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.

Change … fight or flight … friend or foe?

Source: via Scott on Pinterest

Change.  One little word.  A word that can instill both excitement AND fear.  

I wonder why change is such an easy thing for some people to embrace … such a difficult thing for SO many others. Fear. Denial. Avoidance. These are just a few of the emotions that can be brought on by change.  Is it a genetic predisposition for those who find it less intimidating when change is occurring? This may be a part of the whole nature vs nurture debate. Maybe it’s a Master’s Thesis in the waiting! Can we TEACH people to be more accepting and positive when change is imminent? I’ve come to the conclusion, from personal experience, that it is most definitely not age related.

In the education field, one has the opportunity to work with a wide variety of people: colleagues, students, their families, etc. I’ve worked with people, both young and old, who fit on either side of the continuum, from terrified of taking risks and embracing change to welcoming it with open arms and a sense of wonder. Over the years, I’ve encountered people who are afraid to turn their computers on … just to check their e-mails. Some of these people were “born” into this technology … “digital natives” … for lack of a better term. And, on the opposite spectrum, who picked up these technology skills through sheer determination and personal investment. People who recall, VERY well, having to TYPE their university research papers and use WHITE OUT to correct their typing errors! Is it a personality type? I don’t know.

I clearly remember the day I toured a school I had been hired to work at, not long after being indoctrinated into the wonders of the SmartBoard.  I was coming from a school that had portable SmartBoards and, luckily, not that many people were terribly interested in infusing them into their classrooms. On this tour, I was incredibly excited to see that most of the classrooms in my new school had these amazing tools mounted to the walls. This would be a HUGE step forward, for me, because one of the minor frustrations of using a portable board meant constant “realigning”  … which the students LOVED to do but, needless to say, took up valuable class time! After the initial thrill … closer observation showed that these boards had been mounted … right … ontop … of … the WHITEBOARDS! I was SHOCKED! The teacher whose room I was “checking out” reassured me that, after a while, I wouldn’t even MISS the whiteboard!

In my head, I CLEARLY remember thinking, “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!?!” Change. Gulp. What was I EVER going to do without my whiteboards? I grumbled and I worried. I made SURE I had a NICE supply of chart paper to see me through the year. After all, I couldn’t POSSIBLY imagine teaching without having the visuals, the little reminders and notes we made as a class as we made our discoveries together. Funny … she was RIGHT. I DON’T miss all those whiteboards. Don’t get me wrong … I still use chart paper … I STILL use the tiny bit of whiteboard that is still visible beside my SmartBoard … but … she was right! Now … if I could ONLY get my hands on some more BULLETIN boards!

Source: via Scott on Pinterest

There is ONE thing for certain, although the older I get the more I realize there is a lot that I don’t know …  I DO know that the GREATEST gift we can give the students in our care is to be learners alongside them – taking risks, making mistakes, persevering, wondering, sharing our passions and our own “I wonders” … role-modelling enthusiasm for life long learning.  Creating a safe environment, which encourages taking risks and making mistakes as a part of the “messiness” of learning and the process of creating meaning, is critical. 

These are EXCITING times to be teaching and learning in. I am THRILLED to be a part of the changes that are occurring globally in education. I am GLAD I don’t have all the answers. And, I am eternally grateful to the courageous change-making educators who share their journeys, daily, through my amazing on-line PLN. They continue to inspire me, push me and support my journey through these ever changing times.

I wonder:

  • Who and what keeps you grounded through change?
  • Have you always been comfortable with change or is it a skill set that you have had to work to develop?
  • Do you have any advice to offer for people who are afraid to embrace changes?
  • What has been the most powerful change you have been a part of?

Planting seeds and watching my PLN garden grow!

Japanese Garden, Lotusland

Creative Commons Nelumbo Nucifera

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to take part in some pretty powerful professional development.  A handful of these experiences are firmly planted in my brain … much like the seeds in a garden.  I will never forget … and … yes, I am “dating” myself, the moment I learned about “Mathematics Their Way“.   I spent a glorious week during the summer months, early in my teaching career, discovering the importance of exploring mathematics from the concrete to the abstract with young children.  I am grateful for this professional development because, although my practice has grown and changed significantly in the past 25 years, I still approach mathematics through inquiry together with the use of manipulatives and problem solving.  I continue to use parts of this awesome program even now.  I’ve sculpted it and made it a part of the journey.  Perhaps one of my favourite aspects of this program is the use of the Calendar as a teaching tool.  I’ve used it to explore challenging concepts such as  place value, fractions, decimals, multiples, divisibility … even with students in grade five and six. It was because of this training that I began to fall in love with math.  I can not honestly say that this is how I felt about it while growing up!

Then, there was “Early Reading Intervention”, based on the works of Marie M. Clay.  Wow … I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t learned HOW to teach reading, understand reading development, or how to support the reading process in university!  Later Literacy helped me to work with older students who struggled with reading while working at a school that specialized in supporting students with Learning Disabilities.  Both of these amazing professional development opportunities STILL help me to bring the love of books and reading to students I work with.   The magic of Blended Structure and Style … unlocked the key to demystifying some of the secrets of successful writing.  Honestly, I don’t write using a “formula” and I certainly don’t explore writing with my students by offering them a “formula”.  Writing is such a personal expression of self.  I do, however, pull into mini lessons, many of the little insights I have discovered because of these incredible experiences.

The day I went to convention, several years ago, and discovered the magic of the SmartBoard … well … that’s ANOTHER story! This experience opened the door to the almost limitless potential of the world of technology for me.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a professional “read” on the go. Supporting the reading and writing process and the latest research on literacy development has consistently been of interest to me.  Boys and learning … is near and dear to my heart … I live with two boys and I’ve seen their successes, their struggles and their frustrations first hand as they’ve worked their way through elementary school to junior high and now, gulp,  on to high school.  Even during the summer months, I  strive to grow professionally.

This year, I’ve discovered the power of being connected with educators on-line. The funny thing is, I haven’t borrowed a “book” since first discovering my twitter “love”.  That being said, I am better read NOW than I was when I was pouring through professional resources!  Case in point … my husband and I can be watching the news … and … OFTEN … I will think to myself, “hey, someone shared this on twitter!”

Your Victory Garden Counts More Than Ever! 1941 - 1945

Creative Commons Us National Archives

Twitter has exposed me to so many passionate educators.  I am continually surprised at how this amazing PLN will rise up, share their insights and offer support at the drop of a “tweet”!  Several times I have run into “snags” with my classroom blog.  All it took, one day, was a shout out: “What is the best way to showcase stories my students have written to share on the blog?”  Within minutes, someone put me onto flipsnack and storybird.  There are so many examples of how this group of “strangers” has supported my learning and growth. It is a community that supports, pushes the learning and shares beyond anything I have ever experienced in my teaching career.

The chats … wow … the chats … they connect you with so many people – people you might not even follow.  The exposure to new and exciting ways of thinking and working is immeasurable.  Lately, there have been so many awesome posts expounding the virtues of the on-line PLN.  They have all “spoken” to me on one level or another.  When John T. Spencer wrote “What My PLN Means to Me #whynetworksmatter“, on July 6th, he addressed so many of the issues I feel and relate to personally.  Teaching can be isolating.  It can also be very competitive. Never, however, have I felt either of these issues as I have begun to sow my on-line seeds. People like @johntspencer keep me current, forward thinking AND inspired! I LOVE that twitter has provided me with such a supportive and generous community of people who help me to support and nurture my ever growing PLN garden.  I am SO grateful to be learning from such a passionate and talented group of educators!