I’m also compelled to note that pursuing a higher degree required sacrifice, though as a single, childless and pet-less woman in my late 20s with relative financial stability, my sacrifices weren’t as grand as some of my classmates. The school I at which I taught has a strong expeditionary focus and curriculum is created based on the real world; with such a dynamic system, projects, questions, topics are constantly changing based on what’s happening internationally, locally, and regionally and as a teacher, if you’re not ready to pivot and dive deep into something new, you’ll sink– and drag your students down with you. I knew that in order to be a successful teacher in this context, I simply couldn’t manage to balance my own studies and remain relatively healthy and even moderately social. As such, I left the classroom for a fantastic curriculum development and consulting position and was afforded some form of balance to study and work.

Why an MEd?

I came into education in what you might consider the back or side door, which is to say I didn’t pursue an undergraduate education degree, worked in education for 3 years, and came upon a teaching apprenticeship program, and landed an independent school teaching contract the following year. Would I recommend this bask/side door path? Mostly/kind/not really. If I could tweak just one thing, I’d go back and pursue my teaching credential (and ditch that one boyfriend way earlier, but I digress…). In my younger years, I found this superfluous, convinced I’d only work for independent schools. As a millennial elder (viewer discretion advised), I see a teaching credential indeed opens up many more doors, but that’s for another post.

While teaching as a credential-less young person and navigating the exciting waters of expeditionary learning, I found myself craving some theory and background information that was more robust and holistic than what I was getting in professional development. I wanted more on curriculum development, language theory, classroom management, child development, classroom diversity, and more. I was grateful for this appetite to learn more, as it indicated passion for my work and the desire for excellence in teaching.

I was principally drawn to Endicott’s model, which combined intensive summer courses with online work, and I was curious about the field of international education. I didn’t want a program that forced me to sit at a desk for 2 years and wax theory, nor did I want to student teach, having already been a teacher for over 4 years. I went back and forth between MA and MEd programs and eventually found myself most excited about Endicott’s approach and curriculum, though in the end (and no disrespect to my alma mater), I’m sure my degree is comparable to most MEd or MA programs.

What I Learned.

In short, I got exactly what I wanted out of my degree program in regards to curriculum and training.

Where my expectations were exceeded, however, was outside of the curriculum and squarely related to what happened in between the papers, the careful placement of periods and italicization in APA citations, and the dreaded navigation of Canvas.

I humbly present my five biggest nuggets of learning:

Trust & Use Your People

Perhaps the single most important aspect of any graduate program is the networking potential, and I don’t mean that in the gross elbow-rubbing old boys club style. My program had a small cohort of individuals who taught and/or lived in China, Spain, Morocco, Norway, Italy, Brazil, Turkey, Vietnam, Malawi, Columbia, France, Ghana, Netherlands, Germany, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Panama, Canary Islands, Canada, and more. The diversity, ideas, stories, cultures, and more supplied a seemingly endless stream of perspective. As a class, we could examine one topic from nearly 14 different perspectives. Having my dominant worldview and opinion challenged (kindly) on a daily basis in class filled my brain with more ideas than any textbook or scholarly journal could.

In class, we quickly built a community of trust constantly asked one another for opinions, advice, or perspective. I used to be shy about sharing my work, especially my written work, however, it was clear that if we each operated in a bubble, we’d be missing out on 9/10ths of the learning potential. Following graduation, I still reach out to my classmates and ask them to edit or give feedback on my writing or projects I want to run with students. This type of professional community is rare, and so rich.

APA Citation Loves You More Than You Love It

Psych! Some of my biggest learning really is related to APA citation!

Citing work, though tedious and seemingly neurotically detailed in its punctuation and typeface standards, ultimately bolstered in my mind the importance of owning my work and my own ideas. As young students, we (those of us with calibrated moral compasses, that is) are terrified of accidentally mis-citing and subsequently “stealing” other people’s work but mainly because we don’t want to get in trouble and lose points (life fact: points aren’t real).

But as I started to synthesize increasingly more complex ideas and create my own work, I recognized the value citation can have in protecting me! I want to own my ideas, even if I’m keen to share them, too. As I started writing and creating more and more, I found that people “using” my work, even on social media, did feel unfair and like stealing. It took a minute for me to be okay with owning my own work, but ultimately my ideas are a result of my work, effort, and sacrifice, and it’s not fair for someone to snatch the final product without doing the dirty work.

So, whether you subscribe to APA or Chicago or even IEEE (gasp), cite, darn it! Stop stealing people’s stuff, and start protecting your own.

It’s Not All About Me/You

Deciding to take on a higher degree is usually rooted in some type of selfishness. A Master’s degree can make you a more qualified or attractive applicant, increase your salary, and make you the source of teacher’s lounge eye-rolling  (mostly jk), and ultimately the degree is for you.

However, in my program, I found myself consistently proud of or excited for classmates. It was amazing to watch my classmates (and me) grow over the course of a few years, trying new things in their classrooms. I was inspired by how all of my classmates were there to be a better teacher for their students and their school. They wanted to improve how they could foster student learning, how to engage their faculty in initiatives, and think about ways their classroom culture could be elevated. More often than not, a discussion would be inspired by a teacher asking for advice on how to reach a student. The care and dedication implicit in this type of program is a poignant reminder that while ultimately some perks may come from a higher degree, the impacts are farther reaching and much less self-serving– one of the dearest things about the field of education.

Hard Things Take Time: Start Them Now

I can’t tell you the number of times I avoided actually just starting a paper, before I checked every possible thing the internet had to offer. Some weeks I would laugh-cry at my schedule wondering how I was going to possibly engage meaningfully in my group project online while also traveling back and forth to Asia. Once I totally misjudged a deadline and ended up writing a 21-page paper on broken hotel lobby computer in Costa Rica at 2am.

And if I learned anything from those coffee-fueled moments of academia adrenaline, it is simply this: just start. Hard things will ultimately take time, but they are worth it. Recognizing that investing in a higher degree must come with the understanding that it will take time is the first step. If you just start, even if you’re not exactly sure where you’re going, you’re making progress. Prior to school, I was paralyzed with “writer’s block,” but really I felt like unless I had exactly the flow and direction of my ideas, it simply wasn’t worth the time to write. Yet, in school, I can’t tell you how many new ideas or “aha!” moments came when I just allowed myself to start. Indeed, this lesson itself led to the creation of this blog!

Be Proud of Yourself.

A Master’s degree is never handed or bought; it’s always earned, and I proved to myself that I was capable, worthy, and skilled in this field. That I belong. I’m a teacher.

I’m proud of completing my program ultimately because doing so took a commitment, sacrifice, and focus. To be willing to take this on is noble in and of itself and to learn, to network, to connect, and to flourish on top of it is nothing short of incredible. To feel proud of yourself? That’s pretty incredible.

Worth It?

In short, yep!

I am me, and I’m not you, so perhaps the Master’s of Education path is not one you want to go down; but perhaps it is. There are no shortages of resources that discuss whether and MEd is worth it, or not.

But ultimately, the vitality, richness, and depth of the program originated from my wonderful classmates and professors who infused the curriculum with life lessons and global experience.

Of equal importance was the professional confidence it imbued in me. If I’m ever feeling a lack of confidence, all I need do is look in the mirror and remind myself:

You’re a freaking MASTER!

[Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash]