About 5 1/2 years ago now, I applied for a consultant position with our Board. I didn’t get the job, and at the time, I was heartbroken. This was a position that I really wanted connected to a topic that I was passionate about. I still remember when I got the phone call from the principal telling me that I was not the successful candidate. I tried hard to hold it together, and then, I cried. But I also listened to her advice. It was thanks to this principal that I expanded my teaching experience into the junior grades, and I think gained an even better understanding of both students and curriculum. And then, I made a decision to stay in the classroom.
I applied to other teaching jobs after that. I changed schools twice, and I changed grades four times … but I did not apply to a system position again. I’ve seen positions come up multiple times since my unsuccessful experience, and I’ll admit that I considered different ones. I’ve prepared some resumes, and even experimented with different cover letters, but in the end, I decided that I was happiest in the classroom.
Then May of this year came around, and late one evening, I happened to check the job postings on our Board website. It was then that I saw a posting for the Camp Power Summer Curriculum And Site Support Teacher. Camp Power is a Ministry-funded summer program run by our Board, and it’s intrigued me for years. For the past 21 years though, I’ve taught at the same summer program every July, and with some overlapping dates, working at Camp Power was never a possibility. But this year, the other summer program isn’t running, and now I could apply to Camp Power. I was conflicted though.
This posting was not for a teaching position.
This would be the first leadership role I applied to since the last one that I didn’t get. I was scared of facing disappointment again.
The applications were also due in just a few days, and I was battling a terrible cold. Did I have it in me to apply?
I decided to take a chance. I worried that if I didn’t, I would always wonder about what might have been. And so, with some trepidation, I stayed up late, finalized my resume and cover letter, and emailed in my application. After that, I waited … it was not easy to do!
When you really want a certain email to come, and every other one seems to come but that one … #remainingoptimistic
This story though has a happy ending for me. I did get an interview, and I got one of the two positions. I was thrilled!
I’ve learned a lot of new things this summer around …
… and staff training just began today. This will be a very different summer for me. For 21 summers and 16 years with the Board, I have always been a classroom educator, and now I’m supporting others as they prepare to run their classroom programs.
I’m delivering professional development.
I’m trouble-shooting and problem solving.
And I’m seeing education through a different lens. This is an exciting change … and a scary one. I think that I’ll be learning a lot over these 17 days. Sometimes we all need to do something that scares us. What are you doing?
I share all of this because my greatest aha moment happened at the beginning of this conversation and before most people arrived. Our water cooler talk was right next door to Jon Orr‘s incredibly popular session, and at first, the only people coming into our room were doing so in order to grab chairs to move next door. This gave Matthew, Mary-Kay Goindi (she helped directionally challenged me find my way to the right room 🙂 ), and I, a few quiet moments to talk.
The three of us are quite a diverse group of educators. I teach Kindergarten, Matthew supports math educators from Kindergarten to Grade 12, and Mary-Kay is a K-8 teacher librarian, who also teaches Grade 8 math. We don’t appear to have much in common. Our conversation proved otherwise.
During our talk about math, we started to discuss patterning. I can’t quite remember how this topic came up, but it did. When Mary-Kay started to talk about AB patterns, I was about to mention the simplicity of these types of patterns, and how we encourage students to move from them to more complicated patterns (e.g., ABB or ABBA ones). And then she made the comment that led to my light bulb moment: the important learning that comes from these types of patterns is when students begin to realize that there are the same number of one colour or object as the other one. Just like in ABB patterns, they see that there are twice as many of one colour or object as another one. Of course! This is how patterning connects to algebra (mic drop). In all of my years teaching elementary math, I always emphasized the repetitive nature of patterns … but Mary-Kay’s passing comment made me realize that there’s even bigger learning that comes from patterns.
I’m now starting to think about the questions that we ask around patterning.
What if we helped students see these number relationships instead?
What value might this have for them initially and in the long run?
All of a sudden, I see a much stronger connection between patterning and number sense, and I’m re-evaluating how I approach and respond to patterning in the classroom. I can’t wait to talk to my teaching partner about this as we look ahead to next year.
This experience on Thursday reminded me about the importance of connecting with educators from all grade levels and disciplines. I can’t help but think about my “one word” — perspective — and the value in conversing with people who share different perspectives. You never know when, or from whom, you’re going to learn something new. I wonder how we make these kinds of cross-grade learning opportunities more prevalent at a school and Board level. What have you tried? How has it worked? If we’re open to it — and take that important “learning stance” — I think there’s a lot of potential here. What do you think?
Yesterday, I had the amazing opportunity to present at the OTF – Teaching Math Through Problem Solving Conference. When Mary-Kay Goindi initially asked me to present, she emphasized that it was important to have hands-on components to the sessions. I decided to facilitate two sessions that were connected together: one on Math Through Play and one on Documentation. I was excited to bring some “free play” to the conference, and hopefully get people thinking about the math that happens in the everyday and that can be extended through noticing and naming math behaviours.
(Note that the suitcase that’s beside the cart was full of materials as well.)
I’m a big believer in the fact that a Kindergarten classroom provides an optimum learning environment for kids. Math becomes embedded in the whole day, and students really start to see themselves as mathematicians: asking questions, solving problems, and using mathematical vocabulary that we have exposed them to throughout the year. Since I couldn’t bring the people to our classroom, I decided to bring our classroom to the people.
I really wanted to make this learning authentic, so I chose to present the materials, in much the same way as we present them.
There were no signs.
There were no posted questions or activities.
I told the participants that they could touch everything, move things around, and use items in any way that they wanted.
For both sessions, I created Padlet walls, where people could add links, ideas, questions, and comments. During the Documentation session, I also printed some documentation examples to include around the room, and encouraged people to document their play: even talking to other educators during the process, as a way to analyze what they observed and discuss and determine some possible next steps. I was so excited about this! I loved the fact that these sessions were not going to be “sit and get” ones, and that as teachers played more, they could discuss different options to link “learning” and “play” in all grades. I’ll admit that in my dream world of how this was all going to come together, we would all get to listen to and participate in rich discussions, ask questions, and leave with new ideas to contemplate and new things to try.
And while this did happen with a group of participants, something else also happened:in both sessions, the majority of people left early.In the second session, the room almost cleared out completely as soon as I told people that they could “start playing.” In the first session, it took a little longer for this to happen. Some people came to talk to me first, and a few were surprised that our “play time” is our “learning time,” and all tools become “math tools.” Our conversations continued for a little while, but often after talking (and normally without playing), people left. On one hand, I can attribute people leaving to factors such as,
this was the second day of the conference, and people were tired.
there were lots of interesting sessions happening at the same time, and people wanted to see other ones.
my second session was close to lunch, and people were hungry.
many people attended both of my sessions, so by the end of the second one, they may have seen and explored everything.
people got the ideas and the links to the presentations. Maybe for some people, this was enough.
But on the other hand, I’m left worrying and wondering if there were other reasons for them leaving.
Did the sessions not meet their needs? Should I have shown a bigger variety of examples to the full group, and not just have included the links in the Padlets?
Did I “release responsibility” too early? Did we need to engage in more playing and documenting as a full group before people went to do so on their own?
Was “free play” too “free” for adults? Are we looking for “instructions,” and does this eventually lead students to do the same? How might we change this, and is this something that’s worth changing?
“Sit and get” PD is often criticized (I do this as well), but is this what some people wanted? Why? Or did I just need to find a better middle ground?
Criticism is rarely easy to take, but I think that we can learn a lot from all kinds of feedback. I’m making inferences based on my observations from yesterday, and while I did receive some very positive feedback, I also can’t ignore what I saw. Now I’m hoping to hear more. If you were at these sessions, what did you think, and if you weren’t, what might you suggest based on what I shared here? Yesterday, I was excited about the possibilities of “play,” and while some play happened, many materials were left untouched. The learner and questioner in me, needs to find out why.
This afternoon, I had the pleasure of sitting with some educators from our school and some educators from a neighbouring school to help plan our upcoming PA Day. For part of the PA Day, we’re going to be exploring the process expectations in math: problem solving, reasoning and proving, reflecting, selecting tools and strategies, connecting, representing, and communicating. As our conversation progressed today, I started to wonder if these mathematical processes are actually about more than just math.
It started with the problem solving expectation. I thought about an experience from this morning (that I wish I recorded by I accidentally missed). This Instagram post sums up what happened though.
While this discussion was not about a “math problem,” it did start with bringing a “problem” to the class: the need to display art for our upcoming Art Gallery. Students took this problem and started to generate solutions, which eventually led to a child measuring and cutting brown paper for our bulletin boards.
This is just one example, but there could be so many more. I think about what happened the other day when it was really muddy outside, and we told the children that they could not go on the grass in the outdoor classroom. The other Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Raymond, mentioned that the grass may not grow back in the springtime if it continues to be trampled down. When the children went outside with their snacks, one of our students found some wood pieces behind the shed. He really wanted to get over to the little plastic house in the corner of the grassy area to eat his snack. He thought that if he could “build a bridge” over to the house, then he would be able to walk over there without walking on the grass. Now this is problem solving!
This was not just about problem solvingthough. Think about the tools and strategies used, reflectingduring the process, and communicatingthinking throughout. This communication continued after creating the bridge, as this child then used PicCollage to write a note to Mrs. Raymond to ask her about keeping it.
I realize that there are math connections to this problem, especially related to measurement. This was not presented as a math problem though. In fact, it was not presented as a problem at all. We initially just said, “No mud or grass.” The child created the problem when he identified his desire to eat his snack in the plastic house and realized that he could not get to it without walking on the mud. This is when he found another way.
The Kindergarten Program Document emphasizes that math and language should not be taught in isolation, but instead, reinforced through play. This is where “noticing and naming” are so important. We can see the learning in action and make the connection, for the students, to the expectations. With this approach, I think that we get richer learning, but we also get these process expectations embedded in so much of what we do all day long. And as students problem solve, reason and prove, reflect, select tools and strategies, connect, represent, and communicate in one subject area, will this make them feel even more confident to do so in other subject areas? I think these process expectations cause us to think more about how children learn, in math and beyond. What do you think?
I started to realize this on Wednesday night when the Mega Minds on Media session ended. I was not as busy as I’ve been in past years — with visits at the table going in ebbs and flows — but by the time that the last person arrived to talk about Explain Everything, it took every bit of mental energy in me to find the words to engage in a conversation about this app. I knew then that I was drained, and I needed a chance to relax my body and mind. I quickly packed up and headed to my hotel across the street, and spent some quiet time unpacking and watching video recordings from my teaching partner and supply teacher, highlighting the learning that happened in class that day. These videos made me happy and excited about some new possibilities. That’s when I checked my tweets about meeting up with Adele to finalize our presentation for the next day. We decided to meet over in her hotel room. Little did I know that making it to this hotel room would be a 40 minute quest full of many stressors.
It all started when Adele mentioned that if I happened to have “crackers,” I could bring them over. I didn’t, but I hate to go anywhere empty-handed, so I decided that there must be a place to buy some. I called down to the front desk, and found out that there’s a convenience store a block away. I started heading there, but then wasn’t sure which direction to take, so thought that I could find something in the lobby of the hotel to buy. I found a Starbucks at the Marriott, and thought that nuts and bagels are kind of like crackers: they at least belong to the same family of foods. I bought them and headed upstairs to Adele’s room. I knocked … three times, no answer. Did I have the room number wrong? I decided to check my iPad, but realized that I forgot it back over at my hotel. No problem. I’d ask at the desk. The problem was that Adele wasn’t registered there, and I couldn’t remember the last name of her roommate. Aargh! It was time to haul all of the goodies back to my hotel and check. When I got there — of which, now it was 25 minutes past when I should have been in Adele’s room — I decided to take the elevator that I thought was closer to my room to save some time. It turns out though that this elevator went to the same floor as mine, but somehow, the hotel rooms on this side of the building didn’t connect with the ones on the other size … and I was now in a maze of hotel rooms, searching to find my way back to the elevator. When I managed to do that, I went down, walked across the lobby, and took the other elevator up to the floor. Then I found my hotel room, and thankfully, my iPad. Now I had a new problem: the room number that I went to at the Marriott was the same as the one that Adele messaged me, so why didn’t she answer the door? Thirty-five minutes into this hotel adventure, I write Adele again, and she says that she’ll meet me in the lobby of her hotel. That’s when I think back to a couple of years ago, and vaguely remember that there are two Marriott hotels right near each other. Did I go to the wrong one? I look back on the name of the one that she sent me, and I realize that it’s similar to — but not exactly the same — as the one that I see outside of my hotel room window. I get downstairs and ask the parking attendants where I can find the right Marriott. Their response: “turn the corner.” I do … and about 40 steps from where I’m standing is the hotel that I tried to find 40 minutes ago. 🙂 Can you feel my stress?
While this story provided many laughs throughout the conference, that night, I realized how draining it can be to get lost in so many different ways. By the time that I went through the presentation with Adele and enjoyed dinner out with her and some other conference goers, I was exhausted. Dinner ended around 8:30, and I was invited back to the room with the others, but I knew that I needed a chance to unwind. In previous years, I would have socialized anyway, but on Wednesday night, I thanked everyone for a wonderful time, and headed back to my hotel (thankfully without getting lost).
Then comes Thursday: the day that I have two presentations. While both presentations seemed to go quite well, it was definitely a non-stop day full of way more talking than I’m used to doing in a day. Plus, the Bring I.T. Together Conference is full of many opportunities to socialize and meet new people in-person that you may have only connected with online. As I mentioned in a recent post on The MEHRIT Centre blog, all of this small talk can be a social stressor for me, so while I loved the opportunity to connect, I was definitely feeling it at the end of the day. That night, I was supposed to go to two different social events, but instead, I went back to the hotel room, watched some more video uploads from my teaching partner, and took a nap. I then went out for a quick and quiet dinner with some friends, and happily went back to the hotel room early to go to bed. I needed this low-key evening to help self-regulate after a very up-regulating day.
Early the next morning, I caught a tweet from Jonathan So about his Ignite presentation that I missed the night before. That’s when I engaged in this Twitter conversation with him.
I realized that in past years, I would have forced myself to go out. I would have come back exhausted, and I probably would have struggled with learning anything the next day. By thinking about what I needed first, and giving myself permission to take the time for me, I was able to go into the final day of the conference ready to learn.
It was on this final day, that I realized that I’m not the only one finding ways to self-regulate. The second session that I attended on Friday was about tech-enabled teacher leadership. As the presenter, Camille, had us orally share some ideas with the group, I looked up and noticed a fellow educator, Kristy, crocheting. Watching her crochet throughout the session, I realized that this was helping her stay calm, stay focused, and stay engaged in the learning. I later had lunch with Kristy, and she let me take this photograph and share it with others.
Our conversation with her over lunch made me even more aware that as adults, we all find ways to calm down during “stressful times.”
We may choose to crochet.
We may choose to doodle.
We may choose to tweet (something that many people at this conference chose to do).
We may choose to catch Pokemon … of which, apparently, Niagara Falls is full of them.
We may choose to journal or blog.
We may choose to fidget with our own adult fidget toys … which, as Kristy pointed out to me at lunch, was the toothpick that I broke apart in so many different ways.
We may choose to hum, to tap our foot or fingers, or to move back or forth in our seat.
We may also choose to take a break or create our own mini-sessions, where we can enjoy some quiet conversation and maybe a little less cognitive strain.
Thinking back to previous years at this conference and other ones, I wonder how many times I was in a state of high energy and high tension, and if I ever tried to get myself back down again. Last night, I saw one of my favourite vlogs from Susan Hopkins at The MEHRIT Centre, and I realized how much I could relate to her thinking.
When you’re on this Self-Reg journey, it’s so hard not to see everything through a Self-Reg lens, and constantly reflect on how much more learning you have to do. As challenging as it can be at times, this conference was a good reminder for me, that to be at my best, I need to find some alone time. How do you take this time for you? What might be the benefits in doing so? May we all have those wonderful opportunities to learn, to engage, to socialize, and to take a break and self-regulate.