TRUE Confessions of a “Global Classroom Teacher”!

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” 
~ Albert Einstein

What follows are my TRUE confessions as a “global classroom teacher”. Oops … did I say that? I meant “reflections”! Ahh … well … maybe this will be a BIT of BOTH!

I have JUST completed my SECOND year in a “flat classroom”. What does THAT mean, you ask? Well, for the past two years, I have been FORTUNATE enough to have been BLESSED with piloting a classroom blog. It came about innocently enough … as a way of sharing the connection we made, the year prior, with an NGO working in Peru. Along with my partner Tannis Emann, who was taking her Masters, we began to delve into some of the amazing classroom learning being shared through Twitter. Suddenly, it struck us … blogging would be a PERFECT way to share our Grade Three learning journey! True confession #1 … prior to that … I had NEVER given blogging a first OR second thought. Yup, you read that right … we were SHOCKED to discover that people had been blogging with their classrooms for YEARS before we tentatively began to wade into the water. I STILL can’t believe that it took me THIS long to discover the POWER of learning with a global audience once you have flattened your classroom walls.

Connecting and learning with the world = engagement + deep powerful learning.

Connecting and learning with the world = engagement + deep powerful learning.
Photo by Global Grade 3s

True confession #2 … it’s not always easy. This is where the “frogs” that @iEARNUSA talks about come in! Often, you have to eat a  LOT of frogs, as @iEARNUSA so aptly says! There will be problems … Skype connections won’t always work, technology will fail. Sometimes your PEOPLE connections aren’t as reliable as one would hope. These are all FANTASTIC learning opportunities for our students. I like to call it “grace under fire”! That’s not to minimize the frustrations this can create, because these issues can ALL cause angst. But, as Einstein so brilliantly stated, “It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” With persistence, patience, passion, perseverance AND occasional perspiration, the ENTIRE adventure is absolutely worth it. I will NEVER go back to teaching alone within four walls EVER again. There, I said it. I am a complete and TOTAL advocate for blogging with children. I firmly believe that the YOUNGER they start, the SMARTER they will be … responsible, aware, safe GLOBAL citizens with a CLEAR insight into what it means to be a MEANINGFUL member of the GLOBAL community.

There are SO many incredible books out there to help you learn ABOUT the world ... learning WITH the world DEEPENS that learning. Photo by Global Grade 3s

There are SO many incredible books out there to help you learn ABOUT the world … learning WITH the world DEEPENS that learning.
Photo by Global Grade 3s

After all, connecting and learning with a global audience provides both you AND your students with immediate experts in the field … it’s like a global PLN, (professional learning network), for your classroom. Who WOULDN’T want that? This global connection, whether it’s from comments left on your blog, or people you are Skyping with, can push the learning within your classroom deeper than you could have ever imagined.

True confession #3 … it’s OFTEN messy. Learning IS messy. When you pursue student questions, you connect with experts in the field, you learn … and …  INEVITABLY … you walk away with MORE questions. Talk about personalized, meaningful and engaging learning! FURTHER pursing their questions and curiosities is where the passion, enthusiasm for learning, personalization for your students and deeper understanding comes in. It’s a WIN win situation. Again … who WOULDN’T want that?!?

True confession #4 … time will ALWAYS be an issue. For us, it was finding a balance between the prescribed curriculum mandated by our Province AND pursuing, in depth, our inquiries and global “focus”. From the beginning, it was ALSO important for us to model effective skills for replying to our readers … and … this commitment gained us some faithful and INSPIRING readers who OFTEN pushed our learning even DEEPER. You would be RIGHT if you recognized that THIS commitment ALSO took time. This was truly time WELL spent! Surprisingly, although there was amazing learning shared in each of the posts, even DEEPER learning frequently occurred within the comment section through our interactions with readers!

During these two years, my students and I have been TRULY blessed to interact with and learn from the BRILLIANT Ross Mannell. Although a retired teacher, this AMAZING man frequently leaves comments for children on their classroom blogs. When I say comments, this does NOT do them justice. As a matter of fact, Ross has a SPECIAL blog he writes to provide students with EXTENDED comments. IMAGINE my students’ SURPRISE at reading this extended comment … AND receiving a VERY treasured surprise in the mail … all the WAY from AUSTRALIA! Echidnas have nothing what so EVER to do with our curriculum. But, animals and life cycles sure do, and … you should have SEEN the fingers flying on our iPads, as students conducted FURTHER research on our new echidna! The excitement in discovering MORE about our new class pet, Spike, was palpable!

A SURPRISE pet ... all the way from AUSTRALIA! Photo shared by Ross Mannell

A SURPRISE pet … all the way from AUSTRALIA!
Photo shared by Ross Mannell

Although time will always be an issue … many, MANY skills can be woven in and THROUGH each and EVERY global classroom  and blog post experience. For us, having a global audience … an AUTHENTIC audience … increased our skills AND our desire to write. It was THRILLING to see students begin to develop their voices … and slowly gain command of “reeling the reader in”! Although our blog has primarily focused on issues in Social Studies … Ross has helped us to delve even DEEPER into some of our SCIENCE and MATH curriculum. I am SURE that, because of his thoughtful and detailed replies to us, SOME of these bloggers may EVEN become GEOLOGISTS!

Scree samples from New Zealand ... thanks to Ross!

Scree samples from New Zealand … thanks to Ross!

True confession #5 … it is SO worth it. If you haven’t tried blogging with your students … do! I have NEVER looked back. Instead … I look FORWARD, in GREAT anticipation of where this journey will lead us.

It is NEVER too late to connect your classroom globally. Go on ... GIVE it a try! Photo shared by Global Grade 3

It is NEVER too late to connect your classroom globally. Go on … GIVE it a try!
Photo shared by Global Grade 3

I wonder:

  • what is one of the most POWERFUL lessons you’ve learned through blogging with your students?
  • what are some of YOUR true confessions as a result of becoming a “global classroom teacher”?
  • what advice would you give to someone THINKING about flattening the walls of their classroom?

This blog post has been cross-posted on The Global Classroom Project.

What’s MOST Important?

There is a WORLD of possibilities for EACH of us … reach for the STARS!
Photo from Global Grade 3s

I am struggling.

I know the teacher I want to be. I strive to be the kind of teacher I would want for my own children. I am a learner and I know I was born to teach. It is HUGE work but, oddly, I bounce into school each and every day, excited for my next adventures with my amazing Grade Threes. We learn a LOT from one another. I CAN’T imagine a MORE rewarding career.

I am a reader and I am always growing. Why am I struggling? I am torn. I am inspired by all that I read through my UNBELIEVABLE twitter PLN. I see ALL the amazing possibilities. There are just NEVER enough hours in the day to truly accomplish everything I would like to experience with my students.

At this point in the year, I know my learners pretty well. They are my “daytime family”. I know where they are as readers, as writers … how comfortable they are with math … but I know them BEYOND where they are “academically”. We share who WE are … what makes us tick, what EXCITES us, what scares us … we’ve developed trusting relationships.

Still, I’m struggling.

Within my classroom is a wide range of abilities and interests. I see them BEYOND their marks and “current functioning”. Some of us are strong mathematicians. It’s just the way we think. Some of us have the gift for writing and can express our written thoughts with ease. Some are readers … I mean AVID readers who LOVE it. And, some of us are incredibly artistic. Some of us are even lucky enough to have it ALL!

It’s report card time. We don’t all FIT into “reading at level O” at this point in the school year. Developmentally, we’re just NOT ready yet. Maybe reading won’t EVER be a strength … but … there are strengths in OTHER areas. Ugh. I HATE giving 2s. I want to BUILD learner confidence … I want to delve DEEPER  into our curiosities … and passions. No matter HOW I weave all the student learner outcomes into our inquiries I ALWAYS have those Provincial Achievement Exams sitting at the back of my brain. But my heart says we’re NOT cookie cutter learners … NONE of us are.

At the end of the year, they’ll have to write a narrative story based on a picture prompt. They’ll probably do okay … most of them … but that writing won’t even BEGIN to compare to the amazing writing they do when they write for their “authentic” global audience on the classroom blog. Already I can hear their voices SHINE through into these pieces.

What’s MOST important? Relationships. Trust. Developing a safe and nurturing learning environment together where it’s GOOD to take risks with our learning.

I struggle with what I know in my heart. Helping students develop an understanding of who they are as learners … their strengths, passions, helping them to SEE that life long learning can be joyful and fulfilling … this is what I strive for … while trying to support their individual learner needs. They are, EACH of them, SO much more than a mark on a piece of paper.

How do I fit it ALL in?

I have a DREAM … I am REACHING for the stars … but … how do I fit it all in? Maybe I need LONGER teaching days … or FEWER student learner outcomes, (although I do see their value), or maybe each grade should last for TWO years … IMAGINE the possibilities with more TIME to fit it ALL in? I do!

I wonder:

  • How do you fit it all in … and find a balance?

Struggles LEAD to Celebrations!


Flickr Photo by m-c

Yesterday was just ONE of those days where it ALL came together! Definitely NOT to be confused with the days that it DOESN’T … and … sadly … THOSE days exist TOO! For example, the day BEFORE our perfectly serendipitous day,  we experienced  a 100% FAILURE rate with our borax crystals! Don’t get me wrong. Experiencing failure is HEALTHY … it helps to develop character and, in a safe and caring environment, it supports the development of curiosity, resilience and perseverance! As one of LAST year’s young bloggers taught us: FAIL = First Attempt In Learning! What a HEALTHY way to LOOK at setbacks!

The morning after mixing our borax crystals, my Grade Threes and I BOUNCED into the classroom to check out our newly formed creations … only to be met with NOTHING! We’d done everything to specification. They looked at me, bewildered. I looked at THEM … bewildered. They asked WHY … MANY of them with quivering bottom lips. Now … I COULD have said, “Well, the borax may have been old … maybe we didn’t stir the solution well enough … maybe the ROOM wasn’t the right TEMPERATURE!” This list could have been extensive. Instead, I answered their WHYs with, “I don’t KNOW … what do YOU think? Let’s TALK about it!”

We sat, some of us quite downhearted, and what these students had to say was simply AMAZING for eight year old children. Maybe we didn’t put enough borax in. Maybe it was too LOUD in here and the vibrations  in the ROOM caused the failure. Maybe the water was too hot … or too COLD. Maybe the JARS were dirty … although several students piped up quickly and said that MIGHT be the case for a FEW of the jars … but ALL of them? We THINK not! Together, we decided that we would try ANOTHER little experiment. We mixed up ONE more jar of borax solution … adding quite a bit more borax … just in CASE it had become “stale”.  Some of us even went home to research just a LITTLE more!

Our TEST worked and we were greeted, the NEXT morning, by a GORGEOUS snowflake crystal. Maybe, since the borax was a year old, it HAD required more in order to saturate the solution! And THIS led us to our “perfect day”!

With MORE borax crystals to make, classroom blog comments to reply to and twenty MILLION other jobs to do … it didn’t LOOK like it was going to be one of those stellar days. Honestly, I didn’t know how I was going to “juggle” everything that needed to be accomplished!

globe in hands

Flickr Photo by Noticelj

That’s when it HIT me.

We’ve been working on our classroom blog for OVER a month now. This would be the PERFECT time to hand over the reigns to see what these awesome STUDENTS would do WITHOUT me guiding their responses to our readers. They’d had TONS of role modelling for crafting an awesome reply to our readers, and I decided that I would focus on helping a group of students with crystals. The rest of the class drafted a response to one of the comments left behind. It was a leap of faith … they hadn’t done it independently yet this year!

I had to bite my tongue as my little group of FIVE mixed their crystals … and I “listened in” on what was happening with the NINETEEN students in the blogging group! Yup. NINETEEN kids … working WITHOUT the teacher … compromising, collaborating, sharing, discussing.  I wanted it to be COMPLETELY their comment … none of my interjections or “leading and supporting”. I REALLY wanted to see what THEY would do!

One young man was the recorder, on the laptop and the smartboard;  he gathered student thoughts and recorded them. I could hear issues such as:

  • okay, how do we START a reply?
  • did we talk about her family’s “sentence”?
  • how do we say it to “reel the reader in” and get them to come BACK to the blog?
  • do you remember how Mrs. Renton makes that HAPPY face at the END of our comments … oh ya … it’s like THIS …
  • how should we END the reply?

You will LAUGH at THIS … the comment left by the parent mentioned “LERD”, and these children discussed, as a group, what a LERD was!!! I couldn’t STOP myself from giggling … although quietly enough that it wouldn’t distract them! 😉 This is a group that is PROUD to shout their lerdiness from the ROOFTOPS!!! (Not all … but MANY profess to be LERDS!!!)

My heart SWELLED with pride over how BEAUTIFULLY this little group of students collaborated to craft their FIRST independent reply to a reader!

My tears were WELLING!!! And, if that wasn’t ENOUGH, even MORE magic happened!!!

When I came back to the group and they read their message, (FILLED with pride), the PERSONALIZED mini-lessons … authentic, immediate, and meaningful mini-lessons began:

  • how to right click to check a misspelled word
  • capitals for Mrs.
  • leaving ONE space after a period (as opposed to none)
  • when to use families vs family’s
  • the differences between to, two, and too

Yup. This was TRULY a PROUD teacher moment! They had been internalizing EVERYTHING we had discussed as we crafted meaningful responses to our blog readers as a large group. They had worked through their struggles together. They had collaborated, supported one another, taught one another and risen to the challenge BEYOND my greatest hopes! JUST like the day before when we experienced the disappointing results of our experiment. They rose UP, pushed PAST … and … we ALL grew!

After all, you NEED the rain to appreciate the sun … without the rain there ARE no rainbows! Nope, I wouldn’t trade the struggles for perpetual smooth sailing. It is THROUGH these struggles that we learn and grow!

PS For those of you who are WONDERING … our SECOND attempt at borax crystals met with 98% success! We PERSEVERED and FINALLY achieved 100%. Phew!