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?

BE Quiet!

“Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe.”
― Susan Cain

A colleague recently talked with me about a new book she was reading. She had really enjoyed it and thought I might also like to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. Part way through this chat she looked at me with shock when I told her that I considered myself an “introvert”. Somehow, her response surprised me. Don’t get me wrong. I speak up during staff meetings. I eagerly share my ideas during team meetings. I am animated and “outgoing” with my students as we learn together each and every day. I am approachable and work hard to develop meaningful relationships with students, parents and colleagues. Needless to say, I raced right out and purchased Susan Cain’s book THAT night.

This book spoke to me on SO many levels. From personal experience, I could relate to many of the examples Cain shared within the pages of this book. I remember losing marks in school for a “lack of participation” and being terrified of “giving presentations”. As a matter of fact, I EVEN dropped a few COURSES while at university when I saw “oral projects” listed on the syllabus! Guess that’s IT for a Master’s Degree!

My husband lovingly laughs at me and finds it hard to believe because I don’t FEEL this way when I teach! “How can you say you don’t like presenting in front of adults … you’re in a CLASSROOM all day LONG … you CAN’T be afraid of public speaking!” I love the energy I feel in the classroom. I LOVE the interactions with my students and colleagues. But, I recharge when I come home. I like my “quiet down time”. It’s hard to explain. Like Susan’s quote above, it’s the air that I breathe.

Over the years I have given myself permission to express myself in the way I feel MOST comfortable – through writing. Somehow, ideas flow and I feel empowered when I write. Strangely, I even feel more “articulate” when I write. It used to bother me immensely that I couldn’t comfortably stand up and “present” professionally like, say, Sir Ken Robinson, for example! (Ya … I know … that’s setting the bar REALLY high! 😉 ) Reading Quiet helped to reinforce, for me, what I knew already intuitively.

Introverts and extroverts reside along a continuum. They appear to be “opposites” and yet there truly IS no black and white … just shades of gray. Some extroverts don’t like public speaking. Some introverts DO! Not all introverts are necessarily shy, either.

I think I’m a weird combination of deeply introverted and very daring. I can feel both those things working.

~Helen Hunt

The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases. 

~Carl Jung

Susan Cain does a beautiful job of melding personal experiences with scientific research. While our society values the power of the extrovert, she makes a powerful case for the need to respect, honour and empower BOTH!  This book is truly worth the read and the ensuing conversations it will provoke:

Like yin and yang, night and day, winter and summer – seemingly opposites … without one there isn’t the other … the world NEEDS extroverts AND introverts. The odds are you are either living with someone on the opposite side of the continuum or you WORK with a few!

Perfect for Each Other Quotes

Flickr photo by Charm 2010

I remember, clearly, receiving an email from my son’s Grade Four teacher. Although he is now 18, the experience is CLEARLY etched in my memory. He had worked for days on a presentation that he was to share that morning. His teacher emailed to say that he had “refused” to stand up and present his “poster”. I requested a phone call so that we could discuss the situation. Now I know that there is a FINE line between advocating for your child and “helicoptering” … but this was a situation my husband and I hoped to resolve by finding a compromise. You see, my oldest is a lot like I was. The teacher provided two options. He could present the next day or he could receive a zero on the presentation mark. We tried for a compromise. Could he present to his teacher alone? Could he choose two or three peers and present in a “safer” way, since he was shy? Nope. No options. Share with the large group or take the zero. A little “frustrated” with the lack of flexibility or sensitivity for personalizing the learning, we presented my son with his options. He chose the zero and we supported his choice. That day, I vowed to never put a student in my care in that situation EVER. (Maybe this is naive, since I teach Grade Three, but it works for me.)

Can you work to CHANGE certain aspects of your personality? ABSOLUTELY. Should you nurture your strengths and USE them to the best of your ability? Without  a DOUBT. As educators AND parents, it is OUR responsibility to help our children and students FIND their strengths, NURTURE their GIFTS and EXPLORE who they are … as learners … as people who have individual gifts to share with the world. After all, we USUALLY find our niche!

This above all:
To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
~Hamlet, Shakespeare

I wonder:

  • Do you see yourself as more introverted or extroverted?
  • Have you had to work hard to strengthen an area of “discomfort” such as public speaking? How have you achieved this?
  • How do you nurture your own child’s or students’  “strengths”?