LC5 Made The Front Page!

Our learning community’s partnership and visit with our local Spruce Grove Public Library to introduce our students to their brand new Innovation Lab was featured in the Spruce Grove Examiner this week.

Here is the article written by reporter Karen Haynes:

Ella Morrison didn’t seem shy as she belted out the lyrics to her favourite songs during a tour of the Spruce Grove Library’s Innovation Lab on Jan. 16. Morrison was using the library’s GarageBand technology to record her voice. - Karen Haynes, Reporter/Examiner

Ella Morrison didn’t seem shy as she belted out the lyrics to her favourite songs during a tour of the Spruce Grove Library’s Innovation Lab on Jan. 16. Morrison was using the library’s GarageBand technology to record her voice. – Karen Haynes, Reporter/Examiner

The Spruce Grove Public Library’s (SGPL) Innovation Lab is open for business and students from Greystone Centennial Middle School know first hand just how cool this library addition really is.

From Jan. 13 to 16, Grade 5 students from the Spruce Grove school toured the library’s Innovation Lab, testing its virtual reality program, Lego robotics, GarageBand software, 3D printer and circuitry systems.

“Libraries are not just about books anymore and they haven’t been for a long time,” said Leanne Myggland-Carter of the SGPL.

“We are a community hub — for many ages and stages in life… We have intergenerational learning going on. Kids come with their parents and grandparents, and they are helping each other. It’s a community based learning space,” she said.

Dana Ariss, a Grade 5 teacher from Greystone said the partnership between the library and the school was a prime opportunity for students to learn about the technology and resources that are available to them.

And it perfectly complemented the school’s recently completed Innovation Week, which finished right before the Christmas break.

“It was such a valuable experience for the students to see what there is. For them to have one-on-one building time, creation time and play (time), that’s where they construct their own knowledge. To give that to our students is something that is an absolute must,” Ariss said.

From Dec. 15 to 19, Greystone students participated in their fifth Innovation Week. For four days, students are challenged to question, investigate, process and create a final project in an area of deep interest to them.

“They go through the design making process. It helps students to have an understanding of themselves as learners and how to share their learning,” Ariss said.

Focusing on some of Alberta Education’s cross-curricular competencies — knowing how to learn, think critically, how to identify and solve complex problems, and how to create something innovative — students started their projects by zeroing in on what they are passionate about.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of dedication and perseverance these kids demonstrate. It’s something that is important to them,” because they take ownership of their projects, she added.

The projects included sewing, clay animation, creating special effects and make-up art for film, robotics, stop motion, caricature drawing, and others with a focus on engineering, horticulture and baking.

“The main focus is not just on the final project but also on the process: how did they get to this point; what did they learn; where did they fail; and how did they learn from the problems they faced.”

Greystone Centennial Middle School will host its sixth Innovation Week in the spring of 2015. At the end of the week, parents will be welcome to visit the school and see what the students have accomplished.

Advertisements

Our Multiplication Strategies

We have started to apply our understandings of place value and multiplication and extending our knowledge to multiplying two by two digit and three by two digit numbers.

In our classroom, there is no “right” or “wrong” strategy, it is about what works for you. Whichever strategy a child feels most comfortable with and understands not just the application of but the why of, is the best.

We have shared and learned three different multiplication strategies and the amazing Jessie Krefting has created mini-videos demonstrating some of them. Students do not have to demonstrate mastery in all strategies, but must find one they understand and can apply when required.

1. Standard Algorithm

2. Caroll Diagram

3.  Partial Product and Why Is Math Different Now by Dr. Raj Shah

Students have now started an inquiry math project called Resort Report.

All mathematical applications will be completed on paper so students can demonstrate their understandings, then uploaded to their document for a complete view of their learning.

Classroom Learning – Term Two Update

Hi everyone,

I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday break and a great first week back to school! We eased back into our routine last week and have begun some new projects. Below is a brief overview of the learning focus for in our room for this term:

Language Arts

We are finishing the book Out Of My Mind for our read aloud and students will continue making predictions, connections, inferences and asking questions for our reading strategies. They will post their reflections on their blogs and this term we will have a deeper focus on conventions in their writing. Emphasis and assessment will be placed on capitals and punctuation use in all writing.

We will also be focusing on the Organization trait in writing and students will be learning how to gather their thoughts and compose them in a fluent way. We will start a group read aloud on the book Wendell The World’s Worst Wizard and students will have the opportunity to write their own stories with detailed beginning, middle and end while also connecting predictions, inferences and questions with other classes also reading this book.

Students will also start their own book clubs and literature circles this term. Books will be chosen by student groups so as to focus on their interest but also their instructional levels. This may involve some at home reading if a student is not able to read in time allotted in class time. They will meet daily with groups and discuss the book, its contents, their reflections and predictions. Individual at home reading is still to continue whenever possible and is to be recorded on Good Reads or in their reading duotang  – whichever they have been assigned. Students are encouraged to continue to review their books, provide recommendations and search for additional books they want to read on Good Reads as well as set their 2015 Reading Challenge goals.

Our Reading Tree!

Our Reading Tree!

We had a beautiful Reading Tree drawn and painted by the incredibly talented artist Aiden. which we cut out and placed in our room. Students have begun to fill it up with all of the books they have read and rated. Our goal is to have it overflowing by June with all of the books we have read!

Mathematics
We are working on our multiplication strategies with integrated division strategies so students can make the deeper connections between the two with a focus on fact families and deep meaning and understanding of multiplication and division. Students are also working in groups on Tuesdays and Wednesday with Mrs. Krefting‘s class to strengthen their mathematical understandings. We also are continuing with our Problem Of The Week every Fridays and students will reflect on their processes on their blogs.

This term we have also started participating in the Math Photo A Day Challenge with other classrooms around the world. Students are provided with mathematical prompts daily and they are to find and represent their understandings through a photo. We have begun to tweet our photos on Twitter using the hashtag #MathPhotoADay and I will curate all of their photos monthly and post them to this blog for you!

We are also learning how to use charts and graphs by integrating our understandings with an upcoming Science unit of Weather. Students will be graphing weather trends globally.

Science
We began our Classroom Chemistry unit and students have started learning about the States of Matter : Solid, Liquid and Gas. We have watched a Bill Nye video and they have implemented their jot note skills on the states of matter. Students will begin experiments this week with key learning features: mixtures, crystallization, properties of matter and chemical reactions.

Social Studies
Students have worked so incredibly hard on their family history presentations and we are all so honoured to learn about one another’s ancestries and family backgrounds. They began their presentations to our class this week while at the same time received feedback from both myself and two peers. They have been using an assessment tool and interactive feedback document in their Google Docs which allows them to leave and receive peer and teacher feedback. As a student presented, two peers were leaving them feedback and everyone else was practicing their jot note taking and picking out the most important features of their peer’s presentation. I have never been more proud of the hard work and dedication they are demonstrating!

IMG_0353

Presenting, providing feedback and taking jot notes!

Working hard on our presentations and our feedback/assessment documents.

Working hard on our presentations and our feedback/assessment documents.

Providing feedback and taking jot notes, working on our 1000 piece Map of Canada puzzle and presenting!

Providing feedback and taking jot notes, working on our 1000 piece Map of Canada puzzle and presenting!

We will be meeting with Mr. Kolody and Mrs. Krefting’s class this week and re-presenting our family histories in small groups and making connections between the histories of one another.

This term we will also be focusing heavily on the Regions of Canada. There are six regions:  Atlantic, Arctic,  Plains, Canadian Shield, Great Lakes St. Lawrence and The Cordillera. We will be diving deep into the Arctic and the Great Lakes St. Lawrence regions and then collaborating with our peers in  Mr. Kolody and Mrs. Krefting’s class to make the connections between the other four regions. Students will research and participate in a variety of activities to deepen their understanding of each region. They will then write a persuasive argument for one of the regions and present to the LC 5 groups in a Socratic Circle.

Students who are participating in the Minecraft region creation can continue and share their building as they go.

I will continue to update you on our learning adventures as we continue!

Miss D. Ariss

2014 – My Year Of Change & Growth

The start of a new adventure!

The start of a new adventure!

This reflection will be framed in a different format than my usual posts. This is just how I feel I can accurately reflect on the year that has passed as it contained such force and fundamental change that I have compartmentalized most of it by time frames.

January – February 2014

I felt it…that feeling in the pit of your stomach that digs away at you. It whispers quietly at first, but it quickly becomes so loud that you have to listen: “Dana, you need a change.” I loved my school, my co-workers, my district and most of all my incredible group of students who had been my little family for three consecutive years. I remember first meeting them in January of 2012 as they were told they would have a new teacher and a brand new classroom. They had been in a combined grade one-two and extra funding had come up enough to hire a full time teacher for them. There I stood in their old room and watched as each one came up to me, introduced themselves by name and told me their favourite colour. I still remember their anxious faces and their half-smiles as I walked with them down the hall to what would become our new room. “THIS IS OURS??” they exclaimed with joy and squeals as the doors to their new home opened. I nodded yes and in that exhilarating moment, I knew in my heart that I also had found my home.

So when that whispering feeling of change started coming around, I panicked. Ignorance is bliss as they say and so I ignored it.

March – April 2014

I knew that no matter what was to come in the future, my students and I were to be separated at the end of this school year as they moved on up to grade five. I went into full “make the most of every moment” mode and these months brought us so much innovation, creativity, inquiry and excitement in learning. I did my absolute best to ignore that feeling to the point where I wasn’t doing much beyond working. I planned, I connected, I shared, I communicated, I read, I tweeted, I moderated, I presented, I travelled to conferences, I blogged and I taught and learned with my all of my heart for and with my students. These were the most exhilarating moments of teaching I have experienced (all of which have been documented in my blog and our Twitter account Miss Ariss’ Class). I poured my entire being into teaching and making every minute count. However, that feeling of change didn’t go away and it was wearing me down as the days went on. I learned that no matter how hard you want to run from the feelings that scare you, it is often those that need to be felt and addressed. I finally stopped and really evaluated what I wanted and needed:  Leadership mentors, group collaborations, constructive feedback loops for growth, opportunities for larger impacts on educational change, learning PD for my own growth and a more permanent home-base both professionally and personally

Change was happening and that feeling became so loud within that I finally started listening. Sometimes in life, things happen for reasons beyond our control but when we look back upon them, we often see the real meaning and the learning that can occur from them if we have the right attitude. As much as I loved everything about my career, I knew in my heart that my time in my little community, where I felt the safest and happiest I have ever felt, was ending. I could continue to ignore my personal and professional needs for growth and stay in my comfort zone or embrace that feeling and move forward into uncharted change. Those who know me well….know how this story will end.

May – July 2014

I can only describe these months as an absolute blur. Somewhere between full-time teaching, numerous educational conferences, presentations and travelling….I found the courage to listen to my heart. I took a huge leap of faith and accepted a new position at an incredible middle school a few hours away. Many would call me crazy for leaving a permanent teaching position, but they would not know who I am and what teaching truly means to me. Its not about positions, status, rank or authority; for me, teaching is about continuous growth and learning. To truly be an effective educator, I needed to continually embrace the difficult situations and decisions in my life and learn from them in order to grow and develop into who I am as a person which has a direct affect on my teaching, because I teach from my heart. I cannot remain in my zones of comfort and expect my levels of teaching to grow. I needed to widen my experiences in order to become the educator I need to be for every student that I have the privilege of working with.

I make this sound as if it was easy when in reality, this truly was the single most difficult decision of my life. I had built a safety net and it was never harder to accept the truth that nothing in life ever stays the same. I became almost paralyzed with fear; I was so afraid of losing the only family I had come to known, so afraid of moving away from everything that I had built and created, so afraid of what was to come, that I completely became focused on the impact failure could have on me by making this decision. I forgot how much I would champion making mistakes and learning from them to my students, but the difference was that we had built a safe environment for failing. I didn’t feel so safe as my entire life depended on succeeding with this decision I had made. I turned to the safety of my closest friends and family, who rallied alongside me and supported me in every way imaginable. By July 1st, I was living in a new home, in a new city and preparing for a new school, new colleagues and my first group of “new” students in three years. That is a lot of NEW and it happened within a span of barely two months. This was that feeling in the pit of my stomach realized: Change.

August 2014

Questions, questions, questions swirling in my mind all the time!

Where is our room?

Who do I contact for this?

Where can I find?

Will I connect with a new group of students?

Will I make an impact on their lives?

Will my colleagues accept and welcome me?

Can I really do this? Oh wait… I AM DOING THIS!

September 2014 – December 2014

When I first started this reflection I didn’t fully grasp or realize the amount of learning accomplished during the final half of 2014 until I started looking at the photos I had taken. I have grown immensely both personally and professionally in these past few months by being active in my new community and surroundings, by embracing the uncomfortable, by being honest and open about my strengths, strong passions and areas of growth but most of all in my own self-confidence as an educator.

I found myself surrounded by communities of support, expertise and varied experiences in an environment prime for growth. This is what I had hoped for and I knew it wouldn’t be an easy journey, but I have never been one for easy. I have come from close to 5 years of independent teaching in small rural schools. I have always planned, coordinated and constructed all of my own materials, units, and assessments based on my own student needs and most recently, students with whom I had looped with for three years and knew like family. I now was in a team of six grade five educators collaborating together on the learning for our students, in a school almost seven times the size of my previous.

A few of my fun-loving colleauges!

A few of my fun-loving colleauges!

Reflecting on the start of the school year, I see now that underestimated the transition into this. It has been years since I needed to share who I was, my true self, with other educators, as when working within a small district everyone knows everyone. My other collaborations have been with educators who follow me on Twitter or read my blog and have a strong sense of who I am. The individuals within my comfort zone, who are my rocks, all know my deep passion for learning, know how excited I get at the thought of planning a unit with my students and finding those connections for them, know that I am honest, genuine and will ask a lot of questions because I have a need to know the why behind everything I bring into my classroom, but that mostly I care…about everything and everyone all the time.

I learned that when working within a large group, fostering a relationship beyond work is essential for the dynamics because once everyone truly knows one another a foundation of trust and an environment where vulnerability is welcomed can be built, however that this also takes time. Effective collaboration doesn’t happen overnight, it needs to be built step by step by each individual party. My sheer optimism and strong will to ensuring meaningful things happen despite obstacles, is who I am however this is something that is shown over time through sincerity and action. I am learning how to communicate my passions, thoughts and ideas outside of my comfort zone and am pushing myself to hear (not just listen) and understand more and more.

Our LC5B!

Our LC5B!

These few months also taught me about the power of student connection and relationships. I had worried whether I would be able to connect with a brand new group, but as the weeks went on I started receiving hugs, drawings, jokes, stories from home, open discussions about their lives and genuine interest in mine, shared laughter and that feeling of knowing these are the amazing kids I am so lucky to know and work with every day. I love the community we have built and will continue to grow.

We are a family and their words mean so much to me!

We are a family and their words mean so much to me!

Just a few weeks ago, I decided to surprise my previous students by attending their Christmas Concert at my old school. I snuck into the dark auditorium hoping to grab a seat when one of them noticed me from behind the stage. Within a few seconds, they all popped out from behind the stage and began furiously waving to me. I can’t begin to describe that moment, but a lot of tears were involved. The kids I am honoured to meet and work with throughout my career are what make being an educator the most  meaningful to me.

Learning and sharing...always!

Learning and sharing…always!

This term also brought forth a lot of Professional Development and new projects which I am so honoured to have been a part of. Collaborating with other PSD70 educators on the first ever #EdCampPSD70 and co-keynoting the opening with Kelli Holden in the presence of so many incredible colleagues was truly humbling. Kelli and I reconnected again in November to present at ATLE on the use of SKYPE in the classroom.

I was also honoured to be asked to present an IGNITE session by Dean Shareski, who ever so kindly arranged the presentations to start alphabetically which in turn had me presenting first. This required me to dig deep into who I truly am as an educator and helped build my confidence in sharing that with the larger community of educators. Despite the nerves, it was an absolutely thrilling experience where in five minutes I shared my passion for education and spent the evening learning about the passions of others.

I was introduced this term to many new forms of PD focused on #MakerSpaces and #MakerEd, which I had implemented in my previous teachings but never had the opportunity to dig deeper into. From a Saturday road trip to Calgary with my AP and three other teaching colleagues to attend a one day MakerFaire to an ERLC hosted MakerSpace session where I connected with local librarians on the new creation of Innovation Labs in our city. I am so excited to share these experiences with the kids as they completed their first Innovation Week projects in December and will be visiting the labs in January. Not to mention continued collaborations and discussions surrounding Alberta’s Curriculum Redesign which I am currently a part of the committee for my new district in working on the competencies in learning.

In remaining true to myself and constantly having a need to learn and absorb, I along with my #Cdnedchat team continued our weekly collaborations continued and our chat is livelier than ever on Monday evenings! I also jumped in to three separate book clubs with Google Hangout reflections with various educators within my school and across the world to expand my learning and push my mind further. One of the book clubs focused on Leadership through being a part of my district’s Exploring Leadership committee.

Present – 2015 and beyond

My biggest take aways from 2014 have been to always listen to your heart, no matter how scared you are, and that how change is viewed depends solely on how you approach it. Is it an adventure filled with learning opportunities or will you view it as something horrible and choose comfort?

I learned how to truly be vulnerable and to rely on others when I need to. To not be afraid to say I need help or I don’t understand this can you show me. Reach out to others and in doing so, you open the lines of communication and make your connections just that much stronger.

I was reminded by my own inner fear and worries that we all face insecurities, hardships and stress. Our job isn’t to add to that, but to lift it off of one another. Be kind to all, especially the ones who may seem to have a hard exterior because somewhere down their path of life their experiences helped to shape that. Our students may come to school with brave faces, but they are looking to us to create the safety of an environment conducive to learning, just as we need in our own professional lives.

So what does 2015 have in store for me? I won’t even venture a guess, but I certainly hope my years continue to provide me with continued learning opportunities, strong supportive networks and a deeper understanding of my purpose as an educator.

Building Readers

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 10.03.38 PM

Our goal this year is to build a community of readers. In order to build strong life-long readers, we must foster a true love of reading. Very often students are told which books they must read and when the power of choice is not balanced, students will disengage and reading will become yet another task that needs to be completed. There is a time for structured reading to learn the skills necessary to delve deeper into text, however our end goal is to build a love of reading so that students will continue to read out of enjoyment which will also grow the amount of reading they do.

One of the very first steps in this process is to introduce students to the endless amount of resources available to them and guide them in choosing books that are suitable based on interest and abilities. We are so very lucky to have access to any book in the entire world whether through our local and provincial libraries to thousands of online resources. We have been talking in our classroom about how and where we can find books well as how to know if it’s a book we are interested in and are able to read. This learning process is very important as I don’t want students to be at frustration levels when reading. The end goal is for them to read and read and read.

I’ve begun to introduce them to books they may have never read or even heard of before. The Global Read Aloud that we participated in chooses the top new books by authors from around the world. Students then share their thoughts, reflections and connections with peers also reading the same book. The books chosen resonate with their readers and I continue to read these aloud to the students year long to build that connection and model for them that deep love of reading. When I close a chapter and hear “Awww…no!! Keep reading Miss Ariss, keep reading,” thats when I know those connections have been made. This is the feeling we need to build with our students.

In our classroom, reading is an integral part of everything we do. We have dedicated DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time where students can choose to read independently or with a friend any book of their choosing. We will also be starting Literature Circles as well as focusing on individual strengths and areas of growth for each student in fluency and comprehension.

However, reading doesn’t end at school or in our classroom and so as a class, we created our own private reading community on GoodReads.

For those unfamiliar, GoodReads is the following:

“Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. Our mission is to help people find and share books they love.

A Few Things You Can Do On Goodreads:

  • See which books your friends are reading.
  • Track the books you’re reading, have read, and want to read.
  • Check out your personalized book recommendations. Our recommendation engine analyzes 20 billion data points to give suggestions tailored to your literary tastes.
  • Find out if a book is a good fit for you from our community’s reviews.”

Students have already joined the community, learned about privacy settings, searched for books of interest and set their own reading goals from now until we come back to school in January. Goodreads can be accessed from anywhere at anytime, it can even be downloaded as a free app on your mobile device or iPod. Students will require the use of school, local and at home libraries to obtain their books/reading materials as Goodreads is not an online reading program. The reasons we will be using Goodreads to track our school and at-home reading are as follows:

  • It’s real and connected to the world. Students can share and reflect on what they’ve read with millions of others so that reading isn’t just happening in a vacuum. They learn about differing opinions and have access to titles they may never have had a chance to see.
  • They will read and write reviews and recommendations alongside other avid readers. Their opinions will matter and the amount of writing and reading they do will grow.
  • They can recommend books to one another after completing them. We all know that when a teacher or parent recommends something students don’t respond as favourably as when their best friend recommends it.
  • They will build independence and ownership of their own reading. They will be required to independently provide page updates as they read at home and at at school. Goodreads provides them with a visual to help aid their growth and progress. This will be monitored by me weekly so I can have individual discussions with students. I ask that they read at home and be provided with access to record in their Goodreads account. They can do this at school the following day as well if access is not available.
  • Students are very visual and often times pictures will grab their attention faster. Goodreads provides photos of each book so students can look at the cover and even read the first few pages of a book before deciding if it’s one they want to find.
  • They can create their own goals and share that with me. I have stressed continually that reading is NOT a competition between them and others. They read for themselves and they share that growth with me. We will have whole group and classroom reading goals that when reached, we will celebrate, however we are a team made up of individuals.
  • Our private Goodreads community also allows for group discussions about what we are reading. I have modeled a discussion question and will encourage students to start their own about their reading as we get going. We have also connected our community to other classrooms on Goodreads, one even being in our own Grade 5 team.
  • Students will also be asked to create book trailers to review a chosen book they have completed and will post completed projects to their blogs.

I have also stressed that for this, reading material can be of the student’s own choosing. It need not be purely fiction or restricted to just chapter books. The possibilities are endless and I will allow any reading material that can be recorded and students provide evidence of the why and what to me during our individual reading discussions. We want to build the excitement over reading and connecting and that means different things for different students.

As always, I rarely ask my students to do something I myself haven’t done, and so I, along with two other teachers have connected and shared our own accounts and reading goals with them on GoodReads too. We’ve also extended the information to our parents in the hopes they would join us too.

Students need to see, know and understand that reading is life-long and not just a task to be done at school. Are we modelling this to them?

Delving Into Dewey – A Book Club

John Dewey By Eva Watson-Schütze (1867-1935) [Public domain]

John Dewey
By Eva Watson-Schütze (1867-1935) [Public domain]

I’m reading a textbook for fun! No…really…I am; and whats more is that five other educators: Michelle Cordy, Sharon Moskovitz, Dina Moati, Deborah McCallum and Shelly Vohra are reading and discussing it with me. What amazes me most about our John Dewey’s Educational Philosophy in International Perspective book club is that this is not a required read. We are dedicated and passionate educators who live across Canada coming together to learn, connect and better ourselves and our practice out of intrinsic motivation.

I’ve always loved reading books with depth and content; Stories and ideas that can transport me and shift my perspectives. I need to be able to connect what I’m reading to relevant experiences in my life in order to find enjoyment in it. This is something new I have learned about why I enjoy reading and why certain texts at different times in my life appealed to me more. I am finding now, five years into my profession, a better love and appreciation for the ‘educational’ texts I was told I had to read during both of my university careers. At the time, they were unattached to any real teaching experiences and therefore reading them then meant I was to memorize for the future, whereas reading them now allows me to connect, reflect and apply to my practice.

For those unfamiliar with the work of John Dewey, he was truly ahead of his time in regards to educational reform. His philosophies and publications are by no means considered easy reading, but they are of such high importance and relevance to the current changes occurring in education today, that I was drawn into reading more and more.

Our book club has been meeting bi-weekly using Google Hangout and sharing parts of the assigned chapters that have spoken to us and to our practice. We have engaged in discussions as to how Dewey’s philosophies still resonate today and how poignant some of his work has been. We are currently on Chapter 5, and I wanted to share some of the learning from the text that has struck a chord with me below:

“What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside? We want to do certain things and not just have the experience of doing them.”  – Robert Nozick  This to me is about that intrinsic feeling we get when we are truly engaged in constructing and creating something that will have an impact on the world and the lives of others. It’s not about just simulating life experiences in the classroom for students, but about actually doing these things in the here and now. I must have read this over more than I can count, because this is an area that I want to grow my practice in. I want the learning in our classroom to have an impact beyond our walls and beyond simulations of the world, but to transcend and become an active part of it.

“Coming to know others who are different from ourselves draws us out; we are educated. This is because only those different from ourselves have the vocabulary, grammar, and style we need. Those who are most like us can only tell familiar stories.” – Jim Garrison How often is it that we surround ourselves with others of differing opinions, views and life experiences? Not very often because it can be uncomfortable. Yet, this is where learning and education can occur and only if we are open to it and only if we are open to realizing our own deficiencies and needs.

“We only experience ourselves within a community, and we only create ourselves within a community. The kind of self which is formed through action which is faithful to relations with others will be a fuller and broader self than one which is cultivated in isolation from or in opposition to the purposes and needs of others. Playing lovingly with others is profoundly more creative than playing alone or playing only to win the war.” – Jim Garrison, Hans Joas Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration! Dewey spoke of self-creation and democracy and how these can be formed through active communities of individuals uniting for the betterment of all. We benefit and grow when our ideas, thoughts and actions are combined to create things we may have never even imagined on our own.

“The lack of imagination binds us to the conditions to which we were born. A failure of imagination chains us to the false choices dictated to us by our culture. It is the greatest possible slavery, for we experience our lives as free even as we choose among values dictated to us by others. It is by a sense of possibilities opening before us that we become aware of constructions that hem us in and of burdens that oppress.” – John Dewey and Jim Garrison Our roles as educators is to open doors of learning and experiences for our students. It’s to broaden their horizons, their goals and their worlds beyond that which they see or live in everyday. The possibilities are everywhere and it comes down to how and if we are harnessing them and the power we have to change our culture which binds us to our current states. Are we building the foundations for students imagine the ‘different’ or the ‘possibility’?

“Cornel West on Prophetic Pragmatism: The mark of the prophet is to speak the truth in love with courage-come what may. Given the fate of prophets, what often comes is humiliation, rejection, and even death. Prophets are not old men with beards; they are anyone who will speak the needed value in destitute times. I want to suggest that educators may become prophets and that frequently good educators must.”-  Cornel West and Jim Garrison Why is it that some educators feel like lone wolves or an island onto itself? How do they fuel themselves and keep going in what they truly believe to be in the best interests of their students? It’s not an easy task to pave the path to change, but we need to continue to share and speak to the learning that is happening in our schools.

I have learned more than I had ever thought I would when I first said yes to this book club, and all that I have read continues to permeate in my mind daily. It has caused me to shift my perspectives on many items and apply a different lens when self-reflecting on my own practice. There are eight more essays and chapters left in our John Dewey reflection group. I am looking forward to our next meeting so that I can learn and share with my fellow educators and adapt my thoughts from their understandings.

Flip The Dynamic

Eyes closed and demonstrating deep and focused peer-listening skills.

Eyes closed and demonstrating deep and focused peer-listening skills.

When creating a learning environment of sharing, open communication and collaboration, it’s easy to forget that students might not know how to actively apply these skills. This is the foundation of which our classroom community is built upon and these vital life lessons are what we are learning to use in our everyday life and in our learning.

This afternoon we talked about what makes a good listener and how to communicate with one another and not at one another. With one month behind us, I am starting to recognize how dependent students are on me for their every move in the classroom. While we have mutual respect, my goal for my students is to help them achieve independence and ownership of their learning in our classroom and to help them foster leadership skills.

We started by participating in an activity which helped us to understand that listening is very different than hearing. Students closed their eyes for the entire activity and every student had the opportunity to share one statement to the group about themselves. As soon as their statement was shared, their peers had to guess who was speaking by not only listening but “hearing” their peer’s individuality in their statement. This was not an easy task as they are constantly engaging in conversations and filtering sounds, but to quietly sit and reflect on each individual’s one statement allowed them to understand the difference.

This led us to the importance of having a communication circle and why a circle shape is ideal for open conversations. I have often noticed that students are so used to only talking and sharing with me as their teacher, that they ignore their peers when we are having discussions. This leads to one isolated conversation, between myself and that students, while their peers are merely watching. I needed to change this dynamic and allow them to share and discuss with one another instead. I recognize just how strong my presence can be and so I made sure to stand behind every student speaker in our circle. This helped the students to focus on the speaker and also allowed the speaker to not be distracted by me but to focus on their larger audience.

Sharing stories and engaging with each other.

Sharing stories and engaging with each other.

This was difficult to do for some as their eyes would always try to find me, but they soon saw the power they had in sharing their thoughts with a larger peer audience.

Sharing stories with one another and really focusing on each other.

Sharing stories with one another and really focusing on each other.

Once they started getting comfortable with this, their true personalities started to shine. We had funny stories, sad stories and some scary stories about ghosts. The best part was watching them demonstrate independence and show courage in sharing.

Telling funny stories which helped us to connect.

Telling funny stories which helped us to connect.

I am so very proud of my students and the growth they are demonstrating every day. The foundations they are building will support them in all aspects of life and learning.