Action Plan

related to my amazing action research project

62. How to save time and energy when teaching feels chaotic: a solo episode

How might we do less, better as teachers? Today on the show I share my top strategies for saving time and cultivating harmony when everything feels chaotic. 

Hi everyone. It is just us today with a solo episode. Since I started this podcast, I’ve kept a running list of ideas for solo episodes, but between you and me, I gravitate more towards interviewing experts in education because I would so much rather just ask the questions and highlight other people’s brilliance than take a position of authority myself (there’s nothing to unpack there, is there? Ha!). But to make my life a little easier with doing the PhD, I’m switching up the podcast schedule a bit and interviewing an amazing person once a month and bringing in a solo episode once a month. An awesome piece of feedback I got from the listener survey is that an episode every 2 weeks is way better for you, so I love that. My life these days has been about doing less, better–you know that saying, when you are tired, learn to rest, not quit? Banksy said this! That should be our motto right now as educators. 

So in this vein, I’m (finally) doing the episode I’ve been thinking of for–oh about 3 years–my favourite teacher time saving hacks. 

You have heard many of these before. I certainly didn’t invent them. Some of these I learned from veteran teachers. Some I learned through Angela Watson’s 40 hour Teacher Workweek. Some I just learned by being tired and having kids and getting to the end of my rope. But I hope that one of these hacks you might be able to try on or experiment with. Please please please, learn to rest (or go slower) rather than quit. If you are listening to a podcast about education, YOU ARE AN AMAZING EDUCATOR who cares about the practice and their students. We need to learn to do less, better rather than give up on teaching altogether. 

Also, lists make me happy and an organized list makes my heart smile. So the first 5 are things that you can do now. The next 5 take some strategy. We’ll get into that in a little bit. 

My top ten teacher time saving hacks:

  1. Automate tasks: stock responses, email replies, Calendly, report card observations, Plan to Eat
  2. Daily To-Do List: Organize your to do list into days of the week. Ideal if you can map it out on a weekly basis on Sundays. Easier to feel like at the end of the day you’re actually DONE. Consider what free time you actually have. This I learned from Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Work Week
  3. Take your email off your phone: Only check email at one time during the day. Get into flow. 
  4. Borrow / Steal / Redo lessons: Stop inventing your lessons from scratch. Other people have done this before and it’s probably better than what you could create on your own. I had a lot of shame in this earlier on. Now, I think it’s the best. Students want a caring, humane, connected educator. 
  5. Prep meals on the weekend: Easier and quicker to do 2-3 big batches of things than make dinner every night. Prep lunches for your kids and freeze sandwiches. Dinner should not take a long time. Use Plantoeat
  6. Leave your computer at work: Start with one day a week. We need time to recharge. 
  7. Send a good note home email: saves you time with parent communication. Gives you that joy back. Gives you energy. 
  8. Stop Marking / reading everything: design tasks that don’t require tons of time to mark. Give formative feedback in class. Mark beside students when they are right there. Automate feedback (Google tests / Kahoots / EdPuzzle). 
  9. Reevaluate the time it takes to write report cards: bank of report card comments, err on the side of the student, consider how long these are actually read, use the student success criteria to make it really clear what they can do and what they can’t do
  10.  Flip your classes: record a lesson, if you have 3 classes you don’t have to say the same thing to 3 different sets of students. They watch it in or out of the class. Time in class with students becomes the time you give them for formative feedback, students practicing skills, marking student work.

What’s your favourite time saving strategies for addressing exhaustion and overwhelm? Pop them into the chat or share them on the socials Twitter @teach_tomorrow and Instagram @teaching_tomorrow!

 

 

61. Seeing hope and potential in anti-racism work with Jennifer Grant

How might we embrace both the incrementalism and urgency of anti-racism growth in all of our schools? Today I talk with the amazing Jennifer Grant on the show. 

I have wanted to interview Jennifer pretty much since I met her, so now that she has been working in the realm of education since May, I have a much better excuse to talk to her than simply because I liked her and wanted to pick her brain. Jennifer Grant is the director of the Office of Anti-Racism, Equity and Human Rights Services at George Brown College in Toronto and has a background in Child Youth Care. 

We talk in this episode about both the incrementalism and the urgency of institutional change, how she manages such a big portfolio, and the realities of anti-racism in her school context. Jennifer’s approach to this work is so deeply relational and full of hope. Listening back to this conversation, this really stands out to me as so needed and necessary. Jennifer is a whip smart, compassionate, and highly effective human that blew my mind more than once during this conversation. You really have to keep listening for Jennifer’s mic drop moment when she explains how having more diversity around the table doesn’t necessarily make the work of anti-racism any easier. 

I loved getting to talk to Jennifer and I know you will get so much out of this conversation. Let’s get right to it, please welcome to the show, Jennifer Grant.

 

Things mentioned in this show:

60. The first week of my PhD: a solo episode

What has it been like to start a PhD during a pandemic? Today it’s just me on the show sharing my reflections on the first few days of this new educational journey.

If you are looking for that amazing listener survey, here is the link! Thank you for sharing your thoughts–it really goes a long way to designing the future of the show.

In this episode, I talk about:

  • Why I am even doing this PhD thing
  • A typical day in the life
  • What are the hardest parts
  • What are the best parts

I touch on a few things that have some resources and links…here they are:

59. What schools can learn from summer camp in a pandemic with Ross McIntyre

How can we as educators learn from the experience our students had this past summer at camp? Today on the show I am joined by Ross McIntyre, The Director of Community Initiatives at Camp Couchiching

You know how at the start of the school year, we as teachers will sit down with the teachers who taught our students last year and share notes, strategies, and insights to start the year ahead on a proactive note? Those meetings are often really helpful, right? So I thought for the first episode back after the summer break (hi again, by the way), we should hear from summer camp to hear how our students did over the summer. 

Now I get that not all our students go to summer camp. And I get that summer camp is an immensely privileged experience–especially this summer–that doesn’t really speak for all our learners (more on that in the episode). But for those young people that did go to day or overnight camps, I wanted to hear how they did. Was summer camp the restorative experience that so many of us hoped for? Were students able to undo some of the challenges and even trauma of this past year? How might schools bring a little camp into their pandemic pedagogy? 

So enter Ross McIntyre who will be speaking for all camps everywhere. I’m joking. But his insights about what worked about his camp this summer and how the campers at his camp fared I think tells us some important things about young people and provides some hope for the road ahead. 

Ross and I went to high school together and was a significant part of my own journey through school, so it is such an honour to get talk about many things that matter with him: young people, camp, wellness, learning joy, and of course hope. 

Click on the Soundcloud link to hear the full conversation with Ross!

 

Take Aways from the Show:

Listening to this show, I am struck by three things that Ross touched on about his experience with Covid camp: we can’t attend to all needs in a crisis. For Ross’s camp this meant that less kids got to come to camp and pausing their focus on “camperships”. Not ideal. But neither is a pandemic. I think it’s a good reminder that we can only do so much when trying to do camp or school or family or anything in a pandemic. The second is that young people are capable of doing hard things, especially when they understand the benefit and payoff will be worth it. And finally, create opportunities for joy: go outside with your students, find moments to laugh, bring magic and whimsy to your classroom, pack candy in your adult lunch to help you get through the day, play music that you and your students all love. It seems obvious, but we’ve all been there in those tough moments of school that just feel like a grind. If creating joy is a practice for those us that make school happen, it will get easier and more natural for us. 

Listener Survey

If you have been listening to the show for a little while, you might have noticed that I took a little pause during the summer months. I am very happy to be feeling more refreshed than at the end of this past school year and I’m now starting some new adventures, specifically my PhD at The University of Toronto in the curriculum and pedagogy program. More on that to come in a future episode, but part of stepping into a new thing is that I will be changing up a few things about the podcast.

 

To help with what to change and what to keep, I am getting input from you! If you have been listening to the show a few times, a little while, or are a loyal listener I want to hear from you by filling out a very quick and very useful listener survey. It will take about 7 minutes and you can enter to win an Indigo or Starbucks gift card. Link to the survey is right here. I haven’t done one of these since we launched in 2018, so I am very happy and grateful to you for sharing your thoughts on the show to make it even better. 

Nobody wants to be racist (and yet unconscious bias is a real thing)

Nobody wants to think of themselves as a racist. And yet, many research studies reveal that we all hold unconscious biases, or hidden racist ideas. When left unchecked, these harmful ideas can perpetuate racist actions and reinforce racist systems.

 

An excellent illustration of this phenomenon is a recent exchange that repeated Clark’s classic 1954 doll study. In a video, completed by a 17-year-old film student and disseminated through the media, a young black child clearly reflects society’s prejudice: The child describes the black doll as looking “bad” and the white doll as “~nice” (Edney 2006). Children internalize our society’s biases and prejudices, as have all of us; they are just a little less able to hide it” (Moule 2009).

 

I am always on the lookout for rich teachable moments to use with my students to highlight issues of equity, power, and privilege. So while I had known about this idea of unconscious bias for some time now, it took me teaching reading for almost a decade to see the perfect moment to uncover our collective unconscious biases as English students.

 

With our novel study of The Chrysalids, we began by exploring the core habits of highly successful readers. One of the first habits we dove into was visualization. After we had a class that explained how good readers have a “movie camera” on in their minds, I asked the students to “cast” the characters that we have met so far in the novel. “Imagine that you are a director and you need to find actors to match what you are seeing in your mind.” Students loved that their independent learning at home centred around Google Image searching terms like: “old man farmer” and “sweet little girl with pigtails” and picking the images of the people that fit their mental images best.

“I guessed that students wouldn’t have even considered the race of the people they saw, seeing “white” as “neutral” or the default.”

My assumption was that most of the actors casted would be white. Even though our Grade 8 classes are not solely comprised of white students, I was guessing because most of the media my students consume has white people in central roles, students would primarily reproduce this depressing lack of diversity. My guess was that most students would sadly just see the sea of white faces that Google presented to them as “normal” and not specifically search for people of colour. Moreover, I guessed that students wouldn’t have even considered the race of the people they saw, seeing “white” as “neutral” or the default.

 

Well, I printed out all their “actors” and posted them on the bulletin board on the first floor of the Middle School. Before I had a chance to explain this mental exercise or have the students digest what they were seeing, a number of students stopped in the hallway, observed the board, and then promptly inquired with their teachers why there were so many white people on the board! While some students of course had cast people of colour in the roles of this novel, they were correct that most images were indeed confirming my hunches. I will say that I was rejoicing internally that the students who saw this board on their way to class actually noticed the stark lack of diversity!

When I brought the Grade 8 classes to the board and took them through a “see, think, wonder” routine, it didn’t take long for students to start to wonder why there were so few people of colour, why we chose so many actors that look the same, and what the author imagined when he wrote the book.

After the students were given a mini-lesson on unconscious bias and watched this video, I gave them permission to visualize characters that don’t look like them, that don’t look like “typical Hollywood actors”, or that aren’t just by default white. When we just assume that white is the default race, it is one subtle way that we recreate racist biases and limit the possibilities for people of colour.

 

While this was one lesson as part of a larger unit about reading skills and habits, the theme of questioning what we assume to be “normal” has been showing up in our novel The Chrysalids quite prominently. While I aim to explore rich literature with the students that exposes themes around othering, inclusion, equity, and justice, I also recognize the benefits of finding all the little teachable moments that inch-forward our collective awareness of anti-racism ideas. Seeing the anti-oppressive moments in the everyday experience of how we picture characters in our minds is one small step towards how we might challenge the racist status quo in our daily lives.

 

Works Cited

Moule, Jean. “Understanding Unconscious Bias and Unintentional Racism”. The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 90, No. 5 (Jan., 2009), pp. 320-326.

 

Building Equity in the Middle School English Classroom

Everyday, I step into my school and see pictures of white women on the walls: old-timey white women from the 1850’s when my school was founded, middle-aged white women who are alumni and doing impressive things in the world, scores of white women who graduated in years past. These faces greet me as I walk towards my classroom and affirm my place in this building. Everyday, I walk past fellow white teachers. Walking quickly with their heels clicking against the old wood, walking with purpose and power, assured of their status in this building. And everyday I walk past classrooms of students learning of and through well-known white figures like Shakespeare, Sir John A., Pythagoras, Deb Ellis, Bill Nye, or Darwin.

 

It is time to challenge this racist status quo in my teaching practice.

 

This year, my goal as a teacher is to de-centre whiteness in the English classroom.

But first, let’s hear a little about racism from the always-entertaining and informative Francesca Ramsy of MTV’s Decoded, so we can get closer to being on the same page about racism.

So what does “de-centring whiteness mean”?

If you are white, which I am, it is not difficult to look around our institutions and see white-culture reflected back at you. When I was a young person in school in rural southern-Ontario, all of my teachers were white, all of the books (Every. Single. One.) that I read had white protagonists in them, and most (I’m estimating 99% until high school) of my classmates were white. My whiteness was held up in front of me like a mirror and validated.  

In the classrooms that I teach, my students do not represent the larger diversity within the city of Toronto. As a teacher in an independent school, this is not surprising considering how much it costs families to send their children to my institution. That said, as more independent schools are waking up to how important it is to be inclusive spaces for families of all backgrounds, there is a shift within the student population to be more racially diverse. This is one reason for de-centring whiteness: not all of my students are white.

 

But it’s also for the white folks in the house.

 

We do all of our students a monumental disservice, you could even say a human rights violation, if our hidden curriculum is only valuing and validating whiteness. All students need to see more than just the single stories of groups of people in order to enter the world post-graduation a responsible citizen of the world.

So what does “de-centring” whiteness entail?

Well, at its most basic, it includes me providing and teaching books with racially diverse characters and exploring the voices that are not included in any text that we read. Who is present and who is silent?

It includes exploring and discussing concepts such as implicit bias, micro-aggressions, single stories, white supremacy, power, and privilege.

It involves ensuring that each student in my Middle School has the ability to investigate all aspects of their identities.

One of my favourite partners in crime at my school, a fellow provocative rabble rouser, proposed that we bring this question of identity investigating forward to our Middle School at a December faculty meeting. We asked:

How might we ensure that each member of the Middle School has access to opportunities in which they can share and investigate all aspects of their identities, especially those aspects that may be marginalized, difficult to understand, or not widely represented in our community?

And ran a protocol with about ½ of our Middle School faculty, collecting beliefs and doubts about the possibility of running student affinity groups.

 

As I write this, I can hear the voices of Cohort mentors coaching me to keep it manageable, to remember my sphere of influence, and to design something that I actually have the power to control. So my action plan is not to run affinity groups (as it might not be until next year that such a project is ready to launch…if ever), but rather, this is what I think I can bite off reasonably this year:

 

  • Collect data and research about launching affinity groups
  • Meet with key stakeholders about this possibility, sharing findings from first preliminary MS Faculty protocol
  • Run at least one protocol with stakeholders outside of MS Faculty (parents, students, board members?)

 

While I serve the Cohort 21 community as a facilitator, every year I chose a project focus to research, blog about, and experiment with in my classroom. Why wouldn’t I leverage the collective hive-mind power of many CIS Ontario teachers together in one space, with one purpose? With so many people to ask questions to, and so many school experts to be connected with, I have always found that connecting my school goals with my Cohort 21 action plan research is the perfect way to kill two birds with one stone.

So, Cohort hive-mind, my question for you is: how do you support your students of colour? What opportunities do you provide your students to explore their identities? Do you / have you used affinity groups in your school and, if so, what has your experience been?

First steps towards “wow”

We are now into week four of this History adventure and there have been some ups and downs…some moments of sheer brilliance and some moments of “what the heck was I thinking?” But like anything in the life of a teacher, you win some and you lose some. Here are some highlights from the last few weeks of trying to be more experiential with Grade 7 History.

Week One: QR Code Scavenger Hunt

IMG_2299What it was: After their pre-learning, the girls scattered throughout their school, cell phones in hand, and completed a scavenger hunt all about the people of New France.

Why is was great: The novelty of having their cell phones actually permitted in class was a riot! They loved the independence of running around the school testing out their learning and working as a team to answer questions and challenge their learning. IMG_2296

What wasn’t so awesome: I don’t think this was “experiential learning” as much as just active, fun, and novel. Which is important, but the actual deep learning wasn’t so present.

Week Two: Acadian Expulsion Simulation

What it was: Inspired by this little gem I found over the winter break, I started the class in costume (as an Acadian woman, Madeleine, of course), welcoming them into my house. I was gathering all the women together from our town to decide what to do about all the men being locked in the church for 3 days. After some discussion about what to do, I left the class (to milk my cow…who else is going to do it), and returned as a British officer. I took them down to the church (chapel) and they became the men of Acadia, having to decide whether to sign the Oath of Allegiance. The students then debated back and forth about why they would sign and eventually had to make a decision.

Why it was great: The students loved being thrust into a character. Some really got into it. They also commented the they really liked having to make those hard decisions themselves and they developed more empathy for what the Acadians went through. I could also refresh the information from their Independent Learning (homework) in character and they actually developed a deep, complex understanding of this chapter in History.

What wasn’t so awesome: While it’s a lot of fun to be in character, it’s also exhausting. Most of the students went along with it, but some were a little sly and kept asking why we weren’t speaking French if we weren’t in Acadia? Ha ha!

Week Three: Battle of the Plains of Abraham

IMG_2354What it was: We reenacted the famous battle that decided the fate of New France.

Why it was great: The students totally got into it! They loved the dramatic death scenes, acting it out, and having their peers play key roles of the important characters. It was a nice day outside and playing around in the fresh air was a welcome change from the classroom (so was being in the chapel last week, for that matter).

What wasn’t so awesome: The questions on their weekly check-in quiz were centred around the aftermath of the battle, not the actual battle itself. The information from the experiential part of the learn was stickier, so students often reverted to using this information on the quiz (even if it didn’t actually answer the given question). I realized that whatever we do in the “Playing History” day is going to have a more lasting impact than what the students read or discuss in class.

Later today, we will go through a Loyalist simulation that is one part “Octopus” and one part “Mafia”. Stay tuned on the learning moments from that experience.

School as exciting as an amusement park?

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Weeeeee…learning!

Can this be a reality?

Or better yet…

Should this be a reality?

Truthfully, I don’t have the answer to either of those questions, but I did leave the second Face 2 Face with a clear direction for my action plan this year: how can I make Social Studies (specifically History) a novel, exciting, and entertaining experience for young people? 

A bit of background on my background. While I love learning about History and Geography, my area of expertise is undoubtedly English and Drama. I studied Drama for four years, which by extension, I was also studying literature as well. But for that matter, the study of Theatre is also actually a master course in History, just through the lens of performance. There is no better way to understand what was happening in Russia during the turn of the century than by studying Chekhov!

This said, teaching Grade 7 Social Studies has been a welcome challenge. Last year I feel like I was just getting the hang of everything. This year, with a tiny bit of experience, I feel like I can push myself to try new things. Also, there were times last year where I was getting bored with what I was teaching, so I can imagine my students were just on the verge of poking themselves in the eye with a protractor.

IMG_2072So this past month, I asked myself and my fellow Cohortees how I could make Social Studies as exciting as an amusement part (without the vomiting). It’s not so much that I want to make every class an unbelievable experience (who can sustain that?), but I want to increase the novelty, make my students excited to come to class, surprise them a little each day, and have us all collectively step outside of what we expect school to be like.

The ideas that flowed from my partner @mjohn, as well as the other friends who posted a sticky note fertilized my thinking on the topic and help me narrow my ideas down.

IMG_2071But what I really needed was the space of the winter break to process everything. I don’t know about you, but I have found it really hard to engage in the creative side of teaching when I am just trying to keep my little head above water. We teachers are actually artists and we need the space to process ideas and make our visions a reality.

So that’s just what I did. Cuddled up by the fire of the cottage, I wrote down about 10 different incredible ideas and planned out how I could incorporate them into how I teach History this term.

My current idea: Playing History.

How It Works: Each week we have a class devoted to “Playing History”, which is the amusement park of our learning. We will go on scavenger hunts, walking tours, role plays, re-enactments, play games in character and so on. One class a week will be devoted to the background learning and another class (or half class) will be centred around checking the learning / understanding.

Stay tuned for more about our first Playing History session: a QR Code scavenger hunt!

 

 

Growth is always happening

[youtube]https://youtu.be/YQWWSCzN6u8[/youtube]

It’s hard to believe that another year of Cohort has come to a close…but I’m not even close to being done my journey of growth. That’s the thing about growth; it is always just there.

I tried to make my summary of learning a touch shorter, but I just had too much to say and share. The video above summarizes my action plan findings for 2015. Enjoy!

The first few steps towards awesome: teachers showing their growth mindsets

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qC_EkwOAbBY[/youtube]

Amidst my journey of trying inspire my students to get closer to having a growth mindset, it actually didn’t even occur to me that it is also valuable to help inspire my fellow teachers to join in on the growth mindset bandwagon.

The last project tuning protocol on April 2nd, while it wasn’t geared towards growth mindset intentionally, it was actually all about growth mindsets at the end of the day.

Beth Nichols shared her action plan and her current progress. It was obvious to me that Beth is a teacher who embodies the very essence of growth: being open to feedback and being so excited to get better, change, and improve was what was fuelling Beth!

But then it was also the other participants that blew me away. Being surprised by how much they took away for their own practices is always a happy side-effect of participating in a protocol. Brent Hurley said something to tune of: I was tired and hesitant to participate, but I’m so happy I did…I learned so much. I’m paraphrasing (watch the vid to get the actual quote) here, but the general run down is that watching people be so excited to learn was like a breath of fresh air.

Sometimes you have be vulnerable to take that first step towards growth! Thank goodness we have such great, supportive fellow Cohortees around to help hold hands during those shaky steps towards awesome.