Who’s your awesome teacher?

VeniceAsk any teacher why they became one and the most common response is that they once had an awesome teacher that made them want to become an educator themselves. Mine was Zacher a wonderful art teacher who made me want to learn about how art came about, about egyptians and greeks and romans and romanesque and gothic and renaissance and baroque and then some. I can still see clearly in my mind the wonderful notebooks she put together and the very special times we spent huddled around the art tables going through the history as she told stories of what had happened and invited us to contribute, to question and to seek our own responses. I still have my essays, hand written on foolscap lined paper. More importantly, I never forgot those learning sessions and to this day I teach, I learn and I question. I also make art – not in any common studio form such as painting and ceramics like I did in university but I think and do art works – differently. I have a collection of diaries, for examples, one each for my adventures overseas. In them I poured out my thoughts and feelings, I described my adventures, I drew and I tore paper and images and pasted them in. Then I drew over the top and even used water colour pencils something I had dismissed due to my experiences in that same university. You see I don’t particularly like rules, nor do I think that there are always ‘right’ answers. I approach everything through a visual, emotional perspective. Some might say that that, is why I get into trouble! And that’s true I get emotionally attached and then it hurts when things don’t work out. At the same time that’s okay too, because I like capturing those moments when you’re suddenly struck by a new thought and take the risk regardless.

As an educator, I value uppermost the importance of relationships. I suspect that the teachers mentioned by my colleagueArt educators have this gift to connect with their students in many ways. These are the teachers that become the ‘awesomes’. They seem to be always the ones that make the effort, that give a damn about how and who you really are. They’re not superficial, they really do want to know. They are also the same ones who do everything in their power and then some, to allow you to succeed. They take opportunities to connect with you. They seek your learning preference and find out what you like and then they ingeniously combine and blend, mingle, amalgamate, and intermix them strategically within the content to get you hooked – all of us – hooked into learning.

So, if you get one message from this post it’s that tomorrow when you get to school you make an extra effort to connect with that kid who always gets away. I recommend 5 simple things to get you started:

1. Make eye contact and smile 🙂

2. Greet them individually by name

3. Notice something they do well and let them know about it

4. Tell them what you like to do and why.

5. Ask them what they like to do and why.

I’d love to hear what you do to form your learning relationships with students.

Thanks for reading 🙂

“This is not how our teacher does it!”

Good Morning Folks,

The other day I had the privilege of delivering the  Keynote address at the TLN CRT Conference. I have to say I was rather nervous at first but once I put my hands on that lectern it was all over and off I went. I really love doing what I do and I love meeting and speaking with educators, sharing ideas and anecdotes about teaching and learning. During my Positive Classrooms workshops, at the same conference, there were many ideas thrown around that I hope participants might try the next time they are in the classroom. My favourite idea was the alphabet game where the first person chooses a word – say –  learning, the next person must then say a word beginning with the last letter of the previous word – growth – and so it goes until everyone has had a turn. We then tried it using only words relevant to the topic at hand, and while this was rather difficult it is an excellent way to really challenge the students and stay on topic. It might also be useful as a revision or prior / post knowledge game.

Many thanks to all those who participated on the day. Remember that each child is taught by a CRT for almost 2 years of their 13 years at school. We can make a BIG difference to their lives, make sure it’s a positive one!

Lastly…for those who would like to know how the “I failed preps” story ends please click here

tigerinjunglebookThanks for reading 🙂

Teaching does not equal learning

quality_teacherThe Australian Professional Standards for Teachers clearly states in Standard 1. Know students and how they learn, that teachers must take steps to meets students’ needs. The proficient teacher, it reads, should “structure teaching programs using research and collegial advice about how students learn.”

Before I go any further, I do hope we all agree that the same teaching method does not work for all learners, that learners learn in different ways and that teachers should employ a variety of methods in teaching, learning and assessment. AGREED?

Learning styles are just one category that can be used in conjunction with other strategies and learner attributes such as prior knowledge, motivation, aptitude and confidence to assist in developing and facilitating relevant, interesting, fun, engaging and motivational learning experiences.

Learning should be a holistic experience engaging the learner in all facets; I always ask my students to remember just four things when engaged in reflection and learning – see, hear, feel and think. Many have used these simple examples and have developed excellent reflective skills that have in turn improved writing and listening skills. 

Learning should be a process by which the learner can investigate, participate, interact, reflect and create. Learning is not about transmitting pre-existing ideas but of creating knowledge that can be integrated into the prior knowledge and experience of the learner. In order to do this successfully the learner must be explicitly taught how to learn and a positive learning culture must be established and maintained. The learning ambience must be safe, supportive and accepting of all; a place that allows learners to thrive and facilitators to open doors.

Relationships are a key part of the learning process. I always ensure to give students ample opportunity to feedbackWhat students say their thoughts and ideas at the end of each semester or teaching stint (right). Through this simple task, that could be quite confronting for some teachers, I have been able to develop further as an educator while simultaneously receiving positive and affirming comments. I spend much time planning and devising the learning experiences and I have high expectations of my students. More times than not they step up to the challenge.

For me to be successful in developing and implementing the learning activities I feel I need to really know my students. One way to do this is to watch and learn from them, especially over the first few classes. I also run quick sessions to discover how they like to learn and one of the strategies I use is Learning Styles traits. It is not however, the only tool I use, a good dose of listening and sharing my own story also works a treat in getting the students to share their own experiences. Trust after all is the first step in building a relationship. More importantly, discovering learning styles is not intended to pigeon hole or label students as this or that type but rather, the discovery leads to a conversation and learning opportunity not only to develop their preference but to offer strategies that can assist learners to expand their learning repertoire and adapt to different situations.

Teachers do not necessarily have to do more work but instead we need to change our approach. Our role as educators is to facilitate learning, not to deliver content and hope for the best. Forming relationships, really ‘knowing’ our students is part of the learning process, as are setting goals, self-assessment and peer assessment. Just because we teach doesn’t mean they learn.

While I recognise that it is important to have research support our claims, there is also validity in our own experiences, and that of colleagues. Our experiences should not be dismissed simply because the research does not support it. I don’t think we should abandon Learning styles altogether as the concept isn’t necessarily incorrect, maybe it just needs to be fully reviewed.

5 top tips to try in your classes this week

take-a-smile1. Surprise them – Greet each student individually at the door, ask them how their day has been – smile!!

2. Be unpredictable – Post a sign on the door asking your students to meet you in some other place around the school – preferably where you have never held a class before! AND tell them to RUN!

3. Ignite their curiosity – Instead of giving the late student the third degree, make a fuss about how happy you are that they have finally made it and how sorry you are that they missed the best part of the lesson…then just continue on with the class without faltering!

late4. Connect with them – speak and/or make eye contact with each student in the class – three times – remember that some students have difficulty meeting your gaze, ensure that you are not making them uncomfortable but rather think of some other way to make contact, maybe you could ask them to show you their learning, or ask them a direct question about that learning once the class has settled into the task-at-hand.

5. Change your tune – instead of calling it WORK call it LEARNING – see what happens.

Drop me a line and tell me how it went… 🙂

Top tips for a positive classroom

  1. happyKnow your students – really know; find out what makes them tick, walk in their shoes, remember that they are just smaller version of you, with similar feelings and really they just want to feel that you care enough about them to make a difference.
  2. Recognise their individual differences and take action; make it your mission to find out how they learn, what they like to do and arm them with strategies so they can experience success. Teach them how to learn and the rest will fall into place.
  3. Be clear on your expectations of work and behaviour; say it, write it, show it, do it
  4. Establish a relationship; don’t think you have to be their best mate, certainly not, you are their teacher, but let them know you care enough to ask how they are travelling, to follow up, to give praise where praise is due and to explain how they can do better for next time.
  5. Encourage them; to be their best, set them high standards but not so high they cannot reach them, scaffold their learning so they can. Ensure everyone leaves with a sense of achievement.
  6. Believe in them; believe they not only can learn BUT they will learn. Now put in place the steps they need to do so, challenge them, question them, learn from them. Watch, listen, learn, they are very good at letting you know what they need so pay attention.
  7. Make learning relevant; find a link between what it is you want them to know and do and their own lives as 21st Century learners. ICT takes care of the facts, your task is to bring the ‘humanity’ to class.

Thanks for reading 🙂