I’ll Definitely Miss You, #BIT18!

This week is the B.I.T. Conference in Niagara Falls, and this year, I’m not going. I think that it’s bothering me even more than I thought that it might. B.I.T. was the first educational computing conference that I attended (under a different name at the time), and it’s one that I’ve attended for many years since then.

This is the conference where I meet many of the educators that I converse with online throughout the year. It’s where I meet my P.L.N.! This is a conference that’s as much about the face-to-face connections (if not more) than about the sessions. It was the incredibly memorable dinner at The Keg last year that helped me re-think my views on media literacy and what “reading” can look like today. These are moments that will stick with me, but they’re also moments that I can’t get from following a conference hashtag — even though I will be doing so. It’s these kinds of conferences that take the 140 (or 280) character conversations and turn them into a rich dialogue that has you thinking and questioning in new ways. Maybe you can capture some of this thinking in a blog post, but it’s beyond what a tweet can contain.

I really did try to think of a way to go. There were just too many things working against making this conference a reality for me this year.

  • My teaching partner, Paula, is off for dental surgery at the beginning of the week, and having both of us out of the classroom, just doesn’t seem to be an option that’s best for kids.
  • It’s the last week of placement for our student teacher, Kate, and I’ve committed myself to being an associate teacher.  This means being at school and in the classroom with her.
  • My Teacher Leadership Course is this week, and I can’t miss it. Trying to make it back from Niagara Falls in time for the course, would be a struggle. (To think that this week we’ll be discussing P.L.N.’s, and I will definitely be missing mine.)
  • We have some visiting consultants from the Board this week, and their visit corresponds to one of the dates of the conference. I want — and need — to be there for this. We’ve already rescheduled this visit once. It’s not fair to do so again.

I tried to think of ways around these problems.

  • Maybe I could go for one day.
  • Maybe I could leave early.

But the truth is that if I go, I want it all. I don’t just want the sessions, but I want the connections that come outside of these sessions. It means staying late. It means the dinner times and the coffee breaks, and it means that this is not the year for me.

BIT18, I will miss you this year, but because you’re about more than just a conference. You’re about the people behind the conference, which again speaks to the importance of relationships — not just for kids, but also for adults! I will definitely follow Twitter throughout the conference, but I hope people blog as well. I’ll be eager to read the big learning that I know happens year-after-year at B.I.T.. How do you connect with others at conferences when you can’t be there? Is this a case of face-to-face connections ultimately being the most valuable ones? I’m left wondering about this as I see the many #BIT18 tweets, and wish that I was also anticipating these three days of learning, sharing, and maybe most of allpeople.


What Will You Do With This Course?

This morning, I was having coffee with my parents, and my mom asked me a great question. I was chatting with my mom and step-dad about this Leadership Course that I’m taking. My mom said, “So what will you do with this course when you’re done?” I’ll admit that at first my response was, “Nothing.” Am I looking to go into a leadership role right now? No. Am I looking for this possibility in the future? Not necessarily. Even so, I can still do some different things with what I gain from this course.

First of all, I think that this course will help me in my role as Site Lead for Camp Power. This is a position that I would like to maintain, and it was due to this position that I decided to take this course in the first place. As part of this course, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at the Ontario Leadership Framework. While there are elements of each of the six domains that I think would hold true for the Camp Power program, I wonder if I have to rely on the Personal Learning Resources (PLR’s) the most in my interactions with staff. This course also allowed me to take the 4Di Quiz, which allows me to not only find out about my leadership style, but about my areas of need. I can now purposely plan for how to address these areas of weakness through my Camp Power position, and my weaknesses really do connect so well to the Social Resources of the PLRs. The planning that I did today based on my 4Di results, will help me as I continue to lead this summer.

I also think that this course will help me in my daily interactions with colleagues. Today, I met a fellow educator for brunch. She teaches at a different school than me, and we often end up talking teaching when we’re together. I kind of think this is what teachers do best. 🙂 This morning, this acquaintance of mine was talking about some challenges that she was having in her classroom. I’ll admit that I’m usually quick to jump in with possible solutions or share my thinking around her comments. Today though, I thought about the norms of collaboration, and I responded differently. I know that “pausing” is hard for me, so I purposely worked on pausing. I didn’t jump in with ideas, as I often tend to do, and I even left some moments of silence after she spoke. These moments allowed me to reflect before responding. Instead of jumping in with my ideas, I tried to “pose questions.” I do like to ask questions — especially in blog posts 🙂 — but when somebody is sharing a problem, I tend to pipe in with solutions instead of questions. Today, I did a lot of wondering aloud. I tried to purposely speak quietly, wonder honestly, and ask more questions as time allowed. I just asked one question at a time, and depending on how she responded, I asked another one. In the end, I just left a question hanging there. She never really replied, and I never followed up with a statement of what I would do. I keep thinking back to the definition of leadership that my group compiled on Saturday at the course. Maybe, in its own way, this was my opportunity to “respectfully push” someone else to “get to that uncomfortable space where learning happens.”

Finally, I’m hoping that this course will help me re-think who can be a leader. I so often see a leader as only an administrator, but as I was reminded yesterday, even students can be leaders. I even think of some of the Kindergarten leaders that we have in our classroom. In the clip below, one leader is supporting other children as they collect their belongings and get ready for home. Even the way in which they communicate — singing vs. talking — makes a difference. 

Leadership may not always look the same, when you’re dealing with kids versus adults or administrators versus parents or teachers, but we’re still all engaged in leadership.

Reflecting even more now about my mom’s question, I now have a different answer. I may not use this course for seeking out a new position, but I think I will use it to gain new knowledge, a new skill set, and improve on my current practices. Sometimes, thinking and learning is just as valuable as doing, and in this case, the Leadership Course is giving me a lot to think and learn about. Considering some of your professional development opportunities, what do you do with courses when they’re over, or even throughout taking them? I think there’s always value in considering, what might come next, and how will this make a difference for me?


Am I The Lone Wolf In A Sea Of Wannabe Principals?

Yes, I believe in doing things that scare you. It’s for this very reason that I signed up for the Teacher Leadership Course through our Board. I struggled with this decision. I don’t really see myself as a leader — at least not in the more formalized way that I often see “leadership.” I have no dreams of being a principal. At one time, I had dreams of becoming a consultant, but those dreams have at least currently been replaced with my love for the classroom. I truly do love being around and working with kids. I have an incredible teaching partner, Paula, who teaches me something new every day, and I could not be more fortunate than to share a classroom space with her and our 29 amazing kindergarteners. Why then am I taking this course?

It’s a really good question. Last year, on my Annual Learning Plan, I indicated an interest in developing my leadership skills. I just finished my first year as the Curriculum and Site Support Teacher for Camp Power, and I wondered if some more formal leadership training would make me better at this position. I was no longer in charge of only my classroom, but instead the programming and implementation of this programming, for an entire camp. I needed to work closely with instructors. I needed to support instructors, children, and parents, while also collaborating with an on-site administrator. I was definitely moving out of the teacher realm. My plan was to take Leadership Part 1 through our Board last year, but I missed the sign-up deadline, and was then taking Reading Part 1. So I waited for the next school year, and now Leadership Part 1 has become a Teacher Leadership Additional Qualification Course. 

When I initially saw this news, I waited. I kept re-reading Kristin‘s tweet and the information posted online. And then, as a few spots remained, I took the plunge and signed up. October 17th was our first class, and in the first five minutes, I wondered if I made a mistake. As I looked around the room, thought about the people there that want to become administrators, and looked at the Ontario Leadership Framework on the table in front of me, I feared that this course was not meant for a teacher like me. Am I really this kind of leader?

I shared some of my fears with the table group. I even shared some with the course instructor that was part of our group … but I didn’t leave the room. I didn’t walk away. I’ll admit that I considered it, but the truth is, this course is really interesting. It’s giving me a better understanding of the leaders that I know in our school and Board settings …

  • from principals,
  • to consultants,
  • to reading specialists,
  • to teacher leaders … maybe even those people like me.

This course is forcing me to think about how I act, what I do, and what I believe, and it’s causing me to reflect on myself in a leadership role.

  • How am I as a listener?
  • How do I view colleagues?
  • How do I make decisions?
  • What changes could I make to my practices?
  • How might these changes impact on me and those around me?

It’s forcing me to slowly expand my definition of “leadership,” and maybe see a school leader as more than just a principal. And this is just after the first class. While I still wonder if I might be one of the few people here that does not have dreams of becoming a principal, maybe that’s okay. I wonder if this course gets at the heart of any professional development: what you get out of it may vary depending on your background knowledge, starting point, and goals. My leadership dreams may be different from those of some other educators, but there’s still value in learning how to be a better leader. Have others taken a leadership course and felt similarly apprehensive? Did your course change these feelings, and if so, how? I wonder if I might shortly learn that I am not a lone wolf in a sea of wannabe principals, but if not, I’d like to believe that all of us can still happily co-exist. 


A Need To “Pause,” But Wait …

This year, I decided to get involved with our Board’s N.T.I.P. Mentorship Program. It’s been many years since I’ve been involved, and I thought that this would be an exciting new leadership opportunity for me. On Thursday, we met for our first session as mentors. I was really excited when I heard that Kristin Roy would be joining us to give us some training around the Seven Norms of Collaboration. While I’ve heard of these norms before and discussed them at some staff meetings in the past, my learning around these norms is still new. I was eager to dig into them more. We focused on two norms: paraphrasing and pausing. As I tweeted during the session, I had some initial thoughts on both of these norms, and I’ve contemplated them even more since Thursday. 

Since returning to school at the end of the day on Thursday, I’ve found Kristin’s voice running through my head. At the end of her presentation, all of the mentors thought of ways that we could practice these norms before meeting with the new teachers in the next couple of weeks. I had a few different thoughts on how I could practice, but one was definitely in the classroom.

My teaching partner, Paula, and I have had many recent conversations around “wait time,” and I definitely see the connection between this and “pausing.” Since we record so many videos in the classroom, listening back to the recordings after school each day, gives us an opportunity to reflect on wait time. I happened to think even more about this on Thursday, as Paula also shared with me some videos that she took while I was away. Since I wasn’t there to hear the discussions at the time, I listened even more carefully to them, and even reflected on them in my Instagram posts. 

When I returned to the school Thursday afternoon, I took a few minutes to talk to Paula before our staff meeting. Most of our talk was around “wait time.” We both struggle with the same thing: we know that wait time is valuable for kids, but how do we give students the additional time that they need in a busy Kindergarten classroom where time can be at a premium? 

I wondered about the idea of walking away. If we gave the student a prompt such as, “What sounds do you hear?,” and then moved away to work with another child, would that first student start to problem solve independently? I don’t know. I think of a couple of children that keep coming up again to ask for help, or want to know that each sound is correct before moving on. I wonder about that child who waits until you’re there to even attempt the task, and then waits for reassurance before moving on. How much wait time do you give the child? How do you know when a student actually needs more help versus needs more time? Sometimes I’ve seen success with working through a problem together first, building confidence, and then being able to provide the wait time for independence. But is one problem enough? If the child looks for support do you give it or do you wait? I want to be kind and empathetic, but I also don’t want to solve problems for children that they can solve on their own. 

On Friday, I really pushed myself to wait when working with a child on some reading and writing. In many ways, it worked, although at times I wonder if I still gave her more support than she needed. Did I say sounds again when she could have been prompted to repeat them? 

As I mentioned after school to Paula, there was a lot that I put off as I sat here to work with this child. Was my time spent with her valuable? Yes. Did it help her build some confidence in her skills? Yes. But is it always possible to put some other things off, and what might be some possible drawbacks in doing so? I’m trying to weigh the pros and cons here, while figuring out what’s necessary, what’s reasonable, and how reality might compare to the research. How do you make “wait time” a feasible reality in your classroom or home, and how might children respond to having this extra time? I can’t help but think of a conversation that I had yesterday with my principal minutes before the nutrition break bell rang for returning to class. He ended up pausing when I most definitely should have, but the pressure of the bell, changed things for me. I certainly have work left to do on “pausing,” but if nothing else, Thursday’s training has made me far more aware of this. Thanks for taking up an important spot in my head, Kristin Roy!


A Taste Of Leadership

Now that Camp Power has come to an end, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around leadership. One of the things that this camp allows me to do is to develop my leadership skills. As one of the site leads, I get to support instructors with program planning and implementation, as well as coordinate professional development opportunities to continue to extend this learning throughout the three-week camp program. This position excites me. It makes me think and act in different ways. It helps me see the value in a good question, the need for a positive school culture, and the importance of building community. 

I love watching the growth of children and staff (myself included) throughout the 15 day program, and thinking about everything that was needed to make this happen. But one thing that I appreciate the most about this site lead opportunity is that it gives individuals in a teaching role, the chance to lead. 

I remember a meeting that I was invited to a number of months before the summer program began. Representatives from different local school boards that are involved in the Summer Learning Program came to this meeting. As we went around the table to introduce ourselves, people identified their School Board role. I met many principals and consultants, but I was the only teacher around this table. This is often when I default to the line, “I just teach Kindergarten.” I wonder why I feel the need to include the word, “just.” Is everyone else a better leader because they are one all year round? 

Here’s the truth. I love my job as a Kindergarten teacher. I want to be in the classroom. 

  • Working with children excites me.
  • I may not countdown the number of days until school ends, but I do countdown the number of days until it begins.
  • Our kids make me laugh.
  • I have the best teaching partner in the world, who constantly gets me thinking differently, trying new things, and considering other approaches to better support kids. 
  • Watching children master difficult concepts, learn new skills, and change their attitude towards learning, thrills me. 
  • The classroom is one of the places where I’m happiest!

This doesn’t mean that I want to give up my summer leadership opportunity for an instructor position. Being a site lead comes with its own challenges, its own successes, and its own joy. I’m thrilled that the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board allows a teacher to be a leader in this way, and still go back to the classroom every September. Maybe one day, I’ll want to extend my formal leadership beyond the summer months, but for now, I couldn’t be happier to be heading back to teaching … and with some new thoughts and skills that I have learned this summerHow do different schools and Boards support leadership interests among classroom teachers? I wonder if there are other educators out there like me, who love the classroom environment, while also enjoying a taste of leadership.