Educational Theory, Social-Emotional Learning

Teaching Philosophy Tune-Up

In nearly every teacher training, MEd, or apprentice program in North America, emerging and veteran teachers are asked to sit down and put pen to paper with regards to their personal teaching philosophy. In this format, teachers are encouraged to think deeply about their ideas, ethos, values, and beliefs surrounding education and their learning spaces and will inevitably reflect on the lessons and truths of their present and former classrooms. In doing so, it can help teachers deepen what they believe, but also over time, become aware of blind spots and areas of growth in their beliefs. Teaching philosophies seem to get dusted off and tuned up mostly when applying for new jobs and looking forward, but I’d like to get in the habit of reviewing mine on a yearly basis. With Spring Break looming in the distance and the promise of fresh starts and strong finishes, what better time to re-evaluate and share?

My Updated Teaching Philosophy (Feb 2020)

I believe learning should be authentic, and students are capable and ought to study real-world challenges, engage in meaningful dialogue with one another, with their school, as well as connect with members of their broader communities to learn more about the world and people around them. I believe students ought to be represented respectfully and honestly in their learning material and experiences, and I value students’ safety to share themselves, as well as their beliefs and concerns openly and without judgement in a supportive classroom environment. I value a classroom and school community in which students know where they are situated physically and politically and from a land-based perspective. Educators hold an immense amount of power and influence in classrooms. I value a teaching approach that is constantly self-evaluative: one that questions and critiques personal positionality; one that actively seeks to scan for blind spots or biases; and one that seeks and responds to difficult feedback and professional development focused on these matters. I value safety, individuality, personal expression, and identity and believe these are essential foundations upon which a classroom environment can be built. 

My instructional approach is student-centered, and I seek to connect deeply with communities within and around the schools I teach. I believe classroom management is one piece of the puzzle in co-constructing safe and healthy learning spaces with students, however, it cannot be the only piece. Foundations of a safe and expressive classroom cannot be achieved simply by catchy call-and-responses in the classrooms nor creative methods to divide groups. Rather, they require deliberate practice on the part of the educator, as well as deliberate practice between the educator and students, as well as between students. While classroom management can help an educator respond and react, as well as provide students with structures, if the fundamental pieces of the classroom community are lacking, there is no essential purpose for management. Indeed, I believe the foundation of successful classrooms lies in relationships, particularly in fostering, maintaining, and restoring relationships, responding reflexively to what situations demand. Indeed, student-teacher relationships are an essential key to having a successful (meaning supportive, safe, and growth-oriented) classroom and have far-reaching effects beyond the present school year. 

Additionally, it is essential as an educator to advocate for supportive relationships with students across the school community, rather than in one’s own classroom walls. When the structure of the school is one of a community of support and caring, students can be insulated from large and very real stressors, not limited to family and friends dynamics outside of school, pressure of workload and academic demands, social dynamics and issues within the school, as well as overarching positionality within existing power structures (race, ability, sexual orientation). Children come into their classroom with all of these realities and cannot hang them at the door, and necessarily, then, as an educator, I ought to focus on creating a supportive and caring environment for which these realities may be expressed. In order to foster these relationships between educators and students and student-to-student, deliberate practice in engaging in community must take place on a routine basis with clear expectations of engagement. These relationships founded on trust within the classroom largely must be earned, as some students may not come to school eager or willing to trust their educator and/or peers. The reality of students’ lives outside of school, earning trust, and building relationships necessitate that this type of social-emotional learning needs to be embedded within the curriculum across all subjects and concretely integrated into all activities, rather than as stand-alone, discrete, and somewhat abstract or not directly applicable lessons. Practice and routine with social-emotional learning and relationship-building across all subjects also involves students in the conversation of values-based norm-setting and helps them concretely see, empathize, and relate to others’ experiences in the classroom. In short, students can fully receive, embody, nor extend actions of support through deliberate and routine practice. As well, for this relationship-building to be most effective, educators also must engage in the process, rather than solely facilitating these activities with students. 

Defining and articulating my teaching philosophy is only part one of actually realizing it. In order to build, sustain, and grow a supportive learning space enriched (with social-emotional learning across the entire curriculum) in my classroom, there are a series of rituals and traditions in place, as well as intentional structural supports. These activities, rituals, and traditions are inspired by others, as well as personal creative takes.

At its core, my classroom is a safe and supportive learning environment. The approach I subscribe to is relationship-based and follows many of the guiding principles of Developmental Discipline, which fosters self-awareness and empathy, as well as a commitment to all learners in the classroom. This commitment to the classroom also includes an awareness and an excitement that every person in the class is different and brings their own culture, beliefs, values, experiences, and identities. To foster this, my students and I engage in daily, weekly, and mid-year reflections. 

In order to articulate how the above listed activities speak to the goals of my classroom, a brief description of each activity can lend clarity and further speak to the means to the desired ends. Daily check-ins in the classroom give students opportunities to not only build comfortability in sharing and articulating their response and reflections in real-world challenges. Additionally, students also build comfort and practice in listening to others. Hearing and connecting to others’ experiences helps students build the necessary foundations for engaging in meaningful dialogue with one another, as well as with their teacher and potentially school administrators (or whomever is involved).

1-on-1 Teacher and Tea TimeI throughout the school year gives students and parents the opportunity to share something that is on their mind (positive, negative, neutral, growth-oriented, questions, etc.). This is an initiative run on an as-needed basis, however, all students have at least 2 per term/semester. During this time, students can engage with me in more of a mentorship/coaching relationships and bring up things related to their home and/or community life, school, or anything else. This is time dedicated to forging and strengthening a positive, supportive student-teacher relationship in which I serve as their advocate. 

In order to build positive, respectful relationships, my class engages in Mid-year Keep/Scrap/Adapt goal reflections. This reflection happens, as the name indicates, in the middle of the year. In this forum, students are able to share, in a Socratic format, how they have contributed positively to the class, behaviours they’d like to keep, and what they’d like to change. Additionally, they can also voice what is working for them in the class (what they enjoy and would like to keep), as well as what isn’t working and what they’d like to change. In being able to communicate their contributions, reflect on how they might differently or more healthily contribute to the class, and hearing every other student do the same, students bolster relationships as well as their own security and place in the class.

From a curricular perspective,  engaging students in representative reading material, in which a rich and wide variety of central and support characters are represented with dignity can also help build relationships in the classroom. This reading material is not limited strictly to English Language Arts, but rather will engage students in a variety of different perspectives and ideas mathematically, languages, social studies, science, career education, ADST, and beyond. In ensuring there is a wide range of representation in course material, students will hopefully feel a sense of safety and support and thus more willing to engage without feelings of judgement. 

Social-emotional learning plays an integral role in my learning spaces. In these spaces, students have a safe, nurturing space in which to learn, explore, connect, and grow. These are spaces that celebrate success as well as failure and are framed around growth. In my classrooms, there are structures, systems, and tools to help students engage in social-emotional learning at all times, including during lessons as well as breaks in the day. Students are introduced to and engaged in the practice of SEL, including “self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.” What this looks like in my classroom is offering students deliberate and optional breaks during learning (brain breaks and/or sensory breaks), where they can recognize their emotional state and re- or de-stimulate themselves accordingly. In teaching and working with students to develop skills to self-regulate and take agency in their own self-advocacy, students grow into a heightened sense of awareness and gentleness with themselves and others. 

It is easy to become idealistic about one’s classroom environment when typing a teaching philosophy, however the reality is, difficult situations will invariably arise. These difficult situations are welcome in my classroom because often tension between others ultimately can lead to learning and understanding. If students are experiencing tension or difficulty, it likely means they have not yet negotiated how everyone can make space for their true and authentic selves not at the expense of others doing the same. Therefore, a strong focus on social-emotional learning in the classroom also fosters relationships outside of students individually and encompasses the entire learning environment. In my classrooms, students develop peer leadership and followership skills and consistently practice and explore what it means to respect and attend to others. This includes working together on assignments, creating presentations and/or shared learning experiences, solving problems, and giving one another peer feedback, as examples. Because these skills are practiced in academic settings, they are not stand-alone skills and are integrated deeply into students’ learning experiences, such that they become an integral part of the curriculum.

Implementing a Student-of-the-Week spotlight in a non-intimidating, creative, and choice-based way is another way my students feel appreciated and connected in their communities. Students are nominated to be a SOTW for one week throughout the school year and nominations are guided by community norms in the school community (such as Grit, Curiosity, Social Intelligence, Self Control, Optimism, Connection, Craftsmanship). Students are nominated based on how they displayed community norms in the community, and they are given choice with respect to seating, as well as the classroom community gathering, where they may decide to facilitate or suggest an activity.

  • When is the last time you updated your teaching philosophy?
  • What is most important to you as a teacher? 
  • What strategies do you employ in your classroom to create, maintain, and grow with and alongside your students? 

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[Photo by David Peters on Unsplash]

Curriculum, Must-Reads, Professional Development

BOMish: Jan 2020 {“All Things Being Equal”}

book-of-the-month (1)

All Things Being Equal: Why Math is the Key to a Better World

math
[Photo from Penguin Random House Publishing]

  • The Stats: 304 Pages, published January 2020
  • Who Should Read It: New and veteran teachers to math and anyone wanting to be inspired and/or rethink their relationship with math!
  • My Rating (out of 5 ♥): ♥♥♥♥
  • My Thoughts: All Things Being Equal is part social justice manifesto, part growth mindset companion reader, and part practical guidebook. Author and founder of the Jump Math program, John Mighton, is a self-described late-bloomer in math and has himself grown from math-queasy to a mathemetician in his 30s. Mighton has an approachable tone and brings you along easily into some of the math “traps” students and teachers can fall into. For instance, Mighton is a true believer that anyone can learn math and that it’s often just taught in ways that are inaccessible or relies heavily memorization without the fundamentals (which make the most sense). Mighton spoke to me especially in his beliefs of not creating “low floor, high ceiling” problems, but rather, aiming to get the entire class to succeed. He advocates for this by breaking down math problems into their simplest, easiest to understand forms- something he notes few teachers generally take the time to do, favouring what seems like a more efficient route, but leaving many students behind in the process. Indeed, Mighton convinced me that students who already know the steps won’t be bored in this process either, as they have time to practice and apply, or the opportunity to mentor students along the way.  Further, Mighton’s approach also includes myriad reasons why math is imporant. While I didn’t need convincing, his passion for math as a subject in and of itself, and the success with which students can realize within math pedagody in particular, is an admirable one (check it) and further reinforced my belief in strong, inclusive math programs. The book makes the most sense within the context of the Jump Math program, founded by Mighton himself. I recommend this book without reservation for your 2020 reading list, however, to get the most out of it, make sure to carve out time to investigate the Jump Math website, resources, and/or webinars. 
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?