Posts tagged classroom
The Right Way?

Aaron Neal is a mathematics and physics teacher at Burlington Central High School.  After attending some professional development around “Finding Your Why” he was left with some questions about the ingredients that go into great teaching. This is his first guest post for The Shift.

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Teaching is not a solved problem.  I love that about it. Every conversation with a student, parent, colleague or administrator is an opportunity to get closer to the solution.  I will never stop hunting for the right way to teach.  It is out there, I just need to keep hunting.  My first thought I ever had about teaching was that a good explanation was all I needed.  Now I know that sometimes the best explanation is no explanation at all. I have grown and changed, had more thoughts and ideas about education than I can remember; however, I am still on the hunt…

Just because I have never even caught sight of my prey doesn’t mean that I don’t know the scent of it.  

I don’t know what the right way to teach is; however, I think that these aspects of how to teach the right way will be the scent that leads me to it.

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My time on the hunt has led me to change my practice time and time again.  Here are a couple of examples of my personal journey.

Giving Time to “Breathe” in the Learning

There was a time when I had a schedule with units of learning, quadratics for 2 weeks, linear relations for 2 weeks, a textbook section a day until I ran out and then 2 days for review and a test.  Why does the test need to come 2 days after the end of the unit? The students have not lived in the topic for long enough, they will cram, succeed and forget. They need to breathe it in make it a part of them, understand it, apply it, see how it connects to the next thing, refine, practice, build something with it.  This takes time. I don’t know how to make it work with all the other things that make up the right way; however, when I catch sight of my prey it will include time for the kids to breathe in their learning.

Time Management

Many of us have integrated large scale projects, labs, essays, cross-curricular builds, presentations and more into our practice.  I have been reflecting on this recently as my students embark on the wild adventure that I have built with them. My recent projects have produced incredible creative masterpieces and also a bunch of zeros.  When students were primarily lectured to they were forced to engage in some manner. They were locked in place with the teacher staring right at their faces. They would get a base of material delivered to them.  They may not have cared about the content, understood much of what was communicated to them or even be paying attention fully. They may not have been able to apply it in new contexts; however, most could recall enough to get by on a quiz or test.  When students engage in creative production, most are much more engaged in the problem; however, this is a release of responsibility to them. We design these projects to be a big part of their learning. So for those who fall behind, have a creative block, struggle with group dynamics, etc. they may not just be risking their grades they may also be learning less then they may have in their seats in a traditional lecture.  It is clear to me that it isn’t enough to create an awesome creative opportunity. When we find the right way it will include these projects but also instructional strategies to teach students how to overcome creative blocks, manage their time, work in groups and have pride in their craft.

I am sure there are many items on my list that are things that you feel passionately about.  You are awesome at some of them, struggle with others. I may not be the best at many of these things but as I grow my goal is to improve at as many of these as possible.

The hunt continues...

The Shift would be interested in hearing what’s on your list?  What’s missing from Aaron’s list?


Deeper Learning Is...
That’s the prompt we were asked to think about during day one of the 2018 Deeper Learning Conference.  We were expecting to learn about Project Based Learning and High Tech High when we signed up for this conference.  We were caught off guard by the tone of the day. High Tech High played second fiddle to a much bigger idea, Deeper Learning.

The day started with 1200 educators in the High Tech High forum, with a salsa band playing energetic Latin-influenced grooves.  When they started to cover “Descpacito” and educators cut loose and started dancing, Jamie asked “is this Woodstock for teachers?”.  There was definitely an energy and buzz right from the beginning of the day.

So what is Deeper Learning?

Deeper Learning is...modelling the growth we want to see in our students.  Carlos R. Moreno, in his Keynote, stated that “Vulnerability is a part of good pedagogy”.  If we believe in teaching students the soft skills that they need to be successful in life, we have to model our own risk taking and willingness to be open and honest.  “We, as educators, need to be brave enough to share our own stories.”

Deeper Learning is…teaching our students to be competent.  There is a model to Deeper Learning and at its core lies six competencies.  65% of the jobs that today’s students will have haven’t been invented yet.  Armed with these competencies, students will be better equipped to work and learn in the world that is changing exponentially.




Deeper Learning is…a path to equity. Lindsay Hill said in her keynote that the system of school has been created using historical structures, put in place throughout our history to keep certain groups oppressed.” “We need to think about critical consciousness, racial equity, gender equity, classism, we need to talk about all of the ‘isms’ in our systems if we are TRULY about deeper learning.” The more we can talk about our biases, the more we can be the educators our young people need and deserve.



Deeper Learning is...trying something new, taking faith that the outcome may be unclear, but that growth and deeper learning as educators is guaranteed.  Michelle Clark, Co-Director of the Share Your Learning Campaign encouraged everyone to push out beyond their comfort zone.  As educators we were encouraged to leave our comfort zone, and to try something new.


Democratic Education

Deeper Learning is...giving students agency over their own education.  As Michelle said in her introduction, “We don’t give students voice, they already have one.  We just decentralize our leadership roles so that they can try them on to see the leaders they will become.  Many educators are attending this conference because they want to make school different. Gia Truong spoke about equity and how we can help our students feel like they belong.  If we can agree that we don’t like the story of school, perhaps it is time to change the storyteller.  Giving students more voice in their education is one way to do this.



Deeper Learning is...Beautiful work. Ron Berger, of Austin’s Butterfly fame, talked about the power of beautiful work: work that is not necessarily visually beautiful, but work that is made of actions in service of, actions of passion, actions of equity, of social justice.  Social Justice is needs to be at the core of the curriculum.

Deeper Learning is...evolving.  We are floored by how full our brains feel.  Both of us are looking forward to learning more tomorrow and refining our own personal definition of what Deeper Learning is.
Wonder Walks
This semester, interested teachers in Halton were able to apply for funding for projects that explored Innovation.  That is, projects that will improve a Process, Product or Understanding.




All in all, 49 applications were received with 18 of those projects receiving funding.  Matt and I have been busy trying to connect with as many groups as possible with the intention of blogging about what we’ve learned.  However, we’ve found that many of the groups want to talk about their learning in their own words.


Kelly Bourassa is a Grade One teacher at Brant Hills Public School.  She’s working with her elementary school colleagues at Norton and MacMillan Public Schools on peer to peer collaboration around open ended inquiry projects.


Finding innovation Outdoors


Every Friday morning my class goes on a ‘Wonder Walk’ in the forest near our school. It is my students’ favorite part of the week. The children are free to explore and commune with nature, some for the very first time. When I first ventured outside the classroom I had a plan, an agenda of what we were going to do in the woods. I felt that I was not doing my job if I didn’t assign them a task or a focus for their learning.


Over time I have watched the students as they discover this space and I have learned that to encourage creative minds and innovative ideas, you often need to abandon the lesson plan. You need to trust the innate sense of wonder and imagination that children have and let them lead the way to innovative ideas.  During their exploratory play they work cooperatively to build structures, create games and toys, and find treasures. The students are mindful, they self-regulate and cooperate. They make observations about the environment that lead to some amazing wonderings about the world. This is where I find my purpose as a teacher. I listen to their conversations and prompt further inquiry and discussion. This journey has allowed me to shift my teaching approach. I realized that I can cover curriculum expectations and encourage the development of global competencies through these authentic interactions.




We are beginning to recognize the importance of teaching transferable skills in order to meet the needs of the 21st century learner. This is going to require moving away from the current structured program and incorporate time in the weekly schedule for practicing interest based inquiry. Long journeys begin with small steps, perhaps in the forest.

~ Kelly Bourassa
“We really don’t have a plan”
"We really don't have a plan". That is the spirit of risk taking and experimentation that Sylvonna Brennan and Andrea De Mendonca took when launching into the unknown and piloting “Engology”, an integrated Grade 11 English and Biology course this past fall. You may have seen their article in the Toronto Star. We were interested in digging a little deeper to get an understanding into the conditions that allowed this great combined credit course launch and where it will go from here. 

The basics of their integrated course are easy to understand. Students were offered an English/Biology package of courses in the afternoon. Topics from both sets of curriculum were woven together and both teachers worked closely on creating a coherent experience for students.

Both Sylvonna and Andrea were open to admitting that they were working alongside their students in this new adventure. Many times during the semester they empowered their students to advocate for how they wanted the courses to progress. There were times when the students would push back on topics or evaluations that they did not like and the teachers valued that student voice. 
Rethinking Reading Lists in Engology
Both teachers expected to attract the high achievers in their building to the integrated program. However, in practice this isn’t what happened. Their program attracted the dreamers at their school. It attracted students who wanted to take a risk and try something new and because of that, the cohort of students who joined them were the right kids for the course.

The community in the room grew organically over the semester as students had their beliefs about the Engology credit tested. Many thought it was going to be a bird course and they were soon proved wrong. The course was different, but not easier. Students and teachers noticed a strengthening of their “soft skills” as they were asked to think critically and communicate often about what they were learning.

Communicating understanding in new ways
This lead to a culture of risk taking in the Engology classroom. It’s easy to write a test and put down what you know and then forget about it. It’s a lot hard to communicate your understanding in different ways, to apply it, to write stories that weave the science curriculum into english. Students got comfortable with failure because they had embraced a spirit of iteration. They tried, failed and then learned.

For their parts, Sylvonna and Andrea are learning from their successes and failures too. Both are excited to teach the course again in the next school year. They are hopeful that student interest will allow the program to be run in both semesters. Sylvonna dreams about outfitting her classroom with furniture that will help promote discussion in a more relaxed atmosphere. Andrea is looking forward to finding ways to highlight how biology and science are represented in the media. She is dreaming about an assignment where students critique a film or tv show and talk about how science is glorified or misrepresented.
The creation of the Engology course was a project eight years in the making. Much of the day to day planning was done informally, in the hallways between periods. Sylvonna and Andrea exemplify why, when embarking on a creative or innovative act like this pairing of courses, you need to just launch into it, without a complete plan. It is through the lived experience of creating every day that that the magic happens.

What have you dreamed big about? What’s your eight year project that you wish you could try? We’d love to know!
Teaching Creativity

Amanda Williams-Yeagers has written a number of guest blog posts on the Shift. She is also leading the HDSB Empower Book Talk.

Jordie Burton has also written a guest blog post on the Shift. He is an Art Educator passionate about creativity and design thinking. Amanda and Jordie have teamed up with other HDSB educators to use an innovation grant to delve into teaching creativity and design thinking in our schools.

Sir Ken Robinson begins his famous 2006 Ted talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” by speaking about the evidence and the range of human creativity. He also begins by talking about the uncertainty of the future. The irony of this, is that this brilliant talk took place twelve years ago.

Today we are still wondering what the future will look like and we are still hoping to prepare our students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. We are also curious about the range and extent of human creativity:


What is the definition of creativity? What environment is conducive to creativity for learners? How can we create an environment that nurtures rather than undermines creativity? How can we support our learners to become comfortable with making mistakes?

Sir Ken continues to say that one of the greatest issues in education is that we educate people out of creativity. He captures this when he says that students,

“have become frightened of being wrong. We stigmatize mistakes. And we're now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.”

While recognizing that this was said twelve years ago, we are left wondering if this is something that still exists in education today. In fact, we have a number of questions about creativity that are grounding our inquiry. We are using a design thinking approach to ask the questions, “How can we improve students ability to learn to be creative?” “How can we empower students to identify themselves as creative?” and “How can we change a single story of student’s self-image to the untold story of limitless potential?”



Our first investigation has led us to investigate a broader definition of the concept of creativity. The organization Creativity at Work defines creativity as “the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality” and that if you have ideas but do not act on them, you are imaginative, not creative. Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind says that creativity is “giving the world something it didn’t know it was missing” or as Hugh Howey says “Seeing something that doesn’t exist and then making it so,”. While we continue to work on our broad definition of the concept of creativity, that application of the topic is what matters to us the most.

So, we are putting it out there and asking other educators to support us in our journey and we have lots of questions! We are exploring the idea that creativity has some core elements that can be shared, taught and built. What is the best way to bring that into a classroom? If we want our students to graduate with the ability to think creatively, how do we achieve this? What does teaching “creatively” look like? Are there examples of lessons that explicitly teach creativity? How do we convince our students that everyone has the potential to be creative? 

If you have any ideas, and are willing to help us with our inquiry, please complete this survey and help us by sharing your experiences. We don’t need you to have all of the answers (we don’t either!) we just want you to help us by coming along for the ride.



And with that we leave you with this:


“Creativity is as important now as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.”

-Sir Ken Robinson


Challenging our Current Learning Environments
Amanda Williams-Yeagers wrote a guest blog for us early this month.  She is also leading the HDSB Empower Book Talk.  We’ve enjoy learning with her every Thursday night so much, we asked her to share her thoughts on learning environments and why the classroom landscape needs to change.

I recently held a community circle with a grade seven science class. The students were feeling stressed about looming deadlines and tests, and I wanted to give them a forum to get things off their chest and discuss strategies for coping with management of the feelings they were having.  After a few referenced that this was “Good preparation for high school,” I decided to change the dialogue. I asked them,


“If they could change anything about their current school system and the way that they learned, what would they change?”

Some students talked about wanting more opportunities for hands on experiences and less tests, some talked about wanting more opportunities for creativity and less memorization, and one in particular, directed me to Prince Ea’s video, "I Just Sued the School System."  Curious to learn more, we watched this video as class.  The video references the fact that modern technologies such as the telephone and the car have changed drastically over the last one hundred and fifty years, and yet, the school system remains the same.  After watching  together, I asked them what spoke to them the most about the video. Their feelings and responses were explicitly clear.



Students want to learn in an environment that feels like “home.”  When students feel like they begin with trust rather than having to earn it, they feel more like their teacher believes in them.  The students I spoke to told me that when they enter a classroom that has uncomfortable and “sterile” seating, they feel like they are part of “factory” referenced in the video. They are shipped in, and shipped out, which is why they prefer to work in the library learning commons.  Creating spaces where students feel comfortable, where they feel like they can branch out, productively communicate and collaborate with their peers, and feel “cozy” sets the stage for a community of learners who want to be at  school.


                        A grade five portable that feels like “home” to students.


Clearly,  these aren’t the only learners who feel this way.  I surveyed students from kindergarten to grade eight, asking them about their ideal learning environment.  While some of them had idealistic dreams (“A Starbucks would be great!”), the consensus was clear:  when an environment feels safe, with comfortable seating, lower tables and collaborative seating arrangements- the environment is more conducive to productive learning and a student’s desire to be present.  
One of my favourite books for examining the learning environment in our education system is The Third Teacher.  Created by architects and designers, this books takes a critical look at the connection between the environment and how children learn.  Not only is this book an incredible resource, it comes with a community of support in the form of resources, blog, social media and more through The Third Teacher PLUS.  According to The Third Teacher, you don’t need to have a major budget to “hack” your learning space, you just need an open mind and willingness to let the students be a part of the process.  Oh, and also be open to letting the sun come in. But who could argue with that?
As I reflect more and more on my own practice as an educator, I realize that my favourite place to start when learning new things is to talk to the students.  I thought I did that, but I’m pretty sure I really only wanted them to tell me what I wanted to hear.  I’m realizing that I want my students to take feedback all of the time, but am I willing to listen to feedback myself? If we are open to critical feedback about our practice and our learning environments with students- can it make us even better?  If we begin by asking them what they think, then learning about the pedagogy, perhaps we are improving learning in two different ways at the same time:  Students feel valued because they feel as thought their voice has been heard, and we learn more than we realized we could, because we started with our students in mind.  I think that’s why we are all here in the first place.

   
~ Amanda Williams-Yeagers


Reimagining the Final 30%
Jamie Reimagines Exams

A few years ago I got frustrated with traditional exams.  They were not exciting.  They were not a celebration of student learning.  It wasn’t a showcase of a semester of hard work.  It was a stressful slugfest for our students to regurgitate a semester's worth of learning in an arbitrarily short amount of time.  I realized I didn’t like my traditional exam because it was filled with questions, curriculum and content that I thought was the most important.  In a classroom where student voice is valued, I didn’t think this was an appropriate send off to my students.  I wanted to know what they found to be the most important components of my course.  I wanted to know what they learned, without having to force them down one defined path.

So I mixed it up.  Last year I gave my Advanced Functions students a choice.  They could complete a traditional final exam or they could complete a more open ended exam.  I called it the “Modern Exam”.

I allowed my students to change their minds up to the moment the exam was put in front of them.  I spent lots of time leading up to the final exam coaching each student about the choice they wanted to make.  I provided lots of review, study tips and time to prepare.  In the end, about a third of my class chose to attempt the Modern Exam.  This year, I’m providing this choice again and seeing about 50% of my students choose to try the more open ended exam.

The results don’t disappoint me either.

Matt Reimagines Final Performance Tasks

In our Art classes, we were also growing tired of our final performance task in grade 9 art.  The results of project that we had designed and used the last few years ticked all the boxes, it was safe, and well, a little formulaic.  It didn’t provide room for students to flex their creative muscle and lean on their strengths as creators.  So as part of a final 30% pilot, we redesigned the final performance task.  We called the project “Not-A-Box”, a reference to the imaginative children’s book by Antoinette Portis.  Our aim was to provide some structure and boundaries at the beginning of the project, by requiring students to choose two aspects of our learning from the art course.  The other requirement was that the students were provided with a cardboard box.  They had to re-imagine the box into an art piece and they had to use the entire box to do so.   The results were creative, and incredibly widely varied.  It was great to see students pulling this project in different directions.  There was healthy creative friction for some as they worked through what direction they wanted to take their work.  This is the first iteration of this project, so we will tweak and improve the project for the upcoming semester.

Both of us liked how the “Modern Exam” and “Not-a-Box” allowed students to access their own strengths.  Students had to be pretty self-reflective and look back on their own experiences in our courses.  In both our math and art courses we need to get better at supporting students as they explore their own choices in how they show us what they know.  We like that we are moving away from a teacher-student model to a model that more reflects mentorship.

If you had the ability, what would you change about your Final 30% Tasks?
Cycling Back to the Beginning
It’s the last week before the holiday break.  When I teach grade nine math my goal is to always wrap up the teaching of curriculum before the break.  I do this for two reasons.  First, so that we can spend two weeks engaging in review activities to help prepare for the final exam, which in this case is the EQAO.  The second reason is so that we can play around with a final performance task that is a bit more open than usual.

I had no idea if this plan would hold up now that our grade nine course team was trying a blend of project based learning.  When I step back and think about what our team has accomplished over these four months, I’m pretty pleased.  We started the semester with a question that was very loosely defined, “Can we teach Grade Nine Math using projects?”.  We took a risk and dove in.

After playing with Barbie Bungee, Dandy Candies and some intentionally frustrating algebra problems we decided on our next focus:  We wanted to use ratios to help drive home with the class the need for more formal algebra.

A respectable ratio
We started with an activity that asks students “What is the ideal Mullet Ratio?”  This is an activity that I first saw via Jon Orr on twitter but I’ve come to learn has travelled to us from Matt Vaudrey in California.  In this activity students are asked to determine what is the ideal length of “party” to “business” in a mullet.  It’s silly, students laugh, then they start debating, and then they calculate to justify if their opinions are correct.  The two days we spent on this activity were hilarious.


Of course, we needed a suitable project to go along with ratios.  We know from past experience that there are often challenging ratio problems on the Grade 9 EQAO.  The team wanted to spend time working on different ratio problems in order to set our students up for success in January.  We decided on introducing the class to Nana’s Chocolate Milk, another three act task by Dan Meyer.

We adapted things slightly to allow for students to complete a formal project.  We asked our students to find their favourite recipe and then intentionally mess it up. They then had to “fix” their recipe and prove to us that they ingredients were still in the same ratio.  We even asked them to think back on their work with linear relationships and create some graphs and equations for their recipe.

Bacon is ALWAYS the denominator


This one impressed me
After the students finished with “Nana’s Favourite Recipe” we realized that we needed to dive into the Analytic Geometry strands of the curriculum.  We spent a good two weeks doing some formal instruction with our classes as this is probably the most formal component of the course.  At the end of the two weeks we challenged our classes to create their own drawing in Desmos to show off what they have learned.  We asked for drawings with 8 different lines, since that’s all our classes knew how to do with equations.  We were surprised by the level of depth our students went to.  One boy in my class asked me how to draw curved lines.  When I wouldn’t tell him, he didn’t give up, rather he did some research on his own and then shared his knowledge with the class.  



We have spent the past week trying up any loose ends or curriculum expectations that we did not quite cover.  For the final two days before the break we will ask our students to play with cup stacking, running a project that is heavily influenced by Alex Overwijk and his Thinking Classroom.  By the end of the week students will have created models of different cup stacking strategies, analysed them and extrapolated from their data.

That's some good cup stacking!


What came out of our experiment has been an unintentionally spiralled course.  Algebra and abstraction skills became what we dialed down on but we didn’t spend all that much time on the details.  Our students felt the need for the mathematics, asking for more efficient ways to do things.  When we presented the cup stacking activity to them they were already searching for ways to create equations and models.  

There were many days where the students led the class, posing interesting questions and then answering them.  The teachers became facilitators of great discussions, parachuting in on different groups when they needed assistance or a push to go a bit deeper with their learning.  Some days were great, other days were disasters.  On the bad days, the team would go back to the drawing board, talking about what we could do better in order to help students uncover the curriculum.  We tried something new and learned a lot in the process.  I can’t wait to do it again next semester.
What We Don't Know
I’d like to introduce you to Alex.  She was a student of mine who graduated last June.  I met her for the first time when she was in my Grade 9 Academic Math class.  My first impressions of her was that she was a hardworking student who seemed to be interested in school.  I don’t know if a teacher can ask more from a student.


It was midway through the semester when I learned that Alex was also a competitive diver.  I’ll plead ignorance in that I didn’t really know what this meant, except for the fact that sometimes she missed classes for competitions.  Every so often Alex would travel on a weekend to B.C. or Nova Scotia and miss Friday or Monday, or both.  From my perspective, these trips didn’t impact her achievement very much.  She was always on top of her homework and would seek me out when she needed to make up a test.

I saw Alex every once in a while when she was in Grades 10 and 11, but never taught her during that time.  She’d be in “math help” sometimes, or I’d pop into her classroom one day when I was playing #ObserveMe.  Some days she was happy, sometimes when I saw her she’d be frustrated with her academic progress.  She was hard on herself, driven to do well, as she set high academic standards for herself.  

I taught her again in Calculus and Vectors, a course students might take if they are heading on to University to study Mathematics or Science or Engineering.  Occasionally, some students take it just for fun.  In the class, Alex struggled to balance her diving schedule with her school schedule.  She was stressed out about her semester and what to do in the future, unsure if her passion for diving was holding her back academically.

The performance task I gave for Calculus and Vectors was pretty open ended.  Students could solve the two problems I had created, or make up two problems of their own to solve.  In Halton, this task is only worth 5% of a student's overall mark, so I’d rather they not sink too much time into it.  I also ask students to reflect about their school year, what worked, what didn’t and then finally tell me what mark they think they have earned in the course.

Alex surprised me.  Watch her video and see if you are surprised too.  Don’t worry, I’ve edited out the Calculus parts.



I had no idea that she was riding a train from Burlington to Scarborough every day to diving practice.  I had no idea she spent four hours per day without WiFi trying to maintain her marks.  I was blown away by the words she used and the ideas she expressed with her reflection.  She was dedicated, she knew things took her longer to process but she didn’t blame anyone for that, she learned for the sake of learning.  She understood that her part was a bit harder than it could have been but she appreciated the effort she had to use to make it happen.

It’s amazing to me, what I didn’t know about her individual struggles.  I’m so glad I asked my class to reflect on their year because otherwise I wouldn’t have appreciated each student's individual journey as much.  Our students have stories to tell, sometimes more than one.  Listening to Alex reflect made me appreciate how complex those stories can be and how important it is for teachers to create a space where they feel safe telling their story.   
Small Victories
I have been teaching now for over a decade, and I am slowly approaching my 10,000 hours.  I have easily already surpassed 10,000 hours, if you count all the prepping, planning and marking.  So I generally feel that at this point I have a pretty good handle on the classroom.  So it bruises my ego a bit to say that I have a class that is challenging my abilities as a teacher. In fact, I walked into a teacher workroom to loudly declare “I feel like a new practice teacher”!  I have a group of students that struggle with impulse control, focus in class and situational awareness.  This has kept me on my toes, as there are lessons that I have successfully run for years that have gone up in flames this time around.  It has forced me to self-assess how I am running a class period and re-think how I deliver my curriculum.  

The one thing that has helped me through is by reaching out for ideas and support from colleagues.  When I was a newer teacher, I used to think that it was a sign of weakness if I admitted things weren’t going well in my class.  As a result, I probably vented at home to my partner more than I should have and didn’t seek advice and support in school as much as I could have. This time around, I have reached out to other teachers that teach some students, sought out strategies from the Spec. Ed department, and yes, vented to other teachers when it wasn’t going well (every other day or so, thanks Jamie).

Using advice from colleagues, rethinking curriculum delivery, working hard to really understand the learners in my class and keeping a firm hold on maintaining the community building in the classroom have all helped turn things around.  I celebrate the little wins when I can, and the moments of connection I can make with students.  Today, I applied a strategy given to me by my colleague (thanks Mitch!) and it worked: give students an opportunity to be active FIRST, get out of the class for something, then return to class and tackle one task.  So we did just that, we took advantage of a nice sunrise (there are benefits to having a photography class first period in the day!) and ran outside with our cameras to capture the orange-pink sky and the epic clouds.  Coming back together, we all learned a new creative edit in Photoshop, keeping lockstep with each other and helping everyone to stay at the same pace.   We left with the whole class learning a new technique that they didn’t before and all students were on an even playing field.  They all “got it”.  I left the period with a little bounce in my step, thankful for the small victories.