Discomfort Zone

I posted this yesterday and then WordPress/my internet connection made the post disappear. It wasn’t even saved as a draft. What did I learn from that? Try and wait until the page is loaded COMPLETELY before writing. Duly noted.

Those of you who know me, or follow me on Twitter, also know that I’m not afraid of a challenge. My username, @discomfortzone reflects that clearly (although, in all honesty, it was chosen randomly and inspired by a Jonathan Franzen book).
I think that educators leave the comfort zones regularly, but most of us leave it when we start the new year. New kids, parents, curriculum…. anything that is slightly different should, in theory, challenge our current thinking and help us develop.

Of course, this is what makes educators, in part, lifelong learners.

I find myself in a comfortable discomfort zone at the moment. Since starting at IS Modena, I have been positively challenged. Being in a discomfort zone means rethinking yourself, your beliefs and practices.
Here are my current “challenges” (they are in no way bad!):

  • a new environment (town/region)
  • new colleagues (getting to know people takes time, sometimes it takes forever to remember names… but you also have to find out how to best collaborate… process)
  • new school means new building: getting to know your classroom. Where to put resources…..
  • new school means new buiding 2: knowing where to get everything. It gets easier every day.
  • new students
  • new parents

I am excited to be here, excited to meet the kids in two days. But I have gone quiet, because I need to reflect, take in and make sense of my situation. I need to remember that the kids might be just the same though! Here is to a great new year!

Will you be in my class?

Will you be in my class? Will you be one of those children who will call me their class teacher?
Are you curious and excited about the next year? I certainly am! I am positively excited, ready to go.
I have new ideas, I am full of enthusiasm, and I hope you are too!

This is important to know…. this year you will….

  • be in my class, but you will learn a lot outside of that class too
  • you will learn with peers and people from your class, from your school, from your town, and all over the world
  • the walls in our classroom are going to be flattened. We will create communities of learning and inquiry all over
  • have to ask questions
  • get to follow your curiosity
  • develop your creativity
  • take many risks, face up to challenges, and take meaningful action (meaningful to YOU!)
  • learn with your teacher, teach your teacher
  • and much more!

I am excited. Excited about school starting in less than two weeks. Excited to meet you, to learn with you and to get to know you! I hope you are too!

Education and Technology?

This morning I woke up and thought: Why do people make such a big deal about technology?
I ask myself that, because it is so much part of my life, it is “natural” to me.

Shouldn’t we just accept technology into our classrooms just like we accept books, maths manipulatives, and playdough in kindergarten?

Why is it that schools do not reflect “real life” anymore? How come schools lack so far behind? Is it really the teachers who do not use technology? I doubt it!

Just some thoughts this morning, but I will make it my mission to “naturally” deal with technology this year, to authentically integrate what I integrate into my everyday life anyway. And to help anyone who wants to do so as well! Yes!

Happy Saturday!

About a woman who loves, and a boy who was failed

In my previous post I mentioned an educator who unconditionally loves all children. Not only does she love all children though, I she loves all people. Today I want to write about her a little bit more. This is the story of an amazing woman, and a boy who was failed.

When I started my first teaching job, I entered a school without children and teachers. It sounds bizarre, but they had all just left. Most of them, anyway. What had happened before? The school, private and with a different educational approach, accepted new students to their upper grades. Students who had failed elsewhere. The teachers were not prepared for that, many of those students showed behavioral difficulties and chaos had broken out in the new building that no one had gotten used to.

This is how Anke (I only dare use her first name for now) became to be the principal of the middle school in which I worked. A pre-school teacher, and pre-school administrator in a new and unexplored role, with new staff, new children and a lot of bad temper from parents. She smiled all the time. She was there for people. She was there for teachers and students and parents alike.

And then there was the boy. A boy who had been to so many schools (and not due to moving, simply because he was expelled) and needed to feel loved. He was “trouble”, no doubt. But we tried a lot to make him feel welcome and safe in our school. And even when things got hard, Anke would tell us that we can’t let him go, we can’t fail him.

Looking back, I realize how things went wrong. But also in a good way, because had it not been for Anke and another teacher, who went out of his way to get the boy the help he needed, the boy would have probably just been moved to another school.
However, with the experience I have now, I think I would have been a different person to him. I understand Anke now, when she said we can’t just let him go.

A woman, who so unconditionally loves, who is always there for everyone, is a hero in my eyes. A role-model. A woman who fights for the children in her care, in her class, in her school. A woman who does not scare away from trouble, from problems. Someone who faces up to even the toughest challenges. She continues to be a hero, with a new pre-school in Berlin. She is always on my mind!

Photo Credit: Love me tender, by Aelle. Flickr. Creative Commons license.

Love them all!

A few days ago I read one of the most inspiring blog posts of the summer: Love them before you know them. Greta (@gret) shared her first year teaching story. And not only is it heart-felt and honest, it was a great reminder about giving each and everyone a chance.

A few thoughts of the top of my head:

  • Every child deserves to be who they are
  • Every child deserves to be challenged and supported to develop into a future leader
  • Teachers/educators, it is our JOB and our MISSION to support every single child. There is no easy-way-out solution, you have to fit the child, not the other way around
  • Spreading negativity is bad. Negativity is contagious, esp. in stressful situations. It can easily lead to an all-around bad atmosphere in a school, esp. among staff.
  • Sharing opinions about students can be harming to them. If a teacher finds it hard to deal with a child, then they might consider the child “useless”. If that attitude is passed on, the child might struggle another year. Looking at Greta’s story, we always have to try afresh.
  • And this brings me to talk about reports, references and passing on information about students. It is all good. Great to know where they are and what they know. But let’s face it! You have to get to know them yourself. Your students can be a completely different kind of people when you get them, compared to how they were the year before. An experience over the summer could turn student F, the quiet, shy and introvert character who is an academic genius, into an exploring, inquiring and challenging “nuisance” (of course, only if you see it that way!) in the next year. We need to give the children the opportunity to get to know us, and for us to get to know them. Reports, references and other people’s opinions should be used carefully. Take time to get to know each other.
  • Lastly, I can know understand even better why students change teachers. In Germany, at most primary school, students stay with the same teacher for 4 years. That can be fatal for some, great for others. While I worked in Berlin, parents were always complaining about the change of classroom teacher (and partly they had a right to do so, but that is another story). However, giving students a new opportunity every year is important, in my opinion.

As you can see, Greta made me think a lot. Her post reminded me of stories of children I taught. Experiences I have had in school. Reminded me to love my Grade 3, even though I don’t know them yet. Greta made me even more excited about starting school, and getting to know the kids. And teachers.
Most importantly though, she reminded me of another amazing educator I know, who unconditionally loves all children, and who I have never ever heard making a bad remark. That is for another post though. Thanks Greta, and also Nancy (@NancyTeaches) and George (@gcouros) for their follow-up posts that got me thinking even more!

Recommendations:
Nancy Teaches (@NancyTeaches): Hope came back
The Principal of Change (@gcouros): What are you looking for?
Watch our for Greta’s blog. She is currently working on her own! The above mentioned post by Greta is a guest post at Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension by Mrs Ripp aka @4thGrdTeach

Photo credit: In “LoVe” Germany..HappY ValenTine’s Day.. by Thai Jasmine. Flickr. Creative Commons license.

The wish to inspire reading….

I have just come across this wonderful blog post by Nancy Ehrlich on her blog Nancy Teaches. She reflected on how she used to do book projects. Interesting to see how these monthly reading projects required a lot of work on her part (choosing the genre, and book possibly, working out the learning outcomes and setting assignments). A lot of the reading comprehension tasks asking for creative responses in glue and glitter.

Nancy, you have opened my eyes to something else I should be aware of this year: how I work on my reading in class. Teaching 7 year-olds (Grade 3) will mean my students are a lot younger than my previous classes.

I’m glad I already know that my school does not believe in reading programs. When I started teaching at an international school, the reading programs in place were obligatory in my first year. Oxford Reading Tree, followed by a New Zealand series Sunshine Books. Children had to take those books out for a week, and got to choose a library book. So, there was some choice, but I never got quite into it.
After all, at my previous school reading was by choice!

In my second year of international teaching, the reading levels in my class were so diverse, I decided to make everyone a “free reader”. The books were now there choice! And my class was a class of avid readers last year. Not only that, they started to bring in books from home, swapping them between each other and reporting back on what is worth reading, and what isn’t. Those un-assessed reading activities were easy to observe, but even the assessed reading (by choice) was amazing!

However, I do need to work on assessing reading comprehension more. And Nancy’s ideas are just eye-opening. I want to have a classroom of choice, where students take responsibility for their own learning and can explore various areas to express themselves. Without the dread!
Thanks Nancy! Another example of how your PLN keeps you on your feet!

Photo credit: Book-Color Histogram by Patrick Gage. Creative Common licence.

Summer update

So far I haven’t been particularly specific about what I’m up to in my life. But now I have arrived in Formigine, my new home, I might as well say it out loud on here: In the next academic year (or hopefully years!), I will be teaching at the International School of Modena. I’m still unbelievably excited about this. Ever since setting foot into the school in May 2009, and meeting some of the teachers and principal, I knew this would be a great place to be. And things just fell into place.

Moving is incredibly exciting (although, if you do it like me, moving in mid-August in Italy is as dull as it can get), a new job is too. And there are so many things going on in my head…. often I find myself wishing to start tomorrow. And in less than two weeks new teachers’ in-service days start. Yipee! In the meantime, I’m enjoying the free time, getting to know the area around me (I can already head out without the TomTom) and reading.

I slacked on my summer reading list. I only re-read two Harry Potter books (a ritual, it seems, that helps me to enter holiday mode at the beginning of summer), and I’m slowly reading “Taking the PYP forward”, a collection of essays on how to develop the Primary Years Programme further, and “Five Minds for the Future” by Gardner. Both are quite easy and enjoyable to read. I just have to do it. My main professional development over the summer included the fantastic Reform Symposium (#rscon10), which was not only free, but also accessible from the very comfort of your own bed/sofa/garden/favorite place, as it was hosted online. Furthermore, I found #edchat discussions on Twitter to be thought-provoking and a wonderful learning experience.

The majority of my learning has revolved around technology, which is quite fitting, as my enrollment papers for my MA Education and Technology arrived a few days ago. As of October 2010, I will be a part-time student yet again!

In the next few days I will hopefully post a bit more, including a link to my #edchat summary, my personal aim to develop a particular attribute of the IB Learner Profile further (well-balanced) and ideas for the first weeks of school. In the meantime, enjoy the summer!!

Photo taken by myself: Arnhem/Netherlands. July 2010