Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What do I do anyway?

I have followed the advice of Dianne McKenzie in Hong Kong and tracked my working days. I used Dianne's activity chart that she so very nicely put on her blog. After gathering all the data for two weeks, I consulted my Tech Ninja (copyrighted term: Adrienne Johnson at Rainbow Bridge International School, Shanghai) who also happens to be my 14-year-old daughter, and created a pie chart of my work.  A link to the charts is at the end of this post.

I was disappointed but not too surprised by some of the results. The worst piece of the pie, in my opinion, is that I spent only 1% of my time teaching during those two weeks. I used Dianne's definition of teaching which was that I was the lead teacher in a lesson. Otherwise, the teaching I did fell under the categories of Cover for GLCs (Grade Level Coordinators) or Working with Students.

I was pleased with the amount of collaboration, but really that has just been attending meetings and helping homeroom teachers to identify what resources are available. On the bright side, I am able to attend grade level planning meetings! I have heard from many TLs that this option is not built into their schedule, so I am pleased to have this entry into what is happening in the classrooms.

After creating the chart, I realized that the next step was to identify exactly what I wanted my job to look like. I made a new chart that shows my dream job. I have a feeling that will change with time, but for now, my dream chart reflects my understanding of what my role should be within a PYP school.

This was a very useful process for me, so I highly recommend it to others. Track what you do, and you might be surprised! Thanks Dianne!

Teacher Librarian Activity Chart

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Illustrated Talks?

I posted the RSAnimation of Ken Robinson's speech because I thought it was cool. I've watched it several times now and shown it to a few other teachers. Everyone seems intrigued by it. In talking with one Grade 4 teacher about it, we realized that he was already working on something similar with his students. He likes to doodle, so he was making some drawings to help communicate to his class of ESL students complex ideas about human rights, fairness, discrimination, prejudice, etc.

I've been speaking with his class about what they've been learning in their Sharing the Planet unit on Positive Change. They are a truly interesting group of students, but I don't think they are unusual. I mean, they are able to discuss these ideas and have opinions, and I am not surprised by that. Some are goofy, of course, since they may not be used to the idea of adults valuing their opinions or speaking seriously to them about such "grown-up" issues. They have a strong sense of fairness, but they also see the hypocrisy around them.

So, that's for the students who have developed enough English skills to communicate their feelings to the class. What about the rest of the students? If they are unable to speak in English about their ideas, do we just leave them in silence? Of course not, but how do we open things up to allow them to speak? Well, we are going to try illustrations. I am going to speak with the students while their homeroom teacher draws the conversation. Crazy? Maybe, but I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Classroom full of mini-me's

I had been out of classroom teaching for about 7 years when I took my current job. Perhaps getting out of teaching for so many years has delayed my development or perhaps it has made it possible. Maybe since I’ve been outside the classroom, it’s helped me to avoid getting bogged down. I know what it’s like to be a teacher responsible for a large group of noisy, active, indifferent students. Most days, you’re just trying to make it through without a fight breaking out or losing your dignity. When I taught in a small community in Canada’s Eastern Arctic, it was a good day when the kids showed up before noon, and no one threw a chair.

I hadn’t been away from education during my time outside the classroom. I was working as an academic advisor at a university. Also, I had been involved in the education of my two older girls. Like everyone else, I had opinions of what made a good and a bad teacher, but nothing had really hardened in my mind regarding what kind of teacher I was. If pushed, I suppose I would have said I was just your run-of-the-mill, typical English teacher. Not bad, just not particularly inspiring either. I would see a spark in a few students each year, and that was enough to help me carry on.

For a while I read about home schooling and thought about doing that with my own kids. What intrigued me about home schooling was the self-directed learning. I certainly did not like the vision of a mini, pseudo classroom in my home I read about in some books and websites. I wanted to give my daughters the space and time to examine and investigate their own interests. Financial reality set in though, and off they went to French Immersion (something I can’t help them with anyway) and off I went to part-time work at the university.

I have no respect for the type of teacher (and I’ve known several) who teach subjects not students. You know, the ones who have their lessons in a folder with the date on them and can whip out the plan for the day because they’ve been doing it that way for the last 5 or 10 or 20 years. In my experience, most teachers are not like this, but we generally do have a hard time with letting go. We like to have control in a classroom. We like to know what’s going to happen next. No surprises, since that might lead to chaos. Who can blame us with a room full of kids to deal with if we want to ensure a sense of order?

However, I think we need to shake things up. Well, I don’t really know what “we” need, but I know what I need. I need to know that as a teacher I’m not just filling in holes. I don’t know enough about anything to call myself an expert. I’m always just learning. Why do I need to pretend that I’m an expert teacher? Who says I have to have all the answers before I go in front of a class? I think it would be a dream come true for students to ask a question for which I don’t have the answer. It means they are thinking for themselves and asking their own questions, not just shooting back at me the questions they think I want them to ask.

I don’t want to produce a classroom full of mini-me’s. I just finished telling you I don’t have any answers, so why create more people like me!?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Making Connections

I've decided to start this blog to help me while I figure out inquiry in the classroom. At the age of 43, I feel like I'm finally working some things out about life: what kind of parent I am and what kind of teacher I am.

I'm certainly not writing this because I have any answers. I'm writing because I have questions. Maybe no one but me will read this, but I've realized that I just need to make a start and commit myself to figuring out what real inquiry is and how I am going to use it in my life and teaching.

This whole process of figuring out inquiry is having a profound effect on my life. I'm actually having trouble sleeping because my brain is spinning with possibilities. Okay, it also doesn't help that my husband snores and my 5-year-old shares our bed most nights. But those things aren't new, so I will blame inquiry instead.

I will also blame Ken Robinson whose book, The Element, I'm listening to on my iPod. I usually listen to books to help me sleep, but this one is keeping me awake. I came upon Ken Robinson on TED Talks many months ago and was intrigued by what he had to say, but I didn't quite make the connection to my job as an Elementary school teacher-librarian or to my life. I'm sure it must have been in Jamie McKenzie's workshop last year that I learned about Ken Robinson and TED Talks. Again, I knew what Jamie was telling me in the workshop was vital, but I jut wasn't connecting it all together.

I think what finally brought things together for me was an IB workshop in Hong Kong in October that was run by Gary Green and Yvonne Barrett. I have a lot of respect for librarians, but I've realised I'm not one. Well, I am, but I'm not the kind of librarian that may come to mind for most people. I am not anal about cataloguing; I do not get mad when students "mess up the shelves"; I do not really care if teachers keep books longer than they are supposed to; I don't even care if students damage a book (as long as they pay for it!). I'm a teacher first, and I've been struggling for the last two years to bring that to the forefront of my job. Gary and Yvonne helped me to realize that my job is about what interests me: inquiry!

Time to stop. My youngest has had enough of me sitting around typing!