Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

Category: Teacher Life

I Didn’t Want Any Professional Growth This Year But It Happened Anyways

I sit at my remote teaching space at home. My husband is working in the room beside mine. My son is doing remote learning down the hall. In many ways, it feels like time is frozen in April 2020, but in so many other ways, it has been the longest year of our lives.

When I was asked in September to think of a How Might We question/professional development goal for the year, I struggled to settle on one. I still struggle. Part of me was instantly resentful at the question to begin with. How can anyone think we need so much structure around professional growth this year? Why all the check-ins? How can one possibly be a teacher in 2020 and not be growing every single minute of every single day?  Can everyone please just honour this and leave me alone? Am I an awful teacher for even thinking this?

Yet, I know there is benefit to goal-setting and especially to connecting with others who may share points of your journey.  This is what kept me going on my meandering path.

What learning did I want to accomplish this year?

My number one goal for the past year was explore strategies to connect with and engage remote and in-person learners simultaneously.  This goal was very much about surviving this school year. And it came with so. many. questions.

How might we build relationships with remote learners?

How might we engage students in meaningful French language instruction with limited opportunities for authentic oral communication?

I also wondered how my language program was going to be affected by a significant cut the hours of instruction and mask-wearing. How would not being able to see my mouth and facial expressions affect my students’ comprehension?  What could I do to support them with this? How do I decide what curriculum is most important when I have less time to teach it? What gets cut? What needs to be developed? And especially, how to I make sure my students are mentally well while we are managing all of this together? How do they see themselves in my classroom? Is there space for them? Do they feel safe?

See what I mean? So many questions.

Bitmoji Image

 

What did I learn in the process? 

Good enough is good enough. Be okay with letting things go. Celebrate what worked well. Here are a few tools that were big wins in my French classroom this year:

  1. Nearpod: There is a playful PearDeck vs Nearpod rivalry out there, and I landed on the side of Nearpod this year. I loved this tool as a way to engage my roomies and my zoomies at the same time. Sometimes we did lessons live, and sometimes I assigned student-paced lessons. There is a lot here to play with. For example, in one lesson I asked my students to use the Nearpod Draw It feature to highlight all of the examples of the passé composé in a short article.
  2. Hyperdocs: @estewart introduced me to Hyperdocs this year, and I found that my students really loved them. Basically, it’s a thoughtfully curated Slide Deck that students work through for their learning with a certain topic. Hyperdocs are a ton of front-loaded teacher work, but the payoff is totally worth it. Instead of so much direct instruction, students can work at their own pace through their learning, and I can devote my time to supporting students along the way. These are by no means perfect, but this year we made hypderdocs for le passé composé, Exploring France and Belgium, and Exploring Haïti, Martinique and Louisiana.
  3. Flipgrid continued to be a lifesaver, especially for language learning. I posted about my love for that platform here a few years ago.
  4. Independent Reading: Typically, I start each of my classes with high energy chatting and music and some kind of oral communication activity. I noticed early on that this routine wasn’t going to work. I needed a few minutes to get set up in each room, and my students needed a few minutes to mentally transition from their previous class to French. So, to help with this, we began starting class with five minutes of independent reading. I use the AIM digital readers. The language levels work well for my students, and they sometimes lead to fun vocabulary discoveries like this 🙂

There are a few others. Jamboard and Blooket have also been essential tools I know I will continue to use moving forward.

I also can’t talk about my learning this year without talking about how I learned to care for my own mental health. Last summer I started seeing a therapist for anxiety, and it has been immeasurably helpful.  I don’t know that I would have made it through the year without her. Here are a few new routines that have been helping me:

  1. Going for a 10 minute walk during the work day. A year ago, if you had told me that 10 minutes would make a difference, I would have laughed at you. Now, a 10 minute walk is my go to strategy to reset. I really like listening to Morgan Harper Nichols’ podcast as I walk.
  2. Find what went well. I started keeping a journal and every day I write down three things that went well at work to remind me that there is alway something good that came out of the day.

Shout out to Greenspace Health for finding me a great therapist match. If you live in the GTA, they are a free matching service to hook you up with a therapist that will match your insurance and your specific needs. Like a dating service, but for therapy 😂.

What is my big take-away?

There are some days where I’m certain, if my students learned anything, it was entirely by accident. But, I showed up every class. I tried to be present for them, listen to them, and encourage them. I can confidently say that I tried my best and did my not-worst during the most challenging year of my professional career.

As I mentioned above, there are some tech pieces and personal routines that I will carry forward in my teaching practice. I know that I want next to explore more deeply the role of comprehensible input in the language classroom, as well as how I can meaningfully create more opportunities for cultural learning and integrate more BIPOC resources without falling into the second-language classroom traps of stereotyping different groups of people.

I read somewhere last year that enough is a decision, not an amount. And honestly, I think that’s my big takeaway. It’s not easy to explain or describe, but it’s a huge thought-shift for me. The pressure and judgement I have put on myself in the past has no place in a pandemic. It makes me emotional to think about this because I have been so hard on myself this year. There have been many tears. I don’t think you can work in a helping profession without a certain level of emotional investment in your work.  But I try to surround myself with messages and people that remind me that I’m not alone. That this is hard.

Ultimately, I believe that educators in 2020 and 2021 have grown in so many ways. Some of them are clearly evident in the classroom and can be written in a list or checked off in a PD chart. Others are unseen because they are deeply rooted in who we are, what we value, and frankly, how we process trauma while helping others to do the same. And I suppose that’s what made me feel so unsettled about professional growth this year. Because not all of it is visible to the outside world. But I know that work matters just as much.

Jenn

When Ignorance is Bliss

Throughout the summer, I saw a few variations of the tweet, “This coming September, we are all first-year teachers.” I love the sentiment behind this. We are all entering education faced with challenges not one of us has managed before.

Yet, when school year started, and I was back in the classroom, I couldn’t shake the pressure I felt. I have been constantly asking myself questions like:

“Am I prioritizing the right curriculum?”

“Are my remote learners feeling connected? Am I giving them enough attention?”

“Will my students be ready for high school?”

etc etc etc

Last week, I saw this tweet, and it captured how I have been feeling perfectly.

Teaching is strenuous when we are always feeling, “If I could only ______”.  As experienced educators, we no longer have that early teaching blissful ignorance.

My students and I are finding a groove that works for us, and I have to trust that it’s enough. I have to have faith in the fact that I’m not a novice teacher, and that I can use my experience to make the right choices for my students with the circumstances I am given.

Jenn

I feel like my teaching life is a hot mess right now, but I kind of love it

If my professional learning has done anything this year, it has turned me into a hot mess. A good hot mess. But a hot mess just the same.

Last year I was organized. I knew what lesson came next in my unit. I knew which Google Docs to use and when to use them. I knew which resources to have at the tips of my fingers in my classroom. I had my timing for lessons, learning activities, and projects down to the minute.

This year, while I’m keeping many of the overall learning goals for my classroom the same, the path to which we achieve these learning goals is changing.  And I don’t always know my next step.

Which leads me to this…

I feel like a hot mess teacher this year, but I believe my students are better off for it.

In December and January, my Cohort 21 Action Plan had very clear goals. I generated a meaningful list of items I could check off a to do list.

And check them off I did.

You see, I’m really good at organization.

I surveyed my students. I visited and observed a teacher I admired in Ottawa. I reviewed some old materials I want to start using again. I read a book. I started making changes in my classroom with new technology.

But I’ve finished all of the “things” on my list and now I’m testing out what I’ve learned. I’m living in a phase of experimentation, and it’s messy. It’s absolutely not organized.

Initially, I had this great idea that I would give myself permission to only experiment with one class. If I’m only playing around with one grade, I’d save myself from this exact feeling of hot mess-ness everywhere in my day.

But (unfortunately? fortunately?) I kept learning new ideas that were perfect for each of my different classes, and I was too excited to wait. I wanted to test them all, so I decided if I was going to play with my program and my teaching practice, I’m going all in.

It’s exciting and fun, and I kind of love it. It’s make me more flexible as a person, that’s for sure.

However, my Cohort 21 Action plan for February to April has pretty much two things on it. Try out new interactive oral communication learning activites in the classroom. Decide which ones work and do them again.

This is not what I thought the end of my Cohort 21 year would look like. I’m sure by April, I’ll still be in this experimentation phase: Discover/Create new ways to get my students speaking to each other in French. Try them out. Repeat.

In a future post, I plan to share exactly what I’ve learned about interactive oral communication in the FSL  classroom and what learning activities have, so far, been successful in my classes.

For now, it’s been a learning curve for me, a person who craves a plan, to live in this space of the unknown. This phase of testing things out. It’s ironic that while I feel a bit less certain of what we’re doing, because much of it is new to me, my students are building their confidence with language.

I can already tell some of our experiments are working. Many of my students are speaking more French in class than they have in a long while.  We moved into a new classroom a few weeks ago, and I think that has helped as well. It was a fresh start in a different, new space with different, new expectations.

I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to try out so many new things in my classroom all at once if I didn’t have such wonderful support from my Cohort 21 team, my Montcrest colleagues, and our school administration. Their encouragement that I’m on the right track definitely keeps me going on days where I’m feeling particularly hot mess-y.

Jenn

Quiet by Susan Cain

On the first day we met Face to Face as a cohort, I was in the initial phases of formulating the questions and challenges I wanted to take on this year. I knew I wanted my focus to be somehow connected to oral communication.  As a second language teacher, I spend a good part of my day encouraging people to speak. To take risks. To make mistakes in front of their peers. For my students, I recognize that this is not easy and it is not for everyone. So, how do we do it anyways?

My coach, @acampbellrogers, told me I’d probably be interested in reading Quiet by Susan Cain. This book describes what life is like for introverts and how we can harness the power of those who aren’t often the loudest speakers in the room.

I consider myself a velocireader, so I’m always happy to take on new book recommendations. I immediately borrowed a copy from a co-worker and started reading.

Quiet really has me asking myself what speaking fluidly means and has shifted my perspective. Speaking slowly doesn’t mean that a student is not speaking fluidly. Additionally, the medium is not always the message. If the message is thoughtful, there is room in second-language education to acknowledge this, even if it is “easier” to evaluate errors that are right and wrong. And my students who are fluent and don’t speak extensively in class are still fluent. As I enter report card season, this is something I am keeping in my mind much more than I ever have before.

Another interesting point is that the rise of social media and the Internet has given introverts a “voice”, especially with writing. My question is, “How can I transfer this to oral communication?” Flipgrid is a start.

Being mindful of seating was something else that I had never thought of before. Don’t seat quiet students in “high-traffic or high-interaction” areas. It will increase anxiety, decrease concentration, and they won’t actually speak more.

And finally, never underestimate the power of empathy. I’d like to find more opportunities to check in with my introverted students before presentations. To encourage them. To tell them that I also get nervous, but it does get easier with time. I loved reading how we should teach our students the importance of rehearsal and practice. This is a concept I’ve been hammering home with my students more recently, and it’s validating to read that I’m on the right track with this one.

I’d definitely say that Quiet is a  must-read for second-language teachers. It certainly gave me quite a bit to think about!

Jenn

GMorning, GNight by Lin-Manuel Miranda – Book Review

While I haven’t yet been able to see a Hamilton production (gasp!), I still have so much love for Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter. Social media can be a catalyst for emotions of negativity and not enough-ness. Thankfully, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Twitter account is a bight light in what sometimes feels like dark noise.

Awhile ago, he started beginning and ending his day on Twitter with little pep talks. Phrased for us, but written also for himself, these short bursts of encouragement will fill your cup as you take on, or recover from, whatever life brings you. (Side note – Lin-Manuel Miranda was an English teacher once upon a time, so to all of the educators in the house, I’m sure he feels us!)

Now you can get many of these inspiring tweets all in one place with GMorning, GNight! little pep talks for me & you. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and illustrated by Jonny Sun (who is Canadian! 👏👏), this little book is charming and heartwarming, and your heart will be so happy you’ve picked it up.

No matter how you spend your day, whether it’s in an office, or home with your little ones, or in a classroom, GMorning, GNight will be a meaningful and calming addition to your morning and evening routines. I know it has felt that way to me.

xo

Jenn

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